Students Meet Spaceman

January 27, 1995|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

When Deep Creek Middle School students talked to astronaut Tom Jones in April, he was 138 miles above them in the space shuttle Endeavor, describing the beauty of Earth.

On Wednesday, the 40-year-old Essex native stood before the class in his blue flight suit with NASA and mission patches, describing his two 1994 Space Radar Laboratory flights, showing pictures and telling the youngsters that Earthlings will meet beings from another planet someday.

When Jennifer Daley questioned Dr. Jones in April about life elsewhere in the galaxy, he was optimistic. Expanding his answer yesterday, he said, "Statistically, there must be life elsewhere; it's hard for me to believe we are the only intelligent beings in the universe.

"We're listening for them and I'm sure they are looking for us, but I don't think anyone is visiting us now. Space travel is just too difficult, but sometime we'll meet them."

The student consensus was that Dr. Jones' visit was "neat," the same word he used to describe his feeling as a middle school student in the 1960s when United States astronauts were flying to the moon.

Dr. Jones, a former Air Force pilot who lives in Houston with his wife and two small children, graduated from Stemmers Run Middle School and Kenwood High School. His father, David Jones, was the guidance counselor at Deep Creek for 25 years.

In April, Jessica Laing asked Dr. Jones about flying over deserts "and he said he could see the tracks across the desert."

Yesterday, he elaborated, showing radar maps of the Sahara that penetrate to the bedrock below the sand and reveal now-invisible water courses that made the Sahara a lush green area that supported people and animals 20,000 years ago.

"I hope we can put radar in orbit permanently to track environmental changes," Dr. Jones said.

Kim Zubris said she had asked the astronaut if he could see the effects of natural disasters from the shuttle.

He said the astronauts could see smoke and air pollution and soil run-off and track the cutting of rain forests around the world.

The most striking event of his two 11-day flights was the eruption of a volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East, Dr. Jones said. The astronauts videotaped the explosion and followed the wind's dispersal of the smoke and ash.

When a student asked him what he liked best about the flights, he replied, "I just kept a smile on my face the whole time."

He showed a video of himself and his five crew mates working and playing in a state of weightlessness aboard the Endeavor as they flew "around the world in 90 minutes" at 17,500 mph. This, he said, was "the most fun" of all.

"I was working on the night shift and every day we would come up the East Coast at dawn and that's when I talked to you folks," Dr. Jones said.

He said he got thrills flying over Baltimore and Maryland and being able to spot landmarks and even to approximate the location of his old neighborhood.

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