On Jan. 28 astronaut John Herrington, Chickasaw, got to meet the New England Patriots. The occasion was a pre-Super Bowl party for the players, their families, and other VIPs.
Herrington does not have a direct connection to the Patriots or the Super Bowl, he was helping out a crewmate. Herrington's pilot on the STS-113 mission was Paul Lockhart. Lockhart's wife Mary, a Boston native, has always been a diehard Patriots fan and encouraged her husband to carry a cap commemorating their previous Super Bowl win.
The Lockharts had planned to give the hat back in person but were unable to attend so Herrington was asked to be their substitute. Herrington presented the cap to team owner Robert Kraft.
"It was neat, he's a very nice guy, very enthusiastic, he's looking forward to his team winning. I was able to give back the hat that Mary had Paul fly on the flight and it was a lot of fun," Herrington said.
The Patriots were victorious in the 2004 Super Bowl.
Herrington is currently working as a "capcom" in mission control, the astronaut who talks directly to the crews aboard the International Space Station. He is also studying Russian and learning how to use the shuttle and space station robotic arms. Because of his spacewalk experience on his first spaceflight, he has participated in some of the tests for how to repair shuttle tiles. Engineers have developed a sophisticated mechanical caulk gun which mixes together two chemicals to produce a thick pink goo. That material can be injected into cracks or damaged shuttle tiles where it cures into a rubber-like substance. On re-entry the material gradually burns away, protecting the damaged tile and shuttle from high temperatures. Herrington made those tests on NASA's weightless training aircraft, a modified military version of the Boeing 707.
Feb. 1 marked the one-year anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia accident. Herrington went to Florida to participate in an American Indian healing ceremony at the Astronaut Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center. During the ceremony Herrington said, "This is the place where we leave the face of the Earth. But there's one group who didn't return - and they're still on their journey."
A group of Shoshone-Bannock students and adults also traveled to Florida for the healing ceremony. The Shoshone-Bannock High School had a special connection to the space shuttle Columbia. Their experiment was one of the more than 80 experiments aboard Columbia.
At the healing ceremony, the students beat the drum and chanted in front of the memorial and presented NASA with many gifts. Some of the gifts included a handmade mandela with the Columbia logo and colored ribbons in honor of the seven astronauts and deerskin pouches.
The students and their adult escorts were excited to meet John Herrington.
"I just think this is fun being around [the students]. Coming down here and sharing their personal aspect and being able to come down and doing a healing ceremony it means a lot to them - it's part of the recovery process for them too. I'm proud they're here," Herrington said.
Thinking about the accident a year ago Herrington said, "It's a sad thing to come here and realize that [the STS-107 crew] didn't come home. But the important part is to continue what we're doing and comply with the recommendations of the [accident] board, and fly again. When we comply with those things we'll fly - and no sooner. There are just a lot of challenges - inspection, tile repair, getting the tank and everything repaired. Everybody is working their hardest to make it work. Management is doing what they're supposed to do. I don't think there's a single person at the center who would not. So everybody's doing what the board recommends."