Astronaut a long way from Essex

April 10, 1994|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writer

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER -- Astronaut Tom Jones of Essex spent his first star-studded night in space and then promptly got to work, photographing various locales on Earth from his perch aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

After a thunderous launch yesterday, the shuttle crew began a nine-day mission to test a new radar device designed to provide scientists with enhanced data on the state of the environment. The radar in its cargo bay can pierce through clouds, ice, vegetation and sand.

While the $370 million Space Radar Laboratory does its work, mapping 5 percent of the Earth's surface, the astronauts will complement its data with as many as 14,000 still photographs, the most ever shot by a crew.

The radar targets will include deserts, tropical rain forests, ocean currents and mountains.

The mission is the inaugural space flight for Dr. Jones, a planetary scientist who dreamed of becoming an astronaut while a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School in Essex. Dr. Jones, a 39-year-old father of two, and payload commander Linda Godwin are the chief scientists aboard the flight.

To prepare for the mission, Dr. Jones traveled to many of the geographic sites to be studied.

Already on this flight, he has photographed and helped record radar data on such exotic places as the volcanic Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, the desert in eastern China and equatorial realms of the Pacific Ocean, according to the flight plan.

"Space offers a superb vantage point to get a global view of our planet and how it's changing," he said in an earlier interview.

Assigned to the "blue team," Dr. Jones sleeps during the day and goes to work about 5 p.m.

For dinner last night, he had turkey tetrazzini, green beans, peach ambrosia and a grape drink.

This afternoon, Dr. Jones will prepare the camera equipment and computer systems needed to photograph sites in China, parts of Russia and Saudi Arabia as the radar device simultaneously scans them.

Yesterday's launch was watched by a large contingent of Dr. Jones' family and friends, who had journeyed south from Baltimore County.

"It looked spectacular. It looked absolutely spectacular," said Dr. Jones' wife, the former Liz Fulton of Hancock, Md. "There were no clouds to get in the way. It looked wonderful."

Mrs. Jones and the couple's two children, Annie, 7, and Bryce, 5, watched the liftoff from the roof of the launch control center, about 3 1/2 miles from the pad.

As Endeavour zoomed off, veering across the sky, both youngsters were busy snapping pictures with their new cameras, said Mrs. Jones, a certified public accountant who met her husband on a blind date in Baltimore.

Also at the space center were the astronaut's mother, Rosemarie Jones; brothers David Jones, 35, of White Marsh and Ken Jones, 37, of Fredericksburg, Va.; and sister, Nancy Oldewurtel, 34, of Essex, who arrived with their families earlier in the week.

The one person missing from the family circle was the astronaut's father, David Jones, a school guidance counselor who died in 1992.

But Dr. Jones said he knew his father would be close at hand.

"He'll be right beside me on the middeck during this launch," he said in an earlier interview. "If he wants to visit us during orbit, he has the wherewithal to do it."

Back in Essex, television sets were tuned to the launch.

Joan Oldewurtel, who grew up with the Jones family, woke up in time to watch Dr. Jones don his orange space suit and crawl into the orbiter about 4:30 a.m.

"I thought: 'Wow! Here's a guy who used to baby-sit me. Is this really Tommy? To actually do something like this . . . ,' " she gushed.

After twice being delayed this week, Endeavour left promptly at 7:05 a.m. yesterday, roaring through a nearly cloudless robin's-egg-blue sky.

In ascent, Endeavour trailed a thick white plume of exhaust. And when the fiery rocket boosters disengaged, they dropped like falling stars.

"It was quite a ride. You got six happy people up here today," said Air Force Col. Kevin P. Chilton, Endeavour's 39-year-old pilot. "Thanks a lot to everybody who got us up here today."

The other members of the crew are Air Force Col. Sidney M. Gutierrez, 42, the commander; Ms. Godwin, 41, a physicist; physicist Jerome Apt, 44; and Army Lt. Col. Michael R. Clifford, 41, an engineer.

The radar project is part of NASA's Mission To Planet Earth program, an attempt by the space agency to use its resources to protect and preserve the environment.

Since he joined the astronaut corps in 1990, Dr. Jones has shared his experiences with students in Baltimore County. This mission will be no different.

Tomorrow, about 6:34 a.m., Dr. Jones is scheduled to talk by ham radio with students at Deep Creek Middle School.

Also in attendance will be students from Sue Steele's seventh-grade science class at Stemmers Run Middle School, Dr. Jones' alma mater.

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