Jerry Ross, many know the name. He was a high flying astronaut who holds the world record for most space flights taken by one person (seven to be exact), and this week’s Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight.
Ross was born and raised in Crown Point, making his way through the school system. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be an engineer. He attended Purdue University and received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering in the early 1970s. He also joined the Air Force ROTC while in college, and went active duty with the Air Force afterward. During his time in the military he flew 21 different types of aircraft. He retired from the Air Force in 2000.
Ross came to NASA after being assigned to the Payload Operations Division at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center while he was in the Air Force in 1979. He was a payload officer, in charge of integrating military payload flight operations onto the space shuttle. A year later, he was selected to be an astronaut. Between then and 2012, Ross was sent out into space seven times, each time being different.
“I helped repair satellites, build the International Space Station, conduct experiments, and I held various positions among the crew,” Ross said. “When you’re out there and working you don’t get to really enjoy things but when you do get a breath you try to take it all in.” The most interesting photos ever taken of Northwest Indiana came from Ross as he took a series of them from space in the 1980s. He says that his most memorable time in space was one time when he was out doing work on a mechanical arm.
“My people inside told me to take a break for a few minutes. So I turned off the light in my helmet and looked at the Earth and stars,” Ross said. “I was a tourist just enjoying the universe. At that moment I had a strange feeling that I was at one with the universe. I was out doing what God wanted me to do. I was out, using my hands and my brain, doing what I wanted. What a reassuring thought and emotion it was.”
Ross is not only an astronaut, he’s and author as well. His books include his autobiography titled “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer”, a children's book called “Becoming a Spacewalker, My Journey to the Stars”, and a third book which is a compilation of 14 diaries written by a woman who was married to Ross's great-great-grandfather, beginning in 1889.
Though retired, Ross still does speaking events at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston. In his free time, he loves to spend time with his two kids and grandchildren, and he loves to travel with his wife. They recently returned from a trip to Australia and Fiji, and they already have their next trip booked for Normandy.