Jerry Stone - Author Picture

Jerry Stone - Author

I’ve been following the space programme for over 40 years; I give public talks about it and present space workshops in schools, and of course I also write about it. So to come back to your first question, I’m still very interested in space, and I love to tell other people about it – especially those at school who are fascinated by it like I was at their age. What I hope is that some of those young people will follow careers in science that will mean some of them could actually go into space in the future.


1. Why does space interest you?
This is a great question to start with.
Back when I was in my early teens there were some people who asked me why I was interested in space. You may find this odd, but that created a problem for me, because I couldn’t understand why they had to ask! Wasn’t it obvious? This was the most amazing thing that mankind had ever done! Nothing like this had ever happened in the entire history of the human race!
Of course there have been other voyages of discovery, and I don’t mean to put down the achievements of people like Christopher Columbus, James Cook, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan. What they did was remarkable, but when it comes down to it, they travelled from one country to … another country. They found other people. The sun shone down out of a blue sky, though it may have sometimes rained, but there was food to eat, water to drink and air to breathe, and their weight stayed pretty much the same. Because they didn’t leave the planet. They didn’t go hurtling out into space at 5 miles per second – fast enough to circle the Earth in 90 minutes. They didn’t rocket out away from the planet at 25,000 mph to cross a quarter of a million miles of space and land somewhere else entirely.
I will never forget that magical night back in July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and I consider myself privileged to have been able to watch – live – as men from Earth walked for the very first time on the surface of another world.

2. What about the moon landing – which part did you like best?
Obviously I was spellbound by watching the astronauts exploring the surface of the Moon, and what was incredible was the fact that I could watch, along with 600 million others. That was something that no-one had predicted.
What was really amazing was realising that after these years, it was really happening. Up until then, flights to the Moon had been science fiction, and if flying to the Moon – which for so long was a way of referring to something that was impossible – could actually happen, then why couldn’t other things happen. It gave the whole human race a great sense of optimism, and a feeling that if we really put our minds to it, we could do anything.

3. Who is your favourite astronaut and why?
This is more difficult. One of the greatest is Jim Lovell, who was one of the first men to fly to the Moon on Apollo 8 and then on Apollo 13 he brought his crew back to Earth after the on-board explosion. If I had to pick out one that I really admire, it would be John Young. He flew on two Gemini missions and two Apollo flights to the Moon, including one where he explored the surface for 3 days. He was then the commander of the first Space Shuttle mission, in a spacecraft that had never flown before, becoming the first person to fly in space 5 times. He finished his spaceflight career as the first person to make 6 flights, being the commander of the first Shuttle mission to carry the European Spacelab. Yet if you were to ask him about his remarkable achievements, he’d probably reply; “Aw shucks, t’aint nothing!”

4. Why hasn’t there been another moon landing?
Various people will say that there was no point in repeating the landings once we had shown that it was possible, but that is like saying to Columbus; “Well, so you’ve crossed the Atlantic - there’s no need to do it again.” It may be more difficult to fly to the Moon, but there is a lot to be gained. We learned more about the Moon in 3 years of the Apollo landings than in all the hundreds of previous years of observing it from Earth. There were six crews that landed on the Moon; the last was in December 1972, as three missions that were supposed to follow had been cancelled. Contrary to many reports, the space programme is not that expensive – it just seems so because the amounts are made public, and the activities are very public. In fact the NASA budget, of which only part is spent on space, is only around 1% of US government spending. They spend much more on health, education and social security, and much, much more on defense. In fact, the amount the US was spending on its operations in Iraq could have paid for a manned flight to Mars in less than 2 months. We can do all kinds of thing in space – we need the political commitment to do them.

5. What is happening now with space travel – what missions are planned?
The main activity at the moment is the continuing construction of the International Space Station (ISS). This is a joint project involving many countries and will result in a huge laboratory in orbit around the Earth, with a crew of six on board at all times. The main craft that launches sections of the ISS is the Space Shuttle, but once the ISS is complete in 2010 the Shuttle will be retired, and NASA is currently developing new craft that will come into use around 2014. This is called Orion and will be used to carry up to 6 people to and from the ISS. It will also be used to take 4 people to the Moon, with a lander called Altair. Unlike Apollo, which had 2 people at a time going down to the surface of the Moon, Altair will land with all four of its crew, and they will stay not for a few days but for weeks. The first flights back to the Moon are due to take place around 2020, so this is a really exciting time to be following the space programme, watching the development of the craft and the boosters, the selection and training of the crews, and – ultimately – the missions themselves. Meanwhile we have plans for unmanned spacecraft to help us explore space; new space telescopes in orbit around the Earth; more sophisticated craft to explore Mars; probes to the outer planets and their families of moons.
What is really exciting is the long-term plan to send astronauts to Mars. If the people who land there around the year 2037 will be the same age that the Apollo astronauts were when they landed on the Moon, it means that right now, they are in their final years at primary school. If that’s where you are at the moment, then you could be about the right age to go to Mars ... So study hard at science, mathematics and engineering, go to university and one day you could apply to be an astronaut and travel to another world!

6. Which of the planets would you like to explore and why?
I would love to go to either the Moon or Mars. The moon as no atmosphere, so the sky is black; day and night each last for two weeks and the gravity is only 1/6 of Earth’s. All of this combines to let you really know that you are on another world. Mars has an atmosphere, though you still need a spacesuit as it’s nearly all carbon dioxide and it’s never above freezing, but you do get a bright sky – even if it is pink! A Martian day last just over half an hour longer than a day on Earth, so that’s something you could get used to, and the gravity is 1/3 that on Earth, which would make it comfortable to get around wearing a spacesuit and backpack.
Mars has 4 times the surface area of the Moon – as much as the land area of Earth – it really is a whole planet to explore, with polar caps and the biggest mountains and the biggest canyons in the solar system. If we want new lands to explore, and the opportunity to learn more about the solar system and the history of the planets, then Mars is the place!

© 2009 Jerry Stone

Featured Books, with extracts, by Jerry Stone

One Small Step
Jerry Stone
For all space enthusiasts, this scrapbook created by 14-year old Mike is an inspiring collection of the best moon-landing memorabilia and mind-boggling photos, as well as being packed with the latest amazing space science and indeed the future of space...
Lovereading Price: £11.99 - Saving £3.00 (20%) Featured in: 7+ readers
Format: Hardback | Released 15/12/2008
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