Thomas D. Jones, PhD is a veteran NASA astronaut, scientist, speaker, author, and consultant. He holds a doctorate in planetary sciences, and in more than eleven years with NASA, flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. In 2001, Dr. Jones led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has been privileged to spend fifty-three days working and living in space.
He’s visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science for public lecture on May 5 and he was kind enough to give us a preview:
In Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, I take readers along for an “inside-the-spacesuit” ride on each of my four space shuttle missions. My most recent was a demanding construction flight to the International Space Station. During the second of three spacewalks outside shuttle Atlantis, I moved carefully along the silvery hull of the Station’s Destiny science lab, hovering by my fingertips some 220 miles above the luminous Earth below.
|photo credit: pingnews.com|
My spacewalking partner, Bob Curbeam, and I worked side-by-side on Destiny’s hull, installing the mechanical and electrical foundation for the Station’s robot arm, Canadarm II. We were interrupted by an exuberant call from German astronaut Gerhard Thiele in Mission Control: the robot spacecraft “Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker” (NEAR-Shoemaker) had just landed on asteroid 433 Eros, the first time a machine from Earth had touched down on one of these mountain-sized remnants of the ancient solar system. Falling around Earth beneath the black sky and blazing sun, I tried to imagine what it might be like to walk Eros’ alien surface, held so lightly by its tenuous gravity that an easy leap would toss me aloft for hours. But a hundred million miles away, NEAR/Shoemaker was there, alive and transmitting. How long until an astronaut explorer might follow?
Near-Earth asteroids like Eros should be our next destination beyond the Moon. Their ancient rocks and resources will be key to our efforts to understand and tap the wealth of the solar system. Just as important, astronauts and their robot probes will gather the knowledge we need to keep Eros’ rogue cousins from someday threatening our civilization with a catastrophic impact. We now have the capability to intercept these objects and halt a cosmic force that has often changed the course of evolution on Earth. To survive as a species, we must do so. Only by “Sky Walking” can we ensure that we humans don’t go the way of the dinosaurs.
Jones is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has engineered intelligence-gathering systems for the CIA, and helped develop advanced mission concepts to explore the solar system prior to joining NASA’s astronaut corps. He writes frequently about space exploration and aviation history in magazines such as Air and Space Smithsonian, Aerospace America, and Popular Mechanics. Tom’s current book is Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, published in 2006 by Smithsonian Books-Collins.