By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
It’s not often that the average person gets to hold an ancient artifact more than 100,000 years old. But then Astronaut Tom Jones is no average person.
Young and good looking, Jones could have played a movie astronaut, but he is the real thing. Tom, as he prefers to be called, spent more than 52 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle, zipping around the earth for thousands of orbits over a period of 1,272 hours. He also logged three space walks for 19 hours.
But one of his biggest thrills was flipping an ancient stone hammer that looked much like the Hammer of Thor is the sci fi movies.
“Here we are, flying through space,” Jones laughed, “and I’m flipping this millennia-old stone weapon in a weightless vehicle orbiting the earth.”
Part of his time spent in space was spent mapping ancient cities and archeological sites, finding some that could not be detected from the ground. The hammer was discovered in one ancient burial location.
Today Jones spends much of his time extolling the virtues of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex a short jump from the mega-attractions of Orlando. But while Orlando may have Mickey Mouse, the KSCVC has enough space hardware and artifacts to keep both adults and fidgeting children interested and occupied.
And for Jones the greatest thrill is seeing the Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the center. Atlantis was the craft that took him on his last ride into space.
Anyone witnessing a space launch can not help but come away impressed. Even from the safety of viewing stands perhaps three miles away, the crackling of the rocket as it ignites, the shock wave it produces and the ground vibrating beneath your feet, is an experience witnesses remember for the rest of their lives.
Visitors to the KSCVC have an opportunity to take part in activities that simulate the training astronauts undergo. The ATX (Astronaut Training Experience) is an intense half day providing hands-on training giving the participant an idea of the rigors of space flight. ATX was designed with input from several astronauts.
Jones’ favorite attraction, Atlantis, offers a life-like and quite realistic simulation of the craft’s eight minute blast off into orbit. Smaller visitors will enjoy the “Angry Birds Space Encounter” with intergalactic egg chasing comes alive. There are challenges such as Eggsteroids and Red Planet Laser Challenge.
Jones quietly voiced the hope that youngsters might become so enthused by the attractions and simulations that it might produce another generation of space explorers.