Former astronaut Herrington resigns from Rocketplane

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By Murry Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 1-08


Former astronaut and retired U.S. Navy Commander John Herrington has resigned from Rocketplane Global, an Oklahoma company that hopes to offer commercial space travel.

Herrington, who was hired in September 2005 as the Oklahoma City-based company’s vice president and director of flight systems, resigned on Dec. 21, according to a news release from the Chickasaw Nation media relations office.

Herrington, who was born in Wetumka and lives in Guthrie, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He became the first American Indian to fly in space in 2002, when he was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Endeavour.

“A couple of opportunities presented themselves that really intrigued me, and Rocketplane is always having an issue with fundraising, so I felt it was a good time to try something else,” Herrington said Thursday. He called his decision to leave the company “a difficult one.”

Rocketplane’s chairman and chief executive officer, George French Jr., said the company supported Herrington’s desire to explore other opportunities and said it would consider bringing him back in the future.

Herrington, 49, has retired from the Navy and from NASA. When he joined Rocketplane, plans were for him to serve as the test pilot for the Rocketplane XP reusable spacecraft in 2006 and to fly commercial spaceflights that were expected to begin this year from the Oklahoma Spaceport at the former Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat.

But the company has yet to get its spacecraft off the ground and in October, NASA dropped a multimillion dollar agreement with Rocketplane Global’s sister company, Rocketplane Kistler, to design and develop space transportation capabilities that could lead to private cargo deliveries to the International Space Station.

Rocketplane since has released design drawings and other specifics about Rocketplane XP.

“John has had a lot of input into the aircraft,” French said. “Until we’ve reached a certain point we don’t need to replace John. When that time comes, we’ll go back to John first.”

French declined to say when that might be.

“In the aerospace business, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “There are a lots of things in the space business that can change your timeline, so it would be strictly speculative to say a specific time.

“This is rocket science, doing something that has never been built before and doing it safely. We’re working ... to see that when we put a vehicle on the flightline to take people into space, it will be safe.”

Herrington said when he joined Rocketplane Global, he did so because he did not want to miss out on the opportunity to be a pioneer in the commercial space industry.

“That was 21/2 years ago, and I was supposed to be flying by this time,” he said.

He said other companies in the industry face the same fundraising issues as does Rocketplane.

“Space tourism is a new venture,” he said. “It’s hard to get investors to look at it and say, ‘This is something we see potential in.’ It’s unfortunate, because I really value the technology and the engineers tremendously, but you can’t build without money.”

Herrington said he plans to continue working in the commercial space industry, because he believes “commercial space is the next great adventure in aerospace.”

He said he will continue working with the Chickasaw Nation, for which he has appeared in television commercials, and to serve as an adviser to the national Institute for Space, Science and Security Centers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.