MOSCOW, Idaho -- John Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, didn't always know he'd be an astronaut.
"When I was about your age," he told Pullman first- and second-grade students Tuesday, "I used to sit in a cardboard box and pretend I was going to the moon."
He visited Franklin Elementary School to explain what it's like to be the first Native American tribal member to enter space.
Herrington said he went to college without knowing what he wanted to do.
"I was kicked out of college because I didn't study very hard," he said, and took a job rock climbing in the mountains. He went back to school for applied mathematics and became a test pilot in the U.S. Navy.
He later was accepted to NASA, where he worked for nine years, getting to travel into space on a mission to the International Space Station.
Herrington's ride to 200 miles above Earth was loud, bouncy and bumpy and only took about eight minutes, he said.
At that rate of travel, 5 miles per second, it'd take 6 seconds to get from Pullman to Lewiston, he told them.
His trip on space shuttle Endeavor to the International Space Station in 2002 alone took a year and a half of training. He and other astronauts on the trip attached a 14-ton girder the size of a school bus to the station.
Space walking, or rather, crawling along the space station, was his favorite part during the two-week mission.
Herrington said that because of lack of gravity, astronauts don't know which way is up and they can get confused while working. He spent about 20 hours of his trip like that.
When he came home, he realized the toll his trip took on his body.
"I felt like someone put a bag of potatoes on my head," he said, adding he had dizzy spells and vomited often because his body was adjusting.
He was planning on returning to space for a long-term assignment but declined because of back trouble -- astronauts often lose bone density, and because of a pre-existing condition, doctors thought another trip could break his back.
Instead, he retired from NASA and rode his bicycle 4,200 miles.
Herrington's journey took him from Washington state to Florida, talking to children about his experiences and encouraging them to consider studying science, technology, engineering and math.
He launched his model rocket for the 6- and 7-year-old audience at Franklin, who gasped as the rocket hit the ceiling of the classroom.
"Learning can be a lot of fun, and someday, you may be an astronaut," he said.
Herrington is a doctoral student in the University of Idaho's Indigenous Science, Engineering and Mathematics program.
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(c) 2011, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
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