Feature

Preflight Interview: Andrew Feustel, Mission Specialist
07.31.08
 
JSC2008-E-010318: Andrew J. Feustel

Astronaut Andrew J. Feustel, mission specialist. Photo Credit: NASA

Q: Of all the careers in all the world that a person could aspire to, you end up a professional space traveler. So what was it that motivated you, or inspired you, to become an astronaut?

A: It’s tough to say. When I was younger, humans went to the moon, when I was about 4 years old, and I imagined that as I got older and became an adult that traveling in space was going to be fairly common and something that we all did. So I grew up believing that I’ll be an astronaut just like these guys were that were going to the moon. Something about that stayed with me throughout my career and university years that, that drove me to this point. But I can’t tell you that there’s any one thing, or things, that I did specifically to become an astronaut. I followed those things in my life that made the most sense for me, that I felt that I was good at. I started off out of high school, attending community college, living at home and, at the same time working as an auto mechanic. While I was at community college I studied industrial design because I thought maybe I’d be an automotive designer -- I grew up in Detroit -- and I also studied, geology because I was interested in science, a little bit. Physics and, chemistry weren’t my best, subjects in high school, but I enjoyed those things more than I did math. At community college I looked at those two fields of study and decided to stay with the scientific route which was geology, and then applied to the only university that made sense to me, which was Purdue University. That’s because, it was a family, sort of tradition to go there. I had a great uncle who graduated from Purdue in 1905 as a civil engineer, and my father and uncle both were mechanical engineers at Purdue. My grandparents were from Fort Wayne, Ind., so, Purdue seemed like the natural choice for me. I was also very aware that Purdue had graduated more astronauts, at that time than any other, university in the country. So, I went off to Purdue and studied geology and ended up getting, an undergraduate degree in geophysics and a master’s degree as well. And then, along, made some decisions together with my wife to return to, her home country of Canada and, pursue a Ph.D. at Queen’s University in engineering seismology. None of those things really make sense, from the standpoint of becoming an astronaut, at least if you consider what shuttle astronauts do. We don’t do a lot of geology from the space shuttle. We’re operators of spacecraft. We do robotic operations and fix things in space and do spacewalks, and we don’t act as geologists. But, in my mind, I always had the dream of, working as a geoscientist or a geophysicist, towards return to the moon or future missions to Mars, with the understanding that when we went to the moon the first time, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, our primary goal and role on the surface of the moon was as geologists. That’s what we did, and we’ll do that again when we go back. The difference this time is going to be development of habitats and our permanent presence. But we’ll use geology, geotechnical engineering and seismology and all of geophysics and all these aspects, to understand what it is we’re working with, how to best build these habitats, what resources might be available to us, and then to be able to apply those tools, technologies, and techniques of data acquisition to future Mars missions. And so all those things I guess drove me to staying, staying with what I believed as a youth. I honestly think it was a subconscious driver in there because, as I said, taking that path. I didn’t go through the military. I didn’t get my pilot’s license until a few years before I applied to the space program, so I wasn’t doing things that seemed like they were going to lead me to the career of an astronaut. I did those things that worked, that seemed best for me and followed that path. It was fortuitous that, having spent five years in, Kingston, Ontario, at Queen’s University, after I received my Ph.D. that, a former classmate from Purdue called me, from Houston and asked if I was, interested working with Exxon/Mobil doing oil and gas exploration. We took advantage of that opportunity and ended up here in Houston, for the first time in our lives but, only miles away from the Johnson Space Center. So things started coming together then but, again, that decision to, to come to work for Exxon really wasn’t based on, the proximity to the Johnson Space Center. It just happened to be that we were going to Houston. As I look back on my life now, I can see how all of the circles in the pieces of Swiss cheese lined up to get me to where I am, but I didn’t see those things and I didn’t plan those things from the beginning.

Tell me about your hometown; tell me about where you grew up and what that was like at that time.

I grew up in Lake Orion, Mich. What was best about Lake Orion where, where we grew up was it was a suburb of Detroit, but had a lot of open space around. It’s a northeastern climate so we had winters, which is something we don’t have here in Houston, and we had summers, so we were able to enjoy the seasons. I really enjoyed, being there and being in that environment. I spent a lot of time doing recreational things, water skiing in the summer, snow skiing, snowmobiling in the winter. What I liked most about being there was the climate. I have a lot of friends there still and see them, on an annual basis. I like to go back and visit whenever I can.

You have a sense that that place and the people there contributed to making you the person you are now?

I think every aspect of every person’s life contributes to who they are when they become adults so I can’t, it’s difficult to point a finger at one thing or another but, certainly, I feel that, that place, those people and those experiences are, you know, part of who I am and what I came to be now. I, again I worked as an auto mechanic for a few years in Detroit and being in that environment, living in the Detroit area, gave me a strong interest in automotive and things mechanical, so, you know, that’s carried on into my later life. I, I still, I still work in the garage on a regular basis on various projects and I think that’s played a very large role in my, capabilities, for the mission and, you know, skills that I bring to the mission in terms of doing the repairs on Hubble and having a knowledge of the tools and, and techniques, so, that has been a very important aspect of my life and I think is going to, you know, work well to, to tie into the mission.

Tell me the story of how you got the news that you’d been assigned to your first spaceflight.

I was sitting in my car, had just come off of a midnight shift on console [as capcom] supporting space station mission, and received a phone call on my cell phone. It was the Astronaut Office Chief Steve Lindsey, and he said, “How would you like to be on the Hubble mission?” And I said, “Well, I think I’d like that very much.” And, and that was it. I guess he had called and my wife had given me a heads up that he had called and he was looking for me. I wasn’t really sure why. In fact the call that I got about eight o’clock in the morning, just having gotten off of console, it was a nice way to end a shift on console.

Now we know that the actual flying in space can be dangerous. Drew, what it is you think that we get as a result of flying people in space that makes the risk one that you’re willing to take?

Well, as John Young would say, Single-planet species don’t last. As a geologist I believe that as well. I think for humankind, not just our nation, it’s important for us to continue the exploration that is so natural and innate to us. Hubble’s reaching out there, visually and scientifically, for us to see, what there is to see. But as humans I think it’s important for us to begin to understand, how we can exist out there in that environment, what else there that space has to offer us in terms of a place to live. I believe, I truly believe, that humans will be living off of this planet, at some point in the future. It’s inevitable for us, and it seems like a reasonable and realistic progression for us as a human race. We won’t last on this planet, not forever. We may last for a long time but, I think it’s essential for us to learn to live in the environment of space and somewhere past our home planet.

When was the first time you ever heard of the Hubble Space Telescope?

The first time that I had ever heard of the Hubble Space Telescope I think was back in about 1990 when it was launching. As a, student at Purdue University, we were aware of the things that were happening in the science community and with the space program. So I was aware that it was launching at that time. Of course, everybody heard about Hubble, after it initially was launched with the problems that it had with its optics, but, so essentially from the start of its, its life in space.

From your perspective, what has Hubble meant to the science of astronomy?

That’s difficult to say as a seismologist, but clearly, even for the general public, the images that we see of space primarily are made up of Hubble images. For scientists as well, the different capabilities of the instrument provide different scientific data for the astronomers, so, it’s my understanding that it’s been one of the most significant scientific instruments that astronomers have ever had to look out into the, cosmos.

You know, there are an awful lot of people who are involved in getting you and your crewmates ready to fly this mission, and not just here in Houston. Talk a little bit about the training and the support that you’ve received from the people behind the Hubble, at the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The training has been overwhelming, not in the sense of how difficult -- I mean, it is difficult and challenging -- but overwhelming in the amount of effort and, manpower that’s behind it. Our mission is a little bit different from the space station missions that we’re flying with the other vehicles, because Goddard Space Flight Center is involved, and, really the telescope belongs to Goddard, and with that comes a whole training team to get us ready for these missions and they’ve been involved with every mission, that has ever been flown to Hubble by astronauts. When we come down to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab for training, we bring an army of trainers with us and technical people, and those are the, the folks from Goddard Space Flight Center. Really, those are the people that are going to be providing the, technical expertise during the mission, for us on orbit. In the event that we have questions or concerns or problems about the tasks we’re doing, those guys are going to be on the ground in the back rooms providing information and data for the flight control teams.

They provide a lot of enthusiasm as, as well.

We have a lot of fun with them and they, and they really do, you’re right. It’s like a, getting to know a whole other community, both when they come to Johnson Space Center and when we go up to Goddard as a crew. We share a lot of time with them, we’ve been working with them for a year and a half now, and, formed some good relationships, good working relationships and good personal relationships, and that’s really a special part of this mission. I’m certain that, crews that are training for space station missions have similar bonds, but a lot of times those are people that they’ve already been working with here at the center. We’re afforded a, a whole new experience and awareness of another center. It’s been pretty amazing.

Not surprisingly the people who work on the project are excited about Hubble, but this telescope has become something of an icon outside of the science community. What is it about Hubble that has touched so many people?

Well, it’s fascinating. Even for myself as a non-astronomer, it’s the images; it’s the fantasy world that’s created with those images that we see of space. It’s hard for me to imagine what’s out there, and those images bring the realism of space to us. But it’s also so majestic. We see clouds and gases and colorized images of energy that a lot of times we can’t even see with the naked human eye. But we see this data and this information and it makes you wonder about the infinity of space and how large and expansive the universe is. I mean, infinite, right? So, I think that’s what’s so special. Otherwise most of us are driving around town, commuting to work and we rarely look higher than the next exit sign on the freeway. Hubble allows us to look so much farther beyond that, into the stuff that our dreams are made of, really.

What’s your favorite Hubble image?

I don’t have a favorite Hubble image, because every image is so special; you know, there are a few that I use when I give presentations. Before I was assigned to the Hubble mission I had Hubble images in presentations that I gave. One I think is the Eskimo Nebula; one’s the Ant Nebula, images that have likenesses to objects or characters that we recognize here on our own planet. You know, those images are special. Of course, they’re just parts of the cosmos that happened to have similarities to, to things that we recognize but, you know, every image I find fascinating, and interesting, and the closer you look at it, the more spectacular things are revealed.

You’re mission specialist on the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Summarize the goals of the mission and tell me what your main responsibilities are.

JSC2007-E-113488: Andrew J. Feustel

Astronaut Andrew J. Feustel, STS-125 mission specialist, attired in a training version of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit, awaits the start of a training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near Johnson Space Center, Houston. Photo Credit: NASA

To summarize the goals of the mission, if we just consider the big picture the goal of the mission is to make Hubble better than it’s ever been, give it its greatest capability because this is intended to be the last servicing mission. So, in a big picture sense, the goal is just get up there, fix it and make it better. So in order to do that, we’re trying to give it the capability to last longer and we’re going to replace a few batteries, that power the avionics and get charged by the solar arrays. That’s one of our goals. We’ll also provide some upgrades and repairs to the pointing and navigational, or pointing and guidance system of the Hubble Space Telescope, so we’re replacing a Fine Guidance Sensor which is very large, baby grand-piano-size instrument, and also replacing the rate sensing units, three of them, which each have two gyroscopes in them. So in that sense we’re providing the capability for Hubble to remain in orbit and continue functioning. And then on the scientific side of the mission, we’re, exchanging, two scientific instruments, the Wide Field Camera and we’re also, installing the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, so two scientific instrument upgrades, and then we’re making repairs to, existing instruments. One is the, the STIS which is the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, and the other is the Advanced Camera for Surveys, the ACS. Both of those scientific instruments had experienced some failures in the past so we’ll be repairing those, both of which are excellent instruments. They’re not being upgraded in any way but they’re essentially being brought back to life, and they’ll rely on the batteries and the pointing and guidance, system upgrades that we’re providing to the telescope to carry out their science for the remainder of Hubble’s, lifetime on orbit.

Your job on this mission is to go outside and do the work.

My job on the mission will be, to work with John Grunsfeld for three EVAs, or three spacewalks. I’ve very excited about that, you know. It’s an amazing opportunity, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and, feel very fortunate to be teamed up with John. He’s got a lot of experience, not only as a space, space explorer but, also with Hubble. So as a crew member on the EVA team I’m learning a lot from John, each time we train and practice, and also he provides a lot of insight to the whole crew, and the whole EVA team, for the tasks that we’re getting ready to perform.

After the loss of Columbia, this final Hubble servicing mission was cancelled because it was decided it was too risky for the crew, but that decision was reversed almost two years ago and here you are. What was your feeling about the decision made not to fly to Hubble again and, and then your decision, your feeling about the decision being changed?

Well, the, the decision not to fly Hubble again was made, in my mind, pretty quickly after the Columbia disaster. We lost the crew and the vehicle. In that sense it seemed reasonable [to] cancel the mission and look at what options lay before us. Now, not only did the Hubble mission get cancelled but really the whole manned space program went through a change, and went through an evaluation, so, I don’t think it was unreasonable, what happened and the way that things transformed shortly after the mission. What it allowed us to do within the space agency, and as a country and as a world, is examine what we’re doing with manned exploration and think about what the future holds for us. So as a result of that and that analysis, of course, we’ve moved into this phase and this goal of, returning to the moon and then eventually off to Mars. NASA and corporations around the world are involved in this new process of developing the [Orion] crew exploration vehicle and, with the intent of getting us back to the moon. So, you know, that’s something that’s come of the assessment post-Columbia. And then also we’ve looked at, what are our capabilities, what can we do to shuttle, to allow to it to, finish out its initial goal which was to, you know, help build the International Space Station, and be that workhorse that we needed to get components up to space. And in that assessment, we’ve made some changes to the external tank; the foam, which was the primary problem or the cause of the accident with Columbia, the engineering community has done a fantastic job of really, pulling those problems together, doing a thorough analysis and trying to understand that, to reduce the risk. We have made it, it, you know, we will never say that it’s a safe -- flying in space and the rocket business isn’t safe -- but we’ve reduced the risk and I think we’ve done a really good job on that. Flights that we’ve made since Columbia have shown that, based on the data and the analysis that we’re now doing. The information that we have is much greater than what we ever had before Columbia, so I think we understand the problem better. That leads into the Hubble flight. All this analysis and assessment, and understanding of the data and the information that we gained from Columbia has allowed us to reconsider that flight, and to understand that essentially by flying Hubble we’re really not flying a riskier mission than a flight to space station. In fact, the, the crew survival or crew rescue scenarios are essentially identical. The difference with Hubble is that, we have less of a window of opportunity, for a vehicle to come and rescue us. But that doesn’t change anything. There will be a vehicle on the pad when Hubble, when the Hubble mission launches, and what that means is there’s a vehicle ready to launch to rescue us should we find some problems or issues with the vehicle that wouldn’t allow us to return with it. That’s no different than a space station mission except that they have a longer time available to them on the space station. So, a space station mission has more food, they have a place to hang out, but they’re essentially in the same boat. At some point, the resources for that crew run out for whoever's remaining on the space station. So some of the crew members may come down on the Soyuz vehicles but essentially, if you don’t launch another shuttle, you’re in the same scenario that you, that the Hubble crew would be in. If another shuttle isn’t launched in the appropriate amount of time, we will run out of resources to remain in orbit. So the mission and the rescue profiles are essentially the same. The difference is there is less time for a rescue mission to be initiated, and to compensate for that we have a vehicle ready on the pad, prepared for launch. So it’s the same scenario, for us. We don’t consider it riskier.

Well, you touched on this, that since Return to Flight one thing that has changed is that all the shuttle missions conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle using an Orbiter Boom Sensor System. Tell me how that’s accomplished and what it is that you’re looking for when you do that, that inspection.

The inspection that I’m not a part of directly is accomplished with, as you mentioned, the shuttle robotic arm and the boom which, lies in the same position as the robotic arm but on the other side of payload bay. We use the robotic arm, the shuttle arm, to take the boom and move it around the orbiter. It has cameras on the end and some sensors on the end of it, that allow it to assess the condition of the full exterior surface of the vehicle. So we take a close look at the, wing leading edges, the, the reinforced carbon-carbon, wing leading edges, and all the tile surfaces on the belly of the orbiter and along the sides. And what we’re looking for is any structural damage that would have been, caused by the ascent phase of the launch. And then if there’re any damages found, there’s a thorough assessment made of how extensive it is and whether or not it impacts the vehicle’s ability to protect the interior structure from the heat loads that it will see on re-entry. That’s really what we’re after with the assessment. The inspection is done shortly after we arrive on orbit. It’s the second day that we’re on orbit. The data is downlinked to the ground. Ground teams and engineers consider the, the extent of any damage that’s seen and then make recommendations as to how we’ll proceed with the rest of the mission.

And possible means of making repairs to a damaged shuttle have also been tried out since Return to Flight. What is it that you guys think you might be able to fix if the situation were to arise?

Well, as a mechanic, I think we can try to fix just about anything. I think that we’d certainly give it our best shot. We have, I believe, pretty good capability, based on the, the last several years of development in the areas of tile repair and the reinforced carbon carbon repair capability. I believe we can fix small holes in the reinforced carbon carbon, I believe we can fill holes in the, in the tile. These are the kinds of things that we try to prepare us for. Catastrophic damage like what we saw on Columbia or significantly larger, is probably not fixable, and that’s why we have the vehicle on the pad, prepared to come and get us in the event that Atlantis just won’t be able to fly home.

And because you can’t go to the space station to wait for them, what are the options in terms of a rescue? How would the two vehicles come together? How would crews be rescued?

The vehicle would be launched as soon, as soon as the decision was made. Essentially we have capability to remain on orbit for about 25 days. That’s the extent to which our, our cryo, or our fuel, is available to continue running our electrical systems which provide our oxygen and also heat for the vehicle. We also have food supplies that will allow us to last that long. The vehicle would launch from Kennedy Space Center on the, alternate launch pad from the one that we’ll launch, from and, rendezvous in orbit with the Atlantis, and then the robotic arm, I believe from our vehicle will be used, to grapple, the other vehicle that, that’s come up to rescue us. I don’t recall if it’s our robotic arm or theirs. And then essentially, I believe myself and John will be responsible for transferring our crew members over to the other vehicle. So we’ll use our own spacesuits that we have on board, we have two spacesuits, and we’ll ferry back and forth crew members, essentially once the robotic arms have grabbed, you know, each robotic arm I believe grabs the other vehicle, or one does, a crew member will go out and, string a tether across from, essentially from one airlock to another, and then, two-by-two, we’ll transfer crew members across this tether into the other vehicle and then bring the spacesuit back, for the next crew member, load him up and just go back and forth, and then we’ll end up with 11 people, I think, on the rescue vehicle on the way home. So it’ll be a packed flight, that’s for sure, but we hope not to have to exercise that option.

Yeah, let’s, here’s hoping that that never comes about.

Sure.

All of the work that you’ve been training for to get Hubble running at full speed is contingent on a successful rendezvous, grapple and berthing of that telescope. Tell me what part you play in the operations and describe how your crew goes about getting that telescope onto the work platform.

Well, as a member of the team that’s doing the three EVAs, I’m not responsible for a lot of the stuff that happens on the flight deck, which is the launch and the entry, so the ascent and the entry and also the rendezvous. I am participating in the rendezvous as a support personnel running the on board laptop computers. We use those computers to project images of the relative positions between Hubble and the space shuttle and then the commander and the robotics operators, look to that data to get an understanding of what the closing rates are between the two vehicles, and the distances between the two, and we also look at the profile to make sure that we’re entering in the intended or designed approach corridors and, eventually come to the point where we stop the relative motions between the shuttle and the Hubble telescope. Megan, McArthur, our robotics arm operator, then moves in to grab Hubble and lower it down into the payload bay where it can be secured for us to do the EVAs on subsequent days.

Now you’ve been training for what will be the first spacewalks of your career. What are you most looking forward to about this part of your first trip to space?

Well, there’s two moments that I’m looking forward to the most. The first is main engine cutoff, when we first arrive in space and I’m hoping, that’s going to be a calming experience as opposed to a stomach-upsetting experience, but one never knows. But secondary to that, the moment I’m most looking forward to is the instant that I come out of the airlock, because we’ll be, payload bay facing the Earth, and I’m anticipating the moment of peeking out with my head facing towards the Earth and just seeing the Earth below, from my perspective in the spacesuit -- having that first glimpse from space, from the spacesuit with just the visor separating, myself and, and the space around me and having Earth 300 miles below me. I’m anticipating that, I’m very excited about that, I’m hoping I don’t lose myself in the moment and am able to continue, but it’s, it’s going to be really exciting, I think. That’s the one thing I’m really looking forward to and the thing I’m looking least forward to is when we return to the airlock, the final moments of the final EVA and have to close the hatch and that’s it. That’s the time up there working on Hubble will be done.

Let me get you to help me set the scene for this. The timeline for your mission calls for five spacewalks to be conducted over five days. Tell me about how the seven of you divide up the responsibilities, from not only doing the spacewalks outside but helping get them ready, to work inside during the spacewalks.

The mission, just like a space station mission, is extremely busy and the timeline is packed and we are essentially busy from the moment we launch to the moment we land. There’s really not a lot of downtime for us and what we do is generally, each of us has roles and responsibilities. For example, during the EVAs, while John and I are outside, Mike Massimino and Mike Good will be the IVs [intravehicular] or the internal crew members that are guiding us through our tasks outside. And each of those guys, Mike and Mike, will be working each day while we’re on the mission and trading off roles as they’re, as they’re leading us through our script of the EVA. So they will be busy. They’ll both be engaged all day long. One of them is reading through and walking us through the activities and the other one is there as a backup support, providing supporting data and information to the primary IV, and also looking for every opportunity to provide information in case a contingency occurs, like a bolt won’t turn or a tool breaks or some other aspect of the mission that we have considered other options to performing those tasks comes up. So really the IV crew members work as a team supporting the EVA, so that takes the time of four of the crew members. The other three crew members are busy supporting the EVA as well: Megan McArthur is full-time hands on, moving the robotic arm, and she has a backup arm operator, the commander, Scott Altman. He’s there supporting her as well, backing her up on all of her tasks and options for working with the crew members on the EVAs. That engages those two, so now you’ve got six out of the seven fully busy, and then that leaves our pilot, Greg Johnson, who is our prime photo/TV person. His role will be to make sure he’s documenting all of this, swapping out tapes from our helmet cams inside the vehicle so that we know we’re recording all of it, making sure the downlinks are getting to the ground so the ground’s able to follow along, and then along with Scott Altman, those two are responsible for maintaining the systems on the orbiter while we’re all outside or engaged in the EVA. Things like changing out the, CO2 scrubber components, making sure heater switches are being cycled when they’re supposed to, talking to the ground and understanding what’s happening with the vehicle during that time. So we stay busy. Those roles, you know, continue like that all the way through the flight, and that’s just the EVA portions. Of course, early on before we even rendezvous we’ve got the inspections that happen early on and, as you mentioned, the prep for the EVA suits is pretty extensive as well and we trade off roles, getting the suits ready and making sure they’re all checked out for the next day’s tasks and having the tools set aside. So I’m talking fast and I’m telling you a lot of information and that’s because I’m giving you a brain dump of, of about all the stuff that’s just sitting in my head right now. We haven’t even finalized our training yet so it’s a lot of, a lot of things happening and, we’ll be busy.

As you train for this mission and you’re working with a guy that’s done more spacewalks on Hubble than anybody else, what sort of tips has John Grunsfeld given you about working in that environment on that instrument?

His primary tip is to don’t break it. It’s funny but it’s true. Really our main goal is to go in there and even in the event that something happens that we can’t perform the tasks that we had intended to do, we don’t want to make it worse. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to leave it in a worse state, so our goal is to really, to get in there, work like we’ve trained, know the tasks well, essentially know them from memory, while still relying on the IV crew member to lead us through those for the details because we don’t want to miss anything. Really his tips have been focus on what you’re doing, keep your cool, and if something’s not working, let’s talk about it. I think we’re all confident in each other’s abilities to get the job done and really understand that each of us knows our role. I think we all have high enough expectations of ourselves, that we don’t rely on the others leading us along or on their guidance. We rely on them to give us the tips that they’ve got from their experiences and what they know about spaceflight, so that we’re not surprised. Each of us has high enough expectations of ourselves to do the job right. That’s what we’re going to do.

Over the course of five spacewalks you’re going to be replacing stuff that can generally be divided into two categories: cameras, and stuff that helps the telescope point where the scientists want it to point. And one of those items is the Rate Sensor Units that are going to be installed, that are, in fact, the top priority. Tell me about the hardware that your crew is going to install that’s going to help Hubble point where the scientists want it to look.

JSC2008-E-008444: Astronaut Andrew J. Feustel

Astronaut Andrew J. Feustel, STS-125 mission specialist, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. United Space Alliance suit technicians Nicole Everett and Steve Cortinas assisted Feustel. Photo Credit: NASA

The rate sensor units, there’s three of them and each unit is associated with what we call a fixed-head star tracker or something that watches stars or tracks stars. And then internal to the rate sensing units are gyroscopes. So, each of those rate sensing units is attached to the fixed-head star tracker. Once it finds its stars it helps understand what its position is in space. Its gyroscopes help to resolve what its relative motion is in each of those, so there’s three of them that are essentially orthogonal or, or perpendicular to each other in their axis, and that data is used, the position of the stars and what the gyroscopes are telling the instrumentation about what the relative motion of the telescope is. That information is used to point Hubble at targets in space that scientists on the ground are asking it to get information from it or different regions in space.

If one group of hardware is stuff that makes the telescope point, another group of hardware is cameras. There are new cameras you are installing and there are cameras that you’re repairing. In fact, the job of repairing the Advanced Camera for Surveys is spread over [a] couple of EVAs. What are you going to do to fix it and what’s that going to let this ACS do?

ACS experienced a short in its system or a power spike and that burned out many of the components for the main power supply for ACS. We’re removing some actual cards, like computer cards right out of your home computer, and installing a primary electronics box that’s sort of combines multiple cards into one box. The task is challenging because of the access to the ACS, work area, and in fact John and I are performing that task not wholly but partly because we’re a little bit shorter than Mike Massimino and Mike Good and have a little easier time fitting into the, confined space that is available for repairing ACS. There are four cards that we’re removing from ACS. Once we get past a few other primary aspects, and I’ll start with the cards first, we get to the main meat of the repair which is pulling these cards out. When we perform this work on ACS it will be the first time in the history of manned spaceflight that an actual computer card or a computer board, like the motherboard of your computer, has been removed from a component on a satellite or a space object or anything in space that man is interacting with. The next time that happens will be the next day on the STIS repair, which is being performed by Mike Massimino and Mike Good, but it’s the same type of repair. It’s where we’re going to go in, try to gain access to these cards, which in itself is not a trivial task, but the trick for us is card No. 4. There are four cards lined up and they’re all, sort of positioned in a way that we can’t see them directly, but the No. 4 card is the challenging one because it’s, it’s more likely than any of the others, or most likely [to] have an interference issue with another structure on the telescope, and that’s the one we’re most concerned about. The rest of the task we feel is fairly straightforward, although again nothing’s trivial about it. But that one card is going to present the most challenges to us. If we can get over that hurdle, I think we can make the, the ACS task a success. Backing up a little bit, talking about gaining access to ACS, there is a metal grid that covers it, effectively an electrical interference protection device called an EMI [electromagnetic interference] device. We have to cut that grid off. It’s made out of aluminum so the team at Goddard, the engineers there, have devised a cutting tool, with multiple components and blades on it that actually cut this grid off. That part is pretty straightforward, if you can call that trivial. Then the next aspect is removing a number of very small fasteners. Those in the pool recently with some of our training at the NBL have proven to be challenging with some of the tools we have so right now, for the task itself, I think the most challenging aspects are removing those screws that cover the access panel to these four cards, and then removing that No. 4 card once we get in there to do the work. After that, the task is fairly straightforward. We have a single box that we put in its place, drive a few bolts, hook up a few connectors and then I think we’re good to go. But the task itself has some challenging aspects. John Grunsfeld will be performing the first half of the task and, depending on the time and how the EVA runs, he may complete it to the end with my support, utilizing me as a person to retrieve the components that we’re replacing in the telescope while he stays in there and does the work, or, if he stays on the nominal timeline that we have for that day he’ll essentially finish half of the task. Then my role on the last day, the fifth EVA, will be to go in and do part two of that task which is remove the remaining boards that are still in the instrument and put in the replacement box, and go from there. It’s proven to be challenging. We’ve had a very short time to develop it -- in fact ACS failed after we were assigned as a crew, November before last. I believe it’s been about a year, maybe a little more than a year since ACS has failed. So it was added on to the mission after we were assigned as a crew and, and after they thought they already had all the components and aspects of the mission defined. It’s been a, a fairly short lead time to get ready for this particular aspect of the mission.

Amongst the EVAs there are also things like battery replacements and blanket installations. Talk about some of the other things that you guys have to do.

The battery replacements are starting to get fun, believe it or not. We’ve done them enough, and what’s nice about the batteries -- and, again, I’m reluctant to trivialize anything, I want to knock on wood any time I say something because anything can cause a problem for us, and any aspect of this mission has some challenging parts to it -- but the batteries are fairly straightforward. We know the task well, we understand it well, we have great access, to the areas for replacing the batteries, and the battery re, removal and replacement task is well compartmentalized. We’ve kind of got it nice and packaged. We kind of know how long it takes -- it’s not a long task; some of our tasks, the STIS task is four or five hours long so that’s one task that you’re working on just to get through that one aspect. The batteries, we can knock them out in about an hour and a half, just a little under two hours. That feels good when you know that, you’ve performed a larger task, a more complex task, and then you can go off and get the batteries. You kind of breathe a little sigh of relief and think that you’re coming down the backside of the slope now and the hard part is done. So, again I don’t want to jinx myself and say, "hey, batteries are easy," but we feel good about batteries. They’re fairly straightforward, so we understand them and that helps to focus on some of the other parts of the mission that aren’t as straightforward.

After five EVAs comes time to put Hubble back to work. Describe the plans for possibly a reboost and then for releasing the telescope back in a stable configuration.

Well, again, for me as a, as MS5 and, and a member of the EVA team doing three EVAs, I’m not as involved in that aspect in the mission as some of the other crew members are. But the, essentially the plan is button it all up, make sure we’ve plugged everything back in, and then use the robotic arm to lift it out of the cradle that it’s sitting in, the FSS or Flight Support Structure in the back of the payload bay, lift it up and away, release the robotic arm from Hubble, and then fly the orbiter, away from Hubble and leave it in a very stable state.

And you guys will be the last people, very likely, ever to lay eyes on Hubble as you do that. Any thoughts about what that’s going to be like?

I was wondering if I could put a sticker on it or something, you know, that says, "Drew was here." But, I’m sure just being there … I’ll hopefully not leave any permanent marks. Hubble, it’s an amazing instrument, and I just look forward to seeing what it reveals for us as humans, once we leave it in its, in its, with its best capabilities that it’s ever had. I can’t imagine how it can be better than it is right now, but apparently we’re going to make it better. I’m sure the scientists will have just so many more amazing things to show us about the universe that we can’t even imagine right now. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. The term "Hubble Huggers" is thrown around a lot and it applies to a lot of astronomers and some astronauts. I think it slowly starts to apply to each of us as we become, more and more involved in this mission and understand more about its capabilities and what we’re going to do for it.

After you leave there’s still some time and some work for the ground control teams to get it back working full time and at full strength, right?

I believe so. But I don’t fully understand all the processes that’ll be involved for them. We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope that everything we did is going to perform as they had planned. The best that we can do is just make sure we don’t, break anything on installation and try to provide them the best support that we can, as spacewalkers and space repairers, to get the components in the way that they had planned them. It might not all work, but what can you do. We’re going to go up there and give it our best shot.

Sending a crew of human beings out to get a robotic telescope in shape to continue its mission … I guess the two aspects, the two sides of exploration have to work together. What are your thoughts about the future of space exploration and how humans and their machines are going to have to work together to do that?

Working with the robotics community and computer interfaces is critical to everything we do. It always has been, and to say that there’s a division of opportunities and responsibilities for human missions and robotic missions, I don’t think is very realistic. We can send robotics to do robotic missions -- we’ve got, the Spirit and Opportunity up on Mars -- and we can send humans to do human missions, but the real payoff and the real advantage is to combine those two aspects into single missions and single objectives in the future. We will not be able to have strong return and high productivity on the moon when we go back there if we do not have robotic assistance with us. That includes basic things like computer support for environmental control and habitats, to things like rovers and portable habitats to take us around the surface and explore and retrieve data from the moon’s surface. It’s inevitable and I think it’s a real requirement for us to really strive to work together with the robotics and computer interface components.