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Book tells soaring story of local astronaut

Crown Point native Jerry Ross his formal phohis astronaut gear. | Courtesy NASA~Sun-Times Media

Crown Point native Jerry Ross in his formal photo in his astronaut gear. | Courtesy of NASA~Sun-Times Media

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Book signings

Crown Point native Jerry Ross will sign copies of his book, “Spacewalker,” at the following locations:

5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 2 at Barnes & Noble, 150 Silhavy Road, Valparaiso; 531-6551

4 to 7:45 p.m. Feb. 4 and 4 to 7:45 p.m. Feb. 6 at Crown Point Community Library, 122 N. Main St., 663-0270

6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 5 at Lowell Public Library, 1505 E. Commercial Ave., 696-7704

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:06AM



Crown Point native Jerry Ross has logged seven outer space flights.

That puts him in a tie with another high flier for the title of most-launched astronaut in history.

In a recent phone interview, Ross summed up his journey to an enviable career of galactic adventures.

“Things aren’t always easy,” said the retired Air Force colonel/flight-test engineer and veteran of nine spacewalks. “I wasn’t a straight-A student. I had to study hard. I was just a normal kid ... but I had a dream; I had a vision.”

Ross, a 1966 graduate of Crown Point High School, said his dream became a reality that made him a record-setter in the risky realm of space flight: “I was the first person to fly seven times.”

The story of a life of exploration is captured in his new book, “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer” ($29.95, hardback; Purdue University Press).

The man who once served as Spacelab payload commander wants a message to emerge from his written retrospective about service to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“I tried to write it to young children; I’ve always tried to get them to understand that they are unique individuals,” said the 65-year-old Ross, who retired from NASA in January 2012.

Ross wants to drive home the point that he was the son of a steelworker from an “All-American Midwest town” who achieved dreams by notching more than 1,300 hours in space.

Similar dreams, he believes, are within the grasp of kids everywhere who buy into the belief that “they have unique capabilities and talents.”

Released this year, Ross’ book has e-book and app spinoffs, in addition to a Feb. 7 celebration at the Purdue Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections area in Stewart Center at the West Lafayette campus. The enhanced e-book includes almost 30 videos and about 50 images.

The Apple iPad app features an interactive quiz and videos.

Ross has a master’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue.

He wrote his new book with the help of John Norberg, an author who is director of communications for development at Purdue in West Lafayette.

“Jerry Ross’ story is really inspiring on a number of levels,” Norberg said. “Jerry Ross is a guy who wanted to fly in space from the time he was in fourth grade. He really worked hard to accomplish that. There were several setbacks along the way.”

Hard work needed

Ross concedes in his book that he had to “work hard” to soak in the material of his freshman engineering courses at Purdue.

At the end of his second semester, the future space whiz could only manage a D grade in calculus.

Born at Methodist Hospital in Gary, Ross came into the world “six weeks premature, skinny and blue,” according to his own account.

But he went on to become a mission specialist on a space shuttle that docked with the Russian space station Mir.

The sky, as it turned out, was the limit.

“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,” Ross, an astronaut on the Atlantis space shuttle, writes in this new book.

Norberg, a Lafayette resident, said the book seeks to give readers a feel for what being an astronaut is all about, including spacewalking.

There is, said Norberg, an effort to convey the sensation of how it is to leave “the space shuttle itself in your own spacesuit and go out and suddenly emerge into the infinity of space.”

Danger, of course, also is part of spaceship travel.

Ross recalled one shuttle mission when “the insulating tiles on the outside surface of the orbiter” were severely damaged.

The spacecraft’s skin nearly burned through.

“We didn’t know how bad it was and whether or not we’d be able to survive the re-entry,” said Ross, a husband and father of two who lives in the Houston area of Texas.

NWI ties in the book

His sister, Jan Rattazzi, resides in Crown Point and teaches at Crown Point High School.

To no one’s surprise, it’s a kick for her to have a brother as a famous astronaut: “I’m really proud of him. It’s been really neat being part of that.”

Rattazzi has read “Spacewalker,” and notes her older brother doesn’t forget his roots in the biographical effort.

“For those people who are from Crown Point, you’re gonna see him talking about things locally,” Rattazzi, 59, said.

Ross remembers that when he was a kid, Virgil “Gus” Grissom of Mitchell, Ind., “caused a lot of excitement where I lived” when NASA, in 1959, introduced Grissom as one of the pioneering Mercury astronauts.

“He flew the second ever U.S. manned flight (in space),” Ross said.

Grissom, like Ross, studied at Purdue.

A 1967 space-capsule fire during a launch-pad test claimed Grissom’s life.

Both Ross and Grissom rank as notable Hoosiers in NASA’s space program, which Ross believes has fallen on hard times.

“Overall, it’s a very frustrating period for the individuals working within NASA,” the ex-spacewalker said.

An ambitious program has been hampered that, according to Ross, “would have led us to sending a human mission to Mars.”

He thinks the Obama administration has not exactly supplied enthusiastic backing for such goals.

“I kind of feel like the country’s objectives in the human space program right now are ill-defined,” Ross said.

But he will spread the word about America’s proud astronaut tradition at a series of local book signings for “Spacewalker.”

According to Ross, proceeds from sales of his book at the signings will benefit library and school causes in the area, as well as aid the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana, located at the Purdue University Calumet campus in Hammond.



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