John Herrington (Chickasaw) humbled by spaceflight - 2002

by Marcia Dunn
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AP)

An astronaut who’s making history as the first American Indian in space says he’s inspired and humbled by the experience.

John Herrington helped install a $390 million girder on the international space station during a seven-hour spacewalk Nov. 26. He was to go back out Nov. 28 to perform more hookups.

“It was an awe-inspiring moment to be able to go out of the hatch and to see the Earth’s horizon and see the space station against that,” he said in an interview Nov. 27.

Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, was asked by the Chickasaw Times how his perspective on Thanksgiving would be affected by spending the afternoon and evening floating outside. He replied with a laugh: “I’ll be really hungry when I come back in.”

Herrington said he would probably celebrate with one of NASA’s prepackaged chicken and rice dinners or maybe some turkey.

His Spanish-born spacewalking partner, Michael Lopez-Alegria, was treated to a special holiday wake-up call the morning of Nov. 28. His wife, Daria, asked Mission Control to pipe up the music “Marriage of Figaro” from the soundtrack of the 1983 comedy Trading Places, which the astronaut watches every Thanksgiving – except this one. “That’s great, very inspirational,” Lopez-Alegria told flight controllers. “We’re looking forward to a great day. And we all miss our families and we’re sorry that you all are having to work on Thanksgiving, but it’s all for a good cause.”

Herrington, a 44-year-old Navy commander, became the first American Indian in space with shuttle Endeavour’s launch the weekend of Nov. 24.

The governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Okla., Bill Anoatubby, called to wish Herrington all the best during the mission.

NASA’s space station program manager, Bill Gerstenmaier, said the three computers and all the other systems inside the newly installed girder were working fine. He said everything remains on track for next year’s space station construction work.

During mid-Nov., Russia confirmed to NASA its plans to provide two Soyuz lifeboats and three supply ships next year for the orbiting complex, said NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown.

Top Russian space officials had said that they might reduce their space station contributions.

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