What was it that motivated you or inspired you to become an astronaut?
Preflight Interview: Robert S. (Shane) Kimbrough, Mission Specialist
It really goes back to my childhood days. My grandparents live right across from the launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Titusville so everything that launched back in the late 60s, early 70s, my grandfather would take me out to. So I saw all the Apollo launches. I didn’t really know it because I was an infant but, I was there for all those. But as I grew up as a child, spent a lot of my summers down there with them. I got to see a lot of things launch and that’s what really sparked my interest in the space program and as I moved through my career I just kind of always kept that in the back of my mind and realized that I could one day maybe try to be an astronaut and I was lucky enough to be here today.
Tell me about the places where you grew up.
Grew up is a relative term, I think. We moved around quite a bit when I was a young child. I was born in Killeen, Texas, at Fort Hood, Texas and, shortly after being born we moved to Fort Sill, Okla., where my brother was born. From there we moved to Florida and Georgia a few times in between and then we headed over to Germany for about second to fourth grade for me. I was in Germany at an American school over there and just had a wonderful time. After that we came back to the Atlanta area and pretty much settled there, where I call home, from about fifth grade on. Once I went to college up at West Point, my dad was stationed again up to Fort Evans, Mass., so when I’d get home from college that’s where I would go. Then they retired down in the Atlanta area.
So is it just you and your brother?
OK. And, did you spend a lot of time, with your grandfather as well?
Tell me about a memory that you have with your grandfather.
He’s really my hero. My grandfather, my mom’s side, was just a wonderful person. He was a great example in all aspects of life, whether it was family or work, or having fun. He was just a great example for me and we’ve had many great, memorable experiences. When I was selected to be an astronaut, he was obviously, extremely thrilled about that and, I think that was probably the, at least the latest great memory I have with him was going down and sharing that with him.
Let’s see, from a kid born in a small Texas town to West Point, a platoon leader, a professor who jumps out of airplanes, sounds like a movie script. Give me a thumbnail sketch of your military career.
Well, as you mentioned, my military career started at West Point. I went off there in the summer of 1985, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. But that turned out to be a wonderful experience. Once I’d finished at West Point the first job, normally you go right to whatever branch you’re going to be in, in the Army and start training in that area. For me, I had a, about a six-month window where I went to be the graduate assistant baseball coach at West Point, kind of a unique opportunity. I took that and really had a wonderful time there and kind of got my feet wet being an Army officer still at West Point. After that I went down to Fort Rucker, Ala., where I went to Flight School. That takes about a year and a half with all the training and, and classes you do for that. I was lucky enough to, be an Apache pilot so I went to the Apache course, right after flight school and while I was in that course I found I was going to the 24th Infantry Division, my first unit in the Army. It was already deployed to Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia so, before I finished my course I knew I was heading overseas, for my first real assignment. I was looking forward to that. I got over there, joined them and, obviously went through Desert Storm together. From there we came back to where the 24th Infantry Division was based which was Fort Stewart, Ga., and I was based at Savannah which is not too far away where all the aviators were for the 24th ID. From there we started moving around quite a bit. I went to Columbus, Ga., for about a six-month stint for the Infantry Advance Course and then from there I was lucky enough to get an Apache helicopter company command which is really a wonderful job at, Fort Bragg, N.C., with the, with the 18th Airborne Corps. I was lucky enough to do that for about a year and then I got another company command after that at Fort Bragg as well, and then I started looking at graduate school opportunities which I was lucky enough to get a slot at Georgia Tech, which is again back near my hometown. That was a great experience to go there. From there I went to West Point to teach for a few years and I taught in the math department there. I had a wonderful experience, really rewarding, working with the cadets from the other side of the fence and just a great time. And after that I was lucky enough to get called to come down to Johnson Space Center as a major in the Army to just work a technical job down here which happened to be out at Ellington Field. I was flying the shuttle trainer aircraft and, helping train the pilot and commanders on how to land the space shuttle, so that was a neat deal. And then after that I just stayed here and I was lucky enough to get picked up in the 2004 astronaut class.
During any of that time were you thinking, “I want to be an astronaut”?
Oh, absolutely. From about my, second or third year in the Army. I actually met an Army astronaut at a convention. I didn’t realize it was a possibility actually in the Army until that point. So from then on, I was kind of full speed ahead on trying to work my way down here to Johnson Space Center and eventually become as astronaut.
Shane, who would [you] say has been the biggest influence in helping you to be the person that you are today?
That’s a tough question. I would say my family as a whole. I had a great family support structure growing up and just a great base with life and that really has carried me throughout my time. After I went off to West Point, obviously I became somewhat of a different person and the training there has kind of guided me throughout my Army career and now being here at NASA but, overall, my family.
Tell me about the day that you got the news that you were accepted into the Astronaut Corps. You remember that day?
I do. We kind of knew the day was coming, whether you, you were going to get a call that day, whether it was a good one or a bad one, at least from, what the rumors that were going around. I happened to be working at Ellington like I mentioned. It was around lunchtime and I was just as my desk, doing some work, eating some lunch and the phone call came and we kind of knew if it was one person it was the good phone call and if it was from another person it wasn’t the good phone call, so I was lucky enough to be called by the chief of the astronaut office at the time. He asked me if I’d like to stay here a little longer and be an astronaut. Of course, I was, thrilled to get that call and very honored to represent the Army as the only Army person to be a part of the Class of 2004.
Well, since this is your first time in space, what are you looking forward to the most?
Well, there’s a lot of things I’m looking forward to. I think the most, or the best thing I’m looking forward to is to just kind of get up there and look down at our beautiful Earth and see how wonderful it is and how fragile it is and just having a different perspective than we do down here and many other things, spacewalking and doing mission things. I’m obviously looking forward to those things as well but I think to just have a few minutes to look out the window back at Earth is what I really look forward to.
The day finally came when you received the news that you were assigned your first flight. Do you remember that day, too?
What was it like?
Actually it was a long day. I was a capcom working a technical job in mission control where the person talking to the crew, we were just doing a simulation that day. It was an all-day simulation and so I was kind of worn out, came back to my office just to pick up a few things before I was heading out, actually to my son’s football practice. I had a message on my machine from the chief of the astronaut office saying, “Hey, come see me,” so I’m, of course, I’m like, “What did I do now?” So I go over there to see him and he had a long line of people waiting for him so the secretary kind of sent me back to my office for awhile and I said, “Yeah, I’ll just do a few more things.” The problem was I had my son’s football equipment in my car so this was a, a tough dilemma. So I was getting like, “Should I wait? I don’t know really what he wants, or should I just go ahead and leave and I’ll talk to him later" kind of thing. So I was getting ready to actually head out the door. He and my commander, Chris Ferguson, walked in my office at the time and shut the door and they asked me, “Hey, you ready to go fly?” So I was, I couldn’t believe it. It totally caught me off guard and, of course, I answered, “Yes,” and, the rest is history, so to speak.
What part of your background do you expect to draw upon the most during this mission?
I think my operational background is really what most Army folks kind of bring to the table here at NASA and that’s really what I’m going to draw off of, just being in operational environment, whether that’s in my case helicopters or whatever -- actually doing real time operations in some pretty tough situations not always nominal. I think that’s what we bring to the table and what I’m going to draw off of for my mission.
Shane, you’ve spent a lot of your time with your fellow crew members. What’s it like working and training with them?
Well, it’s a great group of folks. We have such a nice mix of different personalities and different backgrounds. As you probably know now, there are three Navy officers, an Air Force officer, myself being an Army officer and two Ph.D.-type folks on our flight so we really have a good mix. Everybody has different strengths, of course, as in any group and it’s really nice. A little more than half have flown and the other three of us have not so, at least for me being a rookie, it’s really nice to draw on the experience of the flown crew members because we’re all constrained to a book standard, maybe a simulator standard. But what it’s really like in space, there’s so many things that we can’t really simulate here on Earth so it’s nice to have that experience from people like Chris Ferguson, Heide, Sandy Magnus and Don Pettit. Don obviously has long duration experience so that’s a total different aspect than a shuttle mission so he’s going up on his first shuttle but his space experience and knowledge is going to be amazing to draw from.
Shane, I understand not too long ago you actually flew to Florida and you got to see Endeavour, what was that like for you?
That was a neat experience. It started, made this whole thing real, when you’re actually climbing around on your vehicle and are meeting the wonderful people that have been putting this vehicle together and getting it ready and processing it for launch. So for me seeing the vehicle was wonderful. Meeting the people was even better. To actually put faces to certain parts of the vehicle and what they’re actually doing, next time we go back it’ll be great to see those folks again and just see the progress that’s being made to get our vehicle ready.
What’s the best part of your job?
That’s a tough question. I think the best part just, when you come to work every day, the people you get to work with are, make it just wonderful for me. The trainers we have, the people in Mission Control and everybody is top notch and just wonderful to work with. There’s never really a bad day here because of the people that are around you all the time. You’ve heard the slogan at Ford, “Surround yourself with good people.” You walk in the gates at JSC and you’ve pretty much already done that. To me it’s just working with the wonderful people that we have here.
Let’s talk about the mission. How would you describe the STS-126 ULF2 mission to the lay person?
We have several big key objectives we want to get accomplished. First is to deliver supplies from the MPLM to the space station. That’ll help get the whole space station ready for a six-person crew here next year. We’re also taking up Sandy Magnus who I mentioned earlier and we’re going to leave her up there for four, five months, and we’re going to pick up Greg Chamitoff who will have been there over six months at the time we go get him and bring him home. So I’m sure he’s ready to come home. After that, we’re going to do several things to fix things on the outside of the space station with our spacewalks. We’ll have a lot of robotic operations that are involved with actually taking the MPLM out of the payload bay of the shuttle and connecting it to the space station at Node 2, so a lot of robotics there. The first two spacewalks have a lot of robotics as well and we’ll be doing several handoffs over the boom sensor system throughout the mission. So it will be a lot of fixing things and a lot of resupplying the space station to get it ready for future flights and, the future years to come.
You mentioned a six-member crew. What are you doing in order to prepare for six-member crew to come aboard?
Several of the things in the MPLM that you mentioned that we’re taking up -- we’re actually just taking several racks that we’ll just get transferred out of the MPLM and taken right to space station and stuck right in a rack location. Some of those include new sleep stations, new exercise equipment, a new bathroom for the space station on the U.S. side along with several other things, regenerative ECLSS that will, that I’m sure has been mentioned already and just really just get this thing ready. Right now there, there aren’t enough sleep stations for six. We need another galley. I didn’t mention we’re bringing another galley which is where the crew can keep their food up and get water for their food and that sort of thing. We’re kind of just, I think has been mentioned before, making this like a three bedroom house into a five bedroom house with a, with an exercise room, so that’s kind of where we’re heading.
Let’s talk about the four planned spacewalks. If you could, walk me through each EVA and what will be accomplished.
On the first spacewalk Heide and Steve will be going out the door. They’ll be the two spacewalkers. I’ll be inside as the IV crew member so I’ll be the one kind of quarterbacking the operation and making sure I’m reading the right procedures and they’re doing the right things as well as I’ll be interfacing with Houston and Mission Control to make sure everybody’s on the same page. If Houston has concerns, they’ll run those through me and I’ll talk to the crew and see really what’s going on so that’s kind of the, the set up of the first. Eric Boe will also be helping me out with all the photo/TV requirements that we have to record video and to move cameras around to be able to track what Heide and Steve are doing. As I mentioned earlier, also, we’re going to be working heavily with the robotics folks on the first spacewalk. Don Pettit and Sandy Magnus will be helping us fly the space station robotic arm to fly Heide around to various locations while she’s carrying, rather large pieces of equipment. First she’s going to go out to ESP 3 which will be on the port side of the space station and pick up a big box called the Nitrogen Tank Assembly, which is empty. The previous crew put it there. So we’re going to get that. She’s going to get a hold of it. She’s going to [be] at the end of the robotic arm and Don and Sandy will fly her down into the payload bay of the shuttle where she’s going to install that empty Nitrogen Tank Assembly. On the same platform that that’s going is a brand new FHRC, Flex Hose Rotary Coupler, which we don’t need right now but it’s a, a spare part that hopefully we won’t have to use, but if we do need one we’ll be able to put this on space station on the outside and, and folks can actually go put that part in if we need to replace it. So it’s, it’s quite a long translation for Heide, probably three twenty-minute or so translations on the end of the robotic arm where Don and Sandy are flying her around. Eric’s doing a pretty key role there with using space shuttle cameras to help them with clearance views on different areas that we’re concerned about so we’re kind of all involved in this first spacewalk. And that’ll take about, 2½, three hours, about half of the first spacewalk. And then after that we’re going to go tackle the SARJ which I’m sure has been mentioned before and we’ll hopefully get about three trundle bearings removed and replaced and cleaned and lubed under those areas on the first spacewalk if we’re lucky. So that’ll lead us into the second spacewalk where I’ll get a chance to go outside for the first time with Heide. We’re going to go out and about our first half again is involved with robotic operations. I’ll get the chance to get on the end of the arm this time and Don and Sandy will be flying me around to relocate the CETA carts. You may have heard about this before but every now and then we have to move the CETA carts to different sides of the space station just so that the mobile transporter can move down the rails, based on whatever mission is there. So we’re actually moving them in preparation for 119 which is the mission after us. So I’m going to take the two CETA carts and move them from the starboard side of the mobile transporter over to the port side and that’ll help 119’s preparation to get out to install the sixth element on the starboard side later on. So that’ll take a couple hours. After that Heide will be supporting and a key person in getting these things clamped on to the portside of the rails. So once we’re done with this operation, Heide’s going to then head out to the SARJ which she will have been familiar with from the first spacewalk. She’ll start replacing trundle bearings and cleaning and lubing just like she did before. I’m going to have another task before I head out there to help her to, clean the snares on the LEE which is the end of the space station robotic arm. So the thing I’ve been flying around on they want us to now go inside of it where it actually grapples the things. There’s some snares and cables in there and, do some greasing and lubing of those snares because they think, they’re getting degraded. Hopefully that will take about an hour of my time to get that accomplished. Then I can head out to join Heide at the, starboard SARJ and, again start replacing trundle bearings and cleaning and lubing. On this spacewalk we’re hoping to get about three trundle bearings completely done which will make a total of six and that’s about halfway through. There’s 12 total. The third spacewalk, Heide and Steve will go out again and the whole spacewalk is devoted to SARJ right now so there’s six left, and we’re hoping they can go out to the SARJ element and get those six trundle bearings removed and replaced and come back inside. It’s going to be a tedious day, a long day, with no robotic operations. I’ll be inside again as the IV crew member and Heide and Steve will hopefully finish up the starboard SARJ. That will get us to our final spacewalk, where Steve Bowen and I will head outside to do various other tasks and now since we’re working on the starboard SARJ, we didn’t want to leave the port side so we’re going to do a little work on that as well. Steve and I will initially head out to the port SARJ, which shouldn’t have a problem right now but we’re just going to go out and, lube it up and put some grease on it to hopefully prevent it from having a problem down the road. We’ll go out and remove some covers in different areas. I will then start lubing, with grease, a couple different kinds of grease guns to lubricate it the way that Houston wants it done. And while I’m doing that Steve’s going to go to the Japanese elements and do several tasks out there. One thing is he will remove some covers on the first spacewalk which I didn’t mention from one of the Japanese elements and he’s going to go put those back in place on the fourth spacewalk. While he’s out there as well, he’s going to install some GPS antennas on top of the JLP on the Japanese modules which will help us down the road for their HTV docking time frame. Once he’s done with that, actually before he’s done with that and once I finish my lubing of the port SARJ, I will head down to install one of the ETVCGs which is the external TV camera on the space station. It’s always nice to have more camera views than less and this will give us the second camera on the, the nadir side or the bottom side of port truss. Back on 124, Ron Garan installed one just a little bit further on port from where I’ll be but it’ll be a similar camera and that will allow the space station folks, especially the people flying the robotic arms, to have a different view and, and another view available to them. So that should take about an hour. By the time that’s done, hopefully Steve will be finishing up his JAXA and JEM task. I will then head back out to the port SARJ. While I was working on the camera, the people down in Houston, Mission Control, will have rotated the SARJ so that I don’t have to go remove different covers. So now the, the part underneath that is exposed has not been greased yet so I will go and kind of lube that up. After that I’ll start putting all the covers back on and cleaning up the SARJ area. We have several get-ahead tasks that we’re hoping Steve and hopefully I can after all this get to some of those and mainly in preparation for the next mission.
So a lot of the EVAs have to do with the SARJ. Why is the SARJ so important?
SARJ stands for Solar Alpha Rotary Joints and it’s really what helps the solar arrays track the sun so obviously we want them to optimize how much they can pull from the sun which helps with our power generation on the space station. If they can’t really follow the sun, then we’re not really generating the power that we could be on space station. That’s the problem we’re in now on the starboard side. It’s not working like it should so we’re hoping, with all this trundle bearing removed and replaced and cleaning and lubing that we’re going to leave this thing in a better position, a better posture to be able to track the sun, the way it should be.
You’ll be flying during the period approaching the tenth anniversary of the start of the assembly of the International Space Station. What does that mean for you?
Well, it’s pretty amazing if you think it’s, you know, think back and think of the thousands and thousands of man hours that have been put into this program and for me it’s just an honor to be a small, very small part of this. But I will be a part of it at this, you know, after the mission’s gone and it’s pretty neat. It’s probably the most amazing complex ever built, especially the most amazing and incredible complex in space that’s ever been built. I just kind of think of all the engineers and scientists that have put their lives really and their careers devoted to the space station and the space program and just think, “Wow! That’s, that’s really neat!” I just look forward to being a small part of that.
Shane, what was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject was math. I had wonderful teachers that kind of helped me along the way. I also had a keen interest in math and problem solving so that kind of was a good math. I had wonderful teachers at Lovett where I went to high school and then at West Point in my college days that really kept my interest in that subject.
Can you think of an experience from your education that was particularly important in contributing to your career specifically as an astronaut?
Well, I’m not sure I can think of a specific experience but overall, just learning the study habits that were required of me and the high school that totally prepared me for college and then the, what I learned at West Point and time management and study habits there as well as I matured as a student. I think all that carried over to me doing well in the Army and various schools I went to there and, obviously we do a lot of studying down here at NASA as astronauts and we go to somewhat of an astronaut school for the first couple years we’re here and that all set me up for success when I got down here.
Well, I have a feeling that’s going to help answer our next question and that’s what does Shane Kimbrough have to say to the youth of America?
Well, I certainly want you to do well in school and I want you to challenge yourselves. That’s things I don’t see a whole lot of from the youth these days. But if you just challenge yourself and you be the best person that you can be, not as good as somebody else but the best person you can be, I think that’ll just help our society down the road. You’re going to be the next generation of leaders in our country or in our world. It’s all in your hands and that’s a big responsibility. But if you folks challenge yourselves, with the technology out there there’s really no limits to what you can do.