Credit: Caitlin O'Brien
Nicole McGaa stands in front of the Space Shuttle Discovery during the Brooke Owens Leadership Summit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The Indigenous rocketeer

Nicole McGaa combined Indigenous knowledge with engineering to build a rocket for the First Nations Launch competition.
In April, she led MIT’s all-Indigenous rocket team to the 2023 First Nations Launch National Rocket Competition, an annual contest organized by NASA. The competition, held in Kenosha, Wisconsin, provides a platform for Native American students from universities across the United States and Canada to demonstrate their engineering skills through rockets that use high-powered motors. McGaa tells Nature about how she and her team incorporated Indigenous values into their work, why they smudged their rocket before launching it into the skies and her dreams to help astronauts to stay healthy in space.