CROWN POINT | Jerry Ross, who is retiring Friday after serving his country for 40 years as a NASA astronaut and in the U.S. Air Force, never forgets his Crown Point roots.
"I would like to thank all the folks back home for their support and their interest and all the people who helped to educate me and made me ready for the challenges I faced and helped me to a very happy and successful career," said Ross, a Crown Point High School graduate.
He said one of his biggest honors was having Crown Point's Jerry Ross Elementary School named after him. Ross, who regularly visits the school, plans to return in 2013 after his autobiography, "Space Walker," is published.
Ross flew his Crown Point High School letterman's sweater on a space mission, returning it to the school for display. He also flew a brass letter "P," which Purdue University added to the chain of the famous football trophy, the Old Oaken Bucket. The award is annually given to the winner of the Big Ten Conference football game between Indiana University and Purdue University.
In addition to many presentations at local schools, Ross connected with students at Crown Point's Lake Street Elementary School via ham radio during a space mission.
In addition to being selected as an astronaut in 1980, Ross has many special memories of his career.
"The first space flight is always going to be a sweet one, one to remember," Ross said. "Also, just the fact that I got to be here for that long, and to fly seven flights and do nine space walks."
The first time Ross saw Earth from space he said he thought, "What a beautiful place God has created for us to live."
Another career highlight for Ross was flight testing on the B-1 bombers for the U.S. Air Force.
Ross has bittersweet memories of the losses of the two space shuttles and his friends on both crews. As chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office, Ross helped astronauts prepare for flight, ran the hotel/quarantine facility at Kennedy Space Center and stayed with them through launch and landing.
Ross' advice to students who dream of becoming an astronaut: "First of all, you really have to want it."
"It's a long, hard path to get there, a lot of work and studying," he said. "It takes determination and stick-to-it-ness, but it's all well worth it in the end."
Of his career path, Ross said, "I wouldn't change a thing, and I would sign up again tomorrow."