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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 8, 2003 - Issue 80


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Learning that the Sky's the Limit

by Jim Szymanski; The News Tribune
credits: Russ Carmack | The News Tribune Astronaut shares his experiences - After a presentation to students at Chief Leschi Friday, astronaut John Bennett Herrington is wrapped in an American Indian storyteller's blanket.

Astronaut shares his experiences - After a presentation to students at Chief Leschi Friday, astronaut John Bennett Herrington is wrapped in an American Indian storyteller's blanket. Astronaut John Bennett Herrington shared the power of possibilities with nearly 1,000 students at Chief Leschi Schools on Friday.

It was his first public appearance since a two-week Space Shuttle Endeavour mission that brought a flight crew back to Earth from the International Space Station last month.

As a member of Oklahoma's Chickasaw Nation, Herrington is NASA's first tribal member in space.

"I'm very proud of my heritage," he told the students, many from the Puyallup, Muckleshoot and Wa He Lut tribes. "I dreamed I'd be an astronaut when I was a little kid, but I never felt I was good enough to do it."

Herrington is a guest of the Museum of Flight for today's commemoration of the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed the seven-member crew.

During a 90-minute slide and movie presentation Friday morning, Herrington, clad in a royal blue flight suit, took the students on an armchair tour of space.

He talked about weightlessness and some of the other oddities of working in space. Liquids float in the shape of balls, and his fellow astronauts can push him with their fingers while he's wearing 350 pounds of equipment. He even explained why he wears a diaper while working in his space suit for several hours.

Space, he said, has a distinct smell "something like burned metal, like somebody has oxidized something. It's neat because you can only experience that smell in space."

Those experiences were the result of a great deal of work and a great deal of help, he said.

"I'm only here because I'm standing on the shoulders of people who encouraged me," he said. "I knew I had to go to college because my parents told me so."

He struggled enough at the University of Colorado that he was temporarily suspended because of poor grades. But Herrington said the encouragement of teachers helped him improve his grades and enlist in the Navy, where he became a pilot.

Herrington has logged 330 hours in space, including 19 hours on space walks servicing the space station. He hopes to travel to Mars someday.

"You can't succeed only on your own," he said, "but never think your goals are impossible because they're not."

The students said Herrington reminded them of Indian pride and taught them much about space. After his presentation, they wrapped him in an American Indian storyteller's blanket.

"It's cool that he's the first Native American in space," 17-year-old Kristen Moses said. "If I had known he was going to be here, I would have brought my camera."

Robert Tate, 14, said Herrington inspired his imagination.

"It was a real good description of space," Tate said. "I didn't know there was a smell in space."

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