Beginning in Cape Flattery in Washington's Olympic Peninsula across country to Cape Canaveral in Florida, astronaut John Herrington - the first Native American in space - embarks on a 4,000-mile coast-to-coast bike tour Wednesday, August 13, offering inspiration and encouragement to kids and touting opportunities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The trip - dubbed Rocketrek - kicks off at the Makah Nation on Wednesday. It is sponsored by TREK Bicycle Corporation, Pro Bike Inc. of Oklahoma City, the Chickasaw Nation, the American Indian Institute for Innovation (AIII), and South Dakota Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEARUP).
Commander Herrington decided to take on the cross-country ride to help spur a renewed interest in science and engineering among young people generally and among Native American youth specifically.
"The generation that grew up in the age of the Apollo program and the journey to the moon was motivated by the excitement of space and the possibilities that it brought to the nation," says Herrington. "Those kinds of possibilities to explore the unknown and make new discoveries still exist, but we must motivate students to learn and have a way to connect what they learn to what they do on a daily basis."
Kids will get a hands-on opportunity to do just that by following Herrington's journey on a special Web site, www.rocketrek.net which allow students to track and participate in his progress. Using basic STEM skills along with problem solving and critical thinking, students can use the site to log into daily uplinks of Herrington's Global Positional System (GPS) positions, photos and a journal.
Herrington believes that by providing real world examples to problems presented in a classroom setting, the subject matter becomes less daunting and more intriguing. Students will start to enjoy seeking out the answers and not worry so much about the methods involved in finding the answer.
After the Makah Nation, the ride will take Commander Herrington south where he will visit NASA Explorer Schools at other Native American reservations in Washington state including the Elwah, S'Klallam, Suquamish and Yakama tribes.
"It made sense to begin our trip here in Washington," the former NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy test pilot explained. "Because the state is a hub for technology, it was a perfect launching pad in starting our efforts to raise awareness of the importance of STEM disciplines."
After Washington, Herrington heads east to Idaho and continues through the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In each state are planned stops other NASA Explorer Schools where Herrington will engage students in a motivational talk about his personal experiences, journey to the space program and the wonders of flying in space, and how they can work to achieve their goals and realize their potential.
"I was once an unmotivated student, looking for something that sparked my fire," says Herrington. "I found it as a rock-climber on a survey crew, learning the application of mathematics from the side of a cliff. That experience inspired me to return to school and ultimately led to my career as an astronaut."
Commander Herrington firmly believes his success and accomplishments are due to the encouragement and involvement of individuals he met during his formative college years. In leaving the astronaut corps, Herrington hopes he can help make a difference and impact on children by sharing his experiences - encouraging them to pursue their dreams, seek out exciting opportunities, and challenge who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing.
"Sometimes it takes someone outside of our normal circle of friends and family to shine a light in our direction and help us along," said Herrington. "As I set out on this bike ride and try to make the learning practical and fun, I hope to also show students that it takes commitment and effort, both mental and physical, to accomplish your goals."
Rocketrek is a 4,000-mile bicycle ride from Cape Flattery, WA, to Cape Canaveral, FL, beginning August 13. Commander John Herrington - the first Native American to fly in space - initiated the cross-country trek to promote and encourage student participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The route is expected to take three months and will cross the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Stops are planned in each state where Commander Herrington will discuss his journey to the space program, the wonders of flying in space and the need for students to realize their potential that lies within. Sponsors of Rocketrek include TREK Bicycle Corporation, Pro Bike Inc. of Oklahoma City, the Chickasaw Nation, the American Indian Institute for Innovation (AIII), and South Dakota Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEARUP).
About Commander John Herrington
As a Mission Specialist on the Shuttle Endeavor, John Herrington became the first Native American to fly in space in 2002. He logged 330 hours in space, including nearly 20 hours in space walks supporting the construction of the International Space Station. As a motivational speaker, Commander Herrington shares his journey from a sometimes aimless youth to becoming a naval aviator, test pilot and astronaut forging new frontiers for America and the world. Herrington is a native of Wetumka, Oklahoma, and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.