Ask the Astronaut: Do spacewalkers worry about dying outside?

Tom Jones on a spacewalk during the STS-98 mission in February 2001. (NASA)
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Q: Are spacewalking astronauts able to think only of the job at hand, or is there a thought in the back of their mind like “I hope I don’t die out here”? How are they able to block such thoughts? (Steven Snith, Calgary, Canada)

Insightful question—thanks. As a spacewalker I trained for years to be able to work efficiently outside my spacecraft, practicing for hundreds of hours underwater for the tasks I’d be doing. I knew my spacesuit systems inside and out, and I knew their reliability. I had worn my EVA suit in a vacuum chamber and knew it would function to keep me alive, and warn me if there was a problem—usually with time enough to return to the airlock and safety. I also knew that the hazards outside the spacecraft—micrometeoroids, suit punctures, radiation, intense heat from the sun, and so on—had been planned for, and either my spacesuit or our procedures were designed to minimize such risks. I can tell you that in my 19 hours of working outside on three spacewalks, I never once worried that my life was in danger. I trusted my equipment, training, crewmates, and mission controllers to keep me safe. My job was to focus on the work at hand. That’s what I was sent into space to do: in this instance, help construct a space station. That’s what I concentrated on.

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About Tom Jones

Former astronaut Tom Jones is a scientist, author, and pilot. In more than eleven years with NASA, Tom flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. On his last flight, he led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has spent 53 days working and living in space. See his full bio here.

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