Thanks to Neil Cavuto for inviting me Friday to talk with him about Mars exploration. NASA’s Perseverance team continues to amaze. Here’s the video link:
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:
Watch my interview with Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto, discussing the latest discovery of water molecules in the moon’s sunny regions. This newfound water resource on the moon may accelerate the establishment of a research and fuel production outpost on the moon. Watch:
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!
My interview with Spacechams host Jim Murphy, an enthusiastic and curious supporter of space exploration of all kinds, is available for listening on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Jim took me through my four shuttle missions, some highlights from those flights, current events in asteroid exploration (like the OSIRIS-REx successful sampling of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday), and our rationale for sending humans to the planets.
Listen in to Jim’s space show. If you have more questions for me, contact me via: http://astronauttomjones.com/contact/.
Many thanks to Jim and good luck to the Spacechams endeavor.
On Feb. 19, 2001, my Atlantis crewmates and I obtained this image of the summit caldera of Mauna Loa volcano, called Mokuaweoweo Caldera. NASA writes that “Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on our planet—the summit elevation is 4,170 m (over 13,600 ft), but the volcano’s summit rises 9 km above the sea floor. The sharp features of the summit caldera and lava flows that drain outward from the summit are tribute to the fact that Mauna Loa is one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes. The most recent eruption was in 1984. The straight line the cuts through the center of the crater from top to bottom is a rift zone—an area that pulls apart as magma reaches the surface.”
We found ourselves looking down the throat of Mauna Loa on a winter day, after a recent snow dusted the summit in white. To the left of the summit crater is the volcano’s Southwest Rift Zone; the 1984 eruption occurred on the right side, on the eastern slopes of the mountain above Hilo. The caldera and its solidified lava floor is very similar to the mammoth volcanic summit of Olympus Mons on Mars.
Later in 2001, after all of our post-mission tasks, I spent a good 10 days with my family in Hawaii, one of my favorite spots on Earth. I still plan to make it to the summit we glimpsed from 220 nautical miles up–it’s on my list!
From Atlantis on STS-98 our crew looked back toward sunset over the Mediterranean on Feb. 13, 2001. In the foreground is the Albanian coast, with the island of Corfu partly under clouds at lower left. Across the Otranto Strait at lower right is the heel of the boot of the Italian peninsula. Beyond it lies the Gulf of Taranto, and then the toe of the boot, the Calabria region. Just visible under a sheet of high clouds, across the Strait of Messina, is Sicily, lapped on the left by the golden waters of the Ionian Sea. The Romans called the waters in this view Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea.” From our ship, we could only marvel at Earth’s beauty.
I often use this view in one of my talks, “Seeing Earth in a New Way.”
(posted April 8, 2019)
I put this shot of Everest in my list of photo highlights from STS-98. We used a long, 400mm telephoto lens on a Nikon 35mm camera to capture this straight-down, or nadir, view of the world’s highest mountain (the summit is 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level). Mark Polansky and I woke up in the middle of our sleep period to find Everest and view the majestic Himalayas. North is to upper left, and the summit at center (the apex of three ridges) straddles the Nepalese and Tibetan border, claimed by China. The north face is the triangular, dark slope opening to the upper left from the summit. Strong winds carry blowing snow off the summit to the upper right. The usual climbing route is up the Khumbu glacier on the southwest flank, then up the south ridge to the summit. However, the way to see Everest is like this: in your shirt sleeves, gazing down serenely from 200 nm (370 km).
Halfway through our mission to the International Space Station aboard Atlantis, we captured this westward view of the toe of Italy’s boot and volcanic Sicily floating on a sunlit Mediterranean. The dark summit of active Mt. Etna, 10,912 feet above sea level, peeps through the broken cloud deck over the island of Sicily. Those are the Aeolian Islands “float” on the golden sea north of Sicily; continually erupting Stromboli is the island at lower right in that chain. The Straits of Messina glow in sun glint between mainland Italy and Sicily. Views like this one make the space journey a wonder.
STS098-713-011 (15 February 2001) — An oblique, westerly-looking view over the Strait of Messini (center), which runs between Italy’s “boot” (bottom) and the heavily cloud-covered Sicily (top). The image was recorded with a handheld 70mm camera by one of the STS-98 crew members aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis. Parts of the Tyrrhenian Sea (right center), Ionian Sea (lower right) and the Mediterranean Sea (left) are covered in the picture.
Space shuttle Atlantis carried my astronaut crew to the International Space Station on mission STS-98, from Feb. 7-20, 2001. With our suite of cameras, the five of us spent every minute we could crowding the orbiter’s windows to drink in the view of our home planet. Here are some examples:
Here is our sweeping shot of one of America’s magnificent national parks, the Grand Canyon. As we looked south from over Utah, we viewed the north rim nearest us (center left with long, snow-covered meadow) and the snow-dusted south rim with its visitor center directly across the wide canyon. The San Francisco volcanic field near Flagstaff is at top left. Lake Meade is at the far right center edge of the photo, while Lake Powell, upstream, is at the left center edge.
NASA’s caption states: Demonstrating the power of water erosion, this orbital view photographed by the crew of Atlantis during STS-98 on February 16, 2001, as the spacecraft orbited the earth at an altitude of 173 nautical miles (320 kilometers), shows Lake Powell at the headwaters of the Colorado River in southwestern Utah. The river over eons has carved out Arizona’s mile deep and 270 mile long Grand Canyon. Prominent in this scene is the Kaibab Plateau at the head of the canyon where the big bend of the Colorado River has eroded the plateau into a peninsula. This plateau, directly across the canyon from the South Rim Visitor’s Center, is at the widest part of the canyon, about 12 miles. The Kaibab Indian Reservation and the Kaibab National Forest are visible in the picture. (STS098-714A-049 — 16 February 2001)
I’ve taken a couple of raft trips down the Canyon, and they have to be a couple of the best camping trips of my life. Though only six million years old, the Canyon is a stupendous place to hike, camp, raft the white water, and drink in the view of a vividly painted geological laboratory.
Molokai, Lanai, and Maui seen from STS-98 (NASA STS098-714A-078). This image of three of my favorite Hawaiian islands is from a frame of IMAX film, shot for the movie “Space Station 3D”. You get a rough idea of what our 50th state looks like from the space station altitude of roughly 240 nautical miles.
Maui, on the right, is composed of two volcanoes joined in the middle. Heavily eroded West Maui volcano looks across Lahaina Roads to Molokai, and the dormant Haleakala (last eruption a couple of hundred years ago) dominates the island’s east flank, with the summit at 10,023 feet.