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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┬áto 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.”


To Be An Astronaut – 2013 Edition February 6, 2013

Posted by skywalking1 in Space.
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Tom Jones in front of shuttle Enterprise, National Air & Space Museum

Tom Jones in front of shuttle Enterprise, National Air & Space Museum

Twenty-three years ago, in January 1990, I received an invitation to join NASA’s Astronaut Corps. It was the best job I ever had (read about my selection, training, and exhilarating flights in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.” I’m frequently asked today for tips or advice on how new applicants — some very bright and talented people — can improve their chances of threading NASA’s selection process and achieving their dream of spaceflight. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Consult NASA’s astronaut selection and training site to learn the basic requirements and procedures. But — you’ve already done that.
  • Participate in some outdoor, physical, active hobby or pursuit that complements your day job and shows aptitude for skills needed in spaceflight. If you’re having fun, you’ve chosen a good activity! Keep getting better at it.
  • Increase your chances of passing the NASA physical by following a regular exercise and fitness program. Get to your ideal weight – it makes a good impression and avoids health problems later.
  • Become conversant about one specific aspect of the NASA human spaceflight program — present or planned — and be able to discuss it comfortably with the selection panel. You should know what you’re getting into.
  • Be meticulous about your application. Typos and grammatical errors were an instant turn-off for me when I was at NASA. Showcase your professional skills in writing and communication.
  • Tell NASA in your application what you will bring to their team. How will you help advance specific NASA goals?

Once your application is in, keep improving your resume. If you are offered an interview, you’ll be able to bring new and interesting material to the Selection Panel interview. If you are offered that trip to Houston for an interview:

  • Ask questions on your visits to the Astronaut Office. Poke your head in the office doors and ask crewmembers what they are working on, and what they like and dislike about the job.
  • In the interview, be yourself. Keep your answers brief and specific, but don’t be afraid to speak plainly and sincerely. The panelists want to get a sense of who you are – and if they would like to work with you.
  • Let your natural enthusiasm for space shine. Be professional yet enthusiastic. I was eager to get the chance to interview, and let the panelists know it.
  • Take the long view. If not selected, you can apply again. Resolve to go back to your present job and to improve your qualifications for the next round.
  • Network with your fellow applicants, online, and in Houston. Perhaps someone chosen can help you with advice for the next opportunity. And you might make a life-long friend.
  • Have fun!

I believe NASA will keep hiring small numbers of astronauts to keep their work force adaptable and energized. See the report of the NRC panel on the future of astronaut training that I helped prepare in 2010. And remember that the commercial spaceflight sector, as it grows, will also need talented crewmembers. There are broader opportunities today than ever before in space, although the numbers of people flying to orbit annually will remain at less than a dozen, at least for another five to ten years.

Good luck! Say hello to my friends on the selection panel. And send me a note from space!

Tom Jones