Saturday, June 22, 2013

Astronaut Jerry Ross at FPL: excerpt from his book Spacewalker

Friendswood astronaut Jerry Ross will speak at the Friendswood Public Library on Thursday, July 11 at 7pm.

Below is an excerpt from Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer by Jerry L. Ross.



Sputnik, a mouse, and blackberry pie


 When I was little, some kids said they wanted to be farmers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, baseball players, or firemen.  But I couldn’t say I wanted to be an astronaut.

     When I was born on January 20, 1948, there were no astronauts. There were no space capsules or Space Shuttles.  There was no NASA and no International Space Station.  Orville Wright ---who with this brother, Wilbur, designed, built, and flew the world’s first airplane---was still alive. He died ten days later at the age of seventy-six.

     Airplane flight was barely forty-four years old, and the term “Jet Age” was so new it was rarely used.  The real “Jet Age” was still a few years away, and the “Space Age” would drop right on top of it as daring pilots such as Chuck Yeager pushed the boundaries of possibility.  On October 14, 1947, Chuck had piloted the Bell X-1 airplane and flew faster than the speed of sound for the first time.

     The only spacemen in 1948 were Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, and they were in comic books and movies.  While space had captured the imaginations of science fiction writers and some scientists, the public viewed spacemen as whimsically as the “Man in the Moon.” Space travel was still a fantasy.

     In 1948, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who later would become the second American in space and the first person in the world to be launched twice, was a sophomore studying engineering at Purdue University, seventy miles south of my northern Indiana hometown. He’d probably never heard the word “astronaut.” He wanted to be a United States Air Force pilot.  Neil Armstrong was an eighteen-year-old Purdue freshman with no idea that in twenty-one years he would put his bootprints on the Moon.

     While they could not know what lay ahead, the future was brewing inside them as they walked across the redbrick campus carrying thick calculus and physics textbooks and slide rules holstered in leather cases. The next twenty-one years would transform the world, and I lived through it.  It made me what I am today.

     I am an astronaut. 
In my life I have seen views of Earth and the universe from a perspective once known only to God.  Any yet, I grew up in a time so distant from today that electric can openers were considered high tech. And my family didn’t have one.
     I have launched into space seven times and ventured into the blackness of the universe on nine spacewalks.

     From two hundred miles high I have watched lightning pop through dark clouds stretched across the Amazon, seen the Himalayas reach up to greet me, and looked down at the Indiana hometown from where I once looked up at the stars.

     The world we live in today was unimaginable when I was a boy, and space has made the difference.  In the twenty-first century, all of us are as closely linked to space as the cellular phones in our pockets.  We are linked to space by television, financial transactions, the Internet, weather forecasts, and GPS.  The technology we employ every day has been made possible by space systems.  Our exploration of space has not only opened up the universe and fostered new technologies that we use here on Earth, but it has also taught us about our planet and its environment. The impact has been revolutionary.

     Thirty years of that exploration was dominated by a ship that was launched, returned to Earth, and sent back into orbit again---the Space Shuttle.  We were awed by it, inspired by it, and sometimes saddened by it.  And I was there for it all---from the first Shuttle mission to the last.  It was the adventure of my life.  Now the Space Shuttle program has run its course, the orbiters are in museums, and I am very concerned that America is walking away from its hard-earned leadership in space. 

     Our missions were filled with danger, excitement, hard work, tension-breaking laughter, and good times as we launched off the face of the Earth in an explosion that could be seen, heard, and felt miles away.  We did things no one had ever done before.  I want to share the amazing experiences I had pursuing my dream and help you understand what it felt like to ride those rockets and walk in space.

     We saw views that no camera has ever been able to fully capture.  Seeing the beauty of Earth from orbit along with the enormity, complexity, and the order of the universe strengthened my faith in a loving God who gave us a beautiful, fragile place to live.  I want to share how God has directed my path with the hope that others will choose to experience their own journeys in faith.

     My journey wasn’t easy.  It was difficult.  It came with all the failures and setbacks that are part of life.  I reached my dreams by always believing in them---no matter how distant they seemed---and by sticking with them through trial, error, and success.  I want you to know that the incredible dreams inside you, whatever they might be and wherever they might take you, can be within your grasp if you believe and persevere.

     My journey in space, faith, and life all began at the same time, in the same place, in the all-American Midwest town of Crown Point, Indiana, in an era when the Moon was still unreachable but a boy’s dreams could take him to the stars…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

last night: Louisiana Rogue

Local author Harold Raley shed insight into the making of his fabulous new novel Louisiana Rogue with a full house at the Friendswood Public Library.  The audience learned about rogue novels and about the historical events and locations running throughout Louisiana Rogue.  The Friendswood Public Library was honored to host this book release event.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

National Spelling Bee Championship Round speller Syamantak Payra at FPL

Syamantak Payra of Friendswood made it into the Championship Round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee!  Syamantak also won a gold medal in the Physics/Astronomy division at this year’s CCISD Science Fair. The Payra family sent the Friendswood library a very nice message:

We are so proud of the Friendswood Public Library - it has a wonderful collection and we love the warm, cordial nature of all the staff members. In fact, Syamantak used a lot of materials from the Friendswood Public Library while he was preparing for the National Spelling Bee!

The Friendswood Public Library is also proud of Syamantak and all of his amazing accomplishments!
Syamantak Payra with his parents and FPL staff member Michelle Farthing (2nd from left)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

excerpt from Harold Raley's Louisiana Rogue

Author Harold Raley will speak about his new book, Louisiana Rogue, at the Friendswood Public Library on Monday, June 17 at 7pm.

Below is an excerpt from Harold Raley’s Louisiana Rogue: The Life and Times of Pierre Prospère-Tourmoulin:


Part III: How Peter descended from the heavens and was reunited with Father Branigan; his seminary studies for the priesthood; how He and Lawler Adkins were cleverly relieved of their funds and left holding a braying ass; and how they parted ways.

     Far, far from Memphis I flew in fair Caroline’s balloon.  Hours passed as the south wind moaned and the basket swayed and creaked, carrying me with immeasurable velocity along the serpentine course of the Mississippi.  Occasional river craft greeted my passing with their deep-throated horns, and I could make out the ant-like figures of passengers waving their tiny arms at me.
     The day finished and night passed as the balloon continued its uncharted celestial trajectory.  As morning broke again, I perceived that my curious conveyance had descended alarmingly from its once majestic career. Only then did I espy the bullet hole from which the captured gas was escaping. It was too high for me to reach, and even by some unlikely maneuver I should attain it, I had no means at my disposal for stanching its wound, nor of knowing whether the bullet had torn another hole opposite the first.  A desperate thought crossed my mind that by discarding the coins I might gain time and distance, for a survey of the landscape now revealed only a featureless expanse of swampy desolation.  This alternative I rejected out of hand: it was better to fall rich than float poor. 
     But upon closer inspection of my purloined fortune, it appeared that float or fall, I would not do so as a rich man.  The sum was vastly inferior to my expectations, barely exceeding two hundred dollars.  Indeed some of the coins---sixty or seventy unless my memory fails---were Spanish milled dollars, but the others---greater in number---were inferior American coins worth much less.  I cursed Pollard anew.
     By noonday I was riding at treetop level, and before another hour passed the basket touched ground, at first with a mere brush, then with rude bounces and the crashing of branches and slapping of grasses.  I was reconciled to ending my flight on this contemptible terrain when a gust of wind lifted me momentarily above the trees and carried me towards what appeared to be a forested creekbed.  The balloon swooped into the dark void, made a valiant effort to clear the opposing slope and with a  stunning thud slammed into profuse underbrush.  The basket was demolished by the impact and I, thrown clear of my craft, rolled several meters towards the water.  The chemise and cravat were stained by dirt and grass, and I abandoned them with a momentary sadness.
     Like a dying behemoth, the balloon billowed and rippled as it strained to lift itself from the ensnarling branches.  But its life was spent, and gradually the valentine heart settled to its death, draped across the scrub. My flight had ended. I had come to earth again, though I knew not where or in what circumstances.
     Shedding my dress, I strapped my coins and other possessions around my body, then slid and stumbled my way down to the creek bed. No doubt I exaggerate by giving such a wholesome appellation to the paltry stream I discovered there.  For in truth it was but a sliver of water meandering from pool to pool amidst sandy banks. On these I perceived a multitude of animal tracks, but ignorant of nature and lacking the hunter’s eye, I could not discern whether they were of beasts placid or predatory.  Nor found I any human trace amongst them.
     I was ravenously thirsty and hungry.  I slaked my thirst in one of the pools, but the prospects for food were so unlikely as to conjure up before me the fearful specter of starvation.  I saw fish darting about in the deeper pools, but without hook and line or spear to snare them or fire to cook them, I could fathom no means of converting them into sustenance.  Searching further downstream, I discovered a few late-season blackberries that I devoured in frenzied haste.
     The berries and water abated my appetite sufficiently for me to consider my options with a clearer head.  My earlier aerial survey of the landscape afforded me no clue of human habitation and dispelled any profitless thought of abandoning the creek bed for the forested plain.
     As I pondered these dreary possibilities, I thought to perceive human voices, but listening intently for a time, I saw no one and decided with some concern for my health that my mind, weakened by all that beset me, was playing tricks on me…