This is the STS-132 interview with Mission Specialist Garrett Reisman. Garrett, tell us about where you grew up, your hometown, where it was and what it was like growing up there for you.
Preflight Interview: Garrett Reisman, Mission Specialist
I grew up in Parsippany, N.J., and that’s a town in North Jersey. It’s about a half hour’s drive from New York City due west and it was a great place growing up, mostly because of all the people. You know my friends and family were really wonderful but the teachers especially that were in our school system there really played a big role in getting me to where I am today. I had a physics teacher named Mr. Vandervort who inspired me to study physics and then later engineering and just kind of got me interested in science in general. And I had a wrestling coach, Gary Vittorio, who used to ride us a little bit. He was a little tough on us sometimes but because but he taught us a lot about teamwork and athletics and physical conditioning that’s playing a role as I prepare now for spacewalking. So it was a very special place growing up and I feel indebted to all those people that made this possible.
Did you get a chance to see that region from space at all?
Yeah, I did and I was really happy I got a photograph of it and it was really hard because it looks totally different. I mean, you can’t like look out the window and look for the Wal Mart on the corner or something like that, try to find the place. It doesn’t work. So to find Parsippany what I had to do is first I couldn’t even see New York City at first. What we could see is you could see Long Island because it’s huge and it sticks way out into the ocean and you could trace that back to the west and then you could say, “Okay, there’s New York, right there.” And then, New Jersey’s a little bit more to the west and, and Parsippany is somewhere in there and then it was a good thing I was up there for about three months because it took that long for me to finally find it. I was able to use a reservoir nearby to finally nail it down and where Parsippany was and I got a shot after trying like crazy. We sent it down and I presented it back to my high school and the rest of the community when I went back after the mission and they published it in the local newspaper, so that was cool. It’s got to be the first intentionally taken photograph of Parsippany, N.J., from space.
Tell us about what memories stand out most in your mind about either of your previous space flights and specifically about going up and coming down. We’ll get to the long duration stuff in a second. What about those two trips?
The going up and coming down, that’s a pretty exciting part. It was eclipsed only by the spacewalk that I did as the most exciting thing of the whole mission. The going up part, people ask me all the time, “What’s it like to launch in the space shuttle?” And I say, “Hey, you know, if you’ve been to a motion simulator ride like at Disneyland or amusement park or something, then you kind of know what it’s like. The shaking and the noise aren’t totally different than what you might have felt in one of those rides in the amusement park. The only thing that’s different about it is that you know that you’re being shot into space for real. Other than the fact that you know that you’re being shot into space for real, is the G’s that you feel. You feel up to about three G’s and with them, that means is that you feel like you weigh three times as much as you really do. Now that isn’t a whole lot. When we fly around in airplanes we pull around seven G’s or so, up to that much. But when you do it in an airplane it’s only for a few seconds. If you’re flying a loop, it’s when you’re pulling out of the loop and you’re pulling back on the stick, you get shoved down in your seat and you feel that six or seven G’s. And then, but almost immediately you’re over the top of the loop and then all those G’s come off so it only lasts a couple seconds. In the shuttle, it goes on and on and on for the full 8½ minutes it takes, or it ramps up to three and then it stays there for minutes until you reach the full 8½ minutes it takes to get to space. And that’s weird, it’s just weird to feel it last that long. And the other thing that’s going on is your brain is interpreting those G’s as acceleration so like if you were sitting in your car and the light turns green and you step on the gas. You get pushed back in your seat and you know that means you’re speeding up. You’re going forward or if you’re in an airplane about to take off and they release the brakes and you start rolling down the runway, you feel that little pressure in your seat, well, you feel these three G’s that go on and on and on which is much more pressure than you feel in an airplane or a car and it keeps going and your brain is thinking that this means I’m still speeding up and you realize you’re going just ridiculously fast and, sure enough, after 8½ minutes you’re going 17,500 mph. And then all of a sudden the engines turn off and you go from the three G’s to zero and what it feels like is it feels like you’re getting shot out of your seat because when you make that transition and then you, if you’re me, you put your hands like this to protect yourself from going, slamming into the wall and then you feel really stupid because you’re not going anywhere. You’re just in zero G’s, just floating. It just feels like you’re being shot forward and then you put your hands down and you say, “Yeah, I knew that.”
Now tell us about some of your hobbies. You mentioned the wrestling as one, as a sport I guess you participated in. What else did you like doing growing up?
In addition to wrestling, I played various other sports along the way. I was always interested in baseball, more as a fan. I wasn’t that good actually of a baseball player. But I like watching. It was really later when I got to California that I started picking up on a lot of outdoor activities. I really enjoyed doing such as snowboarding and some rock climbing and other mountaineering-related things, canyoneering, which is when you go up into the mountains and then follow a steep canyon on down and usually that involves rappelling down waterfalls and all kinds of fun stuff like that. So I didn’t do any of that crazy stuff when I was in New Jersey. But when I got to California I started surfing and doing all these other things and I fell in love with all these outdoor activities. I miss them a little bit now, to be honest with you, living in Houston but I get out. There’s not too many good canyons to go down here, but it’s a thing I try to do when I get out.
Do you recall when it was that you first started thinking about becoming an astronaut and what brought that on?
People ask me that a lot. They say, “You know, when did you know you want to be an astronaut? Did you know from when you were a little kid?” And the answer is, “No.” I mean, if you asked me when I was little what I wanted to do I probably said I was going to be center for the New York Knicks basketball team. I think I probably figured out that wasn’t going to work out. I’m sitting down now but I’m only like 5 foot 5.
Who was it back then? Willis Reed?
Come on, I’m not that old. Anyway I won’t go into that. But the thing is I was inspired though by watching movies of the Apollo flights and I thought, “Wow! That’s really cool” and if I had a chance, if you said, “Hey, the shuttle’s leaving tomorrow. Pack your bags. Let’s give you a ride,” I would have been all over it. But it was really only much later that I started thinking about it seriously, like as a career. It was when I was in college and I somehow got a hold of the biographies of a lot of the mission specialist astronauts from the shuttle program and I looked at what they had done. I looked what I was, and I knew what I was planning to as far as doing graduate work in engineering and some of the athletics I was doing and flying and scuba diving, so I was like, you know, “Hey, this doesn’t sound that far off” and suddenly I realized that this is maybe within the realm of possibility and it was really at that point that I started thinking about it. But it was many years after growing up.
You mentioned a little bit about education and some of the influences you had in school growing up. Walk us through, if you would, the educational steps that you’ve taken throughout your life.
Well, remember kindergarten and I ate a lot of paste. I probably shouldn’t have done that but it tasted so good. Then there was first grade, you want me to speed this up a little?
Yeah, just a little bit.
So I went through public school. I went through junior high school and high school, all in Parsippany, N.J., and a little shout out to Central Junior High School. That was a great place. Actually I talked to the Central Junior High School on ham radio from the space station and that was a really great event. I got to talk directly to the kids and then I got to meet them afterwards when I came back, so that was fun. But anyway, so Central Junior High School, Parsippany High School. Then I went off to college at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and there I was there for five years. I was a little slow, took me a little while to get through it all but I did come through with two degrees, one in business, in management, and the other in engineering, mechanical engineering. I left there and I decided I wanted to follow the engineering path a little more intensely and I went off to Cal Tech in Pasadena, Calif. I did my graduate work there with a great guy named Chris Brennan, who was my advisor, and we studied bubbles. So if you have any questions about bubbles, I can help you out. I studied multiphase flows. It’s a fancy way of saying bubbles. Anyway, I left there with my Ph.D. and ended up at TRW where I worked on the design of a NASA spacecraft called Aqua which is an Earth observance spacecraft. I worked on the control design for its guidance system, so that was kind of real rocket science. That was fun.
And then tell us about you’ve been transitioned your professional career outside of NASA to applying for the Astronaut Corps and how long that took and up to the point of being selected.
Sure. I remember submitting my application when I was still in graduate school because they said the minimum requirements were a master’s degree and two years’ related work experience and I thought, “Well, maybe being a student for two years was related work experience.” That was my story and I was sticking to it, but I expected them to send me back e-mail like “LOL” or something like that, you know, like, “Yeah, right.” But they didn’t. I didn’t get an interview that year but I made it through a few rounds of the process and that was encouraging. And then when I left Cal Tech and I was working at TRW I submitted my application again and that was for the Class of 1998 and I got called in for an interview and I came down and went through, at that time it was a week long process. It’s now, we now do multiple rounds but back then it was just one week of coming down here to Houston and going through a bunch of medical exams and then finally the interview. I looked around and there were about 20 guys in my group that were being interviewed and I was the only one in that group that was selected. At the time, I looked around the room and said, “There’s no way it’s going to be me. I’m out of here” because I saw these other people were just so impressive and so capable and so personable. I thought, “There’s no way.” I had my top five picked out and I was not in it and then people said, “Well, you know, what happened? Did they just mess up? How did you end up there?” And the only thing I could figure out is I had a strategy when I went into the interview. The interview was chaired by John Young and the guy’s a legend, you know. I mean, he was first space shuttle commander. He flew to the moon twice and flew the first flight of Gemini. I mean, the guy’s amazing and you walk in there and try to impress him with the fact that you were captain of your high school wrestling team. You know, it doesn’t work. So anyway, I decided I’m going to try to get him to laugh. That was my plan and I pulled that off for the first five minutes and then that’s the only thing I could point to is how I fooled him but somehow I ended up here and that’s good enough.
OK, and then from being selected, well, do you have a good story to tell us about when you did get the call to say, “Hey, you know, do you want to….” Where were you? What was your reaction?
I was in my office at TRW and I got the phone call and I freaked out. I totally freaked out. The phone rang. It was probably not a good characteristic of an astronaut to freak out just when the phone rings.
In a good way.
Yeah, it was a good way. So I started screaming. Everybody knew that I was waiting to hear so as soon as they saw me freak out, they knew immediately. They were telling me stuff over the phone like what day I was going to report and all this like administrative information. I needed to write some of this stuff down because I was freaking out. I wasn’t going to remember it. And so I went out to our secretary and I said, “Hey, I need a pen and paper” and she said, “Well, would you like grid lined or notebook binder?” I’m like, “Just give me some paper.” So that was funny. My sister happened to be in town at the time and the woman who’s now my wife and the three of us went out and celebrated that evening. It was fantastic.
Tell us about some of the things that you’ve done since being selected up to when you were selected for your first flight. What kind of projects have you worked on in the Astronaut Office?
Well, it was a long wait. I came in in ’98 and my first flight was about 10 years later. There were a lot of things going on. It was a lot of training but then I was assigned to work. I worked in our robotics branch so I was going up to Canada to work with those guys in how are we going to operate their robotic arm on the space station and also on the shuttle a little bit. Then I worked on designing new displays, trying to do an upgrade for the shuttle. So I did various different ground jobs and they were all very interesting from an engineering or a kind of support role. And then one really neat thing I did in that timeframe was I was part of this NEEMO mission. In order to get a feel for what it’s like in space NASA decided that we’d send a bunch of our guys down to this habitat on the floor of the ocean and it’s kind of the same thing. You’re cramped, you’re in this little can with a bunch of crewmates and they try to make it as much like space as possible. So we have like the same scheduling software so our schedules look just like they would later when I was on the space station, it looked the same way. We have like space food that we’re eating down there. We did a lot of the science experiments down there that I would later do the exact same thing up on the space station and psychologically it was very similar. The amount of time it takes to go from living in this habitat on the floor of the ocean -- because you can’t just come right up because you, you would actually you get really severe case of the bends. Well, they told us not to do that. The time it takes to decompress and come up slowly is about the same time it would take to get in the Soyuz and come home if you had an emergency on the space station. So there are a lot of great analogies and it was just a fantastic training. The other great analogy was that my commander for the NEEMO mission was Peggy Whitson and it just turned out that several years later, Peggy Whitson was my commander when I got up to the space station. So we got to fly together on this NEEMO thing, or dive together I guess, and then fly up to space station. It was a great experience. The only difference was that you see a lot more living things when you look out the window in the ocean. There’s a lot of fish and stuff. When I got up to space there’s no fish out the window so that was a little different but other than that it was kind of the same.
Tell us about your time on board the International Space Station. You spent some time as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 16 and 17. How long did it take you to get acclimated? What kinds of things surprised you as far as sensations or experiences? Any stories that you can tell us about?
Wow! Well, I remember coming out of the hatch from the shuttle. The shuttle is kind of small. You’ve basically got two compartments in the shuttle where people can hang out. It’s on the tip right up there by the nose. The upper deck, if you will, the flight deck is about the size of the interior of a small SUV, I guess I’d say. It’s like the size of a cockpit of a jetliner, that big. And then downstairs you have the mid-deck which is a living area and a place for cargo and experiments and things like that. The galley’s down there. The toilet’s down there, very important. That’s about the size of like a walk-in closet and that’s all you got for seven people for a couple days. It used to be that’s all you had for the whole mission. It’s a little cramped is what I’m saying, you know. We got up to space station, we open up the hatches and it felt like you were stepping out into the Grand Canyon. You thought you had this down after a couple of days of moving around in weightlessness in the shuttle but now it’s like a whole different ballgame. You step out there and now you’ve got to figure out how to move again. So I made a lot of the rookie mistakes. Usually you’re careful. You know you’ve got to be careful. Floating in space is kind of like flying. It’s like being Superman. We say floating but it’s really more we’re flying because you push off and as soon as you push away from a wall then you’re flying. It’s just like if you’ve ever had the dream where like you start running and put out your arms and start flying, that’s exactly what it’s like, which is one of the most magical things about space flight. You’re careful when you push off to be heading in the right direction. That’s important, right? And you know that, but the thing you forget is, it’s really, it’s even more important to figure out where you’re going to stop, because now you have all the space. The space station’s huge. So you start going along and, maybe you didn’t plan this very well and then you start reaching for an electrical wire and like, “Oooh, no, can’t, can’t, oh, oh” and then you’re knocking into a bulkhead and it gets ugly. So that was a bit of an adjustment. But the space station really is a wonderful place. It’s really big. People ask me all the time, “How did you feel cramped up in there for three months?” I didn’t feel cramped up at all. At no time did I feel that. It’s so large that on two different occasions, I went looking for one of my crewmates and I couldn’t find him. I started one end of the ship, went all the way to the other and had to double back and try again because it’s that big. So it was great living up there. And you have the views of the Earth, of course, looking out the window. It was really a great three months.
Tell us what it’s been like training with this particular group of crewmates for this mission. Everybody has smiled and laughed when I’ve asked them that question.
I got to tell you ... I’m not just saying this because I’m a member of it, but this is really a special crew. I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging. I want to come off like I’m incredibly lucky because that’s what I am. When I heard the names of the other guys on this crew when I first got assigned, I almost freaked out again that day I got the phone call saying I was an astronaut because it’s so much more important than what you get to do or how many spacewalks you get to do or who’s going to fly the robotic arm and all these things that seem important. The most important thing is who you’re going to do it with. I think you can say that for almost anything in life. I feel very fortunate that I get to do this with these guys. That, to me, is the most exciting thing about the mission, the crew that I’ll be going through all this with. Not just the mission itself but the training now and the post flight afterwards. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s been kind of tough, especially these last couple months. We started training fairly late in the game so our training flow has been compressed. We haven’t had the luxury of having the full time to get ready but we’ve all flown before and everybody’s handling it very well. Thank goodness we’re going through all this hard work and time pressure with such a good group, because I think with another group we probably would have been at each others’ throats a long time ago. But these guys have been great starting with our Commander Ken Ham. Everybody’s got a great sense of humor. Ken’s definitely included in that and he sets the tone to help us make sure we take things seriously enough but don’t take things too seriously, which is also important. Tony Antonelli is our pilot. He’s also got a great sense of humor. He’s really funny because he tries to pull himself off as this rednecked guy from North Carolina, likes to watch NASCAR and all this and that. He’s like the least Italian Italian. I grew up with a lot of Italian guys in Jersey. He’s like the least Italian Italian I’ve ever met. But he’s faking it because truth is -- I’m going to blow his cover right now -- he has a bachelor’s degree from M.I.T., and the truth is that he’s a really sharp and hard working guy although he likes to pretend he’s not. I can go through all the guys in the mission but everybody’s got their own special greeting. Piers Sellers talks funny, you know, because he was born in England, but he’s got an amazing sense of humor. He’s got kind of that classic British humor. Once I remember I bought a new car and I drove it off the lot and I was very excited. My first time I ever bought a new car, the second year I was working here. I stopped at a stoplight and Piers Sellers pulls up right next to me, and he’s driving this beat up old Honda. It was falling apart and he looks at me. I look at him driving my spanking new car and he leans, he rolls down the window, he leans out and he says, “Bourgeoisie!” That’s what you get with Piers and it really keeps us all rolling and laughing. And then Steve Bowen is probably the most steady even-keeled guy. We need that desperately in this crew so we need a little injection of calm. The great thing is that we know we’ve done our job well when we can get him to shake his head like this, and that happens a lot. So that’s really been great. Mike Good is the other guy and is the other spacewalker with myself and Steve Bowen. We like to kid him all the time because he was on Hubble and Hubble, they get all the attention. “Oh, Hubble.” We like to give Mike a hard time about the whole time like, “Hey, Mike, you know when is our IMAX movie premier in Hollywood.” He takes all kinds of ribbing for that, very good naturedly, too. So that’s what you get with us and why I’m so excited to be part of this crew.
Tell us how you would characterize the contribution from the thousands of people that work behind the scenes to ensure the success and safety of the crew and every mission?
I used the word ‘lucky’ in a sentence at least four or five times so far in this interview and that is true. I’m very, very lucky to have this chance because so many people worked so hard to pull it off. I’m here talking to you and making this interview but the truth is that I’m lucky to be the guy that gets to sit on the rocket. There are so many people involved in making the thing fly and they work so hard and they are so dedicated to what they do. I’ve worked in other industries and been in other places. People are primarily interested in their career and kind of material things and that’s maybe the prime focus of some of their decisions they make but the people that work in this business are doing it because they love it and they make tremendous sacrifices. They work during the Super Bowl or they’re going to work during Easter coming up here to get this next launch off and they just salute and go and do their job. That’s a really spectacular thing that you find in very, very few places. So because it is very humbling when you see all this other work going on to make this all possible and it’s a great to hang out with those people that make it possible whenever we can and we’re kind of in our little training bubble. We don’t get out as much as we should but hopefully we’ll have a chance when this is all over because it’s a very special team to be a part of.
Give us a synopsis if you would of what the key objectives are for this mission.
One big key objective is we’re bringing up a new module and it’s a Russian built module. We got to go over to Moscow and see it. It’s now down in Florida all ready to go and it’s the MRM1 or Sunrise in Russian. “Rassvet” is its name in Russian which means Sunrise. It’s going to provide a new capability for research on the Russian segment of the space station and it’s coming up in the space shuttle payload bay which is kind of interesting, that it’s kind of weird how this all came about. But it’s originally designed to go up by itself. It has a docking system that allows it to fly alone and it’s got a probe on the side and it’s got a, there’s a cone on the side of the station and it flies by itself and it kind of rams itself home. And what we’re doing instead is we’re going to pick it up with the space station robotic arm and grab it and stick the probe into the cone by using the robot arm to put it into place. Nobody really knows if this is going to work which makes it really interesting, so you should stay tuned to see what happens. But because it wasn’t designed to do this, neither the arm nor the module, but a lot of smart people have been working really, really hard on it and they’re convinced that it’s going to work. But like I say we won’t really know until we try it. So it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a very unique thing, something we haven’t done before. So that’s our primary mission objective is that. Then we’re also bringing up a bunch of other components in the payload bay, things that the space station needs that we’re going to go out and do spacewalks to install. So we’re bringing up a new satellite antenna. People say, “Oh, does that mean you’ll get all the sports packages,” I wish. But really what it does … Right now for high data rate communications, like TV, data from science payloads, there’s only one radio that sends that down to the ground, and there are a lot of boxes in that radio system. So if any of those boxes fail, we have no backup right now. Adding this additional antenna eventually allows you to have backup capability for all that and that’s important. So we have this boom. It’s 15 feet when it’s totally assembled. The thing’s big because it’s a boom and then this big dish. The dish is six feet in diameter so it’s an enormous dish. And my job is actually to go out on the tip of the robot arm, out during the spacewalk, grab the boom first and then while I hold onto the boom they fly me up to the top of the space station. Then Steve and I will plant that thing like a flag in the very, very top and then I go back and get the dish and we put the dish on top of the boom. And that’s going to be crazy because I’m going to be flying back and forth. At one point, the robot arm comes straight up on the top of the space station. I’m going to be sticking way up there on the tip. I’ve seen pictures of that thing. It looks kind of scary but also looks really amazing. I’m bringing a camera so I want to take some good shots so I can come back and show you what that was like. I’m going to be freaking out again I’m pretty sure. So we got the boom and the antenna and we have a new piece that will increase the ability of another one of our robots on the space station called Dextre. Dextre’s kind of like a person. He’s got two arms and he could pivot about his waist. He’s designed to do the same kind of things that we do during spacewalks. We have a new tool platform for Dextre that’ll allow this robot to carry out large pieces of equipment and do the same kind of remove and replace activities we do during a spacewalk, so we’re going to be installing that. Ironically we have to do a spacewalk to get him capable to do a spacewalk but don’t ask. But it’s going to be a really neat upgrade for Dextre. And then we have a bunch of batteries and we’re going to take those batteries and we’re going to, during our second and third spacewalks, install them in the truss segment of the space station. So the space station gets a new set of batteries for one of its solar arrays.
And you are Mission Specialist 1 on this flight. Tell us what your key responsibilities are in that capacity.
Well, let’s see. I have a whole bunch of responsibilities. It’s kind of scary because there’s a lot of different ways I could completely mess up. So, now you can make me say them all and then I’m going to get all nervous again. But anyway, I’m on the flight deck during ascent and I’m really just a kind of reference guy. Ken, our commander, and Tony, our pilot, they’ve got the thing covered. And then we have a Mission Specialist 2, Mike Good, who backs them up if they need any help and I’m like the other guy. I’m the guy on the bench. The only way that I really get involved is if we have a really, really bad day which happens to us in the simulator all the time. But I’m really hoping that I got nothing to do during launch but I’m Mission Specialist 1 going uphill. I’m on the flight deck doing that role. Then we get up there. I’ll be doing the first spacewalk with Steve and that’s when we do the antenna. We put the antenna on the roof and we also do the tool platform for Dextre so I’ll be doing that spacewalk. And then the next day I’ll be operating the big robot arm to take that new module, Rassvet the MRM1, and dock it. Piers at that time is responsible for commanding to the module itself while I operate the arm that’s holding the module. And then I think I get a kind of half a day off. Ken might say something different but I think I got half a day. I don’t know. But then I’m out there again for the third spacewalk. On the third spacewalk we finish up the batteries and we have some other items that come up in the payload bay that we take to the station with us so I’ll be doing that with Mike Good.
What level of involvement will the crew on station have in the docked ops and tell us how critical are they to successfully completing the mission?
They are really critical. I know this first hand because I used to be a space station crew member. I was there when Ken came up with his crew and I kind of did the job that these guys will be doing this time. And I tell you, this might sound kind of trite but it’s far from trivial and that is because, when we show up as new guys, the questions we have over and over that these guys are going to be asked a million times is “Where’s this? Where’s that? Where do you keep the wet wipes? Where do you keep the … ? Hey, I need this, I need this bag. Where do you keep the bag?” The station is so huge and complicated and operating all of its systems is so complicated. These guys are going to be really good at all that and so they’re going to be incredibly valuable in just helping us get stuff done. We know what we need to do but they’re the ones that really know how to make it all happen, so they’re really important for that. Also Tracy Caldwell is one station crew member that plays a very integral role. She is backing up Piers on a lot of the robotics operations, even during the EVAs and this is unusual. We don’t usually have a station crew member involved with the robotics during an EVA because that’s a very highly choreographed thing. But because we only have six crew members, not seven, we decided that we’re going to employ Tracy and so this is a new challenge but she’s doing a great job in the simulator and I think it’s going to work out just fine.
We’ve mentioned that there are some spacewalks on this mission, and there are three scheduled spacewalks. You’ve talked about the first one already. You’re going to go out with Steve Bowen. Again rehash for us just in a blow-by-blow fashion, what work sites you guys are going to visit and what you’re going to do at those work sites?
Well, let’s see, so it’s EVA 1. We show up at the space station on the third day of the mission and then the very next morning Steve and I go outside and do the spacewalk so it’s the same thing I did in my first mission and that was crazy because you show up and you got this big space station. You’re overwhelmed and they say, “Oh, yeah, go in there because you have to do a spacewalk tomorrow” and it’s, “Oh, man, already?” So, but we’re going to do it again and at least this time it won’t be as big of a shock and Steve and I will go, because we have a lot of work to do on the first spacewalk. It’s really packed with content so that’s why we’re working really hard to make sure we iron out all the kinks on the ground so hopefully it goes smoothly when we do it up there. We come outside and because all this equipment I talked about, the batteries, the antenna and the platform, the work platform for the Dextre robot, all comes on this pallet that flies up inside the cargo bay of the space shuttle so that the night before Piers with Tracy’s help, is going to take that pallet out and stick it on the truss. So we go out there to the truss where the pallet is and all of our equipment is and then we start going about, one by one, first I’ll go out and get on the robotic arm. I stand on the end of that thing, kind of like a cherry picker and then Piers will fly me around to the places I need to go. So first he’ll fly over to the boom which is, I think it’s like six or seven feet long and it’s about that big around so it’s a pretty big thing. And I’ll pick that thing up. Steve will hand it off to me and then I’ll hold on to it and fly it up to the top of the space station. Steve will be waiting for me there. He’ll spacewalk over to there and we’ll install it together. Then I come back by myself and I grab the dish and I pick that thing up and it’s fragile so I got to be real careful with it. It’s another way I could really mess this up. Then we take that and we put it on top of the boom and then, after that’s all done, we come back and then we, to get that tool platform. Again I fly back in the arm, grab the tool platform off the pallet and we install the platform on the robot. Then we have a bunch of little things like connect electrical connections we need to make and other bolts that need to be tightened and stuff like that. So there are a lot of small things but, big-picture-wise, that’s what we’re doing on the first spacewalk.
Then on the second spacewalk of the mission, it’ll be Steve Bowen and Mike Good out doing work. Tell us about what they’ll do outside and what you’re going to be doing on the inside during that spacewalk.
So they go outside and their job, we have six batteries that we’re going to remove and replace with our new batteries. They’re going to do the first four and then Mike and I will go out on the last spacewalk and do the last two plus some other stuff. So that’s the focus of the second spacewalk, those four batteries that they’re going to do. The neat thing about the battery work for both EVAs two and three is that it’s way the heck out there on the truss. It’s on the very port-most tip of the truss. So the truss is this big structure that looks like a bridge structure or framework, if you will, that extends either side. It holds the solar arrays. And then running down this way, down the middle, are all the tin can looking pressurized modules where people can live inside. So we’ll be at the very, very tip of that truss and that truss, from end to end, is longer than a football field. So we’re going to be more than fifty yards away from all the nice places where you can breathe and where the food is and all that stuff. So we’re going to be way the heck out there and looking way back at the shuttle and the rest of the space station and the airlock and the food. That’s going to be really kind of trippy. So I’m actually looking forward to those. It’s going to be kind of fun. But that’s what they’re going to do on the second spacewalk. I’m helping Piers out during that second spacewalk. Piers is so good I kind of think he could just do it all by himself but, yeah, I go back there and I’m his assistant to do all the robotics that have to go on when we do the batteries. The robot arm goes back and picks up the pallet and it holds it out there and presents the pallet to the little itty bitty spacewalkers on the truss and, and we move the pallet around. They can grab a battery out of the pallet and put the battery in the truss and then grab another battery so we need to move the pallet around so that they can grab it. And then Piers and Tracy will do the same job, Tracy will do the job that I do on the spacewalk because for the third spacewalk when we do the last two batteries. I hope that made sense.
Each mission has its own complexities. How would you characterize how complex this mission is going to be and what are going to be the really challenging things on it?
It’s the most complex of all time. Ah, you know, almost every crew comes in and probably gives you that answer, right? Says, “Ours is, we’ve never done anything this complicated. We’re the most complex”, and part of it is a little bit of bragging, I guess, but, but part of it’s real. It’s not that one crew is better than the previous crew or anything like that. What it is is that we keep building on our success. And when I say ‘we’ I don’t mean the astronauts or the crew members although we play a role in it. It’s the entire human spaceflight program. So if you compare the complexity and the difficulty of the amount of work that we’re getting done on STS-132, this mission, to a typical mission from before the space station era, just 10 years ago and earlier, and no disrespect, but it blows the doors off of those earlier missions. And like I said, it’s not that we’ve gotten more capable. They got guys like me on these flights so we’ve gotten probably less capable as far as the crew goes but what we’ve done, as a result of building the space station, we built up this tremendous operational capability that now exists in NASA, where we can do these things on a routine basis that would have, that would have sent guys, you know, spinning if you told them we were going to try one of these things 10 years ago, just one of these things. So, that just goes to show what we’ve gotten out of building the space station. What we can do now in space and this tremendous national asset that we have here at the Johnson Space Center and the Kennedy Space Center that we didn’t have, you know, until recently. So it’s a very impressive operational capability to be able to pull off missions like this and to do it as just another day on the job. It’s really, it really speaks volumes for what we’ve learned as an agency and the dedication of all the people involved, not only at Johnson and Kennedy but also at Marshall and all the other centers of NASA.
And you’ve also given us an overview of installation of the MRM1 but can you rehash again for that this time in a blow by blow fashion, you know, how it’s going to get out of the payload bay and to where it’s going to go, just the arm ops that are involved and your involvement with that.
Well, we first use the shuttle robot arm to pull the Russian module out of the payload bay or the cargo bay, kind of the trunk of the shuttle. So it picks it up maybe just a couple meters out of the bay. There we have it on the shuttle arm and I like to call the shuttle arm the little arm, the space station arm the big arm. Now Tony flies the little arm so he might object to this nomenclature but that’s his problem. So he will use the little arm to pull it out of the bay. I’ll come by with the big arm and grab it so now we do a handoff right as it’s hovering just a few yards outside of the shuttle. And once we’ve handed off the big arm, Tony takes his little tiny, tiny arm and he moves it away and I take the big arm and I swing it all the way around from the shuttle all the way back to where it docks on the space station, being very careful not to hit anything in between. That’s very important. So then we take it back there and then we bring it in nice and slow. We turn on a bunch of its systems and Piers will be sending commands from inside controlling the systems in that module. One of the things it does is it has this docking probe and he will extend the docking probe out so that it is ready to engage to the space station. So he extends that thing out and we line it up really carefully and then basically what I do then is I just go ramming speed on the, on the robot arm. I just, I floor it, which is kind of fun. So I just (swoosh) go in the, lay on the throttle and we bring that thing, ‘because that thing is designed to, to be coming in under its own thrusters, way faster than the, than the robot arm can, can really bring it in safely. So, so I give it all, all she’s got. OK, like Scottie back there. “I’m giving it all it’s got, Captain.” And you know, fly it right down the middle hopefully and, and then it penetrates the cone and we all know what happens next. I mean, the latches mate and then it’s mated. Any questions?
STS-132 is the scheduled last flight of Atlantis. It’s a shuttle that has a rich legacy. What are your thoughts of being part of that legacy and also about being part of this last flight, if indeed it is?
I’ve spoken before about how special this organization is and when I say that I mean NASA as a whole. Being a part of, of this organization as we wrap up the Space Shuttle Program is a very bittersweet moment. I feel very special to be here at this moment in time and participating when we operate this vehicle at the highest level and the safest level that we’ve ever been able to operate the vehicle. And then mindful of its history, we were looking at making a T-shirt actually for Atlantis and we were going to make kind of like a rock concert T-shirt where on the back it lists all the, you know, the tour the band made, all the stops, all the cities, but instead we put all of its missions. And when we were making that T-shirt, we looked at that list and it was just kind of overwhelming to look at what this vehicle has done. It’s delivered some really important payloads, some really important satellites to orbit. It’s launched probes to other planets in the solar system. It’s gone to the Mir space station back when there was a Mir space station. Atlantis has been a key heavy lifter and done a lot of the hard work in the construction of the space station, so it’s done so many amazing things when you look at that list and then to be thinking that this could be its last ride up and down. It’s humbling and you feel honored to be there at that moment but at the same time it’s bittersweet, because it’s the end of an era. The other thing about it is, and this is not just for Atlantis but all the space shuttles, I’m really honored to play a role on the flight deck, be one of the guys that fly the shuttle. Now I mentioned before that, unless we’re having a really bad day, I probably don’t do too much but I do go through all the simulations and there I help out as much as I can. Hawk, Ken Ham, our commander, is really good so he doesn’t really need a whole lot of help but, but I do my best. At least I try not to mess him up. The space shuttle is very unique in the sense that it was designed a long time ago, before automation and computers really were the norm. So it is much more reliant on the crew than say a typical airliner for today, where you have all this com-, computational power, where in a modern airliner they can fly that thing without even touching the controls. It’s almost just like on autopilot the whole time. The shuttle’s not like that. In fact, in a lot of ways your, your car is more advanced because typically the cars have microprocessors that if a sensor fails, say you’re, you know, the exhaust gas temperature sensor or the oxygen sensor, if one of those fails, it’s smart enough to switch to a backup algorithm and keep the car running just fine. Maybe your check engine light comes on but basically it’s smart enough to reconfigure after a failure. The shuttle’s not and the shuttle is so complicated and it is the most complicated flying machine we’ve ever designed and the most capable flying machine we’ve ever designed. But it doesn’t have the advantage of all that computation so what I’m saying is it’s the biggest challenge for a pilot and, and we’ll never have this situation again. Any vehicle that’s designed in the future will take advantage of modern computational powers and will be designed to be much more autonomous. So I feel like at this, at this moment in time flying this vehicle, we are at the very pinnacle of human operation of a flying machine. That, when you’re a pilot, is a very special thing and so, it’ll never be like this again. I’m honored to be there at this moment.
Any space shuttle memories? Any moments in space shuttle history, anything that stands out in your mind that impacted you that you can share with us?
Well, I remember being a kid and watching the first one watching that big white external tank looking all pretty with John Young and (Bob) Crippen there at the controls. Watching the space shuttle launch for the first time was very, very special and was very motivational for me. Throughout its history, I remember being later, in graduate school when I watched while we, they had this, is, is, this is a great example, kind of the Apollo 13 type example of ingenuity at NASA where we had this satellite that you were supposed to be able to put this big grapple bar onto and, and attach this big bar and then be able to bring it back inside and it didn’t work. And we just came up with the idea of stuffing three guys into this airlock, which I can’t believe. I have seen the airlock. I’ve been in the airlock. I can’t believe they fit three people in there but they did. They stuffed three big guys into that airlock and it got three guys out and they all just grabbed it at the same time. I remember watching that live at Cal Tech on the television and just being astounded, like that is so cool that they just went out there and just grabbed it. Then on the, on the, on the other side I remember both the major accidents. For Challenger, I remember watching it live, being home because it was a snow day. I was in New Jersey and it was very cold, as we all know, all along the East Coast and we had a big snowfall and so school was cancelled and I was watching the space shuttle launch. That was devastating, even though I didn’t know anybody on the crew at the time. Columbia, of course, was, was completely different because I knew these guys. I was actually home sleeping because I’d just gotten back from robotics training up in Canada and I was up all night and I got woken up by a phone call from my sister-in-law saying, “You better turn on the television.” That was, that was much more devastating. That event was life changing for me as well because I spent the whole next year doing nothing at all but trying to help the family of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut that was on Columbia and so I spent a lot of time with his wife and his kids and got to know them very, very well. I was doing all kinds of things that were not in my job description, help meeting with high school guidance counselors and help pick out courses for one of the sons and doing all kinds of things like that that were not were not stuff we talked about in the astronaut interview. But it made me feel better to be able to do something to help. That was not just a one-year thing. Those kinds of bonds that you make with people when you go through a tragedy like that are not, are not subtle. They’re deep. I’ve stayed very close with the family and the family members are planning to come to our launch in May, when Atlantis goes up again with, with us inside. They’re going to come see us off and they plan to see us come home. I’m glad they’re doing that.
How do you imagine space shuttle will be remembered in a future where space travel between worlds becomes as commonplace as airplane travel is here today on Earth?
Generations from now when they look back and go to museums and see like the space shuttle and see like our space suits, I hope they laugh. I hope it’s like going to some Navy museum and seeing these ridiculous diving suits with big brass helmets and little windows that open, you know. They’re like, “God, I can’t believe people used crazy primitive stuff” ‘because that will mean that we will have advanced the technology at that point to incredible levels where this stuff looks antiquated. I certainly hope that’s the case and I think that will be true someday. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe when I’m old and talking about, “Yes, Honey, when I was an astronaut we had to use these bulky suits and ...” So I hope that’s the case but at the same time, I think there will always be a certain amount of, of reverence because of the shuttle and what it’s accomplished over the, the, from the, from that, in 1981when John Young and Crippen launched, when Columbia flew for the first time, up until this, this year when we should fly the last flights of the, of the shuttle. You look at everything it’s done, like I mentioned before but all the things that Atlantis has done, if you take all the orbiters together and look at what they’ve done collectively; it is a remarkable piece of history. It will represent, not the first step, certainly not the last step but a real significant beginning step towards our eventual conquest of space or space travel anyway. It’s hard to think of it now because today it’s still an operational vehicle but in the future, it’s, it’s going to be looked at, looked back upon with a certain amount of awe I think as well as laughing at it because it’s so old.