Feature

Preflight Interview: Christopher Ferguson, Commander
10.31.08
jsc2003e55802 -- Christopher Ferguson, Commander

STS-126 Commander Christopher Ferguson. Photo Credit: NASA

Chris, of all the careers in the entire world that a person could aspire to, you ended up a professional space traveler. What was it that motivated you to become an astronaut?

Well, like a lot of people my age, I grew up as a young adolescent in the Apollo era and I watched the first men walk on the moon. I watched Skylab and while I was in college I watched the first space shuttle flight. I always had an interest in aviation. I always had an interest in thing that I found intriguing, things I didn’t completely understand so I got in naval aviation because I thought an aircraft carrier was probably one of the most amazing things in the world. I flew often on an aircraft carrier for about 10 years and as, as my career progressed I realized I had an opportunity to get a graduate degree, to go to the Navy’s test pilot school and then I had, I’d check a lot of the blocks that, that are typically recognized as those qualities that might be applicable to joining the astronaut corps. So I wouldn’t say I woke up with the dream one day but my career just led me here.

What was it like growing up in Philadelphia?

Oh, Philadelphia is a great town. I was very fortunate in that I spent my whole childhood years there. I had a great love for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Phillies. I had season tickets with my dad to go watch the Eagles play every Sunday and, if you know anything about football fans, those Philadelphia football fans are pretty rabid. So I had a great opportunity to get into the real heart and soul of Philadelphia. It’s a great town. They’re still very loyal to me. I went back there after my last flight, had the opportunity to go to Chris Ferguson Day at Archbishop Ryan High School, which was a great honor for me. I had the opportunity to make some relationships with the media there who followed the mission very closely and I think of them as very supportive of my career as well.

You said that your dad took you to a lot of the games there. So has your dad had a lot of influence on your life?

I would say so. My dad passed away at an early age so I really cherish those years. I really did. We had a good relationship and we had a lot of fun. We played golf together and like I said, we were sports fans together.

Some good memories.

Yes.

Do you see in yourself how Philadelphia and the people there helped make you the person you are today?

I would say so. I had, I had some wonderful teachers in high school. I think they served to inspire me. I remember that the light kind of came on for me with regard to science and math in high school. You know, today it’s perceived to almost be a little uncool to be good in science and math but there was an atmosphere that was cultivated that enabled us to be cool and to be smart at the same time. So I would say that that was probably the largest single factor that pushed me onward and, and upward.

I know you’re in a band and it’s called Max-Q. Tell me about the band.

Well, we’re a garage band, if you will. I wouldn’t say that we’re great but we’re rather unique in that the members of the band are all astronauts. There’s probably about 12 of us right now and we alternate in roles. A lot of us are unavailable at certain times for certain gigs so we’ll alternate back and forth. And like I said, we’re not great. We don’t have an awful lot of time to practice but we’re good enough and I think just the sheer novelty of having a band comprised of astronauts is sometimes a little intriguing and interesting to people. We’ve had some opportunity to play at Space Flight Awareness events, to play for the people who maintain the shuttle and the infrastructure surrounding it, so that’s been very advantageous, I think, to give just a little bit back to the community that supports the space program.

Now as far as the band’s concerned, are you a singer or do you play an instrument or what?

No, I’m a drummer. They tried to get me to be a singer but then they realized that’s probably not a good thing so I just sit in the back and quietly play the drums. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned just about the music. We’ve added a few songs over the years but there are what I would consider to be our staple songs that we play most of the time and I’m very familiar with them and I share the duties with another one of the astronauts, Kevin Ford, so he and I split them and we have a great time doing it.

Sounds like it. Let’s go back in time a little bit. Tell me about the day that you got the news that you were accepted into the astronaut corps.

I remember that day very well. Of course there’s a certain amount of anticipation leading up to that; it’s a long application process. It lasts about nine months and there are certain milestones that happen along the way. I had realized that I had reached the end of some of those milestones and I was still in the running so I was anticipating a call one way or another just about any day. I had traveled up to the Navy’s test pilot school and I was in and around that area on that particular day. My boss from my parent organization down in Norfolk, Va., had called me. He had tracked me down up there and he said, “Hey, somebody from NASA is looking to get hold of you.” And I knew that this was the phone call and it was going to go one way or another. Fortunately for me, it went, it went that I had been selected and I’ll never forget that drive back down from Pax River down to Virginia Beach. It was kind of one of those opportunities by myself where I realized that I had achieved a lifelong dream. I was very excited. I knew what the future it held and I was looking forward to sharing it with, with my wife and family.

You’ve been a capcom in Mission Control. You were a pilot on STS-115 and now you’re the commander for this mission. What’s it like going from capcom to pilot to commander?

First of all, capcom is a great lead-in job for the pilot role. You have the opportunity to learn how the other side works. Of course, we get very well versed in our job in the cockpit but sometimes we don’t understand operationally how Mission Control helps and supports us for ascent, for entry and for day-to-day operations. So that was a great opportunity for me. With regard to the Pilot role, typically pilots will fly twice as pilots before they move over to the left seat and become a commander. My unique circumstance, and I think that unique circumstance is that it took me eight years to get my first flight. They saw it fit that I would have that opportunity to be commander on my second flight. So that’s where I sit right now. It’s a unique opportunity. It’s very challenging in that I haven’t had that second training flow to really observe how everything goes on so I’m learning some valuable lessons and I have learned some valuable lessons. But I think by and large it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience and I’m definitely looking forward to the flight at the end of it all.

Remember the first time you were approaching the space station on Atlantis. What was it like seeing the International Space Station up close for the first time?

First I have to explain a little bit about how everybody’s roles and responsibilities are in the rendezvous phase. The way we had broken up our crew the commander would be at the aft station looking out the overhead window and we approach the space station looking out the overhead window. So the pilot, if he’s sitting in the commander’s seat, generally looks out the front of the orbiter and that’s not where the space station is. So as we get closer and closer the pilot supports the commander but he really doesn’t have the opportunity to even look out the window and see where he’s going. It’s all pretty much internal support. The first time the pilot has the opportunity to see the space station is when we do this we call it an RPM maneuver. It’s a 360-degree flip and it’s conducted about 600 feet below the International Space Station. We flip over on our back so as you can imagine as we’re pitching up 90 degrees, I have my first opportunity to look at the space station out the front window of the shuttle and boy, I’ll tell you! It would, it would send chills down your spine. It was this giant leviathan in space. I mean, it was a lot larger than I ever thought it would be and it was right in front of us. It was kind of one of those very gee whiz moments, my first one in spaceflight. It was really incredible.

We talked earlier about where you grew up. Give me the short course on Chris Ferguson’s education and professional background.

Sure. I went to St. Martha’s Grade School, small grade school, Catholic grade school in northeast Philadelphia, spent eight years there; went to Archbishop Ryan High School, again a parochial high school in Philadelphia. I didn’t go too far to college; I went downtown to Drexel University, studied mechanical engineering there, and developed an interest in the Navy and an interest in flying. I had a Navy ROTC scholarship at Drexel. I attended my Navy ROTC courses just across the street at the University of Pennsylvania. I graduated, was commissioned in the Navy, went down to Flight School here in Texas, down in Kingsville, Texas, and got my Navy wings about two years after graduation. I went on into the Navy for a couple tours flying F-14s, managed to fit some time in post graduate school in there and, like I said earlier, went to Navy test pilot school. I was serving in the capacity of a logistics officer for the, the commander of the Naval Air Force’s Atlantic Fleet when I found out that, that NASA had selected me.

Going back to the station, what are you looking forward to the most while you’re there?

Well the expanse of the space station, the internal volume of the space station has just about doubled since I was last there just under two years ago. So internally the volume is getting larger and I’m looking forward to seeing that. It’s really quite expansive. Of course, as we’ll talk about shortly, we have a multipurpose logistics module we’ll be bringing up with us and attaching it to the space station so we’ll have the, that internal volume as well. And I remember an interesting story from my last mission. We were just about ready to ready to undock. We woke up in the morning. We had administrative details to take care of before we actually closed the hatch and we actually had a little off duty time which is a rarity aboard the space station and it’s very much appreciated. It gives you an opportunity to take a camera around and take a few pictures. We were about two hours away from undocking and we were beginning to collect everybody after they took their personal time to go take a few photos. The commander, who was Brent Jett, said to me, he says, “Has anybody seen Heide?” And Heide’s on my crew now but she was also on my crew back then and I thought, “You know, this is kind of interesting.” Here we are up in space. We’re in a, we’re in an enclosed volume. A lot of people think it’s really not that large but in reality, there’s a crew member we hadn’t seen in a while. I think Heide was back taking a look at the Russian Soyuz. She was getting a tour of the Soyuz from our Russian crew member at the time but it was just very interesting. I said, “She can’t have wandered far. I know she’s some place around. We just need to make sure she’s on the right side of the hatch when we close it when we get ready to leave.” So I’m looking forward to seeing the space station a lot larger than it was even so when we were there just a couple years ago.

Chris, what’s it like working with and training with this crew?

Well, I can’t say enough wonderful things about this crew. I think every commander would like to think that he’s got the best crew that was ever assembled to fly a space shuttle mission. I’m no exception. These folks are extremely talented, very hard working. They’re very easy going and very low maintenance which I think a commander appreciates. We’ll probably go over them one by one here very shortly but I have been extremely fortunate and appreciative of the wonderful talent that has been given to me in this crew. Of course, Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper is our lead spacewalker and she and I had the opportunity to fly together on STS-115 so we’re very familiar with one another.

There are thousands of people who work behind the scenes to make this mission possible. What are your thoughts about their contributions and what’s it like when you get a chance to visit with them?

Just a few short weeks ago we had the opportunity to go to the Kennedy Space Center for one of the very few crew trips that we get out there. It’s called CEIT or the Crew Element Integration Test. That’s the first opportunity for the crew to actually have a hands-on chance to be in the space shuttle and take a look at the payload bay and some of the payloads we’re going to be working with and just the overall layout of the space shuttle. The conclusion of that is a party or a social, if you will, and it’s usually held at a local establishment and the crew is invited. We hadn’t done it for a few flights. I’m really not sure why but we’d certainly agreed to do it on this training flow and I was astounded when I showed up at this event and there must have been two to three hundred people from the Kennedy Space Center who were there and they really just wanted to talk to us. They don’t have the opportunity as often as you would think to get to talk to the people who actually fly the space ships that they maintain on a daily basis. So I, I think it’s a unique opportunity for them. It was a way for us to give a little bit back but what amazed me the most was just the amount of people who had showed up there just to talk with us . . . not a, not a public relations event, not a formal gathering, not a handshake but the chance to kind of come and just share one the stories that we have to relate about what training’s like, what the space program’s like and what it’s like to be on the International Space Station. And then another interesting story that I have along those lines: The people at the Kennedy Space Center work on the space shuttles day in and day out and periodically I’ve asked people who I’ve just met, struck up a small conversation and I’ll say, “Does the fact that you ever, that you work on a, a human spacecraft, I mean, one of a kind, I mean, the only reusable spacecraft ever built, the kind of aircraft that will probably never fly for decades, a reusable space plane that goes up and down, ever lost upon you? I mean, do you ever forget the fact that, that you have an extremely special job?” And by and large, every one of them, they don’t even pause a moment. They say, “No, that fact is never lost to me. Every day I, I enjoy coming here. I enjoy working on the space ship and I know exactly what I’m doing and I know who flies this space ship” and, you know, they have basically our thoughts and our lives and the interest of our families in mind every day when they come to work and work on the shuttle, so it’s very reassuring to us. So I’d like to think that we do have this, this relationship with the people who maintain and construct and build the space shuttles and the International Space Station. We have a great relationship with them.

jsc2008e044875 -- Christopher Ferguson, Commander

STS-126 Commander Christopher Ferguson relaxes during a training session at the Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

I want to go back to something that you mentioned earlier. You said that you had actually gone on to the shuttle with your crew. Did you happen to glance over at the faces of the new flight members to see what their reaction was?

Yes, and I remember that experience, my first opportunity. Although we’re given ready access to the outside of the shuttle and we do go there to the Orbiter Processing Facilities and look around even when we’re not part of the crew just because it’s really cool to be next to a space shuttle. But we very rarely get the opportunity to be inside, and this is a day that’s designed just for us. We’re the Kennedy Space Center with folks are there just to support us so we can go in and look at some equipment that’s on the interior part of the shuttle and in the payload bay that we would, otherwise would never have an opportunity to do. And to look at some of the folks, you could tell that, that this was probably, if they hadn’t had an inclination that it was coming, that, that this probably set the bit that, “Wow! You know, we’re really getting close and we’re really going to fly this spaceship some day.” So it’s, it’s an interesting transformation that you make and I remember going through it and I’d like to think they all went through it as well.

Kind of help to bring the reality of it forward for them, I’m sure. You also work very closely with the Vehicle Integration Team and, as well as the crew quarters people that work over there. What’s it like talking and working with them?

The VIT team or the Vehicle Integration Team represents us both here at the Johnson Space Center but most importantly they represent us at the Kennedy Space Center. KSC is about 800 miles away from Houston and sometimes it’s hard to exert your influence over the phone. But they’re great out there. They’re our eyes and our ears. They’re always looking out for our best interests. They plan our trips when we go out there. They make sure that all the Ts are crossed, the Is are dotted, and that that the agenda goes, goes down very well so they’re a great group of folks and they help us right up until the very last minute. They take care of all of our personal needs and they basically are our, I don’t want to call them ‘chauffeurs’ but they kind of take real good care of us until we’re, we’re packed away and on orbit.

Chris, what’s the best part of your job?

I would say that that has varied a little bit. This particular training flow, the best part of my job is having the opportunity to take three new folks who’ve never been in space and make sure they’re trained properly, that they know everything they need to know to go on and execute a very challenging, demanding 15-day mission on the, on the space shuttle and the space station. I’d like to think I’m doing the best job I possibly can. Only time will tell and I like to think that when the wheels stop after the landing rollout and we have a successful mission under our belt that I’ve done what I was assigned to do. But right now the most fun is just watching the new experiences that they go through and their anticipation of their upcoming shuttle mission.

We were talking a little bit earlier about your crew and training with your crew. Can you give me an idea of what it’s like to work with each one of them individually? Tell me about them.

Absolutely. Well, first, the best part as I said a little bit earlier is the fact that three of them are space rookies and we’re going to have an opportunity to give them their first, their first shuttle ride, their first ascent and docking with the space station and entry. The pilot is, is Eric Boe. He’s an, an Air Force colonel. He was a former F-15 pilot, a great guy. He has the distinction of being the first pilot in his class to fly which is a distinction that also belongs to another one of our crew members we’ll get to shortly. But his responsibility will be to back me up. Technically he is second to none. He’s done a wonderful job so far of keeping me out of trouble and I’d like to think that’s going to continue. Backing up Eric and I for ascent is MS 2. That is going to be Steve Bowen. Steve Bowen is a fellow Navy Captain. Steve has the distinction of being the first Navy submariner selected as an astronaut and he’ll serve like I said as the flight engineer for ascent and also perform two spacewalks as the EV 2 or the backup space walker and then, on his very first space mission, be a lead spacewalker on his third spacewalk. So that is a huge demand on him but I am absolutely confident he’s going to rise to the occasion. Backing up Steve Bowen and also on the flight deck for ascent will be our MS 1, Don Pettit. Don Pettit’s a wonderful individual. He’s a brilliant scientist. He had the distinction of flying on Expedition 6, the sixth mission to the International Space Station where he spent about six months. While he was on the space station we lost Columbia during a re-entry accident and, for a period of time, he and his commander, Ken Bowersox, didn’t know how they were going to be getting back to Earth. They ended up coming back in an unplanned way aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. That spacecraft ended up landing about 600 kilometers off course, another unique circumstance, so Don has seen it all at this point and it is such a pleasure to have him as a part of, of our space shuttle crew and he brings an awful lot to the table. On the mid-deck for ascent and our lead spacewalker is Heide [Stefanyshyn-]Piper. Heide and I flew together on STS-115. She’s brilliant. She’s very organized. She’s very meticulous. She’s backed me up on numerous occasions with little small details and, and a commander couldn’t ask for anyone better to back him up on the little details and Heide is always there. She’ll be leading the three spacewalks that she participates in, the first, second and third spacewalks. Also on ascent with Heide on the mid-deck will be Shane Kimbrough. Shane is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He was an Apache pilot, served in the Gulf War. This will be his first space flight and as I said earlier, we had a couple members of our crew who had the distinction of being the first in their class to fly. Shane is the first in the class of 2004, the Astronaut Class of 2004 to fly so, so it’s a great opportunity for, for me to have these incredibly talented individuals on board. He’ll be performing two spacewalks in addition to operating both of the robotic arms, the shuttle’s robotic arm and space station’s robotic arm. And then, of course, there’s our shuttle crew member for rotation. That’ll be Sandy Magnus. We’ll be taking her up to the International Space Station. We’ll talk a little bit more about her briefly. And in return we will bringing back, be bringing back Greg Chamitoff. Greg Chamitoff will have spent about six months up there. I’m sure he’s going to be looking forward to the fresh food that we’re able to bring up to him but, more importantly, I think he’s going to be very happy that we’re there and ready to take him home.

Let’s talk about your shuttle launch. Very few have really experienced a shuttle launch from inside the orbiter and you’ve even said yourself that it’s more nerve wracking to watch a launch than to be inside the shuttle. But take me through the physical sensations of launch and ascent.

Sure. Well, first let me say that we simulate an awful lot going through training. We have several simulators in which we try to do each individual phase of the mission and you do an awful lot of what we call ascent-entry training and we do a wonderful job at the simulation. At no time in the launch count or leading up to the launch did I feel like I was exposed to something that I hadn’t at one time or another seen in a simulation. The reality begins to sink in after you come out of what we call the, the T-minus-9 Hold. There’s a, there’s a hold, I think it’s about 40 minutes long, that occurs at nine minutes prior to launch in which all the final checks are made. They stop the clock there. All the final checks are made and they will not come out of the T-minus-9 hold until we’re absolutely confident that the orbiter is ready to fly. And once we come out of that hold the ground launch sequencer begins to take over and makes a lot of the decisions for the space shuttle where humans used to make them. Now the computers are pretty much in control. And to have a launch hold inside of nine minutes usually takes quite a while to turn around so you know when we come out of the nine minute hold the orbiter is ready to go and barring a last minute glitch if you will we’re going to fly that day. The commander has very few actions, a couple switches to get a few heaters turned off. The pilot has to get the auxiliary power units, the APUs, running and he does that at about six minutes prior to launch. And then you can really feel, if you hadn’t felt it already, that the vehicle was beginning to come to life. Up ‘til this point we’re largely on ground power. We take ground cooling. We take ground electrical power. But once we start the APUs and you go on internal mechanical power you can tell that the shuttle’s about ready to take over for itself. Leading into T minus 30 seconds the anticipation begins to build but like you had said earlier, it’s a lot more nerve wracking to watch say from the Banana Creek viewing area or out on the causeway than it is to sit there and actually doing it because you’ve performed it so many times in a simulation. You know exactly what’s going to happen. If there’s one thing that I would say is significantly different it is the physical sensations. You can actually feel a lot more and you can hear a lot more but it’s neat to also look out the windows and watch the buzzards circling the shuttle which they tend to do because, I think, somebody says they actually like the hydrogen that’s off-gassed. I’m not really sure why but it’s just very interesting to look out the window and see birds flying around where, you know, formerly it was just a computer graphic. So there are certain elements that make it extremely real. Of course, when the engines light, everything feels just like it does in the simulator. But from the overhead windows, you actually see the shadow cast when the cloud billows out from behind the main engines when they light so you can tell there are certainly some physical aspects of this that are a lot different. The main engines light about six seconds prior to actual lift off and the SRBs fire. There’s a lot more of a physical jolt right then and then than we ever experience in the simulator. It feels like somebody has lifted your whole house up and put it down and then things actually settle out for a little while. My last launch was in the daytime so I actually had an opportunity to peek out the window as we went through what we call the roll program to align ourselves to climb into the orbital inclination for the orbit that we’re going to enter. Then it’s business as usual. Fortunately not nearly as many malfunctions occur in a normal ascent as they tend to introduce us to into the simulator but it’s really a fantastic ride. It doesn’t take very long before you begin to see the darkness of space and the curvature of the Earth as you look out the window. When the solid rocket boosters come off most of the vibration subsides and actually it’s very quiet and very calm. But you can certainly sense the acceleration for the entire 8½ minutes until you go into space. When the main engines shut off, just like that, you’re in zero G. Everything tends to float forward. The sensation that you get in your head, what I got is that I was tumbling forward and I made about two tumbles due to my vestibular effects and then things kind of settle out and you realize that the pencil that was in your hand, you kind of let it go and it just floats way. It’s pretty amazing. It’s neat, looking forward to doing it again.

Let’s talk about the mission. How would you describe the STS-126/ULF2 mission to the lay person?

There have been several high profile assembly missions where we’ve added components to the external part of the space station. Like I’d said, the internal volume has doubled since I’ve been there last, just a couple years ago. But what I think a lot of people don’t completely understand is that when we launch these heavy modules, we launched them essentially empty. I mean they’re shells. They have, they have the infrastructure. They have the wiring and the plumbing and the piping but as far as actual useful internal components, there are none. They’re launched empty. The Japanese module which was launched a few months ago, if you looked at the inside, it looked like the inside of an empty tank. So we need to fill those modules and that’s what these utilization flights, which is what ULF stands for, it’s a Utilization Flight, are all about. We take up what’s called a Multipurpose Logistics Module. It’s a cargo module in the back of the payload bay. Once we dock with the space station, we use the space station’s robotic arm to disconnect it from the shuttle and attach it to the space station. Once it’s on the space station, we can access it inside the pressurized volume of, of the space station. Essentially it becomes a part of the space station while we’re there and we transfer what, in our case, will be sixteen racks. You can think of a rack as an interchangeable module that lies in the space station. So we’ll move these large racks. We’ll essentially be like the moving company. We’re filling the empty volumes that were left when the large modules were installed. One of the larger payloads that we’re taking is a regenerative ECLSS system. ECLSS is the Environment Control and Life Support System. If we’re ever going to go on a long duration spaceflight to Mars and live there or go to the moon and live there we’re going to have to find a way to recycle just about everything that we use. Recycle is a very popular word. Just for the Earth’s environment, we want to recycle. So what we’re taking up is a recyclable system by which we can reuse all the water aboard the space station. We have to have water to consume but, at the same time, on the flip side of that there’s condensation that comes out of the atmosphere. There’s liquid urine. There’s so much liquid waste that right now we just dump overboard. We’re going to have to recycle all that. We’re going to have to learn how to get a system that enables us to have a completely closed loop system such that we can purify the waste water in our stream and use it again rather than dumping it overboard. So this, the primary payload on the utilization flight is this regenerative water system that we’re taking aboard. I know a lot of people are really looking forward to seeing this work. I’ve heard it produces about 15 liters of water per day and it will reduce the annual flow of water that has to come up through other means to the space station by about 15,000 pounds a year which is an awful lot. In addition to delivering all the cargo to the space station, we also have four EVAs planned. The lion’s share of those EVAs will be devoted to repairing this large alpha joint which was deemed to be in a state of disrepair because it was essentially disintegrating. Parts of the protective coating were coming off and we had to lock one of those critical alpha joints so it’s hoped through the efforts of our four EVAs that we could lubricate and change out some components to enable those alpha joints to completely function normally again. So that’s it. It’s cargo delivery and it’s station repair. That’s the lion share of what our mission is.

jsc2008e044881 -- Christopher Ferguson, Commander

STS-126 Commander Christopher Ferguson prepares for a training session in the training version of a launch and entry suit. Photo Credit: NASA

So in addition then to carrying these supplies to the station, you are also carrying another crew member. Tell me about that.

Sandy Magnus is what we call our ShREC, or our shuttle rotation crew member. Sandy is, first of all, a wonderful person. Let me get that in. She has been a tremendous asset. We’ve had an opportunity unlike a lot of previous shuttle rotation crew members to spend a lot of time with her. We’ve integrated her to the maximum extent possible into the shuttle crew. She’s going to be performing quite a few critical functions for us in the first few days of the mission until she’s transferred over to the space station crew. But like I said, she’s wonderful. She’s brought some history with her. She was a veteran of STS-112 and so she knows the space shuttle. She knows how to operate in and around the space shuttle and she has availed herself at every possible opportunity to whatever we need to do as a shuttle crew to make our mission successful. Shortly after docking, we transfer what’s called the IELK. The IELK is a Russian acronym. It stands for seat liner that will go in the Soyuz spacecraft that they will sit in for their re-entry. That act of transferring the IELK over the space station is the formality, if you will, that makes them part of the space station crew. Similarly Greg Chamitoff, shortly after docking, will become a member of our crew as we transfer Sandy over to the space station crew so that if we had to leave the space station for a contingency or emergency or something comes up, from that point forward Greg Chamitoff would, would come back with us.

How does it feel though knowing that this mission is setting the stage for a six-person crew? Talk a little bit about the, the expansion that’s going on for that.

What I’d like to think is that the space station is currently a three bedroom, one bath home. We’re going to take up a couple crew quarters and another toilet. We’re going to take that three bedroom, one bath home and we’re going to turn it into a five bedroom, two bath home with a real nice gym. We’re also taking up, as I said, some exercise equipment, hence the real nice gym. More importantly we’ll be taking up a spare toilet which has been manufactured and is very similar to the one that is on the Russian segment only this one will be in the U.S. segment. Sometimes we take these simple little things for granted. However, I think we saw just a few months ago, when we had a pretty significant failure on the one space commode that’s up there right now, that -- we may be a little tongue in cheek about these things -- absolutely critical to everybody’s health and well being in space is to have an operable toilet. So this gives us an opportunity to have a spare there which as you said, is going to be critical. We’re going to go from three crew members to six crew members and we need to provide that extra personal hygiene capability to have that full time crew of six.

Let’s talk about the four planned spacewalks. If you could walk me through each EVA and what will be accomplished.

On the fifth day of our mission we’re going to conduct the first spacewalk. This will be the day after we install the, the MPLM. Heide Piper and Steve Bowen will be the spacewalkers. Heide will be the lead. I will help in what we call the Suit IV Role. IV stands for intravehicular, just like EV stands for extravehicular. NASA comes up with these acronyms but, anyhow, I’ll help the crew get suited and get them out the door. Once out the door Heide and Steve will go through the act of transferring what we call the FHRC which is a Flex Hose Rotary Coupling. It’s a large on-orbit spare that help, helps to cool the International Space Station. So we’ll transfer what’s in the payload bay, this is external a large [32,000-pound] payload. We will transfer that over to the space station and then on the space station in the same general area and on an external storage platform is an empty nitrogen tank. We’ll bring that empty nitrogen tank and we’ll place it in the shuttle’s payload bay. After they’re complete with that action they’ll go over to the starboard SARJ. This is the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint I was speaking about earlier. This is the one that has begun to show some signs of material degradation. They will begin the cleaning and the change out of some components and the lubrication of that. We hope to get several components changed out. It’s a large 10-foot rotary joint and we hope to get some of that arc cleaned and repaired that day. That will be the first EVA. On the second one Heide and Shane will go out together. The first thing they’ll do is they’ll move what we call CETA carts. They’re some EVA translation carts out there attached to the large mobile transporter which rides down the forward side of the truss. In preparation for the upcoming mission, STS-119, which should fly in February, we have to move those EVA translation carts over to allow the mobile transporter to reach all the way out to where it needs to reach to install a large segment that will be added by STS-119. So we have to move those carts out of the way. Once they’re complete with that, they’ll go out again to the starboard alpha rotary joint, the SARJ, and they’ll complete some more of the cleaning change-out and lubrication. The third EVA it’s devoted entirely to completing the work out there at the starboard SARJ. They’ll finish the entire thing hopefully successfully. We have a little bit of margin built into that EVA just in case we run a little behind. However, I’m confident with the timeline that we’ve worked out that, that we’re going to come up with hopefully, at the completion of that, a fully operational solar joint that, that Mission Control can check out shortly after we leave. On the fourth EVA due to something that we discovered over on the port side, the left side of the space station with the same port rotary joint, we’re going to take some precautionary measures out there. Even though we have seen no material degradation to date, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to lubricate it anyway. When we talk about lubrication, this is kind of an interesting concept. Space is a very, very interesting environment. There’s no air. There’s a lot of what we call atomic oxygen. It’s very unusual to lube something in space like you would lubricate it on Earth so we have, we have this special space lubricant. We’re actually going to squirt it on with grease guns just like you might do on Earth. We’re going to allow the rotation of this alpha joint to spread that grease out and hopefully increase the, the longevity of these alpha joints so they can support the station all the way through their, all the way through the completion. In addition to lubricating the port Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, we’re going to pick up some cats and dogs, if you call them. We have some actions on the JEM, the Japanese module with the JEM RMS, the robotics work station. We’re going to help them check out an attached fixture that will be used on a subsequent mission. They saw some binding and some grounding straps that we’re going to help them move. We’re going to install a television camera and some global positioning system antennas on that final EVA. So, in a nutshell, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s a busy, aggressive schedule. We generally go EVA every other day while we’re docked and we’ll pick that up with Flight Day 5 and continue through seven, nine and, and eleven followed up by one day off, closing up the MPLM, putting the MPLM back in the payload bay and, and undocking.

You’ll be flying during the period approaching the tenth anniversary of the International Space Station’s assembly start. Talk about the significance of that.

You know, it’s funny you should mention that because just this morning I saw a public relations bit from Col. Bob Cabana. I remember Bob flew that very first space station mission back in 1998 which was just literally months after I joined the office down here. I couldn’t spell ‘International Space Station’ at the time. Now I feel like it’s part of my life. But I remember that embryonic station where there were just two small components joined together and that consisted largely of the station for quite a while. We added an additional component, I think, in 2000 and then the first crew came aboard. And now to look at it, I mean, it has grown from this small little bisegmented thing into, like I said, this monstrosity that, that is clearly visible from earth as it passes over in the night sky. So it holds a certain amount of significance in that I feel like I’ve, I’ve been a part of the office and I’ve been a part of the space program right from the, the very beginning of the assembly. So we’re looking forward to marking that day. I think the actual tenth anniversary will occur while we’re on orbit and I’m sure we’ll come up with some, with some very creative and memorable things to say about it as we mark the occasion.

What do you think the station means to our world now and to the future as far as space travel is concerned? I’m taking to account that we’re going to the moon and Mars and beyond.

If we’re going to live on the moon for six months or if we’re going to live on Mars for more than six months -- I’ve seen some versions of a Martian mission that include almost a year or beyond on the Martian surface -- we’re going to have to master the art of recycling everything. We’re going to have to learn how to fix our own spaceship while we’re there. We’re going to have to learn how to grow our own food. We’re going to have to learn how to recycle all of our own water. The International Space Station will provide us with [a] laboratory to do that, not for real but very close to home, in an environment which is weightless, which is isolated in the extent that you just can’t get there overnight and you can’t get back. So the sense of urgency is there to make things happen and sometimes it takes that urgency in order for us to learn how to make them happen the right way when you have people’s lives on the line. If you’re depending on recycling your water because you know that there are no supply missions coming for the next nine months, then there definitely is a sense of urgency with making sure that it works. We are going to master the art of that in low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station so we can take what we’ve learned to the moon and we can use it there. We can make sure it works so when that day comes and we decide we’re going to Mars, we know that the equipment's going to work for us. We know that it’s going to support us away from home for a year or better. And the only way to learn that is in low Earth orbit in an orbiting laboratory. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of other science conducted on the International Space Station. There’s six crew members. There’s a huge volume. There’s so many nations represented. So they have an awful lot to bring to the table and I’m confident when the station fulfills its job, we’ll be ready to move on to the moon and to Mars.

You alluded to this earlier but what’s your favorite subject in school?

Oh, it’s definitely science, definitely science. I had a few teachers in high school, I think, that really, really helped me understand it and the light bulb came on somewhere in there and I thought, “Wow! These guys really understand this and if they explain it clearly and well, I understand it, too. This is neat stuff.” I liked biology and then once I got into college I really enjoyed physics, although physics didn’t enjoy me. But I learned an awful lot when it was all over, definitely science though.

Can you think of an experience from your education that was particularly important in contributing to you being an astronaut?

Probably not one. I think I touched on a little bit earlier there were some teachers at in my high school that, that were particularly influential in that I saw the passion in their eye and they made me want to understand it. I’m virtually certain most of us really cement what we want to do for the rest of our lives in high school and therein lies the importance of dedicated and passionate teachers. I know it’s hard, especially in high school nowadays, to stay focused on education because there’s so many other distractions, but this is really the only opportunity you have to grasp some of these young adolescents and make them understand what they want to do in life. I attribute a lot of what I ended up doing in life to the passion that I saw in, in their eyes and the need for understanding and I still think of them often.

If you could send a message to them, the youth that you speak of, what would that message be?

Stay in school. Stay in school. Resist the temptation to think that being smart in science and math is not cool. This country was assembled by brilliant people who had a fundamental understanding of science and math and business. If we’re going to continue to be one of the pre-eminent world leaders, we’re going to need a whole generation of young men and women to have a passion for understand the things that we don’t understand today. We’ve got challenges. We’ve got challenges with energy production. We’ve got challenges with pollution. We’ve got challenges with global warming. The answers are not going to find themselves. Only those who really understand the problem and the scientific basis of the problem are going to help find us an answer. So we need another generation of young men and women who are passionate about science and who want to grasp these problems and solve them for the world good.