….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.
Brought together in late 1995, the NASA and United Space Alliance training team for STS-80 is shown below, along with our space shuttle crew. We are posing in front of the Full Fuselage Trainer, a full-scale mockup of the shuttle orbiter’s fuselage and payload bay (it didn’t have wings). Made mostly of wood, the FFT is now at the Seattle Museum of Flight, showcased in an impressive space gallery enclosed in a giant wall of glass.It’s a truism, but we could not have flown STS-80 without the thousands of hours of classroom and simulator instruction provided by this skilled group. The team taught us in the following areas:
Chris Noyes: robot arm–the payload deployment and retrieval system (PDRS)
James Tinch: on-the-job-trainee for PDRS with Chris.
Bill Preston: payloads
Kim Kennedy: communications
Alan Burge: payloads
David [Shaw?]: training manager
Jenny Young: payloads
Jean Gill: communications and NSS (simulator facilities)
Mike Jensen: orbiter systems
Wes Penney: control and propulsion
Michael Grabois: systems on-the-job trainee
Jackie Prewitt: payloads
Henry Lampazzi: ascent procedures
John Limongelli: Team Lead
Tori Palmer: data processing system and navigation
Heidi Jennings: payloads
Kelsey Watts: on-the-job trainee for data processing system (DPS) and navigation
Thank you, training team!
Practicing for orbit operations in the fixed base simulator, I sit in the pilot seat while handling some flight plan chores. I’m entering a command into the General Purpose Computer keyboard on the pilot’s side of the flight deck. We wore headsets so we could hear mission control clearly; the simulator speaker was sometimes distorted. The white caddy at right holds checklists (called flight data file) handy during free fall. The laptop at upper left showed us our position over the globe.
Egress training: We used the Cockpit Configuration Trainer in Building 9 at Johnson for practicing emergency egress from the shuttle cabin. The CCT could rotate 90 degrees to put us in a launch position, for exercising an emergency launch pad escape from the cabin.
Here you see Story and I on the flight deck in the MS-1 and MS-2 seats, respectively, readying for an emergency egress run.
Similarly, we rehearsed getting out of the shuttle cabin during reentry, either for bailout in flight or for leaving the flight deck after a crash landing. Tammy rode the MS-1 seat during entry. I stayed put in the flight engineer’s seat, MS-2. All our ACES (Advanced Crew Escape Suit) suit gear, checklists, and intercom systems were realistically outfitted for these exercises.
Our egress training also included using the Sky Genie escape rope to exit the top (jettisonable) window on the port side of the orbiter aft flight deck. We watched our crewmates descend via the Sky Genie while we waited our turn.
Sitting atop the FFT after exiting from the top left window on the roof of the flight deck, the view is a bit scary: you’re up about three stories off the ground, with only one rope and the parachute harness to ensure safety. Here I am letting down from the orbiter’s starboard side, feeding the rope through the Sky Genie brake. “Hanging on for dear life” is the phrase that ran through my mind.
In the photo below, I’m in front of the FFT with my Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), a full pressure suit evolved from the earlier NASA Launch and Entry Suit. I think David Clark made these suits for NASA, based on experience with the SR-71 pressure suits.
Our astronomical satellite, ORFEUS-SPAS, would be deployed on Flight Day 1 by Tammy Jernigan and me. We trained for remote manipulator system operations with ORFEUS SPAS in the fixed base simulator, and in Building 9 at Johnson with the Manipulator Development Facility (MDF). Here a hydraulically powered arm mimicked the behavior of the shuttle’s electric-motor-driven robot arm, using lightweight, full-scale replicas of our satellite cargoes, sometimes inflated with helium to counteract their weight on Earth. In each facility, we ran through all our release and grapple operations until we could handle the arm precisely in a variety of normal and emergency operations.
The reusable Shuttle Pallet Satellite spacecraft, retrieved on our STS-80 mission and then flown again the following year with a different telescope package (CRISTA), is now on display in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
Getting close: the mission billboard at entrance to Johnson Space Center
For the full story, read the STS-80 chapters in “Sky Walking”. Book links can be found at www.AstronautTomJones.com.
The crew of STS-68, Space Radar Lab 2, flying Endeavour. Throughout our training syllabus, we were guided through the frantic schedule of classes and simulator sessions by our training team. Without their expertise, we would never have been ready in time for our planned Aug. 18 launch date.
The FFT trainer, once in Bldg. 9, is now at the Seattle Museum of Flight, still bearing the scuff marks from the boots of dozens of crews sliding down the exterior using their “Sky Genie” escape ropes. Egress training usually took half a day or so as we ran through all the orbiter escape modes: on the launch pad, on the landing runway at a remote site, in a crash landing, and exiting quickly from the overhead windows after discovering a jammed side hatch.
The first exercise is to use the Sky Genie to descend from the orbiter side hatch, a scenario that might take place in a forced landing at a remote airport with no ground support crew available to help us escape the cabin.
This egress session was just a month after I’d returned from STS-59. The quick turnaround for another flight left our family’s heads spinning. The twin flight assignments seemed like a great opportunity at the time.
We spent dozens of hours training for orbital operations of Space Radar Lab 2 in the Fixed Base shuttle simulator in Building 5 at JSC. Here we are on the middeck during a long orbital simulation. The middeck of the fixed base was not high fidelity, but it had all the necessary pieces of the orbiter’s lower compartment required for normal and emergency procedures training. The galley worked, so we could sample space food during our longer exercises.
The cartoon dialogue in the photo above refers to the fact that I was training simultaneously for my STS-59 mission–my first–and STS-68 with Jeff and company–my second. Jeff and the rest of the crew never missed a chance to zing me on the fact that I was skipping many of their training sessions in favor of my imminent launch on STS-59, Space Radar Lab 1. If all went according to plan, I would fly on STS-68 just 4.5 months after launching on STS-59–a space shuttle record. But it was not to be….
For SRL-2 training we used both the Fixed Base sim in Building 5 and the GNS simulator in Building 35. I can’t tell from these photos which one we’re in, but perhaps some of our sharp-eyed instructor team can tell the difference. In the shot above, you can see a map over my shoulder of our SRL data takes (radar on and off), and the big Linhof camera in the overhead window for our science photography. Dan would be our shift commander and orbiter systems ace (he served as MS-2, the flight engineer, during launch and landing). I was the payload commander, working with fellow scientist Jeff Wisoff on the Red Shift. The aft flight deck would be our office for the 11-day mission, running the SRL-2 payload.
The Blue Shift–Dan, Steve, and I–train on the simulator middeck in the above photo, with the doorway out to “port” behind us; it led to the functional space toilet trainer across the hallway. It was useful to use that trainer during every simulator session, so the system operation was second nature by the time you got to orbit and experienced the call of nature.
JoBea Way (now Holt) was one of our Jet Propulsion Lab scientists for SRL-2, specializing in the boreal, or northern forests spread across the northern hemisphere’s high latitudes (think Alaska, Siberia and Canada). JoBea also served as one of our payload operations control center (POCC) communicators, taking an 8-hour shift each day in Houston while we were in orbit as the link between the flight crew and the science and experiment operations team. In the shot above on the aft flight deck, JoBea came over from Mission Control’s Building 30 to visit us in the sim and get a sense of our spacecraft routine during science operations. We astronauts did the same in reverse; when our shift was over, we’d pay a visit to the POCC to see how the team there handled operations.
Our crew of six included two EVA-qualified astronauts: Jeff Wisoff and Steve Smith. They trained for an unexpected spacewalk on STS-68, if needed for repairs or emergency closure of the payload bay doors or latches. As Jeff and Steve worked through their syllabus, including four underwater sessions covering most orbiter repair tasks, I visited to refresh my memory on their tools and to take some photos of them as they prepared to plunge into the 25-foot-deep pool. I’d trained for this same job on STS-59, a few months earlier. Here, Jeff is fully suited, on the donning stand, and ready to begin his training class. Steve Smith is on the other side of the stand. Crewmate and Endeavour pilot Terry Wilcutt took the photo.
Terry and I discussed Steve and Jeff’s work poolside at the Weightless Environment Training Facility in Bldg. 29 at Johnson Space Center. This building had once housed the Apollo-era centrifuge, but with the advent of the shuttle, the centrifuge gave way to the new WETF swimming pool for EVA training. The building also housed control consoles, life support systems, tool storage, a medical office, and diver and astronaut locker facilities. An ambulance was always parked at the WETF entrance during suited runs underwater.
Nearing our launch date in July and early August, we did a series of simulations, some lasting 36 hours, which helped get us ready with Mission Control for launch, orbit operations, and reentry.
During one long sim, the Red Shift team of Bakes, Terry, and Jeff went off duty for some shut-eye, leaving our Blue Shift (the night shift in Houston) on duty for 12 hours. Here I’m with Dan and Steve on the flight deck. About every 45 minutes, we’d punch a new set of attitude coordinates into the flight computer to keep us aimed accurately at our upcoming targets and reduce the radar echo distortion due to the Earth’s rotation. Here Dan has the ATL, the attitude timeline, in hand to enter the next set of coordinates. Steve is busy with videotaping our science targets, and I’m hovering over Dan’s inputs — we always double-checked them lest we miss or botch a maneuver (more than 400 during the mission, a shuttle record).
What’s going on above is that our crew is readying for reentry in a simulation running through “deorbit preparation,” or Deorbit Prep. I’d be on the middeck for reentry with Steve Smith. You can see one of our suits on the floor, ready for donning. Steve’s seat is behind me next to the galley, with a mesh bag containing his helmet, gloves, and kneeboard. The lockers at right are the forward storage lockers, containing our food. clothing, checklists, camera gear and film, and several science experiments. I’m wearing my Patagonia long-johns while I wait to suit up, meanwhile running through the checklist that prepares the middeck for reentry. On my left shoulder is the electrical lead for the EKG sensors I’ve got glued to my chest, to monitor my cardiac response during reentry. We’re not weightless, and the simulator middeck is a bit roomier than the real shuttle’s, and not all of the lockers and switch panels are in the right place, but we can practice all our steps here, including suiting up, strapping in, and reentry and landing. This training was very effective: in the real spaceship, I knew where every piece of gear was and where to find every switch and circuit breaker.
Check out the shuttle drink bag just to the left of my head; it would ordinarily be velcroed to the wall.
Steve, I think, took the shot below, with me pondering my next switch throw on the overhead communications panel on the middeck. I’m holding the Deorbit Prep checklist–my bible for this phase of flight.
Nearing our deorbit burn, all six of us were suited for the entry phase of the simulation. Here I am in the Fixed Base middeck with my Launch and Entry Suit (LES) on.
Read more about STS-68 in Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, by Tom Jones.
Early in 1992 I was assigned to my first space shuttle mission, which would carry the first Space Radar Laboratory payload into orbit. In all I trained over 27 months for this specific mission, and of course another year of basic astronaut training up front. Here I’ll post some training situations experienced by our STS-59 crew. At first we were assigned to shuttle Atlantis, but as the schedule matured, our orbiters were switched and we knew by early 1993 that we would fly on shuttle orbiter Endeavour.
Linda Godwin was the payload commander for SRL-1, and worked for several years with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on early planning for the next round of shuttleborne radar, SIR-C (the NASA/JPL C- and L-band radar instruments). I joined her on the crew manifest in January 1992, and we spent the next couple of years learning more about the Earth science studies planned for the mission. These visits to the far-flung investigators of the SRL science team took Linda, me, and the rest of the crew to several of our “supersites,” where multidisciplinary field teams would obtain ground-truth measurements to compare with the orbital radar results.
One of them was Death Valley National Monument, California. In April 1992, Linda and I visited Death Valley with the JPL SIR-C (Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C…the third and most advanced version to fly) team to learn about alluvial fans, dune fields, sand sheets, and wind/sand interactions.
Death Valley was not too uncomfortable in April, but it helped that our group stayed overnight at Furnace Creek Inn, sitting on a hot spring above the valley floor. While at Death Valley, we visited dune fields, flash-flood-carved canyons, volcanic craters, salt flats, and sites instrumented so the Radar Lab’s orbital data could be compared with ground truth gathered by the science team.
We had another Earth science investigation at Mammoth Mountain, California, where at about 11,000 feet a hydrology team ran a snow lab, aimed at measuring the water content of snow pack using space-based radar. The snow pack water content is a vitally important measurement for states like California, which rely on spring snowmelt to fill reservoirs supplying farmers and urban residents with water. Linda and I, with our JPL science team, descended beneath the snow cover to visit the lab and see theory put into practice.
From cold to hot–I trained on Space Radar Lab’s volcanic science targets by visiting Hawaii’s active volcano, Kilauea, with volcanologists Peter Mouginis-Mark and Scott Rowland. In May 1993, we hiked beyond the public parking area to the ocean entry point for Pu’u O’s lava flow. Later that night, we climbed the pali to find open lava skylights. Here I am with a 2000-deg F flow running beneath our feet on its way to the Pacific, building new land.
Another example of our Earth science training was when Linda and I joined members of the Italian science team at the volcanology supersite at Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples. We ascended the slopes of the volcano, visited the Italian observatory on the mountain flanks, toured the active crater called Solfatara, and got a look at the ruined Roman city of Pompeii.
Remarkably, in the 25 years since these visits, Vesuvius has not yet blown its top. But it will soon!
The Phlegraean Fields are the cluster of active and dormant craters and cones on the shores of the Bay of Naples. The region has been more active of late and have threatened an eruption in the latter half of the 2010s. Monitoring this active region is one of the jobs of a permanent, spaceborne radar observatory, which can detect surface inflation and deflation as magma enters or leaves the chamber deep beneath the Bay of Naples.
The Bay of Naples volcanic field was one of our science sites for volcanology, and Italian scientists had instrumented Solfatara to help Space Radar Lab 1 study the Phlegraean Fields region. This cluster of volcanic craters within the Bay of Naples caldera has been violently active within the past 1000 years, and along with Vesuvius, presents one of the greatest threats to the Napolitan population. Linda Godwin is at upper right in the photo, heading toward another sulfur vent.
On the German leg of our trip, Linda and I took a flight over the instrumented radar test range at Oberpfaffenhofen, north of Munich. This site would be used during SRL-1 for radar calibration, beam width and polarization measurements, and comparison with airborne radar images. We would later take so many radar images of Oberpfaffenhofen that our crew termed it “Over-Flown-Too-Often.”
Not that Linda and I hogged all the good field trips (although we did take the majority, as science reps on the mission). Our entire crew sans Chili headed for the geological wonderland around Flagstaff, Arizona in May 1993. The U.S. Geological Survey staff there, involved in several SRL-1 radar investigations, guided us through volcanic fields, desert terrain, sand dunes, and dry canyons. The USGS scientists and our JPL science team together provided an excellent geological context for many similar landforms we would observe around the globe.
Note the cinder cone at upper right, serving as our backdrop on this day in the field.
Contrasting with the desert terrain around Flagstaff was our supersite near Chickasha, Oklahoma, outside Oklahoma City. This largely flat agricultural region was the focus of an intensive program of soil moisture investigations, with the goal of using space- or airborne radar to extract soil moisture measurements, and convey them to the area farmers. This information would save money by only applying irrigation when and where necessary. During our visit, Linda and I flew on a NASA C-130 transport equipped with a microwave soil moisture sensor. Good, solid, B-52-like low level flying: I liked it!
One of the emergencies we practiced for our STS-59 mission was a gliding bailout scenario, exiting the orbiter if our ship could not make it back to a runway. In that dire case, we would bail out from the orbiter, descend by parachute, then stay alive while awaiting an ocean pickup. Just before Christmas in 1993, the crew reported to the WETF in Bldg. 29 for a refresher on water survival training. We practiced with most of our survival gear on the deck surrounding the 25-foot-deep pool, then “graduated” by dropping from a hoist into the water, simulating a parachute descent into the ocean. We then scrambled into our raft, baled out the water, and closed the spray shield to ride out the swells while we waited for a helicopter rescue (which, in the WETF, never showed).
One of our most familiar training facilities was the fixed base simulator, in Building 5 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The “fixed base” didn’t move, but it had a very realistic and functional flight deck for shuttle orbit training. The downstairs (or middeck) was less high-fidelity, but it still had working switches and circuit breakers, a functional galley, storage lockers, and next door, a working space shuttle toilet (practice makes perfect). In the photo above, Jay and our crew are rehearsing our launch and post-insertion procedures for the critical couple of hours after liftoff. During post-insertion, we got out of our suits and transformed our rocket ship into an orbiting laboratory.
We also had many orbit training sessions in the flight deck of the Guidance and Navigation Simulator training facility (“the GNS”) across the street from Building 5. This simulator had been upgraded to supply good visuals out the simulator windows, and helped handle the heavy load of crew training in simulation sessions for our flight and other crews training in parallel.
We were often given several cameras to train with during these simulator sessions, to build equipment familiarity and practice good in-cabin photography techniques. These snapshots were a result of this training with a Nikon camera body and flash.
Behind Linda is the functioning galley of the space shuttle’s middeck. In front of her seat are the forward storage lockers; the labels read “Menu Food,” as we usually prepared and ate some space food during these sessions. Her parachute is on the seat as we practice post-insertion routines for stowing our suits and parachutes.
Out the door to her left was the shuttle toilet trainer: we weren’t weightless, but other than that the commode worked just like the real one. It even had a “seating simulator” so you could use a TV camera aimed “up the chute” at one’s bottom, giving one the right “feel” for correct body positioning on the commode. We were assured the closed-circuit TV picture could not be broadcast out of the waste control system simulator room.
Our training took us all over the space center to the various shuttle training facilities. The FFT pictured above is now on display in Seattle at its Museum of Flight. Its shuttle crew cabin was fairly accurate (although it was not a simulator; most switches did not work), and we used it to practice stowage of our gear (where stuff goes), photography, TV camera techniques, galley operations, and habitability (how you live in a spaceship).
Ya gotta eat, right? And the same is true in space. In the shot below, Vickie Kloeris, at left rear, and her colleague, dietitian Gloria Mongan, go over menu choices and nutrition advice with (from left) Kevin Chilton, Rich Clifford, and (across table at right) Tom Jones and Linda Godwin. We had already visited the JSC food lab to try nearly everything on NASA’s space food menu in a marathon lunch session. Now we are reviewing our draft menus with Vickie. By the way, Vickie is still running NASA’s space station food operation at Johnson Space Center, ensuring the menu selections (nearly 200 items) continue to expand and get even more appetizing. I think that’s my office desk at center rear, because my USAF Academy diploma is on the wall to the left of the Mars image.
Because of our intensive science photography goals for the mission, we worked with JSC’s Earth Observation specialists to learn our many Earth science objectives and to become familiar with our ground science targets. These sessions amounted, I think, to earning a master’s degree in geography and Earth science.
To help bring all of our training into context, Sid planned a camping trip for the crew at nearby Brazos Bend State Park, TX. We camped out from Thursday morning until Saturday evening, with Thursday and Friday devoted to discussing our flight plan and our various responsibilities on the mission. Sleeping in tents and sleeping bags was a foretaste of the “space camp out” we would all soon undertake. It was our first chance to see each other in the morning, unshowered and grubby from a night’s sleep in the great outdoors. After cleaning up, we launched into mission planning, photography training, and long conversations about how best to get our work done during the intense operations planned for SRL-1. A nice surprise was that each of us took on responsibility for one meal, and so shared everyone’s favorite foods and culinary skills. I remember Jay made a great seafood paella. On Saturday our families came out for an entire day visiting us, sharing a big crew dinner before we all headed home. The campout was a real team-builder.
For rookie fliers like me, a mandatory training exercise was exposure to the shuttle’s launch g-profile. I was to experience the launch accelerations in the Brooks Air Force Base centrifuge, near San Antonio, TX. I did several 8.5-minute runs in the centrifuge cab equipped with a shuttle seat and wearing the full Launch and Entry Suit (LES). Here, Al Rochford, who started out helping strap in Mercury astronauts for NASA, helps me don my gloves just before the runs commence. I’d experienced as many as 7 g’s in T-38 aerobatics, but a sustained 3 g’s during the final minute of the shuttle’s ascent was a different animal. It’s hard to breathe and to raise an arm accurately to flip a switch.
Linda Godwin and I were designated as the EVA (spacewalk) repair crew for Endeavour on STS-59. We studied our spacesuit systems, emergency procedures for dealing with suit failures, and the various mechanical repair tasks we might have to undertake to fix Endeavour in orbit. Some examples of these repairs included winching closed the payload bay doors, installing mechanical latches to clamp the doors to the fuselage or knit the centerline edges of the doors together, and cutting jammed pushrods that might prevent a door from motoring closed. We practiced in four underwater sessions lasting 4 to 6 hours each, descending into the blue depths of the Weightless Environment Training Facility in our old centrifuge building, Building 29.
Closer to launch, in early 1994, our entire crew practiced orbiter bailout and ground egress procedures in JSC’s Building 9, using the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). The FFT was a mockup orbiter fuselage (no wings) with an accurate physical representation of the crew cabin, though only a few of the systems actually worked. It was not a simulator, but instead a trainer for emergency procedures, galley operations, photo and TV training, stowage operations (where everything was packed), and so on.
Let’s say the orbiter ran off the runway on landing and we had to get out quickly. We used ropes: the Sky Genie rope slide attached to our suit’s parachute harness and enabled us to get out the side hatch and slither to the ground.
That was only about 10 feet. But if the side hatch was jammed shut, or fire made it unwise to get out on that side, we could jettison the top left window in the cabin ceiling and go all the way over to the starboard side for our egress path.
This was fun stuff, but also a little intimidating. The top of the orbiter is a good 25 feet in the air, and sliding off the side in a heavy launch and entry suit on a single rope and carabiner took some trust in our trainers and suit technicians. None of us fell too far.
The final act was using the escape slide from the orbiter hatch. Again, off the runway and a need to get out of the cabin in a hurry, we could deploy the escape slide for a quick exit. Here we are practicing using the Cockpit Configuration Trainer, or CCT, which is just the nose of the orbiter. The CCT could be tilted into the vertical for launch strap-in and launch pad egress training. I think the CCT is now at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.
To get out, one opened the hatch and then triggered the airline-style escape slide using a T-handle just inside the hatch. Now the slide is out, and we just have to skid down its surface.
Training for one of her missions, Rhea Seddon caught an ankle at the bottom and broke it. She was able to heal in time for launch, but it sure put some of her training dates in doubt. Our techs were very careful to help us land squarely on both feet.
Imagine the adrenaline pumping as you returned from space and then had to escape the cabin and hustle away from a potentially explosive or toxic propellant release. It would be a race between adrenaline and free-fall deconditioning. I like to think we’d remember how to run–or at least hobble–if the situation demanded it.
The final exercise was clipping my harness onto the escape pole for a high-altitude bailout from the orbiter. Below, we practice the procedures to clip into the pole and then roll out of the hatch. Later, in the Weightless Environment Training Facility, we would roll out the hatch, down the pole, and drop ten feet into the water — leaving out the static-line parachute opening and the long descent down to the ocean. Here, we just fall off the pole and drop 6 inches onto the mat.
As launch day approached, we spent more time in the mission simulators: the motion base for ascent and entry training, the fixed base in building 5 for orbit operations, and the GNS (guidance and navigation simulator) in building 37, also for orbit operations. I can’t tell which one we’re in in the photo below, but I suspect it’s the Fixed Base in Building 5.
The camera at upper right is the Linhof mapping camera, with its 4×5-inch negative. The Linhof lived on that window bracket so we could tilt it to aim at our ground target. On the switch panel behind me are orbit maps and a copy of the science timeline that governed all our observations in the 24/7 SRL operations. The IBM Thinkpad laptop at left had a major improvement over shuttle laptops–a color display.
We continued to take classes on all the skills needed for any emergency we might encounter in orbit. Two of us were trained as emergency medical technicians for physical problems we might encounter. Here, veteran NASA instructor Mike Fox teaches me how to refine my cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills. Mike’s experience in physiology and diving went back to the Apollo program–we miss you, Mike.
Eventually, the training flow narrows and all classes point directly toward launch day. At the end of February 1994, our crew flew to Kennedy Space Center and spent two days in an intensive inspection and familiarization tour of Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing Facility. This was the Crew Equipment Interface Test (CEIT), one of the few chances we would have to get inside the orbiter, check out all its nooks and crannies, and familiarize ourselves with our future home in space.
Our final training session at the Cape was in late March, 1994, when our crew participated in our countdown dress rehearsal, the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. See my photo album for that exercise: STS-59 Endeavour Countdown Rehearsal: Mar. 23-24, 1994
Finally, after a week in quarantine, it was time to go. Here is our spaceship the night before our April 8 launch attempt. Our families met us to take a look at Endeavour bathed in xenon searchlights. Night viewing is a spectacular sight, and an emotional experience for crew and families.
During March 22-24, 1994, our STS-59 crew arrived at Kennedy Space Center for our Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT). We were just over two weeks from launch on STS-59, Space Radar Lab 1, aboard shuttle Endeavour. This being my first flight, arriving for a dress rehearsal of our launch countdown was a galvanizing milestone for me. Our ship was nearly ready, as were we. TCDT was the last major milestone we faced in our flight training for the mission. Here are some photos from our 3-day experience.
The most thrilling activity we undertook during our safety briefings and exercises was the chance to drive NASA’s M-113 armored personnel carrier. Should we have to escape from the launch pad and shelter in the blast bunker, we might have to evacuate an injured crewmember, using the M-113, to a helipad clear of the danger zone. Yeah, it’s fun to drive a “tank”. (Soon after, NASA painted its APC’s a highly visible yellow-green.)
The shot below gives you some idea of the scale of a space shuttle ready for launch. The external tank and orbiter will be accelerated by those boosters and the main engines (above) will be accelerated to 25,000 feet per second in just 8.5 minutes, pinning an astronaut to his or her seat under a 3-g load. Looking at that stack, it’s almost incomprehensible to imagine yourself as a physical participant of such a process.
We flew to the Cape in our T-38 Talon training jets, landing at the shuttle landing facility (SLF) near the VAB. Endeavour had rolled out some weeks before, as shown in these photos. On March 23, we conducted some fire fighting exercises and safety classes, enjoyed crew quarters meals, and toured the launch pad and the crew escape systems, like the slide-wire baskets, we would practice with the following day. Our concluding event that day was a press conference held near the blast bunker and slide-wire basket landing area near the perimeter of Pad 39A.
We finished our press conference work and returned to crew quarters, all of us headed for an early bedtime the night before the terminal count demo test with our launch controllers. We enjoyed some final suit checks before turning in.
Aiming at a T-minus-Zero at around 10 am that day, we rode to the launch pad early in the morning on March 24. Crawling into the orbiter for the first time in the vertical position was an eerie, yet thrilling experience. Our crew climbed into our seats with the help of our technicians, and our Astronaut Support Person, for this mission, our fellow astronaut Andy Thomas. After the countdown reached zero, launch controllers declared a pad abort and ordered a crew egress exercise, practice for a rapid escape from Endeavour to the slide-wire baskets across the gantry.
In the photo above I’m nearly finished strapping in with the help of our suit techs and ASP Andy Thomas. My parachute is still not attached to the harness (see left chute strap dangling at lower right), and my oxygen line on my left thigh is still not mated. My helmet is the practice version; just a clear visor. On launch day it will have the full dark visor as well as the clear one. Sleep bunks are to my right. My kneeboard and Radio Shack timer sits on the airlock hatch cover just off my left elbow. Activated at liftoff, the timer tells me our ascent milestones, such as staging, 3-g throttling, and time to MECO.
We concluded our dress rehearsal with a simulated countdown to T-minus-Zero, when Launch Control declared a pad abort and an emergency egress from the shuttle cabin (a Mode 1 egress). Linda Godwin swung open Endeavour’s hatch, and I followed her out into the White Room and across the swing arm and gantry to these escape baskets. Unfortunately, when I smacked the release paddle just out of view to the left, we didn’t go anywhere: the basket was chained firmly to the service structure of the pad. No zipline ride for us!
Our real STS-59 launch would come just over two weeks later.
Whenever I speak here at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, hosting “Astronaut Encounter,” I always pay a visit to the tallest rocket standing in the Rocket Garden, the Martin Marietta company’s Gemini-Titan II.
I remember it well because it was the first real rocket I ever saw. Growing up in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, I lived just a couple of miles from Martin’s Titan II assembly building. There, from 1964 through 1966 the company was stacking and testing these rockets to carry the Gemini astronauts into space. The Titan II was an Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile, designed to carry a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to the other side of the world. NASA chose this powerful booster to propel the Gemini spacecraft into orbit, and my town was, for a little while, one of the key locations in the Space Race of the 1960s. Gemini would be how NASA learned the techniques in orbit it would need to go to the moon by 1970.
As a 10-year-old Cub Scout in 1965, my Cub Pack took a field trip to the Martin Marietta factory during an open house. I stood there on the factory floor, awed at the sight of these 100-foot-tall rockets being built to carry our astronauts into space. The rockets I saw were built to carry Gemini 7 and 8 into space, in late 1965 and early 1966.
Those Titan IIs made an indelible impression on me, and from that moment on I read everything I could about the job of being an astronaut, what qualifications were required by NASA, and how the astronauts would fly to and land on the moon. It’s safe to say the Titan II launched me on my career path toward becoming an astronaut.
Here at the KSC Visitor Complex, you can see the Titan II, get close to and peer inside the Gemini 9 spacecraft, and learn the stories of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. Of course, you can see the ship that I flew, the space shuttle Atlantis, and get almost close enough to touch her. I lived on Atlantis for 13 days in 2001, helping build the International Space Station while leading three spacewalks.
On your visit to the Visitor Complex, look up at some awesome history, be inspired, learn how we’ll return to the moon, and tackle the challenges of exploring Mars. We’ve got an amazing story to tell, and we’re looking for explorers who want to play an exciting role in our nation’s future.
Tom Jones flew four space shuttle missions, the last on Atlantis to the International Space Station. He speaks frequently at the KSC Visitor Complex. His website is www.AstronautTomJones.com.