Astronaut, pilot and Wetumka native John Herrington chuckles and describes this thought as “the million dollar question.”
From launch to re-entry, every little snippet of the process, he says, makes for an experience that can only be described as “dreamlike.”
“When you get into space and the engines quit, you go from 3Gs (three times your body weight) and you’re floating. You’re not accelerating anymore – you’re weightless. You’re floating for the first time and watching stuff float in front of your face. The first thing I did was let go of my checklist and watch it hover in front of my eyes. It’s fascinating. You look down at the Earth and are able to point out different places you’ve only seen before on maps,” he recalls.
“I think the most remarkable part is being able to see places around the world that you’ve been – knowing that you’ve been there and viewing them from a vantage point that so few people in the history of the human race have gotten to see. I was up one night looking out of the window and I could see Paris. I could see London. There are so many beautiful things you can see on Earth, like the turquoise blue water in glacial lakes. It’s an amazing, beautiful moving picture. The Earth is a living, breathing thing.”
Although breathtaking and hypnotic, he’s quick to point out that those moments only lasted for so long before he’d be back to the task at hand.
There was work to be done.
“Beyond the freedom of flight, what I enjoy most about flying is the responsibility it gives me, not just for myself, but for the crew of people I’m responsible for,” says Herrington. “As a pilot, you have to be at the top of your game and perform well in all sorts of different conditions. You have to accomplish the mission and bring everyone back safely.”
This kind of work ethic says a lot about the hard-working stock that Herrington comes from, and on a broader spectrum, speaks volumes for his home state’s extensive involvement with the NASA program as a whole.
Whether piloting spacecraft, conducting experiments in space or building parts and pieces for spacecraft and modules from down on terra firma, Oklahomans have participated in every phase of the NASA program.
From the very first Mercury mission through the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs, Skylab and MIR and International space stations, in no other state is the connection between exploring new frontiers and outer space more evident and alive than it is in Oklahoma.