The National Mall has an impressive new museum, and NASA Headquarters has a new neighbor. On Tuesday, opening ceremonies will be held for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in an event featuring the largest tribal gathering in history.
The new museum is located just east of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Fittingly, its unique design features the important role that the Earth, Moon, planets and stars play in Native American culture. (Visit the Museum's Web site)
NASA's first Native American astronaut, Commander John Herrington, was invited to speak at the opening ceremonies but had to send his regrets as he is in Star City, Russia, training for a future mission to the International Space Station. However, Herrington, a proud member of the Chickasaw Nation, is honored that the museum is showcasing two items that he flew in space on STS-113, the sixteenth Shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station.
The first item is a Native American flute made from cane that was presented to John by Jim Gilliland (Cherokee Nation), a retired engineer from the Kennedy Space Center. While onboard the International Space Station, John played the flute in a lively duet with Expedition 6 crew member Don Pettit, who had fashioned a musical instrument out of a vacuum cleaner.
The second item is a sacred Bald Eagle feather with a beaded decoration given to John by the late Phil Lane, Sr. (Lakhota Sioux), an elder in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. John explained the beads have six colors with "green representing Mother Earth; black, white, red and yellow representing the people who make Mother Earth their home; and blue representing Father Sky." John said he hopes people who see the flute and eagle feather on display will gain a greater appreciation of "the spirituality as well as the technical capabilities of Native Americans."
At NASA, we certainly hope to nurture the spirit of exploration and discovery in the next generation of Native American explorers. For example, this Friday astronaut Bob Cabana will visit the students at one of NASA's Explorer Schools, the Circle of Nations School in Wahpeton, North Dakota.
The Native American spirit represents a shining light of hope and resolve. And that light will shine bright in this wonderful addition to the National Mall. Welcome to the neighborhood!