As one of seven Pathfinder astronaut teacher candidates selected by the non-profit Teachers in Space program, Steve Heck plans to make history by becoming one of the first teachers to fly into space and return to the classroom. Today, however, he recreated history when he flew a replica of the Model B Wright Flyer.
The Model B Wright Flyer, built by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1910, was the successor to the original Wright Flyer and the first aircraft offered for commercial sale. The Model B Wright Flyer replica was built by Wright B Flyers Inc. in 1980.
Heck hopes that his flight will inspire students by showing how far aviation has come in the 100 years since Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the Model B from a field near Dayton, Ohio. “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Heck said. “A century ago, giants like Orville and Wilbur Wright opened up the new age of commercial aviation. Today, a new group of giants are opening up an even more exciting age of safe, affordable, routine public space travel. Companies like Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Rocketplane LLC, and XCOR Aerospace are developing reusable spacecraft that will soon make it possible for thousands of Americans to travel into space.”
Heck believes this new age of space travel will be key to inspiring American students to study math and science. “Like the Wright Brothers , we have the opportunity to excite and engage the next generation of Americans. By inspiring our students to excel in STEM education, just think what they will accomplish in the next 100 years. The sky is no longer the limit.”
Teachers in Space began as a NASA program in the 1980’s, which was discontinued after the Challenger accident. Today, it is being revived in the nonprofit private sector by the Space Frontier Foundation. Instead of flying teachers on the Space Shuttle, as NASA planned to do, the new Teachers in Space program is working with private companies that are developing America’s new suborbital spacecraft. These new vehicles will enable Teachers in Space to fly not just one or two teachers, as NASA planned to do, but large numbers of teachers. “We want to put a thousand astronaut teachers into American schools within the next decade,” Heck said.
For Steve Heck, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel, teaching is a second career. Prior to becoming a teacher, Heck accumulated more than 2,800 flying hours in jet aircraft and set two world records in KC-10 aircraft. Flying the Model B was a new experience, however. “It does not fly like the aircraft of today. No computers or fly-by-wire assistance, it takes all of your flying skills to fly it. You might say it’s the original relaxed-stability aircraft.” Heck said he found a new admiration for the Wright Brothers and their accomplishments.
Heck is the only pilot among the seven Pathfinder astronaut candidates, most of whom have more ordinary teaching backgrounds. “Not everyone could fly the Wright Flyer,” Heck said, “And not everyone could fly the Space Shuttle, but now we are moving into a new age where space will be more accessible to large numbers of people. Soon, a new generation of vehicles will open space just as the airplanes that followed the Wright Flyer opened the air.”