In chapter 6, Homer goes round to Mr. Bykovski's house to see if he can help him build a rocket. Homer wants to create his own mini-Sputnik by welding a washer to a metal tube. Mr. Bykovski knows better, however, and suggests soldering the two together instead of welding them. He agrees to do the soldering work himself and tells Homer that he'll have his rocket ready for him the next day.
When Homer returns the following night, Mr. Bykovski presents him, as promised, with his rocket. Homer's pretty pleased at Mr. Bykovski's handiwork: a long, soldered tube with a wooden cone for a head. He decides to christen his new rocket "Auk 1." An auk was a flightless bird that became extinct—rather like the dodo—precisely because it couldn't fly.
Calling his new rocket by that name indicates that, although he's pleased with it, Homer doesn't have particularly high hopes that it will get off the ground. At the same time, the name of the rocket's also designed to give the impression that building rockets isn't a complete waste of time, and it is actually making Homer much smarter. After all, it's fair to say that not too many people in Coalwood actually know what an auk is, and so perhaps Homer thinks that the local townsfolk will be impressed by his unusual knowledge.