Space Center Houston is celebrating Native American Heritage Month! Today, we are going on a journey through the decades to celebrate the significant contributions American Indians have made to the space program by highlighting two of these Native American trailblazers.
Mary Golda Ross
This hidden figure joined Lockheed as a mathematician in 1941 and worked on fighter jets like the P-38 Lightning. Following the conclusion of World War II, Ross remained with Lockheed, later earning her professional certificate in engineering.
Just 11 years after she was initially hired, Ross became one of the original members of Skunk Works, Lockheed’s secret Advanced Development Program. According to NASA, she helped write the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. III, which detailed interplanetary travel to Mars and Venus.
According to the United States Mint, Ross, who is a member of the Cherokee nation, is credited as being the first Native American engineer in the U.S. space program. In 2019, the United States Mint honored the accomplishments of both Ross and John Herrington (see below) with the theme, American Indians in the Space Program, for the Native American $1 coin design.
Ross has finally received the recognition she deserves for her trailblazing work in support of the U.S. space program.
Herrington, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is the first and only Native American to fly in space.
Selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 1996, this Naval Aviator made history when he launched into space on Nov. 23, 2002, for STS-113 aboard the space shuttle orbiter Endeavour. Prior to his launch, Native American ceremonies were held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to honor Herrington as the first tribally enrolled Native American astronaut to fly in space.
His mission lasted just over 13 days and he traveled roughly 5.7 million miles. Among the personal items he took with him aboard the shuttle was the Chickasaw Nation flag and a traditional flute to pay tribute to his Native American heritage.
Herrington retired from NASA and the Navy in 2005, but he continues to inspire children to reach for the stars through his children’s book, which also pay tribute to his cultural heritage (see video above).