I'm Tom Jones, 4-time shuttle astronaut and planetary scientist. I work on exploring asteroids and on defending Earth from asteroid impacts. My website is www.AstronautTomJones.com. Twitter: TomJones_Astro. On Facebook, too: Thomas D. Jones

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/C9B5t

Closing out questions now. I want to thank all for coming to the AMA today. Many thanks to the moderators for their help. We'll do another one soon. Check out my website, my books, and have me join your audience for a talk! Keep flying high!

Comments: 178 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

Just_For_Da_Lulz14 karma

Hi Tom, I'm a big fan of your work and I have really enjoyed your contributions to Popular Mechanics! (The one on asteroid-wrangling was really informative!)

My question today: given all of the time you've spent in space, I'm guessing you spent a lot of your downtime thinking about what you were doing and how you were contributing to humanity's knowledge of space and technology. In all that time though, did you ever ask yourself, "Is it unusual to be loved by anyone?"

Thanks for the AMA!

Tdjones12 karma

You remember my name, don't you?

Just_For_Da_Lulz5 karma

Yessir, and thanks for humoring me/us!

Serious question: When you got into orbit, were you really prepared for the feeling of "There's the Earth down there, and I'm not on it any more," or did you have to stop for a few moments and really let that sink in?

Tdjones16 karma

You're working so hard on the shuttle that it's not easy to reflect at first. But I did think -- I am half a planet away from my family, and I'm going 5 miles a second ...How am I going to get back to them. But most of the time I felt very closely connected to my Mission Control friends, and to all those familiar places I could contemplate from orbit.

crosscat12 karma

How do you feel about NASA's funding level and the fact the shuttle is no more?

Tdjones22 karma

Hi...thanks for joining me for my astronaut Tom Jones AMA. Crosscat: NASA has a budget of $17.7B. To do asteroids-->moon-->Mars, we'll need more annually to make that effort a reality. Taking too long to get the commercial vehicles up to replace shuttle to ISS. That's a budget shortfall, pure and simple. need political leadership.

Tdjones22 karma

If NASA had about $2B more per year, it could afford the SLS. ORion, and missions to asteroids, moons of Mars, and with partners, Mars' surface. Could also do a very good job of exploring the Moon with robots. Things are way too tight now at NASA , due to declining budgets of late. Write to Congress, and the president!

karmanaut9 karma

Do you think it is worth it for developing countries to try and create their own space program?

Tdjones18 karma

They should try to join existing partnerships, Karmanaut. Even a small contribution can get a science experiment aboard the ISS. Certainly smaller nations can join the effort to protect Earth from asteroid impacts, even without a space program, by contributing scientific talent or a telescope.

karmanaut4 karma

Doesn't that really leave them subject to the whims and the agendas of the countries that already have space programs?

Tdjones6 karma

Contributing funds gives one leverage. But smaller nations can use commercial companies' rockets to get off the ground.

arbitraryentry8 karma

You must be a real big Tom Jones fan. So tell me, what's your favorite song of his?

(Personally, I celebrate his entire catalogue.)

Tdjones9 karma

Help Yourself!

bunglejerry6 karma

Hi Mr Jones, Chris Hadfield has obviously changed the game as far as 'astronaut outreach' goes. Is there an increased pressure on astronauts now to be 'celebrities', and is there a risk of attention being moved away from the science of space exploration, or would you say that the outreach and promotion pioneered by Cmdr. Hatfield has been good for the space exploration 'industry'?

Tdjones9 karma

All to the good. We need to expand folks' personal connections with space exploration and science, so we get the sustained support needed to get out into deep space with explorers. The closer we can bring that experience, the better our future is. Chris did very well; I was envious of his 6 months in space....time to adapt.

MissMichelleP6 karma

Middle school science teacher here. What made you want to be an astronaut? What do you do now that the shuttle program is no more?

Tdjones7 karma

That's in my book "Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir." I was inspired by seeing rockets built in my town (Baltimore) in 1965...the Titan II would carry Gemini astronauts to space. I am an asteroid exploration and planetary defense consultant/scientist. Also speak and write. See my website.

Grillburg5 karma

Hello Mr. Jones, thanks for the AMA! I have two questions.

How did you feel seeing the Earth from orbit for the first time?

Do you think asteroid mining is something either plausible and/or worth the time and money for us to pursue in the next 50 years or so? EDIT - I guess you already answered this one above, thanks!

Tdjones5 karma

Brought tears to my eyes...had waited 29 years for that chance! See "Sky Walking." And yes, asteroid mining is plausible, and invaluable if we are to reach Mars in any affordable and sustainable way. Thanks!

jarrettbraun5 karma

So... how's it gonna end? What your best educated guess for how and when Earth will become no more?

Tdjones13 karma

We have about 5 billion years before the aging sun swells up and envelops Earth. By then we should have migrated elsewhere. It's what we do!

Kknowsbest4 karma

At what age did you start seriously thinking about becoming an astronaut?

Tdjones5 karma

Age 10, after much reading about space. I saw rockets being built in the Martin Marietta factory, and said "That's the job for me."

lonelynightingale4 karma

What do you think we should be doing to get both politicians and the general public to take the threat of near earth objects seriously? Get Bruce Willis to make another movie? ;) Or will it take another meteor exploding over a populated area to get people motivated?

Tdjones8 karma

I'm puzzled, lonelynightingale, about why Chelyabinsk didn't close the book on the seriousness of the hazard. We will be hit again, by a larger asteroid someday. A better catalog using an IR space telescope will truly expand our knowledge and warn us of what's coming.

sacops4 karma

Thanks for doing this IAmA! How fun is the "vomit comet" in real life and what are the reactions of the newbies you've seen in training? Thanks!

Tdjones8 karma

The experience of free fall was a real thrill for me. I loved the 40 parabolas we did, and also experienced Moon and Mars gravity. It's best to take meds before flight, otherwise you might have to sit it out for a while. Better life through chemistry. The drugs work. If you get sick, they don't stop....they keep the parabolas coming!

sacops2 karma

That sounds amazing!

Tdjones3 karma

Liked training aboard the Comet with my spacesuit on -- that's a very close approximation to real spaceflight.

MJlago94 karma

Do you believe in intelligent life on other planets?

Tdjones13 karma

No evidence for it yet, but the statistics convince me: in Milky Way, 8 billion Earth=like planets in the sweet spot around their stars...where liquid water could exist.

nuqqet9k4 karma

Do middle-aged ladies ever throw their panties at you by mistake?

edit: Or on purpose, too, I guess?

Tdjones7 karma

Too often ....you wouldn't believe it!

jabroni_joints3 karma

What would you do if we came in contact with other intelligent beings? Would you freak out?

Tdjones5 karma

I think I would listen very carefully and not make any sudden moves. Perhaps they'd share how they managed to thrive without destroying their own planet or society.

ztg123 karma

If you could be anywhere in the Universe, where would you be?

Tdjones8 karma

After being in space, for 53 days, this is a pretty nice planet to be on. I climbed a peak in the Great Smokies this past summer...VERY nice. Last week I was at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex...great sights and memories (shuttle Atlantis) and beautiful Cocoa Beach sands.

Varron3 karma

If there was one thing you'd want to let people know about Asteroid Exploration, what would it be?

Tdjones6 karma

Varron: Asteroid exploration can unlock water and other valuable resources in space, the key to long-term exploration, industry, and transportation in space at an affordable cost. Big payoff !

balloonbiker3 karma

What do you feel are some of the limits of robotic space exploration? Do you think there is intrinsic value in human space exploration?

Tdjones12 karma

I feel we will never get to the bottom of biology on Mars questions unless humans go there. Life is probably well beneath the surface at a hot spring. We'll need to drill. Robots just break down too easily to do that. Same applies for asteroid mining. Sometimes you have to kick the machine!

crosscat3 karma

How do you think NASA should engage the public more? For instance the recent poll where 1/4 of Americans didn't know the Earth orbits around the Sun. How do you think we can fix that?

Tdjones9 karma

That's a failure of our school system and public education. NASA can help by boldly exploring. The private asteroid miners can also join NASA in raising the interest level in learning about space and science.

Lfty3 karma

Any future asteroids we know of at this moment that have even a small chance of impact? I believe I heard they just discovered one that had about a 1/32000 chance in 2032, but are there any more?

Tdjones5 karma

Go to JPL's web page: jpl.neo.nasa.gov, and loop up the IMpact Risks table. It shows the top worries. I think it's about 1 in 1700 now for VK184. In the 2040s....slim chance of collision, but many remain undiscovered.

hlostoops3 karma

You've flown on Endeavor, Columbia, and Atlantis. Of the three shuttles (and four flights), which is your favorite? Also, what do you think of NASA's proposed Orion 'EM-2' mission, which plans to send a two man crew to a captured asteroid in lunar orbit?

Thank you for hosting this AMA :) -- Hendrick Stoops

Tdjones6 karma

HLOSTOOPS-- Atlantis, STS-98, rolled up all the previous flights' excitement into one: rendezvous, docking, a space station, space walks, and the joys of launch and landing and working with another great crew. I am a big fan of getting people into deep space, early, to sample a captured asteroid. Directly applicable to Mars.

ponehh3 karma

If each of the planets in our solar system could magically sustain human life in their current conditions, which of them would you want to travel to and explore the most?

Tdjones11 karma

Would love to be on Titan and explore its methane seas, and see Saturn above its (smoggy) skies.

mopeygoff3 karma

Do you think that we will send a manned mission to another planet (like Mars) within the next 10-15 years? What do you think will be the technical hurdles that will need to be overcome that would be the biggest obstacle to these missions?

Tdjones4 karma

We can, with modest budget increases, and help from commercial firms, reach the Mars moon Phobos by 2033. Then on to the surface as we use water from asteroids and Phobos to fill the tanks of our Mars lander. Once down, we use the Mars "air" and ice to refuel.

YesRocketScience3 karma

How much hydrostatic instability did you experience in blood flow after your missions, and did you learn how to better compensate after each landing? Was the hydrostatic instability related to your flight time, or was it a similar experience after each landing?

Thanks for the AMA!

Tdjones5 karma

I didn't feel dizzy upon landing, because I had a g-suit and I cranked it to full. Also drank about 40 oz of water before landing to replenish blood volume. My biggest after-landing symptom was feeling uncoordinated and clumsy for about 3 days. My inner ears were shot ...brain wasn't listening to them after 2 weeks in free fall.

manonthemoon93 karma

I'm going to college for Aerospace Engineering next year and have been looking at Space X, Orbital Science Corporation, and Virgin Galactic with a high level of interest. What are your thoughts on the private sector of space?

Tdjones4 karma

It's a great development! Broader access to space means more support, more involvement, more excitement, more investment. Private innovation will add to NASA's abilities, and we can establish industry in cislunar space, whose profits can spin off TAXES that can fuel further exploration. No bucks, no Buck Rogers!

ZMild3 karma

Thanks for writing today Tom.

The SLS mission to capture an asteroid is looming. Questions are,

-Is SLS necessary for this mission? Would it be possible with existing LVs?

-The flight is being touted as a stepping-stone to Mars. How much technical overlap actually exists between the asteroid flight and a potential Mars mission?

Tdjones4 karma

Can launch the ARM asteroid redirect mission on a Falcon 9H or a Delta IV, as well. SLS can give you a tremendous, fast outbound leg to the target, though. the big overlap with ARM/asteroids and Mars is clear: recover water from asteroids, and you can fuel future Mars expeditions. Those resource techniques used on Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) can be applied to getting water from the Mars moons, if they have any. Now you are in Mars orbit with lots of fuel. Let's go exploring!

YesRocketScience3 karma

I was wondering about the business of being a veteran astronaut. When you do the "Lunch with an Astronaut" events at Kennedy Space Center, are you an employee of Delaware North Corporation (the visitor center operators) or are you there as an independent contractor, or do you and other astronauts have a talent agency that negotiates terms? Does NASA provide any transition services to help astronauts deal with the new role of being in the career of professional speaker?

Tdjones4 karma

I do speaking through HarperCollins Speakers Bureau. Nice folks...you can see them at my website. No help from NASA. Astronauts are usually self-starters...they know how to pursue a new goal. Mine is to work as a scientist/consultant, and spread the word about space through speaking and writing.

tamammothchuk3 karma

Is a career as an astronaut still considered dangerous?

Tdjones5 karma

Much more dangerous than many occupations....we lost 14 friends on the shuttle. But I think safety has improved after each accident, and will get better still as we add the commercial experience and innovation to our NASA expertise. Important to not forget past lessons from those tragedies.

macfoshizzle2 karma

Have you ever seen any evidence of extraterrestrial life, ufo's, or anything in that regards? Do you believe in them? Please be honest.

Tdjones3 karma

Honest: no evidence I've seen personally, or heard of, for intelligent beings visiting Earth. But I believe there are other intelligent societies in our galaxy. Let's keep listening for them.

YesRocketScience2 karma

What do you see as the most promising technology to overcome the issues of Galactic Cosmic Rays and Solar Proton Events? Without a defense against deadly GCRs and SPEs, there's no way we're going to have human missions to Mars and the asteroids.

Tdjones3 karma

Medical opinions now are that a single individual might survive a Mars round trip with only slightly elevated cancer risk. But we need better odds. Use asteroid dirt, or asteroid water, to shield the cabins of Mars habitats enroute to and from Mars. On Phobos or Mars, bury the hab under soil. Shielding is ample that way.

emriplays2 karma

What was the hardest type of training you went through to become an astronaut?

And Hello :D

Tdjones3 karma

No question -- underwater training in the suit for a spacewalk. Physically demanding, mentally draining. At the end of a 6-hour run I was bushed. Sometimes my hands were so tired I could not type for the rest of the day. Kind of like now!

beardownbeardown2 karma

Can you describe in your own words what its like looking down on Earth from orbit? What do you, personally, think about and how has that experience changed you forever?

Tdjones1 karma

I felt very humbled to see such beauty, and aware that I was being given a gift by God that few humans experience (so far). The view was very emotional, as if someone had pulled back a curtain on the loveliest scenes a human could experience: sunrise, sunset, night skies full of stars, the planet laid open like a textbook. Read "Sky Walking."

valleyshrew2 karma

How do you feel about the astronaut meeting being held in Saudi Arabia, a country where gays are put to death? Shouldn't such meetings be held only in countries where the astronaut's human rights are protected?

Tdjones5 karma

Perhaps the presence of space fliers can bring such a society closer to the 21st Century.

skenn0242 karma

How incredible is the view of earth from space? Also is there anything you can see from space that you didn't think you'd be able to see? (ex great wall of china

Tdjones6 karma

The view is well-described in my Sky Walking book, and illustrated in my book Planetology. (see Amazon). I could use binoculars and actually see my neighborhood in Houston from space. Find an airline contrail, put the glasses on it, and you can see the airplane!

stationtracks2 karma

Hi Mr. Jones! Thank you for doing this AMA!

What advice would you give to someone interested in geology and planetary science in college?

Tdjones3 karma

Get top grades, then move on to grad school to work in research. Major in any related subject: geology, astronomy, physics, even chemistry.

Misaniovent2 karma

Imagine we cannot prevent a major impact (but not one that would destroy all life), but we knew it was coming. What preparations would you recommend to world governments?

Tdjones4 karma

Use their disaster agencies to evacuate the area, tell folks to stockpile food and water near the disaster area, and communicate how to minimize damage. this is about all we can do now; I work with the Association of Space Explorers NEO Committee on helping the UN to coordinate nations' deflection planning.

Gnoozhe2 karma

How many times have you worn your space suit to pick up ladies at bars?

Tdjones2 karma

Oh, like the AXE commercials?

Avenged7fold2 karma

What was it like, leaving the planet, I know when I leave my house for a few days I stress and hope I didnt forget anything, But leaving the PLANET I would be shitting myself.

Tdjones3 karma

The training is very thorough. I left Earth well-prepared. But I worried that I would not measure up in terms of personal performance when I arrived in orbit. What a relief to find that I could do it...it was very similar to my B-52 piloting experiences in terms of judgment, stress, etc.

davidgwaters2 karma

Hi Tom,

Monday, The 3 football field long asteroid that passed by earth (referenced on CNN here http://cnn.it/1hsNqVF seemed to me to underscore the recent Jet Propulsion Lab's news release this week about working on future asteroid missions. What is your take on how much work there is to be done before there could even be a reasonable chance of landing on an asteroid, let alone trying to change its orbit? Full disclosure - It was great interviewing you at the opening of Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida! -David

Tdjones4 karma

Hi David: We could do a real deflection mission with 7-10 years of warning, depending on the asteroid diameter. Smaller ones use easier, thus faster, techniques like Gravity Tractor, or ion beam pluming. Our first human mission could come before 2025, to the ARM captured asteroid. "landing" is easy -- you just pull up alongside and anchor. But we need robotic and astronaut anchoring practice -- ARM provides that opportunity.

sirbutthead1 karma

If there was a space tourism industry and it was reasonably priced, would you pay to go to space again just for fun?

Tdjones4 karma

Would love to go, but taking my family would be my top priority, and they all have to agree. Some convincing to do!

tmacattack8221 karma


Tdjones3 karma

They aren't visiting us ...no evidence of that, and it's physically very hard to do interstellar travel. But I think they are out there. Unlikely we are first smart species in the galaxy.

s_mw1 karma

Do NASA employees get discounts at places like Military discounts?

Tdjones2 karma

Nope...not even frequent flier miles. But if you are active duty military while at NASA (I was not), you can use a BX or commissary.