National Native American Heritage Month – John Herrington, Astronaut

In 2002, astronaut John Herrington became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to travel into outer space. (William R. Pogue, who flew into outer space during the 1970s as the pilot for the Skylab 4 mission, was of Choctaw ancestry; however, he was not an enrolled member of the Choctaw.) As a mission specialist on board Space Shuttle Endeavour, Herrington flew with the six other crew members to the International Space Station. The entire mission, known as STS-113, encompassed a total of 5,600,000 miles (9,000,000 kilometers) and lasted 13 days, 18 hours, 48 minutes, and 38 seconds.

Herrington was born into the federally recognized Chickasaw Nation in the Oklahoma city of Wetumka in 1959. During his early years, he also lived in Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. Herrington earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS).

In 1984, Herrington received his commission in the U.S. Navy from the Aviation Officer Candidate School at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. The following year, he was designated a naval aviator. Herrington’s first operational assignment in this capacity was with Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight (VP-48). As key parts of this assignment, he served at Naval Air Facility Adak in Alaska and Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines. Herrington was also designated a patrol plane commander, mission commander, and patrol plane instructor pilot during his time with VP-48.

In 1990, Herrington attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He subsequently served as a project test pilot for the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System, a collaborative program of the Navy and U.S. Air Force. In 1995, Herrington earned a master’s of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Herrington was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996. After completing two years of training as a mission specialist, he qualified for spaceflight assignment as a mission specialist. During his history-making expedition as a part of STS-113, Herrington performed three spacewalks. Altogether, these spacewalks totaled 19 hours and 55 minutes. In honor of his Chickasaw heritage, Herrington brought the Chickasaw Nation’s flag with him on Endeavour. He had received this flag from Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation.

Herrington’s NASA service also involved serving as the commander of an aquanaut crew for NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) for a mission in 2004. Herrington and his crew lived and worked for 10 days in the Aquarius underwater laboratory, which is located several miles off the coast of Florida. This laboratory is the world’s only undersea research station.

Herrington stepped down from both NASA and the Navy in 2005. He subsequently served for a couple of years as vice president and director of flight operations for the spacecraft development company Rocketplane Limited, Inc. Herrington has also assisted with the Center for Space Studies at UCCS.

Another one of Herrington’s post-NASA/Navy pursuits has been a cross-country bicycle ride that he undertook between Cape Flattery, Washington, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2008. This transcontinental journey took three months to complete.

Herrington’s main reason for pedaling across the United States in the first place was to help promote more student participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “The generation that grew up in the age of the Apollo program and the journey to the moon was motivated by the excitement of space and the possibilities that it brought to the nation,” he said. “Those kinds of possibilities to explore the unknown and make new discoveries still exist, but we must motivate students to learn and have a way to connect what they learn to what they do on a daily basis.”

Herrington’s enthusiasm for his own educational advancement has likewise remained strong. In 2014, he earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Idaho. Another recent accomplishment of his was writing a children’s book entitled “Mission to Space,” in which describes his passion for space travel and what it was like to be an astronaut. Herrington included in the book a list of space-related terms, complete with English-to-Chickasaw translations.

Herrington has been the recipient of numerous honors. In 2002, he was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. He has since also been inducted into both the International Air & Space Hall of Fame and the National Native American Hall of Fame. For more information on John Herrington, please check out

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