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Astronaut discusses road to entering space program

Nov. 4, 1999

By MIKE BLUM

Reporter

Lt. Cmdr. John Herrington of the United States Navy, who will be the first Native American to enter space, spoke to a crowd of students, faculty and visitors at 8 p.m. Wednesday night in Kayser Auditorium. Herrington's speech, titled, 'Maybe So and Maybe Not!' was sponsored by the Baylor Native American Association (NASA).

NASA, established in 1993, tries to host at least one speaker a year.

Jacob Wruck, a Galt, Calif., senior and council member of NASA, said they were especially excited about hosting someone in the space program because, 'An astronaut is a modern-day hero for a lot of people.'

Herrington, 41, is a member of the Chickasaw nation. Although Herrington has always been familiar with his Native American roots through his mother, he said not until the late 70s did he become curious about learning more about his heritage.

'I'm learning about it. There is a lot I don't know about the Chickasaw nation,' Herrington said.

The Chickasaw nation was assimilated quickly, he said. The Chickasaw rely on many other nations to help learn about their roots, he said.

'The Chickasaw nation had its first traditional festival in 70 years two years ago,' Herrington said.

Herrington said getting older and having a family have spurned on his interest in learning about his Native American culture.

'Having children has played a part,' he said. 'They want to know where you come from.'

Herrington's road to becoming an astronaut was not smooth. He was kicked out of the University of Colorado for poor grades after just two semesters. But he returned to the university two years later. Herrington said doing your best, keeping a positive attitude and always learning are the keys to his personal turn around.

Herrington entered into the Navy's Officer Candidate's School in 1983, becoming a pilot for the navy soon after. Unlike many of his colleagues, Herrington chose to remain in the navy rather than take a more lucrative position with a commercial airline. 'I knew that I wanted to be a test pilot and so through the navy I went to school to get my masters of science in aeronautical engineering,' Herrington said.

While a test pilot for the navy, Herrington was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. Herrington, along with 140 others, is a member of the space program. Herrington said approximately 50 members have assignments [to go on a mission], the rest, including himself are waiting for their assignments.

'I have not flown into space yet, but I hope to fly in a couple of years,' Herrington said