List of Tom Jones Consulting Projects March 4, 2016Posted by skywalking1 in Space.
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Assessment with the IHMC team of how to use space resources from the asteroids, Mars moons, and Mars atmosphere and surface to support human expeditions to the Red Planet. (2015)
On-air spaceflight expert for production of “Surviving Space,” a new documentary television series on Discovery Science Channel. (2015)
On-air astronaut consultant for the Weather Channel during their coverage of the first test flight of NASA’s Orion deep-space, multi-purpose crew vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (2014)
Assessment with the IHMC team of various deep-space astronaut activities for NASA’s human exploration plans beyond the Moon, to the nearby asteroids, and Mars. (2013)
Science advisor to Planetary Resources, Inc, the asteroid mining company. (2013)
Member of NASA Planetary Science Division’s Senior Review Panel for ongoing Planetary Missions. (2012)
Asteroid and space operations consultant on Keck Institute for Space Studies assessment of an exciting mission to capture a small asteroid and return it safely to the Earth-Moon system for exploration and exploitation. (2012)
On-air commentator for Fox News Channel’s science and spaceflight coverage. (2005-2012)
Served on distinguished National Research Council panel on the Future of NASA’s Astronaut Selection and Training programs. (2011)
Co-chair of the NASA Advisory Council ad hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense, and editor of its final report. (2010)
NASA Advisory Council member, Space Operations committee. (2006-2009)
Science and crew operations consultant on NASA study team examining piloted missions to Near-Earth Asteroids. (2005)
Astronaut expert for a 2005 NASA study of advanced space suit life support concepts. The team took a “clean sheet” approach to keeping a crewmember alive in free-fall or on a planetary surface.
Team member for the 2005 NASA Solar System Exploration Strategic Roadmap Committee. The team set out robotic exploration priorities for solar system science over the next three decades.
Study team member on a 2004 Planetary Society examination of a human space exploration strategy
Contributor to International Academy of Astronautics study The Next Steps in Exploring Deep Space.
Panel member for the National Academy of Sciences’ Space Studies Board’s report, Issues and Opportunities Regarding the U.S. Space Program.
NASA selection panel member for a variety of Earth sciences and space astronomy programs.
Technical advisor for the major Hollywood motion picture, The Core. (2001)
For more information on hiring astronaut Tom Jones for your project, see www.AstronautTomJones.com
Launching an Annual Asteroid Day March 2, 2016Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space, Uncategorized.
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In late February, the Association of Space Explorers, working with the United Nations in Vienna, proposed that the UN declare that Asteroid Day be held as an annual, global event. Asteroid Day, first held in 2015, heightens public awareness of the asteroid impact hazard, educates society on what we humans can do with space technology to prevent a future disaster, and calls for stepping up the discovery rate of possibly hazardous asteroids.
At the Vienna session of the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (through its Science and Technical Subcommittee), our ASE representative Dorin Prunariu delivered our statement on the importance of Asteroid Day as a global, UN-recognized event. His presentation to the member state delegates was well-received. The Association of Space Explorers submitted a Conference Room Paper to the member state delegates calling for recognition of Asteroid Day, and it’s posted here.
Here is one excerpt from our Paper:
In view of the successful results of last year’s Asteroid Day, and the goals and
plans for Asteroid Day 2016 and beyond, the Association of Space Explorers asks
the member States of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to support
Asteroid Day’s goals, and to propose that the United Nations General Assembly at
its 71st session in 2016 declare the International Asteroid Day as [an] annual global
observance. The purpose of such an Asteroid Day declaration is to promote and
raise each year at the international level the awareness of NEO hazards, the
potential for space science and technology to protect humanity against future
damaging impacts, and the need to act together to end the threat of an asteroid
collision with Earth. Because 30 June was the date of the largest impact of an
asteroid on Earth in historical times, we propose that the United Nations General
Assembly resolve that the International Asteroid Day be celebrated and promoted
annually on that date.
We anticipate that the full Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, meeting in June, will adopt the report of its Committee. If so, October’s gathering of the General Assembly in New York should see the approval of the document, and thus UN recognition of Asteroid Day as an annual, global event.
The Association of Space Explorers Committee on Near-Earth Objects thanks Dorin (celebrating the 35th anniversary of the first Romanian space mission (his) this year) and the Asteroid Day organizers Grig Richter and Danica Remy for making the work in Vienna possible. So this June 30, check with AsteroidDay.org to see and attend the closest Asteroid Day event, or better yet, plan to organize and hold one of your own. We’re sure to continue our ASE support of this year’s events with astronauts attending many of the Asteroid Day gatherings. See you on June 30.
#Apollo45: Moon Memories December 14, 2015Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space, Uncategorized.
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July 2014 marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first time astronauts visited and walked on another celestial body. I recorded my memories of that event, and the inspiration it brought to me, at the #Apollo45 YouTube channel.
Here is my video link.
What do you remember seeing–and feeling–on July 20, 1969?
The Apollo 11 crew on July 20, 2009, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Aldrin (left), Armstrong, and Collins. (NASM)
Four Hairballs Head for Space–STS-68 September 11, 2015Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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Since July 1990, the 23 members of Astronaut Group XIII had studied and trained together for their ultimate challenge in space. Although all of us wanted to be the first in our class to fly, we knew it would take a couple of years to get every Hairball into orbit, flying a couple of us rookies at most with every shuttle mission. Bernard Harris and Charlie Precourt were the first in the group to get to space, flying in April 1993 on STS-55. It was almost a year later before I got my chance on STS-59.
Just six months earlier, in October, I was floored to learn I’d be joined on STS-68, flying the SRL-2 radar imaging payload, by THREE of my Hairball classmates: Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch. We’d spent a year together in “astronaut school” at Johnson Space Center, and flown everything from the simulators to T-38 jets together. We knew each others’ personalities well, and I was reassured that I was flying with good friends and strong, capable crewmates. Jeff and Dan had flown in the previous year as mission specialists, and Terry would be our crew’s pilot. The way we split up our orbit team for round-the-clock radar operations, Dan and I would work the “night” shift together–the Blue Shift–, along with Steve Smith, and Terry and Jeff would take up the Red Shift–daytime back in Houston–with commander Mike Baker.
Today, Terry is the safety and mission assurance chief at NASA, Jeff is principal associate director of the National Ignition Facility (“lasers”), and Dan is a senior project engineer at the Aerospace Corporation. They’ve taught me so much, both on space and on Earth.
Here we are, just after suiting up down the hall from astronaut crew quarters in the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center. From here it was just a few short steps to the elevator down to the Astrovan, and our ride to the pad for the launch of STS-68,
Food for Thought…Just Before Liftoff September 10, 2015Posted by skywalking1 in Uncategorized.
Tags: human spaceflight program, shuttle, space history
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In a tradition dating back to Alan Shepard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961, astronauts are served a favorite meal before suiting up and heading to the launch pad–and space. On STS-68, scheduled for an Aug. 18, 1994 launch, I asked the dietitians at the NASA Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center (my favorite was Dotti Kunde) to prepare a mushroom and cheese omelet with bacon, toast, fresh fruit, coffee, and orange juice. My crew gathered in the dining room of crew quarters for a ceremonial photo and a wave at the TV cameras, and a formal acceptance of our “mission cake,” a giant sheet cake with our SRL-2/STS-68 patch decorating the top. After the photos, the cake immediately went into the freezer and was delivered to Houston. We’d eat the cake when–and if–we actually returned from a successful mission.
Breakfast was served between five and six hours before liftoff, so there was no possibility that any of this delicious food was going to still be in my stomach when I arrived in free fall. Hence, I needn’t worry about seeing any of it if I experienced a bout of space sickness on arrival in orbit. (Besides, I took anti-nausea meds on the launch pad, eliminating any possibility of “space adaptation syndrome” that might require me to deploy my space sickness bag.)
Of course, this was just the first launch morning breakfast I’d enjoy on STS-68. I came back six weeks later for another one, following our pad abort on August 18 and Endeavour’s return to the pad for our next attempt. But that’s another story….
Thank you, Dot and friends, for a delicious breakfast. It was plenty tasty enough to make one intent on returning to Earth.
Read more about STS-68 in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.”
STS-68 Preflight: Getting Ready for Space Radar Lab 2 September 8, 2014Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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The crew of STS-68, Space Radar Lab 2, on 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.
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.
We all had a chance to drive the M113 APC, below, just in case we had to evacuate an injured crewmember from the blast bunker and get him to a nearby helipad.
Our crew posed on the launch pad next to Endeavour during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test activities. This swingarm carries flammable, gaseous hydrogen away from the external tank during launch preparations. It’s amazing to get so close to this massive machinery, even more startling to realize you’re going to ride it off the planet.
The AstroVan (below) is now on display near Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Will it roll again? Here we’re loose and joking, but the atmosphere’s a little more tense on the day of the real ride to the launch pad.
As we waited for our strap-in and countdown rehearsal aboard Endeavour, we took some photos atop the launch pad.
Steve and I would work on the Blue Shift together with Dan Bursch while in orbit. Steve rode uphill in the MS-1 position on the flight deck, next to flight engineer and MS-2 Dan Bursch.
Our countdown rehearsal ended with a mock pad abort and an emergency egress from the crew module to the escape slide baskets on the western, or far side of the 195-foot level.
Following lunch back at crew quarters, we headed back to the pad for an afternoon press conference near the blast bunker on the pad perimeter road.
On the shot below, the slide wires for the escape baskets are visible, reaching back to the 195-foot level at Pad 39A. It was a hot August day on the Florida Space Coast.
Two days before launch, 20 years ago, for STS-68. The crew arrives at the Cape beach house for BBQ with family members. Left to right: Steve Smith, Mike Baker, Tom Jones, Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch. NASA had rented us some nifty Chrysler LeBaron convertibles. (below, NASA 9-28-94)
The day before launch, our food technicians start loading the contents of the fresh food locker: Wheat Thins in ziplocs, tortillas into dark green packages, squeezable cheese spread, picante sauce packets, peanut butter, empty water pouches, my TastyKake chocolate cupcakes and butterscotch krimpets, and (ahem) white packets of high-fiber cookies.
After our pad abort on August 18, we were all eager to go. Here are the four “Hairballs” from the 1990 astronaut group flying on STS-68: Jones, Wilcutt, Wisoff, and Bursch. In the background of the suit room, we see Hoot Gibson (chief astronaut) in the blue flight suit, with tan-suited Dave Leestma (chief of Flight Crew Operations) on the right. We would shortly walk to the Astrovan for our ride to Pad 39A.
In the photo above, LIz and I posed in front of Endeavour as part of our spouse’s tour before heading to night viewing with our friends and family. We were able to see the ship from top to bottom, from the White Room down to the flame trench beneath the mobile launch platform on Pad 39A. Likely taken Aug. 17, 1994. For more info on STS-68, see: http://www.AstronautTomJones.com
Did UFOs Visit STS-80 Columbia? September 8, 2014Posted by skywalking1 in Uncategorized.
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During the week of April 11, 2011, the FBI released some of its investigation records on UFOs. The reports reflect the reality that people do see unexplained phenomena in the sky. Are these sightings evidence for intelligent life elsewhere, or some secret flight testing program?
Much UFO speculation in the past has focused on one of my shuttle missions, STS-80, flown in late 1996. Some have maintained that video shot during this Columbia space shuttle flight provides evidence for unknown objects moving in the night sky. I have reviewed this video (for the first time in 1997), and conclude that it shows commonplace and well-known objects near the shuttle, all of them observed on every shuttle flight. These videos show low-light television camera images of ice particles or man-made debris drifting out of Columbia’s cargo bay, and floating in the vicinity of the shuttle, likely within a few…
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FROM AIAA Daily Launch, July 1, 2014:
ARM Promoted As Fruitful First Step Toward Mars. In an article for the Space Review (6/30), Louis Friedman, Executive Director-Emeritus of the Planetary Society, and Thomas Jones, veteran astronaut and senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, wrote about why NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is the “affordable and logical first step” for NASA to send people to Mars despite what the recent National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Human Spaceflight report claimed. With the Apollo and ISS programs the only “successful examples of government support for human space exploration initiatives,” the authors believe that ARM can build the “sustainable momentum” needed at a time there is no “strong geopolitical rationale” for missions to Mars. ARM also would get astronauts into deep space “much sooner, and at much lower cost” than a lunar mission, although the authors do not rule out missions to the moon. Just by examining the NRC report’s recommendations, ARM was an “attractive first step” toward Mars.
See my latest speeches, articles and images at www.AstronautTomJones.com
Endeavour Rollout to Launch Pad 39A, Aug. 8, 1995 March 20, 2014Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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Space Shuttle Endeavour launched on its STS-69 mission on September 7, 1995. The orbiter and stack had rolled back to the VAB on Aug. 1 to avoid the effets of Hurricane Erin. I was one of the capcoms (astronaut communicator working in Mission Control) for the mission, and I had never seen a space shuttle stack move out to the launch pad. So I took advantage of an invitation from the STS-69 crew (Dave Walker, Ken Cockrell, Jim Voss, Mike Gernhardt, and Jim Newman) to join them for the rollout. Our pair of T-38s headed from Ellington Field near Johnson Space Center for the Cape on the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1995.
After spending the night at astronaut crew quarters, we were up the next morning to join Endeavour on her roll to the pad, which had begun in darkness at 1:55 am. We drove out to the crawlerway, once the route of Saturn V moon rockets to the pad, catching a heart-stopping view of the shuttle stack about two-thirds of the way to Launch Pad 39A. We parked along the road to step aboard the Mobile Launch Platform and get up close to the orbiter I’d flown twice in the previous year (STS-59 and STS-68).
I had never boarded the MLP while in motion, but it was easy to jump aboard the gangway at its 1 mph pace along the crushed river stone of the crawlerway and climb to the deck. Here I was within touching distance of the Endeavour stack, this time unprotected from any pad structure, as on my prelaunch visits to my ship in 1994. Endeavour was independent and self-supported, gliding toward its appointment with orbit, oblivious of the human gnats buzzing around her with a Nikon draped around their necks.
I think the focus on the above shot is a bit soft, due to the early morning light at the Cape–we got their shortly after dawn. The two tab-shaped gray structures on either side of the orbiter’s tail also belonged to the MLP. They housed the T-minus-zero umbilicals (“T-zero umbilicals” was how we said it), those clusters of gas, power, and propellant lines that fed into the ship on either side, just below the OMS pods. Through these umbilicals the external tank received its propellants, the orbiter received commands and electrical power and sent back telemetry, and its plumbing was furnished with gaseous nitrogen for purging the payload bay and engine compartment. At zero in the count, the umbilical panel was yanked away by a falling counterweight, retracted into the gray structure, and protected from the fierce exhaust blast by armored doors that slammed down over the now-recessed umbilical plate.
While pacing the MLP and craning my neck back to look up at Endeavour (as close as I’d been since my landing at Edwards on STS-68 the previous October), I had to get myself in the picture. I’d lived aboard this ship in space for three weeks in 1994, yet it was still hard to wrap my head around that reality. How is it possible that we could have hurled this entire machine into space at five miles per second, with six humans aboard, and brought it back safely to Earth? We have deliberately chosen to walk away from this national capability. Today, if we don’t choose to use these machines any longer, we must quickly–very quickly–develop an alternative national means to send our people to space. Not accelerating this development is sheer negligence on a national scale.
We dropped back to Earth again, stepping onto the crawlerway for a few more photos as the mobile launcher neared the incline to the top of Pad 39A. These views just kept me grinning and shaking my head in awe. I will be similarly amazed when a mobile launcher carries the first Space Launch System booster to its pad.
Endeavour, OV-105, began its ascent of the ramp to 39A as I took up a perch on the Rotating Service Structure, seen to the left in the photo above. This was the rail-mounted “gantry” that would swing in behind the orbiter, once it was in position, and enclose most of the orbiter for protection from the weather. It would also provide clean-room access to the payload bay, enabling technicians to transfer payloads from a mobile canister from the RSS into the payload bay. For me, the top of the RSS provided a fantastic photo vantage point for me and the Nikon F4 I’d borrowed from the photo lab at JSC.
From atop the RSS I head the constant roar of the crawler’s diesels (in turn powering electric motors that drive the tracks) as it mounted the pad elevation.
If there’s anything that will bring a grin to your face, it’s the sight of a spaceship almost imperceptibly rolling up alongside of you. The orbiter seemed to say: “Comin’ through! I’m headed for orbit. Stand aside!”
Endeavour pulls even with the pad structure as I stood, amazed, just above the orbiter White Room level on the RSS.
Here, the crawler would lower the stack onto the four massive launch platform pedestals, then drive back down the incline for its next job. Back on the MLP deck, I got a look at the base of the external tank and its structural connections to the solid rocket boosters. Each booster is held to the platform by 4 massive bolts and nuts, which shatter under explosive detonations at T-minus-zero.
I flew home later that afternoon, with Ken Cockrell at the controls. I hope he’ll be able to figure out who the crew is in T-38 #907, based on the helmet colors in the photo. STS-69 launched on September 7, 1995:
My thanks to the STS-69 crew for allowing me to share their orbiter’s rollout, and for inviting me to work with them as a capcom on their mission. Of course, Ken Cockrell and I flew together just 14 months later on STS-80. But that’s another story. See my website here for more details:
STS-68, Endeavour, Space Radar Lab 2, Sep. 30-Oct. 11, 1994 September 4, 2013Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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This month is the 20th anniversary of the Space Radar Lab 2 mission, STS-68. I was the payload commander, along with Mike Baker (CDR), Dan Bursch (MS2), Steve Smith (MS1), Terry Wilcutt (PLT), and Jeff Wisoff (MS3). An ambitious follow up to the successful STS-59, Space Radar Lab 1, SRL-2 was aimed at flying the multi-frequency, multi-polarized Shuttle Imaging Radar-C, X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar, and the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites sensors in the northern hemisphere late summer, to compare SRL-1’s spring mapping results to those from a contrasting season of the year. STS-68 would also test radar interferometry, a technique to create highly accurate, three-dimensional maps of Earth’s topography. (More info at www.AstronautTomJones.com)
My crewmates and I rehearsed our countdown procedures at Kennedy Space Center on August 1, 1994.
Jeff Wisoff was seated to my left, close to the galley and side hatch. Note my clear helmet visor, indicating a “practice” helmet. We kept the dark visors for the real launch day, to avoid scratching them during our practice sessions like this one.
Our launch was planned on August 18, 1994, but at dawn on that date, when Endeavour’s main engines (SSMEs) ignited, the #3 engine violated a redline constraint, and the GPCs ordered an abort and engine shutdown. They automatically called for a shutdown when the discharge temperature on MPS SSME Main Engine #3 High Pressure Oxidizer Turbopump (HPOT) exceeded its redline value. The HPOT typically operates at 28,120 rpm and boosts the liquid oxygen pressure from 422 psia to 4,300 psia. There are 2 sensor channels measuring temperature on the HPOT. The B channel indicated a redline condition while the other was near redline conditions. The temperature at shutdown was at 1563 degrees R. while a normal HPOT discharge temperature is around 1403 degrees R. The redline limit to initiate a shutdown is at 1560 degrees R. This limit increases to 1760 degrees R. at T-1.3 sec (5.3 sec after Main Engine Start). Main Engine #3 (SN 2032) has been used on 2 previous flights with 2,412 seconds of hot-fire time and a total of 8 starts. This was the first flight for the HPOT on Main Engine (SSME) #3.
What all of this meant to me on the middeck (sitting next to Jeff Wisoff), was that as I felt the SSMEs rumble to life, I began mentally counting down the six seconds til booster ignition at T-minus-zero. Braced against the massive jolt of those SRBs exploding into life, I instead felt the engine vibration die away just as Terry Wilcutt shouted “Right engine down!”, accompanied by the blare of the master alarm. This meant serious trouble.
Out the hatch window to my left, I noted the gantry structure seeming to sway left and right under the vanished shove from Endeavour’s main engines–that was US swaying back and forth. Jeff and I hurriedly threw off our parachute straps and prepared to scoot across the middeck to open the hatch; we might all have to make a beeline to the escape slides on the far side of the gantry’s 190 foot level. We stayed on intercom, waiting for the word to egress.
Within the first minute, Launch Control had our pilots executing the pad abort checklist, entering computer commands that would stop the backup flight software from jettisoning our solid rocket boosters at T+2 minutes (embarrassing and deadly). As Jeff and I cleared our seats in the middeck and stood by to open the hatch, we heard reassuring words from Launch Director Bob Sieck’s team that the computers had executed an orderly shutdown, and no fire or explosion risk was evident.
“Damn! We’re scrubbed!” Jeff opined that we’d be set back at least three weeks by the necessary engine changeout. In fact it would take six weeks for our rollback, engine change, and rollout. STS-64 would slip ahead of us and fly in early September with its LITE laser sensor payload. Our new launch date would be Sept. 30, 1994.
The launch team did a superb job on our abort–the last pad abort in the space shuttle program, and the one that came hair-raisingly close to leaping off the pad with one engine down. That would have meant an immediate scramble to perform a Return To Launch Site (RTLS) abort, flying backward through our Mach 5 exhaust plume to attempt a dicey landing back on Merritt Island. If anyone could pull it off, it would have been Bakes, Terry, Dan, and Steve. Assuredly, no one wanted to try it first.
September 30 was set as our new launch date. STS-64 in the meantime had flown its successful LITE Earth-science mission, with the additional milestone of Mark Lee and Carl Meade test-flying the SAFER EVA jetpack. Our crew had taken a week-long vacation, then got back into simulations and recurring training to polish our space radar abilities. I thought we used the extra time to good effect, and we proceeded to the Cape even better prepared than we were in August. We were certainly more rested than on our first attempt.
One piece of bad luck befell us: on the day we entered quarantine, five of us came down with cold systems. We suffered through four days in Houston of runny noses, aches and pains, and sore throats, but with constant flight surgeon attention we slowly improved. Our flight to the Cape was on the Shuttle Training Aircraft, the Gulfstream jet, to spare our sinuses enroute.
When we arrived at the Cape, Dan Bursch stepped off the jet in his Groucho Marx disguise, telling reporters that our chances of avoiding a launch abort were better if Endeavour didn’t know he was in the launch area. Our spirits were certainly on the upswing as our three days in Florida at crew quarters drew to a close.
Our launch was timed for dawn on September 30, with Endeavour taking us into a 57-degree inclination, circular orbit, about 120 nm up. At that altitude our orbit would drift west at such a rate that we could image each of our science targets three times each day, from slightly different radar incidence angles.
The liftoff was exhilarating–this time I knew what to expect! I occupied the same seat as on SRL-1, with Jeff Wisoff to my left. No abort this time–the boosters came alive with a punch to the gut and we soared aloft. Much of the cabin dialogue we exchanged during launch is in my book, Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir. I’d asked that the side hatch window cover again be removed, so I had a terrific view of the gantry turning from gray, to red, to white-hot as the boosters lit. The following eight and a half minutes were punctuated by pyros firing to sever the boosters at two minutes, and then the attention-getting 3 g’s during the final minute of the ascent. During those final seconds I truly experienced the power of the space shuttle’s three main engines, just hurling our 100-ton orbiter toward the injection altitude and velocity. A miracle of technology and physics.
Below, another beautiful view of our dawn liftoff, as Endeavour jolts off the pad. During my second ascent to orbit, I was able to enjoy the physical and mental impressions a bit more methodically, recording my comments on a microcassette recorder during the eight-and-a-half minute climb to our 120 nm mapping orbit.
After MECO, it was off to the races, with Steve Smith and I teaming up on video and still photography of the external tank as it drifted away, below us. Then Jeff and I threw ourselves into converting the middeck into its orbit configuration, and getting the rest of the crew out of their suits and on into their orbital jobs. We had only about 5 hours until my bedtime; the Blue Shift of Steve, Dan and I were due for our first sleep period while Jeff, Mike, and Terry activated SRL-2.
Before launch, our crew had a chance to examine the Space Radar Lab and its SIR-C/X-SAR radars up close, nestled in Endeavour’s payload bay. C-band panels line the left edge, and the larger L-band panels cover most of the 12-m-long antenna. Along the port edge, next to the robot Canadarm, the German/Italian X-SAR antenna is folded downward toward the sill of the payload bay.
Below, SRL-2 is in orbit. Space Radar Lab 2 had some new wrinkles, added since our April flight of SRL-1. The JPL folks had added a gold decal that matched one the Germans and Italians had placed on the X-band antenna. And the Langley Research Center also added a label to their Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) instrument, positioned right in front of the radar antennae. It all made for a spectacular view out the back windows of the cabin:
We also had about 160 radar imagery recording cassettes aboard, up from the hundred or so we took aloft on SRL-1. The radar imaging schedule was even more ambitious than in April–and I’d thought that was intense!
I had thought I was over my cold, but upon arrival in orbit and a night’s sleep, I ran into its aftereffects. My sinuses were clogged, and without gravity, NOTHING was coming “down” out of my nose. My head felt like a balloon, and my face was reddened as if by a sunburn. I took to the medical locker to find the decongestants, and over a week or so, I slowly improved. The rest of my crewmates also dealt with the congestion lingering from our colds, and the natural stuffiness from the fluid shift headward, caused by our transition to free fall.
Jeff Wisoff, assisted by the pilots and coordinating with Mission Control (MCC), got SRL-2 up and running on his long first shift in orbit. When I woke from my quick 6 hours of sleep and talked to Jeff, I found he’d been “running” flat out with the activation for his entire shift, barely having time to grab a drink or a quick snack. I got cleaned up in a hurry and took over with Dan and Steve as quickly as we could, to spell the Red Shift from their labors. Having been up more than 18 hours, they were understandably tired. We tucked them into bed and ran with our Science Timeline, our program of observations.
We discovered the tile damage on the first day of the flight, after opening the payload bay doors and inspecting the cargo bay. MCC determined that the heat loads on the upper half of the OMS pod were mild enough that the tile damage would not be dangerous. That greatly eased our minds. It was several days later that we discovered the source of the damage, looking up through the window and noticing a missing piece of tile just outside the outer pane. The tile tore loose during ascent and flew back to strike the OMS pod.
The radar imagery returned resulted in wonderful images, like the one below, all across the disciplines of the Earth sciences. As we woke for our first work shift, Jeff, Terry, and Bakes called us upstairs to see a spectacular volcanic eruption in Kamchatka. Everyone grabbed a camera to capture images out the windows, while the radar lab obtained thousands of detailed images, revealing details obscured by the eruption plume.
The eruption was a true serendipitous gift from nature. If we had launched in August as planned, we would have missed this rare geological event. Now we had a ringside seat.
Our wide-angle 90mm lens on the Linhof camera captured the view below. The Linhof produced a 4×5-inch film negative, with incredible detail. Each magazine held 100 frames, and we refilled magazines with fresh film inside a light-tight bag, stowing the exposed film in canisters and manually spooling a new roll into the magazine. The film reloading was part of our nightly housekeeping routine. But it was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows!
We were able to monitor Kliuchevskoi’s eruption for a solid week, using the SRL to track eruptive phases as weather fronts came and went across Kamchatka. During a TV downlink to MCC, I described how the radar beams interacted with lavas of varying roughness, using three samples from Hawaii to illustrate the viewing geometry. I had chunks of aa, pahoehoe, and andesite lava aboard–in free fall, I had to take care to not release rock dust or slivers of lava into the cabin from their ziploc bags. The andesite sample was a more viscous, stiff lava, erupted from some of the more recent cinder cones on Mauna Kea.
Our shift work was 12 hours on, an 8-hour sleep shift, plus 4 hours for “post-sleep” and “pre-sleep”. In those periods, we talked things over with the Red Shift guys, had breakfast, dinner, and exercise, and took care of necessary housekeeping. One of the challenges was giving Jeff, Terry, and Bakes a good night’s sleep by keeping quiet in the middeck. Even opening a locker could wake up that crew in their sleeping bags, inside their bunks, so we tried to get our lunch like church mice, then eat on the flight deck. Once I dumped a chunk of scrambled eggs that I’d insecurely anchored to a tortilla–it went flying all over the flight deck, and Dan had to help me gobble up the floating egg debris. Dan’s homemade chocolate chip cookies crumbled in their ziploc–getting them out without crumbs floating everywhere required true astronaut skill. From home, with the help of the JSC Space Food Lab, I’d brought TastyKake chocolate cupcakes and Butterscotch Krimpets, enough snacks to carry me through the 11-day mission.
The area above is my stomping grounds, the region where I grew up, and I can see my entire youthful experience in this single photo, from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Coast. I grew up in Baltimore, and now live and work near Washington, DC. So much U.S. history is also captured in this shot, from the formative moves toward independence in 1776, to major battlefields of the Civil War, to the great Emancipation in 1862 and at the Civil War’s close. During WWII, the Martin aircraft factory in Baltimore built the B-26 Marauder bomber, and in the 1960s produced the Gemini-Titan II boosters that jump-started my space interests. During the mission, my brother watched me soar overhead in Endeavour before dawn from his home in Fredericksburg, VA, in the Chesapeake region.
When we reached orbit on Sept. 30, ’94, the Taklamakan Desert was a major landmark and science target for Space Radar Lab 2. Our radar targets were the alluvial fans and dune fields along the southern margin of the Taklamakan, where the Silk Road oases hosted caravans and travelers on an ancient trade route. Note the alluvial fans and vegetation in foreground, fed by streams from the Altyn-Tagh mountains bordering the desert on the south. Our radar images found traces of Silk Road irrigation channels and sand-covered villages.
All of us enjoyed our repeated views of San Francisco Bay and the San Andreas Fault, running left to right in the bottom of the image below. Steve Smith and Jeff Wisoff were both Stanford grads, and Mike Baker hails from this part of the country. Urban growth patterns and the many tectonic faults and features were the focus of our radar and camera studies here.
Below, the Front Range of the Rockies is visible in this shot, focused just north of my alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy. The dramatic rise of the Front Range, in stark contrast to the Colorado plains, is apparent from overhead. I could also see at a glance several familiar airports–Buckley Field, Stapleton International, and the new Denver airport–I frequented during my Air Force flying years. Early snows top the highest peaks to the west.
Above, from STS-68, SRL-2, the Panama Canal Zone, seen in Oct. 1994. Note the Pacific at left, with Panama City. Colon is on the Atlantic Coast (Caribbean) at right. The dark green jungle area protects the watershed that supplies the canal with fresh water via the Chagras River and Gatun Lake, at the canal’s midpoint. We were about 120 miles up over northern S. America when we took this shot. (NASA STS068-327-099)
On Space Radar Lab 2, the region below was one of our bread-and-butter science regions, full of radar targets for SIR-C and X-SAR. During training I’d visited several geoscience teams, studying alluvial fans on the margins of Death Valley, lava flows from young volcanic vents near Barstow, and a snow pack science lab near the summit of volcanic Mammoth Mountain. This frame captures that entire region, a fascinating Earth science laboratory. Make sure you visit Furnace Creek in Death Valley, and swim in the hot-spring-fed pool there.
In the test above, Steve had a laser on his headstrap, and his job was to rotate his head to put the laser dot on a series of targets about 6 feet away on the middeck lockers, forward. The sequence of pointing was random, and the package Steve was wearing recorded his eye motions as well as his response and pointing time. Looks a little like The Terminator if you ask me. Mike Baker helps with the checklist. Note the tortillas in the ziploc bag on the Middeck Equipment Rack (MER) behind Baker, with the galley to the right.
When I enlarge the photo, I see my crew notebook also velcroed to the lockers above Mike’s left shoulder. And I’m actually visible behind Mike, taking a look out the side hatch window (or scrubbing the bathroom!).
We landed from this mission 20 years ago (10-94), but there are still surprises in the film shots (15,000) we took of Earth. Mono Lake is clearly visible above in this southwesterly view across the Basin & Range toward the Sierras. Beyond Mono Lake in the Sierras is the gateway to Yosemite Valley. Walker Lake is visible at lower right. South of Mono Lake is a chain of volcanoes, the Inyo Craters, leading toward the ski resort of Mammoth Mountain (ski trails are visible on the summit). To the upper left of Mono Lake is the tadpole-shaped Lake Crowley, in the oval basin called Long Valley Caldera. 700,000 years ago, that volcano erupted meters of ash all over the southwest US in a “supervolcano” eruption. The valley still smolders today with steam vents and carbon dioxide seeps. This is a spectacular part of the USA, and one of our science supersites on STS-68, SRL-2.
Below: The dark blue basin on the right of Crowley Lake is the Long Valley caldera, its oval, volcanic rim running NW to SE.
The Sahara was always full of mystery and visual treasure (below). The rust-red Tifernine Dunes are a Sahara landmark for space crews, imaged ever since the Gemini missions in 1965-66. Isolated in the midst of these sand and rock vistas are lofty volcanic peaks, like Tibesti, seldom visited by ground explorers. Several asteroid impact craters are also easy–and thrilling–to see. Sometimes while over the Sahara, you could convince yourself that the huge expanse of tan, yellow, and orange sands in view must be those of Mars.
We used Space Radar Lab 2 to measure from space the glacier motion on these Andean snowfields, using a technique called radar interferometry. Science aside, it was a visual treat to see these jewel-like icebergs adrift in the turquoise, glacier-melt waters of these fjords. A few years later I observed such glaciers up close in Prince William Sound and Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Rarely did shuttle missions reach the high (57-deg orbit inclination) latitudes we experienced on the Radar Lab flights, treating our crewmates to these unforgettable views of far southern S. America.
Australia’s landscape is as extensive as the continental U.S., and in the early “down under” spring of 1994, wildfires raged in several locations. This area of Queensland was particularly drought-ridden, and the fires were targets of our STS-68 carbon monoxide pollution sensor, MAPS. Aboard Endeavour, we photographed wildfires and smoke plumes for comparison with the MAPS data, and radioed reports of these carbon monoxide sources to the science team in the SRL payload operations control center in Houston.
The recorders were adapted from digital tape machines that flew in recon aircraft to record digital imagery data. One of the three on our flight deck failed about 8 days into the mission, so Jeff and Steve removed it and replaced it with a spare recorder that’d been flown up underneath our middeck floor. Pretty handy mechanics. Within 4 hours they had the new machine up and running again.
It’s rare to get a cloud-free pass above the Alps. Below, Lake Geneva dominates the center right; Geneva city is at the left, narrow end of the lake. Lake Geneva is fed by the Rhone River, with its spectacular right-angle turn to the east upstream from the lake. At far right center is Lake Neuchatel; Berne is just out of view, to the right. Lac du Bourget is the small lake left of center. Lyons is under the clouds at upper left. Here in early autumn, the snows have not moved into the Alps as yet, but a few high glaciers are still beautifully evident to my crew. Our radars imaged the glaciated Alps to study the motion of these ice “rivers” over time.
And now, halfway around the world, to China:
We looked repeatedly on our passes over China for any visible signs of the Great Wall, but even viewing enlargements of these prints, looking at where the Wall should be, proved fruitless. The wall is made of stone or earth that matches the local landscape, and would only cast a long shadow under ideal lighting conditions. So, only with the eyes of Ed Lu can you see the Great Wall of China from space.
Just after wheels stop on Endeavour, I was to unstrap from my middeck seat and stand up. The blood pressure measurement gear would record my response to standing erect in 1-g, once again. I knew when the equipment was working when my left arm’s pressure cuff inflated, but it never recovered after touchdown. The taped data from entry, however, were good, and so was the audio tape I made as we rode back through the atmosphere. I have to give credit to the designers for creating a rig that would work inside our pressure suits, and yet still be easy enough to don and operate. After return to Houston, I sent the investigators an apology for the verbal tirade I recorded, grousing about the troubles I had getting the batteries replaced and activating the system. My only excuse was being up for a very long day…around 18 hours by the time we landed, and we still had postflight medical tests to endure.
STS-68 is a highlight of my speech, “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Journey” — contact me at http://www.astronauttomjones.com/#!tom-jones-speaking-testimonial/cfgv