Title: Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir
Author: Tom Jones
Release Date: January 30, 2007
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Space
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
Tom Jones, a space shuttle astronaut, recounts his career in the US space program. He joined the astronaut program in 1990, after the Challenger disaster, flying four missions and working on the International Space Station.
There aren’t many memoirs of shuttle-era astronauts out yet, though there will likely be a plethora of them released over the next few years after the shuttle is retired. Sky Walking by Tom Jones is a unique look at an impressive career in spaceflight.
Jones’ memoir isn’t the most personal; while he is frank with the reader about shortcomings at NASA and flaws in its culture, he holds the reader at arm’s length. He is honest about his concerns about making a mistake on spacewalks and embarrassing himself in front of his colleagues, yet the reader doesn’t really ever get into his life. The reason makes sense – the book is a professional memoir about Jones’ career, and doesn’t really cross into that personal territory. Instead, the book has other focuses, though the reader does feel the absence of that personal touch.
What Sky Walking excels at is putting the reader in the middle of the action. Jones provides the most riveting description of landing a space shuttle (or rather, watching a fellow astronaut land the shuttle) I’ve ever seen. His descriptions and details are simply amazing. They really make the reader feel like they are in the seat next to him, experiencing exactly what he is. This vividness is incredibly impressive.
However, these wonderful descriptions aren’t limited to the incredible experiences. Jones makes clear that being an astronaut isn’t just about flying in space. It’s about getting the space suit on – and he lets the reader know exactly what a burden that is. It’s about practicing in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the huge pool where astronauts train for their spacewalks – and Jones makes clear that tools aren’t weightless in water like they are in space. I was really impressed with the quality of information contained in this memoir, as Jones spares no opportunity to immerse the reader in his world.
Sky Walking is a must read for anyone who’s dreamed about being an astronaut. While readers don’t get to know Jones well, they will take pure delight from the vividness with which the author portrays his experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, and can only hope that future books from the shuttle era contain this level of detail.