The idea for this competition began several years ago. The College of Menominee Nation (CMN) began competing in the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium’s (WSGC) collegiate rocket competition and the NASA University Space Launch Initiative. They started with no knowledge of rockets! Through workshops held by the WSGC and CAD software designed for building rockets, they have now launched over a dozen high-powered rockets. They began to ask the question; if we can do it, why can’t other tribal colleges do the same thing, and First Nations Launch (FNL) was born.
Through the leadership of Dan Hawk, former president of the CMN rocket club, Norbert Hill, former Vice-President of the CMN Green Bay campus, Dr. Aileen Yingst, WSGC Director, and Sharon Brandt, WSGC Program Manager, the inaugural launch took place at Richard Bong State Recreational Area on May 1, 2010, with the help of a Minority Serving Institution Partnership grant from NASA. During the second year of FNL, American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) teams were added.
Astronaut John Herrington, the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space, attended the 2017 First Nations Launch at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI, and Richard Bong State Recreational Area. Commander Herrington continues to be a strong supporter of the FNL program.
The First Nations Launch program became part of the NASA Artemis Student Challenges program in 2020. Undergraduate students from 24 US and Canadian teams participate in the Moon or Mars Challenge. More than 77 tribes have been represented since the program began. If it were not for the generous funding of NASA during the initial launch, the First Nations Launch program would not exist. NASA is committed to promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math opportunities for everyone. Their investment continues to impact the generations of Native American students attending Tribal Colleges and Universities, Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions, and collegiate American Indian Science and Engineering chapter.