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Four Hairballs Head for Space–STS-68 September 11, 2015

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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Tom Jones, Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch suit up for STS-68. (NASA)

Tom Jones, Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch suit up for STS-68. (NASA)

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,

Read more about the STS-68 mission in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir,” and at my website, http://www.AstronautTomJones.com.

Food for Thought…Just Before Liftoff September 10, 2015

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Launch Morning Breakfast, STS-68: Aug. 18, 1994 (NASA)

Launch Morning Breakfast, STS-68: Aug. 18, 1994 (NASA)

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.”