Q: This is the STS-124 interview with Mission Specialist Mike Fossum. Mike, at different points in our lives we choose particular paths. What was it that made you decide to take a path that leads to space?
Preflight Interview: Michael Fossum, Mission Specialist
A: I grew up in the space program. I was born just a couple of months after Sputnik launched and so the, the space program was a part of my life from the very beginning. And in my house, my dad thought that the space program was really important and he encouraged us to pay attention. He would get us up at night to watch important events and things like that. And so like every other red-blooded kid in America I grew up dreaming about some day being an astronaut and never completely gave up on that dream. I like the sense of adventure. I like the challenge. I like the, the teamwork and the fact that there’s so many people working together to make this happen. I'm really fortunate to be one of the people to be on the pointy end.
Could you recount for us the academic and professional steps that you took to get to NASA?
There were quite a few steps on my path to get to NASA and really to get to the Astronaut Office. After high school and on to college, I got my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, went into the Air Force. The Air Force sent me to graduate school. I got a master’s degree in systems engineering and then my first job after that, the Air Force actually loaned me over to Johnson Space Center in Houston. And so I came down here and worked in the Shuttle Mission Operations for three years. During that time my dream was really reawakened. I worked with some of the early shuttle astronauts and two in particular really encouraged me to apply and that, it convinced me that I could be sitting in their seat in a few years. They were Jerry Ross and Ellison Onizuka, a couple of Air Force flight test engineers who were mission specialists. They encouraged me to apply to test pilot school as a flight test engineer. So I did that. I went to Edwards for a year of training and then worked in flight test for a total of about eight years. Eventually I Ieft active duty Air Force and found my way back to NASA where I worked as an engineer here, for a few years before finally being selected in 1998 to begin astronaut training.
Being an astronaut can certainly be considered a dream job, but is there another one that you think might also be a blast?
I’ve got several dream jobs. One would be the world of flight test. I enjoyed my time in flight test immensely. It’s a great challenging career field. Other than that I think that since my flight test days may be behind me I think another dream job for me would be to be a professional scouter. I’m a Scout master now; to be a professional scouter, or be an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. I’ve joked with my buddies that are NOLS instructors and they’re ready to take me on.
What is it that you like about that?
I like the outdoors. I like the physical challenges associated with those things and I like the opportunity to train young people in both skills of the outdoors but, more importantly, skills for life, skills of leadership and teamwork. I do that now as a Scout leader and I really see the opportunity to change lives doing that kind of thing.
Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in your hometown and how that place influenced who you are and who you’ve become?
I grew up in McAllen, down in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. In a lot of ways we felt like we were on the edge of the country down there because literally we were. It is a different world with a strong Hispanic culture and, but a strong family ethic and a work ethic. I had a lot of friends and I grew up out there active in Scouts so I was getting outdoors and learning skills, as well as active in the community in a lot of different ways. Just a lot of friends, a lot of tight friendships still today from those days and, and we’ve all encouraged each other through the years to go on and be the best that we could be whatever endeavor, whatever direction we’re working in.
Speaking of friends, if, if some of your closest friends were asked to characterize you, what do you think they’d say? How do you think they would do that?
Oh boy! That’s a good question! I think my closest friends, especially those I grew up with would call me a little bit crazy, a little bit driven, that I’m a happy guy that’s willing to work hard and play hard and, and hopefully fun to be around.
Have you described to family and friends the experience of your first spaceflight and if so, how?
The first spaceflight was just incredible and trying to explain that, words just don’t do it justice. At launch, as the final countdown is, is going down, I was sitting on the flight deck and I twisted around in my chair so I could see out the overhead window and I could see the steam start billowing when the main engines lit. And you feel a shudder going through the whole space shuttle. It actually swings a few degrees. And at that point I said, “Oh, you know, we’re fixing to go” and I get, settle back in my seat and the solid rockets light and it’s a big boosh! It’s a big push right in the back and it builds and it builds and it builds for two minutes. The solid rockets, solid rocket motors burn out and the force drops back down and then it starts climbing again, slowly, slowly, slowly, until finally you’re sitting there under three G’s, three times gravity. It feels like there’s a big guy sitting on your chest and I had a mirror in my knee board and I tipped that mirror up and I look out that window and you could see the coast of Florida receding. You could see this huge plume of smoke that we were riding on top of and the shadow falling across the Atlantic and finally, at 8½ minutes the main engines cut out and my job was to jump up and get ready to take video of our external fuel tank. So right away I start unstrapping and I jump up to the window and that first glance, looking out the window, to see the, to see the Earth, the curve of the Earth, the blue ocean covered with clouds, the black sky, totally black sky up above and I was in momentary shock. I said a quick prayer of thanks. “Dear Lord, I can’t believe I’m really here.” And then it’s like, “OK, I’ve got work to do.” But that first look was something I’ll never forget. The second quick image was sliding out of the hatch on my first spacewalk. It’s nighttime. The Earth is black underneath and I slide out of that hatch. I’d done this 50 times in the swimming pool where we train and, but sliding out of the hatch and hanging onto the handrail and looking down at the Earth below you could just barely see the moonlit Earth and space station hanging, suspended in space, motionless. Feels like you’re not moving at all and the space shuttle hanging off one end, totally different from what it feels like in the pool and to know we’re going 17,500 mph, but it feels like we’re stationary. Later on the sun comes up and you see the Earth moving silently by at about five miles per second. It’s unbelievable, hard to get it into words, but I, I hope that I, I capture some of that feeling.
I’m sure after a while you run out of adjectives. Please summarize for us the, the main goals of, of this mission, STS 124.
124 is all about delivering the Japanese-built laboratory to the space station, getting it installed and activated. It’s a huge module. It’s beautiful, very well engineered and built. It’s the largest single module that we’re launching up to the space station and so our whole mission is about getting that laboratory installed on the station.
You are mission specialist 3. Could you give us a big picture idea or snapshot of what your main responsibilities are as MS 3?
My main responsibilities for this mission are two-fold. I’m one of the senior, the experienced, astronauts and so I’m working with my crewmates to help them understand the intricacies, what it’s really like to live and work in space. There’s some things they can train us for but there’s some things you just have to be there and experience to help guide each other through that experience. Really my biggest responsibility on the mission though is as the lead spacewalker. We have three spacewalks planned for this mission and so I’m the lead for those and helping with my EVA partner, Ron Garan. We’re working together and training together and going through all of those details and training in a number of different venues to get ourselves prepared to go get the job done.
The main cargo on this flight, as you mentioned, is the Japanese laboratory also named Kibo. Could you give us an idea of what it is and, and what it’s going to be used for?
The Japanese Laboratory which they call Kibo which means ‘hope’ in Japanese is a very large laboratory. It’s very sophisticated. It’s about 30 percent larger than the U.S. built laboratory and so it has a lot of room, we call it ‘rack space’, different bays inside this lab for different types of experiments. Our job is to get it set up and get it started, to get all of the systems hooked up and functional. Later on there will be more experiments and things coming up. Something that’s really unique about this lab is at the far end of the lab there’s actually a little air lock which is not built for people but built for equipment. It’s a great feature where they have an air lock. You can open it up on the inside, put a pallet or an experiment into this little chamber, close the inner hatch then de-pressurize it, open up the outer hatch and slide this payload out. Then there’s a robot arm on the outside end of the Japanese laboratory and they can grab this payload and put it onto an exposed facility which will be coming up on the flight after ours. So they have a unique capability to move experiments in and out of the space station to expose them to deep space. Some of those will be on the bottom, if you will, looking down at the Earth for Earth observation. Some will be up for different kinds of astronomy or just for exposure to the space environment. There’s a lot of capability here. It’s really exciting to be there as we get it kicked off.
You mentioned the robotic arm, the JEM RMS. Can you tell us a little bit about how it compares with the station arm that's there now?
The JEM RMS is a bit different than the station’s. We call it the ‘Big Arm.’ For one, it’s hard-mounted to the back of the Japanese lab module and so it can’t move around like the station arm can. It’s more like the space shuttle’s robot arm in that it’s a great capability out there and it reaches places that the space station Big Arm, or SSRMS as we call it, won’t reach quite as well. But it’s very similar, though, as far as how it’s operated and, and the details of the construction and all for the arm.
You won’t have the, the Orbiter Boom Sensor System for the ride up. Can you tell us why?
Because of the weight and size, physical size of the Japanese laboratory, we don’t have the capability to carry the Orbiter Boom Sensor System uphill with us and so it’s a kind of unique twist on things. The flight before us, STS-123, is going to launch with the Orbiter Boom Sensing System. They’ll use that on flight day 2 to do their normal inspections and then they'll probably use it for a little bit of, a few checks before they leave to make sure nothing else has changed. At the end of their mission, they’re going to take that 50-foot-long boom with the sensor packages on one end and it’s going to be attached to the space station. They’re going to leave it behind. And so the first thing we’re going to do on our first spacewalk is to go up on top of the station where they’ll have it stowed and basically unhook it and hand it off to the space station’s arm so that we can pick it up. We won’t be able to do the inspections on flight day 2 like we have done since STS-114. We’ll do most of our inspections later in the flight.
On flight day 2 there, there is still planned inspection of the thermal tiles but it’s going to be without the OBSS. What’s the process for that?
Our inspections on flight day 2 are going to be limited. All we’re going to have is the space shuttle’s robot arm and the camera on the end of it. And so we can use that arm to reach out and we can get a pretty good look at, for instance, our left wing. We can look at part of our nose and just a little bit of our right wing. But because of the limited reach of the space shuttle’s robot arm that’s all we’ll be able to do is just get a camera view. And that’s not the kind of view that we really want to clear the wing for re-entry. We need the precision instrumentation that’s on the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, the OBSS. We need that to really clear it and make sure we don’t have any little cracks or any problems with the reinforced carbon-carbon leading edge on the shuttle. But, at least, the camera gives us a first look. It helps us know if we have any kind of big problems that we’re going to, that are going to change our mission dramatically.
Are there any other key activities you’re scheduled to be involved in on flight day 2, some prep work?
Part of what I’ll be doing on flight day 2, in addition to supporting the inspections, is our space suits in the space shuttle’s air lock. We’ll be getting out some tools and getting into those suits and going through full system checks to make sure that, that there’s no problem with the suits. During that day we’ll have a little bit of down time. The full-up OBSS inspection is a long, drawn-out affair and without that that frees up a little bit of time, so we’ll get a chance to get our suits fully checked out. We’ll be gathering a lot of our EVA tools, all the things that we go over that we’ll need to hit the ground running once we dock to the space station on flight day 3.
Moving on, flight day 3, could you tell us what your responsibilities are or what you’ll be doing for the rendezvous and, and docking phases of the mission?
I’ll be assisting some with the rendezvous during the rendezvous phase, but a big part of my job for that time will be really preparing the cameras and doing photo documentation of the space station as we're getting close enough. They like to get a lot of pictures and some of those are so people can see what this incredible beast looks like up there. But really, there’s engineering rationale for that, too. We’ll use a strong telephoto lens and we take a series of snapshots up and down the structure, all over everything, particularly for instance, the docking mechanism as we’re coming in close to it so we can document later if there’s any problems of any type. We may have captured some information with the cameras to tell us why we had a leak or some other kind of problem. You want to document it before you arrive and then as we back away, we’ll do the same thing.
Once you dock to ISS the work doesn’t stop there. On that day you still have stuff to do. What’s the rest of that day going to be, going to be for you?
Oh, docking day’s a big day. Once we get docked, it takes about an hour to get the hatches open. We’ll barrel across and start messing up the nice neat space station and after going through the welcomes and a quick safety brief and safety tour -- reminders where things like the oxygen masks and fire extinguishers are on space station and things like that. Then we start preparing for our spacewalk because on flight day 4 we’re, we’re stepping out for our first spacewalk. That night on flight day 3, Ron and I will be going into the airlock and depressurizing the airlock to 10.2 pounds per square inch. We’ll spend the night like that to begin removing some of the nitrogen from our bodies. It helps expedite the timeline. It helps us get out the door a little bit cleaner on the next day, on flight day 4 for our first spacewalk.
The next day it is the first spacewalk, as you mentioned. You talked about handing off the OBSS. What, what other big overview things are you, are on the list for that day?
Hey, our biggest task on EVA 1, our first spacewalk, is really preparing the space station to receive the Japanese module. There’s some covers and launch locks we have to pull off of the docking mechanism or attachment mechanism and preparing the Japanese lab to be transferred. So there are some covers on the Japanese lab, some launch locks on it, some connectors that are keeping it powered and, and warmed up while it’s in the payload bay of the shuttle. All these things have to be done manually and so really we’re the blue collar help. We go out there and get out the wrenches and, and tools and start cleaning things up and preparing it for the attachment. They’ll actually be poised to grab the Japanese lab out of the payload bay with the space, the space station arm about the time we’re leaving the payload bay. And so it’s going to be an exciting day. We’ll get the Japanese lab moved out of the bay and attached to the station by the end of that day. It’ll be a great day.
On flight day 5, can you tell us about the key items on the to-do list on that day? What’s happening flight day 5?
On flight day 5 my biggest activities are really going to be to get the suits checked out and serviced. We get the batteries charged. We fill up the water. I like to say, “We check the oil” and get the suits ready to go out another day, get everything ready again, because that’s kind of the down day between the spacewalks. There’s other things that we’ll be supporting on that day as well. But my biggest emphasis is going to be preparing to go outside on flight day 6.
What are the big overall goals for EVA 2?
By the time we do EVA 2 on flight day 6 the Japanese lab will have been installed on the space station. There are two big parts to our spacewalk that day. The main one is to go out and remove a bunch of launch locks and covers on the JEM RMS, the Japanese robot arm as well as some, launch locks on windows. There are some covers on an attachment device which is on top of the Japanese laboratory and we’ll be moving their logistics module to plug into that port on top of their lab. We’ve got to prepare that, that mechanism for the attachment operations, too.
I would like to get some more details about some of the equipment that you’re going to be working with on EVA 2, first the TV equipment that’s going to be installed. What type of TV equipment is it and, and what’s its purpose?
There are two cameras that we’re going to be carrying out on stanchions that are about four feet long. We’re going to carry those out of the airlock and out to the end of the Japanese lab. One mounts on each side of the back end of the lab. These cameras, of course, have pan and tilt mechanisms on them to move around. There’ll be several different purposes but a big one is to look at the experiments and payloads that they have on their exposed facility that will be mounted on the flight after ours out there. With those two cameras, they use those to, as they’re maneuvering their robot arm through its different, through its paces and stuff so they can see the clearance, make sure they’re not going to run into anything, make sure that things are lined up when they’re installing payloads on the exposed facility, things like that.
You talked earlier about the, the docking port on top of JEM that you’re going to put the JLP, the logistics module on. There’s a docking port up top and then there’s one that’s going to connect to Node 2. What, what are the differences between those two types of ports?
The mechanism that we use to join pressurized elements together is called the Common Berthing Mechanism, or CBM. When you bring those together, it’s a ring. It’s about eight feet in diameter and there are sixteen bolts that are part of that mechanism and there’s all bunch of controllers and everything. One side has the controllers and the actual bolts that are driven in. The other side has the nut receptacles. So one is considered to be active. It has the controllers and the bolts. The other is a passive. The side of the Japanese laboratory that attaches to the node is a passive port. The one that’s on the zenith or top of the Japanese laboratory is what we call an active CBM. So when we pull the covers off of, off of that, these covers are to protect, keep it thermally stabilized and protect it from any debris getting in there. When we pull those covers off we’re going to be looking at these big controller boxes and, and a lot of other hardware so it’s very different, it appears very different, from the outside when you’re looking at, a lot more clutter in the active mechanism, if you will.
Let’s move ahead to flight day 7. Probably the main thing that day is the focused inspection. Sometimes on missions it happens, sometimes it, it doesn’t. Could you explain to us what focused inspection is and, and how it happens?
For us the whole focused inspection task is going to be a little different than other people. For previous missions we do an inspection on flight day 2 before we dock to the space station and as they, and analyze the data and think about it a little bit, they come up with some areas that they want us to go look at a little closer. That’s very common and not unexpected at all, nothing to be fearful of. For us, we will not have done a real inspection with the OBSS, with the sensitive sensor packages or sensitive sensors. We won’t have done that yet and so I think that it’s very likely we will do a focused inspection using the OBSS and its sensors to get into some areas where, for some reason, through photo analysis they saw a little bit of foam coming off the tank, and we expect to see foam coming off the tank just like we always do and, of course, everybody hopes those pieces are very small and not a threat. But we’ll see some pieces of foam and we’ll probably go look at that panel or two that, that foam look like it might have gotten close to. We also have sensors in the wing to measure acoustic signatures and, and really what that means is if anything is hitting the leading edge of the wing it causes the structure to ring a little bit and we have a series of sensors inside the, the wing and so if there’s a hit, these sensors will pick up the vibrations from that or the sound from that at different times. We can’t be real precise on narrowing down where we took a ping but we can narrow it down to a few feet and so we would use the boom to go look in that area because that would be a suspect area. So those are the kind of things that will lead us. I’m very confident we’ll do a focused inspection and look at some places because that really will be our first opportunity with the sensitive sensors.
Speaking in, in general terms, what might cause mission managers to forgo a focused inspection?
They might choose to forgo a focused inspection if the, all of the analysis from the launch came out just incredibly clean, if the wing leading edge came back incredibly clean with no indications or no funny things that make them wonder if there’s something going on. So it’s possible but I would bet on doing the focused inspection myself.
Could you tell us what the primary focus of, of EVA 3 is?
EVA 3’s all about changing out the nitrogen tank assembly, the NTA as we call it, which is on the starboard or the right hand side of the space station. It’s used to help keep the ammonia pressurized in the coolant system on the outside of the station. By the time we get up there, that will be pretty much depleted. There’s a spare already on the space station. It’s way out on the port side or the left side. So we’re going to use the space station’s robot arm, the SSRMS, and we’re going to have it pretty much at full stretch. My spacewalk partner, Ron Garan’s, going to be out on the big arm and he’s going to grab onto the failed nitrogen tank assembly, NTA, over on the starboard side. We’re going to get that unbolted, pull it out and then he’s going to do, we call it the windshield wiper maneuver. He’s going to be on the end of that thing, and go all the way over to the other side of the space station. I’m going to take the more pedestrian route, go out to the storage location for the new NTA and I’ll be getting that out of its covers and unbolted. I’ll put it in a temporary location out there so when Ron comes in with the old one, we’ll get that stored out on that outboard location and then Ron will pick up the new NTA and go back through this full maneuver. It’s going to be really a great thing to see. It’s going to be a great view for him. I’m excited for him. He’ll be at full stretch of the arm, about eight-five feet, you know, up above the station and hopefully he’ll have a little bit of time to look around ‘cause it takes about 20 to 25 minutes to move the arm through that full swing. It’s a long time and he’ll just be hanging on to the NTA, about 550, 600. He’ll be hanging on to that in his hands and hopefully have a little bit of time to look down and enjoy the view. While he’s doing that, I’ll be cleaning up that work site, getting it all covered up and buttoned up and torqued down and I’ll be leaving and going out to the end of the, the Japanese lab to finish up the last few activation tasks out there, getting some launch locks off of some things that we couldn’t reach on our second spacewalk. And then Ron will be installing the new NTA into its location on the truss, getting it all bolted down and buttoned up and then we’ll both be racing to see who gets done first so we can go back outboard. They, they want us to pick up a camera on the outside of the space station which has started to fail and bring it inside so they could swap out some spare parts. So we’ll be racing to see who gets, who gets done first to go out and grab that camera.
OK. And the prize is?
You get to work harder.
For flight day 11 you’ll undock and do a fly around of the station and take more pictures. There’s also on the schedule possibility of doing a late inspection. What happens if there’s a suspect area noted during this late inspection?
Now on fight day 11, after we undock and do the fly around and we get some more pictures for documenting -- hopefully we’ll get a full fly around we’ll be able to document the condition of the station from a lot of different angle. The engineering community always looks forward to those. As soon as we clear the station and start to back away, we’ll be breaking out the OBSS to do a full inspection. On a lot of flights that’s considered an optional inspection. For us this will be a mandatory inspection. This will be the first time that we can really manipulate the Orbiter Boom Sensing System all the way through, through the full inspection. It’s roughly six hours or so to do the whole thing and we will be doing that. That’s a high priority for that day to complete the full inspection of the left and right wing and the nose. This is the top and the bottom, all of the leading edge of the wing where it gets really hot and we will, that’ll be very high priority to accomplish on that day so that we can get all of the data down to the ground and there’ll be a huge team eagerly awaiting the arrival of all of that data so they can start to crunch it and make sure we don’t have some kind of problem. So we’re cutting it a little short compared to other missions. They go in and they inspect early on and they know the condition of the ship, so really by flight day 5 or 6 or so, you know, we’re able to clear most flights and give ‘em the go. Your thermal protection system is cleared, you’re go for coming home whenever you need to. Everybody’s looking forward to hearing that because that means we don’t need to sweat that detail any more. For us we won’t get that word until really late. And so we’ll have an extra day added. I mean, we have a day in our timeline after we undock, just extra time in case we need to take some other actions. We’ll have all of the repair capability onboard so we wouldn’t need to go back to the space station. If it's minor damage, little nicks in the leading edge or some dings on the tile that somehow we didn’t pick up earlier, we can do a repair ourselves after we’ve left the station. If it’s a really big problem, though, we will have preserved the ability to go back and redock with the space station and that would keep the people safe. That’ll keep us, the crew, safe. If we were to have to do that though, that would probably mean that space shuttle Discovery’s on her last flight.
And should, should it be necessary for someone to go and try to repair, who will that be?
If we have to do any repairs that’ll be Ron and myself. We’re trained to do the repairs and you know, I’m fortunate for my previous flight, STS-121. We were one of the return to flight missions and so we were part of the development of all of these repair techniques and materials and on 121, Piers Sellers and I tested the, the materials to repair the leading edge of the space shuttle’s wing. So I’m very well versed in all of those details. We’re going through refresher training now and stuff, of course. But I’ve got a lot of confidence in our ability to handle those kind of problems.
We talked earlier about the English translation for the word Kibo being hope. After this mission what do you hope this mission will mean for the broader mission of, of space exploration in general?
The completion of STS-124 with the delivery of the Japanese laboratory really brings us very close to what we have dreamed about for the space station all along. The Americans and Russians started the construction so many years ago and, by this point, we will have the, the European-built laboratory Columbus in place. We’ll be installing Kibo and the international community will finally have the kind of laboratory capabilities, research capabilities, in place to begin really exercising the teamwork. The Japanese people have worked on this lab that we’re taking up for over 20 years. They’re so excited about finally seeing their work. The engineers -- I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of them in Japan and in Florida as they prepare Kibo for its final preparations for launch. They’re so excited. They’ve worked so hard for so many years and their excitement’s contagious. You know, we’re excited about flying but we’re excited about flying their laboratory and getting it up there and taking care of it and getting it installed, getting it operational. It’s an exciting time for everybody. This is really where we dreamed about. I was on the space station redesign team back in ’93. I was actually here at JSC in ’84 when the space station program was first announced by President Reagan. I left for a few years and came back and then I helped work on the design of the space station as we know it today. So this is hugely gratifying to be here and to be on one of these flights toward the end where you see everything really coming together and taking its final shape.
Mike, can, can you give us some insight about some of the talents and skills and intangibles of your crewmates that make you confident that this mission is going to be a success?
This is a great crew. We’re having so much fun together. I flew with Mark Kelly on my previous mission. He was the pilot then. And, as the pilot, it was, it was fun because he was kind of needling the commander just a little bit, always pushing the edge. And he’s the commander. I’ve seen him shift roles as he’s being a little more conservative just in his approach to things and nothing too serious here and our new, our new pilot for this mission, Ken Ham, he’s the one that’s doing the little bit of leaning into things but Mark’s a great guy. He’s got a great sense of humor. He understands the space shuttle and the space station cold and he knows how to lead the team. He gives us a direction and gives us each the opportunity to excel. He’s also patient with people, as they’re learning and as the team’s coming together. He’s really patient at allowing people to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and grow and get better. He’s great to work with in that regard. I’ve known Ken Ham for, for many years. He’s a classmate here and I’m excited to be flying with him, you know, on his first flight. We’ve shared an office when we were both beginning astronaut training. Our desks sat facing each other and you getting to know somebody in those early days. He’s an aviator like Mark and he’s got a, a just, a great sense of humor and a go-for-it attitude. He’s really sharp, knows the systems and he’s, he will be supporting our spacewalks. He’s our quarterback. I call him a quarterback because he’s inside. He’s not stepping out with us, as much as he would like to, but he is the one that’s going to be leading us through the procedures and there’s no way we can memorize, you know, 20 some hours worth of procedures. He’s got those in front of him and he’ll be stepping us through it. He’s a total professional. It’s just great working with him. Ron Garan I’ve mentioned, my spacewalk partner. He’s an Air Force test pilot and so he’s a lot of fun to work with. We’ve been in some of the same places together from my Air Force days and have a lot of mutual friends from back in those days, too. But he approaches things like an aviator, you know. He likes checklists. He likes to practice things and review things and understand them from every possible direction. He’s very methodical in his approach. It’s, it’s been great working with him as he’s moving from the initial stage of kind of climbing up on that capability for spacewalks. Spacewalk training has an initial skill level and we really kick it up quite a ways when we’re getting into the mission-specific things. We’re into the pool time after time, into the virtual reality lab and, the different training venues that we use. To see Ron as it’s all coming together and he’s understanding and he’s getting better and better and better. And so it’s great working with him like that. Karen Nyberg’s our MS 1. She’s a first time flyer. She’ll be on the flight deck and driving not just the space shuttle and space station robot arms but also the, the Japanese laboratory arm or the JEM RMS. She’ll be the first person to fly three arms in one flight. Karen comes from up north where my original roots are from so we’ve got some of the Scandinavian talk going. It’s fun. She’s worked very hard for this opportunity and she’s also our certified smart person. It’s Dr. Nyberg and we give her a hard time about it sometimes. I can’t wait to see for all of these guys when we hit zero G and they’re up there for the first time. Finally there's Aki Hoshide, our Japanese astronaut that’s flying with us. I met Aki back in probably ’93 or ’94, back in the space station redesign days. I was a support engineer here working through the whole process and Aki was one of the team of Japanese engineers that came over that were representing their interests and we’re all working together, of course, for the common goal. Aki’s just an easy guy to get to know. He has a bright smile; he's cold-stone smart, and a hard worker. I don’t know anybody that’s working harder and he has a great sense of humor. He is Japanese but he lived in New Jersey for four years as a kid and so his English is usually better than mine. He's just a great guy with a great attitude and, and they’re all that way. This is going to be a lot of fun.
You talked a little bit earlier about being around the different space flight centers and seeing the support personnel. How would you characterize their work ethic, and, and how does that make you want to succeed in this mission?
The space program is a huge effort. People think in terms of the space shuttles and space stations cost a lot of money. But the money’s not going toward the steel and the rocket fuel or the aluminum and titanium in the rocket fuel. It’s really going toward the people and in a very real way. And all of those people all have a part in this job and everybody is excited about it. Everybody’s proud of it. I was one of them. I worked here for a number of years before, on two different tours, before I was fortunate enough to be selected as an astronaut. But I know what it is like to work in the trenches and it’s typified. You go through mission control in the middle of the night and you wander through some of the back rooms and there they are. The engineers are on console. They’re manning the data. They’re keeping their eye on the ball. They’re keeping their eye on the details and they’re passionate about what they do. It’s just incredible We were down at the Cape recently and, and we had the opportunity the evening we arrived to go over to see Discovery in the hangar where they’re putting her together, going through all the checks and putting things together. We kind of crawled into an area and there were three guys in back compartment of the space shuttle. This isn’t where the crew goes. This is the compartment in amongst the engines and the auxiliary power units and these pumps and systems. These guys are kind of crouched and huddled in there. One of them has the procedure in his hand and the other guys are in there with the tools and the wrenches and they’re tightening things up. We just chatted with them a little bit. And in a very real way, Discovery is their bird. We take her out for a few trips around the Earth. We borrow her, and we’re very aware that she’s not our ship. She’s their ship and they’re just loaning her to us for a little while and so we do our best to take care of her and bring her home in good shape.
One could say the measure of fortitude is, is in how well we adapt to adversity or, or unforeseen situations. This whole spaceflight community has had a lot of practice in that. How would you say that they’ve done to, to adapting to the things happening unforeseen?
Well, things happen. This can be a very unforgiving business and all of us that are in this business recognize that. We’ve been through some tragedies and we’ve hurt together. We’ve mourned together and we’ve picked up and we’ve brushed ourselves off and dug into the details to figure out what we can learn from this and move on. That’s the nature of great endeavors. That’s the nature of this kind of business and we know it and I think we’ve done an amazing job of pulling ourselves back together, supporting each other and moving forward.
OK. How would you characterize, in that context, the support staff adapting to changes in either hardware not responding like it should or, for instance, solar arrays not retracting or, coming up with alternative ways to, to make things like that happen? You’ve seen that happen. How much does that impress you?
We are resourceful. We have to be resourceful. We’ve got to be thinking, because we’re faced with a lot of challenges, a lot of things we didn’t expect. On STS-120 they had the solar array that, as they moved that whole P-6 and tried to unfurl the arrays again, you know, some of the panels kind of got interlocked and there was a little bit of tearing and, and pulling apart. In a few days time, an amazing team comes together and figures out how to use the bits and pieces from the supply kits to put together what we affectionately called cufflinks to essentially stitch across this torn array. Now this torn array is huge. It’s way out there. It’s a big stretch to get to it using the OBSS on the end of the long station arm to get enough reach, you know, up there. It was a triumph of the team that made that happen. The crew, we’re the lucky guys that end up on the pointy end of the shuttle or the pointy end of the OBSS up there amongst the arrays, but it’s really a tribute to the teams that figure out how are we going to get around this. A few missions back we had a little bit of a blanket pull up on the OMS pod and there was a concern about heating underneath that. A team came together from all over the place and it ended up being one of the doctors. Doctor said, “You know, we’ve got these staple kits that just might be what you need to hold that together.” “Really? Let’s see that staple kit.” And sure enough, that’s what we used. That was a very important part of the repair to go out there and push the blankets back together and use these surgical staples to clip it and help provide the reinforcement. So everybody’s bringing something to the table and we’ve got to be smart and resourceful and that’s part of what we’re learning about living and working in space for the long haul. A lot more adventures ahead.
This is a phase of construction of ISS where it’s nearing completion. How do you feel about knowing that it’s almost going to be completed, the prospect of it being completed but at the same time that meaning the, the end of an era basically?
The completion of space station construction in a very real way it does mean the end of an era. And for me it’s a very bittersweet thing. I was in graduate school when STS-1 launched and I was cheering and excited about it. For STS-2 I was down at the Cape, in there with a bunch of buddies to watch the launch. By STS-3 I was working in the back rooms at mission control on loan here at JSC. So I’ve been around since the STS single digit days. Of course I was very, very young back then. And here we are. We’re looking at the end. It’s, it’s 2008 and we will be shutting the shuttle line down in two years. That’s still a little hard to grasp. It’s bittersweet but in a lot of ways the space shuttle was built for this mission to build the space station. We’re finally seeing that dream come true and we’re realizing the fulfillment of that dream, of that design objective for the space shuttle. And so I’m really glad that we’re having the opportunity to complete that mission and I’m just one of the luckiest people in the world to get to be part of it.