Feature

Preflight Interview: Randolph J. Bresnik, Mission Specialist
10.15.09
JSC2009-E-124958 -- Randolph Bresnik

Astronaut Randy Bresnik, STS-129 mission specialist, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-129 interview with Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik. Randy, tell us about your hometown, the place you consider your hometown and what it was like growing up there.

I come from Santa Monica, California. I had been born in Fort Knox, Kentucky. My father was in the Army but I was there all of two weeks and then family drove out to California so Santa Monica is where I grew up and lived until I went to college. Beautiful place on the beachside of Los Angeles, just south of Malibu and north of Venice Beach and [there’s] always a nice ocean breeze. We lived five minutes from the beach, couple hours from the mountains and so you had every climate possible and it was just a really neat place to grow up to experience just the variety of things that Southern California can offer you, the beautiful weather, beautiful scenery and it’s one of those places that really made you realize how much I seek out those types of climates and things to see in the world, when I go on travels or anything like that.

How would you say that being there and growing up there maybe influenced who you’ve become?

Obviously like most young people, a lot of the challenges you face when you’re younger really influence how you become and when I had my first job, I was thirteen. Even before that I was babysitting and other things. But I had my first real job and had a job the entire time from thirteen on after school and stuff like that, so it really installed a good work ethic. It taught me time management of how to juggle work and school at the same time besides being a kid and having fun and so that obviously was a good start to later in life, and becoming an adult.

You mentioned being close to the beach so I imagine that was part of what you liked to do. What other kind of things interest you? What else were you involved with growing up?

I was a bicycle rider. I was a percussionist from elementary school on through college so music was a big part. When I got old enough, I had motorcycles so I just love riding the Pacific Coast Highway and the canyons of Malibu and everywhere and photography was another real big hobby of mine. My grandfather was a professional photographer, so it kind of passed down through the generations and something I always enjoyed.

Were you part of any garage bands or you guys have…

No, no, this was with the school with this marching band, the concert band, the orchestra, those types of things. I didn’t actually do as much drum set work until I actually got into college with playing with the jazz band.

Still play?

Not, not that much any more. There’s, I can still sit down at a piano and, and play a piece, you know, it’s pure muscle memory, you know, these decades later but, ah, I don’t get the chance to, you know I’m not in Max Q with the rest of the astronauts, skills are probably a little too far gone for that one.

How would you characterize the value of education in your life?

One of the single most pivotal things it was early on, someone who was a mentor said, “You learn something every day” and to this day I still use that phrase. Once you stop learning you, you stagnate and, and nobody knows everything and so, you know, who, who really wants to know everything? I mean, once you’ve lost that curiosity or, or desire to learn something new or, or expand your capabilities you, that you have, you know, you cease, you know, really, you know, your own personal space and, and your own capabilities and so I think that’s something that I enjoy, finding out things I don’t know and, especially neat part about being here at NASA is there, there’s so many people and so many disciplines and things that I don’t, you know, don’t know about coming from the Marine Corps that, I mean, it’s, it’s really fun being a, being a small fish in a big pond and, and learning all these new things.

Tell us about the educational steps that you took after high school.

Well in high school, actually my senior year, I went to the junior college and I took Russian language ‘cause I thought, “Okay, I’ve got a Marine Corps scholarship to go to college and the cold war was still on,” I thought, “okay, here’s our opposite side”, I thought it might be useful for my time in the Marine Corps. So I actually started taking the Russian language at night school while I was still in high school and working and so then I continued that on when I went to college. I went to college at the Military College of South Carolina, otherwise known as The Citadel and [as] I said I was on a Marine Corps scholarship, graduated from there, went on to flight school, become a Marine Corps pilot and then after four-and-a-half years, I went off to test pilot school, spent a year in test pilot school learning how to do evaluation of aircraft and bridge the gap between engineers and operator. After I finished that, while I was doing my test pilot tour I took distance learning from University of Tennessee and got my Master’s in Aviation Systems from there.

At what point do you recall first getting the notion that you wanted to be an astronaut?

I wasn’t one of those people who from small childhood, “I’m going to go be an astronaut.” It was one of those things I certainly thought was cool. I can remember vividly my desk at home. I had a model my dad and I built when I was probably eight or nine years old of Gemini capsule and the umbilical coming out and Ed White doing that first spacewalk that sat up there with the airplane models. Aviation was always something that fascinated me and then we had some other spacecraft there but I was too young to really take in Apollo while it was happening but certainly as I became older and saw this stuff going on with space, it was something that really peaked my interest but, like probably most people, I didn’t think it was something really possible. Go be a fireman or go be a pilot or go be an astronaut. There were all these things you want to do but didn’t really put it down as the goal for my life. But then as I got into the Marine Corps, [I] was able to become a pilot. Well I went through flight school and did well enough I was able to get selected to fly jets, be an F-18 pilot and so that was pretty neat and I happened to have a chance, a couple years into my F-18 first tour that we had a system wing commander who was a former astronaut and the general took the time, just before I shipped out on my third deployment that I was able to go talk to his aide and get on his schedule for a little while to talk to him about test pilot school, so something that really kind of interested me. My first boss had been there and some of it really kind of melded a lot of interest of mine and the general took the time out to sit there and talk to me about test pilot school and the information he provided but also just fact that he took the time to do that really had an impact at the end of it. The subject came up about him being an astronaut and how being a test pilot was at that point a probably necessary step as a pilot to becoming an astronaut that, that general who became a mentor is now our NASA administrator and, and it’s one of those things he doesn’t probably realize how much impact he had by taking that maybe half hour of time, but it really made an impact and throughout the years as I became a test pilot, I came across him again and then actually during Operation Iraqi Freedom I flew in the same squadron over Iraq with his son and so it’s really a small world and a really neat thing.

Have you had a chance to talk to him since, well, I guess recently and if so does he remember that conversation?

Oh, sure. Yeah, and I’ve thanked him for the time he took and, and that’s why certainly I feel an obligation any time someone, a young Marine or someone in high school or anyone comes to talk to me and asks me about becoming a pilot or becoming an astronaut or any of that. I absolutely will take the time to do it because people have done that for me and you’re just paying it forward.

Sure. At that point in your military when the path became clear and it was opened up to you, take us through the process of how you then eventually applied, the application process and the time that it took to actually get selected.

Well, I was in test pilot school in ’99 and they were taking applications for the class of 2000 so I wasn’t qualified really to apply and so after graduation from test pilot school, you know, was doing F-18 test work, ah, everything from the, you know, regular F-18 to the Super Hornet and there we thought there was going to be a 2002 class just like we’ve had every couple years and they didn’t have one so, the next opportunity was 2004 after I had been an instructor at the test school and gone back to being a test pilot and so that was really the first time that actually qualified and it was just interesting thinking that astronaut was never something really realistic ‘cause you just below average guy in an average job trying to have an above average time doing it and you don’t think it’s possible but then they put out the application and you’re like, “Okay, well, I’ve been a test pilot and I’ll put my name in the hat and you see your name on the Marine Corps message that lists the people that are qualified that they’re sending the names down to NASA and you’re like, “Wow! I made that.” I’ve actually done enough stuff in my career that they go, “Hey, you can be candidate for NASA to look at” and so, you’re also humbled by that, too, because you see the other names on the list, the guys you know in your profession, going, “Wow, he’s a great guy. They’re going to take him, of course” but for some reason, that particular year NASA saw something in me that, made them want to have me on the team and I’m thankful for it.

Can you tell us the story about the moment that you got the call to come on board?

Well, it’s a good one because I’d left Pax River Test Center in 2002. I’d just met the woman who would later become my wife about six weeks prior and I was supposed to leave Pax River in December but it got moved up to October because the unit I was going to was getting ready to deploy to Iraq, well, not Iraq at the time but what was to be Operation Iraqi Freedom and they said, “You need to get out here quick because if you wait you will not be here” so they moved up my orders. I went out to California, got spooled back up in the F-18 operationally and then we deployed that December/January. We came back in May, end up getting engaged on July fourth that year and it was only at that point that I told my bride to be that I had applied to be an astronaut. I said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ll never get selected. I’m just letting you know I’ve applied”, ‘cause I felt she should know that at that point. So then I get the call to come down for the interview that fall. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll never…”, “won’t have to go to Houston” “it’ll never happen.” But I was very fortunate to get the opportunity at least come down here and it felt pretty neat to be considered to be an astronaut. So after the round of interviews and all there was a hundred and twenty of us that interviewed. I was the last pilot to interview and the second to last person to interview and so it turns out that Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was the last person to interview that year, so two out of the eleven came from the very last two interviews, kind of an interesting tidbit when you think of all the people they looked at. But anyway, typically after that they do the background checks. Well, there hadn’t been any background checks so it was come Easter the following year where [you] say, hey it was really neat that they wanted to interview with me and I felt privileged to be able to do that by my wife and I were driving back from visiting some family and said, “You know, it’s over, then not going to happen” and, ‘cause other people had been getting all their security background checks and you knew that you kind of had to have that to be still in the running. So, it was about a week later that I got a call from the Chief of the Office at work saying, “Hey, you interested in coming down to Houston to be an astronaut?” So out of everybody in my class, I was the guy that was most surprised because the things that you had to have to still be in the running were not happening and so it was essentially, you know, what I thought to be over and so that same day within, I think it was two hours, I get a call from the investigator saying, “Hey, I’m running a few weeks behind here on the security background check so could we set something up?” So information would have been good to know a few weeks prior to go, “Hey, I’m still in the running, this is great.”

So what was your reaction when you got that call?

I was, “Yes, sir, absolutely”, and like I said very, very surprised. And so that was pretty neat. So long story to a short question.

Sure. Okay, you were selected in 2004, went through a couple of years of training as an astronaut candidate. Tell us about what you have done since being assigned to the Astronaut Office up until the point of being assigned to your first flight.

I was assigned to the Station Branch for the Hardware Integration Lead and that included all the pieces of hardware that were sitting there at KSC, the node, the JEM, the MPLMs, all that as well as the visiting vehicles that would be coming up to ISS like the HTV and the ATV.

And take us back to probably another moment that you’ll never forget, being assigned to fly in space. What was it like getting that call saying, “Hey, you want to go to space?”

Well, it was the e-mail from the Front Office saying, “Hey, Steve needs to, to see you.” You know, coming from the Marine Corps I, of course, thought, “Oh, shoot, what did I do now?” So I head down to the Front Office and Steve called me in and said, “Hey, I’ve got a space flight for you.” So, of course, there’s the instantaneous relief that, “okay, I’m not in trouble for something” and then you get to enjoy the elation of, well, the fact that, all this hard work that you’ve been doing all this time in supporting all the other missions and the whole program that now you get a chance to do a little bit different and a little bit special part of the whole space program.

What’s it been like training for an actual mission as opposed to the training you went through as an ASCAN, some differences, I guess?

The differences are that they do such a good job generically training you, even when you’re not assigned. You’re doing a variety of simulations and training to keep your skills up that when you come into mission, especially with the amount of time we have to prepare as an ASCAN and in subsequent, you come in with a pretty good skill set generically. The neat part about getting assigned is now you’re, going, “Okay, on this day I’m doing this task,” and, it’s not, you know, different tasks every day and every SIM like we’d do before. It’s, “I’m practicing this flight day, this SIM.” You do it several times so when you get up there you know what you’re doing. You’ve done it several times and it’s more like muscle memory and so you can go up there and hopefully execute the task as flawlessly as possible and do that one specific part that everybody else is doing their parts that gets the mission done.

Tell us about what it’s been like training with this crew what observations you’ve made about the crew as a whole and even individually.

I’d say in a word: it’s been fun. We’ve got six guys of which I’m the smallest, which at over six feet is kind of saying something. We’ve got guys [who] just bring such a diverse skill set but such consummate professionals that the job gets done, we get it done well and with everybody having a really good sense of humor and a sense of self awareness you can’t help but have a good time, you know. The job gets done. It gets done well and you can just enjoy the situation, the training, and each other. You’ve got my classmate, Bobby Satcher, the brains of the outfit. The guy’s got a PhD from MIT, an MD from Harvard, so I figure they probably put me, the Marine, on the crew to kind of average out the IQ. We’ve got Butch Wilmore, experienced test pilot whose attention to detail is phenomenal. He gets everything done. Leland Melvin and Mike Foreman [are] our robotics and EVA leads. Those guys are phenomenal mentors to Bobby and Butch and I with the things that they’ve already done in space. They’re able to maximize the training. They’re able to tell us what’s important, what’s not. They’re able to share the tidbits of what worked for them on orbit so that we feel we’re getting to the point where we feel very well prepared that we’ll be able to execute to this and there’s no questions about how it’s going to work. We have to go up there and just perform the tasks and then, obviously there’s our boss, Scorch. Here’s a guy with his two space flights and huge amount of experience as a Capcom that he probably knows more about the orbiter than the guys who built it. Just really a good guy to be in charge and it’s been fun, very, very enjoyable.

JSC2009-E-118570 -- Randolph Bresnik

Astronauts Charlie Hobaugh (standing), STS-129 commander; and Randy Bresnik, mission specialist, use the virtual reality lab in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center to train for some of their duties aboard the space shuttle and space station. This type of computer interface, paired with virtual reality training hardware and software, helps to prepare the entire team for dealing with space station elements. Photo Credit: NASA

Tell us what it’s been like traveling around to the different centers during training and meeting all of the thousands of people, or some of the thousands of people, who are responsible for the mission, for your success and for the safety of the crew and the orbiter. What’s it been like to meet those people?

The neat part about meeting all the people that are on the team of our space, the nation’s space program is the fact that all of us on the mission have been in the role either in our time at NASA or our time prior to coming to NASA where we’ve been that person, where we’ve been supporting someone else or doing our little part to make the the mission a success, so when we go out to these other sites and meet all the people that are part of it, we know exactly how they feel and we know how much we appreciated it when people came out and spoke to us or thanked us or talked about what part they were doing in the mission so it’s really easy and enjoyable just to go out there and thank them ‘cause it’s a really enjoyable part of the job because you see how proud they are of the work they do. It’s neat to be able to put a face and maybe a handshake with something that only they’re doing their specific part for the mission, they don’t necessarily get to see the bigger picture or meet the people [who] are the ones executing their experiment or their particular operation. So it’s really one of the things we enjoy the most is being able to go out there and just tell ‘em thanks and encourage them to keep doing what they do because without them, their attention to detail and professionalism, we don’t get to have the safe missions that we do and so for the people who’s sitting up there on the pointy end of the spear or the end of the rocket, we appreciate it very much.

Give us a brief synopsis if you would of the key objectives of STS-129.

We’re going up there as only the sixth mission before the end of the program and we’re taking up a couple of ExPRESS Logistics Carriers in our payload bay that have several pieces of equipment and go up there be essentially the cupboard for the International Space Station so that in the future when we don’t have the capability to bring up these large pieces of equipment ‘cause we don’t have a shuttle any more, they’re already existing on the shelf up there. If something breaks, you can pull them off the ELC and put them on the station and keep the station operational for as long as it needs to be.

Can you tell us about what some of the spare parts are not to be, it doesn’t have to be all of them, just kind of give us an idea of what some of them might be?

We’ve got the High Pressure, Oxygen High Pressure Gas Tank that we’re going to install on EVA 3. We’ve got a couple nitrogen tanks, an ammonia tank, a control moment gyro which will help control the attitude, one of the four that will control the attitude of the station, got a battery discharge unit. We’ve got the pallet that the MISSE 7 experiment will go on, so it’s quite a few pieces of equipment. It’s basically got two ExPRESS Logistics Carriers, kind of waffle-looking pieces of structure that have the ORUs, the Orbital Replacement Units, that’ll get these things attached on both sides and so we just attach them into an attachment system on the top of the space station truss and it’s just two-sided shelf to be able to take these things off the robotic arm via EVA later on.

As a Mission Specialist on the flight, can you give us an idea of what activities you will primarily be involved with for the flight?

On ascent I’ll be the Flight Engineer and so I’ll be sitting between the Commander and the pilot, monitoring the systems of the shuttle and making sure that we’re staying on track for our ascent. Once we’re up on orbit, I’ll be doing some robotic operations in regards to the Flight Day 2 inspections of the orbital tile system. Then I’ll be doing the HHL operation during rendezvous, getting the handheld laser out as part of our backup to the range rate while we’re doing our rendezvous operations. Then once docked, get to do more robotics operations with the shuttle robotic arm and do two EVAs.

After launching and making it to orbit, you and the crew will transform Atlantis into an orbiter and configure its systems. Then you will on Flight Day 2 go ahead and do an inspection of the shuttle’s exterior. Tell us about that process and kind of tell us what you’ll be doing for that.

We’ll Butch Wilmore, Leland Melvin and I will be primarily robotics operators during that day. We’ll be grappling the OBSS with its inspection systems and cameras and with the shuttle arm we’ll then be looking at the right wing, the nose cap area and then off to the left wing, a series of different types of scans with cameras, with laser sensors and all to see if there’s any damage that we incurred during launch. Hopefully we’ll have a clean launch like STS-128 just did and we won’t find anything on Flight Day 2. We’ll then ship all that data down to Mission Control. They’ll take a look at it and then, hopefully, by Flight Day 3 or 4 they’ll have a chance to take a look at it and clear us for entry which means we won’t have to be doing a focused inspection.

Tell us about the point, when do you actually grapple the ELC 1 with the arm prior to docking. When does that happen?

We’ll be doing that at the end of Flight Day 2, once we’re we done with the OBSS, we’ll go ahead and grapple ELC 1 so that on Rendezvous Day we’re ready to go into docking. Save us some time after docking with having to take the arm from the pre-cradle position to grapple the ELC. We’ll already be there and we can go pull it out and get to work.

Okay. And on rendezvous and docking day, Flight Day 3, talk to us about what you’re scheduled to do for those phases of the flight, for the rendezvous up to docking.

The early part of the rendezvous, I’ll be actually helping Bobby and Mike do some of the EMU check out for getting ready for the next day’s EVAs. But then, as we get closer into the final phases of the docking, I’ll be going upstairs and operating the handheld laser that gives us range and range rate data to back up the TCS system and be helping out the rendezvous team that’s been up there throughout the whole thing. I’ll be working the laser for the final rendezvous and then also the docking system, Leland and I’ll be working that so that once we actually make contact with the space station, we’ll actually be working the docking system and driving the hooks and getting the hard mate that allows us to become one spaceship.

After docking to the station, the Atlantis crew will eventually board station, and get acclimated but then it’s time to actually get to work. Walk us through how you’ll get the ELC 1 out of the payload bay and attached to the station and kind of give us an idea of exactly where that’s supposed to be attached.

Okay. Once we’re done with the safety briefs and all that, Leland and I’ll head to the shuttle payload bay while Butch will head up to the space station arm in the lab. Leland and I will pull out the ELC 1, unberth it from the payload bay. We’ll then maneuver it up and port of the space shuttle over towards where Columbus is. Butch will then grab – we’re handing off to the space station arm. We will then ungrapple and then they’ll go ahead and maneuver it off and deploy it on, or install it upon what’s called S-3 up on the top side of that or the zenith side on one of the PAS (Payload Attachment System) platforms that’s out there for the carriers.

Three EVAs on this mission, on the first spacewalk there’s going to be Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher. Tell us about what they’re scheduled to do and tell us what your involvement will be for EVA 1.

Mike and Bobby head out the door and the first thing they’re going to do is grab the SASA antenna out of the side wall carrier of the orbiter. Then Bobby’s going to be riding the robotic arm with the antenna and they’re going to bring it around and put it on to what’s called Z1 just to the port side of the airlock. Mike will already be there waiting for them. He’ll hook up the cables. They’ll install that and then while Bobby takes off to go do a lubrication of the end effector or robotic end effector called the POA that’s on the mobile transporter, Mike’ll be doing a couple other tasks over on Node 1 with a bracket and some wiring, a slide wire. Bobby will then also be doing a lubrication on the latching end effector of the, the JEM robotic arm as well. While they’re doing that, I’m the guy that’s inside or the IV who has the procedure in front of me and I’ll be checking off and reading them what the next steps are, making sure we get everything done, everything’s accounted for, basically we call the High Speed Cheerleader for the event.

The second EVA of the mission will also be the first spacewalk of your career. What, what’s your excitement level like about that?

That’s going to be, it’s going to be really neat. You think about going into space and the things you can see and be able to experience and, for everyone that’s done EVA, this is just a whole new level because there’s your face place, it’s just between you and space and you can see more and you’re able to maneuver around in your own personal spacecraft and being a test pilot, I’ve been fortunate to fly everything from jets to helicopters to gliders to even the Goodyear blimp and to be able to go fly your own personal spacecraft is going to be something personally pretty neat but professionally, there’s several disciplines that you can be doing as an astronaut and to be able to go EVA is one of the ones that, it’s just pretty neat ‘cause it’s a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge. You get to learn all kinds of stuff about the specialized equipment, the suit itself, your own portable environmental system that keeps you alive out there in the harshness of space. Plus you’re out there just doing hard work building this amazing engineering achievement that we call a space station and so it’s just on all levels, personally and professionally, it’s just going to be a really, really neat experience.

Tell us about you and Mike Foreman are scheduled to do outside on EVA 2.

On EVA 2 we go outside and we get a couple of antennas that are going to be put on the outside of the Columbus module. One of them is an AIS antenna that will go on the front side of the Columbus. The other one’s a ham radio, essentially a ham radio antenna that’ll go on the bottom side out of the starboard end of Columbus. So we’re both going to go ahead and put the antennas in and string the cable, get it powered up. Then we head over and we’re going to go ahead and take an antenna that is up on the starboard side that has to be maneuvered over to the port side to make room for the AMS or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that’s going to come up on the final shuttle mission on STS-134. Once we’ve done with these, we’ll call the FPMU, we’re going to go ahead and take one of those pallet or attachment sites that we put the ELC on, we’re going to deploy one of those to allow other flights to come up and put their hardware on the cupboard or the shelf of the space station for later use. And then the last thing we’re going to do is we’re going to take an antenna that helps with the wireless video system when we’re doing EVAs, we’re going to take and install an antenna was inside the airlock, we’re going to take it out with us and install it back on the S3, back where we’re doing the PAS system and put that out there so we’ve got better coverage when we have our crew members going out to do an EVA.

EVA 3 will be you outside again, this time with Bobby Satcher. Talk about what, what’s on tap for that EVA. What will you do outside?

Well, the neat part about that one is Mike Foreman’s our EVA lead. He’s done three spacewalks on STS-123. He’s been a phenomenal mentor as our EVA lead and he goes in on EVA 1 with Bobby, goes on EVA 2 with me and then they take off the training wheels and Bobby and I go out together on EVA 3 and it’s just pretty amazing to be on his first spaceflight and you got two guys who are flying for the first time and they’re going out there on the spacewalk together. I mean it speaks volumes for the amount of training that we’ll receive, the people that have trained us plus the trust that they put in us to be able to do that on our first spaceflight. So that’s just an amazing opportunity that we’re very fortunate to have but we go out there and we take the oxygen high pressure gas tank that’s been on ELC 1, so we’ll go up to that and we’ll take it off the ELC. We’ll spin it ninety degrees. We’ll hand it off to Leland and Butch on the robotic arm and then I will have gotten the two MISSE experiments from the shuttle payload bay, I install those out on ELC 1, open them up and they’ll have the opportunity to get solar radiation and heat temperatures and everything else about the harshness of space, expose those experiments to space while Bobby’s heading back and getting ready to get us ready to install the gas tank on the airlock. So while the arm is flying the tank back, we then scurry back to the airlock on the aft side or the zenith side. We remove a couple of MMOD shields which will expose the attachment spots for the gas tank. Then we get in position, the arm flies it in. We take a hold of it, attach it to structure and then connect it to the space station and then we’ve got another oxygen tank that’ll be there for the rest of the space station’s life so kind of doing something that’s going to be kind of permanent. Bobby’s going to go ahead and go over to the portside of Node 1 and reroute some heater cables so that it’s ready for Node 3 when that comes up on STS-130. Then we’re going to go ahead together and go out and deploy one of those PAS pallets like Mike and I did on ELC 2 to prepare for our future flight. Then from there whatever other get-aheads we can get at from our list with any time that we have, we’ll get done so hopefully less stuff for the next guys to do.

JSC2009-E-155216 -- Randolph Bresnik

Astronaut Randy Bresnik, STS-129 mission specialist, dons a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit in preparation for an EMU fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) in the Crew Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Astronaut Robert Satcher, mission specialist, assisted Bresnik. Photo Credit: NASA

Late in the mission you’ll start packing for your trip back home. You’ll say farewell to the station crew, close the hatches between the two spacecraft and actually spend the night in the shuttle and then the next day you’ll go ahead and undock. One key thing you have to do though is that you’ll have an extra crew member to, to make sure you bring aboard. Tell us about, about that and what you’re scheduled to do for undocking.

Yeah, the head count will be kind of important, make sure we have seven instead of six so, but for the undocking again I’ll be working with Leland and we’ll be doing the attachment system and we’ll be go ahead making sure that we undo the hooks that cause the hard mate. We’ll then be retracting out the system and then actually allow the two space ships to become separate entities again. Then once we’re detached from the space station while Butch Wilmore ends up expertly flying us around, taking a look at the space station. Leland will go back to his duties as the Rendezvous MS and I’ll be back on the handheld laser taking range rate data with that and hopefully helping out with the photography and most of all just enjoying the amazing view of the station from 360 degrees around.

And the extra crew member that you’re going to bring back?

Nicole, that will have been her home for all these months as STS-128 launched. I think it’s going to be a little melancholy for her but also pretty neat to be able to get that kind of view ‘cause when she came up to space station they did the rendezvous up from the bottom and went ninety degrees and so she’s getting to another whole 270 degrees of her home for all those months that she hasn’t gotten to see before.

And speaking of seeing the space station, what are you most looking forward to with that trip? It’s going to be an amazing sight coming and going.

Doing the EVA stuff, we’re doing a lot of putting stuff together and fitting things together, connecting things, making, building the space station and making the space station complete and in some of your realization when you look back at the big picture that is, this stuff was designed a couple decades ago, things were built some of it over a decade ago, all these things that sat at Kennedy after the Columbia accident, we weren’t flying these things up to the space station and you marvel at the huge engineering, manufacturing, safety, quality assurance task that we have with the space station so I think it’s just going to be amazing to see this flying craft up there, all these parts fitting together so amazingly well and then you think about on the scale that it’s not just not one company that built these, who made sure this guy with this office matched with this guy. These are companies all over the country. Well, and then you also have – this is the ‘International Space Station’ – so it’s countries from all over the globe, and the precision of the work, the quality of the work and it speaks volumes for the people that are part of this amazing space team, that support the space station.

How do you think, how do you imagine space station will be characterized in history, humankind’s history, years from now when we’re able to, you know, whoever’s alive at that point, not us, people are able to travel back and forth between worlds based maybe in part on work that’s being done on space station? How will history portray space station?

I would think that it would be looked at as the greatest engineering marvel of its time. You don’t look back at the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, nobody talks about their cost. That’s certainly a factor that’s important but when you look back it’s the audacity of the challenge that you accept to take on and we have done with this international space station and the scope of the engineering and the manufacturing that it’s taken to do this, collectively from, that humans have gotten together around the globe to make this thing, it’ll be that initial stepping stone that allows us to go out far beyond low earth orbit but we had to make that initial step to get there. And so I think history will look very fondly upon the International Space Station and what it took for us to make that initial step.