In the fall of 2002, John B. Herrington, the first Native American astronaut, flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour and spent 330 hours orbiting Earth.

Herrington, a retired Navy officer and NASA astronaut, spoke to more than 120 students at the Chrysler Center on North Campus yesterday about his journey as an astronaut and encouraged University students to follow their passions.

During his 40-minute speech, Herrington described his unforgettable travel to space in the Endeavour and his stay at the International Space Station.

“Space shuttles are a beautiful winged vehicle,” Herrington said. “Hanging outside in space and seeing the Endeavour right there is remarkable. It is an amazing engineering achievement. I don’t think people in this country realize how difficult it was and what a unique platform it is to fly around the Earth every 90 minutes.”

During the mission, Herrington performed three extra-vehicular activities, including spacewalks, and spent 19 hours and 55 minutes in the ISS. He said being in the ISS is like being in a regular house, except the astronauts can use the walls and ceiling in creative ways.

“You could be sleeping on the ceiling, and someone could be working on the floor doing work,” Herrington said.

Herrington also described the collaborations between the U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts at the space station.

“The Russian side feels more like home; you have meals there,” Herrington said. “I had Thanksgiving dinner there, and we had pork and eggs. The American side is very pristine and very laboratory-like. I enjoyed being trained by the Russian Air Force officers. There is bonding to it.”

Herrington holds degrees in aerospace engineering, electrical engineering and applied mathematics and is currently working on his Ph.D. in education. However, during his freshman year of college, he earned D’s in several classes and was subsequently asked to leave the University of Colorado. Herrington explained in an interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday that he took that time off to discover himself.

“I started college not knowing what I wanted to do.” Herrington said. “The year I took off, I worked in the mountains as a surveyor on a civil engineering crew. I was hanging off cliffs and holding a prism to reflect an infrared beam of light from my distance measuring device. The practicality of math and the guy I worked for convinced me to go back to school and major in engineering. And I did.”

The University’s chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society invited Herrington to speak on campus. Engineering sophomore April Yazzie, president of the University’s chapter of AISES, said the reason she joined the organization is because Herrington is a registered member of AISES.

“He’s so down-to-earth,” Yazzie said. “I’m so glad that John was willing to come out here and share the importance of his Native heritage. He’s one of the only two Native astronauts in the galaxy. We need somebody like him to share his experience and spread his success. ”

Rackham student An Cao, who is studying engineering, said Herrington’s address taught her the importance of following one’s dreams and passion.

“The keynote speech has also made me realize that I need to think more positively about challenges with a better attitude,” Cao said.

Kurt Hill, an academic adviser in the College of Engineering, described Herrington as a persistent motivator who followed his dreams.

“These heroes who have made it can teach us that we could take almost nothing and (make) something out of it,” Hill said. “Persistence and spirituality — that’s what they bring to the table, and we need to take advantage of it.”

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