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Jerry L. Ross papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 283
The Jerry L. Ross papers document Ross' student life at Purdue, his test flight engineer work, and NASA career as an engineer and astronaut. The collection includes Purdue coursework and memorabilia; papers from Ross' work at Edwards Air Force Base, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and Test Pilot School; NASA Space Shuttle training, mission documents and mission related scrapbooks, memorabilia, and flight crew films and interviews, along with documents and maps from Ross’ work on Space Shuttle Columbia accident recovery operation.  Also included are 64 NASA publications, 45 aerospace, aviation and Purdue journals and publications. Examples of the types of materials in the collection include Purdue textbooks, aircraft flight test manuals, flight reports, mission plans, and checklists for the B-1 aircraft, Test Pilot School materials, NASA course materials, and Space Shuttle Mission checklists, manuals, handbooks, an oral history interview, and 16mm and VHS films. There are numerous clippings featuring Ross and fellow astronauts, space shuttle missions, NASA history, Purdue astronaut reunion and other events. In particular, this collection provides an insider’s view of space exploration, and a window through which we may begin to understand and take measure of the era of the US Space Shuttle Program.


  • 1940-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1970-2000


Access Information

Collection is open for research. Per donor request, some DVDs and VHS cassettes are listed as restricted, consult with archivist. Two folders contain confidential information and are marked as restricted.

Copyright and Use Information

Rights held by Purdue University per deed of gift.


46.10 Cubic Feet (13 c.f. boxes, 53 full width letter size mss boxes, 4 half width letter size mss box, 13 full width legal size mss, 5 half width legal size mss boxes, 1 large flight suit box, 4 large flat boxes, 1 sm)


This collection includes materials that document Ross' student life at Purdue, his test flight engineer work, and NASA career as an engineer and astronaut. The collection includes Purdue coursework and memorabilia; papers from Ross' work at Edwards Air Force Base, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and Test Pilot School; NASA Space Shuttle training and mission documents, memorabilia, and flight crew films and interviews. Examples of the types of materials in the collection include aircraft flight test manuals, flight reports, mission plans, and checklists for the B-1 aircraft, Test Pilot School materials, NASA course materials, and Space Shuttle Mission checklists, manuals, handbooks, an oral history interview, and 16mm and VHS films. In particular, this collection provides an insider’s view of space exploration, and a window through which we may begin to understand and take measure of the era of the United States Space Shuttle Program.

Biographical Information

Jerry L. Ross was born in Crown Point, Indiana on January 20, 1948 to Donald and Phyllis (Dillabaugh) Ross. On January 25, 1970, he married Karen Sue Pearson, who he had met at Purdue University. He received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1970 and 1972, respectively. Ross was an Air Force ROTC student at Purdue and received his commission upon graduation. After completing his master’s degree, he entered active duty with the Air Force and was assigned to the Aero-Propulsion Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Among several assignments at WrightPatterson, Ross conducted computer-aided design studies on ramjet and mixedcycle propulsion systems and served as the project engineer for tests of a supersonic ramjet missile. Ross graduated from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School’s Flight Test Engineer Course in 1976 and was subsequently assigned to the 6510th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force base, California. While on assignment to the 6510th’s Flight Test Engineering Directorate, he was project engineer on a limited flying qualities evaluation of the RD-135S aircraft and as lead B-1 flying qualities flight test engineer. He was responsible for the stability and control and flight control system testing performed on the B-1 aircraft, along with being chief B-1 flight test engineer, for training and supervising all Air Force B-1 flight test engineer crewmembers and for performing mission planning for the B-1 offensive avionics test aircraft. Ross has flown in 21 different types of aircraft, holds a private pilot’s license and has logged more than 4,100 flying hours, the majority in military aircraft. In 1979, Ross was assigned to the Payload Operations Division at the Johnson Space Center as a payload officer and flight controller. He was selected to be an astronaut in May 1980. Ross’ first shuttle flight, STS-61B, was as a mission specialist aboard the Shuttle Atlantis in late 1985. During this 165-hour, 108-orbit mission, the crew conducted two six-hour spacewalks to demonstrate space station construction techniques and operated several scientific experiments. Ross flew aboard Atlantis a second time, again as a mission specialist on STS-27, in December 1988. This mission carried a Department of Defense payload as well as a number of secondary payloads. In the three-year period between his first two shuttle flights, Ross helped develop assembly concepts for the space station and participated in the development of a higher pressure space suit and gloves. Ross went on to serve again as a mission specialist for STS-37 in 1991, the Payload Commander on STS-55/Spacelab-D2 in 1993, and mission specialist on the second Space Shuttle to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, STS-74 in 1995. In 1998 he undertook the first International Space Station (ISS) assembly mission, STS-88 and another Space Station assembly mission, STS-110 in 2002. A veteran of seven space flights, Ross logged more than 1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes of Extravehicular Activity on nine spacewalks. He 9/9/2015 7 was the first human to be launched into space seven times. These seven flights comprise a world record that Ross now shares with one other NASA astronaut. Both his number of and time on spacewalks are all time second highest among NASA astronauts.

He retired from the Air Force on March 31, 2000 and from NASA on his birthday in January 2012. He is one of only three astronauts to serve throughout the Space Shuttle program, from the first launch in 1981 to the last in 2011. In addition to tying for the most number of launches with seven, Ross ranks third in the world for his nine spacewalks. He was among the first astronauts to enter the International Space Station in orbit, played a key role in recovering pieces of the Columbia Shuttle after its tragic accident, and helped develop facilities, tools and techniques that continue to be used in space today. Ross released his autobiography, “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer” in January 2013, and a children’s book, “Becoming a Spacewalker, My Journey to the Stars” in September 2014. Jerry and Karen Ross have two children and three granddaughters. Sources: National Aeronautics and Space Administration biographical data sheet (2012) and collection material

Arrangement Note

Series 1.

Youth, 1952-1965 (0.2 cubic feet).
The savings account booklet in this series signifies the hard work Ross undertook for his college education. Entries go back to his youth and continue throughout his high school years. The booklet includes entries from his parents, Donald and Phyllis Ross. Also included is a Crown Point Bulldogs license plate and football programs from Ross’ time as a player during high school.

Series 2.

Education, 1945-1972 (6.50 cubic feet).
This series includes materials documenting Jerry Ross' coursework at Purdue University, including ROTC training and certificate of meritorious achievement - “Outstanding Basic Cadet” Award, a two page reflection on “My Career in the Air Force;” reports and research material from his master’s thesis, and training material from Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Air Force Base. Ross’ United States Air Force special orders and documents are included, along with a few Air Force training items. Various Purdue University and Gunter Air Force Base memorabilia is featured, including but not limited to, newsletters, newspapers, pamphlets, certificates and programs. The course and training binders have been retained in the original binders, unless conditions warranted removal for preservations purposes. The binders include Ross’ handwritten notes, homework assignments, tests and final exams. Many of Ross’ favorite textbooks, written by Purdue professors and others are also retained in this series.

Series 3.

Professional Career, 1953-2011 (15.65 cubic feet).
The Professional Career series is broken down into four sub-series, following the path of Ross’ career. The four sub-series are as follows:
Sub-series 1. Air Force Active Duty and Test Pilot School, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Edwards Air Force Base, 1953-1976 (2.65 cubic feet).
This sub-series covers the time Ross was in test pilot school, and includes his flight test engineer training course application, Air Force active duty documents and test pilot course material. The course binders and folders are in original order within the original binders and folders, unless their condition warranted removal to archival folders for preservation purposes. The finding aid lists the content of each of the nine training binders and five folders. Also included are student flight records and checklists for T-33, F-4, O-2A and RF-4C and a flight test engineering handbook, Ramjet propulsion documents and research, overhead sled testing/MACH transparencies, “Design MACH 23” and speech notes, and Society of Experimental Test Pilot Reports to the Aerospace Profession for 1965 and 1975. A technical achievement award from Air Force Systems Command and course material for Physics 125, which Ross taught at Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio during this time period are also included in this sub-series. This course folder is marked restricted, since it contains student information.
Sub-series 2. Edwards Air Force Base and B-1, circa 1976-1981 (3.45 cubic feet).
Within this sub-series are various United States Air Force flight mission plans and reports, B-1 strategic bomber crew checklists, manuals, flight reports, flying qualities and flight control systems evaluation and B-1 related photographs and clippings. Issues of Journal of the Society of Flight Test Engineers and Flight Test NEWS from 1978-1981 are also included. A few unique items; poem about Ross, script for a skit, cardboard Shuttle, diagram for antenna installation CB1 configuration, “Cobra Ball I (ES7379) Tuft Study Test Conditions” and poster, “My Job” round out this series.
Sub-series 3. Early NASA, 1968-2003 (3.85 cubic feet).
This series begins with Ross’ letter of assignment to the Air Force Element, NASA; course materials - Introduction to Space Navigation, Orbital Mechanics and Rendezvous Techniques; Apollo 14-17 and Space Shuttle publications; STS-1 Space Shuttle documents; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Rockwell International publications and images; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Space Shuttle, flight training instructions; STS-3, STS-5, STS-7, STS-8 and STS-11 press kits, checklists and reports. STS- 41-B, 41-C, 41-D and 51-A material and STS-9 flight crew report. Also included is an Indianapolis Children’s Museum folder, “Wide World of Space” from Ross’ appearance there and a certificate of appreciation from Crown Point, Indiana (Ross’ hometown).
Sub-series 4. Space Shuttle, 1984-2011 (5.25 cubic feet).
This series is comprised of Space Shuttle systems handbooks and manuals, operations crew training handbooks, new employee orientation book, missions summaries, STS-37 checklists, STS-135 astronaut support personnel checklists, T-38 flight manual, International Space Station systems handbook, Columbia Accident Investigation Board report and NASA’s Implementation Plan for Space Shuttle Return to Flight and Beyond. There are 13 binders in the series, original order has been retained and contents duly noted in the finding aid.
Sub-series 5. Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Recovery Operation, 2001-2011 (1.2 cubic feet) – Plus Oversized (OS) Items, See Series 9.
Contained in this series are items related to Ross’ leadership role in the recovery of the Space Shuttle Columbia wreckage. One can find reports, maps, Columbia recovery situation reports and action plans, investigation board reports; “Team E 5” correspondence, protocol information, field recovery status updates, lists of recovered items, situation reports, incident action plans, and additional documents. There is also STS-107 commemorative material, memorial service programs and other miscellaneous items.
Sub-series 6. Post-NASA, 2013 (0.2 cubic feet).
This sub-series consists of a speech, given by Ross at his book signing and exhibit celebration in the Purdue University Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center, February 7, 2013. Ross has written two books published by the Purdue University Press: Spacewalker: My journey in space and faith as NASA’s record-setting frequent flyer, 2013, and the children’s book, Becoming a spacewalker: My journey to the stars, 2014.

Series 4. Audio Visual, 1940s-2012 (6.5 cubic feet).

Audio Visual, 1940s-2012 (6.5 cubic feet).
The Audio Visual series consists of four sub-series and are broken down as such:
Sub-series 1. VHS Cassettes, 1986-2006 (2.5 cubic feet).
The tapes chronicle Space Shuttle mission highlights, flight crew activities and interviews. One tape is from the Purdue Distinguished Engineering Alumni Awards ceremony, for which Ross won the honor in 2004. The VHS cassettes have been numbered by Ross and remain in chronological order. Some numbers are missing, but those tapes were never part of the collection given to Purdue. One small box of VHS cassettes has been designated restricted by Ross and cover family and personal events. The last box of VHS cassettes contains miscellaneous material that was donated at a later date.
Sub-series 2. DVDs, 1986-2012 (1 cubic foot).
The DVD collection was converted from the VHS cassettes for preservation purposes. The same order and restrictions apply. Also included are additional space related DVDs collected by Ross.
Sub-series 3. Film Reels, circa 1970s (2.5 cubic feet).
The 16 mm films include a B-1 flight test report, flight evaluation and sled track tests, Department of the Air Force, Air Force Flight Test, and astronaut training activities in the 1980s and early 1990s. Space Shuttles covered are STS-27, STS-37, STS-55, 61-B, STS-74, STS-88. The Shuttle films focus on some onboard footage, crew presentations and post flight press conferences. The films are in chronological order.
Sub-series 4. Photographs, circa 1940s-2000s (0.25 cubic feet and 428 MB).
The bulk of the photographs were donated as digital files and have been stored accordingly for preservation purposes. Print copies were also made of the 78 images, and some are duplicated. The photographic prints highlight Ross’ life from youth throughout his professional career, including activities at Purdue University. Also included among the prints are black and white and color photographs of Ross, including several of Ross in his astronaut flight suit. One photograph is titled, “Columbia Returns from Final Test Flight (STS-4) and is signed by Ross with note, “Taken by Me.” There are two photographs of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 and one of Reagan at his desk in the Oval Office. There is a small package of negatives; six of Ross at work at his desk and three during anti-gravity training. Some of the photographs were given as gifts, and the correspondence/clippings can be found with the respective photograph.

Series 5.

Scrapbooks, 1985-1998 (2 cubic feet).
This series is comprised of seven scrapbooks that were either given to Ross as mementos of his flights or were compiled by him. The first scrapbook was presented to Ross (Amarillo’s adopted astronaut) by the Amarillo Independent School District, the High Plains Aviation Association, and the City of Amarillo, Texas, and includes photographs, memorabilia, clippings, thank-you notes from students, correspondence, and items related to STS-61-B, Ross’ first mission. Ross took the city flag of Amarillo, TX on STS-61-B and later presented it to the city. The second scrapbook, per Ross, contains black and white photographs “from hometown visit to Crown Point, IN and its schools after my first flight.” The third scrapbook contains items from Ross’ 2nd mission, STS-27, and the 4th is related to this mission also. The 4th is engraved on the front, “Presented to Lt. Colonel Jerry L. Ross, USAF by the Purdue 4-H Department, 1990,” and is entitled, “4-H Roots in Space.” It contains the signed document, Purdue Cooperative Extension diamond anniversary tree, commemorating 75 years of educational service to the people of Indiana.” To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Extension, the seeds of two common Indiana tree species, the sycamore and tulip tree, accompanied NASA astronaut and former 4-Her on the December 1988 flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis. Later the seeds were planted in each of the ninety-two IN counties as living reminders of Extension’s role in meeting the educational needs of Indiana citizens during the past 75 years and its pledge of continuous service over the next 75 years. The scrapbook also contains clippings, correspondence, and color photographs related to Ross’ involvement in this event and the planting of the trees. Scrapbooks five and six include clippings, information kits, memorabilia, and photographs from missions STS-37 and STS-74. The last scrapbook was given to Ross by Tri-Central Elementary School, Sharpsville, IN, to commemorate his visit to the school. It contains photographs and a school yearbook. Material has been retained in original order.

Series 6.

NASA Publications, Books, and Journals, 1968-2012 (5.2 cubic feet).
Numerous NASA publications, newsletters, and fact sheets can be found in this series. There are also publications related to Apollo, Skylab, Hubble service mission media guide, Proceedings of the Norderney symposium on scientific results of the German Spacelab Mission D-2, “America’s Workhorse in Space: The first 100 missions of the Space Shuttle 1981-2000,” “NACA 1915-NASA 1990 history,” space shuttle mission profiles, payload flight assignments, pre-flight guides and post-flight reports. Sixty-four publications can be found in series, and they have been listed and arranged in chronological order. The journals consist of various aviation and aeronautical magazines, and magazines featuring space related articles from the early 1960s. Other magazines feature articles about Ross, his colleagues and the shuttle. There are also “Clan Ross” newsletters, and journals published by or related to Purdue University. There are forty-five journals in the series, and they are arranged alphabetically and then chronologically.

Series 7.

Correspondence and Clippings, 1971-1987 (4.25 cubic feet).
Included are a letter with a drawing and two Valentine’s Day cards from Ross’ children, Valentine’s from Ross’ former elementary school teacher, congratulatory letters and cards upon Ross’ selection as one of the astronaut candidates for the Space Shuttle, Purdue Alumni Association and College of Engineering related letters. Also included are appearance requests, thank-you letters for Ross’ appearance at events and some fan mail. There are a few letters from space shuttle and United States Air Force colleagues. The clippings include articles pertaining to Ross’ and other astronaut’s careers, Space Shuttle missions, clippings from …Roundup, NASA, NASA News, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Flight Test News, The Purdue Alumnus, The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News, various Indiana newspapers (since Ross is a Crown Point, Indiana native). Among the correspondence and clippings are miscellaneous ephemera such as awards, certificates, mission invitations/information, programs (including a Chicago Cubs program with Ross on the cover), material from Ross’ retirement celebration, family reunions and Purdue astronaut reunions, honorary degree and various visits to campus. This series also contains entire newspapers and front page sections which have been placed into oversized (OS) boxes for preservation purposes. The papers feature, but are not limited to Mariner 4 and Mars photographs, Gemini missions, the first moon pictures from Surveyor, Apollo 11 and 12, Ross’ shuttle missions, the shuttle Columbia and Challenger tragedies, and Purdue alumni astronaut reunions. Two posters were also included in these boxes for preservation reasons; ““Purdue Engineering E-Week at Purdue April 12-17, 2004: Designing Space Suits For Mars, Amy Ross, BSME ’94, MSME ’96, Space Suit Engineer, Johnson Space Center, and “Convocation Distinguished Engineering Alumni, Profiles in Leadership,” April 16, 2004. The correspondence and clippings have been arranged in chronological order. Clippings and correspondence that arrived in groups were left as such.

Series 8.

Artifacts, 1966-2013 (5.40 cubic feet).
This series is made up of Ross’ Purdue student life memorabilia, including Ross’ and his wife’s Tomahawk pledge paddles. Tomahawk is the co-ed service and leadership honorary where they met at Purdue. Also included are Circle Pines Co-op House pledge paddle and framed member photograph; Mechanical Engineering Honor Society, Pi Tau Sigma pledge paddle; Ross’ flight helmet worn at the United States Air Force Test Pilot School and during his B-1 Bomber test flights at Edwards Air Force Base; NASA flight suit, Space Shuttle mission cloth patches; numerous awards, plaques, gifts of appreciation and thank-you items given to Ross over his career.

Series 9.

Oversized Maps and Posters, 1981-2011 (132 linear feet).
The oversized maps include numerous Columbia recovery zone maps, NASA astronaut corps posters, and a Russian astronaut poster, 25th and 30th anniversaries of the Space Shuttle program posters, International Space station posters, photo taken January 26, 2003 by the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and Purdue astronaut reunion posters.

Series 10.

Genealogy, 1889-1940 (0.2 cubic feet).
This series contains the book compiled by Ross; “The Diaries of Harriet “Hattie” Dillabaugh 1889-1940.” In Ross’ words, “Daniel Dillabaugh and Hattie were the brother and sister-in-law of Colonel Ross’ great-great grandfather Adam Dillabaugh. This book has fourteen chapters, each representing one of the diaries written by Hattie Dillabaugh. Colonel Ross has tried to transcribe the diaries just as they were written. While Colonel Ross’ first reason for finding and reading the diaries was to further his genealogical efforts, once he had read them, he felt the need to publish the diaries to preserve their contents and to make them a more widely available historical resource.” “The appendices of the book include the genealogical information of the Reigart and Bender families, and the Dillabaugh and Lake families from Colonel Ross’ resources. There are also appendices containing letters that Dan Dillabaugh wrote to friends in Michigan during and after the Civil War; a letter that was published in the Baker City newspaper, The Morning Democrat, from son Clyde Dillabaugh to his mother about the prospecting trip that he and his father were on in Honduras; and two of Clyde Dillabaugh’s diaries.”

Acquisition Information

Donated by Jerry L. Ross, March 19, 2012; August 6, 2012; January 15, 2013 and June 10, 2013.

Processing Information

Materials have been re-housed into acid free folders and boxes, and into polyester sleeves when appropriate. The binders were retained in their original state, unless the condition warranted removal of papers for preservation reasons. Newsprint and clippings have been photocopied onto acid-free paper and the originals have been preserved for display purposes. Overhead training transparencies found in the test pilot school material have been copies onto acid-free papers, and the original transparencies have been retained.  Artifacts have been separated and grouped together in a separate series for preservation and storage purposes. The flight suit has been preserved in a special archival box.
Jerry L. Ross papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2015-07: Additions added to collection in July 2015.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States