Eric Ward (VP for Public Programs at the Linda Hall Science Library in Kansas City, MO) spoke with me about all things “astronaut”: my career path, what it’s like to fly (and walk!) in space, and the future of human spaceflight. Eric asks about my four Space Shuttle missions and the three spacewalks performed during the construction of the International Space Station. Back in 2008, the Library invited me and co-author, Dr. Ellen Stofan, to visit the library and give a talk about our book, “Planetology.” I think you’ll find this interview interesting and fun. Thanks to Eric and the Library for this opportunity. And when you’re in Kansas City, drop by the Library and see an original edition of Newton’s “Principia.” It’s almost as good as reading “Sky Walking.”
Thanks to my friends at Shalom World for a great interview about “An Astronaut’s Faith” and the help God gave me on the way to the stars. I thought Pete Burak asked some excellent questions, and we talked about receiving Communion in orbit on STS-59. Enjoy the interview (link below), and God bless!
Last weekend in Tucson I enjoyed the company of 16 Astronaut Friends — backdropped by some cool spacesuits at Spacefest XI!(back row) Ken Cameron, Clay Anderson, Anna Fisher, Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke, Nicole Stott, Linda Godwin, Hoot Gibson, Rhea Seddon, Jack Lousma, Mario Runco; (front row) Mike Mullane, Eileen Collins, Tom Jones, Dan Bursch, Kathy Sullivan, Charlie Walker. (thanks to Nicole Stott for passing the photo along, and to Sally Poor and her company, NovaSpace, for hosting the event).
With Branson’s success yesterday (congrats to his team at #VirginGalactic, the door to paying passenger flights is open, at most a few months away. Bezos won’t be far behind. Expect a flood of “I’m in space!” viral videos in the months to come…popularizing the idea of space as a realistic adventure and entrepreneurial arena for many more. NASA will continue to draw the dreamers and innovators who want to push out and explore on the deep space frontier–Moon, nearby asteroids, and finally Mars. Here is my bit of coverage on #FNC just after Branson’s team’s personally historic flight yesterday .
I discuss Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other commercial space companies in my talk, “Beyond Earth: Humanity’s Future in Space.” See www.AstronautTomJones.com/speaking
Today marks the 20th anniversary of my shuttle crew’s return to Earth, with Ken Cockrell, Bob Curbeam, Marsha Ivins, Mark Polansky, and myself. With our mission control teams and the help of the Expedition 1 crew at the International Space Station (Shepherd, Krikalev, and Gidzenko), we successfully berthed and activated the U.S. Destiny science lab at the Station. NASA furnished us with this video of our reentry and landing highlights, documenting our return from this 13-day mission. I find it very hard to believe that these amazing events took place two decades ago. Thank you to our families and all who made this successful mission possible. And a thankful prayer to God, who brought us safely home.
Video highlights of the landing: https://www.facebook.com/AstronautTomJones/videos/10220506776203593
Atlantis back on Earth:
Next day, we assembled for a crew portrait just before leaving for Houston and a reunion with our families.
I’m honored to be participating in this important meeting (2/17/21) with a talk on the importance of perseverance in space and in life.
Feb. 12, on Flight Day 6, would be my second spacewalk on STS-98 Atlantis. The crew (and Bill Shepherd’s Expedition 1 crew aboard ISS) had spent the 11th hard at work in the interior of the new Destiny science lab, which we’d installed and activated on the 10th.
Bob Curbeam and I had several major tasks for this second EVA, scheduled for about six and a half hours. First, we would assist Marsha Ivins as she unberthed the PMA-2 docking port from the Z-1 truss and moved it to its new home on the front end of Destiny, where it would serve as the shuttle’s docking port.
Second, Bob and I would remove some brackets and thermal blankets from the Station’s Ku-band antenna dish, extended from the port side of the Z1 truss. The new lab contained the electronics to activate this communications link between NASA’s tracking and data relay satellites and mission control in Houston.
Third, we would install and wire up a grapple fixture on Destiny to host the Station’s new robotic Canadarm 2, due to be delivered in April. Fourth, we would unveil Destiny’s new Earth-facing science window; soon it would host a suite of spectrometers and imagers to assess the health of our home planet. Finally, we would install fittings and equipment to prepare the outside of the lab for our final EVA on the 14th.
Beamer led the way out of the airlock on EVA 2. He gathered his tools and headed off to the front of Destiny to remove a giant tarp, or thermal blanket, covering the berthing hatch there, soon to occupied by PMA-2.
Meanwhile I was up on the Z1 truss, unlocking the manual berthing latches on PMA-2 so Marsha could hoist the docking tunnel forward to that waiting hatch on Destiny.
While Marsha completed the PMA relocation, I busied myself installing thermal covers and vents on Destiny’s exterior, protecting the lab from heat loss to deep space, and enabling the science experiments soon to be installed inside to gain access to the vacuum outside.
I then had the extraordinary experience of riding on Marsha Ivins’ shuttle robot arm; I’d installed a foot restraint on the end of the arm while up on Node 1 so Marsha could carry me around like a telephone lineman on the end of a cherry picker crane. In the shot above, I’ve locked my feet into the foot restraint stirrups so my hands are free for work on installing the grapple fixture to Destiny.
Beamer and I locked the grapple fixture in place, then connected its power, data, and video cables to the lab’s wiring harness. Then it was on to opening and outfitting the Lab’s science window.
Beamer had retrieved the window cover from the airlock while I began removing the thermal blanket from outside the window, centered on the Earth-facing side of Destiny’s hull. Once Bob had bolted the window cover in place (it could be rotated open using a knob inside the lab), we removed the blanket fully and peered inside through the window. Behind those three panes of optical-quality glass were Sergei Krikalev and the rest of the ISS crew–I think our grins were even bigger than theirs.
Scenes from that window opening, shot using the 3D IMAX camera, made it into the 2002 film, “Space Station 3D,” with Beamer and me waving and smiling through the glass from outside Destiny.
On the return ride from the window to Node 1, ferried on Marsha’s shuttle robot arm, I had the space “sky crane” ride of my life, dangling weightless from the arm’s tip while she hoisted me high above Destiny. I could have taken in that view forever.
Returning from Node 1 and gliding along station handrails above Atlantis’ crew cabin, I heard Marsha on the radio: “Tom, look down!” I had to think deliberately about which way was actually “down” in the free-fall environment, but I finally glanced toward the top of the crew cabin beneath me. There was Marsha in the overhead window, gesturing with her 35mm camera.
She took a snap of me about 20 feet above her, then said, “Raise your visor.” I still had the gold-plated outer visor down, but out of direct sunlight it was OK to swing it up over my forehead. Marsha then took this shot, below, of a spacewalker on his way to his next job on the Station. Marsha, thank you! I still owe you that million bucks for this wonderful shot.
Our work on EVA 2 was nearly done. Beamer had jumped out ahead on the job of wiring up the PMA-2 docking tunnel to Destiny’s forward wiring harness, providing the docking port with data and heater connections. We stowed our tools, relocated our safety tethers near the airlock, and brought back inside an articulating portable foot restraint (that massive, gold-colored probe beneath my left elbow, above) for inspection and repair.
Time had flown outside; though it didn’t seem possible, by the time Beamer had closed the outer airlock hatch and we switched off our suits’ water cooling systems, we had spent 6 hours 50 minutes helping build the Station on this second EVA. Once again, my partner Beamer had been the smoothest of operators: never flustered, always ahead of schedule. Once again, our team in orbit and on the ground had given us every advantage, from our on-orbit choreographer Mark Polansky to our Mission Control EVA officers, Kerri Knotts and Tomas Gonzales-Torres. With their expertise always just a radio call today, this had been a superbly run EVA.
But we wanted to do one more. And on Feb. 14, 2001, we would.
For Veteran Astronaut and Catholic Tom Jones, Space Was a Spiritual Experience
Leslie Miller was kind enough to prepare a brief write-up of the importance of my spiritual life to my work and success in space. I speak about the all-important help God and the saints provided, not least the sense of giving up my worries and anxieties to the Lord, which let me focus on the intense and demanding work ahead of me from launch through landing. You can imagine I had one of the most meaningful Thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced when thanking God from orbit on STS-80. The food? Not great. But the sense of peace? Unmatched.
Check out my speaking and book links at my website: www.AstronautTomJones.com
….With the Association of Space Explorers. I present the history of the Voyager probes launched in 1977 and now in interstellar space. Tune in to the Voyager discoveries here:
I will be giving a book talk on my memoir, Sky Walking, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 4 pm EST. Supporting the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, I will rocket you through liftoff, loft you to orbit, visit a space station, and return you, exhilarated, to Earth. The ticket price includes a signed copy of Sky Walking. Purchase tickets for the entire week of Space Rendezvous at the link above. See you online next week!