VALPARAISO | They came from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio for a book signing by the record-setting astronaut from Crown Point who's now written an autobiography about his space adventures.
The lines started forming at the Barnes & Noble store at 3 p.m., two hours before the scheduled book signing by veteran astronaut Jerry Ross, said Todd Bushong, an employee of the store.
Those lines continued for hours, with the wait as long as 20 minutes or more, as the affable astronaut chatted patiently with admiring children and adults alike.
"I'll wait as long as it takes," said firefighter Leonard Johnson, of Park Ridge, Ill.
Also a pilot and an aviation buff, Johnson would be presenting Ross with a photo of a team of students Johnson mentored on a rocket project that won the attention of NASA through the Student Launch Initiative, a program to promote interest in the fields of science and engineering.
Ross, 65, signed not only copies of his new book, "Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA's Record-Setting Frequent Flyer," but a LaPorte boy's astronaut helmet and mementos from adults who called him an inspiration.
Seven-year-old Jadyn Ransom, of LaPorte, wore the spacesuit and helmet his grandmother had bought at a garage sale.
"He wanted to see a real live spaceman," said his stepmother, Rebecca Johnson.
Taking off the helmet for Ross' signature, Jadyn replaced it with a woolen cap.
"Is this on because you have space hair?" Ross joked.
"It's been a great thing to serve my country," Ross told another effusive admirer.
A Crown Point native, Ross visits the town annually, especially the school named after him.
Among those at the book signing were Joseph Ferkull, of Crown Point, and his fourth-grade daughter, Brooke. They were there on a blustery winter night even though Ross will be speaking Monday at Brooke's school, Jerry Ross Elementary in Winfield, and also the Crown Point Community Library.
Ferkull carried a plaque belonging to his son, which he would ask Ross to sign.
Robert Bailey, of Hobart, brought his two children, 11-year-old Falen and 10-year-old Asa, all of whom called Ross "inspiring."
"It shows what you can be if you really try," Falen said.
Substitute teacher Mike Wyatt, of Valparaiso, said he picked up Ross' book last week out of a common interest with Ross, both being Purdue graduates.
Ross has flown 21 different types of aircraft throughout his long career, according to his NASA bio.
He is a veteran of seven space flights, comprising a world record he shares with only one other astronaut. Named an astronaut in May 1980, he retired from NASA in January 2012.