Feature

Preflight Interview: Barry E. "Butch" Wilmore, Pilot
10.15.09
JSC2009-E-124981 -- Barry Wilmore

Astronauts Robert Satcher (left), STS-129 mission specialist; Barry Wilmore, pilot; and Leland Melvin, mission specialist, attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suits, await the start of a Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) mock-up 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 Pilot Barry Wilmore, more commonly known to friends, family and cohorts as Butch. Tell me about the place that you consider your hometown and what it was like growing up there.

Hometown…I grew up in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, which is just outside of Nashville, just east of Nashville and we moved there when I was eight and it was like most places in America, it was a great place to grow up. We lived near a lake, about a half mile from a lake so I was able to walk down when I was a small kid and I think my best, my biggest pastime then was looking for lures on the bank of the lake and had some friends that we hung out with, of course, and played with growing up, back in the day when you could play and go out and run around and do those type of things without some of the issues that we have to deal with today, if you will. So it was a great place to grow up. Thinking back to those years I think the thing that I think of most, that I was most, I guess involved with was my local church. My parents had us in church from the very beginning when I was a small child and sports. I played baseball. Eventually when I got into junior high and high school played football and one year I wrestled, so a lot of sports and I think that was a driving force, if you will, when I was growing up in those years.

Who were some of your sports heroes back then?

I don’t know that I ever looked at sports heroes. I think some of my coaches I looked at as heroes. There was Mr. Ed Rice who was one of my early baseball coaches that I looked up to. He rode me hard but looking back now, I mean, that’s a good thing. He wanted me to, or actually pulled the best out of me and by doing that, if you messed up, you ran some laps and looking back that was a good thing. Other coaches in junior high, football coaches, actually several, all of these coaches I’ll name right here or I’ve actually invited to the launch and that’s Coach Gwaltney, Coach Martin, Coach Hemontolor, or Coach Simms, Coach Kirby. Those are guys that, they didn’t realize it I thought they were old guys but I think when I was in junior high I think the Head Coach Gwaltney, my eighth grade team, I think he was like twenty-six or twenty-five at the time. But those were guys that I respected and appreciate now. I don’t know that I so much appreciated it then. “Ivy time,” we’d have to run all the way across the field and grab ivy from the far fence and bring it back. I didn’t appreciate it then but I do now. I certainly do now because they instilled a work ethic I think in those early years in you. You have to work for what’s worth having, work hard for and I appreciate those guys, those gentlemen now for what they did then.

How would you say, it sounds like sports was a big influence…

It was.

…in making you what you are. Would you say that was a microcosm of what your hometown was like and how it influenced you to become what you’ve become?

Well, I think when you play sports, you wind up hanging out with those young men, those kids that are doing the same thing and you have like interests if you will. If you’re playing baseball, it’s all about baseball. If you’re playing football, it’s all about football. And that’s what you talk about, that’s what you think about and that’s what eat and sleep during that time frame, so it’s like-thought, it’s like-mindedness. I felt like at the time that the whole town, the entire town, was one of those towns that would come to the games and back us. We actually when I got to high school had some pretty decent teams and it seemed like the whole town was there and it was great to run out on the field and have those thousands of fans cheering. It was fascinating. It was great.

Talk about the value of education in your life. How would you characterize that?

When you mention that I think of my parents first. When we were growing up, my brother and I, my brother, Jack, there was just the two of us, there was never a question of what we would do after high school. It wasn’t would we go into the work force or go to college or something. We were going to college. It was never a question. It was never a thought and, to be honest with you, I don’t think I considered not going to college because from day one as a small child we were pointing towards going to college and my parents instilled that in us. They were both college graduates and they saw the importance, what they wanted for us that a college degree could bring and so, first and foremost, my parents from a very young age. Certainly there were some teachers as I grew up that were motivational. I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Poole, who I liked a lot and she was, I think most people would agree that there are some teachers that are teachers, and there are some teachers that are just there and they present their material and they get paid and they go on and the teachers that are teachers, that are passionate about what they do, are the ones I think you look back on and you appreciate the most. And as I look back you can sort of separate those that, the teachers that were there to teach the students to try to make the best out of those kids and those that were there just that was their job and they did that and not being passionate about your job, being passionate about your job is definitely, I don’t think a requirement in anything but it certainly can impact others the more passionate you are about what you do, and certainly if you’re a teacher. And I can remember certain teachers thinking back that I now, again at the time they were the ones that gave you a lot of homework and they tried to teach you and they made it hard on you. But now, looking back, those are the ones that really cared about me and cared about the processes that I was instilling then, study habits that would benefit me later on and I appreciate them now looking back, like I said, a lot more than I did then.

Walk us through, if you would, the educational steps that you took after high school.

I went to Tennessee Tech, Tennessee Technological University; it’s about midway between Nashville and Knoxville, in Cookeville, Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau there and I went there for two reasons. First and foremost, I was considering getting an engineering degree. At the time I didn’t know what type of engineering. But secondly, I wanted to play football and I was not blessed with size or speed or strength. Matter of fact, I was small and slow and weak (laugh) but I had a desire and I wanted to play football and so I wanted to go to engineering school and I wanted to play football so I went to Tech. I walked onto the football team and it was a great decision. I thoroughly enjoyed being a TTU student and I loved playing football and I loved playing football at Tennessee Tech. I really did. Looking back, those were the hardest years of my life because the good Lord didn’t give me a brain that could grasp things immediately. I had to study and I had to study hard and as I look back, I was either studying or I was on the football field. There wasn’t a whole lot of time in between. So I learned again, continued to learn how hard work is good. I think it’s good for a person to work hard and certainly there are certain benefits that come from working hard and having that work ethic and what I learned at Tennessee Tech and the skills that I developed there paid huge dividends as I went into the Navy, went into Flight School and the ability to, eventually I had to train myself to retain information quickly. I had to get it because I didn’t have a lot of time to learn it so once I had to get it quickly and I had to be able to put it back out during tests. I think during those years I developed a good short term memory. I wish my long term memory was better. Those are the people that I really admire today, people I work with today like my Commander, Charlie Hobaugh. Goodness, he’s got a long term memory that is amazing. He can remember the details in certain systems that I’m like, I’m just like, “How do you remember that?” So I envy those people that have those type of long term memories because I wish I had one. Short term I’m okay. Long term I’m still working on it but hopefully one day I’ll get there.

And from Tennessee Tech talk about the decision to go into the Navy, the transition and further accomplishments educationally.

Good question. I eventually majored in electrical engineering and thoroughly enjoyed learning the things about “double E” (Electrical Engineering), the various facets, Gauss’s Law and other things that you learn in “double E” but I had a patriotic tug, if you will, from within to do my part for my country and I didn’t know how. I didn’t know in what fashion; eventually I settled on the Navy for several reasons and I thought that eventually I could use the electrical engineering degree that I had gotten in some form in the Navy and though I didn’t know that much about the military at the time. I was very naive. In my mind’s eye I saw a jet, if you will, and in my mind’s eye I thought, “That’d be kind of neat to do” and maybe I could parlay my “double E” training into something along the lines in aviation so I set out to fly aircraft, jet aircraft and the desire at that early time was to fly them off of aircraft carriers and that’s the main reason I chose the Navy.

At what point do you recall first getting the notion to be, to shoot for becoming an astronaut?

I was not one of those people that that’s what I wanted to do since the time I was six years old or eight years old or something like that. It’s something that definitely I thought of. It was in my mind. It was a fascinating time. Every stage of our human space flight program was fascinating to me. You know, the Apollo era when I was a small child into Apollo Soyuz and the big gap or several year gap before we got, eventually flying the space shuttle and even the space shuttle era and I think it’s something I thought about like I think many people do but it’s not something I thought necessarily it was attainable or that I would, I was striving to do that. I know that the opportunity that NASA puts out for science and technology and also in the astronaut program, I know it motivated me. It motivated me I think to go into electrical engineering. There were many disciplines in engineering I could have gone into but I thought electrical engineering was something that would be useful in a variety of different opportunities that might come up. And I know looking back that there were some things with this program here at NASA and others, not just NASA, that motivated me into that field. Certainly after I got into the Navy I did actually, I was fortunate enough to select jet aircraft, going to Test Pilot School. Eventually I did get selected to Test Pilot School and on a field trip, at Test Pilot School you would go to various places, you’d take a week off and go to various places. We actually came to Johnson Space Center and visited some of the different facilities that they have here. Many of the people I work with now are some of the people that took us around and showed us some things. I remember Spanky, one of the guys that works here now, took us around and it was then I thought, “Wow, this is really something that I think I’d like to try to do.” So I started making applications then. I think the opportunities that I’ve seen here and even opportunities that I thought were out elsewhere, motivated me to go on and get a further degree, a Master’s Degree. I got a Master’s Degree in “double E”, Electrical Engineering, from Tennessee Tech and also in Aviations Systems from the University of Tennessee and I was motivated by the possibilities that were out there to go and further my education along those lines. So I hope that, does that answer your question?

Absolutely. What kind of time frame are we talking about from when you first in earnest started making the push to get here through applying and when you actually got selected?

I applied as a student at Test Pilot School the first time. I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be interested in me and I was right, NASA. And then the second time I applied, I was still at the Patuxent River doing flight tests and I had not finished but I was working towards the degree and I look at the selection process here at NASA. It’s kind of like a croquet game. You’ve got to sort of go through this wicket before you hit the next wicket. You’ve gotta do ‘em in order and I felt like a technical degree, as I look back, technical degree and then a Master’s Degree, test pilot training as a pilot to be selected as a pilot was kind of getting those wickets in line and then I finished my Master’s Degrees and the next time I applied, the second time I applied, I actually got my references checked where NASA contacted the references I had listed and asked questions about me, but still that’s as far as it went. So I applied again, the third time, and on the third time they checked my references and they called me for an interview. So I got interviewed and the next wicket beyond an interview at the time was that, if they’re interested and they’re looking at you, then they actually do a background investigation on you. They do a full-fledged background check on you and I got that background check so that was a favorable wicket, if you will, that selection was at least possible. So the announcement for that selection was delayed. That was the selection in 1998. It was delayed several months and I was in a fleet squadron so I was either going to get selected and move to Houston, start a whole new lifestyle or I was going to deployment, go to sea for six months. And three days before the ship was scheduled to pull out I got a phone call. I was actually out flying and the Duty Officer said, “Hey, some guy named Duane Ross from NASA called you.” And Duane is a fantastic guy. He is the Chief of the Astronaut Selection Office and he is one of the nicest people you will ever want to meet. But at the time once the selection process was done, if you got a phone call from Duane Ross that was not a good sign (laughter) because Duane made the phone call, said, “Hey, nice job but it didn’t happen this time.” So I got back from that flight, found out that Duane had called me. I called Duane up. Sure enough, I was not selected. Three days later I went on deployment and I thought, I’ll try one more time. So I put an application in, was fortunate enough to get into, called to another interview, went through that interview, got the background check after that and I was on exchange to the Air Force. I was through with a fleet tour, had been on five years of sea duty and I was actually at Air Force Test Pilot School on exchange to the Air Force as an instructor to Test Pilot School there. I was out flying with a student, came back and the duty officer again said, “Hey, you got a phone call from NASA, guy named Charlie Precourt.” Charlie was the Chief of the Office. I thought, “Ooh, that’s a much better sign.” So as it turned out, I was selected. That was in 2000 and that was a good day.

Tell us about your reaction when you got that call and you heard those words.

Well I had to debrief with the student. I thought, “Well, I’m not going to push this student aside.” So I went through my debrief. It was about an hour-and-a-half debrief going through the details of this instructional test flight that we had been on and then I went to the office of Kevin Ford, we were both instructors at Test Pilot School, and Kevin is the pilot on the STS-128 mission and I sat down in his office and I said, “Did you get a phone call?” He said, “I sure did.” He was out as well. He said, “I haven’t called them back yet.” And I said, “Who’s it from?” He said, “Charlie Precourt.” I said, “Me, too.” Turns out we were both selected and moved here and here we are.

What’s it been like training with this crew for this mission? Tell us about some of the observations you’ve made about the crew as a whole and maybe some of your crewmates also.

I’m with some of the sharpest individuals I’ve ever known. (chuckle) I have learned, I’ve been in training for many years, just general training for many years but now it’s crew-specific training and I have learned an enormous amount from my crewmates. Our instructors are great. I’ve learned a great deal from them but they’re, my crewmates and you know, those that have flown, the three that have flown, Charlie Hobaugh, our Commander, Leland Melvin and Mike Foreman these guys that have been there, bringing back lessons learned and processes and mind sets and how to make sure we get the job done right the first time and minimize our mistakes. We’re human. We’re all going to make mistakes and certainly those that fly in space are not immune to mistakes but we certainly want to minimize them. And I’ve learned techniques from them to help us minimize mistakes, checking, double checking, backing each other up, the process and the way in which we do that and I’m very grateful for the crew that I am assigned with. Like I said, some super intelligent, sharp caring guys, cats that care about our human space flight program that our nation has and care about our mission, care about the goals that we’re trying to put forth as we go forward, continue to complete the International Space Station. I feel very fortunate to be assigned with them and it’s been a great experience. It really has. There’re six of us on our crew. I named the first three and there’s Bobby Satcher and, of course, Randy Bresnik which you’ll all meet in these interviews but I think the reason there’s only six of us is because we’re all kind of bulky boys, kind of big guys and we don’t have enough weight to put a seventh crew member on (chuckle). I’m kidding, of course, but it’s neat. It’s a great group of guys and we really have a good time together. We do.

JSC2009-E-107051 -- Barry Wilmore

Astronauts Barry Wilmore (left), STS-129 pilot; and Mike Foreman, mission specialist, participate in a food tasting session in the Habitability and Environmental Factors Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

You talked previously about telling us a story about when you got the call to come to NASA. I’m going to ask you about a similar situation. What was it like when you found out you had been picked to actually make a space flight? Tell us that story.

You know, we do have opportunity to take leave on occasion here so I was actually on leave with my wife visiting a Navy friend of mine that is stationed in Alaska and it was about a year ago and so I was up there in Alaska just about to head out to the Russian River to do some salmon fishing (chuckle) and my cell phone and it was the Chief of the Office. It was Steve Lindsey. And he said, “Hey, how do you feel all about helping us out construct the space station on STS-129?” I said, “Sign me up! That sounds like a good plan. Can I have another week-and-a-half? I’m on leave.” (laughter) But that was indeed a great feeling and, of course, he told me who the crew members were and of course I know all the guys and what a great group of guys and like I said, I feel very, very blessed and very fortunate to be with these gentlemen to do this mission. And, of course, grateful to Steve Lindsey and NASA for assigning me and having the trust in me to do the job.

Have a good fishing trip? Did you catch a lot?

We did. We caught a few, sure did. It’s not hard to catch salmon in the Russian River when there’s like ten thousand fish in the river, literally. Even I could catch fish there.

Tell me what it’s like when you’ve had the chance to go around during training to the different centers to talk to some of the thousands of people who ensure the safety and success of this mission and the crew. What’s that like when you get to meet those people?

That’s one of the high points of my job. The best thing about my job is the variety. Every day’s different. We’re doing something different every single day. Many days we are sometimes traveling to various centers and over the course of my time at NASA prior to being selected I was fortunate enough to work with much of the propulsion elements, the projects that are out of Marshall Space Flight Center the solid rocket boosters, the solid rocket motor, the external tanks, the main engines and the contractors - Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, ATK, that produce those elements for us and the team that comes together there and it is a team, you know. It’s just as much their human space flight program as it is my human space flight program. I feel very fortunate that as an end user I get to sit up on the pointy end when this thing blasts off and goes up into orbit to the International Space Station. But it’s just as much their program as it is mine. They have as much time and effort into their portion of it as I do and to be honest with you, there are many of those people that work long, hard hours that have more time invested than I have. And I tell you what, you cannot safely launch mission after mission after mission after mission after mission the way our human space flight program does, the way we do it as NASA, without dedicated individuals across the nation, literally that are putting their all and they, like I said about those teachers earlier that were passionate about their jobs. These people are passionate about their jobs and I am grateful that they are. We are doing remarkable things in low earth orbit. People do not realize how remarkable the space shuttle is and I know often times we refer back to the Apollo era and the great things we did then and we did. There were some miraculous, wonderful things that we did during the Apollo era, but maintaining and launching the space shuttle, literally the most complicated vehicle ever designed and built, ever, and we do it month after month after month after year after year after year safely. It is remarkable and it is a tribute, literally, to those individuals across this nation that are putting their all into it and we’re grateful. I’m grateful that they’re there. Like I said, as a kid I was passionate about watching our human spaceflight program and now that I’d be able to work in it and work with these people. We are a team and we are doing great things and I’m proud of each one and every one of them. I truly am.

Tell us about the key objectives of this mission, STS-129.

I heard it said that as we come to the end of the era in the space shuttle program that we’re kind of in the Home Depot phase, Lowe’s phase, if you will, of constructing the space station. Most of the modules are there but we need to make sure we have enough parts and bolts, batteries, everything else that enables us to continue to operate on the space station because you can’t jump in your truck and run to Home Depot four times on a Saturday like I do often when I have a project going at home. You have to have it there so we are stocking the space station with those necessary items to continue to operate it for many, many years to come as we draw down the space shuttle era because once the space shuttle era’s complete, we will not have the lift capability to get some of these larger replaceable units up there so many of the missions are take of an MPLM, Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, loaded, packed to the gills with items for the space station, replaceable units and they’ll attach it to the space station. They’ll unload and pack these things internal to the space station, things that we have to have, spares that we have to have in case things break down the road. Our mission is much the same except we are taking up these Express Logistics Carriers, ELCs, two of them. They’re upwards of almost 14,000 pounds apiece and they are loaded with replaceable units on both sides. We call them the Waffle, Waffle 1 and Waffle 2. The waffles are loaded with these units and we’re positioning them external to the station for parts and systems if you will that may, and we know, will, and other things that may need replacing exterior to the station. So ELC 1’ll be attached to the nadir, which is the lower outboard portion of the truss on the port side of the station and ELC 2 will be positioned on the starboard zenith or the top side of the station and, like I said, loaded with all these different replaceable units some of which are already planned to be installed and others are there for spares.

In addition to those ELCs in the shuttle’s payload bay, are you going to have a couple of other things attached to the shuttle’s side wall interior? What those are, what’s going to be there?

One of them is the SASA (S-band Antenna Support Assembly). Basically it’s a space station antenna and it’s installed about the mid-part of the station, near the Z1 truss, kind of above Node 1 if you’re familiar with the layout of the station. And this is going to be a pretty remarkable endeavor to take this SASA antenna out of the payload bay of the shuttle and then, with a robot arm with Bobby Satcher on the end of it, he’s going to come in inverted down into the payload bay. Mike Foreman’s going to unbolt it. They’re going to work together. Bobby’s going to grab it and we’re going to take that arm and swing it all the way up and over and above and over the top of the truss and then down to where Bobby and Mike, who will have traversed back up to that position while we move Bobby, to put it in place there. And we often say in training, Leland Melvin and I are primarily and Randy Bresnik as well are primarily the ones that are doing the robot operations for that first spacewalk, EVA 1, and we’ve said many times, “Boy, it’d be good to be Bobby Satcher” ‘cause Bobby gets to swing out on the very end of that arm. It’s at full extension, a few times as we actually swing the arm around and he’s going to get a view like no one else has so on that EVA it’s going to be good to be Bobby. But he’s going to have that, put it up, bring it over, bring him down, like I said, above the truss. Mike will have traversed back up. They’re going to bolt that antenna into place and then we’re going to take Bobby, swing him out again and he’s going to do a couple of various, lubricate some of the robot end effectors that we have, so, and again that EVA 1 [it’d] be good to be Bobby.

And also, you’re going to also have another container on the side wall, Passive Experiment Container, containing materials…

It’s MISSE, MISSE-7. There’s several MISSE racks that have been or are even now, I think, on station and it’s basically, you expose it to the space environment. It’s got various materials, metals that are in or on this piece of hardware and expose it, well, actually unfold it. Eventually later they will fold it back up, another mission will fold it back up and they’ll put it in their payload bay and they’ll bring it home and then we’ll have the scientists here go through, inspect and assess the debris, if you will, and how these different materials react to those debris.

We mentioned earlier you are the pilot on the mission. Tell us about some of the key activities that you will be involved with on this mission.

First and foremost I feel like my role is to support NASA and what its processes and what its goals are. They’ve assigned Charlie Hobaugh is Commander of this mission. He’s in charge so in that subset role, I support Charlie in whatever Charlie dictates my role to be and we’ve worked together and come up with a plan about who’s doing what on the mission. Of course, first and foremost, I’m in the front right seat. I have primarily all the systems during ascent and if all goes well, I monitor, but if something doesn’t go well, we lose a system, something breaks we train and train and train for these failure scenarios to where I may be called upon to do something, throw a switch, shut down an engine, hopefully not. Those type of things, we train for all of that so I’ll be in position for the majority of the systems, to handle those during ascent and during entry. Once we get to orbit I’ll be operating both robot arms. We, of course, have the space shuttle arm and the space station arm. We call them the ‘small arm’ and the ‘big arm’ ‘cause the station arm’s just a little bit bigger and I’ll be working both of those arms, various things, the ELC install like we talked about, moving Bobby around on EVA 1 and then we’re also going to install a High Pressure Gas Tank on EVA 3 using the robot arm. So during the mission, those will be my primary duties along with the other duties that we all are involved in, replacing filters and those kinds of things on the shuttle that we have to do on a daily basis. And then like I said, coming back, actually I got to the station before, we also rendezvous. As we rendezvous and dock to the station, we all have separate duties and I have some fairly key roles. I’ll be doing a couple of burns on the rendezvous as well.

After launching and making it into orbit, you and the crew will transform Atlantis into an orbiter, get its systems configured. Then on Flight Day 2 you’ll use an imaging device to inspect its exterior. Tell us about that process and your involvement with it.

We’ll take the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, the OBSS. Looking out the aft hatch it’s on the left side but it’s on the starboard side bay of the payload bay and we’ll take the robot arm. We’ll pick it up out of the payload bay and the sensors on the end, basically laser and camera and those type of sensors. We’ll take it along the leading edge of both wings and the nose fully to inspect. And it’s scheduled for a six-to-seven-hour process. It’s very involved, many auto sequencing maneuvers that we monitor every detail, every inch, knowing exactly where every aspect of the arm is at every moment and it’s very involved. But it’s obviously something that we have to do ‘cause we want to make sure that the shuttle’s integrity is intact and certainly those leading edges and the nose are very important so, because “entry’s a-coming.” So we want to make sure that all the systems that will protect the shuttle during entry are secure and, so that’s the first stage, first thing we do is inspect, that’s Flight Day 2, we’ll inspect all those surfaces and we’ll do it a couple of times later on in the mission as well.

After the inspection that day, you’ll then transition into getting ready for the next day’s activity. You’ll have to get the center line camera installed for docking and some other things. Walk us through what’s going to happen the next day for rendezvous and docking. What will you be involved with?

Okay. I guess I’ll start out by saying we are flying on Atlantis. Atlantis is the only shuttle of the three, Discovery and Endeavor, that does not have a power connection, if you will, where we can take power from the station into the shuttle. It doesn’t have this in its docking mechanism so our mission is limited to fewer days than some other shuttles may have. So we’re right now an eleven-day mission. Discovery or Endeavor when they fly, the [duration] typically would be thirteen to fifteen or more, sixteen even planned day missions. But Atlantis can’t do that because we cannot take power from the station. So on an eleven-day mission, as you would expect, we’re still trying to get as much work done as possible so our days are pretty full. So that Flight Day 3 is a packed day. The overall summary is we’re going to rendezvous, complete full up rendezvous and dock. We’re going to get our safety briefs on the station and then we are going to go ahead and install that first ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, ELC 1, before the end of that day and that’s taking it out of the payload bay with the shuttle arm, grabbing it with the station arm and installing it and that’s a full day. So to start off the day, Scorch and I, Charlie Hobaugh and I and Leland is our primary rendezvous MS, the three of us will start off the first part, the initial burns to position the shuttle in the correct trajectory to intercept the space station so we’ll do some rendezvous burns early and then eventually the whole crew will be involved as we get closer so the different burns, there are certain terms. Scorch and I will be doing the main parts. Scorch will be putting those into effect and starting off those orbital maneuvering systems engines, when they fire off. Eventually Scorch will jump out of that seat and I’ll jump into that left front seat for the final four burns, MC 1, 2, 3, and 4, that I’ll actually do from the front cockpit of Atlantis and Scorch will be in the back aft station for those burns. So the biggest things, I guess, I’m doing is doing those four burns, doing the targeting, setting up the burns themselves and actually actuating those burns as we affect the rendezvous. After the MC 4 burn, as we come up below the station, it’s called the R Bar, as we intercept the R Bar and start to come up, Scorch will take over from the back at that point and he’ll position the shuttle in the correct position to do the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, the RPM, where we actually do the flip, do the 180 or 360 degree flip with the folks on station will have their high powered cameras out and they’ll take pictures of the belly of the shuttle to see if anything, any portion of the shuttle’s underside might have been compromised during ascent. So the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver will take place and then we’ll fly what’s called the TORVA, Twice Orbital Rate V-Bar Approach, where we’ll go from under the shuttle to the front of the shuttle on the positive V-bar. We’ll intercept that positive V-bar about three hundred feet and from there Scorch will be flying manually and we’re working as a team. We’ve got a laser ranger that Randy will be firing. We’ve got other sensors on board that we’ll be monitoring to tell us our range and our closure to the space station and we’re all working as a team monitoring those as we affect that rendezvous and come in. We’ll assess at thirty feet to make sure the shuttle and the orbiter are lined up correctly, that the alignment is correct. If one of ‘em’s off, we’ll fly the shuttle. If for some reason we see a variance we’ll fix that at about thirty feet and then we’ll come in and we’ll rendezvous from there and that’s all done manual. Scorch will be flying that manual. We’ll be backing up with the range and closure as we come in and affect the rendezvous. So that’s the rendezvous. So as soon as we finish that, of course, there’s processes. We’ve got to pull in the docking mechanisms. We have to do leak checks, make sure the two systems are docked together correctly and they’ll support the opening of the hatches. So once the hatch is open we’ll have, of course, our greeting with our space station compadres. That’ll be a good, a good moment and then they’ll give us a safety brief, various safety issues with the station itself and then we’re right to work. Like I said, Randy and Leland are going to pull ELC 1 out of the payload bay of the shuttle and myself and I think it’s Jeff Williams that’s scheduled right now with me to actually take it, the ELC, from the shuttle arm and take it and grasp, grab it with the station arm and then actually affect and put it into place. So right now I guess, I think that’s myself and Jeff Williams are scheduled to do that and that’s a very quick and brief summary of a lot of things, a lot of events that are taking place on Flight Day 3, one of the busiest days, I think, that we’ve ever had.

Let’s move ahead. You’ve touched on EVA 1. Let’s move ahead to EVA 2. That’s the second, to be kind of like a double feature. Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik…

Right.

…going to be outside doing their deal. There’s also going to be a separate robotics show kind of, I guess you could think about …

Right.

JSC2009-E-118567 -- Barry Wilmore

Astronauts Barry Wilmore (foreground), STS-129 pilot; and Leland Melvin, 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

Talk me through what’s going to happen robotically…

There are many scenarios depending on whether or not we need to do a Focused Inspection. By Focused Inspection, if there is any damage at all to the shuttle from ascent, we will take a day and we will use the OBSS, Orbital Boom Sensor System, like we discussed earlier and we will take it and we will look at those areas in a Focused Inspection so that’s a scenario that could play out that could drive us to doing simultaneous robotic ops and EVA at the same time. So, in the most likely scenario, we won’t do a Focused Inspection. We are tracking right now towards during EVA 2 also taking ELC 2 and installing it while the EVA’s going on and that’ll be myself, actually Leland and me. I’ll be backing Leland up on that as we again pull ELC 2 out of the payload bay, grab it with the space station arm and then install it on the upper side of the starboard truss, so that’s not something you typically see but, like I said earlier, with a shorter duration mission sometimes you have to do some things in parallel and that’s a high potential day that we’ll do a couple of things at the same time with the EVA and installing the ELC 2.

Okay, so since Focused Inspection is currently timelined for Flight Day 5 if I’m not mistaken, you’ll know by then whether you’re going to be…

We should know at least by Flight Day 3 whether or not a Focused Inspection will be required so, like again, there’s several timelines out there with several different scenarios that we may fall into.

Bobby Satcher and Randy Bresnik will be the space walkers for EVA 3. Tell us about what’s going to happen on that EVA and what you’ll be doing.

Okay, EVA 3, Leland again and I will be working the robot arm and there is a High Pressure Gas Tank that is on ELC 2 which will be installed at this point on the top of the space on the top of the starboard truss and Randy and Bobby are going to go out and detach that tank and they’re going to present it to the robot arm, its grapple fixture, and they’re going to hold it very steadily in place and we’re going to come in with robot arm but we’re going to grapple it. They’ll let go of it. They have several tasks they’ll be doing as we take that tank, Leland and I, robotically and bring it around underneath the truss to just on the top aft side of the airlock is where it’s going to be installed. So we’ll take it around. We’ll position it. By this point it’s almost an hour traverse as we come around and go underneath the truss and put it in position. There are some very tight tolerances that we need to be cognizant of and aware and watch for as we come around and positioning it, Randy and Bobby will be there eventually in that position and we will bring it in. They’re going to guide us in verbally, “Little left. Little right. Little down. Little in. Little out” and we’re going to position it very close to its install position at which time Randy and Bobby will take it and we’ll ungrapple. We’ll back away and they will install it. So a neat choreography, working together with Randy and Bobby out on spacewalk, on EVA and that’ll be a very interesting and very fulfilling endeavor as well. I look forward to that day.

Late in the mission you’ll start packing for your trip home. You’ll say farewell to the station crew and you’ll close the hatches between the two spacecraft and then the next day you’ll depart from the station, that’s undocking. Tell us about what you’re involved with, pretty big day for you.

That is a good day. It’s a good day for the pilot the way we plan ‘em out. The pilot is actually one that actually is on the controls as you undock from station, so we’ll undock and I’ll be doing the fly out, if you will, back out the V-bar to about a hundred fifty, two hundred feet thereabouts and then we’ll affect some burns that will put us in a trajectory where we actually will fly all the way around the station and with our payload bay pointing at the station the whole way and we’ll fly around about six hundred to six hundred and fifty feet and our trainer Steve Gauvain has trained me well so hopefully that all goes well. Thanks, Steve. As we affect that maneuver coming all the way out, as we get back to where we started on that plus-V-bar, we’ll do a burn that will put us initially on a trajectory to leave station and start on our way home. So as I will do that burn going home, going home to my wife, Deanna, and our two girls, that’ll be a neat time as well.

How do you think space station’s importance will be characterized in humankind’s history some years from now when we travel back and forth between worlds based on the work being done on space station? What will the history books reflect do you think about space station?

Boy, that is a good question. My initial thought is I think about pretty detailed significant things that have been invented or found out in history and whether or not we do that on space station, I’m not sure that if something significant is discovered in the laboratories there on station if hundreds of years from now, where it was discovered is that important and I’m not sure that some of the great discoveries of the past, we know where they took place, but we know they did take place. But I think the one thing that will last and I think that we have done pretty miraculous things with space station now and I’m sure we will in the future but I think the thing that will linger on in time is how we have taken multiple nations that speak various languages, and we have been able through time and effort and processes to construct a station in space together to where elements fit together. They’re constructed all over the globe. They fit together. They electronically talk to each other. They traverse the information and data back and forth and we’re doing this on a global basis. Nothing like this has ever taken place before and I think regardless of what we do on station I think some of the lasting things is the processes that we put in place with the various nations working together that I hope will continue and last beyond the space station because I think we’ve made great strides, even politically, with what we’ve been able to do with the station. Even in that aspect, if you think about parts that are built and constructed in Japan and Italy and anywhere in Europe and Russia and all these components come together and they work together. It is, indeed, remarkable. It truly is.