Essex family and friends see astronaut live dream

April 07, 1994|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- It's not every day that a boy from Essex realizes a childhood dream of flying in space. Yesterday, Astronaut Tom Jones invited those who nurtured the boy to celebrate with the man before he boards the shuttle Endeavour for a nine-day mission.

Gathered at a beach house across the water from the launch pad, the six-member crew met with family and friends at a breakfast buffet, the last time they will see each other before tomorrow's scheduled 8:07 a.m. liftoff.

Dr. Jones, a planetary scientist who watched the televised Gemini launches two decades ago from a classroom at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Essex, brought with him his mother, Rosemarie; brothers, Ken and Dave; sister, Nancy Oldewurtel; childhood friend, Tom Grzymski of Essex; and the Rev. Tom Bevan, the parish priest who knew him as an altar boy and later officiated at his wedding. And, of course, his wife, Liz, formerly of Hancock, Md.

The family found their son "pumped" for his first space flight, exuding the confidence of a professional and the elation of a kid.

"He's ready to roll," said his brother Dave, a 35-year-old mortgage broker who lives in White Marsh. "A dream come true. He's pretty excited."

"Excited isn't the word," Dr. Jones said late last week in a final interview before he entered the crew's mandatory medical quarantine. "I'm pretty charged up about getting to do this."

Yesterday's breakfast was a time for introductions, heartfelt good wishes, hugs and farewells for the crew and their families. Father Bevan, who now works in Washington, offered a prayer before breakfast, quoting from the Book of Genesis, a passage that Dr. Jones noted was recited in space by earlier astronauts.

Before friends and family could attend the breakfast, NASA flight surgeons had to examine them to protect the astronauts against any debilitating germs or colds. While his family and friends ate breakfast, Dr. Jones, the 39-year-old father of two young children, munched on barbecued chicken.

A long time planning

The Joneses have been planning this adventure since last year. Unlike her son, a former Air Force pilot who flew B-52 bombers, Rosemarie Jones won't fly. So the families drove to Florida, Mrs. Jones in the Oldewurtels' van, along with her daughter and son-in-law, Steven, and grandsons, Nicholas, 10, and Ryan, 7. Middle brother Ken, 37, an economist with the federal government, and his family left their Fredericksburg, Va., home late Monday. David and his wife, Sharrin, flew in last Friday.

"We knew we were all going to be here," said Sharrin Jones. "There was no doubt. No matter what."

Although the breakfast was restricted to a few of the relatives, the Jones contingent at the Cape is big and keeps growing: The neighbors on either side of Rosemarie Jones' yellow Cape Cod house on Seaford Avenue are here. So too her sister, Aunt Val Deater, from Michigan. So do relatives from Pittsburgh, Liz Jones' college roommates and members of her family.

After the launch, the astronaut's wife and two children, Annie, 7, and Bryce, 5, will return to Houston until the mission concludes.

One missing member

One family member who won't be at Kennedy is Dr. Jones' father, David, who died a year and a half ago. But his children are certain he won't miss the event. "What we say is, 'He won't be watching; he'll be riding along,' " said son Dave.

During the shuttle's 9-day mission, Dr. Jones and the five other crew members will map 5 percent of the earth's surface with a new radar device, photograph what they find -- up to 14,000 frames of pictures, the most ever shot by a shuttle crew -- and conduct surveys of atmosphere carbon monoxide.

"This is something he has planned and organized all his life," said Dave Jones. "Obviously it takes a very motivated and directed person to reach this goal." But brother Tom, for all his advanced degrees and astronaut's right stuff, is the guy in the family who remembers to send the birthday cards and the occasional note, saying, "What's new?"

"I find that to be pretty special," says the younger brother.

Impressed by crew

What most impressed Dave Jones yesterday was the confidence exuded by the Endeavour crew. "The whole crew's ability to dispel any fears transcends down," said Mr. Jones. "I think of the Challenger accident occasionally, but if you talk to [Tom], that's an impossibility."

After the launch, as their favorite spaceman is shuttling 132 miles above the earth, the Jones kin will be sunning themselves on Cocoa Beach and touring Disney World and Epcot Center in Orlando on one big family vacation. The astronaut's mother, along with Aunt Val, will remain here until Endeavour's planned return to Kennedy at 1:16 p.m. April 17.

The Joneses have been anticipating this launch ever since Tom -- whose childhood drawings were filled with planes and missiles -- was accepted into the astronaut program in 1990.

'Reality' after 4 years

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