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Tom Jones  –  astronaut
Click for larger image " She got it on the bargain table at the five and ten for only 25 cents, but this little book changed the course of my young life."
How were you originally motivated to become an astronaut?
  My first step toward flying in space was really a shove from behind! In 1960, when I was five years old, my grandmother, Mary Jones, gave me a slim volume from the "Golden Book of Knowledge" series called Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe. She got it on the bargain table at the five and ten for only 25 cents, but this little book changed the course of my young life. The book's fantastic paintings laid out a plan for the human exploration of space, and eventual visits to the Moon and planets. Paintings of the new rockets then being built were accompanied by others showing what the strange experience of spaceflight might be like. Little did my grandmother imagine where her little gift would one day take me. I suspect my mother has never quite forgiven her.

While in elementary school in Essex, Maryland (just east of Baltimore), the space age was taking off. In fifth and sixth grade we were watching the first of the Gemini missions take flight. I was just 10, but I remember how important these early spaceflights were to the teachers, parents, and country at large. For each of these two–man Gemini voyages –– we were working out how we would go to the moon and practicing each step –– my class would stop our schoolwork and watch the countdown and blast–off on a TV that a parent had brought into the classroom. I would draw sketches of the rockets, the capsules, and the mission activity, and then squirrel them away in my notebook. A few days later, we would repeat the process and wait for a successful splashdown; the tension of not knowing whether the capsule would appear safely under its parachute was always present. With each mission's success, we were a step closer to reaching the Moon.

One memorable weekend, my Cub Scout den trooped to an open house at the Martin (aircraft) Company's plant, just a couple of miles from my house. The jaw–dropping sight of two 90–foot Titan boosters, being readied to hurl Gemini astronauts into orbit, made a huge impression on me. Here was space exploration formed from sculpted metal, and it was happening right in my own hometown!

These two years of Gemini spaceflights, soaring above while I mentally prepared for the jump to high school, made the difference in my life. I decided that the job title of "Astronaut" had tremendous appeal for me. It combined the thrill of exploration (of going to new, untouched places) with demanding flying skills (and I'd been in love with flying and airplanes since I was old enough to look up at the sky). So by the age of ten I knew I'd like to try for that job one day, and I decided to use my schoolwork to get me there.

Just three years later, during the summer of 1969, my career aspirations were reinforced by the amazing achievement of our first Moon landing. Nothing could have impressed me more than seeing the culmination of all our spaceflight efforts of the 1960s in the first steps of Neil Armstrong on another world. When he and Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin returned to Earth, I knew I would be trying, after graduation, for a job as an Air Force pilot, then the first step on the road to Astronaut. At the same time, I was taking every science course in sight, trying to prepare for college studies in the space sciences. Those Apollo footsteps forged a clear path for me to follow.

  Click for larger image.
What qualities are important in becoming a first-class astronaut?
    An astronaut makes a conscious choice to repeatedly venture into a harsh environment to gain new knowledge. He or she must confont the fact that the risks of spaceflight are real and ever–present. With full knowledge of those cold realities, one must still perform to exacting standards, maintaining a level of professionalism commensurate with the great privilege of flying into space on behalf of thousands of fellow explorers.

I'm always aware of the many thousands, if not millions, of kindred spirits who accompany me vicariously on each mission I'm privileged to fly. That sense of representing others, of living the dreams of those who would instantly step willingly off the planet with me, keeps me focused on the larger responsibility I've been given.

To live up to those dreams and spark those imaginations, an astronaut must commit totally to excellence. Our moments in space are precious, so valuable, that the crewmembers must be prepared to execute the mission as well as humanly possible. This standard requires exacting attention to detail, and a willingness to pursue problems to their final resolution. Astronauts must be dogged in their determination to succeed. And it starts with winning the job! I was turned down twice by NASA before finally gaining a job interview in 1989.

Spaceflight today is a "people" job. An astronaut must have drive and ambition, certainly, but not for personal gain. A good astronaut takes that determination to succeed and channels it toward the success of the TEAM – the crew. Teamwork is what we really respect, and good teamwork is a joy to experience. All share the work and pain of months – even years – of preparation for each flight; all share the satisfaction and pride in a mission done well.

The only unsuccessful astronauts I've known were those very few who thought the mission was about making themselves look good, who saw spaceflight as an opportunity to advance their own status and reputation. They made the job harder for their crewmates, who had to pick up the work left undone by someone pushing in a different direction. Such a crewmember, pursuing a private agenda, would be a potential disaster on a Mars mission.

Spaceflight, either on the space station or on a voyage to Mars, demands cooperation and practiced, selfless teamwork. We need people who practice the skill of getting along with others, who submerge their own interests in the team's success, and who offer their own talents in support of the crew's collective capabilities. Exceptional teamwork is the minimum standard in spaceflight – it can literally be a matter of life and death.

In working with the team, an astronaut must be forthright and outspoken in communicating with others. Problems must be confronted directly, attacked vigorously, and solved promptly. Misunderstandings between crewmembers, or between a crew and mission control, have occurred in spaceflight, and they can only be avoided on Mars missions by clear, straightforward communication.

Finally, an astronaut at the end of this century must be a dreamer. We've remained in Earth orbit for more than a quarter of a century; in the new millennium, we need colleagues with the enthusiasm to take us outward once again, who can envision astronauts working on the new space station, returning to an outpost on the Moon, exploring the asteroid swarm near Earth, and establishing a settlement on Mars. That imagination must have the patience to see hard work pay off, to see the dream realized. I labor now in the "trenches" of low Earth orbit with the hope of one day following the Apollo explorers who inspired me.

What ideas can you suggest for a future human community on Mars?
  (a) Exploit near–Earth asteroids to provide raw materials that create space–based supplies of propellant and life–support consumables. Water is present on many main–belt asteroids, and is undoubtedly a component of the thousands of smaller fragments that approach the Earth–moon system.

(b) Develop nuclear propulsion systems to reduce trip times between Mars and Earth, and to reduce the amount of propellant needed for Mars travel.

(c) Develop compact, safe nuclear power systems to provide reliable surface power to a Mars colony. Successful growth of the settlement depends on an energy–rich environment.

(d) Establish a high–capacity communications network between Mars and Earth, not in support of a rigid command structure run from Earth, but to enable humans to experience "virtual" environments on both planets. Such shared experiences will strengthen cultural links and make information one of the most valuable products returned from Mars to Earth.

(e) Let commercial enterprises develop an economical and robust transportation architecture in Earth–Moon space, using space resources and innovative launch systems. That web of business and transportation activities will support the initial voyages to Mars and enable rapid expansion of the settlement once humans establish a Mars outpost.

Space Station Image Gallery

Space Station Assembly Mission 5A

Thomas D. Jones biographical data:

Live video from the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center

NASA International Space Station Home Page

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