Spaceflight Insider

Skywalking: STS-68 preflight – getting ready for Space Radar Lab 2

STS-68 crew photo

The crew of STS-68, Space Radar Lab 2. Left to right – Back row: Michael Baker, Terrence Wilcutt; Front row: Tom Jones, Peter Wisoff, Steven Smith, Daniel Bursch. Photo Credit: NASA

Throughout our training syllabus, we were guided through the frantic schedule of classes and simulator sessions by our training team. Without their expertise, we would never have been ready in time for our planned Aug. 18 launch date.

The Full Fuselage Trainer, once in Building 9 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is now at the Seattle Museum of Flight, still bearing the scuff marks from the boots of dozens of crews sliding down the exterior using their “Sky Genie” escape ropes.

FFT with STS-68 crew

Our indispensable training team poses with our crew in front of the Full Fuselage Trainer at JSC in Houston. Photo Credit: NASA

Our crew of six included two EVA-qualified astronauts: Jeff Wisoff and Steve Smith. They trained for an unexpected spacewalk on STS-68, if needed, for repairs or emergency closure of the payload bay doors or latches.

As Wisoff and Smith worked through their syllabus, which including four underwater sessions covering most orbiter repair tasks, I visited them to refresh my memory on their tools and to take some photos of the two as they prepared to plunge into the 25-foot-deep pool. I had trained for this same job on STS-59 a few months earlier.

Here, Wisoff is fully suited on the donning stand and ready to begin his training class. Smith is on the other side of the stand. Crewmate and Endeavour pilot, Terry Wilcutt, took the photo.

Tom Jones with Wisoff

Tom Jones with EV1 crewmember Jeff Wisoff at NASA’s Weightless Environment Training Facility, 1994. Photo Credit: Terry Wilcutt / NASA

Wilcutt and I discussed Smith and Wisoff’s work poolside at the Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF) in Building 29 at Johnson Space Center. This building had once housed the Apollo-era centrifuge, but with the advent of the Space Shuttle, the centrifuge gave way to the new WETF swimming pool for EVA training. The building also housed control consoles, life support systems, tool storage, a medical office, and diver and astronaut locker facilities. Additionally, an ambulance was always parked at the WETF entrance during suited runs underwater.

We all had a chance to drive the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier just in case we had to evacuate an injured crewmember from the blast bunker and get him to a nearby helipad.

Our crew posed on the launch pad next to Endeavour during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) activities. This swing-arm carries flammable, gaseous hydrogen away from the External Tank during launch preparations. It’s amazing to get so close to this massive machinery, even more startling to realize you’re going to ride it off the planet.

STS-68 during TCDT

The STS-68 crew on the External Tank umbilical swing arm during TCDT activities, August 1994. Photo Credit: NASA

The AstroVan is now on display near Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Will it roll again? Here we’re loose and joking, but the atmosphere’s a little more tense on the day of the real ride to the launch pad.

STS-68 in AstroVan

Inside the AstroVan on the way to the launch pad during TCDT, August 1994. Photo Credit: NASA

As we waited for our strap-in and countdown rehearsal aboard Endeavour, we took some photos atop the launch pad.

Smith and I would work on the Blue Shift together with Dan Bursch while in orbit. Smith rode uphill in the Mission Specialist 1 (MS-1) position on the flight deck next to flight engineer and MS-2, Bursch.

Our countdown rehearsal ended with a mock pad abort and an emergency egress from the crew module to the escape slide baskets on the western, or far side of the 195-foot level.

Photos on pad during STS-68

Tom Jones, Steve Smith, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch wait atop Pad 39A’s 195-foot-level at the entrance to the swing arm and White Room, Aug. 1, 1994. Photo Credit: NASA

Following lunch back at crew quarters, we headed back to the pad for an afternoon press conference near the blast bunker on the pad perimeter road.

On the shot below, the slide wires for the escape baskets are visible, reaching back to the 195-foot level at Pad 39A. It was a hot August day on the Florida Space Coast.

STS-68 near the blast bunker

The crew of STS-68 near the blast bunker. Photo Credit: NASA

Two days before the launch of STS-68, the crew arrived at the Cape beach house for BBQ with family members. NASA had rented us some nifty Chrysler LeBaron convertibles.

STS-68 crew at the beach house

The crew visits family members at the beach house near the Kennedy Space Center 48 hours before the launch. From left to right: Steve Smith, Mike Baker, Tom Jones, Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch. Photo Credit: NASA

The day before launch, our food technicians start loading the contents of the fresh food locker: Wheat Thins in ziplocs, tortillas into dark green packages, squeezable cheese spread, picante sauce packets, peanut butter, empty water pouches, my TastyKake chocolate cupcakes and butterscotch krimpets, and (ahem) white packets of high-fiber cookies.

After our pad abort on August 18, we were all eager to go. Here are the four “Hairballs” from the 1990 astronaut group flying on STS-68: Jones, Wilcutt, Wisoff, and Bursch. In the background of the suit room, we see Hoot Gibson (chief astronaut) in the blue flight suit, with tan-suited Dave Leestma (chief of Flight Crew Operations) on the right. We would shortly walk to the AstroVan for our ride to Pad 39A.

"Hairballs" in the suit room

Left to right: Tom Jones, Terry Wilcutt, Jeff Wisoff, and Dan Bursch suit up for STS-68. Photo Credit: NASA

Tom and Liz Jones at the launch pad

Tom and Liz Jones tour Endeavour at Launch Pad 39A a couple of days before the launch of STS-68. Photo Credit: Rich Clifford / NASA

In the photo above, Liz and I posed in front of Endeavour as part of our spouse’s tour before heading to night viewing with our friends and family. We were able to see the ship from top to bottom, from the White Room down to the flame trench beneath the mobile launch platform on Pad 39A. The photo was likely taken on Aug. 17, 1994.

For more info on STS-68, see:

Tom Jones, Ph.D., is a planetary scientist and former astronaut. He flew into space aboard STS-59, STS-68, STS-80 and STS-98. He is also the author of Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, and Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System.



Thomas D. Jones, PhD, is a scientist, author, pilot, and veteran NASA astronaut. In more than eleven years with NASA, he flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. On his last flight, Dr. Jones led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has spent fifty-three days working and living in space.

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *