“Jerry Ross started out like many other kids in the Space Age. He was impressed by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the STEM disciplines), and saw that as a ticket to a fulfilling and meaningful life. His dreams of going into space were influenced by local heroes (Gus Grissom, from Mitchell, IN) and unique opportunities (Purdue University, just down the road from his hometown). But the journey to becoming an astronaut is much more complicated, and has many more twists than our traditional linear view of the success of people whom we admire. Instead of just hearing the experience of being an astronaut, Ross provides us with a unique and personal view of becoming an astronaut.
It’s hard to overstate my response to this aspect of Spacewalker. I wish I’d heard these stories in 1984 or 1994, when I was considering my own application to the Astronaut Office. Ross points out that one need not be a perfect candidate: it wasn’t until after being accepted as an astronaut candidate that he managed to get through the swim test requirement (a fascinating admission, in itself). It doesn’t always work the first time one applies—persistence and adaptation to conditions and situations are critical. And here we learn one of the more valuable lessons that someone like Jerry Ross can tell us—not just about becoming an astronaut, but about living in general. It’s about resilience and dedication to one’s dreams and principles. Ross highlights his faith, his relationships with family, and his willingness to take a less-traveled, less-specified pathway that leads to somewhere amazing in the end. These are important lessons for all of us. We see them now in Ross’ story because of where they led: a role in constructing the International Space Station (ISS), the most impressive engineering marvel of this or any age. But it is the journey, the becoming, that all of us can learn from, even if we don’t all manage to leave the planet.
Jerry Ross is someone you’d expect to find in a grocery store or playing with his grandchildren. It can be a surprise when you also learn that he has schools named after him. He’s unassuming, matter-of-fact, and very much an Indiana native . . . who happens to have an unsurpassed role in the history of American spaceflight. Spacewalker is a valuable and wonderful description of that journey, and an important set of insights for all of us who ever wanted to go to space, and those who want to live a meaningful life here on earth.”
Dr. Barrett Caldwell, Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments