By Tony Parra
John Herrington has been in space. On Monday, he completed another important trip, answering questions from area students at Eastern New Mexico University’s Theatre Center.
“It’s a great chance to come to a place, which I’m sure, not many astronauts have visited,” Herrington said after the presentation. “We (astronauts) want to share the wealth. These are the places we need to visit.”
Herrington, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut, in 2002 became the first American Indian to walk in space, according to the NASA explores Website.
He spoke about his voyage to space and the challenges of being an astronaut before a crowd that included students from Clovis’ Ranchvale Elementary, Portales High School and ENMU.
Herrington, who said he comes from the Sequoyah Fellow tribe and was born in Wetumka, Okla., took items from his family on his space flight. They included an eagle feather from an ancestor who survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn with Gen. George Custer, he said.
He said he also took a flute made by a Cherokee and played it while in space.
He showed students video of his mission to space in November and December of 2002. The footage showed everything from the launch to space to the landing of the shuttle.
“This (the visit) is for the kids’ futures,” Herrington said. “I wanted to show them what NASA can do. Our mission is to inspire.”
Herrington said his job on the space flight included fixing some parts of the International Space Station.
After returning to Earth, Herrington said he felt nauseated and needed several weeks to get used to solid ground again.
“When I laid down on my bed to sleep, I really believed the ceiling was the floor,” Herrington said. “For a couple of days, I felt I had to hold onto something. I felt like I was walking on marbles.”
Susan White, a fifth-grade teacher at Ranchvale Elementary in Clovis, said she had heard about Herrington’s scheduled visit through one of her students.
“We’re very happy to bring the students, here,” White said. “If we want our kids to grow up to be scientists and astronauts we have to get kids interested in it now.”
Austina Hall, a Portales High School junior, said she enjoyed listening to Herrington and watching the powerpoint presentation.
“We don’t get very many opportunities to see something like that,” Hall said. “It was so neat to see the way he was living (in space). It was interesting seeing them sleep without gravity and how everything had to be tied down.”
Herrington said he would not have been a successful astronaut had it not been for people in his life who bumped him into the right path. Herrington said he was unsure of what he wanted to be when he went to college and had a 1.72 grade-point average as a freshman. He dropped out of the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.
Herrington said he was ultimately encouraged to go back to school and go into engineering. Herrington received a bachelor of science degree in applied mathematics from UC-Colorado Springs and a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1995.