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May 15, 2004     467 Words

Astronaut Journeys to the Heavens to Find God

CINCINNATI—For many, it's almost instinctual to look up to the heavens when talking to God. Very few of us, however, are offered the chance to take a trip into the sky to hang out in God's neighborhood. Astronaut Thomas D. Jones was given such an opportunity—four opportunities to be exact—totaling 53 days in orbit. Even while floating in space, Jones's faith, central to his life, kept him grounded.

The story of Thomas D. Jones, his unusual and thrilling profession, along with his faith in God, are featured in the June cover story "Reaching the Heavens: An Astronaut's Spiritual Journey." Jones, an author, scientist and astronaut, details the ins-and-outs of his remarkable life: the missions, the preparation, the perspiration and the exultation of finding God among the stars. After May 20, the story will be posted at:

Like many kids, Thomas D. Jones, an Oakton, Virginia, native wanted to be an astronaut. He studied the solar system while earning a doctorate in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona. At the age of 39, Jones got his wish, as one of six crew members onboard the shuttle Endeavour. Their 11-day mission in 1994 was to carry aloft the Space Radar Laboratory, a cutting-edge science instrument that would use radar echoes to map natural and man-made changes on Earth's continents and oceans.

Though Endeavour's mission was one of scientific research, Jones saw himself and his comrades as instruments of God. "Our rocket-borne voyage was the leading edge of humanity's—of life's—expansion into the cosmos," he writes. "We were not only explorers but also agents of God's creative force."

Once in orbit, Jones and his colleagues got to work. Circling the globe once every 90 minutes, an awe-struck Jones floated in wonder at the world before him. "Looking at Earth's varied surface, nestled within a cocoon of delicate atmosphere," he writes, "I couldn't help but marvel at the infinite power behind its creation."

Three more missions followed, the last occurring in February of 2001, where Jones and his team constructed and equipped a science lab in Destiny.

Even though he was miles from his parish, Jones kept his faith alive, reading Bible passages, saying the Rosary and having Communion services on the flight deck. Jones knows that his travels may have been guided by NASA, but God was at the controls.

"I felt so…privileged to be part of a scene so obviously set by God. Emotions welled up inside: gratitude for the chance to experience this vista, wonder that our minds can appreciate God's glories, humility at my miniscule place in God's limitless universe."


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