Imagine every picture or a landscape you’ve ever seen of a beautiful sunrise, waterfall, nature or powerful storm. Then put them together end to end on a reel and pull them past your face in a quick motion. That’s how overwhelming it is to be in space.
The Purdue Memorial Union hosted a book signing for Jerry Lynn Ross, a Purdue alumnus and a record holder for most spaceflights, with his book “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer,” on Thursday. Ross graduated from Purdue in 1970 and 1972, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.
While describing his new book, Ross said writing about his past was one of the hardest things he’s ever done in his life. He compared writing his book to feeling like an engineer with a 300 page term paper to write.
Ross has been on a total of seven spaceflights and he said there are a specific set of words he uses to describe his experience after he comes back from space.
“I probably use the same words after every flight because I’m overwhelmed by the experience even though I’ve been there before,” Ross said. “It’s an incredible experience. It seems surreal (to realize) you’re actually getting ... to look down at God’s beautiful Earth going around the world every 90 minutes at five miles per second is something that, although I’ve done it seven times, it didn’t feel routine or real.”
Ross said there were five reasons why he wanted to write the book. He wanted people to understand the human side of space flight, teach the young about their unique talents that God has given them, show how God has worked in his life, describe what it’s like being in space and give to his granddaughters in writing about what he did in space.
“John Norberg (co-author of the book) and his expertise, help and word skills, and my wife Karen, were a great help in making sure the book flowed and everything was punctuated properly. It was very much a team effort between the three of us to get the book done.”
The Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986 made a huge impact on the lives of working astronauts, and it made Ross think about his future career and his family.
“When you’re a flyer, I think you kind of put that out of your mind and you assume that it’ll happen to somebody else. But when you see something like that graphically portrayed on TV, it does cause you to stop, reflect and ask questions,” Ross said. “At the same time, I felt that I had an obligation to my country and my friends who I lost on the Challenger accident, to continue the program, and not cause them to forfeit their lives needlessly if we didn’t continue to explore space.”
Ross said he is quite disappointed in the national leaders right now because they do not have the same vision as most Americans do about the space program.
“I think the American public is still excited about the space program,” Ross said. “I do hope that Purdue aggressively pursues the best education that they can give their students. Purdue students who will be graduating shortly will be highly valued with the education they received from Purdue.”
Monica Fernandez, senior in the College of Engineering, said she has known about Ross for a while now and read a lot about him.
“In high school I read a lot of space books and I heard about his records,” Fernandez said. “It was really exciting (to meet him). I almost left my book (on the table) over there! It’s exciting to see Purdue giving us these opportunities.”
Eric Meier, also a senior in the College of Engineering, said he was surprised by how approachable Ross was.
“He’s very nice and very humble,” Meier said. “He’s a very down-to-earth kind of guy and not the kind of guy you would expect to have seven spacewalks.”
On Thursday, Ross became the latest alumnus to donate his papers to Purdue. His donation includes artifacts from his time as a Purdue student, including his research thesis, photographs, test pilot manuals and flight checklists from work on the B-1 aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base and documents and artifacts from his long NASA career.