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Native American Heritage Month: Astronaut John Herrington wants more Native students in STEM



ARDMORE, Okla. (KXII) – November is Native American Heritage Month, and News 12 spoke with a Chickasaw astronaut about his journey to become the first Native American to walk in space.

Commander John Herrington is an engineer, a member of the Chickasaw nation, a PhD and an Astronaut.

“I did about 20 hours of spacewalks over a 3-day period,” Herrington said. “That’s exactly where I wanted to be as a rock climber. I mean that’s the ultimate cliff, right? At the top of the station, I remember hanging off the side by a thumb and a forefinger hanging on to this little piece of the space station. Looking out past the edge of the earth into the vastness universe and for the first time in my life, I thought you know there’s nothing between me and whatever else that’s out there”

Space was Herrington’s dream since he was 8.

“I was playing in a cardboard box back in the 60s because that’s what was on TV,” Herrington said. “That’s what I wanted to be. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would actually become a reality.”

Herrington said the path to becoming the first Native American in space was bumpy at times.

“I went off to college and I didn’t do very well my first year, got kicked out of school, I didn’t study very hard,” Herrington said. “I ended up being a rock climber on a survey crew.”

But a mentor on that crew told Herrington he needed to go back to school.

He got his degree in applied mathematics, joined the Navy and later joined NASA.

“If somebody comes to you and says something, eh, listen,” Herrington said. “Cause that one thing may be something that changes your life.”

NASA’s requirements are strict.

“Never thought I’d get selected because you look at the group around you and you think ‘Man, these people are all stellar top performers, why me?’ But of course everyone around you is thinking the same thing,” Herrington said.

Herrington said scientific excellence is Native American Heritage.

“Our ancestors were remarkable builders, they were remarkable engineers,” Herrington said. “They were chemists, they were botanists, they were wonderful observers of the sky.”

Now he works with Native American students, inspiring them to pursue STEM.

“Your ancestors did this, and they gave you the opportunity to walk this earth and to do the very best you can do,” Herrington said.

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