Posts Tagged ‘space shuttle’

In Sky Walking (2006), Dr. Tom Jones recounts his career as a NASA astronaut. Beginning with the application process, Jones takes us on a journey of becoming an astronaut, flying four space shuttle missions, and helping to construct the International Space Station.

The book provides glimpses into the rigorous training astronauts receive in preparation for their work in space, and in particular, for extravehicular activities (EVA). Before each space flight, the astronauts would complete mock missions underwater using shuttle and ISS replicas fascinating. If you calculate the cost of an EVA, from launch to landing back on Earth, every minute must be immensely expensive. Every manoeuver, every task, has to be choreographed and rehearsed for maximum efficiency and safety. Even small issues easily solved on Earth can become mission-crippling obstacles in space, and Dr. Jones  faced his share, including an irreversibly jammed hatch that resulted in a canceled EVA and an improperly-assembled elbow joint that caused enough pain to make competing that EVA a challenge. An even more dangerous case comes to mind: Luca Parmitano’s 2013 ISS mission during which his helmet began filling with water due to a malfunctioning filter while on EVA. Docking operations between the Space Shuttle and ISS were also fraught with dangerous possibilities, and Dr. Jones’ account of these procedures and the astronauts’ calm but meticulous piloting fascinated me. It may be a good indicator of our finally having made the leap to a space-based, multi-planet society when mishaps like these no longer happen or are more easily resolved when they do.

Another aspect of the book is its account of the lead up, politically and practically, to the design, construction, and operation of the ISS. Not only did Dr. Jones fly a shuttle mission (STS-98) as part of ISS construction, but he played a not-insubstantial role in managing NASA’s ISS Program, including the international partnerships that made it possible. NASA’s interactions with the Russian Government, in particular, make for great reading if you’re interested in how the ISS came to be.  I was interested, but not surprised, by the political, diplomatic and logistical difficulties that had to be overcome to build the ISS. That those obstacles were surmounted reinforces my perception of the ISS as a great example of how the human race can work together to accomplish amazing things. In the book, that spirit is clearly on display by the ISS astronauts (and cosmonauts) themselves whose comradery extends across borders forming a uniquely stateless community in space.

Dr. Jones completes the book with a short passage explaining his ideas and recommendations for how human space exploration ought to move forward. While just a bit outdated now, 11 years later, his thoughts on where we should go next are still relevant. A quick reveal—he’s not a fan of more lunar missions and instead recommends targeting a NEA (near-Earth asteroid) before tackling Mars. Regardless of our next destination, we can all thank astronauts like Dr. Jones for paving the way.

My family and I visited the California Science Center this weekend to see the IMAX movie “A Beautiful Planet” (3-D) and space shuttle Endeavor.

For someone who’s spent a lot of time watching You Tube videos of the International Space Station (ISS) and looking at remote imagery of Earth, A Beautiful Planet (ABP) didn’t provide me with a lot of new material. However, for kids or those unfamiliar with the ISS and its amazing views, it’s well worth the admission price. One thing I didn’t get from the You Tube videos was the sense of mission crews A Beautiful Planetcoming and going. ABP conveys the emotion of these periodic welcome aboard and subsequent farewell events on the ISS. You can really feel the camaraderie among all the astronauts from various countries as they joyfully greet each arriving crew. ABP captures many day-to-day experiences aboard the ISS such as a Christmas celebration, how to drink expresso, shampooing hair, sleeping, unpacking, and other mundane, yet delightfully zero-gravity, activities (including a fun scene involving a bag of citrus fruit intent on escaping). As its title would suggest, ABP also spends quite a bit of time focused on the Earth below. While the imagery of continents, oceans, and weather were beautiful and interesting (especially the part about storms), I wish the resolution had been better (to be fair, I believe the astronauts were limited in terms of the camera equipment they could use). The film excelled at displaying various locations as viewed from roughly 258 miles (416 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, including day and night imagery. The final message ABP delivers is an environmental one. According to one astronaut speaking in the film, the concept of “spaceship Earth” becomes a literal truth for those lucky enough to see Earth from space. I only wish more of us could share that experience!

After the movie, we moved on to the space shuttle Endeavor exhibit. Endeavor didn’t disappoint, even on a second viewing, although my kids might not agree (my son had

more fun in the “Space Rollercoaster” multisensory, motion-based simulator). Space shuttle photos and videos just can’t convey the sense of power and grace you feel standing underneath Endeavor. The Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), in particular, are a marvel of engineering IMO. But even examining the shuttle’s scarred heat tiles is interesting. The

Center is gathering funds for construction of a permanent exhibit where Endeavor will be in full, vertical launch position (a “full shuttle stack”) with the twin solid-rocket boosters and the external tank (currently parked just outside the exhibit building). I look forward to


Planned final exhibit

seeing this amazing spacecraft in its new display configuration someday. Even as-is, though, if you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

Do you have a favorite space exhibit? What’s your favorite part of the ISS? How much would you pay for a trip to orbit? Let me know in the comments!