A member of the Chickasaw tribe, John B. Herrington was born in Wetumka, Oklahoma. When he was young, Herrington always dreamed of becoming a pilot. However, he was not a strong student and was dismissed from college for poor academic achievement. After working for a year with a land-survey crew, Herrington returned to school at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. There, a Veteran encouraged him to join the Navy. Following this advice, Herrington joined in 1984 and received his commission from the Aviation Officer Candidate School at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. In 1985, he became a Naval aviator and reported to Moffett Field Naval Air Station in California.
Herrington served with Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight, and became a mission commander and patrol plane instructor pilot. He made three operational deployments with VP-48 before joining Patrol Squadron Thirty-One as a fleet replacement squadron pilot instructor. In 1990, Herrington attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Following graduation, he worked as a test pilot for the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System from 1991 to 1993.
Overall, Herrington flew more than 30 different types of aircraft and logged over 3,300 flight hours. He received a Navy Commendation Medal, a Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation and a National Defense Service Medal.
In 1996, NASA selected Herrington for the astronaut program. He reported to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and completed two years of training. Herrington then served as a mission specialist on the space shuttle STS-113 Endeavour. On Nov. 23, 2002, he embarked on his journey from the Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station. While on the mission, Herrington became the first Native American in space. To celebrate this achievement, he brought a Chickasaw Nation flag with him on the 13-day trip.
“Being in space has given me a greater appreciation for my place on Earth,” Herrington said in an interview with the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “We are fortunate to inhabit this jewel in the Cosmos, and it is our responsibility to take care of it.”
Herrington later served as the commander of the sixth NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission in July 2004, which lasted 10 days. NEEMO entails living at the Aquarius underwater laboratory and studying human survival techniques. In 2005, Herrington retired from NASA and the Navy.
He was inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame in 2018. Herrington currently speaks to audiences across the country about his unique journey and passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
“Challenge is something we must all embrace,” Herrington said in a speech. “I pass along my academic and professional experience in the hope that a student will become motivated to fulfill his or her own dreams.”
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Writer: Rachel Jensen
Fact checker:/Vivian Hurney