Feature

Preflight Interview: Chris Cassidy, Mission Specialist
05.28.09
jsc2008e139792 -- Chris Cassidy

Christopher Cassidy, STS-127 mission specialist, attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, awaits the start of a training session. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-127 interview with Mission Specialist Chris Cassidy. Chris, this is the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 this year and the first human steps on the moon. Can you give us a sense of how that historic event and that era impacted you, if at all, and if it played into your decision to become an astronaut?

Well, to be honest, I wasn’t born when we landed on the moon, and I’ve since, of course, learned about it as a student in school. I’ve always been fascinated with space and technology and just the fact that in ten years we were able to go from zero to the moon has always fascinated me. Now, in terms of how it impacted my decision to become an astronaut, really just the exciting part about exploring space, pushing new frontiers whether it’s just a personal frontier or a frontier of knowledge for mankind is kind of a thing that piques my interest a little bit. So that was really what kind of steered me towards applying and also, once I got into the Navy and the SEAL Teams I learned about another SEAL, Bill Shepherd, who was an astronaut and my career track was kind of paralleling his, so I thought, “Well, shoot, I can certainly give it a try as well,” so that’s what I did.

Navy Seal, tell me about that. I mean, how cool of a job is that?

It was a pretty cool job and you know, I’m often asked, “What do I miss about it?” I miss an awful lot of the things. This is a fantastic job, too. I am very happy here but I’m, when I talk to my friends that are back in the SEAL teams, it brings back a little of envy and, you know, and excitement of what they go through every day. The SEAL training to get qualified is called BUDS, Basic Underwater Demolition School, and that’s usually what people see on TV and is the difficulties of the training to get there. That’s only a small portion of life as a SEAL. You know, there’s the whole career after that and the subsequent deployments and the training and it’s just a fun life. SEAL stands for Seair and Land and we train in all those aspects, you know, so it’s a very exciting job.

What kind of parallels have you drawn between, you know, the…

Yeah, that’s a great question and I think that I spent a lot of time underwater in the SEAL teams. In particular I drove mini-subs called SDV’s, or SEAL Delivery Vehicles, which was a very exciting job. We would launch from the back of a full-size submarine and go off into some location and do a mission and come back and return to the submarine. So that mission itself parallels very closely to spacewalks which is what I’ll be doing a lot on this mission and in the training to become a spacewalker and honing our EVA skills, I’ve learned to fall back a lot on what I, the training I gleaned from the Navy and just being comfortable underwater and being comfortable with doing, manipulating things with your hands in a kind of harsh environment, maybe you can’t see very well underwater, diving in the Navy and now here training for spacewalks, of course, we spend a lot of time in the NBL which is a water environment and sometimes it’s difficult to do things in the pool that you could do just standing on the side of the pool or in street clothes like we are right now and hook things together, it’s a little bit more cumbersome in the water. So the feeling in and the comfort level of doing things like that I really developed that skill in the Navy, and it’s very much helped me in my career training for spacewalks.

Tell me about your educational steps to getting to the astronaut level.

I just went to a regular high school and then learned about a place called the Naval Academy where it’s not only free but they pay you to go there. What a deal that was! So I applied and was able to get to the Naval Academy Prep School and on to the Naval Academy. I was a math major there and then spent a few years doing job in the SEAL teams before I went on to graduate school and at MIT I studied underwater vehicles in the Ocean Engineering Department, specifically underwater vehicle navigation which is kind of what I was doing in the Navy. I was driving the mini-sub as a Navigator so that was a nice parallel to my graduate studies.

Tell me about the place that you consider your hometown and what it was like growing up there.

I consider York, Maine, as my hometown which is kind of in the southern, very southern corner of the state, just kind of over the border from New Hampshire and when I was a real little kid we lived a little bit further north in Maine in a place called Bath and I was in like fifth grade, we moved south to York. Excuse me. When I was in fifth grade we moved a little bit south to York and it was a quiet beach town and where in the wintertime it was relatively small population and in the summertime it was kind of a tourist area for folks from all around, maybe Massachusetts and New Hampshire, to come up and vacation on the beach Maine. So I spent a lot of time mowing yards in the summer and playing basketball on the outside beach courts there and it was just a really neat place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody in the town and now, going back there it’s fun to kind of see how the place is changing and it’s gotten bigger and a lot, the schools are bigger and it’s just, it’s kind of neat to go back and see the changes.

So in summertime you guys couldn’t wait to get away from the tourists.

No, that was the time to mow some lawns.

Okay. What or who was it that helped you realize the value of education in life?

You know, that’s a good question. I’ve had some very motivating teachers along the way. In particular I had a math teacher in high school named Mr. Hawkes and I was always fairly, math just kind of came naturally to me, but in his class I remember just getting kind of motivated about it. He made it interesting for me, and I enjoyed that. And then I remember at some point in high school having sort of a moment where I saw the light. You know, not that I didn’t value education before but I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is important and this, what I do on these, in my studies is going to help me get to a college where I can learn a skill or that it’s going to give me a job and carry with me for the rest of my life.” And from then on it kind of put a lot more, not to sound corny that I had “a moment” or anything, but I sort of remember being more focused and paying more attention ‘cause I knew the importance of education, not only for your own personal growth but for how it’s going to help you in the long run and help with whatever chosen career path you choose.

What would you say we need to do to get more young adults interested in space exploration?

Well, that’s interesting. When part of our job as astronauts is to go around to the country, talk to different schools and youth organizations and tell them about NASA, tell them the exciting things that we do and that is a fun part of our job. I really enjoy that. And when I do that I go to the schools and I see just how exciting, excited the, not only the youth in the school but the faculty and the parents that come in to enjoy part of the presentation and, you know, it just seems like the people are excited about space and exploration and how we harness that excitement I think is an important thing that we need to tap into but I don’t have the answer but I do think that the American people and people in general are excited about, you know, exploring, exploring space and pushing the frontier of where we can go, getting back to the moon and maybe going out to Mars and seeing what that’s all about.

What’s it been like working with this crew? You guys have been training for a little while now, but what’s it been like as you’ve developed relationships and kind of fed off each other and you’ve learned some things from the veterans, I’m sure. What’s that been like?

Yeah, you know, our crew is fantastic. We have a fun time. We’ve got some serious movie buffs and, you know, Mark and Doug can recite movie lines from way, way back and it just keeps me laughing and Tom and I are the newer folks on, you know, to the office and to the crew and so we’re just kind of soaking up the knowledge that we can from Dave and Julie and Doug and Mark, and it’s just being around those folks. They’re so talented and pulling in all the information we can. It’s just, every day to come to work is a fun day. We’re learning stuff. We’re training as a crew. We’re pulling all of our mission together and watching and thinking back to a year ago when we were just kind of rough, had a rough outline of what our mission is and now to how well it’s shaped and how well it’s honed and how much fun we’ve had getting to this process or getting to this point. It’s just been a really enjoyable time being with these folks.

How’s the training for mission compared to how you may have thought it would be before you were assigned? I mean, how has it been? How do the two compare?

Yeah. That’s a, it’s an interesting question. When you’re assigned to a crew, everybody’s schedule is intertwined because we’re all, we’re not all necessarily doing the same exact thing all day every day. In fact, if you look at a crew calendar, there’s lots of blocks in different places and we’re all kind of coming and going and then every now and then, maybe once a day or sometimes only a couple times a week do we all get together for the same event for a period of time or the same simulation. So that was a little bit different. I sort of in my mind had the picture of we would kind of all go together to do things, but we’re very scattered and very busy. All of us are going to different training events and coming together. It’s kind of fun to say, “Oh, I just had that class,” or “I’ll get training on that next week. What did you learn here? Any tricks that I need to know or things that will make it more efficient for me when I go through that training?” That’s the part that surprised me a little bit was how busy and how fluid the schedule is and to be honest, before I had, you know, you have a little more control of your time and now we’re all, like I said, we’re all so woven together that you know, our time is managed very well and very tightly by the team.

There are thousands of people that work behind the scenes to make every mission a success and to ensure the crew’s safety. What’s it like when you get a chance to meet those people during the crew’s travels?

You know, it’s kind of awe-inspiring to know just how many folks it does take to put a rocket in space. I mean, we’re the fortunate ones that get to strap into the seat and sit on the pointy end of the rocket. But, just like you said, there’s so many folks, you know, in the Navy we have a saying called, “Taking care of your shipmates,” and the term “your shipmates” obviously means the people that are on, in the same hole as you, on the same ship but it extends to the people that are flying the helicopters to resupply and the people back in the home port that are sending forward parts and when you come back to port or, you know, doing all the things to refurbish your ship, all those people are your shipmates and that is exactly how it is here at NASA. Our shipmates, our crewmates, extend from NASA centers from Florida all the way to California and everybody pulling their little part, whether it’s directly related to a piece of hardware or in support of a program that keeps other programs going or funding or you name it. It’s all tied to how we’re able to, as a nation, as a space program, do what we do in space.

Could you please give us a brief overview of what the key objectives are for this mission?

Sure. We’re bringing Tim Kopra to begin his time as an Expedition crew member and Tim will swap out with Koichi Wakata. We’ll bring Koichi home from the end of his time in space. Hardware-wise, we’re bringing up some Japanese equipment that will be attached to the Japanese pressurized module, specifically the exposed facility to which some associated payloads will also be attached and part of our spacewalks will be to configure and assemble that in addition to the robotic task that are involved with that.

And what’s your primary role and responsibilities on this mission?

Once we’re docked my main effort will be with the spacewalks. For the two spacewalks I’ll be the IV crew member, inside of the vehicle kind of coordinating the procedures and then EVAs 3, 4, and 5, I’ll be outside as one of the EV crew members. Prior to docking or during the rendezvous and then after the dock mission, during the separation, I’m one of the rendezvous mission specialists up there on the flight desk with Mark Polansky.

You touched briefly on the Japanese experiment module, the exposed facility. Give us your best description of it, size, weight, where it will eventually live and basically its purpose.

Right. So the first time I saw the exposed facility I thought it was much larger than I was expecting. I was expecting maybe a ten-foot long kind of porch that would attach very, kind of, very small in size. I was picturing in my mind about something the size of a mini-van in a footprint-wise. But it’s actually maybe four times the size, I would say about four mini-vans actually probably, parked them side by side and front to back and it’s very, it’s got a lot of depth to it, too. It’s maybe, I don’t know, four or five feet thick and it’s a very, very interesting structure in that it has attachment mechanisms all around the side called EFUs and to those units, that’s where the payloads will be attached and the robotic arm is used to move the payloads off of its platform that it came up to space on and hook it into those EFUs.

jsc2008e137661 -- Chris Cassidy

Astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy, STS-127 mission specialist. Photo Credit: NASA

And you mentioned it will sit on, be attached to the pressurized module, the KIBO experiment module. Just a little bit of what you know about that module’s capability as a whole, the whole module as a whole and how this porch or this exposed facility is going to enhance that capability.

Right. That module is, was well thought out when, in its design, as you know. The Japanese did a superior job in putting it together and thinking it through. Inside it looks just like the U.S. lab in terms of its layout with the racks and the physical size. The interesting part for me, I find that, and obviously with its airlock on the end cone and then with us attaching the exposed facility, combine that with the Japanese robotic arm, they now have the ability to take payloads without sending a human out to the, to do any of the work, to take a payload and put it in the airlock and then bring that payload back inside. And that is just a very, very great capability to have and when you can do that without having to go through the resources of putting a person outside.

The term “space management’s” going to take on a whole new meaning during your mission. By the time you’re scheduled to get there, the station crew’s going to have expanded from three to six people plus seven coming up on the shuttle. That’s going to be thirteen people…that may need to be working at any given time on station. What do you think that’s going to be like?

Yeah, it definitely will be interesting. You know, you see footage of and talk, I’ve talked to other folks about a normal or typical docked mission up ‘til now when it’s ten people and there’s folks all over the place and particular in the U.S. lab where the robotic work station is, and all that activity, the hub of activity kind of, the airlock is attached to Node 1 right there and if folks are working the airlock and in the, at the robotic work station and other folks are working the Japanese and the European modules, your work areas may be spread out but the pathways to get to all those locations kind of follow right through the main corridor or the main alley of the space station. So I think that it will be a traffic jam. It’ll be like an I-45 coming into Houston in the mornings and once you get to your office building you’ll be all right but getting there is the battle.

On Flight Day 1 you and the crew will launch on board Endeavour. Once you get into space you’ll start configuring systems for your stay in space. Then on Flight Day 2 the crew is going to be busy with some other activities. Tell me what you’re going to be involved with on Flight Day 2.

Well, Flight Day 2 for Dave and Tom and myself will be busy with checking out the EMUs. My suit and Dave’s suit will be flying up in the shuttle airlock. Tom’s components will be already on the space station. So the three of us will be checking out those suits. It’s a long, extensive process to double check that, make sure that it’s, everything is in the same configuration as when they launched it, and nothing got rattled out of place with the dynamic environment of the launch and get things set up for the next day when we rendezvous with the station and open the hatches, we need to immediately get going for a campout in preparation for the next day’s EVAs. So in large part that second day is making sure we’re ready for the rendezvous.

And I think you mentioned that on Flight Day 3 for the rendezvous and docking you’ll be on Flight Deck?

I will.

And tell me what your specific duties are there?

Just specifically we have a handheld radar that I’ll be using to, over the shuttle’s overhead windows, look up and point it at the space station and that will give us a range and range rate, you know, kind of give us an idea of how fast we’re closing. At certain distances we have to be within certain speed gates, speed restrictions that sets us up for the proper docking attitude and the docking, proper docking speed. So that, the handheld radar is one of two sensors that we’ll use. Another one is a, doesn’t need a person. It’s an automatic system called TCS which also provides that same data to a computer software and from those two pieces of information, Mark is able to see what inputs he needs as he brings the shuttle in for its rendezvous.

Then on Flight Day 4 it’s all hands on deck for the first of five scheduled spacewalks. Dave Wolf and Tim Kopra are going to be outside. Tell me about the work that they’ll do, where they’ll be and what they’ll be doing on that spacewalk.

Right. So like we talked about earlier, one of the main objectives on our mission is to get the exposed facility to its proper home on the end of the Japanese pressurized module. Well, that exposed facility will be in the payload bay on this day, Flight Day 4, and it has survival and heater power connected to it from the, there’s some cables on the shuttle payload bay’s sill, so the robotic operators cannot pull the exposed facility out of the payload bay until those cables have been disconnected. So the very first thing that Dave and Tim will do is prepare for that action to happen. David goes to the end cone of the Japanese pressurized module and he’ll take off some MLI that is currently covering up the docking mechanism, the berthing mechanism and Tim goes directly to the payload bay where he removes those heater cables and survival power cables and then does some additional MLI on the berthing mechanism on the side of the exposed facility. Then Tim can kind of clear the way for Mark to be able to pull the exposed facility out and then hand it over, excuse me, for Doug and Julie to, and Mark to coordinate the pulling of that out and hand it off to the space station arm as they prepare to install it. So after Tim and Dave are done in the payload bay, then they’ll head off back onto the station where they’ll go to S3. On the aft nadir side there’s a PAS attachment mechanism that needs to be deployed. It takes about an hour and a half and there’s a series of motions that need to happen such that the mechanism can come from the inside of the truss to the outside of the truss where then subsequent payloads can be attached. Dave will have some actions to do on the CETA cart where essentially he’s going to make the trailer hitch that the CETA carts connects to the mobile transporter, make that hitch shorter.

During EVA 1 you’ll be the IV, the intravehicular astronaut. Tell me about what that entails, what you will be doing inside while Tim and Dave are on the outside.

You know, when I was initially training as a spacewalk person in training, I didn’t understand the importance of an IV. Now, as we’ve gotten to the crew-specific training, it’s really evident to me how important an IV is with keeping everything in sync and by that I mean it’s not just the two spacewalkers, but it’s also the shuttle flight deck, the robotics crew members that are over on the space station and the ground. We’re all one big team and as the IV it’s exciting for me to kind of like be the quarterback of, in sync with all these folks and communicating the ground who’s sort of our head coach, you know, and to use a football analogy. And making sure that we’re executing the plan that everybody’s comfortable with. And inevitably there’s little things that happen that are not quite as we planned or not quite as what’s on the published checklist and that’s when a detailed thorough knowledge of what the guys are doing and, as an IV, I have an understanding and appreciation of how difficult some tasks are out in a suit and how some tasks may be fairly trivial to do out in a suit and balancing that between talking with Mark on the Flight Deck and then voicing our thoughts down to the ground, coming up with a plan to go forward if things go wrong. If things go right, I’m basically managing a checklist and keeping the guys on task and there’s a lot of little details that are impossible to remember in the suit. And I think, too, when, as soon as you put the helmet on your IQ drops about half, in half, so it’s really nice to have somebody inside that’s backing you up with all the little details with, that you need to remember. So it’s exciting for me to be an IV. I had the opportunity during Expedition 15 to be a ground IV for Clay Anderson when he did his spacewalks and the amount that I learned during that time and translating that to my own experience in the pool has just helped me a great deal. So I’m excited for these first two spacewalks to be the IV part, to going out on my own.

Flight Day 5 is potentially going to be a day loaded with robotic ops one of which involves taking a cargo carrier out of the payload bay. Tell me about that carrier, the ICC-VLD, the Vertical Light Deployable, and what you know about the payloads that are attached to that.

Well, the ICC-VLD is a very important piece of equipment for us particularly because on one half, one side it, it’s carrying up all the batteries that Dave and I will be swapping out on EVA 3 and Tom and I on EVA 4. On the other side is some spare ORUs or replacement units that are going to the space station to be transferred for, in case they need to be used in a future time. So it’s carrying a lot of equipment. When we swap the batteries out on the, the ICC will also carry the old batteries back down to earth and get stowed back in the payload bay for landing, so key piece of equipment for us.

On Flight Day 6 Dave Wolf and Tom Marshburn are scheduled to go outside for the second spacewalk of the mission. Can you walk us through what they’ll do during that spacewalk?

Well, that spacewalk is again highly coordinated between robotics and EVA. The large part of the day on EVA 2 will be transferring these ORUs, specifically it’s a spare SGANT antenna spare pump module and a spare LDU which is a drive unit for the mobile transporter. These three items, like we discussed, are on the ICC-VLD. That will be taken out of the payload bay and put onto, temporarily onto the attachment mechanism on the MT. From there, they need to, their home on the station is going to be ESP 3 which is a storage mechanism that’s kind of on the very zenith, top part of the space station on the, in the P1 area and P1 part of the truss. So it’s not a very far distance as the crow flies, so to speak, but it’s in such a way that the robotic arm can’t just go straight there. It has to kind of do an up and around motion for its joints and you’ll have to ask Doug and Julie the specifics on that. But, so it makes it for interesting coordination and so Dave will be riding the arm most of the day. Tom will be sort of our floater who assists with driving bolts, making sure the clearance is acceptable because there’s very, very tight clearance when the things are bolted down in both locations on the ICC and on the ESP 3 and there’s some highly sensitive areas on those, on the payload such as the antenna dish itself which is a rather large dish that the whole thing is a no touch area and there’s some protruding parts of hardware on both locations where the, we’re talking tolerances of about an inch to two inches and as the guy is holding this big thousand pound thing, trying to thread it, thread the needle, getting that tolerance is a tight, is a tough, tough job and so Tom and Dave will be managing that together. And that takes most of the day going back and forth between those two locations. After they complete that then the two of ‘em head down to the Japanese exposed facility where they’ll install a camera and there’s a camera that’s, its launch location is physically on the deck of the exposed facility and it needs to be moved not too far of a distance but into its final location on the corner of both the forward and aft corners on the outboard edge of the exposed facility and the one they’ll be doing is that the camera that’s on the forward side of the exposed facility.

There’s some more robotic ops scheduled on Flight Day 7 with the temporary installation of the Japanese logistics module exposed section, or the JLE. Tell me about the JLE and the importance of it and the payloads attached to it.

Right. So the JLE, just like you said, is a platform that will carry up the three Japanese payloads and those payloads will, their final installation point is around the sides of the Exposed Facility, and the JLE is the mechanism that allows them to get there since they can’t, the shuttle payload bay is or with, the exposed facility with those payloads on it is wider than the shuttle payload bay is so that’s why we need to have them launched in a different configuration and then install them once we’re in orbit. And the JLE allows us to do that.

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Christopher Cassidy, STS-127 mission specialist, awaits the start of a training session at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Another EVA on Flight Day 8, the third scheduled spacewalk of the mission, also the first of your career. Tell me, what do you think it’s going to be like floating out of the hatch for the first time?

Right. Well, to be honest I think I’m going to be chomping at the bit to do it. For one, ‘cause I’m excited right now and we’re on the ground and for two, I’ll have the opportunity to be the IV for those first two missions and help them come back and they, you know, get ‘em out of the airlock hatch and then when those two EVAs are over, get ‘em back in and see the excitement on Tom’s face and the other, and on Tim’s face on their first spacewalks, and Dave is always excited, so it’ll be, I know I’ll be really, really anxious to go and then the excitement of opening that hatch and looking down at the Earth will be, I don’t know, but that said, there’s so much that we need to do and so much of the mission hinges upon success of, you know, of everybody and on that day it will be us as spacewalkers that I think I’ll be thinking very strictly about, you know, “Okay, what do I got to do? Oh, there’s Earth. Okay, check that block. Now let me get to, get to work.”

So take a moment to enjoy and…

Take a moment to enjoy, then I got work to do.

Give us an idea of what you and Dave will do on EVA 3.

So this EVA is the first one where we tackle the batteries and there’s some bad, P6 is the truss segment that’s been up there the longest and the batteries are therefore the oldest so those batteries need to be changed out and there’s six of ‘em total. We’ve learned in our training that it’s unrealistic to try, to get six completed in one spacewalk. So Dave and I will tackle four and they need to be done in pairs. You know, when you read the instructions on your flashlight and it says, “Don’t mix an old one and a new one together” and you never, I never knew why. Well, the same thing applies to space batteries. You know, you want the pairs to be both new batteries. You can’t, we can’t mix old ones and new ones. So consequently if we do two and we try to do the third we’re committed to the fourth and that’s why, we don’t feel comfortable in trying, I think we could probably maybe do five in one EVA, but it doesn’t make sense from a hardware perspective so they’re done in sets. So we’re doing these first four batteries and P6 is a long ways away from the airlock. I think it’s the farthest you could get from the airlock hatch ‘cause since the airlock’s on the starboard side. You know, we’re going port and it’s way out there. We have safety tethers that allow us to go 55 or 85 feet. There’s two different sizes and so we have to stack, we’re stacking some together to give us twice the distance and even then we have to move the first hook out of one whole tether length away. So essentially we’re three safety tether lengths from home, from safety of the airlock and the task in and of itself, of physically pulling out a battery and putting it in, is not necessarily the hard part. The hard part is the choreography with the folks moving the arm, Doug and Julie, and as they, we grab the battery, they’ll guide the pallet, the ICC-VLD away from us, essentially pulling the battery out of the carrier. And then Dave and I have to, ‘cause the arm is at its full length, its max reach and it’s still not far enough. So Dave and I will have to then do a series of hand offs and not really hops but, you know, he grabs it and then I move and then I’ll grab it and he lets go and then he moves and we kind of do this hopping motion until we get to the spot where the battery’s going to go. And essentially what we do is we take out one of the old batteries and make a hole and then go to the new battery and put it in and then we’re just kind of going back and forth. Wherever there’s a hole, we’re putting a new or used battery in that hole as appropriate. And so we’ll do that for batteries 1 through 4 and then we also, in addition to that, just, at the beginning of the EVA we have some Japanese payload preparation to do where we remove some MLI off of the MAXI payload and the ICS payload on the, out there on the JLE.

So, if I understand correctly, somebody’s going to be on the arm when one of you, for the battery changeout or you guys’ll be free floating?

Actually, no. The ICC-VLD is attached to the end of the arm…

Okay.

…and then Dave is going to be in a foot restraint that is attached to the P6 structure so Dave will position himself in such a way, such that Julie and Doug move the pallet in front of his workspace. He drives the bolts to remove the battery and then he sits there and holds the battery as they move the pallet away from him and now he’s got a battery in his hand and there’s a hole in the pallet where the next battery will go when we get there. Okay. So it’s kind of like the pull-move-replace over again.

Right, yeah. I’m in the Navy so I’ve moved a lot and I often tell people ‘cause I think in sort of moving van trucks, it’s kind of like moving six big dining room tables into your house and the truck holds six and your house holds six and you can’t put any on the yard, you know. So you have to do some juggling to make the room, to make that choreography happen.

After a bit of break on Flight Day 9 for the shuttle crew, you guys are back at it on Flight Day 10 with another spacewalk, EVA 4. This time it’s you and Tom Marshburn outside. Tell me about what happens on EVA 4.

Right. So Tom and I go back out and we’ll finish up the battery task with batteries 5 and 6, you know, taking the failed, not failed, but the old batteries off of the P6 IEA and installing the five, the two new batteries in those locations and the old ones back in the ICC. With some additional cleanup, there’s a lot of equipment that we, that both Dave and I and Tom brought out there to do that task. That will all need to be brought back off of P6 back to the airlock and then we move to back to the exposed facility where Tom and I will put, install the other camera on the Japanese exposed facility, this one on the aft side of the outboard edge.

Flight Day 12, the fifth and final EVA, tell us about what you and Tom will do outside this time.

Right. So EVA 5’s a very interesting EVA in that we’re planning on doing a lot of MLI, pulling MLI off, all this equipment that the, was launched in support of the Japanese section and now there’s a good chance that during the previous four EVAs we will have been able to pull off a piece here and a piece there and, in which case there wouldn’t be as many as we’re anticipating for EVA 5. If that’s the case, there’s some what we call “get ahead tasks” that we may or may not get to and those get ahead tasks are very fluid and that list is changing all the time. So in, to train for EVA 5 we’re actually training for sort of a job jar worth of things that we’ll have, we’ll be able to do and have had training on, depending on how the mission shapes up and how that molds EVA 5.

The grab bag EVA.

The grab bag EVA, exactly.

Flight Day 14, there’s some things to do to prepare for your departure before closing the hatch and undocking. Then on Flight Day 15 Endeavour will undock from the station. Tell me about the activities that you’ll be involved with on Flight Day 15.

Well, again I’ll be up on the Flight Deck with Mark as the Rendezvous Mission Specialist, same job as on Flight Day 3. I’ll have the handheld radar, I’ll be taking marks and this time Doug will be flying the orbiter and so the data that I’m collecting with the handheld radar will be fed into the computer and give Doug the information that he needs to make his flying inputs as we back away from station, as Doug likes to say, “Just make the station look little.”

What do you think it’s going to be like for you on those days, Flight Day 3 when you rendezvous and dock and Flight Day 15 when you pull it away, just taking it in. Okay, wow, I’m really here!

Right. So just like you said, it’d be two kind of extremes, the Flight Day 3 will be the anticipation of, “Wow, that we’re here. We’ve got so much to do. We’ve done all this training and Lord, help me not screw up!” And then on the undock part of the mission hopefully we’ll be saying, “Boy, what, what a fantastic mission that was and I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to be part of it and to, you know, execute what the people here, all the whole team, our shipmates, our crewmates have, have trained us for, have, are expecting us to do and with our international partners, the Japanese, giving them the capability on their module.” I’m anticipating a very rewarding feeling as we’re backing away and the docking port is shrinking down to nothing.

Once your work on orbit’s done, you’ll go through the process of returning home, may seem simple, but it’s not exactly an easy task.

Right, right. So essentially what we do on launch day is we turn the orbiter from a rocket ship into an RV where we’re going to live there and work there for the two weeks or so that we’re on orbit. Now it’s time to come home. We got to turn that RV back into something that can handle the dynamics of reentry and get back to Earth. So it’s a very, very crazy time on the mid-deck. The Flight Deck is pretty calm as the, I’m the computer representative for the crew, so I’ll have some computers to tear down and laptops and the network to re-stow, but then down on the mid-deck it’s just a crazy activities with all of us pulling together and reassembling seats and stowing equipment in a safe way so that it’s secure for when the G’s come back on and that process takes us all the way up, past the deorbit burn and right up to what we call EI where we’re Entry Interface and at that point is when we’re finally, all of us in our seats, strapped in, helmets on and gloves on and ready, but right up unto that point we’re working like crazy to get everything shipshape.

And I imagine some of what makes it so hectic and kind of difficult is that you’re working in confined space down there in the mid-deck?

Working in confined space and a person getting into a suit takes a lot of space, you know, just volume and moving elbows and feet and boots and so we have sort of an assembly line, so to speak, of getting people in their suits, and we’ll take the Flight Deck guys down first, and Dave and Koichi and I will get them suited up and get ‘em upstairs and then we have to suit ourselves up and then it, Koichi will get put down into a recumbent seat, we call it, for his return to Earth since he’s been on, in space for so long. And then that leaves Dave and I to suit ourselves and seat ourselves right in at the last minute. We have a few minor actions at the end to secure the WCS or the toilet and reconfigure some com switches. And then we get in our seat, buckle ourselves in which on Earth we have some fantastic suit technicians to strap us in and get us safe. On this last day we got to depend on ourselves and make all the connections and get seated in. I’m really looking forward to that, too.

Forty years after Apollo 11 and the first human steps on the moon, we’re in the midst of refocusing our direction. With a planned return to the moon and possibly trips beyond. How, how do you think the lessons learned from Apollo and everything space flight in the past will help us in that endeavor and in that direction?

Yeah. Well I think we as a space agency have gotten very good at analyzing problems and making safe decisions, doing risk trade-offs and making those risk trade-offs that are, that make sense, that are very safe. That’s going to give us the highest probability of success for the mission and for personal safety and I think all these years and the different programs that we’ve had to get to where we are have got us to a very mature point where we can, with a great deal of confidence, execute the plan to go forward and get back to the moon. So I’m excited about it. I think I’m in a fortunate position as a new astronaut to be part of a shuttle crew now and maybe a space station crew in my mid-career and at the tail end of my career, hopefully, an exploration mission to the moon. So it’s a very exciting for me personally.