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Preflight Interview: Michael Foreman, Mission Specialist
02.29.08
 
jsc2006e05438: Michael Foreman Q: This is a question that you’ve probably been asked a few hundred times, but knowing the odds against actually becoming an astronaut, what made you want to apply?

Image to right: Astronaut Michael J. Foreman, Mission Specialist. Image credit: NASA

A: Well, I was one of those kids that just always wanted to be an astronaut. Some people want to be firefighters and policemen and from when I was 8 or 9 years old watching the early space program on TV and reading about it in the newspapers, I just always wanted to do that. So ignorance is bliss at that point. You don’t realize what an uphill battle you have to get into this program. But I just always wanted to do it and I just kept plugging away at that dream, and eventually it paid off miraculously for me and I got here.

Could you recreate for us the moment when you found out that you had been selected as an astronaut candidate? Where were you? How did it happen? How did you feel?

I had interviewed for the ’96 astronaut class and been rejected that time, one of many rejections for me. But after that I had been invited to come to work on a space shuttle project and so I was actually down here working at JSC and had interviewed again for the ’98 class which I was actually selected. I heard one day that after all the interviews were over that they were starting to make the calls. I was in a meeting. They had my office number here at Johnson Space Center. I [left] the meeting and went to my desk and, lo and behold, I had a message and the message was from the guy that was making the positive ‘you are selected’ calls. So I called him back and, and he asked me if I still wanted to be an astronaut which I thought was a crazy question, after all this, all these times I had applied and I said, “I surely do.” That was just a thrill. I was beside myself. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited.

NASA’s recruiting the next class of astronaut candidates. What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about applying?

I would say that if that’s something you want to do, you just have to keep plodding away, persevere, I guess, is the key. Sometimes for some of us the rejection is part of the maturing process that NASA’s actually looking at and for me I think it was eight times that I applied and was finally successful. So I think some people get selected their first time. We don’t like those people too well, but they’re out there. Hopefully the people that see this will end up being that person that gets selected the first time they try. But for me, it was not to happen that way. I think you just have to persevere and stick with it if that’s what you really want to do. It’s worth it.

Now tell us about the place you consider your hometown.

My hometown is a little town in Ohio, Wadsworth. I grew up there, lived my whole life there prior to going off to the Naval Academy and starting down this adventure. A great town, good people, small town, it's just, just a great place to be from.

How did your hometown and the people there make you the person that you are today?

I think the people from Ohio and Northeastern Ohio, especially, are just down-to-Earth, salt-of-the-Earth type of people. They’re the kind of people that you want your kids to grow up around, and probably why my dad took us back there once he had graduated from college and he knew that was where he wanted to raise his family. I think it was a great, great place just for the people that you associate with there.

Do you think you will be able to recognize Wadsworth from space?

Well, I hope so. I know in the proximity, to Lake Erie and Cleveland and Akron, some other larger towns and I think if I can find northeastern Ohio. Just look for the prettiest place there and that’ll be Wadsworth.

Well, tell us about your journey to become an astronaut and, if you would, include your education and then your, your military career as well.

I grew up in Wadsworth, went to Wadsworth High School and as a kid knew that I wanted to be an astronaut. I started reading about the early astronauts and found out that a lot of them were in the Navy, had been in the Navy, and my father had also been in the Navy so I thought, “Well, the goal to be an astronaut is to become a Navy pilot and then become an astronaut.” So I started looking at that. My father actually told me, “Well, if you want to go into the Navy, you should explore, you should research this place called the Naval Academy, this college, so I did that, and thought, “Ah, this looks like a great place to go to school.” Somehow I, I got selected to go to the Naval Academy. I graduated and went to flight school and started my career flying in the Navy. I thought, “Well, you know, one thing that these guys, early astronauts, had all done was become a test pilot.” I thought if you like to fly airplanes, being a test pilot would be really cool. So I started to apply to the Navy test pilot school and I got turned down a few times and then I got some advice from somebody that I ought to go get a master’s degree, that that would help me get into test pilot school. So I went off and got a master’s degree. The Navy put me through their post-graduate school and I got a Master’s Degree and continued to apply to test pilot school and, while I was working on my Master’s Degree, I started to apply to NASA, too, because if you want to be an astronaut you have to apply. So I started to do that and I continued to get rejected by the Navy test pilot school and I started to get rejected by NASA. But I just kept plugging away and eventually, after several more years, I got selected to the Navy test pilot school and went there and graduated from that school and continued to apply to NASA. About the seventh time I applied, they invited me down for an interview and turned me down. And then the eighth time I applied, they, they interviewed me and selected me. It was a long process. I wanted to be an astronaut since I was 8 and I was 41 when I got here. So it was a 33 year process, but it all paid off. It goes back to my ‘don’t give up’ theory.

You certainly endured. Now you’ve logged over 5,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft. How does the space shuttle compare to the other aircraft that you’ve flown?

It’s certainly the most complicated vehicle I’ve ever encountered -- just systems intensive and just a lot to know. Most of the airplanes I flew were much simpler, lucky for me. I had a thrill flying all those, and being a part of a space shuttle crew I think is just going to be even more of a thrill.

This is your first flight. How are you feeling as launch day gets closer?

Well, I’m starting to worry about, “Gee, will I remember all this stuff that they’ve been teaching me for the last nine, ten years and the last year intensively for this mission?” I think it’ll all be there when I need it but you know, the concern is always, “Gee, I have [to] remember, will I remember what they taught me?” And NASA’s done a great job teaching us. Will I have done a good job retaining all that stuff?

You have several veteran fliers on this mission. Have they given you much advice about flying in space?

Well, they say things like, "You have to remember to take a minute and enjoy it. Don’t just be working all the time because there’s definitely a leaning towards being all the time working because every minute of every day is tasked with something." So they mostly say, “Hey, don’t forget to enjoy it. Take a minute and, and look out the window. Even during the EVA, don’t forget, where you are and appreciate that. Take a look around if you have a, a second and enjoy it.”

Share with us the story about when you found out you were picked to fly on your first mission.

I was extremely excited. I had been here a while and was just hoping that a crew assignment would be coming soon. When it did I was just ecstatic. Getting to fly with a Naval Academy classmate of mine, Dom Gorie, and good friends, Bob Behnken, Rick Linnehan, Box Johnson, Garrett Reisman, is just thrilling. Takao Doi is another friend of mine. It’s just a fantastic feeling to finally have kind of gotten there. Now the next crescendo will be that lift off and actually getting to space, so I'm looking forward to that.

jsc2007e23735: Michael Foreman Image to left: Attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, astronaut Michael J. Foreman, STS-123 Mission Specialist, awaits the start of an emergency egress training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

Flying in space has proven to be dangerous. What is it, what do we get from space exploration that makes you willing to take the risk?

There are the technological advances, of course, that we almost take for granted as, as humans. The things that we’re learning from the space business are just propelling us forward and making life on Earth so much better all the time. But to me I think this International Space Station project has brought major parts of the whole world together focused on one project, one goal. I think that is the best outcome of the space program overall is just the combined forces of all these countries focused on the same thing and not fighting but working together to make mankind better.

Give us a summary of the primary goals of the STS-123/1JA mission to the International Space Station and your responsibilities during that mission.

Our primary responsibilities or goals, priorities … Our first to drop off Garrett Reisman at the space station, a new crew member for the space station, and bring back Leo Eyharts from the station, the crew member that Garrett is relieving. We also have two payloads that we are dropping off, new components for the space station. One is Kibo, a piece of the Japanese element, the first piece and also, the SPDM or Dextre, the Canadian robotic arm component that we’re also taking up. My roles are as the mission specialist 2 are to fly up and down on the flight deck with the commander, pilot and mission specialist 1, help the pilot and commander monitor systems and go through checklists and then while on orbit I’m involved in the spacewalks that we do as either a spacewalker or the IV crew member for the spacewalks, the choreographer, if you will, for the spacewalks that we’re going to do.

You just mentioned there are two primary pieces of station hardware that are going to be carried on your flight. One is the first of six components that make up the Japanese experiment module known as Kibo. This first component of Kibo is the experiment logistics module pressurized section or ELM-PS. Tell us what this module is and explain its function as part of the International Space Station.

Well, the piece that we take up is the logistics module of Kibo. It’s the first piece that goes up. It serves as the logistics module or sort of like the attic, the storage room for the Japanese module once the, the whole element is up there. So we take this piece up first and it gets temporarily placed on the space station. Once the major JEM element goes up, it’ll be moved over to its final position and act as a logistics module.

You mentioned that the ELM-PS is going to be installed in a temporary location. Where’s the location that it’s going to be installed in and why is it temporary?

We take it up first before the major Japanese module so it needs a temporary spot to be placed. So we’re going to place it on the zenith part of Node 2 temporarily and then once the next mission goes up with the Japanese module, they’ll move it over to the top of the JEM and it will be the logistics module for the JEM, Japanese module.

Once it’s installed will there be access inside of it? Can it be used?

Yes. We actually have two of our crew members that are training to do some initial outfitting so we’ll all probably get to ingress the, the Japanese module that we take up -- once we have it installed in its temporary spot, maybe take some pictures, maybe even have a PAO event from there. But then Takao and Rick will actually be doing some work inside there to get it set up for its role as logistics module for the JEM.

This is the first piece of Japanese hardware. Share with us, you know, some of your philosophical thoughts about having this first piece of Japanese hardware on the International Space Station since they are a partner.

Yeah, it’s great. It’s really expanding the international flavor of the International Space Station because up [to] now it’s been primarily U.S./Russian with some Canadian components. Now we’ve actually added the European Columbus module and starting to add the Japanese module on our mission. So it’s really starting to be international. The 16 or so countries involved are actually having their components up on orbit now and, and it’s really taking on that international flavor.

Obviously there’s some training involved in bringing this, the ELM-PS. Can you talk to us a little bit about your training for that?

My role with the Kibo or the Japanese module is as the choreographer for that first EVA. Before we can pull it out of the space shuttle payload bay we have to have a couple spacewalkers go out and disconnect some electrical cables and take off some covers so that it can be lifted into place by Takao and Dom using the robotic arm. My role in the training has been to talk the spacewalkers through their procedures that they’ll be doing on orbit.

The second piece of the station hardware that is being delivered is the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator; we’ll call it Dextre for short. What is it and what capabilities is it going to add to the International Space Station?

Well, Dextre is sort of like the hand that goes on the end of the robotic arm that’s already up there. Dextre has some interesting capabilities. The Dextre hand can actually pick up new components and put them into place on the space station, drive bolts, so it can actually do some of the work that a spacewalker would normally have to do and so that’s the primary role of Dextre.

Okay. So tell us a little bit about your training in preparation for bringing this up.

Dextre actually flies up in the payload bay in a, what we call an SLP, a space lab pallet, in about nine pieces. So it’s sort of ‘some assembly required’ on orbit. And on our second, first, second and third spacewalks we’re actually doing parts of the building of, of Dextre so that it can be utilized by the space station robotic arm so my training again on the EVAs, EVA-1 Rick and Garrett will be doing some of the initial tasks and then on EVA-2 Rick and I will, will do the lion’s share of the, we hope, of the assembly of, of Dextre and get the arms assembled to the body and, and pull it, get it ready to pull out of that pallet and then on EVA-3 there’s actually some cleanup steps that will be done to finish putting Dextre together and have it ready for use on orbit.

jsc2007e046566: Michael Foreman Image to right: Astronaut Michael J. Foreman, STS-123 mission specialist, participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) in the Crew Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

So Dextre’s involved with EVA-1, EVA-2, and EVA-3.

Parts of three EVAs are to put those nine pieces together and, and put that hand into operation.

Even though nighttime occurs about every 45 minutes during orbit, let’s talk about what us folks here on Earth would call your first night in space. You’ve experienced an intense launch into low orbit. You’re traveling at about 17,000 mph around the Earth and flight day 2 is going to be very busy. Do you think you’re actually going to be able to sleep that first night in space?

I’m having a hard time sleeping now, so I think it’s going to be a challenge. After launch we have a lot of work to get done before that first sleep period. I think we’re going to have to force ourselves to focus on getting the work done and getting to bed because you don’t want to get a bad night’s sleep the first night and have it kind of ripple effect down through the mission. So I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement but we’re just going to have to sort of try to squelch that a little bit and try to get to, to bed on time and, and get ready for the upcoming events because it’s just kind of a rapid fire mission with a lot going on every day. So…

Dom was saying that’s going to be one of his responsibilities is to make sure you go to bed.

Right.

Rendezvous and docking are major events during any mission. First take us through the rendezvous process. What happens during that part of the mission and what will your responsibilities be during the rendezvous?

I’m part of the rendezvous team training for that. My responsibilities are with the handheld laser, to keep track of how far away the space station is, what our closure rates are. Dom is, is flying the vehicle and Box is controlling systems up front and Takao is sort of our lead for the checklist during the rendezvous so, and then other crew members are taking pictures. It’s sort of an all-encompassing event there. Everybody is involved with rendezvous and docking, but that’ll be a great flight day 3 once we get to see that space station getting bigger and bigger and finally docking with it.

Now share with us the complexity and excitement of docking the space shuttle to the International Space Station and what your responsibilities will be during docking.

I think it will be a very exciting time as we see the space station loom larger and larger in front of us as we close in for the final part of the rendezvous. One of my mission responsibilities during that time is to operate the docking system so I’ll be controlling the docking system, getting that set for the actual capture and, and mating of the two vehicles and helping with the final procedures and final steps with Dom flying the vehicle. It will be an exciting time, I’m sure.

After the orbiter docks with the ISS, the hatches between the two vehicles will open and you’ll be welcomed to board the International Space Station. Then you and your fellow crew members are given a safety briefing right away. As a member of the ISS, what do you plan to do those next few moments after your safety briefing? You’re on board the International Space Station.

I think it’s just going to be such a thrill to see Peggy and Yuri and Leo, some crewmates that we haven’t seen in a while. They’re up there on the space station and we will get to see them again. But I think just the fascination of looking around the, and actually being on the space station, something that we train in here but I don’t think our mockups and our simulators maybe do it justice. It’s going to be a thrill to really be there and actually have that big space to kind of float around in and just experience.

Flight day 4 ushers in the first of several spacewalks during this mission. During those spacewalks or EVAs, the Kibo logistics module and Dextre will both be transferred from their temporary home inside the orbiter’s cargo bay to become part of the ISS. You may have done this, but let’s talk about it a little more. Describe the process of transferring the Kibo logistics module and then what your responsibilities will be during that task.

Kibo rides up in the payload bay. First we have to have some of the spacewalkers go out and take some covers off, disconnect some electrical cabling from the shuttle to the, to the module and then during that time I will be inside helping the spacewalkers with their procedures. I’ll be the IV crew member inside for that spacewalk. Then Dom and Takao will use the shuttle arm to lift it out of the payload bay and on to the Node 2 temporary position on the space station. So that’ll be kind of a thrill to watch that thing actually moving out and up and above us and attaching to the node.

Now share with us in a little more detail about how Dextre will be transferred from the orbiter and installed on the ISS and what your role will be during that process.

Dextre rides up in the payload bay on a special pallet and actually goes up in eleven different pieces. That’s why we say jokingly, “Some assembly required.” We take it up on this pallet. One of the first things we do is take that pallet out of the payload bay and attach it with the robotic arm to station, basically a worksite on the station where we’re going to be doing our EVA work. Then on EVA 1 Rick and Garrett will go out and start to do some of the assembly on Dextre. On EVA 2, Rick and I will go out and do the lion’s share, we hope, of the assembly of Dextre and put most of those pieces together. On EVA 3, Rick and Bob will actually go back and there are a few items that they’ll complete with the assembly. Once it’s fully assembled they’ll move it off on to the robotic arm and stow it somewhere else on the space station.

Once the Japanese module, the JLP as it’s more commonly known, and Dextre are both relocated to their new homes on the ISS, there’s a fourth EVA scheduled. Tell us what will happen during that EVA and what your responsibilities will be.

The fourth EVA now is the new EVA that we added to the mission. We originally had four EVAs and inserted a fifth EVA, actually between three and five. The new EVA 4 is our T-RAD DTO. T-RAD is the Tile Repair Ablator Dispenser and DTO is a Dedicated Test Objective that we’re going to do on this mission and T-RAD was originally manifested on STS-120. Those guys were sidetracked with a solar array repair, you remember, and didn’t get to do their test objective. So we inherited it and we’re kind of excited about it. It’s going to be a fun EVA we hope with an ablator gun actually that, that shoots out this STA-54 material that we hope will be a good shuttle tile repair material. The reason for this DTO is to go out, actually squirt some of this goo into some tile samples, some, some damaged tiles that we’re actually taking with us in a sample box, put this goo into these samples and let it cure, bring it back with us and let the scientists and engineers look at that material once it’s cured. They'll see how that, those repairs hold up and that’ll tell us more about how successful STA-54 with eventually be as a tile repair material.

Well, how do you train for an EVA like that?

That’s a great question because the question about this material is mostly how it’s going to react in a vacuum, the vacuum of space. We don’t get to practice down here on Earth in a weightless vacuum environment so we practice a couple of different ways. We go into our NBL, the pool that we practice all our EVAs in, and we set up the test and we go through all the motions. We just don’t squirt the STA-54 in the water. Obviously, you know, we can’t contaminate the pool water with some strange material. It wouldn’t behave the way it’s going to behave in space anyway so it wouldn’t really give us good training. So what we’ve done is we’ve practiced with an analog material in the 1G environment of Building 9, our mock-up building. We squirt some RTV-type material that acts a little bit like the material does but we know it’s different in space because of the vacuum. To kind of simulate how it will act in space, we’ve also tested recently in a dual-glove box we have here at Johnson Space Center. We have this material in a vacuum and we can access it with the, through this glove box and squirt it onto some tile samples there and see how it reacts. We still don’t have the weightless environment there so until we get to space we’ll put all those, all those combinations of, of variables, you know, in place and see how it reacts there. We’re really looking forward to seeing how this stuff reacts and should be a fun EVA. We just hope the stuff goes where we want it to go and we don’t come back in the shuttle all covered in this goo.

There’s a fifth EVA which actually was originally the fourth EVA. What’s going to happen during that EVA and what are your responsibilities going to be?

The final EVA is another EVA Bob Behnken and I get to go out on. It was originally our fourth EVA and was what we call our boom-stow EVA. The OBSS, the inspection boom that we carry in the orbiter to do our inspections early on in the mission and then our late inspection around flight day 11, 12 for us, to look to make sure we haven’t had any MMOD damage during the orbit portion of the flight. After that we will stow the boom on the space station and leave it there so that when STS-124 comes up, they have that boom available for their use and they can inspect their orbiter with it.

So why are you going to leave the OBSS on station. Normally it travels back to Earth with you?

Normally we would bring it back with us but on STS-124 those guys are taking up the JEM module, Kibo, the big module. The boom actually doesn’t fit in the payload bay with their payload so they still want to be able to inspect the orbiter once they’re up there so we’ll leave it there for them. Once we go out and stow it, we have some electrical power to connect to it to make sure that it, it doesn’t suffer any damage while it’s stowed on the outside of the space station. It’ll be available for those guys to pull off and use. And then they’ll bring it back with them in their payload bay once they have deployed Kibo.

How do you spend your time between EVAs?

A lot of my time is spent doing photo/TV type work. I’m one of the photo/TV guys on the crew so setting up getting ready for doing things like your job, getting ready for crew conferences, taking pictures of different things. I’m involved in all five of the EVAs as either EV or an IV crew member so a lot of times when you have an EVA every other day on orbit, we’ll be spending a lot of that time, the days in between just prepping for the next EVA, either going to be the crew member or the EV member or the IV choreographer, if you will, for that, for that EVA. So a lot of the time is spent just prepping for the next EVA. There are a few other tasks in there, cleaning some filters and some other odd jobs that I have on my plate. I’m not a robotics guy so I don’t get to do any of the robotics operations but I’m fully involved in all the EVA ops, so that’s a lot of the time is spent doing and getting prepared for.

Well, what are the different ways that an astronaut trains for either conducting an EVA or supporting an EVA?

We practice most of our EVA work in the NBL where we have the world’s largest indoor swimming pool and the space station mocked up in it. We put on the same suits that we normally wear in space, modified for the pool environment but very similar and we go into the water and we go through all our procedures. We typically plan on 6.5, 7-hour EVAs so we practice in this pool for about the same length of time, typically about 6 hours, and we go through all the procedures. And the EV crewmen, crew members are in the water and the IV crew member is up in the control room talking to them just like he would be during the EVAs themselves, guiding them through the procedures and talking about PGT settings and APFR settings and what their next tasks are and, things like that. So that’s where we do the bulk of our EVA testing. We also go around and look at our space hardware, different sites to get hands-on with the actual hardware we’ll be using. We get to play with mockups in the pool but it’s always good to lay hands on the actual equipment some time prior to going and before we see the real thing in space.

And then you also have the Virtual Reality lab as well.

We do. We spend time in the virtual reality lab, a lot of time there, actually. Virtual reality is a great place to coordinate both EVA with the robotics operations because we can see all of that come together in that lab. A lot of our EVAs are robotic intensive with one of the EV crew members on the end of that robotic arm and moving into different positions to do different tasks. So virtual reality is a real plus for us to be able to train in.

You don’t have a lot of off-duty time but you’ll have some. How do you plan on spending your off duty time?

Well, hopefully we won’t need our off-duty time to catch up on work that we haven’t finished. But if we truly have some off-duty time I think it would be fun to take some pictures, look out the window, just experience the weightlessness and the joy of living in space for a few minutes. I think it will be great.

What’s it like for you to know that you are a critical part of the largest scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken?

It’s pretty humbling since you put it that way, just incredible. You, I feel like a very small piece of this whole endeavor that we’re taking on, but it’s just a thrill for me to be a part of it, something I always wanted to do and I almost have to pinch myself every day to believe that I’m here actually doing it.

Once the newest hardware has been installed, all transfers between space crafts have been completed and you’re undocked from the ISS, your thoughts are going to turn to returning home. But the mission isn’t over just yet. How does the crew prepare for returning to Earth?

Well, that’s a good question, too, because I think a lot and you’ve asked me a lot about EVAs but I’m also the flight engineer for the, for the mission crew. Coming back to Earth, we have to remember we’re got to put this thing back into a glider mode, get it ready for re-entry and, and be prepared to go through all the procedures we need to do to come back. The day before re-entry we’ll go through some flight control systems checkouts and I’ll work with Dom and Box on that stuff and then we’ll, once we strap in for entry, we’ll go through all the deorbit burn procedures and come back and I’ll act as a flight engineer like I did on ascent and walk through all the nominal procedures and if we have an off-nominal procedure -- hopefully not -- but we’ll be ready for all that. So, yeah, there’s still work to be done after we undock and are headed home so we’ll focus on that part of the mission when we get there.