Astronaut tells students to aim for the stars

April 15, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - NASA Astronaut Thomas Jones told Mercersburg Academy students Monday night that they're part of a generation whose members will likely have to commute over thousands of miles aboard a rocket to get to their jobs in space.

Jones, 42, who's wife, Elizabeth, graduated from Mercersburg Academy in 1974, spoke to a packed crowd in Boone Hall about his aeronautics career and his most recent mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in November 1996.

He presented the Academy with a crew patch, a miniature U.S. flag and a paperweight that Jones took along with him on the shuttle mission.


During the mission, which was the 21st flight made by Columbia, the five-member crew successfully deployed and retrieved two science satellites while helping set a shuttle endurance record of nearly 18 days in orbit.

"I was ready to get back to Earth after 18 days," Jones said, who's logged a total of 40 days in space.

Sharing slides and a movie of the mission, Jones told the students he never grew tired of seeing Earth from above, as the shuttle orbited the planet 16 times a day, traveling five miles per second.

"The beauty of the planet is the most precious thing I brought back," Jones said, referring to the photos and the pictures that remain in his memory.

Emphasizing the future of space exploration, Jones told the students that exploring planet Mars and building space stations that will serve as research facilities and factories are all goals of NASA's space program that could be realized in the next 10 to 15 years.

Comparing early space exploration to settling the American West, Jones said he predicts the space program will soon begin to utilize more resources in orbit just as the settlers learned to use what was around them to survive. He said expeditions will be made to try to harness huge sources of water on asteroids to be converted into rocket fuel, among other uses.

"Right now we're learning everything from the ground up. But eventually we'll have to stop that and use what's close to us," Jones said.

Bombarded with questions from students who are interested in traveling to space, Jones told them not to limit their studies. NASA candidates are picked because they can show they're "team players," he said.

"Think about what you really enjoy doing and then you'll find a way to get to space," Jones said, adding that fields in science, technology, medical research and engineering are probably the best paths to follow.

Jones didn't leave out a military career, which is how he got started.

Jones, who grew up in Baltimore and attended Kenwood High School in Essex, Md., graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and served on active duty as an Air Force officer for six years.

Choosing not to pursue flying as a career, Jones worked toward a Ph.D. from 1983 to 1988 at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His research included remote sensing of asteroids, meteorite spectroscopy, and applications of space resources.

From 1989 to 1990, he was a program management engineer in Washington, D.C., at the CIA's Office of Development and Engineering. In 1990 he joined Science Applications International Corporation in Washington, D.C. as a senior scientist.

Following his selection by NASA in 1990, Jones became an astronaut in July 1991, flying as a mission specialist on successive flights of the space shuttle Endeavour.

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