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Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir Hardcover – January 31, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With humanity and passion (and less swagger than Mike Mullane), Jones powerfully brings to life the world of the modern NASA astronaut. Confined to low Earth orbit, no longer tasked with high-profile trips to the Moon, a small corps of dedicated professional space travelers work on serious science and dream of the day they will fly into space. Countless on-the-ground training hours prepare the astronauts for the rigors of space travel—practicing an extravehicular space walk in a 10-million-gallon tank or being flung around in a 100,000-horsepower centrifuge to acclimate to the eight g's of force experienced on lift-off. A tested B-52 bomber pilot and planetary scientist, Jones still feels and expresses wonder at space flight: "I was thirty-nine when I stepped out on the pad [in 1994] with the rest of the crew, but I gazed up at Endeavor with a child's amazement.... I shivered with excitement at the sight of my now-ready spaceship." While the twin tragedies of Challenger and Columbia hang over the story like a pall, Jones still manages to fire the spirit and invite the reader to imagine a place for humankind beyond planet Earth. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Jones' memoir of his work as an astronaut in the 1990s is an unusually expressive contribution to the spaceflight genre. His descriptions of launches and landings--Jones made four of each in the space shuttle--are as engrossing as any in the literature, as is his appreciation for the extreme peril facing those who volunteer to ride a rocket into space. So why do they? Jones' personal explanations are probably typical: NASA's 1960s missions excited and intrigued him, and he ascended the aerospace technology career ladder by flying B-52s, earning a doctorate, doing engineering for the CIA, and joining NASA. Clearly professional advancement is one motivation, but the exhilaration of being in space, and the spectacular extraterrestrial vistas it affords, remains an inspiration self-evident in Jones' account. Still, being a meticulous technologist is the sine qua non of the astronaut, and lies behind the author's recurring comment that his greatest anxiety was not the prospect of death but making a mistake in his tasks. Jones will claim space buffs with his frankness and jargon--free fluency. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (January 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006085152X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060851521
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #798,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Crouch on December 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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