Feature

Preflight Interview: Michael Good, Mission Specialist
07.31.08
 
JSC2008-E-005281 -- STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good

STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good. 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. What was it that motivated you, or inspired you, to become an astronaut?

A: Well, I think it’s been just a, an evolution of just during my whole life. I certainly remember as a little kid being influenced and inspired by the landing on the moon for the first time. I was 7 years old and watching it on a black-and-white TV in my living room and like everybody else and all the kids thought that that was pretty cool. But as I worked through school and got into college and I got interested in the aerospace engineering. I was in engineering but made the decision to go into aerospace engineering in 1981, which was the first year that the space shuttle flew, so that definitely had an influence on me, too. I watched that and said, you know, this is something that I’d like to be a part of. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to be an astronaut, but it was an industry that I wanted to be in. And after college I went on to fly for the Air Force, and I was able to, in the Air Force, put the flying and engineering together, which are the two things that I like to do. After flying fighters for a while, I got to go through the Air Force’s test pilot school, and that’s really where you get to do those kinds of things -- test new airplanes and weapon systems and put the engineering and the flying together. It was just kind of a natural progression then to get to the astronaut program. I put in a couple applications and finally got a call to come join.

Let me take you back to the other end of that story. You grew up in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Tell me what that was like.

That’s right. Broadview Heights is a suburb of Cleveland, about 10 miles south, a great place to grow up, great schools, great neighborhoods, but cold winters.

As compared to other places that you’ve lived?

It seems like ever since then, you know, traveling around the Air Force for 15 years, we moved nine times, but it seems like I never was very close to Ohio. I was either out on the west coast in California or out in Idaho, down in Florida, Texas, spent four years over in England, but I really can’t say that I miss the snow and cold of a Cleveland winter.

Yeah, snow on the lake is different. Do you have a sense of how that place and the people in that place made you the person you are today?

Well, it, it’s interesting. It seems like there’s a lot of astronauts that come from Ohio and from Cleveland, and people ask me sometimes, "Why do you think that is?" I really don’t know but there’s got to be something to it. Like I said, it was a great place to grow up. The, the schools were great. Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School gave me a great background, prepared me well for college, to go on to take the courses in college and so it was a great place to start, a great place to grow up.

You touched on this; let me get you to, to pull them together. Give me a thumbnail sketch of your, your education and your professional career before you became an astronaut.

Well, in high school I enjoyed the maths and the sciences. I enjoyed solving problems more than reading or writing, so I kind of got steered into engineering, something to study in college. And as I said, I just got more and more interested in aerospace engineering. I liked airplanes, wasn’t really into flying at that time but I just wanted to design and build airplanes and rockets and those kinds of things. And then as I progressed from there actually stayed at Notre Dame and got a graduate degree before I entered the Air Force. Then [I] got into the Air Force originally as an engineer and then was working with a bunch of pilots and navigators and ended up going out to navigator training and became a weapons systems officer in the Air Force in the right seat and back seat of fighters -- and just kept progressing and got a chance to go through the test pilot school out at Edwards [Air Force Base] which is just the, the mecca for flight test. And like I said, just kept going from there and kind of put myself in a position where I had the tools necessary to apply for the astronaut program, and put a few applications in and finally got an opportunity to come down.

Tell me what it was like when you got the news that you had been assigned to your first spaceflight.

Oh, I thought you were going to ask me what it was like when I got the call to be an astronaut, but …

Well, tell me that, too.

Well, I remember that. I was in my office, I was by myself. I was doing water survival training that day, and came back to the office. There was nobody around, except that there was a note there that Charlie Precourt called from NASA, call him back. I was like, Wooo! The heart kind of jumps out of your chest. I closed the door and I called him up He said, "Mike, we’re wondering if you still were interested in being an astronaut." I was like, you know, you got to put him on mute for a second, you can scream and “Wooo.” I said, "Yeah, sure, Charlie, I’d love to come down." So that was very exciting. I didn’t even want to call home and tell my wife, so I drove home and she wasn’t there. For a few hours there I just had this information to myself. I was here for about seven years at NASA, then I got a call from, to come down and see the chief of the office. Steve Lindsey just asked me to come down to his office. I knew I was getting close to being in that time frame where it was my turn to be assigned. And you know, he asked me the same kind of question — "Hey, you still interested in flying in space, and how would you like to go [to] the Hubble?" Oh, man, what a —I was excited, I was kind of speechless; I [was] just really, really excited about the chance to finally go fly in space.

Well, we know that when you do this, flying in space can be something that can be dangerous. Mike, what is it that you think we are getting as a result of flying people in space that makes that risk one that you’re willing to take?

Well, it is a risky business, but you know, so is flying combat airplanes and test flying airplanes in the military. I think we try to minimize the risk as much as we can through a great safety program. But the bottom line is, yeah, it’s risky and, but I think it’s worth it because it’s all part of this exploration process. And I think that great nations explore. Great nations don’t turn inside, they turn outside, and they look outside. Part of that is exploring space. So I think the exploration that we do, the technology that we gain from exploring, the discoveries that we make, are useful for us back here on the Earth. I think it makes it all worth it.

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

I didn’t know that much about the Hubble telescope before I came to NASA. I’d heard about it; it’s definitely something that’s been out there in the news, but I, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it. My first real time I’ve got involved with the Hubble was just a couple years ago when I got invited to do some of the engineering and development runs out at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the pool that we have to practice our spacewalks. And so at that time a couple of us got together and we, we’re starting to do the development runs to figure out, hey, if we do go back to Hubble, can we get it done. There were some different and challenging things on this mission and we had to develop how we were going to make the repairs, and so that was really my first introduction to Hubble.

Now I realize you’re not an astronomer, but from the time that you have spent and been aware of it, do you have a sense of what difference the Hubble Space Telescope has meant to astronomy and space exploration?

It’s been important not just for astronomy but for physics. I mean, this thing and the discoveries that it’s made in the last 10 years, they’re really rewriting the physics books, the physics books that we had back in high school. They’re literally being rewritten from the things that they’ve learned from, from Hubble. Just for example, we’ve always known that the universe is expanding, but Hubble’s proved that it’s not only expanding but it’s accelerating, and I just think it’d be really neat to have some of the guys like some of these great scientists like Einstein and Edwin Hubble to be able to be here now and to see some of the discoveries that are coming out of the Hubble Space Telescope, and really verifying some of their theories. It’d be interesting just to get their reactions on what all this means for them.

Or what else they might think of?

Exactly.

There are an awful lot of people involved in getting you and your crewmates ready to fly, and not just here in Houston. Talk a little bit about the training and the support that you folks receive from the people behind the Hubble, at the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Well, flying in space is a team sport, for sure, and there’s an army of people out there providing support for us. The folks at Goddard have really done some incredible work developing the tools that we need to go out and service these instruments. Of course the folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute -- they’re really the users, the operators of the telescope -- they’ve been a great source of support. They’ve also helped us with developing some of the priorities on what the people out there want, and not just the astronomers but the teachers and the students too. The Hubble Space Telescope is really for everybody. It’s not just even for our country but it’s really an international project.

Well, you’re right. It’s no surprise that the people who work on the project love it, but Hubble is an icon outside of the scientific community, too.

Yeah.

Why is that, do you think? What’s, why has it touched people that way?

Well, I don’t know. Like I said, it’s not just for the astronomers and for the scientists; it’s a very popular thing. People know about Hubble. They've seen the images, I mean, whether it’s on the Internet or on calendars. I think that there are teachers and students out there across the country and across the world that have used the Hubble Space Telescope as a teaching tool. There’s been a lot of learning in the classroom from it, too.

I think you hit on it: it’s the pictures. What’s your favorite Hubble picture?

My favorite Hubble picture…well, there’s been some just some gorgeous, beautiful pictures, but I think the one I like the best is that [Hubble] Ultra Deep Field shot. It may not be the most beautiful one in terms of colors and you know, just a pretty picture, but I like what it represents and how it was taken because it’s, there’s so much captured in that image. This is looking back really at the first light of the universe. It’s just amazing to me. It’s looking back 13 billion years from when the very first light emerged from the universe and it’s just kind of hard to think about how far that light has traveled getting to us and getting into the Hubble Space Telescope and being able to produce an image from that. The other thing that just boggles my mind about it is that it’s just looking at a very tiny slice of the sky, not even a slice of the sky — it’s like looking through a, a soda straw, and yet in that image there’s 10,000 galaxies. So if we tried to take a picture of the rest of the night sky, there’d be another 10 million pictures to put that whole scene together. So you start doing the math and you realize just how many stars and galaxies are out there and then you start thinking about us here on Earth and what a small, tiny part of it that we are. So that’s that image just you know, does a lot for me in that respect.

You are a mission specialist on this servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Mike, summarize the goals of the mission and tell me what your main responsibilities are going to be.

I think there are probably two main goals for what we’re doing up on Hubble: We’re going to go to the Hubble Space Telescope and we’re going to service it and we’re going to repair it. So there’s kind of two flavors of tasks that we’re going to do. Some of it, we’re going to just kind of do scheduled maintenance, you know. We’re going to replace some batteries and some gyroscopes and a Fine Guidance Sensor, and these things’ll help prolong the life of Hubble. We may be the last ones to go up and service it with the retiring of the shuttle in 2010, so this may be our last chance. The other part of the mission is repair and or replacing. We’re going to take up some new instruments and we’re going to repair of the instruments that are up there on board, and this’ll all just enable us to do greater science. There’ll be more discoveries, things we haven’t even thought of yet, more pictures and so those are the two parts of it. My main responsibilities on the mission actually kind of vary across the duration of the mission. I start out during ascent, those first 8½ minutes. I’ll be on the flight deck in a role of kind of like a flight engineer helping the commander and the pilot just work the flight deck, run the checklists, take care of all the, the normal things that we’re doing going uphill. And then if anything should happen, any emergencies, we’ll break out those checklists and take care of those things. But that only takes 8½ minutes, so once we get to orbit we’ll turn the orbiter into an orbiting lab or a garage that we can go out and start working on the Hubble. During the on-orbit time I’ll be going out and doing a couple of spacewalks. But before we can do that we’ll have to rendezvous with the Hubble and so I’ll also have a role on the flight deck helping out with the rendezvous and getting together with the, the telescope.

OK. Now after the loss of Columbia, this mission that you are about to fly was cancelled because it was decided that it was too risky for the crew, but that decision was overturned two years ago; here you guys are.

Right.

Tell me your reaction to the initial decision to, to cancel this mission, and your decision, your reaction to that decision being changed.

Well, I really didn’t have anything to do with the decision and I didn’t have a, to be honest I didn’t have a strong reaction to the, the mission being cancelled. It was kind of a tough time we were going through after the Columbia accident. I thought it was probably the right thing to do. There were a lot of questions about how we were going to go back to flying in space and, I wasn’t privy to a lot of the information. But I was very happy when it became a mission again and especially when my name was assigned to be a part of it. I think it’s a great mission; it’s very unique; it’s something different than all the other shuttle missions, until the end of the program are going up to the International Space Station and doing that construction. We’re just, we get to go do something different.

Your flight, like all space shuttle flights now, includes a thorough inspection of the vehicle using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System that’ll occur on your first full day in space. Tell me about how that is accomplished and what it is that you folks are looking for.

Well, it’s a combination. We use the shuttle’s robotic arm and we’ll go out and grab this other boom on the end of that boom. Together those two pieces of equipment allow us to get all around the shuttle so we can look at the whole thing. On the end of the boom is a sensor package that includes even a laser that can be used to see what’s out there. We’re looking for damage, anything that might have happened on the way uphill, and we’ll do another inspection at the end of the mission and see if anything happened while we were up on orbit. But we’re looking for anything, you know, cracks, dents, scratches and if they find something that’s significant enough then we can go out and do a repair.

Well, several different repair methods have been attempted on missions since Return to Flight. What kinds of damage are you guys capable of repairing?

We can repair damage to both the shuttle’s tiles and the reinforced carbon-carbon that’s on the leading edge of the wings and on the nose. What we’re really concerned about is the thermal protection system of this space shuttle. We want to be able to re-enter safely. If you think about it, there’s a lot of energy that goes into the shuttle as we’re launching off the pad. We’re sitting there on the pad at 4½ million pounds and we have 7½ million pounds of thrust, and so when you think about all the energy that’s got to get up through the atmosphere to get us into orbit, to get us out there at 17,500 mph, we think about that and we realize how much power it takes, how much thrust in those rockets. What people haven’t really thought as much about, and especially before Columbia, is that all that energy needs to be taken out on the way back home, and a lot of that energy is dissipated in heat. So this thermal protection system is very important to protecting us on that ride home, when all that energy’s coming out of the vehicle, to make a nice landing at in Florida and be able to call “wheelstop,” I mean, we’re back down to zero. So we can go out and repair the tiles. We can do kind of a surface repair to them. We can repair kind of scratches and dents in the tiles, kind of fill them in with a putty-like substance. We can also do a similar repair to the reinforced carbon-carbon on the leading edge of the wings and we, if there’s a hole, we can even put a kind of plug it or patch that hole using kind of a molly bolt-type of design, something like you might do on a piece of drywall at home. So those are some of the options we have.

Well, unlike other shuttle flights these days, you don’t have the option, if your damage is too severe to repair, of going to the space station and waiting for a rescue to come. What options do you have in terms of, of getting home if Atlantis can’t make the trip?

Well, you’re right, we don’t have a safe haven, a, a place that we can go camp out and, and hang out. We’re, it’s just the seven of us and the shuttle. So while we’re going to be launching from Pad A down at, at the Cape on the other pad, Pad B, is going to be the shuttle Endeavour, and they’re going to be on the pad ready to go as a rescue ship for us. And so, if we do launch and we find something on that initial inspection or later in the mission on any inspection where it’s determined that, hey, there’s been too much damage it’s, it’s too bad to go out and repair, they’ll launch that other shuttle and they’ll come up and get us. We’re carrying a little bit of extra food and that kind of stuff so that we can, we can hang out there on the shuttle and kind of power down a little bit and last for a few weeks until these guys can come up and rescue us.

How would that be accomplished? How do the two ships get together?

Well, it’s never been done before, obviously, and it’s obviously something we haven’t even really thought about probably before the Columbia accident. But the idea is that this crew will come up and it’ll be a smaller crew than normal, it’ll probably be only four guys coming up because they need to pick up seven of us so it would be eleven coming down, which would be a new record. But they’ll bring up some extra spacesuits and these two vehicles will rendezvous, just like we rendezvous with satellites and other things out there in space, the space station. We’ll get together and then we’ll actually hook up to each other. One of the robotic arms from one shuttle will grab the other shuttle and now we’ll be kind of “joined at the hip” for a while, and then we’ll, we’ll actually go out — we’ll have to go do this via EVAs, or spacewalks. So a couple at a time, we’ll just start going back and forth between the old shuttle and the new shuttle and we’ll all get over to the, to the safe ship.

All the work that you guys have been planning to do to get Hubble back up and running at full speed is contingent on a successful rendezvous and grapple and berthing of the telescope. Now you touched on it before; I’ll get you to tell me a little bit more about the part that you play in those rendezvous operations, and describe how the crew goes about getting that telescope down in the payload bay.

One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is just, is rendezvousing with the Hubble Space Telescope, to join up with it and to see it for the first time up close. I think that’ll be pretty cool. But what we’ll need to do is, from our launch we’ll have to get into that, the same orbit as the Hubble and get up to its altitude, which is a little over 300 miles above the Earth almost a hundred miles higher than the space station. So we’ll get a little different view of the planet, the, maybe a little bit more curve on the horizon. But we’ll get together with the Hubble and we’ll get close to it and as we get closer and closer, the commander, Scott Altman, will drive us right up to the point where Megan [McArthur] can use the robotic arm to actually grab hold of the Hubble Space Telescope, and then bring it down into the payload bay. It actually latches in there. We’ll use it kind of as our high bay or as our garage and we’ll go out and work on it then in that stable platform. This platform that we latched onto can spin around and kind of pitch and tilt so we can get the telescope in a good position for us to work on it. During the rendezvous, specifically, I get to operate this handheld laser which is something that I can point at the telescope and shoot a laser beam out at it and we’ll get distance information on it from that, from that piece of equipment. And so we’ll be able to tell how far away we are, obviously, and as we get closer we’ll be able to tell the rate that we’re closing on it. Obviously as we start we’re going pretty quickly toward it. We’ll want to slow down so that when we get right up close to it we’re, we’re stopped, and we’ll get nice and stable and then Megan can reach out and grab it.

JSC2008-E-008431 -- STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good

STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good 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, Houston. Photo Credit: NASA

Once you’ve got the telescope in the payload bay, there’s some time set aside for a survey. Tell me about that task and the reasoning behind it — why are we looking over the telescope at this point?

We haven’t been there in a while so we want to just check it out and see what it looks like now, see what kind of shape it’s in. Some of it’s just a little bit of a practice for the robotic arm operators so they can kind of get warmed up and you know, practice maneuvering around the telescope, seeing where the different clearances are, the different things that are sticking out of it, some of the work areas that we need to get close to. But it’s so, it’s just kind of a warm-up period for both us on the shuttle. Also there’s a lot of folks down on the ground that’ll be interested in seeing some of those images for the first time or for a long time, and see just what kind of shape the telescope’s in.

See how it’s changed since the last time you were there.

Right, right.

You’ve been training, of course, as you said, to do some of the spacewalks on this mission, the first of your career. What are you most looking forward to about that part of this flight?

Well, that’s definitely going to be the highlight. I’d have to say there are two things that I’m really looking forward to. One is just going out the hatch especially for the first time and just looking outside, being outside in my own spacesuit, you know, kind of my own little satellite there, and looking out into space through that visor, no windows; looking down at the Earth, watching it pass by, looking at the colors, looking out into space, seeing the stars. But just being outside of a vehicle traveling around the world, hanging out there in space, I think that’s just going to be fascinating and I think it’s something that obviously not a lot of people get to do. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. The other thing I’m really looking forward to is, once I’m out the door, translating over to the Hubble Space Telescope and, and grabbing a hold of it. I’ve, I’ve looked up from my driveway and watched the Hubble go overhead — you can see it, it’s a, a bright light on a clear night — and I’ve just imagined myself actually being up there and, and holding on to that thing as it’s, as it’s speeding around the world. I think that’s going to be pretty cool. And then once I get over that, I’m going to pull out my power tool, I’m going to undo a couple bolts, and we’re actually going to open up the doors to Hubble and we’re going to crawl inside and actually get to work on the telescope from the inside. I think that’s going to be pretty exciting.

There are five spacewalks that are in the plan here, over five consecutive days. Tell me about how the crewmembers divide up the duties during the different spacewalks.

Well, there’s four of us dedicated to doing spacewalks on the, on the mission, and, as you said, it’s five days in a row so you’re pretty much either going outside or you’re, you’re supporting those guys from the inside. I’ll start from the inside because that’s what I’m going to do first. Mike Massimino and I are going to go out and do the spacewalks on No. 2 and No. 4. So on the first day, when we’re on the inside, we’re going to be supporting those guys that are going outside. We’re going to help them get ready; we’re going to help them get dressed and just do the EVA prep work, get the suits ready. Like I said, get them into the suits, get them all connected and buckled in and, and safe, and then we’ll get them in the airlock and we’ll close the hatch from the inside and then they can depress the airlock, let all the air out of it, and open up the hatch on the other side and go outside. Then the work starts; then we get started on the spacewalk. And so while John [Grunsfeld] and Drew [Feustel] are outside doing their spacewalk, Mike Massimino and I will be inside and we’ve got the procedures. You know, walking in space is an open book test. We have all the answers inside so you don’t have to memorize everything. Of course, with a lot of the training we get very familiar with the tasks but you just can’t memorize every specific detail, there’s just too much to remember. So we have all the answers inside and we, we lead them through the spacewalk. We in some cases read it to them step-by-step. We have the settings for the tools and, the order and, you know, which thing’s going to happen next and which connector needs to be done. So we’re just in there reading out the steps to them. At the end of the day they’ll come back in and we’ll reverse the process. We’ll get them back in the ship; we’ll get them back in their clothes, out of the suits. Then we have to turn the suits around because we’re going to do it again tomorrow. So we’ll get the suits ready too and the tools all ready — that’s something I didn’t mention, you don’t have to just get the suits ready; you have to get all the tools that they’re going to use that day prepared and configured and set up so that they can go out and use them. So we’ll do all that again and to get ready for the next day, and then the next morning when we wake up, Mike and I will be the ones getting ready to go outside, getting a bite to eat, getting dressed and going outside and we’ll just keep doing that. I think it’ll be probably about flight day 8 or 9 before we kind of wake up and realize, oh my gosh, we’ve been just going at this for you know, about eight days, and whew!

Look what we’ve done.

Yeah, hopefully we’ll be successful and up to that point we can enjoy it.

The top priority component that’s being installed is one that you and Mike are going to work on, installing new Rate Sensor Units. Tell me what those are and what they do.

The Rate Sensor Units are kind of a delicate piece of equipment. Basically it’s about a backpack-size box that has two gyros inside of it, and we’re going to replace all three of these, so six total gyros on the Hubble Space Telescope. What these allow the telescope to do is to point very accurately at whatever the scientists want to see. So that’s one of the top priorities for this mission because right now three of those six gyros are not working, they’re broken. It’s kind of one in each of these different boxes so we’re going to replace all three of them.

How hard a job is that?

It’s very delicate. It’s different from the construction that we’re doing on the International Space Station. What they’re doing is very cool and very difficult work, too, but what we’re doing is just a little bit different. For us it’s more like surgery. We’re taking fine instruments and working in very tight spots inside the telescope. So if we bump into anything or if we create any unnecessary debris that could ruin the telescope or ruin every future picture that ever comes out — it’s going to have a big smudge on it or something if we make a mistake in there. There’s some very tight spots and very delicate equipment that we’ll be working with.

Are these like pluggable components, or are they more difficult to remove and install?

On these Rate Sensor Units, there’s basically three bolts and then there are two connectors. So it, it seems very, fairly simple and if you and I were just, you know, working on it here it would be fairly easy to do it in our shirt-sleeves. But basically I’ll just have to just remove the three bolts and have hold it and before I take it off and Mike will be inside the telescope and he’ll undo these two connectors and, yeah, just basically comes out. We have one of the carriers in the payload bay of the shuttle that has three new Rate Sensor Units that we’re taking up. We’ll go get one of the new ones and we’ll put it in and I’ll drive three bolts and Mike will do the two connectors and it’ll be ready to go and then we’ll move on and do all three of these.

Rather than make a replacement, as you do with Rate Sensor Units, when it comes to the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrometer, the STIS, you’re going to be repairing that. What is wrong with that instrument and what are you guys going to do to get it back working?

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS, is a failed instrument right now. There’s kind of two flavors of instruments up on the telescope. There are cameras that take the pretty pictures that we see on the Internet and on the calendars, and then there are the spectrographs. These are really the workhorses. As light comes into a spectrograph it gets spread out kind of like a prism and that produces kind of a distribution of brightness, and actually each chemical emits its own discrete color so the, the scientists can analyze this light that’s coming through this spectrograph then and really determine some quantitative properties about these far-away stars. The cameras give us a qualitative picture of what’s out there, but these are really giving us quantitative data on the chemical and material composition of these stars, what they're made up of, what’s their mass, what’s their density, how are they moving, what are their gravitational fields like out there -- some pretty neat stuff. The trouble is that this spectrograph is in a failed safe mode right now. It has redundant power supplies to it, but both sides have failed over the last few years. Actually in 2001 one of the sides went down and in 2004 the other side went down. So right now it’s kind of dead in the water or dead in space, at least for that instrument. We’re going to go up and repair that. We’re trying to just get one of the sides back up, and we’re going to take up a new low voltage power supply. You said normally we’ll just take an instrument out and put a new one in. This really wasn’t designed to be worked on in space. What we’re going to do is, take off a panel and actually pull out a computer card and just put in the new card. The tricky part about that is that panel -- again it wasn’t really designed to do this in space -- has 111 screws around it, so that will take time. But worse yet is that they’re non-captive, meaning as you back the screw out it’s not going to stay with the panel; it’s going to be loose. And again, this is inside the telescope. So these are bad things. The folks at Goddard, the engineers there, have designed a capture plate to go on top of this panel so that, as we take the screws off they’ll be captured inside of this kind of a Plexiglas panel and we can pull the whole thing off and then just put a new, a new card inside of it. So, kind of a tricky operation but we’re looking forward to it.

I’m amazed at the mind of whoever it is that came up with the design of this capture plate for a job, as you say, was never intended to be done in space.

It's really amazing. These guys at Goddard are just doing incredible things, things that were never thought of. At best this type of operation would be done in a clean room down here on Earth. We’re going up there and we’re going to open the doors and take a panel off the spectrograph and get inside of it. We’re worried about things like grounding -- we actually build up quite a bit static discharge in our suits as we’re moving around up there, kind of like walking across the carpet. Then you know, you touch an instrument like that and you can really send a voltage through it and kind of negate everything you’re trying to do. STIS is going to be definitely an interesting operation. The neat thing about it, though, is that we’re actually sharing this information with our friends over on the station, and this is giving, you know, as we’ve developed this, you know, out of a need to repair STIS, we’re developing a new technology and a new way to do things and they’re actually going to apply some of this to repair some things like this on the space station, where in the past we’ve always just had this, you know, philosophy of, you know, swapping out black boxes.

Because that seems to make sense, given the environment that you’re working in and the constraints of working in space — that changing out components is simpler.

But actually getting inside and changing out cards, like on your computer or doing some soldering is kind of at a different level.

And you’re still doing it wearing mittens.

That’s right. You’re wearing a, a couple pairs of ski gloves in a pressurized suit, so it makes it exciting.

Let’s touch on some of the other the other changes that are going to be made to the telescope. There are a couple of different cameras: tell me about the Wide Field Camera and the Advanced Camera for Surveys. What do those cameras see in the visible range; they provide the pictures?

They do. They actually see in more than just the visible range. They actually get outside the visible range into a little bit of the near infrared and on the other side a little bit of the near ultraviolet, so things that we can’t necessarily see. But they do provide the images of these faraway galaxies or nebulae and stars that are developing. I guess the, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 is going to be replaced by the Wide Field Camera 3. That’s something that we’re going to take up, just put it in, you know, take out the old camera, and put in a new one. And then the Advanced Camera for Surveys is similar to the STIS repair. It’s, it’s broken right now, it also had a, a dual failure on it that we’re going to try to bring up at least one side of it and get this capability back.

So once again this is an instance of both repair and replacement among these big cameras?

Right, to give us a capability. Hopefully when we leave Hubble we’re going to have it at its peak capability, kind of at the apex of its capability. If you think about it, Hubble’s 18 years old and if you think about technology, camera technology, how far it's come in just the last few years. Going to the store and buying new digital cameras that if you just think about the advances we’ve made in that, you can imagine how replacing a camera like that on the Hubble would be important.

Now along with cameras that present the pictures that most people can enjoy you're installing another one of these science instruments a spectrograph called the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. What does that “see” if you will?

I talked a little bit about spectrographs when we talked about the STIS repair. A spectrograph gathers the light from the telescope and picks off its part of it and then it spreads the light out like through a prism. The scientists can analyze these different components of the light to determine, like I said, material properties, chemical properties, really what, what things are made of out there.

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph is being installed in the place that’s currently occupied by a thing called COSTAR, the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement.

Right.

Now that’s a very special piece of equipment installed back in 1993 to fix Hubble’s vision; so why is it being taken out now?

That’s right. COSTAR — we’ll stick with the acronym here in this case — it’s been called the contact lens, is the corrective optics for Hubble. This was what was put in on the first servicing mission. As you remember, Hubble went up there back in 1990 and the first pictures that came back were blurry. They were not good and there was just a huge disappointment. So one of the first things we did was to, to fix it was take up this COSTAR instrument -- the corrective optics. It fixed the small, very tiny problem in the lens. Over the years, as new instruments have been taken up to Hubble and swapped out, these corrective optics, now that we know about it, have all been incorporated in the new instruments. So we’re actually at the point now where it’s not needed. So we can take it out and use that space for this new spectrograph, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, that just has increased capabilities. Again, technology has taken us further; it has more range across the wavelength spectrum, and it’ll again just put us at the very peak of capability for the telescope.

You’re also going to be bringing up replacement battery modules, which apparently are different than just plain batteries. How big are the batteries we're talking about?

We’re talking about a big battery; these are not AA’s. You know, my brother kids me, when I told him one of the tasks that I’m going to do is replace the batteries. He says, "Yeah, don’t screw this up; make sure you get the positive end on the positive and the negative on the negative." I said, it’s not quite that simple there, buddy. These are suitcase-size battery modules. There’s actually three batteries in each one. They’re nickel hydrogen type of battery and they weigh about 500 pounds each. At one point on the, on the spacewalk I take the old battery out of the telescope and I come down into the payload bay where my partner, Mike Massimino, is, and he’s got the new battery, and he hands me the new battery and so it, I’ve got two 500 pound batteries in my hands and for, for a few moments there, until I can hand him the old one. Then I’ll take the new battery back up to the telescope and install it and get it all hooked up.

JSC2007-E-113592 -- STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good

STS-125 Mission Specialist Michael T. Good dons a training version of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit prior to being submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center, Houston. Photo Credit: NASA

You’ll be able to do a couple of reps that way?

That’s right. I just do a little workout there, maybe some flies with a couple 500 pound batteries. Of course they don’t weigh anything in space, but there’s still the mass there. So if they get moving in one direction or another, you still have to be able to control them and, you know, stop them.

Also on the task list is the installation of a refurbished Fine Guidance Sensor. Tell me, that’s part of the stuff that makes Hubble point; how does that work?

A Fine Guidance Sensor actually has kind of two roles. It helps the Hubble point and gets us looking at the things that the astronomers and the scientists want to look at. If you think about how far away these things are, you really have to point accurately. It works kind of with the Rate Sensor Units and the gyros to really control the pointing. And to give you an idea how accurate these things can point, it’s like if you were on the Washington Monument and you were shining one of those laser pointers all the way to New York, to the Empire State Building, you could, you could point that laser on a quarter on the Empire State Building. So it’s a, pretty remarkable the accuracy that they have.

Also to be installed are some thermal blankets. Where do these go?

One of the last things we’ll do, and hopefully we’ll get to it, is to install these new thermal blankets, the new outer blankets. They go up on the, kind of on the top of the aft shroud some of the equipment bays up there. They’re called bays 5, 7 and 8 are the ones that we’re targeting that seem to need it the most. These are just kind of like cookie tins, or they’re kind of made out of aluminum, they’re thin aluminum sheet, cookie sheets that we’ll put up just over the tops of the doors to provide some thermal protection from both the, the hot and the cold of space, depending on whether the sun’s shining or it’s not.

Of course, now NASA wouldn’t be NASA if they weren’t sending you up there with a list of things to do that are outside of the time available to do it. What other tasks have you got in mind that you could do if time allows?

Well, right now we’re timelined to do just one of these outer blankets. We’re going to take three total so hopefully we can get to all three of those, but those would be some of the get-aheads. We also are going to take up a soft capture mechanism. It’s something that we’re going to try to attach to the bottom of the Hubble Space Telescope so that when we’re done at the end of the mission and we redeploy Hubble this will go with it. It’ll be kind of a docking ring on the bottom of Hubble that a future spacecraft that hasn’t even been developed yet, could potentially go up to Hubble. The, the real purpose is to provide it some kind of a safe deorbit capability so that we could bring it down in a controlled way. In the news recently the Navy shot down an old satellite that was ready to come back and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and there’s some pretty significant pieces and parts on Hubble that would probably make it through the re-entry, wouldn’t necessarily burn up. We want to make sure that Hubble, when it does come down, many, many, many years into the future, maybe 20, 25 before it would ever re-enter, but that we can do it in a controlled way and bring it down where we choose, hopefully out in the middle of the water somewhere.

Once five spacewalks are completed it’ll be time for you folks to put Hubble back to work.

Right.

Talk about possibly reboosting it and then setting it back on its way in a stable condition.

Well, Hubble is up there at about 300 miles above the Earth and so it doesn’t decay very much but over time it does slowly sink back towards the Earth, Mother Earth here. So we will boost it up a few miles and then we’ll take it out of the payload bay and put it back to work.

The important thing is to make sure that it’s out there and not wobbling around as you as you move away?

Right. We’ll take it and move it up out of the payload bay and then let go of it, back away from it with the arm and then back away from it with the whole shuttle. It will be back on its own internal power and attitude systems and it’ll take care of itself.

And you guys will probably be the, the last people to ever lay eyes on Hubble at that point. Any thought about what that’ll be like?

Lay eyes on it and touch it. Yeah. I’m sure there’ll be some emotion there as we leave Hubble. Hopefully we’ll have had a successful mission and we’ll be happy and it’ll get back to work.

As you guys move away we can’t help but notice that it’s taken a, a crew of human beings to go up and get a robotic telescope into shape to work at full speed again. Mike, what are your thoughts about how the future of exploration is going to depend on people and their machines working together?

That’s a great question. The future of exploration is going to be a combination of robotics and human space exploration. I think they need to work together. Robots are great for going out there, leading the way, going to places that we can’t get to yet as humans. They can land places and do some work before we get there, but I think it takes the human to go up there and be able to make some decisions. You just get so much more out of the work when you’ve got the human element in the equation.

Can one do it without the other?

I don’t think so. You can get pieces and parts. I think, as humans we’re definitely dependent on the robots, like I said, to really lead the way, and to go out there ahead of us and take some of the risk for us. But the robots on their own aren’t going to get the whole story, so I think we really need to work together. And it’s not one against the other. It's a group project.