A Wetumka native, John B. Herrington is the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space. Before his career with NASA, Herrington received his commission in the U.S. Navy and has logged over 4,600 flight hours in over 30 different types of aircraft. After two years of training, Herrington was selected as a Mission Specialist for STS-113 Endeavour, the sixteenth Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. He logged over 330 hours in space and performed three spacewalks in that time. Now, Herrington is a published author, speaker and cross-country biking enthusiast. He also has a doctorate in education from the University of Idaho and has been inducted into several halls of fame, along with garnering several other awards. A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Herrington collaborates with the Nation on various projects. We caught up with him and got his thoughts on … 

… his interest in
aviation and engineering. 

My father was a pilot and a flight instructor when I was growing up. I was exposed to aviation at an early age and was fascinated with flight. I used to sit below a hummingbird feeder and watch the hummingbirds fly. 

… being the first
Native American in space.

I’m honored that I have the opportunity to share my experiences with other Native Americans that have not had a role model who was an astronaut. 

…ongoing work with
the Chickasaw Nation.

I recently completed a detailed review of applicants for a prestigious scholarship. It was a difficult effort, but the research these students were doing was mind-boggling. Incredibly talented university students are making a difference in the world at an early age. I also support the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competition that occurs in OKC every year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has caused us to go virtual, but I look forward to next year being back in OKC for the event. Governor Anoatubby and the Chickasaw Nation have always been a strong supporters of FIRST in OK. I’ve been involved in the effort since 2007. 

…preparing for space travel. 

The time commitment is very high. The training, as well as your normal office duties, require you to be away from home a lot. You also spent a great deal of time in simulators, which may require you to work until well after midnight. Coming home and leaving at odd hours puts a lot of stress on your family life. 

… his continued drive to educate himself and others.

[It is] a motivation to keep moving forward. I can’t stand still, mentally or physically. Since my wife passed away in 2018, I’ve been involved in many activities that keep me engaged. Most recently, it was completing an IMAX movie called Into America’s Wild. Hopefully I’ll be able to hit the road again and promote the movie around the world. 

…performing spacewalks.

It’s every kid’s dream to be in your own little spaceship or airplane, and you can move about effortlessly. The work is difficult and strenuous, but incredibly gratifying.  

…his off-time.

I live in the mountains of Montana and I spent a great deal of time outdoors. Winters are dedicated to skiing, both on established ski runs as well as the backcountry. I recently finished an avalanche training course to prepare me to venture into the backcountry, understanding the risks and knowing how to avoid conditions that could be dangerous. I also continue to fly year round, as well as rock climb and bicycle riding. 

Previous articleWide Open Spaces
Next articleScene April 2021