Shuttle makes history, to carry campus graduate

When the space shuttle Endeavor lifts from its Florida mooring Nov. 10, United States and university history will be made.

On board the Endeavor, scheduled for an 11-day mission, will be John Herrington, the nation’s first American Indian astronaut and a 1983 CU-Colorado Springs graduate.

The seven-member crew of Endeavor will travel to Space Station Alpha with the mission of transporting a new three-member crew and to return three current space station occupants, including two Russians, to Earth. Herrington is expected to perform three space walks and install a 29,000-pound truss that will support various solar arrays. The trip will be the realization of a long-term goal, according to one of Herrington’s former instructors, Nancy Baggs, retired instructor, Mathematics.

“His career path from being one of my students and helping me grade papers to becoming an astronaut is rewarding to me as a teacher,” Baggs said recently. “He has been very successful.”

Baggs, who has talked with Herrington several times since graduation, said she had received a personal invitation to the launch but will be unable to attend. The launch, originally scheduled for August, has been rescheduled several times as a result of mechanical difficulties.

“I hope it goes this time,” Baggs said. “And I hope all goes well.”

Herrington earned a bachelor’s degree from CU-Colorado Springs in applied mathematics and attended the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School, graduating in 1984. In 1985, he was named a Navy aviator a “Top Gun.” He was a patrol plane commander, mission commander, patrol plane instructor and a fleet replacement squadron instructor pilot before earning a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Navy Postgraduate School. In 1996, he was selected by NASA. Six years later, he will have the opportunity to travel to space and to become the first Native American to do so.

Herrington continues to be active in the American Indian Society of Engineering Students, a group dedicated to increasing Indian student awareness of careers in high-technology fields. Herrington visited the CU-Colorado Springs’ AISES chapter in 1998 and is a member of the national AISES board of directors.

On board the shuttle, Herrington hopes to bring a CU-Colorado Springs pennant and, according to published reports, he will carry with him two symbols of his heritage, a Chickasaw Nation flag and eagle feathers given to him by several other tribal nations. Herrington, born in Wetumka, Okla., is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

“They (the eagle feathers) represent strength and courage,” Herrington told The Santa Fe New Mexican. “These feathers are truly an amazing symbol.”