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NASA sets November launch for Commander Herrington

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? NASA managers are planning an early November launch for astronaut John Herrington, Indian Country Today has learned.

Herrington, Chickasaw, is the first tribally enrolled American Indian astronaut. He's scheduled to fly on the STS-113 shuttle mission, which will carry a critical assembly part for the International Space Station and swap its long-duration crews.

Herrington said, "We're doing crew rotation and major assembly tasks in the same flight. You're taking a very limited number of crewmembers doing major assembly tasks and a crew rotation with all of the overhead with the transfer operations. It's going to be a major effort."

Herrington's flight will carry a Port 1 (P1) truss. Ultimately, the completed truss will stretch to the length of a football field and support four sets of giant solar arrays. On Herrington's mission the shuttle's robot arm will be used to lift the P1 out of the shuttle's cargo bay where it will be handed off to the space station's robot arm. The station's robot arm will position the truss in the proper location to attach to the existing space station truss. Herrington and fellow astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will perform three spacewalks to finish mating the P1 truss to the rest of the space station.

Besides construction tasks, Herrington's mission has another important objective ? swapping out long-duration space station crews. The existing space station crew of Russian cosmonauts Valeri Korzun and Sergei Treschev and American astronaut Peggy Whitson will return home on Herrington's shuttle. Because of delays in repairing cracked Shuttle flowliners, they're spending an additional month in space.

Herrington will launch with their replacements, the Expedition 6 crew. The crew was to have consisted of Commander Ken Bowersox, Don Thomas, and Nikolai Budarin. But Thomas had to be removed from the crew due to medical concerns. His place will be taken by his backup, Don Pettit.

The remaining members of Herrington's crew are Commander Jim Wetherbee and pilot Gus Loria.

NASA is expected to announce the new schedule shortly. Check the Indian Country Today website at http://indiancountry.com for the latest update.