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 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:
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.
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
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.
The last day of June is an international recognition of Asteroid Day, a global, public discussion of the hazards posed to Earth and our civilization by asteroid and comet impacts. June 30, 2017 marks the 109th anniversary of the 40-meter-wide asteroid impact over Tunguska, Siberia, that flattened 2000 square km (800 square miles) of conifer forest. That 3- to 5-megaton explosion, generated by an asteroid impact that occurs on average every millennium, is a reminder of the devastation that awaits our society if we fail to act to prevent a future impact.
Last year the United Nations recognized Asteroid Day as a global education event, aimed at raising awareness of cosmic impacts and the need for nations to work together to head off a future impact event. The professional society of astronauts and cosmonauts, the Association of Space Explorers, introduced the United Nations measure that recognized Asteroid Day. We space fliers have seen the cosmic scars on Earth created by past impacts, and our international collaboration in space is an example of how we should apply our joint skills in space technology to find rogue asteroids and divert them from a collision with Earth.
Asteroid Day is a 24-hour global conversation kicking off on the eve of June 30, and features a day-long live broadcast from this year’s Asteroid Day headquarters in Luxembourg. Check out the program at AsteroidDay.org. The broadcast features asteroid science documentaries, interviews with scientists, astronauts, and policy makers, and interactive conversations with asteroid experts around the globe. In addition, close to a thousand events celebrating Asteroid Day will take place around the globe; you can see the map online at AsteroidDay.org. You can also participate on Twitter at #AsteroidDayLive.
During my astronaut training, I explored the depths of Arizona’s Meteor Crater, hiked the floor of Texas’ Odessa impact crater, and took in the view from the rim of the Henbury Crater complex in Australia’s great red Outback. From orbit, I observed a dozen or more impact scars scattered across the globe, some of the ~190 craters showing how our home planet has endured billions of years of cosmic bombardment.
We humans will endure another devastating asteroid or comet impact—one that could wipe out a city, a region of a continent, or our global civilization–unless we work together at finding dangerous asteroids and demonstrate our ability to change the orbit of one headed our way. Support efforts to launch an infrared space telescope to hunt for the million or so objects that could threaten us, and ask your lawmakers to fund a deflection demonstration, like the joint NASA-ESA “AIDA” mission to nudge the orbit of a harmless asteroid with a high-speed spacecraft collision. We’re all piloting this spaceship Earth together, and Asteroid Day is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to protect it.
On behalf of the Association of Space Explorers, I’ll be speaking about Asteroid Day and the asteroid hazard at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on June 30. Let’s talk asteroids!
From my ReliablePlant2017 keynote audience: “Dr. Tom Jones was magnificent. He was inspiring. And he told us things I hadn’t heard before.” Thank you to Noria Corporation for their sponsorship of my address. www.AstronautTomJones.com
Ireland seen from STS-59, Endeavour: 4-17-94 (NASA STS059-L13-5)
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we look down on west central Ireland from the flight deck of shuttle Endeavour, STS-59, the Space Radar Lab 1 mission. In this 90mm lens, Linhoff camera image taken from 113 nautical miles up, we see the coast of west central Ireland. North is to the upper left. Galway Bay is the straight-edged bay at left center, with the Aran Islands at its mouth. North of Galway Bay is the curved shoreline of Lough Corrib. Lough Mask is just to the north, shaped like a snowboard. At bottom center in this image is the valley of the Shannon River, and at right center, the forked southwestern end of Lough Derg. Lough Ree is at upper right.
The peninsula at the center left is Connemara. The north coast of Ireland is at upper left. The city of Galway is visible at northern, inland edge of Galway Bay. Limerick is seen as a gray patch at the upstream end of the Shannon River estuary. Shannon Airport is nestled on the north bank of the Shannon River, on the peninsula just left of bottom center.
If you look carefully, you can just see a four-leaf clover.
NASA Image Caption: STS059-L13-005 West-Central Ireland April 1994
The west-central region of Ireland is presented in this low-oblique, north-looking photograph. Numerous lakes are scattered across the landscape as reminders of the continental glaciers that once covered the entire region. Glaciation resulted in much of Ireland having thin soil that will not support significant vegetation growth despite 40 to 80 inches (100 to 200 centimeters) of annual precipitation. The western coastal area is classified as humid temperate with cool summers and no specific dry season. The higher elevations of 1000 to 2000 feet (300 to 600 meters) usually appear tan or light brown, which indicates a lack of forested vegetation. Pastoralism is the dominant agricultural pursuit in west-central Ireland. This photograph shows a representative section of the west coast of Ireland, which contains peninsulas, bays, and islands. Viewing clockwise from north of Galway Bay are several large lakes—Corrib and Mask immediately north of the bay, Ree to the northeast, and elongated Derg south of Ree. Several cities are barely visible—Galway at the northeast end of Galway Bay and, to the south, Shannon on the north bank of the Shannon River; and Limerick on the south bank of the Shannon River.
During his 11 years with NASA, Tom Jones logged over 52 days in space, leading 3 space walks to help build the Space Station. Today, planetary scientist Tom Jones is a popular speaker, talented author, on-air space contributor for Fox News, and a successful consultant. He co-authored “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to NASA”; his well-received current title is the gripping “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.”