Commander John Herrington, a Chickasaw citizen and the first Native American in space, begins a new 4,000 mile journey Wednesday, August 13.
On this journey, his view will be much different than those he enjoyed as an astronaut and test pilot. He is riding a bicycle coast to coast to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“I want to do something that will make a difference,” said Cmdr. Herrington of his journey, which has been dubbed Rocketrek.
Beginning in Cape Flattery in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula he will wind his way to Cape Canaveral, Florida on a journey expected to take about three months.
"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."
Along the way, he will stop to speak to students at schools, Indian Reservations and other locations in at least 11 states.
A Web site has also been developed to enable thousands of others become actively involved in the experience.
Cmdr. Herrington has a long history of inspiring to students with stories of his own experiences.
Even though he had often dreamed of becoming an astronaut and had an interest in science and engineering, it took some time for him to realize education was the key to making those dreams come true.
"I started out college not knowing what to do and I didn't study very hard, didn't do very well,” he said. “Once I had been out of school for a year and worked for an engineering firm, I realized that was something I was interested in. I got excited about it and that led to a degree in mathematics."
Cmdr. Herrington gives much of the credit for his success to individuals who took the time and made the effort to offer encouragement and advice.
He has been offering the same kind of advice and encouragement to students for years. Rocketrek is an expansion of those efforts.
"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.”
The trip is supported by the Chickasaw Nation, TREK Bicycle Corporation, Pro Bike Inc. of Oklahoma City, American Indian institute for Innovation (AII) and South Dakota Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate programs (GEARUP).
Log on to http://www.rocketrek.com and learn more about Cmdr. Herrington and his mission, track his progress on Google Earth, solve science problems related to the trek, view updated trip videos, photos, read his blog and post your own comments.