Simone Thomas Shares Experiences As An Astronaut's Wife

Simone Thomas (left) listens as her husband,  retired NASA Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas, speaks to New Knoxville studens on Tuesday after Simone shared her story about her days as an astronaut’s wife. Tuesday’s speech is a part of the 2019 Committee’s 50th anniversary of the Neil Armstrong moon land.
Staff Writer

Students at New Knoxville School got a rare treat Tuesday morning. Not only did they get to see pictures of what life was like for astronauts and their families during the early days of the space shuttle, they got to hear from a woman who lived it.

Simone Thomas, wife of retired NASA Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas, came to the Little City to talk to students about her experiences and to help kick off the year of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the lunar surface.

Simone, born in Germany, was working for the Germany Space Program and took several work trips to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas before she was permanently stationed there. During one of her trips to the space center, Thomas met her husband, Don, as he finished training to be an astronaut. While they were dating, Don was assigned to his first space flight and by the time he launched into the stars, they were married.

“The first time [Don got a flight assignment], I was totally super happy for him,” she said. “The problem is, when your husband is assigned to a mission, they have a lot of training and preparation. You cannot rely on them; long hours, often on the weekends, they will miss birthdays, anniversaries and the training schedule is not only running their lives but yours as well.”

Training began for Don’s 15-day trip aboard the space shuttle Columbia (STS-65) in 1992 and Simone, who was working with NASA’s Human Life Sciences Program, got her first of four experiences as an astronaut’s spouse.

“The first time, you are all excited because you know that is their dream and of course you support your husband because that is his dream,” Thomas said. “The second time, you’re thinking, ‘OK, we’ll go through this again,’ and by the third time, you think, ‘Really, again?’ 

“You are happy for your spouse and you support them but it’s also a stressful time in your life. It’s not all fun.”

Thomas admitted though that she had some perks that other spouses didn’t necessarily have. As a NASA employee, she got to work with her husband in some professional aspects throughout his training. 

Other experiences she had were shared with other astronaut wives, such as visiting their husbands in some of the simulators, touring the space center and bonding with the families of the other crew members for a flight. Thomas recalled playing volleyball and having cookouts with the other wives as a few of the examples of how the families interacted before launch.

One particular launch preparation had a special — and local — touch. 

“During [the preparation for] Don’s third mission, we got a phone call,” Thomas said. “They told us, ‘Neil Armstrong is in the crew quarters and he wants to meet you.’”

Prior to Don’s third flight, STS-83 aboard Columbia, he had written a personal letter to Armstrong telling the first man on the moon that he was Thomas’ hero and inviting him to the launch.

“Nobody expected him to show up,” Simone said. “It was actually the first shuttle launch he had been to.”

To read the full story, see Wednesday's print edition of The Evening Leader.