Q: Our interview with Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson begins. Thanks for joining us.
Preflight Interview: Stephanie Wilson
A: Oh, thanks for having me.
Image at right: STS-120 Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson. Photo Credit: NASA
Let’s start with just a summary of the goals for this mission.
This mission will unberth and install the Node 2 module and we will also relocate the P6 solar array and exchange a crew member. We will bring Dan Tani to the space station and bring home Clay Anderson.
Let’s talk about after launch. One of the things that you seem to be pretty involved with is the survey of the space shuttle. Could you describe how you guys are going to be taking that survey.
On flight day 2, we have a vehicle inspection. It detects damage for ascent debris, and we will robotically attach the shuttle robotic arm to an orbiter boom sensor system. That boom has a suite of sensors at its tip, and will image first the port wing and then the nose cap, and then the starboard wing, and we record that data onboard and also downlink it to the ground for further analysis, and they will be able to detect from that imagery if there has been damage from any debris on ascent.
You’ve controlled that robot arm before. I’m just, just curious. I hear the term “to fly the arm.” Can you describe why they use that term?
There are many manual maneuvers that we use to fly the shuttle robotic arm. For this inspection, though, it is actually an automatic maneuver. There’s a series of auto sequences that the arm maneuvers itself through, and we monitor the motion and the trajectories and the clearances. The manual part of that is actually flying the shuttle arm over to grapple the boom sensor system and then unberth it from its location in the payload bay. There are hand controllers that control the six degrees of freedoms translational and rotational for us to be able to move the shuttle robotic arm through a spatial coordinate system.
The primary payload is called Harmony. Can you describe what it is? How is it important to this mission?
Harmony, or Node 2, is the pressurized component. It’s a small connecting module. We will attach it to a temporary location on Node 1, and then the Expedition crew members will relocate it during their stage, to its final location at the forward end of- of lab, of- of the U.S. lab, the Destiny module. It will pass through electrical power and also life support systems from the lab to other connecting modules that will be launched on future flights specifically the Japanese and the European Laboratory Modules.
There are a lot of steps to get Harmony component, even though you’re not going to have it at its final resting spot you still got to get it attached to the station, even if it’s temporary. Can you talk about what the steps are to get Harmony in- installed to the ISS?
We will grapple to it using the shuttle robotic … I’m sorry, the space station robotic arm, on flight day 4 towards the middle part of our first EVA we’ll be flying the station robotic arm over to Node 2 which is berthed in the payload bay, we’ll unberth it. There’s a series of auto sequences that maneuver Node 2 into its position just to the port side of the port location on Node 1, and then we manually fly it to install it to that location. And then the spacewalkers have outfitting tasks to do, once it’s installed.
And from that point it’s pretty much powered and pressurized and you go inside it?
We can. There are some activities scheduled for us to do that, to pressurize the module to ingress and do some initial get-ahead tasks to start the outfitting on the interior.
A big part of this mission is relocating the P6 truss segment; can you explain how the crew is going to accomplish this task?
Yes, we will be starting with the station robotic arm. Initially it has its base location at the lab. We will have to walk off to the mobile base system and grapple to P6 and then de-mate from its location on Z-1, and we do a series of maneuvers to position it to a hand-off position to be received by the shuttle robotic arm. The shuttle robotic arm receives P6, the station robotic arm will be stowed or folded up into a low-profile configuration so that the mobile transporter can translate the arm to a different location on the port truss, and then the station robotic arm will receive P6 from the shuttle robotic arm and maneuver it to its final location on- on the end of P5.
Great. Now, which arm will you be? Are you going to be involved with that control- controlling the arm, station or shuttle?
Actually, both. I’ll be going back and forth on some the days to help out with the operations for, on both sides.
So how does the station arm compare to the- to the shuttle arm as far as controls or complexity or capabilities?
It’s, you know they compare similarly. They’re both of course developed by Canada. There are differences with the shuttle arm, physically, in that its joints are in-line. The station robotic arm has offset joints, and so it looks a little bit different when you’re looking at the arm. The station robotic arm has the ability for either end to be a grapple fixture or to be a base, and so we can do this walk-off maneuver that I described. It also has the capability to operate in seven degrees of freedom although we normally operate in six. And so it does have, a greater capability than the shuttle robotic arm, but both arms are- are fine to operate.
Well, it sounds like an interesting maneuver, I think it will be neat to see…
It is. It’s very interesting, very complex, and will be good to do.
Just another follow-up question on the P6. On STS-116 they had a bit of a problem folding it up, and so on your mission, they’re going to redeploy these solar arrays. Is there any concern on the crew’s part, about redeploying the solar arrays on that truss segment?
I don’t have major concerns. The electrical power system flight control team, and the subject matter experts have had a few missions to work with solar array deploys and so as a crew portion of that we will attempt to deploy the array fully. If there are any problems we can stop the deploy at any time. Also the EVAers have been trained to assist with any problems that may occur, and we may have to schedule a contingency EVA if that becomes necessary.
OK. Well, if we could move on to those EVAs. Can you describe what your job will be during the- the EVAs?
During EVAs my job is to assist with the robotics. For the first EVA will be, Doug will be flying on the arm. He will receive the SASA, the S-band Antenna Structural Assembly from Scott, who will de-mate it and will fly Doug and the SASA down to the payload bay, so it can be stowed in the payload bay for return. EVA 2, of course, is the operations with P6, and EVA 3 is continued operations with P6 for the install, and then we switch arms, and the shuttle robotic arm will again fly Doug and get the, an MBSU, a Main Bus Switching Unit, from the payload bay, and store it on ESP 2.
OK, lots of moving around.
Yes, lots of moving around. People, payloads, people in payloads. It’s, it will be very interesting.
I was curious about, if I'm reading the rundown correctly, one of the spacewalks, it’s the two expedition crew members who will be conducting it. Is that correct?
That is correct.
Image at top: STS-120 Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson uses the virtual reality lab at Johnson Space Center to train for her duties aboard the space shuttle and space station. Photo Credit: NASA
Your crew, the 120 crew, is still docked. I was just curious what’s the benefit of having the expedition crew conducting this last EVA while you’re still there?
It gives them the opportunity to get ahead a little bit on their stage activities. They have a very short stage with a lot of packed activities, one being the relocation of Node 2, and other EVAs. So they can conduct this EVA while we’re docked. There are additional hands to help reconfigure EVA tools, EVA cameras, and their suits. We can also perhaps get ahead on some transfer activities and some internal activities in Node 2, and we can just be there in general for support or help for to assist them in any- in any way that they need.
OK. The International Space Station is the most complex thing we’ve ever built in space. I’m just curious how you feel about participating in that, and particularly, participating in a mission that opens up the international aspect even further on the station.
It is very rewarding to work on a project this complex. All of the people have worked very hard and their contributions are greatly valued. They should be very proud of their work. The space station was meant international, and so it’s wonderful to be expanding the science opportunity by adding, in future flights, the Japanese and the European Laboratory modules, and so it, it’s just wonderful to be part of this project.
You’ve been there before. How [do] you feel about seeing this? What [are] your thoughts on seeing the station grow?
I was at the space station in July of 2006. Since then it has grown tremendously with the addition of the solar arrays, and so it will look very different. I’m looking forward to seeing the space station in its current configuration as we do our approach and docking.
Pretty much for every mission from now on, it’s going to change pretty drastically.
Yes, the configuration will be different from mission to mission.
This year will be the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, and that anniversary will be pretty close to your launch date, which marked the birth of the space age. What are your thoughts on our progress in space?
I believe that we have done a good job with our space programs. Of course, would be wonderful if we had be back to the moon by now, but we’re been working towards that effort, and also our future flights to Mars. We have learned a great deal with the International Space Station with long-duration crews, with crews working together with mission control, and fine-tuning our procedures, and so this is great initial work for future moon and Mars missions.
There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out in the world, but only a very few American astronauts. What made you try to become an astronaut and be one of the people who fly in space?
Early in childhood I was initially interested in astronomy and then engineering, and I really wanted to work in the aerospace Industry in some capacity. That was my primary goal; it was my major goal, and I of course applied to the astronaut program and was very fortunate to be accepted, and I applied because it was something I- I wanted to do, I wanted to have an opportunity to fly in space. However, I knew that very few people have that opportunity. And, I would have been happy continuing to work in the aerospace industry. So I gave it a shot and I was very fortunate it worked out.
Tell me about the place where you grew up. How did that place, or the people there, influence you, make you the person you are today?
I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the heart of Brookshire county nestled in the valley with the surrounding mountains. The culture there is very rich in music and art, theater. I had a lot of influences and a lot of nice examples in those areas. The people are very supportive -- my parents were always very supportive, my teachers were also supportive. And so I was always encouraged to, pursue my dreams, I was not limited or in anyway told there was something that I couldn’t achieve. That was a very fundamental part of my development.
If you could give us a thumbnail sketch of your education, and professional career, as it led you to where you are today.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering Science from Harvard University, and a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. After my degree from Harvard I worked for two years in Denver, at the former Martin Marietta Astronautics Group. I worked on Titan 4, on the structural dynamics group there. Then I went on to graduate school, and following graduate school, I worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for about four years, on the Galileo spacecraft and other projects. For Galileo I performed attitude control analysis. And from there I came here to the Johnson Space Center. I’ve been here for about 11 years.
How about the process where you applied, and [do] you have a story of how you were accepted or when you found out that you were accepted for the astronaut corps?
I applied while I was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I sent my application in ’95 and was called for an interview, and I came to Johnson Space Center for the interview in January, of ’96. I completed the week-long interview, medical tests and the interview with the astronaut selection board, and I was very excited and also a little surprised when I got a call in April from the astronaut board saying, would I like to come work here at Johnson Space Center and train to be an astronaut. I loved the work and the people at the JPL, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Flying in space and working in extreme environments has been shown that it can be risky. What do you think we get from flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?
I believe that humans have always had a thirst for knowledge and a quest for the unknown, and our space exploration brings great improvements to our lives here on Earth. We have great improvements in our technology. Our everyday lives are very different because of the work that’s done by the space program, and because of the technologies and the developments that we learned. So I believe that it’s very important to our future, and that makes it worth the risk.