Heide, what was it that motivated you to become an astronaut?
Preflight Interview: Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Mission Specialist
Well, my way to becoming an astronaut probably wasn’t the typical one where somebody talks about how they were 6 years old and they’ve always wanted to be an astronaut. When I was growing up, I didn’t really think much of being an astronaut just because I grew up in St. Paul, Minn. Although there are space contractors up there, it’s not Kennedy Space Center area. It’s not Houston, Texas, where most of the big NASA centers are, of human space flight. So I was pretty much removed of the space program so I just didn’t think that I could become an astronaut. It wasn’t until when I was in college and I was in the ROTC program. We had an astronaut come talk to us and, even at that time, I thought, “OK. That’s pretty neat.” but I never really put two and two together that that would be me. It wasn’t until about, oh, seven or eight years after that I was in the Navy and a fellow officer that was stationed with my husband had applied to the astronaut program. I was talking to him and I looked up what NASA was doing and they were talking about building space station Freedom. I looked at what they were planning and some of their training that we’re doing and I thought, “You know, that looks to me more like diving than flying.” I was fixing ships for the Navy, doing underwater ship repair and I thought, “You know, if I could fix ships underwater, I can build a space station in space.” So that’s about the time I was interested in becoming an astronaut.
You’d mentioned growing up in St. Paul. What was that like?
It was a nice place to grow up. I felt like I had a fairly normal childhood. You know, I had four brothers. Both my parents came from Europe. My father’s Ukrainian and my mother’s German so definitely very ethnic upbringings being first generation. To me that was normal because a lot of my friend's parents were also first generation so that to me that seemed normal. I like St. Paul. It’s a nice area. It’s a big enough city that you feel like you’re in civilization but it’s not overwhelming. It has four seasons even though you get very extreme winters but I like cold. It’s nice to have cold because you know that in a couple of months, it’s going to get warm and then in summer time, when it gets hot, you know, pretty soon it will be cold again. So, it was a nice place to grow up.
When you lived there and grew up there, were there people along the way that may have, helped you, inspired you, motivated you to be the person you are today?
Oh, definitely. I think first of all there were my parents because they definitely always stressed education to us. Both of them came from Europe, and they knew how important it was to get a good education. So from the time that we were growing up it was always instilled in us to study hard at school and that all of us would be going to college, and to get a good degree. They saw that as a stepping to a better life for us and, so that’s probably my biggest influence. And then along the way, I’d have to say that there were a couple of teachers that I had, some of them that I remember when I was in fifth grade, my math teacher, in elementary school. It was Sister Cabrini and I remember everybody saying how they didn’t like her because she was real strict and she was a real hard teacher. But I actually enjoyed her classes, because math was one of my best subjects and I was able to, to excel at it and that carried on through. When I was in high school again it was my math teacher, who was Mr. Lindell from Derham Hall High School. He’s still teaching there. I had the opportunity after my first flight to go back and see him. Just realizing that they saw a potential in me and they allowed me to excel and actually to work ahead pretty much on my own math program at the time allowed me to get a little bit further in high school and I’d say that definitely prepared me well for college, to get an engineering degree, to have that background.
Do you remember when you were 4 years old when you, was that one of your first flights? You’re on an airplane?
I was younger, because as I mentioned my mother’s from Germany and the rest of her family was in Germany, when we were growing up, about every three or four years, some of us would go back to Germany to visit her relatives. When I was 4 years old, I remember I went with my mother. At the time I had only two brothers and so the three of us went and back then, this was 1967, and we had to change planes in Iceland or at least stop for refueling. I remember getting off the plane and there was no jet way. You had to walk on to the tarmac and then walk into the building. But to me it was just fascinating to look at the airplane and actually be in an airplane and look out the window. When I was 9 years old, my older brother and I, just the two of us, went to Germany. We had to change planes and so we were changing planes in Chicago and then we had a direct flight, so things had gotten better in a couple years. I just remember sitting in O’Hare Airport waiting for a connection and just staring at the runway and watching planes take off and land and I thought, “You know, I think some day I’d like to do that. Do something in aviation. That would be fun to do.”
So your fascination with flying has, kind of taken on new heights, so to speak?
But like I said it kind of took not the direct route. I took an ROTC scholarship from the Navy to help pay for college. After my freshman year, I thought for sure that, “You know, I think I want to go fly for the Navy.” And all through college, the rest of the time, any time anybody asked me what I wanted to do, I said I was going to go fly jets. I stayed at MIT, an extra year to finish out my master’s degree and then when I took my second pre-commissioning physical I failed the eye test. When I was commissioned in 1985, there weren’t, not a lot of career fields open to a, a female back seater and at the time. I thought, “Maybe I’ll, I’ll do something different” and so I went off and, and went into the diving Navy. But I guess that flying bug was always in the back of my mind and when I got the letter about NASA I thought, “I’m not going to fly airplanes but maybe I could fly in the space shuttle.”
Let’s go back in time a little bit. Tell me about the time that you got the news that you were accepted into the astronaut corps.
I remember that morning because I was scheduled to take my physical fitness test for the Navy. They happened to have caught me right before I was leaving to take the test so and my secretary called me and said, “You have a phone call from NASA” and I said, “Oh, I better take this.” So I went over and I, and I took it and it was Bob Cabana who at the time was the head of the astronaut office. You always knew that if you got the phone call early in the morning by the head of the astronaut office that was good news as opposed to getting the call later in the day, saying that you can try again in a couple of years. They said, “We’d like you to come down and be part of the astronaut program.” I was very excited but, I figured, “OK, I’m in a professional office here. I can’t start screaming and jumping up and down” but I remember no sooner did I put the phone down, as I turned around and there were about three or four people standing there going, “What’s the news? What’s the news?” I told them the good news, but then I realized I had to go off and take my physical fitness test and my husband, who was also stationed at the Naval Sea Systems Command, was taking his test the same time so he was there and he could tell that something was up because I just walked in and he said I had the biggest smile on my face. And, so I told him.
Tell me about the day that you got the news that you were assigned to this flight.
It was. I was pretty excited because, I got the call to come to see Steve Lindsey, now the head of the astronaut office. Generally you know that when it comes time for flight assignments that, if you get the call to come to the front office it’s good news and it was. This time around it was kind of funny because, the secretary had left a message on my answering machine because I was not in the office. I was actually out of town and I was checking my messages. I called and Steve was out of the office. So the next day I came in and it was just a very busy time. I think the next day I must have showed up in the corner office about four, five times waiting to catch Steve. I finally caught him around lunchtime and so he told me the good news and then he says, “Don’t tell anyone” because I was the second person. The commander knew already so I was the second person on the flight. That’s always kind of an uneasy feeling because when you get good news you always want to run out and tell everyone. But the first person you see is somebody else on the crew and they don’t know yet and so you kind of look at them and you smile at them but, you know, they look back at you kind of funny like “What’s up?” And, it was Shane. I saw Shane in the hallway and I said, “Oh, Shane, how’re you doing?” you know, since I was walking out of the office I said, “You going to see Steve?” And he goes, “Yah, how did you know?” “Talk to you later.” (laughs) So I think I probably gave him a little heads up.
When you were approaching the space station on Atlantis, do you remember seeing the space station for the first time? What was that like?
Well, your first impression is, “Boy, that’s big!” because even though you’ve practiced the rendezvous a number of times in the simulator and, you know, obviously you’ve seen pictures of it, you just don’t get the good appreciation looking out the window and seeing it. Both times when I was looking out the window on rendezvous and looking at it when I’m outside EVA is you realize that this is not just a computer projection on a screen. It’s not the plastic mockups that we have in the pool or, Building 9. This is the whole real thing and it just, it looks phenomenal. It’s, huge but you look at it and you can see that that’s a real structure there. It does give you a good sense of awe of the engineering feat that was accomplished in getting that built.
You’ve been to the depths of the ocean as a professional diver as well as a space walker high above the Earth. Is working in space really that similar to being under water?
Very much. I think that was one thing that made the transition to doing spacewalks, EVAs, fairly easy because I’ve had that background of working underwater and I know what happens when you don’t have a good body position to try to get the work done and you can’t stabilize yourself and what you need to stabilize. I’ve already had that ingrained in me so that part of it was fairly easy. I remember on my first flight, on 115, on the first EVA right after I came out of the hatch and started translating. Joe Tanner, my partner asked me, “So, what do you think?” And I said, “Well, you know it is a lot like the NBL, just, no divers and no bubbles.” It is very, very similar. There are some things that are much, much easier in space and, and I always think to myself when I’m doing a task in the NBL where you do have gravity and buoyancy to overcome, that “This will be easier in space." Or if it’s something I haven’t done before it’s like, “This has got to be easier in space.” And then the flip side of this is because our mockups are not real hardware, and so sometimes, a lot of the mechanisms are easier to work in the NBL and so then I just think, ”Boy, this is going to be hard in space.”
Take me back then to the first time you came out of that hatch. You just mentioned coming out. The very first spacewalk that you did, open the hatch, what did you see? What was that like for you?
Well, the, the first spacewalk, actually Joe, Joe Tanner, he opened the hatch first and so he went out first and the way the two crew members are situated in the airlock is, you know, the first person to go out has their face to the hatch. The second person has their feet to the hatch so you go out feet first and so I knew that and, and it was, it was dark but not, you know, not a pitch, pitch black dark. You could still see probably, you know, six to eight feet or so around because of all the lights that are up there. So it’s just that darkness of night time but not the pitchy ‘you can’t see more than three inches in front of you’. And I remember coming out with my feet and, and going, “OK, I've got to go slow.” I started to go out and all of a sudden I felt resistance and the first thought was, “Oh, great! I’m going to get stuck.” And then I thought about it and I said, “OK, it’s probably my backpack, the life support system hitting the back of the hatch.” So I straightened out my body and then I came out fine __. But the thought was, “Oh, this is great! My first time out on a spacewalk and I get stuck!” but luckily that didn’t happen.
Do you remember seeing the Earth for the first time?
Yeah. We came out on a night pass and I don’t remember how soon the Earth came up but, our night passes were about half an hour long so it was within the next half an hour. But I knew that on EVA 1, we had a lot of things that we had to get done and so I wasn’t going to take a lot of time looking around. I went about doing my tasks and maybe an hour into the EVA, Joe was, was hooking up electrical connectors and that was a much harder task than doing it in the NBL. I could tell that, based on where we were in training, I was actually a little bit ahead of him and so I thought, “OK, I can take a breather here.” I was on the back side of the module P4 in a foot restraint and I had just removed a piece of hardware, so I had the opportunity to just lean back and take a moment or two. In my field of view, because I was on the, the end of the truss looking kind of out and aft there was no other structure in my view and we were pointed at the Earth. I could see the Earth there and it was just, it was just as spectacular to look at it and go, “Wow! This is pretty cool to be out here and, and to be looking around.” You could see the Earth and you looked at it going by and my first thought usually is, “OK, where am I?” and that’s when I realized I’m not quite as good in geography as I thought I was because when you look at a map, they always have these lines, the borders so it makes it really easy to tell where you are. When you’re looking at a whole continent, that’s pretty easy. But now you just got to look at a little section, not the whole thing. So I know this time I've got to study other features like lakes and rivers and mountains to help figure out where I am. But it is just amazing, amazing sight. You look at the Earth and it’s going by and you go, “Wow! That really is a beautiful sight.” The way our attitude was you could look off and see the horizon, the end of the Earth, the atmosphere and then beyond it it’s just pitch black, just black space and you think, “Wow! That’s home. That’s our planet.”
We talked earlier about where you grew up. But give us a thumbnail sketch of your background, your education and your professional career as well as your military.
I went to MIT, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I was there on an ROTC scholarship so, I knew at least for a couple years I was going to go in the Navy. I got a degree in mechanical engineering. I had so much fun at MIT I decided to stay an extra year so I could finish my master’s degree also in mechanical engineering and then I got commissioned in the Navy. My first stop in the Navy was to go to Navy Dive School, to become a deep sea diver and also stay for salvage training as a salvage officer. My community in the Navy is what’s called the Engineering Duty Office Community and that community is primarily does ship repair and also ship design and ship systems design and acquisition. Most of my time in the Navy was spent doing ship repair. I was at the shipyard in Pearl Harbor, a shore maintenance in Pearl Harbor, in Little Creek or Norfolk, Va., at a tech commander staff doing maintenance. Then my last, tour of duty in the Navy was with the Supervisor of Salvage in Washington, D.C., where we were doing, underwater ship repair. So I spent a lot of time going out to various dive lockers, working with the divers, to do ship repair. At the same time then when I was back in D.C. we would work with the engineers at NAVC to take procedures that they had developed, certified repairs for dry dock work, and take those same procedures and have the divers perform them and make whatever modifications are required for doing underwater work and then getting those repairs certified as permanent repairs which was a great help to the, the Navy because that meant that you didn’t have to put the ship back into dry dock and redo the work that you did underwater. From there I found that I was going to become an astronaut and came down to Houston.
What are you looking forward to the most during this mission?
First there’s the obvious thing and that’s going back up into space. But I’m really looking forward to going to the space station and see how much has changed in two years. We’ve added a number of modules where we have access to internal space, you know, the Node 2, the Columbus, the Japanese modules, there’s two of them up there. So space station’s going to be much different from the inside than it was the last time. It’s going to be neat to see how it’s changed over two years in, and even the outside has changed, not just because we’ve added more modules, but the trusses have changes. On 115 we brought up a second set of solar arrays. Well, since then STS-117, brought up another set of solar arrays. The P6 arrays have moved -- they were zenith before. Now they’re outboard on the port side. So when we come up for docking it’s going to be a much, much different space station than we left it the last time. It’s going to be interesting to see the changes there, and the changes when we leave. Even though a lot of them aren’t going to jump out at you at our undocking pictures because we don’t do much to change the outside of space station. But we’re doing an awful lot to help space station on the EVAs, doing a lot of repair work outside and we’re taking up an MPLM, a pressurized logistics carrier that is full. This is going to be the heaviest, logistics mission to space station. We’re taking up a lot of, cargo and a lot of racks for inside station that’s going to expand the capabilities of station and allow a larger crew, in another year and just really enhance the capabilities of space station and what we can do up there.
Heide, you spend a lot of time with your fellow crew members. What’s it like working and training with them?
I can say it’s actually a joy. I’ve had the fortune of having just outstanding crewmates. We’ve come together as a crew very well, and we’ve just kind of all meshed. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses and we all just work together very, very well. We’re very similar in our attitudes and in the way we do our work. That makes for a very cohesive group and it’s a pleasure to work with them. What’s different about this group compared to my last group I think has more to do with where I fall into the crew. The last time I was the rookie and so I felt like the little sister. Everybody else was like my big brothers. You kind of looked up to them and you kind of look at what they do and learn from what they’re doing. This time around I’m now the big sister. We have three rookies on this team. I’m the lead spacewalker and I have two rookie spacewalkers and so I feel that it’s my, you know, it’s part of my job is to train them and, and to make sure that at the end of this flight that they get assigned to another flight as the lead spacewalker. It’s knowing that at the end of the flight it’s the passing of the baton and, being able to look at them and say, “Yes, I’ve trained them well and they’re ready to move on.” It kind of takes a different, a different perspective looking at the flight, but it’s, it’s just a great group of people to be working with.
There are thousands of people who work behind the scenes who help to make the mission possible. What are your thoughts about their contributions and when you get a chance to visit with them?
Well, the biggest thing I can say to them is just I am so much in gratitude of what they do. One of the things that I saw very early on, when I first started making trips down to KSC or going to a contractor facility and talking to the folks that work on the plant floor, that work down on the pad at KSC or in the processing facilities, was how many people in the space program are there because they want to be part of the space program. Some of them have grown up through Apollo, had worked through Apollo. I’ve met a large number of people that say, “Oh, yeah, I came here as an apprentice in 1968 and I’m going to retire next year.” And to know that these people have been around, for 40 years working in the space program and working on a program that they feel very passionate about makes me feel really good because knowing that I’m just the very, very tip of the, the program. I’m the one that everybody sees because I’m the astronaut that’s flying in the space shuttle. But I wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the thousands of people that work in the space program because everybody has a job to do. We need all those people. It takes everybody to do that. I just can’t say enough to express my gratitude to the folks for the outstanding job that they do because they all feel so passionate about what they’re doing.
Heide, what’s the best part of your job?
Well, obviously going into space is just a tremendous part of the job but I’d have to say a very close second is the opportunity to [go] out and meet so many people that work in the space program and have a direct impact on making the shuttle successful, getting the shuttle launched, getting the space station built. I think one of the greatest assets of the space program is the people because they are so passionate about what they do, I’m really honored to get the opportunity to go out and, and talk to them and hear their story of why they’re in the space program and what they like about it. It’s just a great, great thing to be able to do and have that opportunity to do it.
Very few have experienced a shuttle launch from inside the orbiter. Take me through the physical sensations of launch and ascent.
Well, it is a pretty neat feeling. On STS-115 I flew up on the mid-deck. That just means you don’t get a window seat for the first 8½ minutes. You’re down on the mid-deck, you’re isolated because obviously you have no windows, no computers, no nothing. The only feedback you get is listening on the communication loops and so once you get strapped in down on the mid-deck it’s pretty much just lay back and, and listen to what’s going on and get ready. I remember listening to when they were starting the countdown and when they get to six seconds before launch the main engines light and you can feel that. You can feel that the shuttle starts swaying. You feel that inside, so you know something’s going to happen. You just listen and listen and they’re going "six, you know, six, five, four, three, two, one." On "one" you hear this rumbling and it’s not overly loud but it’s a definite rumbling. It shakes a little bit and you just feel like you’re being catapulted, and it just keeps going and going and going. You’re like, “OK, we’re watching.” When they do the roll program, you definitely feel that. You have the sensation that you’re turning over and you just keep riding and the first two minutes go by in like two seconds because it just doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long. You hear this pop and things get much, much quieter because at that point the solid rocket boosters are now spent and the ride settles down tremendously. The other interesting thing is, after the solid rocket boosters we’re allowed to open up our visors. The rest of the ride is fairly gentle, fairly quiet, not overly loud or anything. At about eight minutes, you start feeling the G’s and it gets heavy, but you don’t feel like you’re going to black out because it’s being pressed this way, as opposed to this way with the blood coming out of your head. So you just feel kind of heavy. I remember lying there going, “OK, I want to see if I can lift my hand” and it was really hard because your hand feels three times as heavy as it does because you get three G’s. I remember lifting my hand and I thought that was kind of a neat sensation. And then, all of a sudden, the main engines cut off and it gets very quiet. At that point, Joe Tanner, who was next to me, had to go up to do the ET photo and so the plan was that he was going to give me his helmet and his gloves and, and, and any other equip-, loose equipment that he had and I was going to pack it all up and then Joe just said, “OK, if you feel like it, get out of your seat" and start doing, all the tasks, you reconfiguring everything. I got all Joe’s stuff and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose anything so I kept it all together, tied it off and tied it on the strap that was on the locker in front of me. I remember looking there and you could see the helmet bag was like doing this. I’d give it a little tap. It would go down, you know, hit something, come back up and so I’m like, “That’s a neat thing.” I did the same thing with my helmet, took it off, tied it all off and I said, “OK, I’m going to get out of my seat.” So I loosened the, the restraint, a single restraint, threw everything off, disconnected the harness. Initially you just sit there because unless something force you to go up you’re not going to move. But all I had to do was just tap my feet, then I slowly started coming off the seat and before I knew it I was near the ceiling. I looked down and there’s my chair, you know, my seat and I’m like, “I’m up here. This is really cool.” So I tapped the locker and I’d slowly go back down. Then I thought, “Oh, this is kind of fun.” And I thought, “Well, wait a minute. I can’t have Joe come back downstairs just bouncing off the walls so I've got to go to work.” So I started going to work, but, that, it was just, it was just a really neat feeling to just, just realize that, “Oh, this is, this zero G thing is kind of fun.”
Let’s talk about the mission now. How would [you] describe the STS-126/ULF2 mission to the lay person?
The obvious one is by our name, you know the ULF is Utilization Logistics Flight and we are a logistics flight. We’re not bringing up a new module to space station so we’re not really changing the outside of station, or the inside. But because we’re bringing up logistics and utilization, we’re going to add a tremendous capability to the inside of space station. We’re taking up the largest MPLM that they’ve had. It’s packed full. They’re trying to get every little ounce in there to get more, more equipment, more spares up to space station so that we can enhance the capability. We’re bringing up some crew quarters that will be needed for a year from now when we double the size of space station, go from three to six crew members. For that we’re bringing up another space toilet and another space galley so that they have those facilities. More important is we’re bringing up, what they’re calling the ECLSS, the Regenerative Environment Control and Life Support System. What that’s allowing us to do is test concepts that we’re going to need … The main premise of the REGEN is to regenerate what you produce and one of the big racks will take urine that’s collected and process it into drinking water. And although some people may think it’s downright disgusting, but if it’s done correctly, you process water that’s purer than what you drink here on Earth. More important, allows us the capability of being more self sufficient and not requiring as many supplies to be sent up to the space station. Going on to the moon and to Mars that’s really going to be critical. You can’t have a supply ship coming up to you every three months on Mars because it’s just not going to get there. And so you have to be able to make do with what you have or reuse what you have. We’re seeing how feasible that concept is.
Let’s talk about the four planned spacewalks. If you could, walk me through each EVA and what will be accomplished?
I’ll just use the term EVA for spacewalks. On EVA No. 1 we go out and the first task we do is swap some components on the outside of space station. There’s a nitrogen tank assembly that was changed out on STS-124 but they didn’t have the ability to bring it back home and so we’ll be taking that home and at the same time we’ll be leaving up, what we call the FHRC, the Fluid Hose Rotary Coupler. That’s a spare part that’s used for the cooling system that’s external on station. It's not a glamorous task but it’s needed maintenance. It’s things you have to do and, and they’re big components that we’re able to bring up. What’s kind of neat on the way we’re doing this task is we’re using some of the capabilities that we built into space station. For this one, the nitrogen tank normally sits on a pallet on ESP 3. The pallet is out on the port truss, but the robot arm on the space station can’t reach that pallet to bring it into the payload bay. So we’re taking that pallet off of the truss. We’re putting it on the mobile transporter because the mobile transporter was built with a capture latch system to put a pallet on it. So we’re going to put that on the mobile transporter and move the mobile transporter to a place where we can reach both the shuttle payload bay and the pallet. We’re able to do it in about three hours on one EVA and one spacewalk. And so it’s kind of neat to see that we’re using all this equipment and capability that we put on space station for repair work to make our task easier. That’s the big part of first half of EVA 1. The second half of EVA 1 is doing repairs on the SARJ, the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint on the starboard side. This is a problem that we’ve been studying and doing various tests on over the last year to try to figure why the starboard SARJ failed. The last couple of flights have been doing some analysis, taking pictures and bringing back samples. They did change out one of the bearing assemblies. By bringing all those little bits and pieces home, folks here on the ground have been able to, although they haven’t been able to come up with the root cause, you know, why did the SARJ fail, they’ve come up with some cleaning techniques and some lubricating techniques that we will be doing to basically clean the debris off of the SARJ. We’ll replace some of the bearing assemblies, and then we’ll bring them home so that that will give more information for the engineers here on the ground to look at and to try to come up with the, with the root cause. But, hopefully by the work that we’re doing out there on the SARJ is a fix that will extend the life of the SARJ. But that’s not a task that can be done in just a couple of hours so our work on the SARJ is spread out over three EVAs. On EVA 1 we just start it. Then two days later on EVA 2, the first task we do is something to get ready for the next shuttle flight, for STS-119. The CETA carts are Crew EVA Transportation Aids that right now are on the starboard side. We’re just going to move them over to the port side so the MT can get farther out for the installation of, of the S6 assembly. That’s something that we’re doing for the next flight. Once that’s done, Shane Kimbrough, who’s going to be outside with me on that EVA, has a repair task to do some, some lubrication on the snares of the space station robotic arm. They’ve noticed over the, over the years that there’s been some galling on some of the bearing surfaces. Since we’ve developed this grease gun and the grease for the SARJ, the robotics folks said, “Hey, you know, we can use that to make our arm better.” So when Shane gets off the arm he’s going to, put some grease inside and cycle the bearings and the snares, again just to make that better. Then he’ll come out and then we’ll do some more work on the SARJ, pretty similar to what we did on EVA 1, cleaning, lubing, and changing out bearings. Most of EVA 3 is going to be spent out on the SARJ. Myself and Steve Bowen go back outside, go back out to the port SARJ and finish up all the work. Hopefully by the end of EVA 3, the starboard side will be back up and running. Not fully operational because, as I said, we don’t quite understand why it failed, but hopefully we’ll be making it better and so that’ll help to extend the life of, of the SARJ. That’s important for the station because now that we have all these new modules up there, power generation to be more important as we bring more racks up and do more science on board, and so hopefully that’ll, that’ll have an impact on station. On EVA 4 I get to sit back and, watch Steve and Shane go out. They have a number of tasks. They’re going to go out to the port SARJ and just lubricate it. We sent the crew members out on STS-124 to go look at the port SARJ just to make sure that nothing that we saw on the starboard side is going to happen on the port side. To date they haven’t seen anything but, with all the testing they’ve done they’ve come to the conclusion that the lubrication just helps make the SARJ run better. So they’ll go out and remove some covers and do some lubricating. This will be interesting because they’ll do some lubrication. To help, not have to remove as many covers and not do quite as much work, they’re going to rotate the SARJ, then go back out and lubricate the parts that are now under the open covers. That’ll be an interesting thing to be outside and see the solar rays moving 180 degrees out. That would be kind of neat to see, to get a front row seat on that one. For some of the other tasks they’re doing, we send Steve out to the Japanese modules and he does some repair work out there, installing some GPS antennas. We removed some covers on an earlier EVA that he puts back so the Japanese can test out attach mechanism for a future flight. So we’re, we’re just doing little tasks here and there that are needed down the road.
Looks like you’re going to be pretty busy and you’re on three EVAs. That’s a lot of training.
Yes, it is.
You prepared for all of that?
We’ll be prepared. We’ll be ready to go.
What goes on in the shuttle after hours? Do you get some time off to yourself?
For the most part, during the early part of the mission, there’s very little free time. We got a, a busy mission ahead of us, on our flight doing the EVAs. Even though they’re spaced out every other day, prior to each EVA -- part of our protocol which helps us, get rid of the nitrogen that’s just naturally in our bodies, to get us ready to go out for spacewalks -- the EVA crew locks themselves in the airlock the night before. That kind of cuts down on your free time because you’re getting ready to get in the airlock and you get locked into the airlock and then once you get in there you pretty much go to bed. That’s very busy time, during the mission because we’re taking up so much cargo, we have a lot of transfer time and things like that. So for the first part of the mission, yes, there will be a little bit of down time. We come together in the evenings, have an evening meal, chat about what you’ve been doing during the day and how things have been going. Usually whenever you can you look out the window. That’s always the, the popular thing to do is try to look out the window. Sometimes when you’re docked at space station, your window views are obviously blocked by space station and we understand that and that’s just life when you’re docked to a space station. Once the EVAs are done, once we’ve completed all the transfer and the MPLM is back inside the shuttle cargo bay, then we undock. Usually that’s when a big sign of relief comes, you know, because then you know, that OK, the majority of the mission’s complete. Yes, we still have some more tasks to get ourselves ready to come back home but, at that point, you know that things definitely get much more relaxed. The biggest, enjoyment that people get is being able to look out the window and take pictures. You try to find out when’s the best time that you’re flying over your hometown and get that shot. I know on my last flight I tried to get a shot of, of St. Paul, Minn., and that’s when I realized that I have to definitely learn not just what’s around St. Paul but I have to learn what’s coming up so you’re getting ready. If St. Paul was on the coast then it’s pretty easy. The coasts are pretty easy to find out where you are but when you’re in the middle of the, of the country and there’s no mountain ranges nearby … I always thought the Mississippi, you know, the Mighty Mississippi would be really easy to spot. Well, it’s not so easy from two hundred miles away (chuckle). I think the one opportunity that I had the last time to get a good shot of St. Paul, by the time I realized, yeah, that was St. Paul, we were over Cleveland. So this time I’m going to get ready and get that picture of St. Paul.
You’ll be flying during the period approaching the tenth anniversary of the International Space Station start. Talk about the significance of that for you.
I think that in ten years we [have] taken the space station from the first module to go up -- the FGB was the first one launched -- and now we have this complex up there and we’ve got a crew of three people. We’re getting ready to expand it to six people. We’ve, we’ve added a U.S. laboratory, a Japanese laboratory, a European laboratory. We have right now six sets of solar arrays and soon we'll add another set, plus what’s on the Russian segment, a robotic arm, a transporter so you can move the arm up and down the truss to reach whatever you need -- you can, you can move it off the transporter, put it on a module to reach some place forward or aft, wherever you need to go. That complex up there in space that’s operating, functioning is a tremendous feat. Yes, it’s been 10 years in orbit but it’s been much, much longer in the making and seeing it up there now that it’s functioning ... and it’s been up there working and functioning for 10 years. It is a great engineering feat. The other half of it is how we got there. We did it working with our international partners. It’s not just the U.S. laboratory that’s up there, it’s not just a Russian laboratory, the Russian space station; it’s everybody working together. Sometimes you think maybe that’s a bigger feat than the engineering feat, because engineering problems, you eventually can get to a solution if there is a solution. But the people problems sometimes get to be harder and the fact that we’ve got the space station up and running and we’re working together with all of our international partners, the Russians, the Japanese, the Europeans, the Canadians, all working on the whole space station up there functioning, that's something that we can be proud of.
Heide, what was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject was definitely math and science. Even in elementary school math came very easily to me. I really liked math because it was almost like a puzzle, trying to find the answer to it and I think that’s why I really, really liked math. Science is just an extension of math, to get to use math. Those were definitely my favorite subjects but when I was in high school I also really liked foreign languages. I think that started with having European parents, and being first generation. At home we spoke German and Ukrainian and so when I was in, in high school I took Spanish and French just because I could and language also came easy to me. I think, again I probably treated it more like a puzzle. It’s like, how do I figure out how to say this in another language. I thought it was fun and I like it. It was nice when you go to a country and you can understand. I’m not fluent in French but when I went to Montreal, at least I could read the sign that said ‘The bridge is closed.’
So having got the language background then, was it just German or other languages as well?
No, my mother’s German so we spoke German with my mother and my father’s Ukrainian and we spoke Ukrainian with my father. And actually we learned Ukrainian because we belonged to a Ukrainian church growing up and they had a Saturday school and so we went on Saturdays to, to learn the Ukrainian.
If you had a message for today’s youth, what would that message be?
The biggest thing I can say to the youth today is to stay in school and to learn. It doesn’t have to be math and science. Even though I’m an astronaut and I’m an engineer and go out and you push math and science, if you really don’t like math and science there’s no point in studying it because you’re just not going to [do] well at it. If you like English, if you like history, if you like social studies, we need those people in the world, too. We even need them at NASA. You know, we don’t need just a bunch of engineers. We need everybody and the most important thing is to find something that you enjoy doing, something that you’re passionate about, something that you can see building into a career and put your all into it. If you don’t try to be the best at what you’re doing, then it’s very hard to become successful and not to stress so much and say, “Oh, I got to do this. I got to do this. I got to do this.” People have to have a passion in life and when you find that early in life and you can work it, then that’s the best thing you can do. I think the place to learn that is in school or in extra curricular activities whether it’s sporting or athletics or any other type of organization like, you know, 4-H. That’s the place to find what interests you and that’s going to make you happy for the rest of your life.