Q: Steve, you were less than two months from your targeted launch date and found yourself in an unprecedented situation in regards to your crew. Tell me about the circumstances about this unusual situation and how you got the news.
STS-133 Crew Interview Update with Steve Lindsey
A: Well, Tim [Kopra], Tim hurt himself in a bicycle accident and over the weekend, couple weeks ago, so actually, where he fell, there’s another astronaut from our office that lives in the same neighborhood and so he called that person to help him out and I think they probably called Peggy [Whitson] and Peggy eventually called me and told me he’d been in an accident so, we kind of waited to hear how things were and I was kind of shocked to get the news but, it was just an accident, wasn’t doing anything unusual, it just happened, so…
At the time, right away, you don’t know how badly he’s hurt.
What are the considerations that you and the Astronaut Office and the mission managers have to, to think about when you’re confronted with a situation like that?
Well, when you’re in the situation, the first thing you look at is the mission content, what role was Tim playing in the mission, and if we had to replace Tim’s role how would we most efficiently and effectively do that. So when you have a crew that’s been training together for a year like we have and we’re literally to the launch day when we scrubbed for the tank problems and we’re ready to go, had to think about, well, with only four, five weeks, less than four weeks to go actually, how do we replace and how do we most efficiently do it. Then we had to look at what he was doing, what’s the quickest way to get there, to do it safely, and to get all the training we need to do and to be effective during the mission, so we had to consider, basically the roles Tim were, was doing and how we could best replace those roles.
Well, veteran astronaut Steve Bowen was selected to take over for Tim Kopra. What was the thought process that you folks went through that led you to decide that was the right way to go.
Well, ultimately what we decided is that the most difficult things to replace for Tim’s role, would be the spacewalks, the two EVAs, and so what we decided to do was, after looking at several options and looking at the amount of training time available to us that we had, I had a couple of crew members, Nicole [Stott] and Al [Drew] had both been training ascents and entries with us except in a MS1 role, so I thought we had all this ascent/entry training we might as well take advantage of that and bring in somebody new just to focus on the EVAs. So if we can take this person and just focus them on training for the spacewalks and whatever else they need to do to fly the orbiter up and down on the middeck, that we could minimize that person’s training, perhaps with the time allotted, we didn’t know at the time until we worked the numbers, we ought to be able to get through this with a couple of EVA runs on each EVA, and make it to our launch date. And so what we did was we took all of the ascent and entry roles that Tim played as our flight engineer, our MS2, and I kind of divided his roles in half. I had let Al pick up his role during ascent, I let Nicole pick up his role during entry, and then I brought both of them respectively up to the flight deck to sub for each other in those positions as well. So that allowed us to go retrain the flight deck activities without Steve or without Tim, and then focus Steve solely on getting ready for the EVAs and when we looked at the numbers, intuitively that seemed the easiest way to do this and the most efficient way to do this, and so that’s what we executed.
And at that point then you’re looking for somebody who’s got a lot of skills at EVA and, and can step in?
Absolutely, it had to be somebody who was an experienced spacewalker or there’s no way this would work and Steve had a lot of experience. We have a few in the office like that with a lot of experience, so we could put him in with minimal training, and somebody who can come up to speed after just one or two water runs and be able to go execute an EVA.
And in fact he’d flown on the most recent shuttle flight.
Right, now that was coincidental. We didn’t really pick him because he had flown on the most recent flight but, if you really want to trace where this begins, this begins back in 1999, 1998, when we were facing what we called the “Wall of EVAs,” the wall of spacewalks to build space station. We were facing a situation where we’d have increment crews on orbit needing to go do repairs and do spacewalks with basically no water preparation prior to that. And so we transitioned our whole spacewalk, and quite frankly our robotics program also, is more of a skills-based program where we would do extra runs with them, do something called an EVA skills program, and develop folks to be able to do spacewalks far in excess of anything we’d ever done before to prepare them for either being on space station and executing the spacewalk like, Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell [Dyson] had to do with the pump module here a few months ago, or be able to go in and do these very intense shuttle-based assembly EVAs. And so the success in our ability to do this and our ability to respond in, essentially it’s two months but it’s really about four to five training weeks is what we’ve had to do as a result of this skills program. So we had Steve, who was very current and also very experienced but also skills-based, and that allowed us to be able to go and do this.
You talked about how Nicole Stott and Al Drew are taking over as the flight engineer on ascent and entry. Are there other of Kopra’s duties that have to be reapportioned?
We actually went through Tim’s entire timeline for this launch window and looked at every activity he was doing, sat down with Steve, found out what Steve had done on previous flights. As it turns out, a lot of what Tim was doing Steve had done before, and so with a little bit of training we can get him up to speed and there are a few payload things and some smaller activities that we decided to pull off of Steve’s timeline and put on one of our timelines, so we had to rearrange a little bit but not too much.
The other question then is has there been any adjustment to the mission timeline as a result of having to make a change in the crew?
Right now there is no adjustment to the mission timeline. We’ve adjusted the mission timeline somewhat as we’ve changed space station crews out, believe it or not. That’s almost had more effect because at one point we were going to launch when there was only three ISS crew members up as opposed to six, and when you take a cut of essentially half of your crew on orbit then you have to make some changes to adapt to that; we had offloaded some things to the ground to compensate for that. The other thing of Tim’s that we’ve changed around is we’ve offloaded some robotics. Tim was doing some robotics with the space station arm. We’ve offloaded that and moved more of that content to Nicole and Mike [Barratt], and also we’ve added in Cady Coleman on orbit to take over some of that robotics work for us so, we, fortunately in the robotics area we have a lot of depth, a lot of experience both in our crew and also on space station, and so we can easily compensate for that aspect of it.
And the tasks that STS-133 was going to perform, all still there?
The tasks are all the same. Now when you take somebody and they get very little water training for the spacewalks, the risk you take is we may lose some efficiencies in the run because, you know, Tim and Al have been running these runs for a year and Tim developed it, designed it and I have to credit Tim because he did a great job designing this and leading the development of these spacewalks so they’re in good shape and Steve can jump in and take over. But you’re inevitably at risk of losing some efficiencies which means some of the tasks that you’re hoping to get, you may not get all of those tasks during the spacewalks. We’ll have to wait and see how all that goes. It really depends, one balky bolt can cost you an hour, and so you never really know for sure.
And something like that can happen even if you hadn’t changed crews.
Oh, absolutely, but I’m pretty confident with what we’re seeing so far is that we’re going to be pretty close to getting what we thought we were going to get done before and maybe we’ll get everything, maybe we’ll get more. We’ll have to see. But I’m confident that we’re going to go up there and be able to execute these two EVAs quite well.
Another thing that people would think about is the training. As you’ve mentioned, your crew has been training for this mission for quite a long time.
Now you’re adding a new crew member with only a matter of weeks left to fly.
So how do you focus the remaining time on the, the training, both for Steve Bowen and for the rest of you, to work together.
Well, we have to learn to work together and fortunately, we all know each other really well anyway. Steve, again not planned but he’s also part of the 2000 class and everybody else on my crew is on the 2000 class. They all know each other really well, being classmates together as well. Actually, Eric Boe, the pilot and Steve have flown together before. They flew their first flights together so, as far as bringing Steve into the crew, that’s been no problem at all. As a matter of fact, Tim has been there helping with the EVAs even though he’s kind of laid up right now, but he is helping to integrate Steve into the crew. As far as the training itself, there is no standard training flow that gets you to a late February launch attempt with only four or five weeks to go, so we’ve had to look at all the training you normally do and really tailor it to the situation at hand and try to figure out how most effectively to get all that training done. So, for example, for the NBLs [Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory], normally you run, oh, typically, maybe seven or five underwater runs before you actually do a spacewalk. Well, here we’re only going to have time to do one, maybe two, so what we’ve done is, we’ve focused on preparation for each one of those water runs so we get the most effect out of them as possible. So, specifically we, before we run the NBL run, we spend three hours in the Virtual Reality Lab practicing the robotics and the coordination because Steve will be on the robotic arm for both of these spacewalks, working with Mike Barratt on the communications and maneuvering around. So we focused on the VR Lab to get Steve real familiar with how all that works. Then we spent a good three, four hours doing what we call a 1g tabletop, where they go through and they chair-fly the spacewalk with all the tools there so he can practice with all the tools he needs to use, so that when you get into the NBL, you’ve done all this preparation, now it’s just kind of like you’re doing a little final exam on all that and we just ran through this flow for EVA 1 last week and it worked really well. We got into the water, came out of the water and the general consensus was we can go fly this tomorrow, with only one NBL run. Now we’ll probably do a second one just to top things off and clean things up a little bit, and so we’re focusing on the preparation, same thing in ascent/entry, we’re really targeting, we have the training team write scripts that really targeted the relationship between the MS2 and the crew so that you could exercise that crew member in the new role, either Nicole for entry or Al for ascent, to get them up to speed very quickly on that new role that they’re doing. So , we really focus the training, we threw away the standard training rules and log, if you will, the training catalog that tells you all the classes you need to take, just focused on the ones we really need.
Before this whole situation came up, you were keeping an eye on the Kennedy Space Center and the effort to repair and reinforce Discovery’s external tank. What do you think about the work that was done to identify the issue here with the stringers and to resolve it?
Well, I think, being chief of the office before and, and at one point shuttle branch chief, I’ve been to a lot of Flight Readiness Reviews, I’ve been through a lot of shuttle issues for many years, and this is probably one of the most difficult technical issues, I think, we’ve ever faced because the answers were not obvious. It wasn’t obvious what was wrong, why it was wrong, or how to fix it, and then you had the additional, if you will, pressure of the shuttle program winding up and we keep slipping and slipping and slipping. But to the space shuttle program’s credit, they’ve really done due diligence on this one and really focused on the engineering, following the data, figuring out what was wrong, and so I think Kennedy Space Center and Marshall [Space Flight Center] and the ET [external tank] Project and the Space Shuttle Program have done a terrific job identifying this very difficult problem, and now that we have it identified and have a good fix, they’re working on flight rationale now, I think we’ll get there and we’ll be ready to go. And, I think it’s just been very impressive to watch them, not get rushed, focus on the data, focus on the engineering; when they didn’t understand something, they did a lot of testing which was really, you can write a thousand computer programs but one test makes all the difference because that tells you what’s really going on. So I think they’ve done a great job with it.
Are you guys confident with the, the resolution, with the fix that was, uh, that was discovered and the safety of this tank?
I think so. I mean, there’s still some more data to come, there’s still some more analysis to come; there’s still some analysis I haven’t heard. I’m confident knowing how the process works that there are so many people involved watching to make sure all of those things are in place, that it is safe, that it is rigorous, that they’ll peel the onion back on the solution and ask every question and make sure that the models are valid, the testing is valid, the assumptions are valid, the margin is there for both ascent loads and for cryo loading loads. I think one; with all that in place, I am confident that they’ll have a good story that everybody will buy into with consensus, so I’m confident. All that’s not there yet, within the next week or two, it’ll all be there.
You guys ready to go fly?
We’re ready. It’s been a long wait and we don’t feel antsy to fly ’cause we wanted to make sure everything’s done right before we do fly but, having said all that, we’ve trained for a while; the mission’s stayed the same for awhile; we’re ready to go fly.