Evening Lectures - Pensacola

Dr. Tom Jones

THE TALK: Space Shuttle Stories: Capturing the Human Element of America’s Iconic Spaceship

March 14, 2024


Although the shuttles retired a dozen years ago, what they taught America and NASA about complex operations in space remains the foundation of work on the International Space Station and plans to return to the Moon. What we know how to do well today in space, we learned on the shuttle. .

In collecting the stories of more than 135 astronauts who flew the shuttle, Dr. Tom Jones heard in detail how the orbiter crews and the launch and Mission Control teams mastered these techniques. He listened in awe as his astronaut colleagues related how they coped with — and overcame — the inevitable, unexpected, and sometimes frightening challenges that threatened their missions. Who would have dreamed of “brain surgery” on Hubble by space-suited astronauts? How did we pull off some of the most improbable satellite rescues in space history? What did the shuttles do in orbit that helped us win the Cold War? Jones will combine some of these stories with vivid space images to highlight the human role in the shuttle’s success.

When explorers return to the Moon, we are sure to face similar challenges. By examining these 135 Space Shuttle stories, we can learn how this iconic spacecraft taught us how to prepare for the unexpected, and succeed in the unforgiving environment of deep space.


Dr. Thomas D. Jones, PhD, is a veteran NASA astronaut, scientist, author, pilot, and speaker. In more than 11 years with NASA, he flew on four Space Shuttle missions to Earth orbit. In 2001, Dr. Jones 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.

A Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Jones piloted B-52D strategic bombers, earned a doctorate in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona, studied asteroids and robotic exploration missions for NASA, and engineered intelligence-gathering systems for the CIA.

He is the author of seven space, aviation, and history books. “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir” was named by The Wall Street Journal as one if its “Five Best” books on space. His newest book is “Space Shuttle Stories,” published in 2023 by Smithsonian Books.

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