Feature

Preflight Interview: Michael J. Foreman, Mission Specialist
10.15.09
JSC2009-E-153897 -- Michael Foreman

Astronaut Mike Foreman, STS-129 mission specialist, participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) in the Crew Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-129 interview with Mission Specialist Mike Foreman. Mike, tell me about the place that you consider your hometown and what it was like growing up there.

Well, I grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, a small town in northeastern Ohio close to Cleveland, and it was a great place to grow up. A lot of people knew each other and you were held accountable because people did know who you were. You couldn’t get away with a whole lot without someone reporting back to your parents so it was a great place to grow up. My brothers and sister and I really enjoyed that town and all the people in it.

How would you say that place influenced who you’ve become?

Well, because it was such a small town, my family was in politics, county politics, so we were people knew who our parents were and how they had succeeded in life and the feeling was that you were kind of expected to perform well in school and go on to lead a successful life, so I think that was the influence that I felt and I was the oldest son so I especially felt the push to go on and do good things, so...

Certain bit of pressure there, huh?

A little bit of pressure.

You’ve flown on STS-123. Did you get a chance to see your hometown from space during that spaceflight?

Well, STS-123 was a great mission. Interesting thing about STS-123 is we launched at night and we landed back in Florida at night and every time we flew over the United States it was nighttime so numerous times though flying over Canada north of, Cleveland I could look south and I could make out the lights of Cleveland and the lights of Akron and knowing my geography where my hometown is in relation to those two cities I could see the lights of my hometown so I did see the lights of my hometown but I’m looking forward to STS-129, maybe getting a day pass over Ohio and getting to see some of our country from space in the daytime so…

What was it like, actually just seeing the lights and know that you were in space, you at this moment, did your thoughts go back to your family, your friends down there at that moment? What was that like?

Oh, certainly. That’s one of the big things about flying in space for me anyway is that you look back at the Earth as you circle the globe and it’s just awesome that everything that every person that you’ve ever met is down there on that planet and it looks very fragile from space and so, yes, definitely when you see places like your hometown, you’re definitely drawn back to your memories and the people that you know down there.

Tell me about some of your other interests and hobbies and things that you did to keep yourself occupied growing up.

I think I was a typical kid. I liked playing baseball. At one point I thought, “Well, I’d like to be a professional baseball player” and my desires far exceeded my talents and I knew early on that was probably not going to be the case but I think I was a typical kid. We rode bikes all around town and it was the type town where you could pick up a bat and ball just about any time or in the wintertime maybe put on your skates and go play hockey, so a lot of sports in my youth.

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

Well, education for me has been kind of an on-going thing throughout my life. I grew up. I went to college and studied hard to get good grades and went into the Navy from the Naval Academy. I went to flight training, studied hard to get good grades in flight training. Got my wings. Went on to a squadron in the Navy where you’re constantly learning a new airplane and new tactics to employ with that airplane and then I went to graduate school, continued to learn, and even throughout my career and then here at NASA it’s been a constant learning experience here, learning the shuttle systems, learning space station systems, learning about different missions and what we’ll do on those missions. So education in my life has just been a continual thing that I relish and enjoy the constant learning.

Walk us through the educational steps that you took after high school, the specific places you went, the fields of study that you chose and why you chose those and just kind of walk us through from after high school.

Well, I was very fortunate when I graduated from high school to be appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy and get the opportunity to attend that school. I went to the Naval Academy with the thought of being a Navy pilot, hopefully an astronaut some day so I thought, “Well, I like math and science. I’ll study aerospace engineering” and, so that’s the field of study I chose there and enjoyed aerospace engineering, went on into the Navy. About five years down the road I went to graduate school in Monterey, California. I went to the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School and there I got a Master’s Degree in aeronautical engineering and then, a few years later I was selected for Test Pilot School so another year of learning about airplanes and flying and that sort of thing at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, so…

Tell me about your interest in flying. What precipitated that?

Well, I think, as a young kid my father had an airplane and he would take us flying in this airplane and I thought, “Wow, this is just really cool, you know.” I was fairly young at the time, five, six years old probably but I still remember those times, getting into the airplane with him and going flying and I think that really sparked an interest early on in aviation and flying.

And at what point do you recall first really getting the solid notion that you wanted to become an astronaut?

Well, I was probably eight or nine years old actually when I first thought this astronaut job looked pretty cool, you know and in those days, when I was eight or nine it was probably the middle of the Gemini space program and that was big news in Ohio. We had a few people, like John Glenn and then later on Neil Armstrong. They were from Ohio and they were in the news all the time and so reading about them in the newspapers and finding out what they were doing, it looked pretty neat and then I thought, “Yeah, that looks like a great job. I think I’d like to do that some day” so…

Take us from the point in your Navy and test pilot career through getting here to NASA, through that process. What was that application process like? What was the time duration and just walk us through that.

Okay, well, I said I was lucky out of high school to be selected for the Naval Academy first time I applied and I got in and that was great but that’s never happened to me again. Throughout my career I went to Monterey to post-graduate school and started in about 1984 applying to be an astronaut because I knew then that they would not come knocking on my door. I needed to apply if I wanted to be an astronaut and I started to apply and at that time the cycle was about every two years so I started to apply and at the same time I was finishing a Master’s Degree and going on with my Navy career and going to Test Pilot School and it took about eight applications for me with the Naval Test Pilot School to get accepted there and a funny thing, it took about eight times applying to NASA before I was selected here. After my seventh application to NASA in 1995 they called me down and I interviewed and in my interview group was Charlie Hobaugh, Scorch, commander of my current mission, and we had known each other from Test Pilot School days prior to that, but it was funny that now we’re assigned together and I didn’t get selected that time but the following cycle in 1998 I was finally selected after about eight applications to the astronaut program so…

And from the time you got to NASA up until right before you were selected for a flight what kinds of things did you do, once you were assigned to the Astronaut Office?

Well, my first job, technical assignment after ASCAN training was as the space station training facilities guy so I would go around and learn about the different training facilities around the world, the different partner countries and here and got to do JEM training early on, be kind of a guinea pig for that and so that was an interesting job, getting to learn more about the space station at the time and after that I became a Caped Crusader so I was a liaison between JSC and KSC on the orbiters and worked with a lot of crews helping them get strapped in for missions and…

Take us back to the moment, if you can remember, after eight applications, after getting so close, I guess progressively closer each time, what was it like, where were you and what was your reaction when you finally got that call saying “Hey, you want to come on down and be an astronaut?”

Well, I was working here. I had not been selected in 1996 for that class but the Navy and NASA were kind of partnering on the glass cockpit for the shuttle upgrade and so I got to come down and be a part of that team that was working on that. I had some experience in the Navy with the glass cockpit so I got to come down here. So I was actually working at Johnson Space Center and had interviewed for this 1998 class and went back to my office one afternoon and the message light was flashing on my phone and I called and it was Dave Leestma leaving me a message and asking me to call him back and I called him back and he asked me if I was still interested in doing this astronaut thing and I just about jumped out of my seat I was so excited. I said, “Oh, yeah definitely.” So it was exciting.

Okay. What are your most lasting moments or memories of STS-123? That was your first spaceflight. Tell us about what things stick out in your mind about that spaceflight.

Well, the launch, definitely. We had an exciting launch, some overhead clouds that we weren’t sure we were going to even launch into. It was night and there was an overcast there in Florida, just under the limits I think, so we actually launched and I had a good seat, from my Flight Engineer position, and I could see those clouds as we got closer because our fireball was just reflecting off that overcast layer back into the flight deck of Endeavour and everything was just bright orange from that and the closer we got to the cloud layer, the brighter that orange sky got and then we popped through it and it turned into blackness again and it was very, very exciting. And then I remember the spacewalks very well, too. They were thrilling, to go outside and it’s a great view from inside the shuttle but outside with just your helmet and that visor in front of you and panoramic view of the Earth and the heavens, it’s just amazing. So I remember those very well.

What was it like, what’s it been like training with this crew? I mean, what observations have you made about the crew as a whole and maybe even some individual observations?

JSC2009-E-082993 -- Michael Foreman

Astronaut Mike Foreman, STS-129 mission specialist, attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, is about to be submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Divers (out of frame) are in the water to assist Foreman in his rehearsal, which is intended to help prepare him for work on the exterior of the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

Well, this is a great crew. We’re really enjoying each other I think during our training flow, very light hearted, joking all the time and not giving anybody any slack. It’s like we kid each other about things all the time so it’s been a great time. And I had a great experience with STS-123 and that crew and I thought, “Oh, you can never put together such a great crew” but they definitely did and in my mind this is just as good or better, better crew as well as we get along so it’s been a fantastic experience.

What’s it going to be like on this mission? You’re the lead EVA on just your second mission. That’s a big role in itself but that also carries with it the responsibility of conveying advice to the other guys who have never been out on a spacewalk. What’s that going to be like, you think? What’s it been like?

Well, we talk about the differences between training here and in the NBL and what it’ll be like in weightlessness and in space and there are a lot of differences in how things react. In the pool, obviously, we’re neutrally buoyant but there’s still gravity and things tend to get pulled towards the bottom of the pool and I remind the guys, that if they’re having a problem with something because it’s gravity related, they won’t see that problem in space and I tell ‘em “Some things will be better. Some things will be worse.” We have certain tools that work very well in space, don’t work as well in the pool and I point out those things and then I’ll occasionally offer the fatherly advice like “Hey, we’ll all make mistakes and we just got to be able to push past the mistakes put those behind us and move on with the next task.” And so it’s been a lot of fun training with these guys ‘cause they’re really good in the pool and I know they’ll do well on orbit.

Tell me about what it’s like when you get a chance to travel around the centers during training and meet some of the thousands of people who are responsible for the success and safety of this crew and this mission. What’s it like when you get a chance to interact with those people?

Well, of course, it’s very humbling because we do stand on the shoulders of thousands of people that make this program happen and it wouldn’t happen without ‘em and to get to go back and share what we’ve done and what we are doing with those people and just see their eyes light up, it’s just a great feeling and it’s one of the few places I think where everybody in the field really wants to be there. In the space program, space business, everybody wants to be here and it wasn’t always like that every place I worked before here, you know. Not everybody wanted to be there and so it’s really a good time and it’s good to see how the people, how their eyes light up when we talk about our business and what we’re doing.

Tell us about the key objectives for STS-129 in a nutshell if you would.

Well, we’re taking a lot of spare parts up for the space station so that when something breaks hopefully they’ll have the right spare part there to fix it. We’re bringing back Nicole Stott and in a nutshell we’re transferring a lot of other internal things. I’ve kind of alluded to external spare parts that we’re taking up but we’re taking up a lot of transfer items that we’ll leave up there as well and…

Can you give us some idea of, just maybe a couple of some of the key items that will be on these pallets, the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier pallets that are essential for space station sustainability?

Well, we have one item, a high pressure gas tank which is full of oxygen that we’re actually going to take off the pallet on EVA 3 and install on the airlock so that is one piece that gets put into play right away. There are some other items like Control Moment Gyro spare and other spares that eventually will probably be needed on the space station, hopefully not as soon as we get there but in the future when things start to wear out.

After the shuttle launches on Flight Day 1 and you get to space, then on Flight Day 2 the crew will do a checkout of the shuttle’s exterior tiles. On Flight Day 3 you’ll start closing the gap between shuttle and station during the rendezvous and docking phases. Tell us about what’s going to happen for those phases of the flight and what you’ll be doing for that period.

During the rendezvous and docking on our timeline, I’m the photo/TV guy for that evolution so primarily I’ll be setting up our still cameras for both inside cabin shots and exterior shots of space station. We’ll also probably set up some video cameras to take some high-def video of space station as we close and rendezvous and then also I’ll jump into the pilot’s seat during the final stages and help Butch Wilmore with the last several burns prior to our Commander, Scorch Hobaugh, taking over manually flying for the last phase. So I’ll be doing a bunch of different tasks to help with the rendezvous and docking.

There are three EVAs scheduled for this mission. On the first EVA you and Bobby Satcher will go out and do some work outside. Tell us about what you’re scheduled to do on EVA 1.

On the first spacewalk, EVA 1, Bobby and I go out. Our first task is to take another spare part out of the space shuttle’s payload bay, the SASA payload, which is S-band Antenna Support Assembly, which is basically a spare S-band antenna for the space station. It’s an antenna that failed on orbit. They brought it back, refurbished it, now it’s ready to go and we’ll put it back into the spare location. So I will go out of the airlock, go over to the payload bay and start getting that thing ready to hand off to Bobby. Bobby’s going to go out, get into the robotic arm and they’ll maneuver him over into the payload bay on the end of the arm. He’ll grab that thing after I unbolt it and he’ll ride the arm back to Z-1 where it gets installed in the spare location and I’ll translate back over there and help him install it. After we get that thing installed, I will also pick up a set of cables from our tool box in the back of the payload bay, take those over to the Z-1 location also and start stringing those things up for a future mission to use while Bobby continues to ride the arm and he goes into his lube-job-man role as the lubricator of a couple of the latching end effectors, the POA latching end effector and the JEM RMS latching end effector. He’ll go and apply some grease to the snares inside those latching end effectors to make sure that they don’t have a problem later in life. So he’s doing some preventive maintenance basically on those while I do that spare cable task and then I go over to Node 1 and there’s a slide wire over there, safety slide wire, that is no longer usable, so I’m going to take that off, bring that back in and we’ll also have a handrail to swap out over there. I take one handrail off, install a different handrail that actually has some ammonia line cable connectors on it that will be used on a future mission.

Then for the second EVA, you’re back out again, this time with Randy Bresnik. You’ll be doing some work with some equipment attached at several locations on station. Tell us about what the plan is for EVA 2.

On EVA 2 Randy and I go out and we both head to the payload bay initially and Randy picks up a cable and antenna assembly out of one of the tool boxes there and takes that back to Columbus module and I go with him over to Columbus module to help him string out this cable. It’s a set of antennas, and plug those antennas in and connect the cabling to some handrails to keep it from flopping around. After that I go over to Node 2 and close a window flap on one of the windows on Node 2 and then we both head up to the truss and we move this floating potential measurement unit from S1 over to P1 and this is a big tall mast thing on top of the truss that we’ll fold down some antennas that it has and then we’ll basically carry this thing over to P1 and install it over there, get it out of the way of, of future missions so that it doesn’t interfere with a future mission, spot that they need for their item that they install over there where this thing is now. Then we go to deploy one of the payload attach systems PAS sites for a future payload to be attached.

EVA 3, the lineup there is Bobby Satcher and Randy Bresnik outside. You’re inside. You’ll be walking them through the EVA. Tell us about what you’ll be doing for that EVA and then tell us about what their tasks are going to be out there for EVA 3.

Okay, well, between the three of us, myself, Bobby and Randy, during these EVAs, two of us are outside as EV guys and one of us is inside as the IV guy so for me on EVA 3, I’m inside as the IV guy and the intravehicular officer is the guy that reads the checklist and choreographs the steps along the way during the spacewalk. So I’ll be inside kind of shepherding them through the steps that they’re supposed to be taking and reminding them where they go next and that sort of thing and they’ll be outside initially heading off to the ELC 2 which is out on the starboard side of the truss by now and they’re going to release this high pressure gas tank, this large oxygen tank that is going to be installed on the airlock. They’ll release it and hand it off to this robotic arm that will be operated by a couple of the other guys, Leland and Butch, and it’s kind of a big task because this tank weighs a lot and these guys are taking it off and maneuvering it so that the arm can grapple it and then they’re holding it steady while the arm does grapple it and then after the arm has it and takes it, starts taking it to the airlock; Bobby and Randy will translate over there to be sort of in the receiver mode and as the arm gets it close, they’ll take it from the arm and attach it to the airlock and then connect the hoses that get the oxygen out of the tank into the space station and then they go off and they do another payload attach system deploy and so I’ll just be walking them through the task of that spacewalk. There’s also some MMOD shields that they have to remove before they install that tank so they’ll be removing those and I’ll be the guy inside reminding them, “Okay this is you, PGT setting or Pistol Grip Tool”, the different settings on that thing when they need to tighten a bolt and that sort of thing.

Is there also some experiment…

MISSE. Randy will go to the payload bay and pick up our final two packages that we’re taking up, the MISSE experiment, Material lnternational Space Station Experiment 7, the seventh time that this experiment’s flown and he’ll translate with those up to the ELC 2 and install those and deploy those open the suitcase-like experiments, expose the stuff inside to space and that’s what he’ll be doing as part of that.

JSC2009-E-118576 -- Michael Foreman

Astronaut Mike Foreman, STS-129 mission specialist, uses virtual reality hardware in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center to rehearse some of his duties on the upcoming mission to the International Space Station. This type of virtual reality training allows the astronauts to wear a helmet and special gloves while looking at computer displays simulating actual movements around the various locations on the station hardware with which they will be working. Photo Credit: NASA

Let’s go back and I’d like to get you to introduce us to these ExPRESS Logistics Carriers, kind of describe in dimension maybe and how they look and where they are in the payload bay coming up and give us an idea of where they’ll live on space station once they’re attached.

Well, the ELC’s or ExPRESS Logistics Carriers are these big roof rack-like things that you might see on the top of a station wagon except these things are huge. They’re about twenty feet by twenty feet. They weigh, the rack itself weighs about four thousand pounds so it’s a real beefy piece of equipment that all these spare parts can be attached to. So we have two of these in the payload bay, two big roof racks with huge new components on either side, the top and bottom sides and they ride up there in the payload bay and then they get lifted out with the robotic arm and attached. The whole roof rack gets attached to space station so the parts just stay on the roof rack until they’re needed out there on space station.

Late in the mission you’ll start packing for your trip home. You’ll say farewell to the station crew, close the hatches between the two craft and then you’ll spend the night in the shuttle before undocking the following day. You’ll have one more crew member than you came up with. Tell me about that and tell me about what you’ll be doing for the undocking phase of the mission.

Well, that’s right. One of our primary goals is bring Nicole Stott back so we will not close the hatches if at all possible without her on the shuttle side and we’ll bring her home. And during the undocking, I will be again in the photo/TV role and be responsible for shooting a lot of pictures as we leave the space station, taking a lot of exterior shots of the space station so that engineers on the ground can look at our photos and make sure that we left everything in order and make sure that there’s no damage that they hadn’t seen before, and they’ll document all those shots and really analyze that photography, I guess. So we’ll bring that back for them and that’s primarily what I’m doing during the undocking and fly around phase.

How do you imagine space station will be portrayed in humankind’s history some years from now when people are able to travel back and forth between worlds based maybe in part on some of the things that are being learned on space station right now? How will history portray space station, do you think?

Well, I think we’ll look back in a century or so and say, “ space station was the stepping stone to the great endeavors that we’ll take in the future and this is where we learned to live and work in space as not just U.S. astronauts but as astronauts from the world living and working together in space and learning how to cooperate and make things happen” and that’s going to be looked upon, I think, as a major stepping stone.