Celebrate American’s servicemen and women the week of Veterans Day: Join me for a Hell Hawks! talk and book signing at the National World War II Museum on November 15. My talk on this aerial band of brothers and their combat experiences flying the P-47D Thunderbolt against Hitler’s armies will take place at the Museum at Noon. I’ll be at the Museum store through 4 pm to sign copies of Hell Hawks! and talk with veterans, visitors, and those who would salute these heroes.
Bob Dorr and I received sad news in late October about the deaths of two of our Hell Hawk veterans, both contributors and enthusiastic supporters of our work on Hell Hawks! The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Jim McWhorter, past president of the 365th FIghter Group Association, passed away in Florida on Oct. 22. He was preceded on his final flight by Edgar C. Kiefer, who died in Royal Oak, MI on October 14. Both men were successful and courageous combat pilots with the Hell Hawks. McWhorter told us of his slam-bang shootdown of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter on Oct. 12, 1944, an action for which he was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross:
“Mac” McWhorter, Red 3, with 1st Lt. Robert S. Maney flying his wing, heard Porter call out the bandits and direct the flight to “prepare to drop belly tanks in ten seconds.” “The hell with waiting,” thought Mac. “I dumped mine immediately . . . and looking up saw [my drop] was in last place!” Following Porter, he climbed through eleven thousand feet at three hundred miles per hour, chasing a flight of Messerschmitts, which scattered and fled. Bouncing one, McWhorter caught his enemy in a climbing right turn at about 270 to 300 miles per hour. He fired a burst that peppered the dark gray fighter’s left wing and chopped loose its left main gear. As the 109 tightened the turn, Mac squeezed off a second burst that riddled the 109’s fuselage and tail. Maney, concentrating on clearing McWhorter’s tail, never saw the enemy but caught a glimpse of the shell casings and belt links pouring from his leader’s wings. He thought for a terrible instant that Mac’s Thunderbolt was disintegrating, hammered by strikes from a German coming head-on.
Instead it was McWhorter who had the range. He fired again just as the enemy pilot jettisoned his canopy. Too late: Mac’s eight fifties blasted the enemy’s cockpit and engine. The Messerschmitt’s Daimler-Benz engine froze, and flames erupted from the 109’s cramped cockpit. McWhorter saw his victim, spinning and aflame, hurtle down to spray a fireball across the landscape below. “In that forty-five seconds or a minute, I didn’t have time to think about that pilot,” said McWhorter. “That 109 was just a target.” He pulled up and circled, looking for more, but by then the enemy was gone. He had a confirmed kill, and his courage and skill were recognized by the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Edgar Kiefer contributed to our research by sharing with us his self-published memoir, A P-47 Pilot’s Recollections of his WWII Battles (written with his son, Richard Kiefer of Boulder, CO). Both men were brave young Americans in 1944-45, a time (like today) when our nation is in vital need of their determination, dedication, and deadly earnestness in combat.
Men like McWhorter and Kiefer will be the subject of my upcoming Hell Hawks! talk to the Service Academies Association at 0745 on Friday, December 12, at the MARRIOTT HOUSTON WESTCHASE HOTEL, 2900 Briar park, Houston, Texas 77042. Hell Hawks! remains the top-selling title at the National Air & Space Museum.
For more of my astronaut speaker appearances, in Houston or nationwide, please watch this space. I’ll also be signing Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Nov. 14, 2008, from 1230-1430.
“…this is the book I would have written if I were tasked to bring the beauty and excitement about planetary studies to a broad audience.…I’m in awe at the work that Jones and Stofan put in on it.”
Read the entire review at The Spacewriter’s Ramblings. It’s great early buzz for co-author Ellen Stofan and our new book.
The book will be released on November 18, but you can order now.
My new book with Ellen Stofan, Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System, will debut in stores on November 18. It’s already available for order online.
Here’s the National Geographic Books press release:
CONTACT: Penelope Dackis
(202) 857-7335 email@example.com
PLANETOLOGY: UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
A Stunning, Completely New View of the Planets
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON (Sept. 22, 2008)—Veteran astronaut and planetary scientist Tom Jones and noted planetary geologist Ellen Stofan join forces and use the latest space technology to reveal astonishing new insights into the dynamic stories of Earth and its celestial neighbors. PLANETOLOGY: UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM (National Geographic Books, ISBN: 978-1-4262-0121-9, Nov. 18, 2008, $35 hardcover) presents compelling new images of Earth—many captured by space shuttle and space station crew members—and remarkable scenes of alien surfaces beamed home by our far-ranging robotic probes, from the international fleet of spacecraft on and around Mars to the Cassini Saturn mission. These striking images, viewed side by side, show us the powerful forces that have shaped our own planet, and inform humanity’s age-old quest for other worlds like our own.
PLANETOLOGY contains remarkable visual evidence of the natural processes that have shaped the varied planetary landscapes in our solar system: searing lava plains, windswept deserts, active volcanoes, jagged mountains, majestic glaciers and stark impact craters. Readers discover the details behind the solar system’s largest volcano, Mars’ “dry ice” polar caps, and the on-going threat of comet and asteroid collisions with Earth.
A comprehensive new portrait of the solar system unfolds in PLANETOLOGY. The authors bring a fresh approach to the study of space science and illustrate clearly how discovery of dramatic features of other planets give us crucial information about our own. Engaging text, highlighted with personal experiences from space flights and robotic exploratory missions, make this book just as absorbing as it is informative.
Tom Jones is a planetary scientist, author, pilot and veteran NASA astronaut. He flew on four space shuttle missions and led three space walks to help his crew install the centerpiece of the International Space Station. He has written “Hell Hawks!,” “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to NASA.” Ellen Stofan is a planetary geologist who has studied volcanic and tectonic features on Venus, Mars, Titan, and Earth. While at NASA, she was Chief Scientist on the New Millennium Program and is currently Senior Research Scientist at Proxemy Research, and Honorary Professor of Earth Sciences at University College London.
Ellen Stofan and I have our preview copies in hand, and the book is spectacular. We hope you’ll grab a copy in time for Christmas. Planetology will be a perfect gift for anyone with an interest in our place in the solar system and universe.
October has been a productive month for getting some of my interests into print. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics publishes “Aerospace America” every month, and in October my “View from Here” column appeared. My topic was dealing with the impact hazard from Near Earth Objects: 2008 TC3 collided with Earth on October 7th, making my report on the need for a decision-making agreement to deal with a future rogue asteroid a timely one. You can read Asteroid Deflection: Planning for the Inevitable online and in the October issue of Aerospace America.
Speaking of 2008 TC3, I reported on its collision with Earth and the need to prepare for a future rogue asteroid in Why the World Needs Asteroid Insurance: Resident Astronaut on Popular Mechanics‘ web site, October 9, 2008. Keep an eye out for my continuing space comments at their site.
My article on the early space race and the US effort to put a man in space, Mercury Rising, appeared in Invention and Technology‘s fall 2008 issue. I interviewed Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter for the article, which is beautifully illustrated with mission photos and developmental drawings of the Mercury design. I’ll post a pdf version of the article shortly at my website, AstronautTomJones.com.
All of these intriguing topics are sure to be featured in my upcoming astronaut speaker talks, and I’ll post my upcoming appearances in a future entry here at Flight Notes.
A small asteroid, 2008 TC3, entered Earth’s atmosphere last night, October 6, at 10:46 pm EDT (October 7, 0246 UTC). The rock, 1-5 meters in diameter, burned up harmlessly over northern Sudan. The crew of a KLM jetliner about 750 miles away reported seeing the flash from the fireball, which released about a kiloton of explosive energy into the atmosphere. No damage was expected on the ground.
Such fireballs, or bolides, enter Earth’s atmosphere routinely. What marked this Near Earth Object‘s demise was that it was detected and its entry predicted through the efforts of the Spaceguard Survey team in Tucson, AZ. Warning time was a mere 24 hours or so, and there are hundreds of thousands of such objects, bigger than about 40 m (large enough to strike the surface) trooping through the inner solar system within reach of Earth’s orbit. We know of only 5600 or so of these Near Earth Objects. As our telescopes get better, we’ll be finding thousands more, and of those, a few dozen will be found to pose an uncomfortably high probability of hitting Earth with enough force to cause damage to lives or property.
To address that unseen but certain threat, the Near Earth Object Committee of the Association of Space Explorers submitted a report, prepared by its Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation, to the United Nations on Sep. 25, 2008. The Panel proposes a decision-making process to deal with threatening asteroids for adoption by the international community, working through the existing structures of the United Nations.
An excerpt of that report is available at the Association of Space Explorer site, here. As a member of the Committee, I worked with the Panel through its two years of deliberations, ending in the delivery of the report last month. Now it’s up to the United Nations and the world’s peoples to prepare for some future asteroid strike, potentially much more dangerous than the harmless light show put on by 2008 TC3.
Video of 2008 TC3 here:
An earlier video of an Australian fireball:
NASA diagram of 2008 TC3 impact trajectory.
Last Saturday, October 4, I was a guest in Coalwood, WV, at the 10th annual October Sky Festival, hosted by Coalwood citizens and best-selling author Homer Hickam. The day was blessed with beautiful early autumn weather: temperatures about 70 under a cloudless blue sky. In such a climate, having a swimming pool in the backyard will be a piece of a dream for many of you. You may check out https://legacylandscapemi.com/custom-swimming-pools/ if you want to build a custom swimming pool to enhance the beauty of your landscape.You can also contact experts from lawn care company in White Bear Lake, MN to avail professional landscape services. You can also ask for tips from Highland Grove Landscaping & Farm to know how to improve landscape. The forested ridges surrounding the little town (population, 180, down from 2000 sixty years ago) where Homer grew up were brushed lightly with the first traces of yellow, orange, and rust-red. As stated by Capex, the mining town’s main street was lined with art and craft vendors, food stalls, and plenty of happy families.
Along with Homer’s boyhood pals, I participated in a series of model rocket launches just after lunch at “Cape Coalwood,” where Homer and the Rocket Boys once lofted their home-built missiles. Most of Saturday’s rockets managed to parachute back into the former mining dump site without damage, although the surrounding tall trees claimed a few reentering vehicles.
Homer’s latest book is Red Helmet, and he always had a line out front of the Methodist Church for signing. My table was on the church’s front lawn, where I signed copies of Hell Hawks! and Sky Walking through the day. With both my grandfathers having worked in the coal mines of Wilkes-Barre, PA, my visit to Coalwood was a glimpse into their lives 75 years ago. For a day, at least, I could trace a direct path from the mines to the stars. Plan on visiting the October Sky Festival in 2009.
Looking forward to seeing many old friends and learning of their experiences in Hurricane Ike. Best wishes to all there for a smooth clean-up and a quick recovery from the extensive damage inflicted by Ike.
Spread the word and join me Saturday for the extraordinary tales of the 365th Fighter Group, the Hell Hawks! This band of young pilots and airmen had an extraordinary impact on winning victory in WWII Europe.
After my visit on Sept. 17th to the elementary school students of Wenatchee, Washington, I received this note from the mother of a certain second grader:
“He is in the 2nd grade and getting him to tell me ANY details about his day is like pulling teeth! Today his first words when he got off the bus were, “Mom we had a real-life astronaut at our assembly today”, I even got a few details regarding your time on the space station. You must do a pretty fantastic presentation to get a reaction like that from him. He’s a tough audience unless you are a yellow cartoon sponge!”
Those kids sure recharged my own enthusiasm for space flight. Go out and inspire a future explorer today.
I joined the Association of Space Explorers after my third shuttle flight in 1996. This past week in Seattle, astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world met in Seattle to discuss space exploration, education, and planetary stewardship. Our technical sessions dealt with human space exploration, astronaut observations of Earth and its geological links to our neighboring worlds, health for long-duration spaceflight, fundamental research on the space station, and the latest developments in world space programs, including the NASA effort to return to the Moon with Ares and Orion. My talks dealt with how astronauts contribute to the science of Planetology with their Earth-orbital observations, and opportunities to journey deep into space with astronaut voyages to nearby asteroids.
Our community day activities brought 50 space fliers to schools all over the State of Washington, reaching 42,000 students, all of whom had a chance to meet and ask questions of a space traveler. My visits took me to four elementary schools in Wenatchee, where I addressed 1,800 future explorers, aged 5 to 11.
The week of September 22 brings a few of those space travelers together with our ASE Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation, for final edits to our decision-making document, “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response.” We will complete our document, sign it, and submit our work to the United Nations for debate and adoption of an international program to prevent future asteroid impacts on Earth. The Association of Space Explorers’ theme of planetary stewardship is the impetus behind this effort to use our space technology and international cooperation in space to prepare for a future threat from a Near Earth Object.
Of course, while in Seattle I didn’t miss the opportunity to sign copies of “Hell Hawks!“, at the Seattle Museum of Flight, a great venue for this aerial band of brothers story about a heroic group of Thunderbolt pilots.