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Chickasaw astronaut 'signs' patches for Native American girls' fund

November 12, 2023

— The first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly into space is helping inspire a new generation of Native American girls to possibly to do the same with a limited edition emblem that celebrates their shared heritage and his time as a NASA astronaut.

John Herrington, who flew on a 2002 space shuttle mission and is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, helped design and provided his autograph for the latest "Signature Edition" patch offered by the nearly 50,000-member Space Hipsters group on Facebook. The collectible is intended as a fundraiser for the non-profit Taking Up Space, which has created a 36-week science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum and organizes trips for middle-school-age Native American girls to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to attend Space Camp.

"Herrington has been a big supporter of Taking Up Space for some years now and was happy to take part in this fundraiser," said Chris Spain, who arranged for the creation and production of the patch.

The emblem's artwork combines imagery from Herrington's two-week STS-113 mission and elements from his Chickasaw background. The primary inspiration for the patch was a photo taken of Herrington during a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station on Nov. 30, 2002. In the image and as reproduced in embroidery, the forward section of space shuttle Endeavour is seen to the right of Herrington, who is wearing a spacesuit and waving his left gloved hand.

The photo is Herrington's favorite from his three spacewalks.

Where the patch art differs from reality is the depiction of an eagle feather floating at the center of the design. The feather was presented by a Yankton Sioux native elder to Herrington during a ceremony and then it was flown on Endeavour. It is now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The border of the patch is based on the Chickasaw Nation seal, with its gold color representing the purity of the Chickasaw people and purple their honor and pride. Inscribed along the border is Herrington's name and "Chickashsha Aba' Nowa" ("Chickasaw Above Walker"), the name he was given as a Chickasaw astronaut.

The border and the black background at the center of the patch are decorated with comb and interlocking curved lines, which are characteristic of designs found on some Native American-made ceramics. The border resembles Chickasaw pottery from the Tupelo, Mississippi archaeological site. The black background includes culturally-important symbols: the spiral, the all-seeing eye (or ogee) and the Sun.

"The design was an interactive process with Herrington," said Spain.

The patches, which were produced by NASA's official supplier A-B Emblem, are available in three versions:

A limited edition of 50 "gold" patches with Herrington's facsimile signature embroidered in metallic gold thread and individually-numbered display cards, each hand-signed by Herrington.

A limited edition of 100 "silver" patches "signed" in silver metallic thread. They also come on numbered cards autographed by Herrington.

There is also an open edition patch that lacks metallic thread and comes without a display card. Herrington's signature on the patch is sewn in white thread.

The patches are priced at $75 for each gold edition, $50 for silver and $15 for the open edition. There is a limit of one gold and two silver patches per person.

There is also a high quality 4-inch (10-centimeter) vinyl sticker of the open edition design available for $3 as add-on to patch orders. Details on how to place orders can be found on the Space Hipsters Facebook group.

November is National American Indian Heritage Month. Other Native American NASA astronauts have included Skylab pilot Bill Pogue and SpaceX Dragon Crew-5 commander Nicole Mann. Herrington and other American Indians who served the space program were honored on a 2019 gold dollar coin.

The Herrington patch is the fourth entry in the Space Hipsters' "Signature Edition" series. The group previously produced emblems celebrating Apollo veteran Fred Haise and space shuttle astronauts Mike Mullane and Hoot Gibson.


John Herrington's "Signature Edition" patch combines imagery from his astronaut career and his Chickasaw heritage to raise funds for "Taking Up Space" and its initiative to send Native American girls to Space Camp. (Space Hipsters)

The design of John Herrington's Signature Edition patch was inspired by his favorite spacewalk photo taken of him on STS-113 (background), an eagle feather that he carried on the mission (top inset) and the Chickasaw Nation seal. (NASA/Chickasaw Nation)

Examples of the John Herrington "Signature Edition" gold and silver patches, as well as their signed display cards. (Space Hipsters)

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