The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Rocketplane illustration
If all goes well, former NASA astronaut John Herrington will trade in flying in a space shuttle for piloting the Rocketplane XP. (Rocketplane Inc.)

“Bone” Herrington picked for Rocketplane

This month, John “Bone” Herrington resigned from NASA and the Navy to come to work for Rocketplane. His bio is very interesting, and he is a great fit for Rocketplane having been a test pilot and born and raised in Oklahoma.

During Herrington’s 2002 mission on STS-113, you see more examples of the fraying of NASA’s safety culture as analyzed by James Oberg in a February article (see “What does a sick ‘space safety culture’ smell like?”, The Space Review, February 7, 2005). Herrington had to re-plan the installation of components on the International Space Station during a spacewalk when it did not proceed as it did during testing. Hopefully NASA’s new architecture will be fail-operational instead of just striving for fail-safe.

Herrington’s outlook on NASA and life, coming directly from working in the public sector, is refreshing. He has yet to make any money on lecture tours. He has not had a lucrative private sector career as some of the top engineers at Rocketplane have had. He drives a beat-up Toyota T-100.

One thing that you do have more of at NASA and in the Navy is resources for test flights, experts, and equipment. The space shuttle budget is billions per year versus tens of millions at Rocketplane. Herrington also credits NASA with excellent intentions even if it is sometimes hampered with bureaucratic red tape.

The slow pace of getting the shuttle back into space is one of the reasons Herrington is looking elsewhere to do something in space. It is not enough for Herrington to just return to space, he is driven to make a personal contribution to space with his labor.

Herrington, like Rocketplane Chief Engineer David Urie, is ready to recognize what he doesn’t know and what is not his sphere and delegate. As he puts it, “It helps to be one of the best who works with others.” Pride and imperiousness would be detrimental to the safety of the Rocketplane XP he is planning to test starting in 2006, and fly with paying passengers in 2007, a year or two before Virgin Galactic is planning to start service. Herrington’s collegiality, humility, and humble roots run in stark contrast to the fame and riches that will come from being the world’s first full-time commercial passenger rocket pilot.