NASA’s Frequent Flier
After logging nearly 1,400 hours in orbit, Jerry Ross reflects on spaceflight past and future.
- By Diane Tedeschi
- AirSpaceMag.com, April 08, 2013
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Did you ever feel vulnerable during a spacewalk? Maybe worry about colliding with orbital debris? Or were you too busy to be worried?
I think that’s probably one of the last things that anybody would spend time thinking about. You’re right that when you’re out there, you’re focused on what you’re doing. Many times I’ve had crew members come back inside and say that they were outside the whole time and they really never even took a peek at the Earth going by. After I was no longer flying [as an astronaut] and became chief of the vehicle integration test unit, part of my duties were to run the astronaut quarantine facility at the Kennedy Space Center, so I lived with the crews up until they time they launched. I would talk to all the rookies that I knew were going to go on spacewalks and say, “Look, you gotta take a chance, a little time to just make some mental snapshots of what you’re experiencing out there.”
I’m wondering about sleep on the space shuttle. Does being in a zero-G environment affect that?
Well, there are two effects—for me, anyhow. First, I had such an adrenaline flow going that it was hard to get to sleep, especially on the first night or two [of a mission]. In fact, I would say on my first four or maybe five missions, I never got more than five hours of sleep any night. It was partly because of the adrenaline, but it was also because you’re so busy during the day that you want to have an opportunity to get to the window and look out at God’s beautiful creation floating by below whenever you can. That means that you take advantage of the normal sleep hours to do that. So I took the opportunities to stay up for extended periods of time during the sleep periods to see as much of the ground as I could.
There’s another aspect of sleeping in zero gravity, and that’s the fact that most of us had lower back pain that was probably due to us not being totally at ease in the zero gravity environment. I found out with experimenting that if I let my back arch back, like I was doing a dive off of a board and I was diving back looking for the surface of the water, that that abnormal stretching of the back was something that would help to relieve the discomfort in the lower back. So I think unconsciously in zero gravity what I and most of the other crew members were doing was contracting the stomach muscles to put ourselves into a fetal position, and doing that hour after hour would tend to bind up the muscles in the lower spine.
Did you feel comfortable being an openly religious astronaut in such a science/engineering-based organization as NASA? Did you ever feel the need to hide your faith?
I never felt that I had to hide it. I sometimes wondered if it would be a hindrance to being able to have a good career, but it never turned out to be that way. And frankly, there are a lot of Christians, and we had Jewish members of the astronaut corps. It was just like the rest of the United States—I think everybody was pretty tolerant of each other. What we did at work was what we did at work, and I tried to carry my Christian faith but I didn’t wear it on my sleeve. I just did what the good book says, which is to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. I did ask a couple of people in the astronaut office early on that I knew were Christians if they’d ever had any problems with it, and they said no. So it was of minimal concern from then on.
Did you ever sense a divine presence in space? Or see evidence of God during your spaceflights?