Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir

Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir

by Tom Jones

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A gripping first-hand account of life in space and the making of an astronaut. What is it like to fly the space shuttle and work on and in the International Space Station? Veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones is uniquely qualified to give the details: he flew four shuttle missions and led three space walks to deliver the US Lab to the Station. . From B-52 pilot during the Cold War, to a PhD in planetary science, to the unbelievable rigors of astronaut training, his career inevitably pointed him toward the space shuttle. Until the Challenger exploded. Jones's story is the first to candidly explain the professional and personal hardships faced by the astronauts in the aftermath of that 1986 tragedy. He certainly has 'The Right Stuff' but also found himself wondering if the risks he undertook were worth the toll on his family. Liftoffs were especially nerve-wracking (his mother, who refuses to even get on a plane, cannot watch) but his 53 days in space were unforgettable adventures. Jones uses his background as a scientist to explain the practical applications of many of the shuttle's scientific missions, and describes what it's like to work with the international crews building and living aboard the space station. Tom Jones returned from his space station voyage to assess the impact of the 2003 Columbia tragedy, and prescribes a successful course for the U.S. in space. Stunning photographs, many taken in space, illustrate his amazing journey.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588344052
Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
Publication date: 12/20/2016
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 370
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Born and raised in Maryland, Tom Jones is a Distinguished Graduate
of the United States Air Force Academy. During his career, he has piloted B-52s,
earned a doctorate in planetary science, and worked for the CIA. He entered the
NASA astronaut program in 1990, flew four missions on the space shuttle, and
helped build the International Space Station. He is a space consultant, author,
public speaker, and a senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human
and Machine Cognition.

Read an Excerpt

Sky Walking

An Astronaut's Memoir
By Thomas Jones

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Thomas Jones
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006085152X

Chapter One

No Way Out

Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.
Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519), Notebooks

November 28, 1996--Thanksgiving evening. The space-suit fan whirred quietly behind my head, pumping the weightless oxygen from backpack to helmet as I drifted in the airlock. The shuttle Columbia had completed 144 orbits of Earth. By this tenth day of our mission, we had recaptured the Wake Shield Facility, our space-based computer chip factory, and berthed it safely into the shuttle's payload bay, its mission complete. The other satellite we had deployed on this science mission, an ultraviolet astronomical telescope called ORFEUS-SPAS, trailed us in orbit by about thirty miles, busily surveying the heavens. In the four days before we chased down the telescope, we had an exciting new task to perform. It was time to prove that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) plans for building a space station were practical and workable in the weightless environment of orbit. For our five-person crew on the eightieth mission of the Space TransportationSystem, or STS-80, this traditional American holiday was no day off. I had trained hard for six years for this moment.

Sealed inside the cramped canister-shaped compartment at the rear of Columbia's crew cabin, Tammy Jernigan and I were still connected to the orbiter's power and oxygen supplies by a pair of life-support umbilicals. Tammy, our crew's lead space walker, pushed aside a tangle of drifting tools and grasped the chamber's depressurization valve with a weightless glove. Cleared by Mission Control, she rotated the black knob to its open position: the life-giving air surrounding us roared through the valve directly into the vacuum of space. The only thing between us and space was the thin metal of the airlock's rear hatch. It was hard to imagine that there were no more practice sessions in NASA's Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF) standing between us and our two planned space walks. But here we were, suited up and ready, not submerged in a big swimming pool but immersed in the real thing at last. Hovering above Tammy's backpack, I glanced down at the digital readout on my own suit and saw something never seen in our space-walk training under water: the airlock pressure was creeping toward zero.

The countdown to this first extravehicular activity (EVA) had gone perfectly so far. Story Musgrave, our veteran crewmate and in-cabin partner, had marched us through the preparation checklist, and as usual, his practiced eye had missed nothing. He had double-checked every detail of suit-up, and about thirty minutes earlier he had closed the hatch leading from Columbia's middeck, isolating Tammy and me from the crew cabin. Now, as my fingertips tingled with anticipation, we were executing the "Airlock Depress" checklist, with hatch opening just ahead.

Racing through my mind were the details of the six hours of work awaiting us outside. In our 130 hours of underwater drills and endless tabletop rehearsals, Tammy and I had burned into our memories every key task of our upcoming weightless ballet. Only by sticking with our tightly scripted timeline could we make it through the space walk's long list of Space Station assembly tests. All the WETF (pronounced Wet-F) rehearsals, the hours spent working out the orbital choreography, the space-suited vacuum chamber tests, and our final checklist review in the cabin last night lay behind us now. Outside, the new Space Station cargo crane waited for us in its payload bay cradle. Opposite the crane on the orbiter sidewall was a station solar array battery swathed in white thermal insulation, and the new station tools were nestled in their storage lockers down on the cargo bay floor. There was no time to methodically go over the whole plan again. Instead, I focused on the first few steps that would get me out the door; once there, I would rely on slipping into the comfortable groove that repetition had worn into our memories.

When the airlock pressure dropped down from the sea-level value of 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi) to 5, Tammy halted the depressurization for a planned space-suit leak check. Her suit pressure was running slightly high, but her breathing would soon consume enough oxygen to bring the reading within operational limits. My gauge reading was perfect at 4.3 psi, the pressure at which the suit's pure oxygen atmosphere would fully charge our blood with the life-giving gas. Satisfied, Tammy twisted the depressurization valve wide open, and the remaining air molecules fled into the void outside. Under the dim fluorescent lights of the airlock, we drifted in the hard vacuum conditions of space, where the pressure was less than one ten-billionth of that at sea level.

Still connected to the orbiter by our suit umbilicals, we got the critical "Go" from Story to open the airlock hatch. In a moment we would be out the door, "on stage" at last. The butterflies in my stomach were in full zero-g flight; feeling something akin to stage fright, I was more fearful of making a mistake in front of my colleagues than of the EVA hazards of micrometeoroids, searing temperatures, radiation, and hard vacuum.

With her gloved left hand gripping the yellow handrail rimming the outer hatch, Tammy reached out, grabbed the hatch handle with her other hand, and spun the crank clockwise. About 30 degrees through its single revolution the handle stopped unexpectedly. When she tried again, this time with more muscle, the force of her effort swung her weightless body back up toward me. I could hear her determined breathing over the intercom, but the handle resisted her efforts to advance it further. After straining through a half-dozen attempts with no success, she called for reinforcements. "Tom, it won't budge. Swap places and you have a go at it."


Excerpted from Sky Walking by Thomas Jones Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Jones. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword John W. Young ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Part 1 Earth

1 No Way Out 3

2 Astronauts Wanted: Travel Required 10

3 Who's Got the Right Stuff? 29

4 Countdown to First Flight 51

5 Seeing Earth in a New Way 63

6 Final Count 79

Part 2 Shuttle

7 Earth and Sky 105

8 The Only Man Available 130

9 Back in the Pool 152

10 Go for EVA! 168

11 Through the Fire 190

Part 3 Station

12 The International Space Station 217

13 A Clash of Cultures 228

14 Destiny 240

15 Rendezvous 266

16 Stepping Out 288

17 High Steel in Orbit 303

18 Sky Walking 309

19 Reentry 319

20 Shock Waves 327

Epilogue: A New Odyssey 339

Appendix: Mission Statistics 346

Glossary 349

Bibliography 359

Index 361

What People are Saying About This

Neil Armstrong

“A‘tell it like it is’ flight crew report of living and working in space . . . An inside story—well told!”

John H. Glenn

“What it’s like to be ‘in-the-program.’ excellent account.”

Bruce Betts

“Tom Jones has set the benchmark for [describing life as] an astronaut in the shuttle era.”

Andrew Chaikin

“…Tom Jones got to live the dream. Here is his extraordinary story, told with vivid clarity, candor, and style.”

Dale Brown

“It’s a story filled with excitement, disappointment, frustration, danger, triumph, and tragedy… It’s a thrilling ride.”

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