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Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir

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Astronaut Tom Jones had trained for years for one climactic moment: his first step through an airlock into the vast nothingness of space. What neither he nor anyone else had counted on was a door that refused to open. But that is the nature of spaceflight--anything can, and sometimes does, go wrong. Ultimately, Jones spent fifty-two days orbiting Earth, including more than Astronaut Tom Jones had trained for years for one climactic moment: his first step through an airlock into the vast nothingness of space. What neither he nor anyone else had counted on was a door that refused to open. But that is the nature of spaceflight--anything can, and sometimes does, go wrong. Ultimately, Jones spent fifty-two days orbiting Earth, including more than nineteen hours outside during extravehicular activity--that is, sky walking.


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Astronaut Tom Jones had trained for years for one climactic moment: his first step through an airlock into the vast nothingness of space. What neither he nor anyone else had counted on was a door that refused to open. But that is the nature of spaceflight--anything can, and sometimes does, go wrong. Ultimately, Jones spent fifty-two days orbiting Earth, including more than Astronaut Tom Jones had trained for years for one climactic moment: his first step through an airlock into the vast nothingness of space. What neither he nor anyone else had counted on was a door that refused to open. But that is the nature of spaceflight--anything can, and sometimes does, go wrong. Ultimately, Jones spent fifty-two days orbiting Earth, including more than nineteen hours outside during extravehicular activity--that is, sky walking.

30 review for Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Although the exploration of space has a scientific edge, the first astronauts were not scientists: they were military pilots. Thomas Jones is no exception, establishing the foundation for his career in NASA as an Air Force pilot, but his aspirations for space were definitely those of a man of science, not those of a hot-dogging jockey out to set records and prove his manliness. A member of the astronaut class of 1990, Jones took part in no less than four Space Shuttle missions, advancing science Although the exploration of space has a scientific edge, the first astronauts were not scientists: they were military pilots. Thomas Jones is no exception, establishing the foundation for his career in NASA as an Air Force pilot, but his aspirations for space were definitely those of a man of science, not those of a hot-dogging jockey out to set records and prove his manliness. A member of the astronaut class of 1990, Jones took part in no less than four Space Shuttle missions, advancing science as a mission specialist. Jones' Sky Walking is one of two shuttle-era astronaut memoirs, the other being Mike Mullane's Riding Rickets; and of the two, Jones is easily superior. This detailed memoir, grounded not just in memory but in Jones' mission logs and letters home, offers a look at NASA in transition as the age of the space race gave way to one of geopolitical cooperation in the building of the International Space Station -- a project Jones had a hand in. While a shuttle memoir doesn't ripple with explosive excitement like that of an Apollo astronaut's, Jones is a sturdy guide to NASA of the 1990s -- a thorough and professional author whose attitude combines Right Stuff-era dutifulness with a scientist's excitement at what new knowledge science missions in space might produce. Although his career spanned over a decade, Jones never sold that idea to his wife. When he applied to be an astronaut, it was over assurances to her that in the unlikely event that they accepted him, he'd be in the program for four years at most -- a year of training, followed by a couple of flights 'up'. Jones brought something to the program that NASA administrators liked, however: he was chosen for his first mission before more senior astronauts who'd waited for years for their first flight into the black, and remained a popular choice for a series of missions thereafter, totaling four. Jones' first two missions were expressly scientific, as he helped deliver and begin operating a new form of orbital radar operated from the shuttle that allowed data receivers on the ground to see far more deeply into the Earth's crust than ever before. Jones' latter missions were tied to the International Space Station: after his crew proved the feasibility of orbital construction procedures, he delivered and established the Destiny laboratory module, the core of the International Space Station. Although each of these missions were successes, the memoir is not without its disappointments: on his third mission, Jones and his companions were frustrated to find that they'd endured months of rigorous mission-specific training and faced the prospect of rocket-fueled death to get into space, only to arrive in orbit and find their door wouldn't open to let them do their extravehicular work -- or spacewalk. The birth of the ISS program was not a storied triumph, either: although Jones chiefly chronicles his own missions, NASA's general history of the time is provided as context. NASA in the 1990s was an agency struggling to find a purpose for itself. The moon was forgotten in the history books and the shuttle program firmly operational. With Mars out of the question and the government not particularly supportive of any big projects, NASA was left with half-considered plans for a space station called "Freedom". Bumbling bureaucracy and chronic budget overruns sapped virtually everyone's enthusiasm for it: even Jones and the other astronauts, for whom the station would be a guarantor of work, regarded it with skepticism. The International Space Station wasn't planned as such; it emerged as a product of compromise. Those interested in the shuttle program will find Jones' memoir of interest, as he's generous with details. His missions have far more appeal than those of fellow shuttle memoir-writer Mike Mullane's, whose shuttle trips were classified runs for the Department of Defense.(Without being able to say much about his missions, Mullane used much of his ink to complain about NASA politics and tell bawdy stories.) Although Jones' story easily holds interest, it doesn't exactly command it: Jones isn't an aggressive author who screams "LOOK AT ME!" He writes not just as an astronaut, but as a science educator, and so the work requires some focus on the part of the reader. As much as I appreciated Jones' professional style, the occasional glimpses of his personality, like his account of being mesmerized by the slow-turning globe under his feet, kept the work from being reading too much like a debriefing. The resonance these lapses in the military staccato added would have helped the memoir connect even more easily with general readers, though the odd few dry moments scarcely detract from Sky Walking's appeal. Jones' memoirs offer readers an education into the intensive, prolonged training that astronauts endure, a story of NASA scientists at their finest, and a look into the birth of the International Space Station, inspiring despite its difficult birth. With the shuttle program behind us, and the next crew vehicle Orion not yet operational, it also provides a look back to the days when American astronauts flew high on ships of their own. Related: Riding Rockets, Mike Mullane. Space Station: Base Camps to the Stars, Roger Launius. I read this a few years back, but it may have predated the blog.. Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System; NASA for Dummies, Tom Jones Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space, John Young

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    I love a good space story, but I just couldn't get past his holier than though at times. I didn't get too far into it, but I have other space books, and was hoping more for an idea of training and his experiences. Wasn't too keen on the writing style, hoped for something more, and not the best space book I've read in recent years.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Aside from the bureaucracy rants and arrogance, it is just a poorly written book. I struggled to finish this. There are a few great moments when describing actually being in space but otherwise I would not recommend this book to someone interested in the life of an astronaut and their experiences.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Margo Berendsen

    I read this as research for the science fiction book I'm writing, which includes a space shuttle and space travel. This book provided some of what I needed - a detailed account of the experience of taking off in a shuttle, reaching over mach 24 (17,000 miles per hour) and 3 G's, achieving orbit and weightlessness, the mechanics of free-fall, and the furnace of re-entry into the atmosphere. I had not realized just how fast orbit is. Tom's first orbit was at 120 nautical miles above earth's surfac I read this as research for the science fiction book I'm writing, which includes a space shuttle and space travel. This book provided some of what I needed - a detailed account of the experience of taking off in a shuttle, reaching over mach 24 (17,000 miles per hour) and 3 G's, achieving orbit and weightlessness, the mechanics of free-fall, and the furnace of re-entry into the atmosphere. I had not realized just how fast orbit is. Tom's first orbit was at 120 nautical miles above earth's surface (on his last trip, docking with the space station, they were 250 miles up). But at 120 miles up, the orbiter would complete an entire orbit around the earth every 90 minutes. This meant their "days" were 45 minutes long, followed by 45 minutes of night! The book also provided a lot of other fascinating details about astronaut training and overview of some of the research and the data collection the astronauts performed. Tom Jones was one of the space-walkers responsible for fitting together the different components of the International Space Station, and his description of this painstaking work is a real eye-opener. For every hour spent outside the shuttle performing tasks, they spent 12 hours in a giant swimming pool practicing. This book really brings home the less glamorous side of astronaut training. The checklists, the repetition, the delays, the stress on the families, and the waiting - always the waiting. The book also spends a couple chapters discussing time leading up to and following the two shuttle disasters. Unfortunately, between all the great stuff in this book, there was were also pages and pages of bureaucratic details, especially pertaining to all the complications involved trying to work with Russia on the International Space Station. There wasn't anything even culturally or politically interesting here... just a lot of maneuvering and red-tape. I think I skimmed about 1/4 of the total pages. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the book wasn't the exciting countdowns and takeoffs and dramatic re-entries. It was Jones' beautiful descriptions of Earth. Whenever they had a chance, the astronauts would just stare out of the windows at the swiftly-moving scenery below them, trying to pick out familiar landmarks. Here's one of my favorite descriptions (though I could have just as easily picked from two dozen other amazing descriptions): We had a great aurora pass in far South Pacific, south of New Zealand. At times were flying right through the long, thin streams of the aurora, projecting straight up through the atmosphere, a very ghostly pale yellow green.. so we could see these long streams going up above us, but at times we flew right over the long simmering arcs of the aurora. We could see the shimmering curtain below us, and when we flew over the top of it, it would become edge-on to us, and we could look straight down on this line of the aurora - a fantastic ghostly sight. Now I need to find a book about the Apollo missions to the moon, to find out more about non-orbital space travel. For thirty years the shuttles operated solely as orbiters, circling the earth. The last American shuttle returned to earth on July 11, 2011. The NASA website says "NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars." I can't wait!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelley Ross

    I tried really hard to enjoy this book because I was anxious to learn more about astronauts and space... but it was just impossible. I found the book to be an arrogant and selfish tale. While he could have written about NASA's good points, the author focused mainly on its bureaucracy. Instead of concentrating on science and the beauty of space, countless paragraphs were used to describe why a door wouldn't open and how the author celebrated his Catholicism in space. And this is just a personal v I tried really hard to enjoy this book because I was anxious to learn more about astronauts and space... but it was just impossible. I found the book to be an arrogant and selfish tale. While he could have written about NASA's good points, the author focused mainly on its bureaucracy. Instead of concentrating on science and the beauty of space, countless paragraphs were used to describe why a door wouldn't open and how the author celebrated his Catholicism in space. And this is just a personal viewpoint, but I really got the feeling that his wife Liz and her viewpoints were continually pushed to the back burner for the author's need to chase after his own dreams. Basically I was expecting a profound look at space, and this novel offered up the mundane. I'm unhappy because a memoir doesn't have to be written that way. It does not call for pages and pages of cynicism and bureaucratic mess. Even if those things were the truth, this book didn't have to be bogged down in all that. It was a poor writing choice.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

    Several astronauts have penned memoirs over the past 40 plus years detailing their experiences. A few of them are forgettable. Some, I am thinking of Mike Collins' "Carrying the Fire and Walt Cunningham's "The All-American Boys", are classics. With the end of the Space Shuttle program comes a new memoir from Tom Jones. "Sky Walking" is an interesting look at the Shuttle program in the Post-Challenger period. Jones, a former Air Force pilot with a PhD in Planetary Science, gives an excellent view Several astronauts have penned memoirs over the past 40 plus years detailing their experiences. A few of them are forgettable. Some, I am thinking of Mike Collins' "Carrying the Fire and Walt Cunningham's "The All-American Boys", are classics. With the end of the Space Shuttle program comes a new memoir from Tom Jones. "Sky Walking" is an interesting look at the Shuttle program in the Post-Challenger period. Jones, a former Air Force pilot with a PhD in Planetary Science, gives an excellent view of what it is like to fly four space shuttle missions and about the problems and challenges in involved. Unfortunately like most the of the space program, the Shuttle became a prisoner of the politics of the time and was never funded properly. A hundred years from now, if mankind is still around, and clothed in-it's-right-mind, some historian will refer to Jones' book in writing the history of early space age.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Glennchuck

    I enjoyed the perspective of an astronaut whose career spanned the late stages of the shuttle program and the start of the International Space Station. Tom Jones helped manage the design and production of the ISS, and he helped actually build it. This wasn't a rip-snortin' good tale--that's not Jones's style--but interesting stuff. I found Mike Mullane's book, "Riding Rockets," a more entertaining and better-written memoir from a shuttle-era astronaut. But Jones is clearly a brilliant guy who ac I enjoyed the perspective of an astronaut whose career spanned the late stages of the shuttle program and the start of the International Space Station. Tom Jones helped manage the design and production of the ISS, and he helped actually build it. This wasn't a rip-snortin' good tale--that's not Jones's style--but interesting stuff. I found Mike Mullane's book, "Riding Rockets," a more entertaining and better-written memoir from a shuttle-era astronaut. But Jones is clearly a brilliant guy who accomplished some very cool stuff. He does a decent job of putting you in his shoes for the (literally) nuts-and-bolts work involved in building the ISS and conducting valuable research aboard the shuttle.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Overall I was happy that I read this book. The author definitely included details as to what it was like to launch into and live in space. I came away feeling that Tom Jones was a bit arrogant, and there was a lot of content detailing the apparent bureaucracy of NASA. I might say that I was a little disappointed in that regard. However, I participated in a "Lunch with an Astronaut" program at Kennedy Space Center in 2012 and got to interact with Mr. Jones and learn more of his story face to face Overall I was happy that I read this book. The author definitely included details as to what it was like to launch into and live in space. I came away feeling that Tom Jones was a bit arrogant, and there was a lot of content detailing the apparent bureaucracy of NASA. I might say that I was a little disappointed in that regard. However, I participated in a "Lunch with an Astronaut" program at Kennedy Space Center in 2012 and got to interact with Mr. Jones and learn more of his story face to face, and I found him to be pleasant and informative.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Fascinating look at the space program. We actually met Mr. Jones at the Kennedy Space Center, and he signed the book. The book is not a quick read, but definitely worthwhile. His description of the views from space are amazing. The book is a well rounded look at the program - the intense training, the strain on family life, the affects on the body of weightlessness, the risks of the program and the flights, and the affect of government and cost restraints as well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Len

    Sky Walking is an entertaining account of Dr. Thomas Jones' travels as crew member on four different shuttle crews. More than just a technical play by play, he provides his readers with a behind the scenes look at trips that only a fortunate few have travelled. Many of us set our goals early in life to have a great job doing what we love to do. Tom had a dream of travelling the stars and reached those stars and did some "skywalking" along the way!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael O'Neal

    Tom Jones' writing style aided my enjoyment in reading this book. The book is not filled with a lot of drama, but helps bring the reader into the experiences of the various phases of human space flight. It is a little slow at times and some situations are a somewhat over-dramatized but overall I was pleased with the flow of the book. Jones' memoir was a nice addition to the other astronaut bios. I was not real enamored with his take on a possible future for NASA, but that is a personal opinion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    I've realized that, as much as I like the idea of reading a memoir, most people aren't that interesting. I mean, I think being an astronaut would be awesome and everything, but Jones doesn't really bring much to the table as a writer. Which I guess is why he's an astronaut. It was pretty interesting, but I am more into the actual science rather than the story of a dude I've never heard of.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    The author clearly has bags of confidence but that's all I got from this book. I was grateful to finish it. Mike Mullane's Riding Rockets appears to give a more rounded view of astronaut life, rather than just launch and reentry.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sahickman

    An excellent book by a man who has travelled where few have gone. Insider knowledge of NASA and the shuttle program. Dr. Jones's descriptions of his time in space make you feel like you are space walking with him.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Detailed, engaging and full of imagination and reflection. It is really for anyone who likes the idea of "Man In Space".

  16. 4 out of 5

    Meira

    Not the best astronaut memoir; a little too technical.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Clay Davis

    I learned a lot from the author's autobiography.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    A little boring when discussing the details of the shuttle program. Nevertheless, the author has a great description of launch and reentry.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Muhammad Zubair

  20. 4 out of 5

    AJ

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robert Duzett

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chartierjosh

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marcy Frumker

  24. 4 out of 5

    C

  25. 5 out of 5

    James

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  27. 5 out of 5

    Padmanabhan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Todd Trautman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenny Lin

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