|Preflight Interview: James Reilly||
Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but there are only about 100 American astronauts. Jim, why did you want to become one of them?
Image at right: STS-117 Mission Specialist James Reilly. Photo Credit: NASA
A: First, I have to say I am really lucky and blessed to be here because there are a lot of people that are certainly more capable than I am. I’m just one of the few who were lucky enough to get here. But I’m not any different than most of the people in our Office or probably anybody in any of the space programs across the planet in that I always wanted to be doing what I am doing today. For me personally, it started when I was 8 years old, John Glenn was flying on his first flight and of all places I was sitting in a dentist chair, and the dentist was a big space fan, listening to John’s ground passes every time he went by. And after one that lasted about 15 minutes, and he had stopped work and I was just laying there with all this stuff in my mouth, he asked me if I ever thought I’d like to be an astronaut. I thought, anything but here. But that was the trigger, and for whatever reason remembered that, and then I was one of those kids that just followed every mission, every flight NASA ever flew, and kept all the stuff. When I was in college the first time, I was working on the path as it existed at the time, which was fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut. I thought I had it made. Unfortunately, the end of the Vietnam War changed the number of pilots the military needed so my path got changed a little bit. I went off to become a scientist, went to work as a geologist. I worked in the Antarctic and went to work in the oil and gas industry for 17 years, but during that period I never lost that dream of doing what I’m doing today. And then one day I just came down to JSC here and asked for an application, filled it out and sent it in. And of course, just like everyone else, nothing happened. I kept sending it in and eventually they called me in 1994 to come in for an interview. It was one of the most amazing groups of people I’ve ever been around. The 20, 19 other folks, and the 20 of us that interviewed that week in July, and then much to be surprised on Dec. 7 of 1994 I got the phone call that said, "Would you want to come to work here at JSC?" That was one of the biggest moments of my life.
I want to take you back beyond, before that. Take me back to, introduce me to, Mesquite, Texas. Tell me about your home town.
Mesquite is a suburb on the eastern side of Dallas. I actually grew up in an area in northeast Dallas called Lake Highlands and then I moved to Mesquite when I bought my first house, and Mesquite was always a suburb that was very close to the area where I lived so it was a very familiar place for me. Mesquite started out in the late 1800s as a, as a stage stop coming out of Dallas going east, and so it was there for the stages and the Pony Express riders in the 1800s, eventually grew into what is now part of the greater metroplex of Dallas and Fort Worth. It’s a unique kind of place; it carries its own kind of cowboy history with it. The Mesquite rodeo is one of the biggest rodeos in the world, and it’s right there and has been a fixture in the city for generations. My brother used to ride in it. I never did; that was one of the things that I left to him. He was much better at it than I was. But Mesquite has always had that kind of cowboy, country character to it, even though it’s now part of the bigger structure, which makes it very nice and family-oriented place to live.
Can you see how that place and the people who were there helped make you the person you are today?
In many ways, yeah -- in fact, not only Mesquite but, and Dallas and the folks that I worked with, and of course my teachers. It’s really all about challenging you to do better. And so, all of your friends, all of your teachers, all of your mentors, your parents, associates, all of them helped me get to be where I am, and even a larger part who I am. They all deserve part of the credit for challenging me to do better at everything that I was doing. Nobody ever does any of this stuff by themselves. Growing up is probably the hardest thing we ever do, and they are the ones that, that really define your character by pushing you to, to improve yourself. So when I look backwards and the question about the folks in Mesquite, well certainly they changed who I was and challenged me in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise challenged myself. Same with the teachers in Lake Highlands High School there in northeast Dallas and also at the University of Texas at Dallas, all the professors who probably had a very large part in making me technically competent over the years and they certainly had their challenges cut out there.
Have you ever had the chance to see the Metroplex from orbit?
I have, in fact I’ve taken some photographs. On STS-89, I got some photographs from the Space Station Mir, and on STS-104 I was able to get a few photographs from space but our phasing wasn’t as good there since it was nighttime [in Texas] virtually the entire time we were awake on the 7A flight. So one of my objectives on this flight will be to catch during the daylight some of the details that you can pick out with the long lenses on our cameras of Mesquite, and Dallas, and Richardson where the University of Texas at Dallas is located, and try to pick out some of these landmarks because they’re always neat to take back to folks and show them, this is where we are right now in this photograph that we took from 250 miles up.
You touched on it earlier; let me ask you again: give me the thumbnail sketch of your education and, and work career that led you to NASA.
Well, as I mentioned earlier I had two attempts at college, which is not that unusual but it’s probably pretty unusual for an astronaut. I started out in engineering and then transitioned into geosciences, and primarily went into geosciences because I liked it. When I go back and talk to kids now, they ask what should I study, and I say, well, study what you really enjoy, because you’re going to do well at what you enjoy. And so I ended up getting my bachelor’s in geosciences and immediately went into my master’s work, working in the Antarctic doing work in what’s known as geochronology, in other words age-dating of rocks. The specifics there were looking at granitic rocks, or crystalline rocks, that were formed about 100 to 200 million years ago, and tying those into the much larger global picture of how this all tied in with the Andes, for example, in South America and then extending it up into North America. That was what I did my master’s degree on in geosciences. And then I received my Ph.D. just about the time I got accepted here, and my Ph.D. was dealing with communities that live on oil and gas seeps out in the Gulf of Mexico. They live below the point in the water column where light can penetrate and so they have no photosynthesis in their food chain whatsoever, so it’s a completely chemical food chain. And as one of my friends, as we were diving on them one day, mentioned, it was about like finding something alive on Mars, which is probably not an unusual statement because things that might be living on Mars, if there are any, are probably going to be very similar in how they receive their nutrition and how they survive to these organisms that we saw in the Gulf of Mexico. Not necessarily hydrocarbons, but they will be within a chemically-based food chain and not so much a photosynthetic food chain. When we refer to those, we call them chemosynthetic organisms, and so that is what I received my Ph.D. in just before I came to work here at NASA.
So, parts of your previous jobs have had physical danger, just like part of your current job does, too. We know that flying in space can be dangerous. I’d like to know what it is that you think we’re gaining from doing that that makes it worth taking the risk yourself.
Anytime you do something that’s at the cutting edge, particularly in something that has high-energy components to it, which we certainly do when we leave the planet and when we come home, a lot of times you’re at the ragged edge of physics. You know, there just isn’t a lot of margin but you have to accept some of that increased risk over your daily life to go do the things that are going to change the way we live here on the planet. Right now one of the analogies I like to make when I go talk to aviation groups, for example, is we are in space at about the same level aviation was back in the 1920s, and it was a fairly dangerous occupation but that didn’t stop people from doing it. It didn’t stop Lindbergh from flying the Atlantic with a single engine, which even today people would look at and go. That’s a pretty gutsy call. But you do that because that’s going to change how the world works. Lindbergh’s flight laid out the paths that now allow us to fly around the world and be anywhere in the world in 24 hours. That’s what we hope we’re doing with the space program. We are laying down the foundations that will ultimately become the new tools that we’ll use to change processes, for example, in manufacturing our pharmaceuticals here on the ground, or even life processes. It also gives us the capability to lay the foundations for what the guys are doing in the Mojave, where they’re flying the first ballistic trajectories. We are getting the first civilians into space, and here in a few years anybody will be able to buy a ticket and go into space. All that began in the late 50s and early 60s with what we were doing here at NASA, and what we are doing now will hopefully lead the way into other laboratories, commercial laboratories, that will be taking advantage of the zero g environment of space. Then, ultimately, long after our jobs are finished, we’ll see tourists going to Mars like they are going to the Antarctic today. Everything we are doing is right on the edge, so is the danger worth it? Well certainly, at least in my case. You ask yourself that question before you even come here. Is it worth it? Of course it is. What we hope to gain is worth whatever the risk is that we have to accept. Now that being said, we don’t want to accept any more than we have to and there we have a lot of folks on the team here at NASA and in our contractor team that is best said by a guy I met before our first flight: He came to us the night before as we were standing there and said, we are going to give you a hundred percent safe bird tomorrow. And we trust all these people to do exactly that and we know that they do that and so we have a great amount of faith in our folks that get us in space.
Give me a summary of the goals of ISS assembly mission 13.A and what your jobs are on this flight.
Well, for me it’s pretty simple. It’s, I’m the lead EV, the extravehicular, or the spacewalker, on this flight. This is my second flight as a EV crewmember, and so I’m leading a team of three other guys, and we’re going to put the S3/S4 on board the space station. It is on the starboard side in comparison to the port side, which was done on 12.A. And then we’ll be balancing out the station with the solar arrays on that side. And that’s our primary, and relatively simple, objective, when you look at it from that standpoint.
All right. Well, let’s take it a piece at a time. The payload is called the S3/S4 Truss. Tell me what that is, what it will do, why is that important to the International Space Station?
Well, again, the S3/S4 will be the first set of solar arrays on the starboard side of the station. We currently have the port side arrays up, in the P3/P4 elements that were taken up on 12.A, on STS-115. What we’re doing is bringing up the starboard set of arrays, and that’s the foundation for the power supply that will now allow us to truly become an integrated International Space Station with the European and the Japanese labs. It’ll be our primary power supply with the solar panels that we’ll be bringing up as part of this flight. S3 has got the solar array rotary joint in it, which allows the solar arrays to rotate and track the sun, as well as the beta gimbals that are integrated into the solar arrays themselves. And then outboard of that are the solar arrays and the battery components themselves that provide the power to the space station.
This set of solar arrays, is that a, a copy of the ones that were delivered on STS-115 and the ones that were already there, or is this, is this one different?
This one is slightly different than the ones that were currently up on P6. P6 is currently on station, has been now for several years, and it is going to be placed outboard of the P4 array that’s already up. P4 is only slightly different from what we’re taking up on S4 in that prior to them activating their battery-charging capabilities and unfurling the solar arrays, they had to rotate the rotary joint, which is something we’re going to do after we unfurl the arrays. So it’s just a little bit different. There are some other minor differences in the S3-P3 elements in that they have a payload attach system called the UCCAS [Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Attach System], which is designed to take payloads but more in a, as a passive payload on the external part of the station. On S3, we have payload attach systems that have the capability of providing power and taking and receiving data from the payloads themselves. So that’s an active system that’ll be on the, on the S3 side rather than the P3 side. But in almost every other sense the S3/S4 components are virtually identical to the P3/P4.
We all saw the P3/P4 installed on the STS-115 mission. Were there any lessons learned from that job that you guys have been able to apply as you get prepared for yours?
Well, yeah, we talk about it in the Office. We basically just say, we just have to do the same thing those guys did, but just do it a lot better. Some of the lessons we have learned, though, is Joe [Tanner], Steve [MacLean], Dan [Burbank] and Heide[marie Stefanyshyn-Piper] all kind of ran across a problem with some of the, the bolts and the connectors on there. We’ve taken those lessons and applied them to what we’re doing so that we can try to work around some of the limitations in the hardware there that they experienced. We think we found a solution to that, so we hopefully will not have to worry about losing any of the bolts that they were, unfortunately, plagued with. A couple of the other things that happened on their flight, for example, on the launch restraints, they had one that bound up and was, was, it had a very high torque condition trying to get one of the bolts out. We’ve looked at that as well. The engineers down at the Cape and also the folks here at JSC, have looked at it in detail, and so we now have a capability to provide a torque multiplier. We’ll be taking a torque multiplier up with us that will allow us to take that bolt off should it bind up like they experienced. Hopefully it won’t, and we’re hoping that that was just a one-time occurrence and that we won’t see the same thing happen on our flight. But should it happen we have the tools, the torque multiplier now, that will allow us to overcome any of the, any problems we might see in that regard.
Is that the same solution to the first thing you referred to, where they all four of them had some difficulty with the bolts? Is it just more, more power?
In the two bolt problems that they had, one was the, the high torque condition on the launch restraints, and then the second bolt condition that they had was one where there’s a retaining clip on the back of a, of the bolt that actually holds it in place on the launch lock covers. What happens there is when there’s too much load applied then the retaining clip can get jarred loose, basically. When that happens there’s a spring that’s behind the bolt that allows the thing to retract itself from the nut plate and when that retaining clip comes loose that spring basically launches the bolt. So we’ve spent a lot of time here on the ground and as recently as last week have come up with a solution where we will very carefully count the turns as we back these things out of the nut plates, and as we do that we’ll be looking to see if they start to travel farther than we expect them to. If so, then, of course, we’ll be very careful and look to try to capture these and just put them in a trash bag and bring them home. One bolt out of the cover will not be a problem, so that’s how we’re going to approach this, and we’re hoping -- with our new technique, which we’ve tested and it’s worked every time so far -- that we’ll be able to back these things out without any problems.
Let’s talk about the delivery of S3/S4, and that after you arrive at the station, starts with robot arm operations on docking day as well as before the first spacewalk. Let’s take the first hunk of that story and, and tell me what goes on and what part you’ll be playing at that time.
I have almost nothing to do with the robotics part, which is, for me, very good. We’ve got some really good people working on our crew and also at the station crew that will be working robotic systems with us and for us. For our crew Pat Forrester will be operating the shuttle robotic arm, and he’ll be grappling the payload on Flight Day 3 after we dock and handing it off to Lee Archambault, who will be working with Suni Williams on board the space station, working the station robotic arm. They will then hand off the S3/S4 payload before we go to bed on docking day and then it will go into a parked position. The next morning, when we all get up that will be the morning that Bru [Archambault] and Suni will then attach the S3/S4 to the S1 Truss that’s already there. Pat will be working these Segment-to-Segment Attach System (SSAS) bolt and attach system components to bring the two elements together with the station and then start driving the bolts that will then permanently attach it to the S1 Truss. During that time, Danny O[livas] and I will be getting ready for our first spacewalk on Flight Day 4, so as they are driving the bolts on the SSAS system Danny and I are getting ready for their call that says we’ve got good bolts, and then we’ll get ready to, then we’ll put our helmets on, get in the airlock, depress, and then we’ll go out. And our very first task once we get out there is to start hooking up the power and data umbilicals that will provide the capability for the ground to start commanding power out to the components on the S3/S4 and start conditioning our batteries and getting everything ready to start commanding the systems as soon as we unfurl the solar arrays.
So, the first step, you’re both in the same worksite, which I take it is out where the new piece meets the old.
Exactly. In fact, I’ll actually get out there first, and Danny will be following me with some equipment. He will then pick up one of our portable foot restraints, which is how we attach ourselves to the structure in space -- we use our feet in the foot plate to hold ourselves in position, which allows us to use both hands on the, on the EVAs. Danny will pick that up and he’ll actually go past me. I’ll be at the S1-S3 interface, where we just joined everything together, and we have two utility trays, the nadir one and the zenith one. And the very first thing that I’ll be doing as Danny passes me will be getting ready to open up the cover and start making the connections, with the data cables first and then the power cables second, to the S3/S4 element. That’ll be my very first task, and while I’m doing that Danny will be going outboard and his first task is to start releasing the launch restraints on the solar arrays, first the aft one and then the forward one, so that we can both then deploy the blanket boxes that contain the solar panels.
Image at left: STS-117 Mission Specialist James Reilly assists a fellow spacewalker during training at JSC's Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas. Photo Credit: NASA
That was a pretty dramatic-looking thing when it took place on 12.A. I think you’d agree that being out there on the end, with the Earth going by is a, it was kind of cool.
It’s going to be quite a view. Danny and I are going to do our tasking just a little bit different than the way Joe and Heide did theirs. In fact, the way we set up our EVA we’ll be very close to deploying the solar arrays on the end of what’s called the four-bar linkage on the very end of S4 one after the other. Then the two of us will be out on top of the solar array rotary joints, which are what was called a mast canister, and we’ll be moving the blanket boxes and basically unfolding those things so that the very next day we can unfurl them. But we’ll take them in from their position and rotate each side out 90 degrees, so it will then look like a big T on the end of the space station. But we’ll be doing ours at about the same time. And so rather than doing one after the other, we should be pretty close to actually unfurling both of ours at the same time on either side. That should be quite a view.
As far as tasks on the first EVA, what, what happens after you guys have done that? Is that the last one?
Actually when we’ve finished doing the deploy, we have a few tasks left to do as we’re going back in, most of which are pretty minor. We’re doing some cleanup tasks and getting things ready for the next day. But one of the things we’re going to try to do is, is release a few of the launch locks that are around the solar array rotary joint, which is the transition between S3 and S4 that allows the entire outboard S4 segment to rotate to track the sun. That’s the primary objectives for EVA 2, but we’re going to try to get ahead a little bit for Pat and Steve Swanson so when they come out we will have already done six of those cover, or launch locks, and also one of the Drive Lock Assemblies. And so we’ll be a little bit ahead, we hope, which allows us to bring one of the big bags with all the pieces in it back in so that they don’t have to carry all that back in at the end of their spacewalk, on EVA 2.
Now, the plan is that the day after your first spacewalk is the day that these new solar array wings are deployed. Explain to us how that’s accomplished and what you guys there on the scene will be looking out for to make sure that it’s going as planned.
OK. On Flight Day 5 we’ll start the actual deploy of the solar arrays. The ground will, overnight, configure everything for us so that when we get up the very first thing we’ll be doing will be looking at a solar array that’s opened just partially. They’ll open to what is called one bay; basically one fold in the panels. When we come out we’ll see those already in position. And when we come up that morning we’ll see those already in position and then we’ll have the opportunity then to start the drive sequencing. Every person on the crew will have a role because there are a number of things that we’ll be watching for. As the solar arrays unfurl, after we initiate the drive command and as these are unfurling, they basically just, as if you had folded up a piece of paper back and forth, we just basically unfurl the whole solar array in that way. But as it’s unfurling there’s a, occasionally the panels that will tend to stick a little bit because they’ve been boxed up now for quite some time; but as they unfurl they’ll start to unstick and jostle themselves a little bit, which is normal. But what we’ll be watching for are those that might stick a little bit harder than what we expect, and so we have what are called the tension reels, so we’ll have two of our people on the crew that are going to be watching the tension reels the whole time during the deploy. There’ll be two of the other folks that will be then counting the individual bays, because we deploy out about halfway, to about 49 percent of the deploy, and then we stop and let sun basically heat up the components so that we don’t hit a high-tension condition. The problem there is if we hit a high-tension condition then these tension reels could lose their tension on the wires that actually hold everything in position. If that’s the case, then we would have to go out and do an EVA so we’re going to be watching that very carefully. The ground will then leave this at 50 percent for one day-cycle, and then we come back once we hit another day pass, then we will then deploy the solar arrays out the rest of the way to the 100 percent. Things we'll be watching for are the tension reels, as I mentioned, but we’ll also be watching a tension bar that’s at the base of the solar panel itself, and we’ll be watching to make sure that is basically not moving until we get to the very last panels, and when we start pulling them out to final tension, then that bar at the base will actually separate about 22 inches. Those are the things that we’ll be watching for. But, for the most part, it’s really just making sure everything just deploys nominally and just in a nice, orderly sequence, nothing sticking, and nothing’s really trying to jerk too much tension on the mechanisms and the base of the solar array blanket box.
In terms of the sequence, on your flight you’re deploying the solar arrays before the launch locks on the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint are removed, and that’s the opposite of how things were done for P3/P4. Why?
The basic reason that it’s a little bit different is that we’re in a configuration where it’s, it’s nominal for our side. Basically the photovoltaic radiator, the PVR, is pointing down at the Earth, the solar arrays are pointing out either side and will be pointing upwards. And so as soon as we get there and we can deploy the solar arrays, then the ground can start conditioning the batteries. So for us, we’re in a little bit better configuration as far as being able to go right to the battery conditioning part of our, our exercise with the configuration we’re in. So we’re lucky enough so that on Flight Day 5 we can go ahead and just deploy the arrays, the ground can start conditioning, and they’ll be ready to start getting things ready to, to acquire power for the space station a couple of days faster than the 12.A folks.
Flight Day 6 is the second spacewalk of the mission. You’re not going outside on this one. Are you going to be working with them during the campout to get the other team prepped?
For Flight Day 6 and EVA 2 I’ll be doing the same thing Pat will be doing for us on EVA 1, and that is I’ll be the procedures IV, or the intravehicular crewmember. Our jobs for Pat and I when we’re not doing the spacewalks, will be to follow along in the procedures and basically be the choreographer, if you will, or the director for the spacewalk. Our partners, Danny and Steve Swanson, will be the guys that will actually be getting people into the suits on EVA day. We’ll be there with them, walking through the procedures with them, but prior to them actually opening the hatch and going outside Pat and I will be on the aft flight deck of the orbiter, and that’s where we will be basically acting as our conductor or director role and following each step. As far as the campout goes, we’ll get them prepared for campout, get them sealed up in the equipment lock the night before, and then they’ll be in there that EVA team -- in our case EVA 1 being me and Danny and EVA 2 would be Pat and Steve Swanson -- will be in the equipment lock by themselves. And so we will not be really doing much as far as the campout part goes overnight. But getting them ready, getting all the tools, making sure everything’s in there, checking off the procedures, we’ll be doing all that leading up to that point. And then, of course, when they get up, that’s when we start the procedures review again, and then we’ll go right into getting them ready to go out the door.
The plan for the second spacewalk of this flight, and the third one, got some pretty late changes because of issues with folding panels and sticking guide wires during retraction of one of the P6 Truss solar array wings on the last flight. Now, you’ve got to retract the other P6 solar array wing, so what’s the new plan and how does it impact the rest of the spacewalks?
Well, for EVAs 2 and 3, the first parts of both of those EVAs, we’re going to be looking at the retraction problems that they had with 116, and we’ve taken the lessons learned from their mission and looked at what worked and what didn’t work and then refined those down to a plan. We’re going to start the beginning of EVA 2 with Pat Forrester up on the arm and Steve Swanson will be on the mast canister pretty much as Bob Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang were doing on their flight. But the objective there will be to get the first panels to fold, so that they won’t fold backwards, which was the first problem that they encountered with the 4B retraction on the solar array on P6. So when we go up on that EVA we’re going to spend the first hour and fifteen minutes or so going up and trying to come retract the array as far as we can and try to get past some of these, these backwards-folding panel issues that they had. Hopefully that’ll set us up for Flight Day 7 when we’ll start a full retraction with nobody outside. And on the rest of that EVA, going into the rest of EVA 2 that Swanny and Pat will now come down off of the solar array, down off P6, and they’ll go outboard again onto S3/S4, and their big objective for that EVA is to open up and release, basically, the rotary joint that will allow the solar arrays on S4 to spin and track the sun. And so they’ll be removing the launch locks and the launch restraints as their primary task and then Pat will be installing the second of the Drive Lock Assemblies, in this case Drive Lock Assembly 1, as part of their tasking as well. If we’re really lucky and have a little extra time, then they will also do the keel pin, which is part of the launch support structure for the payload bay … has to be removed so that we can move the Mobile Transporter. It carries the, the station robotic arm outboard so that the next crews up who will install the S5 segment and ultimately the S6 solar array panels will be able to move the MT, the Mobile Transporter, outboard to where they can install those pieces. And so their big objective for EVA 2 is first to help with the retraction, and then the really big part of their EVA is to clear the rotation planes for the solar arrays on S4. Once that’s completed, and hopefully we can get all of that completed, then that leaves the bulk of EVA 3 for, for me and Danny to go up and spend the majority of our time trying to work out any problems we might see on Flight Day 7 on the, on the retraction of that 2B array on P6.
This for EVA 3 then, would put you and Danny in the same positions as Pat and Steve were in.
Exactly. I’ll be on the end of the arm. That’s our plan as of now with Danny on the mast canister, on the base of the solar array, if you will. Our objective on that EVA will be to aid in the retraction. So we’ll retract as far as we can on Flight Day 7 and then stop, and then our objective will be to go out and do pretty much what Bob Curbeam was doing, and that is just smoothing out any of the, the hang-ups that we get on the guide wires, look for any frays like they saw on the opposite solar array panel, work those out so that they can run smoothly and then slowly retract the entire array until we get it completely retracted.
You get some good guidance from Bob Curbeam about how that works up close?
We have a lot of friends that are helping us out right now so, yeah, actually we have taken the lessons that they learned and, of course, it’s like anything, after you do it a second time you can do it better and faster. So we’ve taken everything that they’ve learned and distilled it down with, with our team and the engineering team here at JSC and at Boeing, to look very closely at what the problems were, what they could be, and what’s the best way to solve it. So we think we’ve got a pretty good plan about how we’re going to approach at least the problems that they saw. We can always be surprised and we’re, we’re setting ourselves up so that we can adapt and respond to something else happening up there, and we’re spending, as you might expect, a lot of training time now on the ground looking at the hardware that’s, that’s the same as what we have on orbit, to try to really, truly understand how this system works.
I would guess you’ve spent a lot of time since December working on these additions?
Indeed. We’ve just about doubled our time in Building 9, where we have all of our mockups and our engineering units looking at this hardware to get an idea of just how the guide wires work, for example, the pulleys that they run across which, which were what we think is part of the problem with the retraction with the frayed wire, and also looking very, very closely at the grommets which are at the ends of each panel, through which these guide wires run. How did they hang up? What happens? What’s the best way to free them up? What’s our best access? How do we get to it? The folks in the Virtual Reality Lab over here we’ve been working with very closely have set up models where we can drive the arm with Lee Archambault, who’s going to be our arm driver and working out how, how do we get in and get close to these and what’s our reach and what’s the best way to do it and, of course, like in any EVA, everything’s all about the efficiencies, where you can pick up your five and 10 minutes, so you can get as much work done as you can outside.
So EVA 3 your top priority is to get that solar array wing retracted, I guess at least enough so that the S4 arrays could rotate. Beyond that, what do you and Danny have on your plate? What are your top priorities for EVA 3?
We have, as in most missions, a list of what are essentially get-ahead tasks. If we get finished with the solar array retraction as we expect, then we’ll have a list of things that we’ll work off until we run out of time on that EVA. The very top priority will be to clear any of the other tasks that might not have been completed on EVA 2 and then the next are a series of station tasks that are set up to allow either current capabilities or future capabilities to be available to the station crews. The primary one on our list is the, the hydrogen vent valve replacement in the end cone of the U.S. Lab which will allow the oxygen generating system that has gone up on a recent flight to be used by the crew to regenerate station atmosphere with oxygen generation on board. So our plan will be to go out and replace that valve. That’ll take us approximately an hour, hour-and-a-half, and then we have a series of other tasks behind it. There’s a wireless instrumentation system which is being used to, to monitor the motions within the station itself, how do these mechanics, mechanical structures flex and bend under all the stresses and loads that they see, and that helps the, the engineers here on the ground model how this structure’s going to react, how long it’s going to live, what kind of stresses it’s going to take, what’s the ultimate life of the station. We’re going to put some of those antennas on the end of the Lab as well, so Danny’s going to be doing that task while I’m doing the Oxygen Generation System valve replacement, and then we’ll work from there down through a whole series of essentially smaller tasks until we can get them all done if we can. We hope to. If we have everything work well on the solar array, we should be able to accomplish just about everything they have for us.
The International Space Station is the biggest thing that people have ever built in space so far. How do you feel about getting to have this part in this historic work?
It’s, this will be, as you know, my second flight to the station, and third flight, really, in the space station program, having been part of the program that was the Phase 1 program for the Shuttle-Mir. It’s been a phenomenal experience for me to do this, and I can kind of put it in the first person. From our last EVA on STS-104, on 7.A, when we put the airlock on board, Mike Gernhardt and I climbed to the top of the P6 Truss, with the solar arrays on top of it, that currently exist as they are today on the station. And our job was to look at a rotary joint, and we were seeing, folks on the ground were seeing some high currents, so we went up to look at that. But as part of that I had about 10 seconds to just, to be a tourist, and just get an opportunity to look out. And when I did, looking from P6 looking forward I could see the Laboratory and, and the shuttle, and then looking aft the, the, the FGB and, and looking back to the Service Module, and behind that at the time was a Progress. Seeing this massive piece of equipment in space and looking at it and saying, we have done this in just a matter of a couple of years, putting the largest structure that’s ever been built in space, and everything’s working -- it was a real “gee whiz” moment at, for me at that point. In the larger sense from the scientific aspect of what we’re doing, for the first time ever we’ve had a true zero g environment where we could take one of the biggest factors in any equation that has anything to do with what we do here on Earth out of the equation: g is a very big force in terms of what happens to materials and processes. In space, in the laboratories, we’re able to take g completely out of the equation and start looking at what happens in the smaller things that happen within these reactions or actions in the physical and chemical world that we live in, and evaluate that and try to change our understanding, which will ultimately change the way we live here on the planet. So in a much bigger sense, it’s really an investment in our future and our kids’ future. That’s pretty exciting for me, to know that at least I had a little tiny part of what I hope to be a legacy for our own kids.
You’ve been at NASA, as you said, since before the first component of ISS was launched, and you’ve been there yourself. From your perspective, what would you say is the most notable accomplishment of the ISS program?
Probably the most notable accomplishment for, for the program has been that it is truly international. For the first time we’ve taken what were two competing programs, beginning with the Phase 1 program with the Russians, who built a very competent parallel organization, but in some ways very different, and we merged these two, and we’re successfully operating every day with an international crew on board the space station. In addition, we’re going to have the European Community and the Japanese space agency involved with their elements along with the Canadians, which already have their elements on station, as well as the other countries that have all participated in putting this station together. So for the first time ever we’ve had a truly international cross-boundary, cross-cultural space exploration effort. And, hopefully, that’ll be just the stepping-stone that takes us to the moon and then on to Mars.
The Vision for Space Exploration sees way beyond this particular space station. Tell me, what’s your philosophy about the future of human space exploration?
The future of human space exploration for me, is the thing that we have to continue doing. If we don’t go out to the edges of the frontiers, as we have always done as a human species, then we’re basically just starting to slowly compress and eventually, as a society, we’ll die. So as we continue to go to the frontiers, we’re going to be learning things that we don’t know we don’t know, which is one of the most important things any scientist will tell you. A lot of times it’s not the “Eureka!” moment that you have when you’re going to the frontiers, it’s the “Gee, that’s funny...” And then, several years later, you realize that’s a fundamental change to something that we do here on the ground. As we go farther and farther out we get a chance to, in the case of the moon, see what our earliest Earth looked like. The moon’s basically a frozen body that stopped at about three billion years. So we can look at what the chemistry of the Earth might have looked like, which we can’t see here. And in the case of Mars, just getting there will be a challenge enough from the engineering standpoint. But once we’re there it has all the components that look like it could support life in its earliest forms. We can’t see that here on Earth, either, and so it may again be the museum piece that tells us everything about how we are, who we are, how we began, how our, how our environment began, and what it could have looked like in its earliest form. And of course any historian will tell you, you really can’t know who you are or where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. So all of that plays together to give us the role for what we hope to do in the future.