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NASA Program Brings Science To Native, Hispanic Children In Idaho

This summer, NASA is bringing lessons about space and science to Idaho towns with large Hispanic and Native American populations. The Summer of Innovation program aims to encourage kids who don’t normally get hands-on science projects to shoot for the moon. Doug Nadvornick takes us along for a lesson about building rockets on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.

Seventh grader Allison Eickman says she loves to study space.

Allison Eickman: “It’s actually been kind of a dream ever since I was seven. I’ve always loved astronomy and rocket ships. I like doing it. It’s kind of interesting.”

Doug Nadvornick / Northwest News Network
University of Idaho chemical engineering professor Aaron Thomas helps middle school students in Plummer, Idaho prepare their rockets for flight.

But not that many Native American children pursue science careers. So University of Idaho chemical engineering professor Aaron Thomas and his Idaho Space Grant Consortium applied to NASA.

They asked for money to give summer science and math lessons to Native American and Hispanic kids. NASA said yes.

Aaron Thomas: “So you guys, take a little while. Try to figure out how to make your rocket.”

And so, this summer, Thomas is traveling around Idaho, teaching students about concepts like space.

Aaron Thomas: “I’m Navajo myself, so I really wanted to reach tribal reservations, but also we see a need among our Hispanic students as well.”

Rockets in hand, Thomas leads his students out into an open school field with a plastic contraption connected to a bicycle pump. Allison Eickman slips her rocket onto a pipe on the end.

Aaron Thomas: “The pink destroyer. Three…two…one…”

Thenshe primes the pump to build up pressure, until…

Her rocket flies high and far. Eickman retrieves it, already thinking about how she’ll adjust her rocket for a second flight.

Allison Eickman: “I would change the fins and cut them a little smaller and try to put them as the same length and the same size.”

Eickman says, someday, she’d like to become an astronaut. She’d follow in the footsteps of John Herrington, the first Native American to go up in space back in 2002.