On Thanksgiving Day in 2002, Mission Specialist John B. Herrington, Chickasaw, was looking down on Mother Earth—and his family—from space. Herrington was strolling among the stars on his first space walk, on his first mission as the first enrolled tribal member to blast off into the great blue yonder.
His proud parents gazed up at him from the ground.
“My parents had seen me,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in a recent interview. “They came out and saw the space station fly over. That was their Thanksgiving.”
He also became an uncle.
“My niece was born while I was in space,” Herrington said of the two-week trip, “my sister’s daughter Ashley.”
Herrington was not thinking about any of that on his space walk, one of three he would conduct while serving as mission specialist for the STS-113 expedition on the Shuttle Endeavour.
“During the walk I was thinking, ‘Don’t mess up. Got a lot of work to do, don’t mess up,’ ” he said with a chuckle.
Herrington spent a total of 19 hours and 15 minutes doing three walks, conducting tasks not unlike Sandra Bullock’s work in Gravity, with one key difference: His tools did not go flying off into space.
“They didn’t tether their tools,” Herrington said of the movie’s astronauts, played by Bullock and George Clooney. “I tethered my tools. I didn’t want to lose my tools.”
After that first walk it was just a regular Thanksgiving, if canned Russian food and a seat near the ceiling could be called “regular.”
“I ate Thanksgiving dinner on the Russian side of the space station,” Herrington said. “I ate pork and eggs out of a can of Russian food. We had some turkey and stuff. But we all ate in the Russian service module. And I ate my food in the corner. I kind of floated up in the corner. They were all sitting around the table, their legs in the little stirrups. I was floating up in the corner, like the ultimate fly on the wall.”