First Indigenous astronaut wants us to unplug, connect with nature

Retired astronaut John Herrington is on a mission to share the wonders of the natural world

When John Herrington flew into space over 20 years ago, he became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to orbit the Earth and witness the splendour of nature from space. Now he hopes to inspire us all to unplug and get in touch with nature, ourselves.

On November 24, 2002, the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, bound for the International Space Station. The seven-person crew was delivering a new piece of the ISS, known as the P1 Truss segment, but the mission was also to ferry crew members to and from the station, ending Expedition 5 and beginning Expedition 6.

One member of the crew was setting a new 'first' for human spaceflight, as well.

Mission Specialist John Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, was making his first and only flight into orbit. He was also the first, and so far is the only, First Nations member to fly into space.

"On the edge of the Space Station, watching the Earth beneath us, hanging on by a thumb and a forefinger," Herrington said. "It was a life-changing moment."

As other astronauts have reported, upon their journey into orbit and subsequent return, they gain an appreciation for nature that comes from more than just being as far-removed from nature as one can currently get.

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"One of the things about being in space, is you get what's known as the 'overview effect'," Herrington said. "You're seeing the Earth for the first time in this very 'macro' view, that very few people in the history of the world have ever had a chance to see."

"When you see the thinness of the atmosphere, you appreciate how fortunate you are to live in such a remarkable place, and really how delicate [nature] is from that perspective."

To help us get in touch with nature, and have the same experience he did, but from here on the ground, Herrington teamed up with filmmakers and Alaskan bush pilot and youth advocate Ariel Tweto, to make the documentary Into Nature's Wild.

"What I hope that people take away from it is that there's a remarkable beauty to the Earth, and the idea is that we need to get out and experience it," Herrington said.

Source: Telus World of Science


Editor's note: This article was originally published in March

Thumbnail courtesy: MacGillivray Freeman