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John Herrington, American Indian astronaut, returns to Mother Earth

After a whirlwind thirteen days in space astronaut John Herrington is back on Earth. The shuttle Endeavour landed at the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday at 2:37 p.m., completing his 5.7 million-mile journey. In his 215 orbits around the Earth Herrington has flown over almost all of North America dozens of times. The only portions of Indian Country not covered by Herrington's mission are Alaska and northern Canada.

A day after landing Herrington talked to Indian Country Today, just a couple of miles from where he launched two weeks earlier. He said: "The launch ? inside nine minutes things get incredibly serious and the vehicle starts to come alive. When Paco [pilot Paul Lockhart] starts the APUs [Auxiliary Power Units] the whole vehicle, you can feel the shudder and shake. When the engines move and gimbal you can feel that ? this vehicle is alive, it's a 'living' being, it's really really neat.

"Jim [Wetherbee] said here's the water deluge system you can feel the whole structure shudder when the water came on. The main engines came up and it wasn't really noticeable. I noticed it looking at the [gauges] for the pressure indications and you feel the vehicle pitch a little and the solid boosters ignite and you're off to the races. I was surprised at how quickly we came up. The roll program and big yawing motion ? all of the sights and sounds and vibrations, it touches every bit of your senses it's really, really amazing."

An American Indian was waiting for Herrington and his crew as they left the shuttle. Louise Kleba, Chippewa, was aboard the Crew Transport Vehicle, a laboratory on wheels, which drives up to the shuttle's hatch. Kleba, wearing her Native ribbons, was kneeling by the hatch and holding a duct that provided fresh air into the crew cabin after landing.

Among the spectators viewing the landing was Deborah Coombs, Oglala Sioux, who works on the shuttle's parachutes. Each solid rocket booster has a set of parachutes. In addition the shuttle has a drag chute which is deployed when the shuttle lands. She said: "It's just a deeper feeling ? one of your own, finally a Native American. It's so important Native Americans be recognized in what they do."

So what was it like to see her parachutes help slow the shuttle down? Coombs said: "I felt pride. We see these chutes as they come into us, we see the packers pack them, repair them, make news parts as needed, and [to] see it deploy right there first hand is a good feeling. It's exciting."