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Preflight Interview: Tracy Caldwell
07.11.07
 
jsc2007e033311 -- STS-118 Mission Specialist Tracy Caldwell Q: This is our crew interview with Mission Specialist 1, Tracy Caldwell. Welcome.

Image at right: STS-118 Mission Specialist Tracy Caldwell. Photo Credit: NASA

A: Thank you.

Tracy, let’s get right to the mission. How would you describe STS-118 to the lay person?

We are one flight of many to the International Space Station to deliver hardware and help assemble components to the International Space Station.

What has to happen for you to consider STS-118 a success?

I first think we need to launch successfully and dock with our International Space Station. We have a few elements to install and some other items to transfer to the station and then come on home. We have some inspections that we hope turn up uneventful and then, bring our bird home for the folks back at KSC.

What new capabilities will this mission add to the space station?

We are bringing up the S5 truss and that will act as the spacer between the starboard solar arrays. That’s one capability. And we’ll also bring up a pallet that will contain various spares that will attach to this, the truss segment, and we’ll be able to access those either robotically or through space walks in case another box needs to be replaced we’ll have spares on board.

What do these objectives of STS-118 tell you about the commitments or plans that NASA has made towards the future of space exploration?

Well, we've made a commitment to explore space and our space station is a stepping stone to that. The shuttle flights we’ve dedicated to helping the assembly of the space station are just ensuring that we get to a capability that will allow us to study ourselves and how we work in space so that we can go on and use that knowledge in further exploration to the moon, Mars, and beyond that. So it’s a real stepping-stone to what we hope to eventually accomplish and that’s to leave low Earth orbit and visit other planets.

How did it feel to get that call that told you that you were a crew member of STS-118?

Oh, of course if felt great. It’s been a long time coming. I was delighted. It’s kind of hard to believe at first when you get the call because it’s business as usual the next day until you start your training. And it’s when you start interacting with your crew and you see your name on a patch and you are assigned tasks that you start working specifically. Then every now and then you find yourself smiling just in disbelief that you’re part of such a big endeavor.

What’s it been like to work with this crew?

Oh, it’s hard to put that in a word. It’s been a delightful surprise. I knew everybody on my crew before I was assigned to it, but when you start working together daily, and you share an office with them and then you share these other experiences you get to know them on a completely different level. I have a lot of respect and admiration and excitement about the people that I’m working with. And they all have completely different personalities and we just have a lot of fun together. In addition to the objectives that you are hoping to accomplish on your mission, the people that you spend that time with, the people that you work with, the people you depend on and, the people that you, you live with, are really what make the mission most memorable I think. And I think we’re going to have a lot of great memories. We’ve already created a lot during training. We have a good time.

What skills do you bring to this mission?

Well, I think my organizational skills. [laughter] I’m really good at that. I think I’ve got a, a really good knack for multitasking. I can organize a lot of different tasks and, and get a lot done in a short period of time. That’s kind of been, what’s gotten me through undergraduate and graduate school is being able to take on a lot of tasks and organize pretty well what I need to do to get things done. That’s one thing. I got some, background in construction and that helps when I’m visualizing these EVAs that I’ll be involved with.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an astronaut?

Well, I think I, I was like every 7-year-old looking up at the stars and, thinking, “wow, it’d be really cool to touch one of those or be up in space and float around.” But I didn’t really start thinking about it seriously until I was about 16 years old. And since then, I pursued it as a dream and a goal with everything I did in between as sort of stepping stone with that in mind -- but always at the same time pursuing my interests. It was a great motivation for me as I was getting through those tough spots and going to college and graduate school and beyond that.

Was there a specific person that pushed you or inspired you towards that?

I’d have to say that when I was 16 … it was, one more year until I was graduated high school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to go to school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do specifically. I went to my parents and said, “I’m going to be leaving pretty soon and I don’t know what I want to do.” And they said, “Well, what is it that you want to do later on in life? I mean just think of the things.” And I said, “Well, maybe a veterinarian or maybe a doctor or a lawyer or something like that.” And they said, “No, I don’t want to know what you want to be, I want to know what you want to do.” So I started thinking about all the things I’d done in that short, 16-year span of life. And I thought, well, I run track and I like to keep in shape and I like science, though I didn’t think I was particularly good at it. I wanted to learn. I liked learning about science. I worked for my father, who’s an electrician, and what I liked the most about that was working with the tools. I thought, well, I don’t know if I want to be an electrician my whole life, but I sure do like working with my hands and with tools. I like fixing things and I like trouble shooting things. I liked languages. I was learning Spanish at the time. I knew some sign language. And, I really liked learning different cultures and communicating with people and I thought all of these things were interests of mine, but I didn’t know, you know, when I looked at that … My parents said, “Make a list of all these things that you like to do”. I looked at it and I’m like, I’ve no idea what I want to be. And they said, “Well, it’s OK. You just keep that list. You add to it, you take away from it and you think about those things and whatever you decide to become, make sure that they include those things that you like to do because you’re the one that gets up in the morning, puts on those shoes and goes to work and you better like what you’re doing. So, I did, and I put that list away because I looked at it and nothing really jumped out at me. And that was in 1986 and that was the year that the nation was buzzing about NASA. And it was because of the Challenger mission and this was, of course, before the accident. But it was all because of Christa McAuliffe. And she was the teacher that was going to go up into space. The reason we were hearing so much about NASA was because of her. And, you know, I knew about astronauts, but before that moment I thought they were all just test pilots. Military test pilots. And I never thought of myself as an astronaut simply because I thought you had to be a test pilot in the military, with the “right stuff”. I didn’t know what the “right stuff” was and, and I wasn’t too interested in going into the military. But Christa McAuliffe … was a teacher. I thought, “Wow, I know plenty of teachers. In fact, teachers impact my life every day.” And at that time in my life I had at least six teachers impacting my life every day. And my teachers were my coaches. My teachers were my advisors. I saw my teachers way more than I saw my parents. So I started thinking, wow, if a teacher can become an astronaut, I wonder if I could too. So that motivated me to start looking into the astronaut program and learning about it. And I found out that astronauts came in two different flavors, mission specialists and pilots. Pilots were the military guys flying high-performance jets landing on carriers at night. Well, I don’t see myself doing that, but mission specialists are scientists and engineers and I really had an interest in science. Though, like I said, I didn’t consider myself a scientist and was not particularly good at it. I looked more into it and found out that NASA was starting to build a space station. At the time it was Freedom moving into International Space Station. They were assembling this space station in space and it was going to involve cultures other than just the United States, and Americans. And these astronauts were going to be exposed to space for a long duration, they had to be in great shape and good health, and you had to act like a team up there because you have no other option. You’ve got to work together, not just in space, but on the ground as well. The more I learned about the astronaut program, through my interest in Christa McAuliffe, I started to look back at my list at all these things and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can become an astronaut too.” And, so it was from that moment on that I had that goal in mind. But, I always did what my parents told me to do and that was to do the things that I like to do. So I may not have taken a path that that, others had laid out for me, or had said, “If you want to be an astronaut, you better do this.” I simply, went on with what interested me the most and, somehow I got here.

You seem to have an interest in how things work, how things are put together and now you’re on a mission that’s an assembly mission to the space station, your education is in science, heavy science. Can you talk to me about what is it about science that draws you to it?

Yes. Like I said, I wasn’t a natural scientist. I had to learn how to be a scientist. But I had an interest in understanding how things worked. And when someone explained it to me, and better yet when they showed it to me and I could see things moving around, then the light bulb went on inside. And what I really liked about chemistry in particular was it answered questions like, why the sky was blue. I mean, it really answered it! It wasn’t just some fairy tale, nursery rhyme, it was the real thing. Why water boiled. I was really surprised to find out it didn’t have so much to do with temperature as I thought. Just all of these, all of these everyday things that you come in contact with, science answered. And better, chemistry made complete sense out of math! And I was not only not good at math. I was afraid of it and I told myself I wasn’t good at it because it just didn’t come natural. And I struggled with it probably more than I needed to. When I got into college and I started to get very involved in chemistry and taking classes I never knew existed when I was in high school about chemistry, I started to use math more. And when I learned things in calculus that were so strange, you know, as a concept, like well, who thought of this? And why do we use this? When I got to chemistry and started learning the physics of chemistry I actually started using that math to describe the properties of an atom. And I could picture an atom in my head and I, I knew what atoms did and I could see how the math explained what an atom did. It, it made so much more sense to me. And I really enjoyed that, just learning how things worked.

How important is it to be able to communicate with people?

Extremely important. Our job is all about communicating. I mean, I don’t know if people really appreciate that, but regardless of what language you’re using, what we do a hundred percent is communicate. We as a crew communicate to one another. And, when we’re flying T38s, we don’t even see each other. We’ve got a Plexiglass, an ejection seat that separates us. We have to be able to communicate and if something goes wrong we have to be very clear with that communication. When our crew is up in orbit, we communicate to our team on the ground and that communication has got to be, at some times, very succinct, very to the point. Because we’ve got different folks talking to different folks on different loops and it can get quite confusing some times. Especially if things don’t go as you expect them to. That communication is really important. And then, the communication between our agency and the other agencies or international partners, I mean…

How does it feel to be such an active part of such an immense project, the International Space Station, which reflects the participation of all these different cultures and countries?

It makes you feel pretty small sometimes. I’ll say that it’s really something to be a part of history and that’s kind of what we’re doing here is. There’s no other project out there I think that’s building something up in space with different countries, with different cultures and learning that you know we say the same thing but we mean something totally different. Our concept of time in American culture is completely different than the concept of time in, in Russian culture or in Japanese culture. You just learn so much about yourself just by working with all these other countries.

What’s your job during docking to the International Space Station?

I will be assisting the commander and the pilot, during the time frame that we’ll be, doing a series of orbital burns to get closer and closer, chasing the space station, and configuring the aft flight deck for the operations when we’re up very close to the space station. The closer we get, we start using, sensors and I’ll be in charge of those, getting them activated and making sure that we understand the data that’s coming from them and that everything is working properly. And I’ll assist the commander when, as we get even closer, within 400 feet and as we approach the space station, just, watching our position relative to the station and helping to make inputs on what I see, and, just helping to bring us in safely.

So after you dock, you get right to work on something else.

Yes, I do.

Tell me about that.

Oh, wow. As soon as we get cleaned up from the rendezvous, we got some folks working downstairs to open some hatches, and meanwhile I’ll be activating the robotic arm and getting ready to, grapple the S5 truss, unberth it and hand it over to the space station arm.

Why do you take the S5 truss and hand it off so soon after Endeavour docks?

Well, I think the mission designers know more about that than I do, but my guess is because the very next day we have our first EVA and that will involve completing the, the installation of the S5 and so just to put us in the right position to do that the very next day -- it’s going to be a very long day of EVA -- we need to get that truss segment out of the bay and that allows us some time if, if things don’t go 100 percent as planned, then we’ve got some time to troubleshoot so that we can be on time for the next day. That, that would be my guess as to, as to why.

You play a large role in these EVAs. What’s your job in a nut shell, for these EVAs?

I would say I am the coordinator. I will be the person inside, the IV, the intravehicular crew member. I am the one with the procedures in my hands and all the other reference material that I need. I’ve got cameras and window views. And I’m watching my guys outside and it’s my job to give them the details about what they need to do. They have the big picture in their mind about where they've got to go, and they've got to focus on all their tools, and their specific tasks. I’m kind of the quarterback in a way. I’m keeping the big picture; I’m keeping track of two different crew members outside, and it’s to keep them safe. They just have so much to do and such, such an important job out there that they can’t focus on all the details. They can’t remember them all or else they wouldn’t be able to do what they need to do out there. So I remember the details for them. I also communicate with the ground and, relieve them of that responsibility so all they have to do is listen for my voice and I’ll tell them what they need to know and then I can do the rest of the coordinating with the ground if we need to do that. And of course, if we have anything, off nominal, then it would be my job to make sure they’re safe and help get them back in the vehicle as quickly as we need to if, if that arises.

What’s the plan for EVA 1?

EVA 1 is our S5 install. We start out with Charlie Hobaugh, our pilot; he’ll be working the robotic arm on the space station. He’ll have the S5 grappled, and he will move it in close to position and our EVA crew members, Rick and Dave will be in position at the end of S4. And they will help to guide him into position and then we have various tasks that we do to prepare S5 to meet with S4. And then once it does then the arm backs away and our guys get to work, driving bolts and then making connections. And, we take the grapple fixture off and we relocate it to a place where it will be out of the way. Then we have a radiator. Once we’re all finished buttoning up S5 and it’s in its place, then our guys go up to P6 and they will retract, or help retract, a radiator.

Why do they retract the radiator?

It’s located on P6 and a future mission will be taking P6 and relocating it. So we need to have that radiator retracted in order to do that. So it’s a get ahead, a task that will need to be done before that mission arrives.

How long does it take to do all these things on that first EVA?

Well, the S5 install will take the majority of the time. I believe it’s a six- to seven-hour EVA and it will take a good, 4½ to 5 hours to do the S5. Then, they have a pretty substantial translation path to get back to P6 and so they’ll take some time carefully getting there. The retract shouldn’t take more than an hour or two.

You have a huge goal for EVA2. Can you talk about EVA2?

EVA2 is our CMG R&R. We had a CMG fail on station and so we’re bringing up a spare on our flight. Our guys will start off going up to the location of our CMGs. They’ll remove the failed one and temp stow it. And then will go down to the payload bay and remove the new one. We temporarily place it on another stowage platform and then relocate it up to its new location and bring the old CMG back to a stowage location. It will be returned on a subsequent flight.

Now CMG is a gyroscope?

Yes, it’s a control moment gyro. And we use a set of four of those on space station to help orient the station.

Can you describe a CMG for me? Is it hard for someone to maneuver it?

Well, on the ground it is. It’s quite heavy. In space you could probably move it around with one hand. It’s very bulky and from an EVA perspective, a CMG is, is like a big old beach ball. And you’ve got a few hand rails, and if you just walked up to it in your street clothes you’d say, “ah, no problem”. I can grab this and move it around if it weighed close to nothing, which in space it does. But our guys in their space suits -- have these big bulky suits. In front of them they have a work station that contains all their tools that they use and it sticks out pretty far. They also have a control panel that they use to set their cooling and do their communication. Their life support display is there. Their chest sticks out pretty far too, not to mention they have things hanging from it. So their work envelope is, is, is quite challenging, especially when they’ve got this oddly shaped, very bulky CMG to maneuver around. So it’s quite cumbersome. But that’s why we do a lot of training, so we learn how to maneuver around those obstacles.

You mentioned the, the storage platform before. In between the second and third EVA, flight timeline calls for the installation of something called “ESP3”. Can you tell us what that is?

It’s an “external stowage platform”, I believe is what it stands for. It’s really is just a pallet. And we place on top of it various ORUs, orbital replace units. That’s a generic term for any kind of an electronic box that we have on the outside of space station that's either part of the electronic, electrical system or the cooling system. Anyway, these platforms are a way to stow these ORUs for later use. And we can put them on the top and the bottom, and, they attach. So that if this is the platform there’s an attachment mechanism here and we have, right now three of these pallets in various places around the lab. Then this one will be attached to the port side of the truss.

And this is all done with robotics.

Yes, we take it out with the shuttle arm, hand it over to the station arm and then the station arm installs it. We don’t have any EVA interface with that task. It’s all robotic.

Can you tell us about the third EVA?

Our third EVA. Sure, we have Rick Mastracchio and Clay Anderson going out. Rick will move an S-band antenna from P6 and relocate it onto the P1 truss. That’s another task that needs to be done before P6 can be relocated. Clay will be removing and replacing two boxes, a transponder and a signal processor, on that same side. Once those are complete then the two EV crew members will join up and they will, together, move the two CETA carts. These are carts that ride along the front face of the truss. We use them as work platforms. They need to be moved, located on the starboard side of the truss segment, relative to our mobile transporter, which our space station arm usually is attached to. That’s also in preparation for the upcoming missions that will be attaching elements to the port side. That will take up the majority of the time, just moving those carts from one side to the other. And we will, we’ll also use the space station arm to do that.

If everything goes according to plans, the mission will be extended and there will be a fourth spacewalk. Can you talk to me about what’s in store for that fourth spacewalk?

Well, it’s kind of hard to describe everything. Right now we know we’re going to install some stanchions. One in, in particular will be a stanchion that will hold the OBSS our, inspection boom, that we now take up on every shuttle flight. But with these stanchions installed we’ll be able to leave one on station so that we don’t have to keep bringing it up every time. So we will start off the EVA installing those stanchions and then we have a few other stanchions that we’ll install. One will be a wireless video system antenna. That’s out on the starboard side. And then, a camera stanchion on the port side. It’s …

So there’s a lot of movement in this EVA, also?

Yes, a whole lot. And in some case our crew members are separated from one another, so I’ve got to keep track of guys on different sides. The rest of that EVA is not solid right now. It’s not well defined. Simply because it depends on what’s going to happen on 117, as well as the increment stage. What they are able to accomplish will affect what we do on EVA 4. So it’s still being kind of written.

And EVA 4 itself is affected by the successful use of a new system. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, we call it “Spits” (SSPTS), and it’s a power-transfer cable. I think of it as a long extension cord. It’s where we can basically tap into the space station’s power system. They’ll have an ample supply of that compared to our orbiter since we rely on our fuel cells to generate electricity, which takes up cryogenics that we will be depleting through the mission. So being able to plug in and tap into the space station power system will help us to save that cryo and allow us to stay on orbit for a few extra days. That capability allows us one more EVA, and we can help get some work done. And there’s a lot of work to be done in space. The more we can get done on these shuttle missions the, the better off we’ll be.

How important are long-duration flights near Earth when it comes to exploring the moon and other planets?

They’re so important. We have learned a lot about how to work in space, not just, not just how do you overcome the lack of gravity, which is intriguing and curious, often frustrating when you don’t have Velcro. But the other aspect of it is the human aspect of it. We realize that we’ve gotten so good at these shuttle missions where, you know it’s a fast paced world and you’ve got a little bit of time to do a lot of work. You’ve got so much to do. You’ve got very little time to think about how you’re feeling and what you’re missing on the ground. But when you’re up in space for a long period of time, you live where you work, you work where you live. Every day is all about, living in space. So your approach to even doing your work as well as managing your personal life takes on a different pace. And you can’t have that same pace that you do on a shuttle flight, or else you’ll just burn up after six months. So, what we’re learning is not just how to function in space, but how to mentally prepare for it and to execute your job up in space, given that kind of change in really your whole way of life up there. And then, of course, the experiments that we do in space. Up on space station, the things we’re learning about our bodies and how the lack of gravity, and that environment, affects our bodies, physiologically is invaluable to preparing to go on and explore other planets. We’ll not have a better test bed for that. Also just coming up with tools and methods for doing things, what materials should we use. Actually on one of our EVAs, we retrieve a box called “MISSE”. It’s a materials experiment that exposes several different materials to space. We bring it in after a certain period of time and then we study how the properties have changed and been affected by the exposure to space. Where else are you going to learn that? And how else are you going to see the long-term effect that the space environment has on materials except using the space station? So there’s just a plentitude of things to learn from our space station missions.

You mentioned there are a lot of things to learn, and you mentioned in the interview before that it was the Challenger mission in 1986 that inspired you to take the path that you took. How important is it to show the general public, but also in particular students, what we’re doing in space?

Oh, it goes without saying it’s really important. I think it’s important not just because I’m involved in it and I really like it and I think everyone else ought to like it, but because there’s so much opportunity to learn about ourselves, our planet and even beyond, by learning about space and what we’re doing here at NASA. NASA provides so much material! Everything we do from manned missions to robotic missions, the information that we gather, the things we learn are right at the public’s fingertips. You learn that space and NASA are not just about humans working in space; they're about learning about our planet. A lot of the things that we enjoy today, like cell phones, cordless drill motors and all those things have come from us just trying to get to space. There’s something about the space program that I think everyone can find an interest in. Whether you want to be the person that’s actually in that rocket going up there or be the person that wants to be on the ground and ensuring that we get up there safely, or you want to be that person designing that tool that we’re going to use, or you want to be that person that’s directing others to be creative and be safe and get the job done and get us there. There’s something about, the space station, I mean the space program, that I think can interest everybody. Kids are at the age they don’t have much else to be responsible for, except learning. I think NASA provides a wonderful opportunity for them to not just learn about things, but to get their hands on things. For me math made no sense until we applied it to chemistry. I think NASA through our resources provides kids with a way to actually see what they're learning, and give them a method to stick it in their head, or to use it, or to spark their curiosity, their creative ideas. There’s just a lot of imagination out there and I think the space program helps kids to, to apply it.

Are you looking forward to sharing your experiences?

Oh, yeah. I like sharing my experiences now with kids, the training that I’ve gone through and just even the path I’ve taken to get to the space program and the astronaut program. I think kids would be surprised to find out how much I struggled with learning and I’ve got a Ph.D. in chemistry. I wasn’t, I wasn’t always the smartest person, I just worked really hard. It's hard to even describe how much I wanted to learn something. And with just that desire alone, you can achieve anything. I know we say it and maybe we overdo it, go for your dream and if you work hard and you believe in yourself, but, boy, it’s true. No one else is going to fulfill your dream except you and your desire to do it. Imagine how many people... outside of NASA when I told them, “Yeah, I want to be an astronaut”, I mean, the look of shock on their face, like wow, how in the world do you think you’re going to get there? That didn’t faze me a bit because that is really what I wanted to do. And I didn’t know how I was going to get there, and with every test I bombed and every challenge I faced, I still wanted to do that. And I made it. And that was just raw desire. And that’s what I like to tell kids. And that’s why I like, whether I’m an astronaut or just a chemist, you know, talking about the work I do, or Aunt Tracy talking to my nephew, I, I want to express that message. It’s that, whatever you desire, you know, you can actually achieve.

Your biography mentions the years that you worked with your father as an electrician, and inside wireman. Do you ever have conversations with your father? Have you talked to him about what it’s going to be like to work on this incredibly complex piece of machinery, this orbiting laboratory? Have you talked to him about this?

Oh, definitely. In fact, when I was going through my EVA training, we all have basic and advanced training in EVA, I would take home when I’d go on visits, videos from my training runs and dad and I and mom would watch these and of course talk about those things. Sure, being an electrician is a big part of my life. And so much of what we do in space is so closely related to what I did as an electrician. The fact that we used these things called PGTs, “pistol grip tools”, they’re cordless drill motors, had one of those in my hand since, you know, (laughs) since I was about 15, working up on 15-foot ladders and putting in J boxes and wiring up switch panels and all sorts of things. My whole life has revolved around tools and construction sites and the things you have to think about when you have a project like that. You've got to think ahead, and what tools you need, and how you approach a problem. Dad prepared me really well for that.

Part of the things that you mentioned just then, one of the important parts of construction is safety. And in space it’s no different. There are some inspections of the shuttle during this flight. Can you tell me about that?

Sure. Our second day in space we get the robotic arm out on the shuttle, we grapple to our inspection boom, our OBSS, and we do inspections of the wings and the nose cap. We have various sensors and ways of looking at the data, but we’re looking for any, damage that may have occurred during ascent. It’s becoming routine on orbit now to look for that and it’s a good idea. It’s a good idea to know how your ship fared during that.

One of your fellow crew members on this flight is from Canada.

Yes.

Can you tell me what’s it’s like to work with Dave Williams?

Oh, it’s fun. He is one of the most positive people I think I’ve ever met. And he’s so even-keeled. Life is like this, and training for a mission is no exception. You run into challenges and frustrations, and disappointments and he handles those all with such a "let’s get back to it attitude." And it always is a comfort.

Working with people from other countries, is it something that you’re used to?

Yes, yes.

You have, you have experience with the International Space Station since well before this flight. Can you tell me about some of the other experiences you’ve had working with the station program?

Sure. Yeah, I spent the first three years of my time in the astronaut program, living over in Russia. Traveling back and forth, working to improve, crew interface items such as procedures and, and displays and schematics and things like that and helping to ensure that they were translated into English from Russian and vice versa. And I worked very closely with, with the, my Russian counterparts…and learned so much about, their culture. I learned Russian as a graduate student, but I never learned, really, the culture until I started to live and work over there. And you begin to look at your colleagues as more than just an international partner, but you start to understand the “partner” more. And you, you know you go through these phases of you know, excited to work together, then you realize that wow you’ve got differences, and then the challenge of working through those differences so that you know that you’ve got the same goal, ultimately. But, you have a different viewpoint. And that’s, a lot of the times, culture based. And when you start to, when you’re faced with that then you start to work through it, when you can turn around and look at a problem from their perspective. Especially if it’s, you know, if it’s a, if the barrier you’re facing is a cultural one, and when you get over that, it just expands both of your experiences and you, you know, it’s fun. And sometimes it’s frustrating; I’ll be honest; that it’s not without some frustration because you’re doing that communication thing again. But, it’s really sweet when you come to an understanding and you work together and you’re doing something that, that’s not being done anywhere else.

You not only worked with cosmonauts and other astronauts from other countries, you worked with ground support personnel all over the world. Can you talk to me about your thoughts on the job that ground support personnel does?

Well, gosh, in so many ways, I’m not sure to really pinpoint. I’ve worked as a capsule communicator, a Capcom, in mission control where I, I’m sort of the liaison between the ground control team and the crew onboard. And there you work with a team of flight controllers and a flight director. And these are folks who are super smart about all of the various systems. They know far more than any one astronaut’s ever going to know about the systems that they’re operating in space. If you never work in that environment, if you don’t have that opportunity, then you get into space and, you know, when you get to a point where you’ve got to work a problem out with the folks on the ground. You may not understand what they're thinking and the way they approach a problem, but if you’ve had that experience then you can kind of translate for yourself, you know, OK “I know they’re going to approach it from this way. This is what I’m looking at” and you’re just, you’re better at expressing to them what you need and what you see and they’re better, they can better help you. I was also a, what we call a, C-squared, a caped crusader, an astronaut support personnel down at the Cape, where we launch the shuttles and we land them. Our job is mainly to interface with the orbiter and the crew that’s about to take off and land. But you work pretty closely with the, the support team there and that is pretty expansive. There are just hundreds and thousands of people who are working to ensure the safety and the success of every mission. You work with those folks and you realize just how many people really enjoy what they’re doing. You know, we all feel very blessed that we get to do what we do, and that’s go into space. But there are just as many people who are taking care of the orbiters and sitting in the control center, turning a bolt, and, you know, signing documents that take a great pride and responsibility with what they do. And thank goodness they do, because without them we wouldn’t have a program and we wouldn’t be safe and we wouldn’t enjoy what we’re doing nearly as much. That’s the delightful part … when we’re not training to go into space and we’re not doing our other support jobs here on the ground. With all the people you work you just realize that everybody here really likes what they’re doing. And if it weren’t for everybody working together, we just wouldn’t be able to; we wouldn’t be able to accomplish this. When I came here to visit, I was a graduate student, and I wanted to learn more about this place, I specifically came here to Johnson Space Center. The one thing I noticed as I was walking through the hallways and I saw posters and knickknacks and trinkets, all about the space program. It’s almost like when you’re at a college and you see banners supporting that school. Everybody seemed to be really excited to be here and to do what they’re doing. And that’s a really cool environment to be in.

All of the work and your training lead to STS-118 and it’s a busy mission. What are you going to do during any free time that you have? Do you have any free time?

Well, it’s on the books. Whether we’ll actually use it as free time is yet to be determined. I think I’ll breathe and I will definitely look out the window, because I’ve had so many people, so many experienced folks tell me that you’ve got to take time out and look out the window 'cause you’ll get home and you will not believe you were there. So, I hope with some time that I’ll be able to do that. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk to my family too.

Are there any certain places that you’ll be looking for?

Home. California. I’ll look for that for sure. But I’m just excited to look and see the curvature of the Earth. We’ve all seen pictures of it, and I want to see it with my own eyes. And I want to see the layers of the atmosphere. And I’m a geek I want to hopefully see aurora borealis and I can’t wait to see the stars. I look at them here in Houston and we have so much light that it’s hard to see the thousands and millions of stars. Back home, out in the desert, I see tons of stars and I just can’t imagine what it looks like from space, without having the atmosphere to impede that view in any way. I’m looking forward to that.

Tracy Caldwell, Mission Specialist 1 on the STS-118 shuttle mission to the International Space Station. Thank you for talking with us.

Sure. Thank you.