“At unity with the Universe.” That’s how Col. Jerry Ross (USAF-Retired) described the feeling as he got a break during one of his space walks aboard the International Space Station and got to relax, gaze at the stars and contemplate the vastness of the universe.
That was one of the memories the retired astronaut, with seven space missions and nine space walks to his credit, shared with the audience Friday night at what truly was an “Astronomical Nite.” The event was a benefit for the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center (NETCAC), which serves Upshur and seven other Northeast Texas counties.
The men of the Gilmer First United Methodist Church, which provided the site for the benefit, prepared a fish dinner with all the trimmings to begin the event.
Prior to the speaker, Rev. Richard Laster, pastor of the host church, introduced Frank Breazeale for the opening prayer.
Then Quitman Police Chief Kelly Cole, a member of the board of Winnsboro-based NETCAC, told of the purpose of NETCAC.
It provides an advocate for abused children, enabling them to only tell their stories three times to trained adult investigators, instead of up to 13 separate interviews as in the past.
Audio and video recordings are made of the interviews, which can be used as evidence later.
“In the past, a child had to relive the abuse over and over,” Cole said.
Since its inception in 1998, NETCAC has seen more than 6,000 children, a large number of them—both girls and boys—in Upshur County.
Rev. Laster said that, while FUMC is not an official sponsor of NETCAC,“it provides a great resource for pastors.”
Retired FUMC minister John Barfield of Texarkana, who was the Ross family’s pastor at FUMC of Friendswood when they moved to Houston so Jerry could participate in the space program, introduced him.
He described the Rosses as very much “a blessed family of newcomers,” who very quickly became a part of the Friendswood church.
Following the advice of his 9-year-old grandson, Rev. Barfield then introduced Ross, “Heeerrreee’s Jerry the Astronaut.”
Ross, who holds the record for number of space walks, said that from his young childhood, he wanted to be an astronaut, even before the first satellites had been launched and the country even had a space program.
When he grew up, he was able to pursue his dream by become a flight-test engineer, which gave him the same chance to participate in the space program as being a test pilot would.
When the first round of applications were taken for the limited number of openings in the program, he was not one of 210 of about 8,000 chosen.
In the next round, however, he was among 120 picked out of about 6,000.
He told of the experience of riding the Space Shuttle above the atmosphere, propelled by 4.5-million pounds of thrust, and circling the earth every 90 minutes, seeing a new sunrise and sunset every 45 minutes.
He said it was very difficult to learn to sleep, with that much change in daytime feeling.
He said that, without gravity to compress them, people would grow about two inches in orbit.
He illustrated his talk with a PowerPoint slideshow, featuring many pictures from his book Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer.
He said one truly memorable event that happened on one mission was when the shuttle flew through the Aurora Borealis.
Instead of the red and green tones seen from earth, as they flew through it, the color of the ionized particles was a gauzy white, too faint to be recorded by still or video cameras.
Asked what one frightening thing that happened to him was, he said it “was realizing that the planning and construction” of the shuttle and things involved with the launch and the mission had gone to the lowest bidder.
He said that this a “very discouraging time” at NASA, with the extensive cuts the federal government has made, including mothballing the remaining Space Shuttles without having a new space vehicle ready.
He said that the “Constellation Program,” which had been slated to succeed the Space Shuttle program, “was a great plan,” but being underfunded fell behind schedule and that was used as an excuse to eliminate it.
In answer to a question, he said that he feels private industry will not be able to make up for NASA’s losses, because private enterprise must make money, and 85 percent of development funding for private ventures so far has come from NASA.
A man of faith, Ross said that he had been able to take his Bible along as luggage on some of the missions. He said it was very meaningful to read Scriptures such as Genesis while in earth orbit.
After the formal presentation, Col. Ross signed copies of Spacewalker.
This event on Friday, March 22, 2013, featuring retired NASA astronaut Col. Jerry Ross as keynote speaker, was a benefit for the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center. For more information and how to donate to this worthy cause, go to the NETCAC Web site:
To order Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA's Record-Setting Frequent Flyer by Jerry L. Ross and John Norberg, go to the following links:
The preview article about this event in The Gilmer (Texas) Mirror by Richard Laster, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Gilmer, read as follows:
On Friday at 6:30 p.m. the NETCAC Gilmer Volunteer Chapter will have the honor of hosting a genuine American hero. Col. Jerry Ross, USAF Retired, an American astronaut, will be in town as the keynote speaker at a dinner event benefiting the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center. Col. Ross' career with NASA coincides with the Space Shuttle program.
Among other claims to fame he was the first person in history to be launched into space seven times, a record he holds with only one other person, a fellow NASA astronaut. Col. Ross' time spent on spacewalks has only recently been surpassed.
He will address the audience on the history of the Space Shuttle program as well as share some personal insights concerning his time in service in the United States Air Force in general and NASA in specific.
Col Ross has recently penned an autobiography, My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA's Record-Setting Frequent Flyer, which will be available for signatures at the event. Jerry is an active member of the Friendswood United Methodist Church.
Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center dinner featuring Col. Jerry Ross, NASA astronaut as guest speaker. The location will be in the Fellowship Hall of First United Methodist Church of Gilmer, 105 N. Montgomery.
The Friday, March 22 dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. Ticket price which include fried fish and the trimmings, are as follows: $15 for one, $25 for a couple, $40 for a family of up to four.
Participants will have the opportunity to purchase chances on a $500 bracelet, courtesy of Zales Jewelry, or four hours of flight time with local pilot Frank Breazeale, also a $500 value. Both have a 1 in 200 opportunity to win.
Tickets are available from various NETCAC volunteers, at Gilmer Drug, at the Gilmer branch of Austin Bank, by contacting Richard Laster at email@example.com or by calling Richard at 903-843-2610.
Here is the video Col. Ross was narrating at the event:
2002: Space Shuttle Flight 109 (STS-110) Atlantis (NASA)