First African American to walk in space visits local students


DeWitt, Mich. (WLNS)– Fourth and fifth-graders at Herbison Woods Elementary School in DeWitt got a special visit this afternoon thanks to one of their fellow classmates.

George Rollins, a fifth-grader at the school, was one of hundreds of students who participated in a national STEM competition last summer. Participants were instructed to create a new electronic wearable that could make a difference to the user.

“My project is a pilots helmet that will help so that pilots if they pass out, can get to the ground safely,” Rollins said.

That invention won Rollins the competition and a visit from veteran astronaut and CEO of the national math and science initiative, Bernard Harris.

“His project is about enabling pilots to communicate with each other. Essentially it measures when a pilot goes unconscious. [It’s] very similar to what we do at NASA. We have this team that’s part of our crew. We fly a jet that actually has two pilots and this technology would be really relevant to that,” Harris said.

Harris was part of NASA’s 13th class.

“I was one of those kids about their same age that was fascinated with science and science fiction and the science part was really space science and so I followed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when we landed on the moon, I knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

In 1995 Harris became the first African American to walk in space. He flew two missions, traveling more than 7 million miles in space, but now he has a new mission.

“When I was in space it was my extraterrestrial mission and now I have a terrestrial mission and it is to inspire young people not just to become an astronaut but to accomplish their dreams no matter what their dreams are,” Harris said.

While Rollins doesn’t necessarily want to be an astronaut, he hopes to be something similar.

“I like pilots and I wanted to be a fighter pilot. My hopes for the future are to fly the F-22 or faster and to go to air shows,” Rollins said.

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