20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2006
"Sky Walking" is the second space shuttle astronaut biography I have read after Mike Mullane's "Riding Rockets". I enjoyed both books a lot but they are very different in style. Mike Mullane's book concentrates mostly on humorous anecdotes from his astronaut career (although there are serious parts) whereas Tom Jones has more of the detail involved in astronaut training and I would have to say that if you want to know the fine details about being an astronaut, get this book. I haven't seen anything better in this regard.
Tom Jones started his astronaut career in 1990, just about the time when Mike Mullane was winding down (he was in the 1978 astronaut class) so the two books cover virtually the whole Space Shuttle era. Tom eventually flew four missions, the last being the outfitting of the Destiny laboratory on ISS in 2001. As the title suggests, there is a lot about space walking but Tom didn't get to do any until the last mission. He was scheduled to do a spacewalk on STS-80 but, as described in the first chapter, the airlock wouldn't open.
The book is simply packed with detail on mission training and the space walk training in the NASA WETF and NBL training facilities is described so well that your body almost starts to ache in sympathy. Being an astronaut is definitely not an easy job. As you would expect, there are numerous anecdotes throughout, one of my favourites being Story Musgrave staying on the Shuttle flight deck during the STS-80 re-entry so he could video it. Certainly a man with the right stuff.
If you just want to get an overview of astronaut training rather than the full detail I would probably recommend Mike Mullane's book ahead of this one. There isn't as much humor in "Sky Walking" either but it's still worth five stars.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
There are many excellent books written by and about the Right Stuff astronauts who flew during the earlier days of the space program. However, until recently, there has been a nearly total lack of books by and about the shuttle astronauts who fly now. For better or worse, today's space program is as different from the program of the early days as the shuttle is different from the Apollo capsules. And today's astronauts are different, too.
Mike Mullane was the first of the shuttle astronauts to write about his experiences in his book Riding Rockets. However, Mullane was a member of the group that made the transition from the Apollo program to the shuttle program, and the tone of his book is almost wistful; he clearly wanted to be one of the Right Stuff guys-- and he means guys-- but he ended up being a shuttle technician.
Sky Walking is a memoir by a very different sort of astronaut. Tom Jones was very young during the "glory days" of the space program, so he has no Right Stuff preconceptions about astronauts as death-defying heroes. Rather, he is an Air Force Academy graduate who flew B-52s, earned a PhD in planetary sciences, and became a dedicated, professional shuttle program technician. That could have made for a dull, technical book if it weren't for his intellect and, more importantly, his powers of observation and ability to reflect on what he experienced.
Jones flew four shuttle missions and took three space walks on his final mission, which was dedicated to construction on the International Space Station. His accounts of what space walks are like-- and of the hundreds of hours of training that precedes each one-- are first rate. His descriptions of the ISS and of the issues surrounding its planning, funding, and construction are excellent. I don't know of any other insider's book that deals with the ISS in such detail or with such authority. This is because Jones was an administrator in the ISS program between his third and fourth shuttle flights.
The subtitle says that this is "an astronaut's memoir," and that's exactly what it is. Jones takes us trough his selection as an astronaut, his general training, his years of waiting for flights, his training for those flights, and the flights themselves. There is considerable technical information in the book, but Jones does an excellent job of clarifying it for non-experts. The real focus is on Jones himself-- what he sees, thinks, and feels about what's happening to him.
This is an outstanding book. It answers the two basic questions many of us have always had: "What's it REALLY like to fly in space?" and "What are those people REALLY like?" I thoroughly enjoyed Sky Walking, and I recommend it most highly.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
In the case of "Sky Walking," by Dr. Thomas D. Jones, the answer is a resounding "Yes." This book stands head and shoulders above many of the other works by former astronauts in terms of its story, style and substance. Immensely readable and presented at just the right level of detail, "Sky Walking" chronicles Dr. Jones' spaceflight career, which spanned more than a decade and included four Space Shuttle flights. His description of the sights, sounds and sensations of his first launch aboard Endeavour in April 1994 on mission STS-59, for which he was a Mission Specialist for the first Space Radar Laboratory flight (SRL-1), is the best I've ever read. He was Payload Commander for the SRL-2 mission (STS-68) in October 1994, and later flew on two additional Shuttle missions. STS-80, in addition to setting a Shuttle endurance record of 18 days in orbit, involved satellite deployment and retrieval. STS-98, in February 2001, delivered and installed the Destiny Laboratory Module for the International Space Station (ISS), a mission on which Dr. Jones made three spacewalks lasting more than 19 hours.
In "Sky Walking," Dr. Jones describes all of his missions in detail, in terms that both "space geeks" and casual readers will find interesting and informative. His narrative style is refreshingly friendly and accessible without being simplistic. One thing that I particularly noticed is his skill in covering highly technical issues related to the Space Shuttle--the most complicated machine ever built. For example, he describes a problem with the Space Shuttle Main Engine turbopump rotor tip seals in such a way that a casual reader can understand the issue, and yet he supplies enough "meat" to satisfy the more technically inclined reader. He does an excellent job with the "balancing act" of finding just the right level of "NASA-speak" to entertain a wide audience. Highly recommended.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2006
Tom Jones is a Romantic. At times he is also poetic, but above all else, Tom is someone with a passion for our beautiful planet Earth and what lies beyond. You can be the best pilot, the best scientist, the best explorer of all time, but unless you can communicate your experiences and place a value on them for humanity, then you are only half-way there. Tom Jones is a great communicator: "Sky Walking" successfully puts you in the "pilot's seat".
One of the less-publicized personalities of the space program, Tom Jones is no less exceptional. What makes this book so enjoyable is Tom's sense of himself as an ordinary human being who works very hard to achieve his goals. Blessed with strong analytical skills, physical aptitude and a great sense of humor, Tom shows us what it is like to train for and to be a part of a space mission. Add to this his bone-jangling descriptions of a space shuttle launch, the pleasures of 'dancing' in the freefall of space, the joy of viewing our planet from a distance - told in a beautifully descriptive and poetic way - and you have a thoroughly first class read. Tom's strong sense of family and his rock-solid faith in God add additional layers to the narrative. At times the detail is staggering, but never overwhelming or too technical.
I interviewed Tom Jones for my 2004 book about astronaut Story Musgrave ("Story: The Way of Water"). It was an exceptional interview and revealed a deep-thinking individual with the ability to communicate clearly and passionately. This book has proven to be an outstanding continuation of that marvellous and lively discussion.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2006
This memoir is outstanding reading for anyone who is interested in being an astronaut. The author takes us along as he applies to NASA, interviews, and begins training as an "Ascan" (astronaut candidate). Completing his year of training, he awaits his first assignment to a shuttle crew, and subsequently goes on four shuttle missions. We get to experience every step along the way as he trains for each mission, and when the fateful day of lauch comes, we are there - stepping into the orbiter, strapping in, feeling every vibration and hearing every noise as the gigantic machine roars into liftoff. Then we go along with the author during his missions, including the joys and frustrations experienced, and ride along for the tense suspense of reentry. (Made all the more poignant as we recall the moments during the same procedures when the Challenger and the Columbia were lost.)
Through the author's eyes we also get to experience space walking and visit the International Space Station, and realize that being an astronaut on an EVA is often a lot of long, hard, exhausting work. The author shows us some of the internal culture of NASA bureaucracy and speaks realistically of America's options for future space exploration.
Very highly recommended!
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I have anxiously awaited publication of this book for months, and its appearance is most welcome. We are fortunate to have a broad selection of astronaut memoirs from the early "heroic" era of spaceflight to help understand their "right stuff." Accordingly, many are familiar with the tales told by such individuals as Mike Collins, Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan, and others. But there are far fewer autobiographies of the astronauts of the shuttle era. In part it is a function of the closeness in time of their exploits, but I believe it is also a function of the fact that those earlier astronauts were comparable to the gentleman explorers of earlier eras, and in this case they explored the Moon. The shuttle astronauts, on the other hand, were working men and women who operated in Earth orbit to deploy satellites, repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and build the International Space Station. The perception that few people would be interested in their deeds permeates the culture; after all they were the "blue collar" working folks.
Even so, the story of these more recent astronauts and their workaday experiences in orbit is singularly thrilling in ways that the work of the Apollo-era astronauts could never be. Tom Jones's memoir is one of only a small number of such first person accounts, and his style, penetrating insight, and wit makes it an essential book for anyone interested in the history of recent spaceflight. It will take an important place as a benchmark in the literature of human spaceflight.
No question, this is a very fine astronaut memoir, one with considerably more "reflective-ness" and less boastfulness and swagger than many other astronaut memoirs. It focuses on the building of the International Space Station, the principal effort of the space shuttle during the latter part of the twentieth century. Tom Jones was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1990 and flew on four space shuttle missions. In the process he logged over 52 days (1,272 hours) in space, including three space walks totaling over 19 hours. In my capacity as chair of the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of reading this work in manuscript form and I both truly enjoyed it and profited from its insights. It is quite an excellent book and I highly recommend it.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2006
Sky Walking is the best account of the experience of space that I have ever read. It takes you deep into the physical and emotional sensations of space travel where you the reader experience what astronauts experience right down to the mundane task trying to locate an item that has floated away in the cabin or trying to use an exercise bike with zero gravity. Tom Jones is an articulate writer capable of constructing wonderful imagery and some choice metaphors about every aspect of space travel from training to launch to rentry. His descriptions of his space walks and working aboard the International Space Station are particularly memorable. Jones is also not afraid to render an opinion about this America's commitment to space what can and should be done to maintain NASA as a shining symbol of American capability. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity about what space travel is really like.
-- Jerry Burton, author of Zora Arkus-Duntov the Legend Behind Corvette and Corvette, America's Sports Car, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2006
Dr. Jones has written an exceptional and very personal look into the NASA of the 1990s. Nowhere to be found in this book is the swaggering "strap it on and fly it" attitude of Holywood astronauts. Instead we see a man who thinks about his family and his relationship with God while in orbit. I have met Dr. Jones on several occasions and his book is the same as his speaking style. Jones is very open and honest about his own feelings and thoughts, including what it feels like to go through training and six hour EVA's. This is not a "tell-all" book, that's not Tom Jones' style. It's more a "Wow this is really cool! I'm having the time of my life as an astronaut!" kind of book. The only person Jones really sheds light on is himself. Much recommended!
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2006
Astronaut Tom Jones, in Sky Walking, combines warm human emotions and precise scientific clarity in a way that has been matched only by Mike Collins's classic Carrying the Fire. Jones's book should be required reading for every high school student in America, both for its inspiration and for its great moral lesson that hard work and persistence can carry your talent to the stars. Sky Walking is a brilliant book that teaches as it inspires.
The book is far more substantial than its subtitle "An Astronaut's Memoir" indicates, for it is a brilliant argument for the continued pursuit of manned exploration of space. The author packs in an immense amount of information about the space program-and the people in it---making it a must-read for any astronaut aspirant and for any citizen who wants to see just how great a country is the United States.
At a time when budgets and tragedies cast a shadow on the future of manned exploration, this book shows exactly why it is absolutely vital for America's future. If anyone has grown jaded by the space program and its problems, he or she should sit up and read this fascinating account of the tremendous effort that goes into the making not only of an astronaut, but of our nation's continued pursuit of manned space flight. Readers will be both amazed and surprised: this book is an epiphany of the nitty-gritty of spaceflight, which revolves not only around science, but continually circles back to the enabling human element.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2006
This is a highly readable and expertly written account by Tom Jones about his astronaut career.
He writes from his heart, and has clearly thought a lot about how to effectively communicate his experiences.
His use of imagery puts this book in the realm of literature, though it is definitely non-fiction.
A must for your Christmas list if you are or once were an aspiring astronaut, an aspiring writer of topics related to space and technology or just interested in knowing what it is like up there. It is a great read; I laughed, I cried, learned something about space, space policy and history, and was amazed by it all!