First aboriginal astronaut encourages MRU students
Commander John B. Herrington came to share his journey to outer-space
Mount Royal students witnessed a snapshot of history on Sept. 12 – the world’s first aboriginal astronaut made a speech as part of the Beakerhead science festival.
Commander John B. Herrington talked about his experience in working for NASA and spending 330 hours in space, including a slideshow of incredible pictures and a handful of inspiring stories.
“What I think the important part of sharing my message is, and what worked for me, is that I think that I can have an impact on that person’s journey through being there for them and encouraging them,” said Commander Herrington.
The commander’s journey began differently than most might expect. The astronaut never considered himself scholarly — and hated being behind a desk. He had a rocky start in college and university.
But after taking some time off to work, he decided to hit the books again and completed a Bachelor of Science in Applied Math from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, in 1983.
He was designated a naval aviator in 1985 and became a test pilot in 1990, eventually logging more that 4500 flight hours in more that 30 different aircrafts.
Thinking he needed a competitive edge against other candidates applying to NASA, in 1995 Herrington earned his Masters of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School.
He was selected by NASA less than a year later.
He became the world’s first aboriginal astronaut during Space Shuttle Endeavour’s 16th assembly mission to the International Space Station in 2002.
“I think that it’s all about the journey. I think that we all have a belief of what it takes to become an astronaut or an impression of that,” he said. “But there are a lot of people in the office who just work really hard at what they do and although they have a math and science background, in the end it’s just about all the difficulties and challenges that we all face in life and how to over come them,” said Commander Herrington.
Herrington served with NASA until 2005, when he retired from the U.S. Navy to pursue a career in the commercial space industry.
Currently, Commander Herrington is going back to school to pursue a PhD of Education at the University of Idaho. He hopes to make an impact on youth by inspiring excitement for math and the sciences—as well as their possibilities.
“Now this is a lesson for everybody here. This is an individual who retired after three space walks, who logged 4500 hours in flights with the Navy, who spent 330 hours in space, retired, and what did he decide to do? Go back to school,” said Mount Royal’s President David Docherty when introducing the commander.
“I’m passionate about trying to get kids engaged in math and science. I know that my story and what I have learned can add to the body of knowledge,” said Commander Herrington.
He also serves as an ambassador for the Chickasaw Nation.
After his presentation to Mount Royal students, Herrington was given the name of Golden Eagle Chief from Blackfoot Elder Leonard Bastien, who named the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University.
When asked about what it meant to him to have made history as the world’s first aboriginal astronaut, Commander Herrington modestly replied that it’s not about making history.
“Making history is not something that we set out to do. If we are put in a position where we can make history, even a significant part, if I honor my grandparents, my parents and my great grandparents, then that is my contribution.
“If I am doing something in the world that makes them proud then I am honored to have had that opportunity.”