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Jerry Ross during an unplanned spacewalk to fix the balky Compton Gamma Ray Observatory on his third mission in 1991. (NASA)

NASA’s Frequent Flier

After logging nearly 1,400 hours in orbit, Jerry Ross reflects on spaceflight past and future.

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What is your opinion of where the current manned space program in the U.S. is headed?

Well, I personally think that the Constellation program that was laid out by the Bush administration was the right answer— to terminate the shuttle program and at the same time have another follow-on program that would have been flying by now had it not been cancelled. That would have led us back, I thought, in the right direction of going back to the moon…and then to Mars. The biggest problem with that plan was that both the White House and Congress did not send enough money to allow us to do what they told us to do in the timeframe they told us to do it.

So we’re now in this environment where NASA is funding three companies to go build three different types of crew commercial vehicles. In addition, we’re also pursuing our own NASA vehicle called Orion, which has been raised from the dead, basically, by Congress. But it doesn’t have a very exciting schedule right now: I think the first flight is still 2017, or something like that. So it’s very frustrating.

And I’m nervous about the commercial vehicles from the standpoint that NASA doesn’t have the control over the degree of engineering and safety and everything else that goes into the vehicles. So if and when we use one of those vehicles to fly our crew, we don’t have—I wouldn’t have—the level of confidence in the safety of those vehicles based upon what I know of what it takes to get things done from previous NASA programs. The other issue is, those commercial guys do not have, I’ve never seen one with a valid business plan that says they can be profitable if NASA isn’t their major customer.

Why did you decide to write a book?

There are at least five reasons. First off, throughout my entire astronaut career, when I went out to do public speaking, I always tried to concentrate on going to schools. I think it’s part of my Christian beliefs that I wanted to talk to young people and to tell them that they were very special. They were each made by God with a very special set of talents, likes, and dislikes. It was up to them to figure out what those qualities were and how they should apply them to their adult life and career.

Secondly, I just wanted to explain to people what it was like to ride on rockets and what it was like step out into the vacuum of space and do spacewalks.

Third, I wanted to give them a behind-the-scenes, more-human feel for the space business. I tried to put in some hopefully humorous side stories about various crews and events that happened.

Next would be that I wanted to give people a better understanding of how my faith carried me through my life and career and how it supported me along the way where I frankly got a little bit frustrated or things didn’t happen the way I wanted them.

And last I wanted to write down in my own words what grandpa did so my three young granddaughters will be able to understand what I did throughout my career.

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