Maryland man will map world from 140 miles up

February 01, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's next astronaut is spending busy days in Houston training for the first of two space-shuttle missions he's scheduled to make this year -- and anxious nights dreaming that he's missed the whole adventure.

"I have dreams about . . . sleeping through the launch, or waking up after takeoff in the mid-deck having ridden through the whole ascent," said Tom Jones, referring to a shuttle launch in April, his first into space. He's likely to be in the right place, though. The former Essex resident and Kenwood Senior High School grad didn't finish near the top of his Air Force Academy class, command B-52s or earn his Ph.D in planetary science by sleeping through tests and takeoffs.

On April 7, he and five other crew members are scheduled to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center for a 9- or 10-day science mission aboard the shuttle Endeavour to test a new radar mapping technology and conduct surveys of atmospheric carbon monoxide.

It won't match the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission for drama, he said, "but I think a lot of people will relate to this flight. We will learn a lot of interesting things that affect people every day.

"That's why I'm really excited about it."

If all goes according to plan, Dr. Jones, 39, will fly into space with the radar mapping experiment again in August.

His crew mates in April include: Air Force Col. Sidney M. Gutierrez, 42, commander; Air Force Col. Kevin P. Chilton, 39, pilot; physicist Linda M. Godwin, 41, payload commander; physicist Jay Apt, 44; and Army Lt. Col. Michael Richard Clifford, 41, an engineer.

Drs. Jones and Godwin have been designated to make any spacewalks necessary to repair faulty gear on the shuttle or its payload.

"You're sort of torn," Dr. Jones said about the possibility of walking in space. "You do want a chance to go outside, but if it's the orbiter that has the problem, it's got to be quite serious, like if the payload bay doors don't close. If you don't fix that, you die."

That sort of emergency is unlikely. In 60 missions, shuttle astronauts have had to make unscheduled spacewalks only twice, and neither involved problems with the shuttle itself.

Dr. Jones has dreamed of flying in space since childhood. His son Bryce, 4, and daughter Annie, 7, are looking forward to watching the launch in Florida, he said, but for them it's also "a trip to the beach."

His wife, Elizabeth, a certified public accountant now at home with their children, is excited, too, "but she's also worried about the physical safety aspect.

"In my mind it's not an unreasonable risk for what we're getting in return. But it will be pretty stressful for her each time I go up."

Rosemarie Jones, the astronaut's mother, will drive to Florida from her home in Essex to watch the launch. "And she says she'll stay all the way to the landing," Dr. Jones said.

The Endeavour crew's big assignment during the April flight will be to operate NASA's Space Radar Laboratory (SRL), which looks like a flat solar panel and nearly fills the shuttle payload bay.

The mission is designed to test and improve a technology that eventually will fly on unmanned satellites as part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth.

Flying 140 miles high, as far north as Juneau, Alaska, and as far south as Tierra del Fuego, the Endeavour astronauts will beam radar signals through darkness and clouds in a host of observations:

* Bounced off bare rock, the technology will map geological features, including erosion and earthquake faults.

* From farmland, it will survey agricultural land use, distinguishing among such crops as wheat and barley, and various species of trees.

* Reflected by water, the radar gear can assess soil moisture, helping farmers determine the best times to plant or harvest.

* Aimed at temperate and tropical forests, it will provide data on the amount of carbon stored in forest plants and lost as forests are cut. The information will help scientists study the earth's carbon cycle and global warming.

* Bounced off the ocean, the radar will gather data on wave patterns and ocean currents.

* Because radar can penetrate dry sand, prior studies of the Sahara have revealed river beds and archaeological sites buried 15,000 years ago by sand. This mission will continue the Sahara studies and help Saudi Arabia look for gold in buried alluvial deposits.

"There are probably about 200 targets on the mission," said Dr. Jones. And while the radar gear is running, the astronauts plan to back up its imagery with 11,000 frames of still photography -- the most ever by NASA. The crew will spend 90 percent of its time taking pictures, working 24 hours a day in three shifts.

While the crew works with the radar gear, another shuttle experiment -- called MAPS, for Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites -- will be measuring carbon monoxide (CO) at altitudes where thunderclouds form.

CO slows the natural cleansing of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from the air. CFCs are blamed for destruction of the ozone layer.

Sometime during the mission, Dr. Jones also hopes to find 10 or 15 minutes to speak by amateur radio with students in Sue Steele's science class at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex, which he attended as a child.

Students from Deep Creek Middle School also will participate in the question and answer session.

Dr. Jones is following several other Marylanders into space, including Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Sam Durrance and Ronald A. Parise, a senior scientist at Computer Sciences Corp. in Silver Spring, who flew with the Astro 1 astronomy mission in 1990.

Drs. Durrance and Parise are scheduled to fly again with Astro 2 in November 1994.

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