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NASA's first Native American astronaut to address Moundville Festival

NASA astronaut John Herrington

The Moundville Archeological Park continues its Native American Festival today. The guest list includes the first Native American to fly in space. Former NASA astronaut John Herrington is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2002 and helped install part of the International Space Station’s spinelike truss. Herrington says his work on the orbiting outpost builds on the efforts of other Native Americans who constructed the Empire State Building and other New York City skyscrapers in the 1930’s.

“Yeah, Mohawk, Akwesasne…that were working in those high steel structures, and here I was a high steel structure guy working in space, and kind in honor of those people who came before me,” said Herrington.

Herrington adds the people of the Chickasaw Nation are descendants of the early Native Americans who once lived on the spot of the Moundville Archeological Park.  The veteran astronaut also works to encourage Native American children to pursue careers in high technology. Herrington says Christina Holon is a success story from among the young people he’s coached.

“She’s an engineer working with Northrop Grumman," Herrington recalls. "And she’s part of the whole…the launch that just went up to the Space Station a couple of days ago out of Wallops. She’s been very successful…she’s Navajo. She came to my launch years ago, and says I watched John become a star.”

Herrington is referring to the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The unmanned cargo carrier just delivered four tons of equipment and supplies to the space station. Herrington will be interviewed virtually at the festival and then take questions.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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