It started out as a joke. The students at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation near Bellingham were launching little rockets made from recycled water bottles as a way to do some hands-on science. Computer science teacher Gary Brandt says calling it a “space center” was just something one of the students came up with. “And he said, ‘I called us the Northwest Indian College Space Center,’” Brandt said. “I was kind of dumbfounded, basically. And I said, ‘OK, let’s do that. That’s kind of grandiose. Let’s really play it up.’” The joke was funny because this was just a tiny, two-year college, with no engineering program. Getting into space was the last thing on the minds of these students; they were just trying to escape poverty. Next thing they knew, NASA was calling them up.