This is the STS-133 interview with Mission Commander Steve Lindsey. Steve, tell us about the place that you consider to be your hometown and what it was like growing up there, how that place influenced who you’ve become.
Preflight Interview: Steve Lindsey, Commander
Well, I was born and raised in Temple City, California, which is a small suburb of Los Angeles and I think the way it influenced me it was, even though it’s a suburb of a very big city it was kind of a small town kind of life. We had a couple elementary schools, one high school, one junior high and so everybody knew everybody, a fairly small school. I think it influenced me in that it was, it was a small community with a lot of parents that were interested in what their kids were doing and teachers that were as well and the schools were good. I learned a lot from the schools, learned a lot socially as well as intellectually and, and was encouraged from the very beginning, from all the people that I knew to go off and do whatever it is that I wanted to do, just work hard for it. So I think kind of small town values and ethics and drive were taught to me at a very early age and I think that kind of set the course for me from then on.
Did you, have you had occasion to see that area from space on any of your past spaceflights and, if so, tell us about maybe the first time that you can recall that happened?
Well, pretty much every flight I’ve been on I’ve seen Los Angeles from space. It’s pretty hard to pick out exactly my community. I’ve gotten the binoculars on it a few times to try to pick out, landmarks that are near my house so, it’s really neat to see it from space. I, it’s, actually any place on earth, the first time you see it from space is something I’ll never forget. I remember on my first flight we, during ascent, we, we climb up basically heads down so we’re going in upside down as we climb out of the atmosphere and it, but we’re nose high so you can’t, all you can see is the space so you’re seeing blue, blue, blue and then black. But about six minutes or so into the flight, we actually, or a little bit before that, we actually do a roll to heads up so we transition our communication from the ground site to a satellite and so we roll the heads up so we can get antennas on it. During that roll to heads up is really the first time you get to see the earth from space is just right at the beginning of the ascent. I will never forget that first roll, it rolled – I was sitting in the pilot’s seat. It rolled my way so I could see the earth coming up and seeing the earth from space for the first time that was very memorable. So, things like your hometown are very memorable but just seeing the earth and the beauty of the earth and that it’s actually round like they say in the geography books, it really is true and that’s something I won’t ever, ever forget.
Every accomplishment began, begins with some form of motivation. You’ve been an astronaut for more than ten years. Talk to us a little bit about what things specifically motivated you to pursue this line of work.
Well, probably a couple of things. Growing up, I think, one of my big role models was my father and my mother but my, my father professionally was, was an engineer. My father started out as a, essentially in the depression they were more or less share croppers, never owned their own land and they, and they farmed and he went off to to a one room schoolhouse, did graduate from high school but he was working as a truck driver and a farmer and then he got drafted and went to the Korean War, came back on the GI bill and got his engineering degree, to make a really long story short and so he’s an electrical engineer and I think watching him, his life and him pursuing that gave me an early interest I think in math and science and in particular wanting to pursue engineering so I pretty much decided early into high school that I kind of wanted to be an engineer but the other thing I really wanted to do is wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to fly airplanes, I suppose like a lot of kids, thought that was pretty cool, but I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to fly airplanes and I got to thinkin’ about, how can I, what can I do that will allow me to pursue both of those things and, so, well, I obviously need to go to college and get an engineering degree but I also need to figure out, well, how am I going to fly airplanes? I can’t afford to pay for flying airplanes but, so then I was actually a high school trip when I was I think a sophomore in high school and we were with a group of kids, it was when I was in the band and we traveled to Colorado Springs and we went and visited a place called the Air Force Academy that I had actually never heard of and went and saw that and learned that it was an engineering school, a very difficult engineering school but also learned that you graduate as an Air Force officer and if you’re qualified and if you do well in the school you have an opportunity to go to pilot training and learn to fly airplanes. So I thought, “Well, this is perfect for me because I, it does the two things that I really want to do” and so I went to the Air Force Academy. I was fortunate enough to get selected for that and graduated from there and then went to pilot training and, so then I started flying airplanes and I was operational fighter pilot for several years and then instructor pilot and I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed the flying. I’ve been flying for almost thirty years now and I still love it but after I’d been doing that for about four years I was thinking, “Well, I’m doing a lot of flying but I haven’t had a chance yet to really apply my engineering background and my love of math and science and how can I do that?” and talked with some folks. I kind of learned about the job of being an experimental test pilot and an experimental test pilot, what, what they do is they, they, their job is to translate between the engineers that are developing and building the aircraft and the systems and the operators that are using those systems. Well, I’d been an operator so if I could be a test pilot then I can help bridge that gap and I could actually apply my engineering education to flying and so I applied for and was fortunate enough to be accepted by the Air Force to go to graduate school and then to Test Pilot School. I completed that course and became an experimental test pilot where I was again applying engineering and flying together and doing a job that was just, it was just a fantastic job. So I got, I got through that process – had been a test pilot for several years and realized and kind of wasn’t shooting this way but kind of realized that, well, if I were to apply to the astronaut program, an astronaut’s job is very similar to this. You combine flying and technology and science and engineering, all of those things together, you just do it a little bit faster and a little bit higher than, than flying airplanes and so I decided, “Well, what the heck? I’m qualified. I might as well apply. Worst they could say is no which I figured they would and so I applied, was fortunate enough to get selected for this and here I am. So pretty much my whole career I’ve been able to combine my education and flying, the two things that I love, together and so that’s kind of a really long answer to how I ended up where I am today.
Specifically about the experimental test pilot portion of your career, was some part of wanting to that the opportunity to discover, I mean, because basically you’re doing some, you’re testing things and you may be the first to put your hand on…
Yeah, absolutely and, and it’s really exciting to, to do the first of something and you know, the first time you test this system, the first time you test this weapon or the first time you take the airplane to this speed or this number of G’s or this altitude and things like that. That’s exciting but also what’s exciting about it to me is you do all of this work beforehand. You don’t do this haphazardly. We don’t just go out and take an airplane, okay, let’s go to eight hundred knots and see what happens. What we do is we do a very calculated build up approach to that. We start out in a wind tunnel. We look and see how is this airplane going to fly under these conditions. What are the things that we need to be concerned about? We worry about the flying qualities, in other words, how that airplane handles. Can you fly it? Is it controllable? At what speed will things start to come apart? And you do this, all these calculations, experimental analytical development and testing before you actually take the airplane out and take it to that endpoint. If you’re going for, let’s say, a mach two test point, you don’t start it going at mach two. You build up. You start, you may go to mach point A and mach one and build up. So, for me, the interesting part was not just being the first one to do that but it is putting it all together. It’s developing a flight test profile, tie in the engineering and the science into the flying and bringing it all together so that you can do it safely and effectively because the ultimate goal in my mind as a test pilot was to not get surprised at the end. Now unfortunately the nature of the game is I often got surprised at the end but you try to avoid doing that. And so it’s that process and in the process of doing that working with a team of folks with very diverse backgrounds to watch this team to, come together and figure out how to do these complex activities and do them safely and successfully. So it’s really the process also that I really loved about doing it.
Tell us how you would characterize the value of education and what it’s meant to your life.
Education is critical. No matter what you do, education is critical because what education does, is it enables you to do things in the future and you need to have that foundation of education and it’s really for two purposes. Number one, in my job having the engineering and science background enabled me to take it to the next level and do those things I need to do and, for example, when I’m on a spaceflight and working on an experiment or doing something operationally, to understand the science and engineering behind it so that when things don’t go as expected, you can change your course of action or you can understand why, “You know, okay, well, if I go back and do it this way, this should work” or “I’ll try this”. So that piece of education’s really important because you got to have the background no matter what you’re doing to know how to do it. The other thing that’s important about an education, I think it usually happens early in your career, high school, college time frame, and when you get that first degree out of college it’s a difficult thing to do. You have to go through typically a four year plus process to get there and what it does is it establishes that you can start something and finish it, start something difficult and complex and finish it and it sets a course on your life or a track record that you can start and finish something so, so, so for an employer, obviously looking at that saying, “This person has graduated so I know they can go through this complex task and complete it” and also sets in your mind that, “I’m going to go here. I’m going to set a difficult goal and I’m going to achieve that goal.” So for both of those purposes, education I think is very important and it’s the key and it’s the foundation on which you start building any kind of professional career.
Everyone on this crew has been to the space station including three crew members who’ve completed long duration flights on ISS. How much of a benefit will that be to having their combined experiences to successfully completing this mission?
Well, we do have a lot of space station experience. We’re probably one of the more unique shuttle, shuttle crews in that number one, we’re all experienced. We’ve all flown in space before and three of us, Mike, Nicole and Tim have done long duration flights on space station so they’re intimately familiar with space station and actually all three of them flew very recently up to space station and so they know the ins and outs and it’s very valuable. That will help us a lot on this flight. The danger of having an all experienced crew is we are all experienced and so we have to really watch and make sure that we’re confident but don’t get too confident and that’s true of anything, I mean. You may not have heard this before but the most dangerous aircraft is one that has two instructor pilots in it. The more experience you have the, the more you have to watch out for complacency and things like that so the experience is invaluable as we’re going through training, we’re figuring out to do things. Each one of us can actually be up there and visualize how this is going to work before we get up there because we’ve seen it before. We know what it’s going to feel like. We know what the experience is like and we know what we need to do to get the job done. But, but at the same token, we also are all recognizing that we’re going to watch out for each other. We’ll work as a team. We’re going to back each other up with our crew coordination and not allow the complacency that could come with experience to, to cause problems. So experience is great. It’s really important. It helps us design our mission as, as most efficiently and as effectively as possible but it’s also something we watch out for and, and want to make sure we keep a balance between that and, and, you know, focusing on, on being very meticulous and thorough in our planning and in our operations.
The content of this mission has been through some changes since you first started training for…
Tell us how that’s impacted the training flow and the adjustments the crew has had to make.
Well, we started out as an eight day mission. We were just going to go up, dock with space station, offload some payloads and using robotic procedures doing a lot of transfer and basically leave station in the best logistic state possible because when we were originally assigned we were going to be the very last shuttle mission. So we wanted to leave space station in the best state possible. It’s since evolved to, they’ve added a couple of spacewalks to our flight so what we’ve had to do is lengthen the mission from eight days to eleven days nominal with a plus one if we need it. We’re having to pick up and train those two spacewalks which we hadn’t been training for before. We’ve also added a whole bunch of robotics that go along with that. As a result of that, I’ve had to move crew members into different tasks to make the timeline fit to make that happen so we’re in the process of going through that. We had to redo our training. We had to take another about, added about another six weeks slip to deal with all the spacewalk training so the, the, the biggest impact to the whole training flow has been the number of NBLs, Neutral Buoyancy Lab runs, the, in the water to train for those spacewalks so, but we’ve, we’ve got a good plan in place. We have a good schedule in place and we’ve worked out all those details and, so it’s just going to take us a little bit longer to get there but we still have a good plan and, and feel pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.
How would you characterize the contributions of the thousands of people that work behind the scenes for every mission to ensure the success of the mission and the safety of the crew? What do you say about their contribution?
Well, I guess what I would say is that coming into this mission, you know, my theme with my crew and everybody I talk to is, particularly as the shuttle program winds down is, is that this mission and this flight is not about us. It’s not about the crew, we’re, we’re a, we’re the people that are fortunate enough to get to go execute the mission, you know, from, from space, if you will. But we have a huge team of Mission Control folks that are executing on the ground and engineering support. We have a huge team all across at, at the various human spaceflight centers whether it be, you know, Michoud at the, at the tank, tank assembly. We have processing. We have Huntsville. Stennis is doing the engine testing, Huntsville, that’s managing the external tank and the solid rocket boosters. We have multiple contractors that are, that are working all this and with the space shuttle program that’s managing as long as, as well as the space station program and all of these companies involved and it’s really all about the huge team. So when you see a mission go off, you, you’re seeing the astronauts on TV but that’s not what the mission’s about. The mission is really about those thousands of people and so what, what I emphasize is it’s not about us, it’s about this team, and when you, when you, when you watch something, it’s similar to when I was a test pilot only in smaller teams. When you watch this team of diverse people across the country come together and put together something as unbelievably complex as a space mission, put it all together and then execute it and make it look easy so the public watching thinks, “Oh, this is really, this is routine. This is easy.” Well, those of us that are in it know it’s anything but, but it’s all this preparation, the dedication of folks that really make this happen. When I first got here to Johnson Space Center almost fifteen, well, fifteen years ago I remember walking around the Center and I was about, after I’d been here about six months I got to know a lot of people around the Center and I was very struck by the work force here as well as Kennedy Space Center. We were just there and all the other centers I’ve been to is how motivated everybody is. People are not here for the money. People are here because it’s about something that’s much, much bigger than them and that makes it a really exciting place to work. So when we go and execute a robotics task or do something on orbit, what I’m really thinking, “Well, we’re executing it but we’re just doing the final, we’re just showing the final product and it represents all of these thousands of people” so I feel like when we fly, we’re there representing all these other people and it’s not about us.
If your launch schedule holds, you’re scheduled to be on board space station right around the time of the tenth anniversary of the arrival of Expedition 1, the crew that established the continuous human presence on ISS. Discuss the significance of their milestone and the station’s importance to the future of spaceflight.
Well, it’s interesting. When I look back to when that happened, that, that they went up there, I’d only been here a few years when Expedition 1, and Shep’s crew went up there and I was also involved in the very early space station assembly. I delivered the airlock on my first flight to space station and, and I remember going up to space station and it had just barely started and I remember thinking about all of the missions and all the components we still had to fly up there to fully build this thing out and at times it seemed like we were never going to get there. It was just, there were so many missions. Every time we launched a mission we’d have, you know, little things we’d have to work at. Every time they put a component on space station, one thing you learn when you go from the engineering or design phase, assembly and build to actually operations is a module never works like you think it’s going to and you always get surprised and that’s just the nature of the business ‘cause it’s never been, it’s one of those things that’s never been done before and every time we’re learning. When I look back at it now and see this fully assembled space station operating with six people which we just went to last year and doing all the science and stuff like that, I’m just amazed at what this big team has accomplished and really excited about what it’s going to accomplish in the future so it’s for me, getting an opportunity to go up there again which I never thought was going to happen and see this fully assembled space station I’ve worked on most of my professional career here at NASA is just going to be something fantastic to see and I hope that the rest of the world appreciates what we have. I suspect, I know that the future of space station has not been written but I also know that space station’s going to contribute things we have no idea of today and we’ve already seen that.
Tell us about the key objectives if you would of STS-133.
Our primary objective, the way I describe it for people in a nutshell is to, basically leave space station in the best possible shape for the next era which is the era when we’re no longer flying space shuttles and have huge amounts of upmass we can take up to space station. So along those lines, what we’re doing is we’re delivering logistics and supplies and doing some maintenance and some outfitting to leave it in the best condition we can with what we can carry up. So we’re carrying up a full mid-deck of some payloads with some science payloads and logistics payloads. In our payload bay we have a PMM, which stands for Permanent Multi-purpose Module. It’s essentially an MPLM which is the pressurized cargo carrier that we’ve been using on space station for several years to haul logistics up and down. The difference being is our, this MPLM has been modified into this PMM and what they’ve done is they put an additional micro-meteorite shielding up in it and a few other internal modifications. The objective is, we’re going to put it on space station robotically and we’re going to leave it there so not only will it be full of supplies for the space station, it could, it will also serve in the future as a closet for space station for stowage which is something that, that they always need up on space station, we’re always short of, and so we’re going to put it up there and leave it. The other thing we’re carrying is something called an Express Logistics Carrier. That is a big external pallet and it has several places for payloads or spares for the external components on space station and, in fact, our ELC is going to have a large radiator, an ammonia radiator that we use to reject heat from all of our electrical boxes on the outside of space station. So we’re carrying a spare one in case one breaks on space station, they can install later, and we’re going to take that carrier and we’re going to install it on the space station truss and so those are the things in our payload bay. For the spacewalks themselves, we’re doing several tasks of outfitting the space station, doing some what we call cats and dogs cleanup work, taking care of some insulation issues, working on some, various components that need to be doing and it’s just a whole list of kind of cats and dogs tasks that we’ll be doing in addition.
And as Mission Commander, tell us about what your key responsibilities will be for ascent and then on orbit, too.
Well, my, my primary job as Commander as I see it is, you know, I’m, I’m responsible for, for the overall, you know, the training, the safety is my number one, the safety of the crew and the conduct of the mission, the accomplishment of the mission objectives. That’s my global responsibility and that’s what’s most important so in that context my primary job as I see it is to enable the rest of the crew to do their jobs and I try to make sure that the specific things are, are generally speaking being done by them and not by me. I have other people doing the robotics, have other people doing the spacewalks. Now specifically, with only a six person crew or even a seven person crew, I can’t, it’s not like I can go up there and just let everybody else do the work. They still, still need me to do work and so on ascent I’ll be in the left seat and I have again a responsibility for conduct of the ascent so I kind of run the flow. I run the ascent. I have specific responsibilities with several of the systems like the computers and the life support systems and the flight control system. I’m primarily responsible for all the navigation guidance and control, you know, where we’re going, you know, how we’re doing on our trajectories, what do we do if we have zero, one, two or three engines out, you know, those sorts of failures, dealing with those and making sure we go through our procedures effectively and efficiently and basically run the crew through those procedures. Same thing on entry except I’m coming in and in the end on entry I’ll be doing the manual landing of the orbiter. On orbit, on Flight Day 2, where we inspect the outside of the orbiter using the orbiter sensor system to look at the thermal protection system to make sure it’s healthy and again before de-orbit, I’m one of the three space shuttle robotic arm operators so along with my pilot, Eric Boe and Mission Specialist Al Drew, the three of us will be doing all the space shuttle robotics work to inspect the orbiter as well as space station or space shuttle robotics work in support of the spacewalks and activities while we’re docked at space station. For rendezvous, I do the manual phase where I take over the vehicle at about two thousand feet away from space station, fly up to position underneath the space station, do something called an RPM, Rotational Pitch Maneuver, or R-bar Pitch Maneuver which is basically is just a three sixty backflip so that the space station crew can take pictures of our tiles and make sure they’re okay from a thermal protection systems standpoint. Then I’ll fly around the front of the vehicle and manually fly in to do the docking, so that’s the other thing that I do on orbit. During the docked phase, I’ll be involved with transfer as is the rest of the crew, robotics, supporting all of the spacewalks, but I’m not doing the spacewalks and all the, a whole bunch of other things that are on the timeline so that’s kind of it in a nutshell what I’m doing.
You and your crew are also scheduled to deliver R2 or Robonaut 2 to the station.
Can you tell us about what you know about R2 and what its purpose is on station, how it will be utilized?
Well, R2 or Robonaut is a, it’s kind of a joint venture between NASA and General Motors and it’s, what it really is a technology demonstrator of a humanoid like, our robot has an articulating joints that, hands that move just like your hands do and elbow joints and shoulder joints. It’s just a torso on up. It has cameras for views and it’s going up on a pallet in our PMM and probably it won’t get installed and checked out while we’re there but probably within the next six months they’ll pull it out and put it in a rack and hook it all up and it’s designed to be controlled, you know, by the crew or remotely from the ground and it’s just, kind of a first humanlike android kind of thing where they’re going to technology demonstrate and do various tasks, probably mechanical tasks at first, check motion. They want to see. They’ve been testing it on the ground but they want to see how it’s going to work in a zero G environment and then as far as what it will do in the future, a big part of it is going to be, well, what tasks are best for a robot to do, you know. Obviously we know that the best task for a computer to do, that a computer can do better than humans is repetitive math tasks and things like that we tend to, you know, you can’t do all day every day but a computer can and it won’t bother them so looking for tasks where a robotic can assist humans up in space or act robotically on their own. So it’ll be a technology demonstrator as far as what all objectives it will eventually get. That’s one of those things I think we’re going to learn as we go, as they operate it and, and try various different things and I would imagine that it will take us to places that we couldn’t imagine. So it’ll be, it’ll be interesting to watch how that develops and what we learn from it and where it ends up being because I suspect that how we think we’re going to operate it right now is probably wrong because we just don’t know. We haven’t done it before.
On the same day that you dock to station the crew is scheduled to move the ELC4 out of Discovery’s payload bay and attach it to the station temporarily. Can you walk us through that process and tell us who’s going to be involved and who’s doing what?
Sure, sure. That’s going to make actually Flight Day 3, our docking day, a very challenging day, a very busy day so we’re going to, we’re going to dock. Once we dock and it’s about a six hour process from starting the rendezvous ‘til docking, maybe a little bit more. Once we dock we’ll do pressure and leak checks and once those are good we’ll open the hatches. We’ll get together and do a quick safety brief and then immediately we’re going to jump into this ELC4 task and what’s unique about it is that it goes out on S3 which is way out on the starboard side of the truss. To get it there is a little bit tricky though. We can’t pull it out of the payload bay with the shuttle arm because the station’s structure’s in the way so the space station’s arm’s actually going to reach in and as soon we dock I have a couple of shuttle crew members that are going to go over and work on the space station arm. I mentioned that my pilot, Eric, myself and Al Drew are the shuttle arm operators, well Mike, Nicole and Tim are the station arm operators and in this case Nicole and Tim are going to go over and they’re going to jump on the space station arm and I’m going to have Eric and Al on the space shuttle arm so what happens is, Nicole and Tim will use the space station arm, pull it out of the payload bay, get it to position. Then, Eric and Al are going to grapple it so now you’re double grapple, they’re going to grapple with the shuttle arms. We’ll grapple on two sides. Then, they’re going to let go with the space station arm and they actually have to reposition the arm in another location and do what’s called a ‘walk off’. They’ll, the space station has a, has end effectors on, on both ends and so it can actually it’s fixed on one end and moving on the other end. They can actually go to a new grapple location, grapple it twice and release this end, walk it closer to the location they need to go to and then after they do this walk off, they’ll re-grab that logistics carrier and then Tim and Al, or Eric and Al will release and then they will maneuver it and finally put it in place on space station using the space station arm. So we call it a ‘double walk off’ and it’s a complex choreography between the two arms and the two crews, to do that and it’ll take quite a while, all the way up to sleep time to do it.
What level of involvement will the station crew have in the docked operations and how critical are they to the success of completing the mission?
Station crew is critical. My philosophy and the way I’ve always worked and pretty much every crew does, is when we dock and we open hatches we consider ourselves one crew, not two crews. Everything, we’re very, very integrated in our operations because they’re so complex and there’s so much going on. For example, when we do their, our first spacewalks which has a lot of space station robotic arm activity associated with it, we’ll have a space station or a SSRMS space station robotic arm team is going to consist of a shuttle and a station crew member. It’s going to be Mike Barratt and Shannon Walker, who’s already up on space station, working together to operate that space station arm. With our transfer activities, with all of the work we do on the spacewalks with the suit prep and EVA preparations and things like that, the space station’s crew’s intimately involved. My other philosophy with operations on space station is we’re going to come with, the shuttle comes with the most recent knowledge and training in specific tasks. But the space station crew has the benefit of having the most experience on the actual space station equipment. So what I try to do is I try to team the shuttle crew which has this task knowledge, with the space station crew which has the expertise, team ‘em together, have ‘em work together and now you have the best of both worlds and hopefully, between the two of ‘em, you end up with a cohesive team that has where one plus one is more than two. It’s three or four and let them work as a team so we’re intimately involved back and forth. We’re, I think of us as one crew rather than two crew and that philosophy works pretty well.
Much the same as you did with explaining how to get the ELC4 out of the payload bay and attached to the station, could you do the same with the PMM and, and tell us specifically where it’s going to be attached to?
It’s little bit simpler robotically than what we did for the ELC. Mike and Tim are going to go over on the space station arm and they are going to grapple the PMM which was sitting in our payload bay. Prior to doing that we’re actually going to hand off our orbiter boom sensor system and the reason we’re doing that is for, well, there’s a; couple reasons. One is the OBSS, as we call it, sits right along the edge of the payload bay and we want to move it out of the way so that we have more clearance as we pull this really big payload out of the payload bay lateral ‘cause we only have a few inches of clearance as we pull it out. So we’re going to do this handoff of the OBSS and essentially what happens is we grapple that OBSS with the space station arm, pull it out, put it into position. We do a, a double grapple with the shuttle arm, grab it and then the space station arm releases and then we maneuver that orbiter boom sensor system out of the way and in a good viewing location for EVAs and for PMM and a bunch of other robotics we’re going to do. Then they’re going to go on and they’re going to grab that PMM. They’re going to pull that out of the payload bay and we’re going to stick it on Node 1 nadir which is the, we docked on Node 2 now. Node 1 is the furthest one in. That’s where we used to dock to before we got the all the other equipment up there. Or we, I’m sorry, we used to dock at the front end of the lab. Now we dock from the Node 2, but Node 1 is where we used to always put the MPLMs until recently. But we’re going to put it there, Node 1 nadir, so it’ll be in a permanent location up there so robotically just comes out of the payload bay. They move it aft on the space station and stick it on Node 1. Once we get it attached there, they’ll release it with the arm, once it’s attached with the common berthing mechanism system and we’ll do pressure checks overnight and make sure that it’s holding good pressure and then the next day, Eric Boe is going to go over there with Scott Kelly, again an ISS and a shuttle crew member, and they’re going to do what’s called vestibule outfitting and that’s where they open the hatches. They make connections, power and data connections between the module and the space station, turn everything on, turn the fans on, get it activated, get the final hatch open so that we can start doing the logistics and start using the stowage.
This is your first mission since STS-121. It’s been a while. You’ve been Chief of the Astronaut Office for, you were there for three years. What’s it been like getting back into this training thing, this training flow thing? Has it been difficult or is it kind of like a muscle memory, once you learn how to ride it you never forget?
Well, it’s been interesting ‘cause after I flew STS-121 then I got offered the Astronaut Office Chief position. I took that with the intent of never flying again. I thought I was done flying. As it turns out, other people had different plans for me. So when I got assigned for the last three years as the Chief I was involved in every single space station and space shuttle mission, intimately except I was working as a manager and working it really from the ground side during the execution of the missions and kind of keeping an eye on the training and but, I was enabling other crews to do these jobs, not me, and so I kind of and other than going in the simulator once in a while as an instructor pilot just to see how crews were doing and provide them some feedback as they’re going through their training or maybe upgrading a new space shuttle commander or something. Wasn’t really, I wasn’t at all staying current in the simulator and current in the latest things and so when I got assigned to this flight I kind of had to go into start over and I was wondering myself how much I remember or how much I’m not going to but, most of it is very similar to what I did before so most of it came back. I was a little rusty on some things but it all came back pretty quickly. But believe it or not in three years and we’ve been doing, flying shuttles for almost thirty years now, it’s amazing how much stuff changes in three years, the little things that change and sometimes I find myself, well, we need to do this because of, I was, an example. We were just down at Kennedy Space Center looking at the orbiter and I was looking at some switches on the aft panel that controlled some payload bay lights and, said, “Well, yeah, I mean, this controls this light and this light” and then the, the folks at Kennedy Space Center were telling me, “Oh, well, we removed those lights two or three flows ago, like a year ago” and I didn’t even realize they’d removed the lights and so some of those things have changed or sometimes I’ll remember, “Well, we did it this way” and then I’ll realize, “Well, no, that was six years go. We don’t do it that way any more.” So I just haven’t been having to brush up on or relearn those things that have changed but for the most part it’s all come back to me and I’ve had, I have a great crew that’s experienced and they watch out for me and make sure they, they get me up to speed with the latest so, it’s been a few challenges there but for the most part it’s been a really, a really fun transition and in terms of stress, this is a lot less stressful than being Chief of the office.
I can imagine so.
Oh, there’s no comparison, none at all.
After your work on station is complete, you’ll undock from station and prepare for your trip back to earth. It might be one of the last opportunities that anybody gets a chance to see station from that vantage point from inside of a shuttle. As you sit here today trying to imagine what that’s going to be like, what comes to your mind?
What comes to my mind is, and what I tell the new astronauts when I was Chief, before they’re going up on their first flights, I tell ‘em that there are some things you should do when you’re up there. Obviously you’re up there to accomplish an objective, to accomplish the mission and that’s your primary, that’s primary, that’s the only reason you’re really going. You’re not going to experience, we don’t fly into space to experience space. It’s not a tourist ride. It’s not, it’s not a joy ride. We’re there to accomplish an objective and that’s the satisfaction, is getting difficult objectives done. But a byproduct of going up there is you do get experience it and one thing I tell new astronauts is “Make some memories in your mind”, “Remember doing this. Remember what it was like to do this. Remember what this, remember what it looked like the first time you looked at the earth. Remember when, what it looked like when you looked at something significant to you like your hometown or something like that.” So I think when we undock and fly around space station, what I’ll be trying to do is, is remembering what it looks like, capture some moments that I won’t ever forget ‘cause we can capture it on film and you can get, we got great cameras, we can get great pictures and we will get great pictures but that still doesn’t do it justice, what it actually is when you actually see it. Every time I’ve come back from a spaceflight, about, usually about two weeks later, I’ll wake up asking myself, “Was I really there?” because it’s so different than being on earth. I can’t even describe it in words but it’s just so unique so what I’ll be trying to do as we undock besides making sure we do it right and safely and successfully is try to capture that mental picture of what space station looks like. I’m really looking forward to seeing the space station which is at least twice the size that it was last time I saw it and to see it all built up after these ten years of wondering whether, when is it, are we going to get this done? Can we get this done? All of these modules can’t possibly fit together. That was my thinking because we never end tested the whole space station ‘cause we’d had elements up there while the elements were still being built and for it to, for you to go up the first time and everything put together still just amazes me so I’m looking forward to seeing that.
This mission is scheduled right now to be one of the final shuttle flights. What does it mean to you to have had a part in the space shuttle program. It’s something that’s considered an American institution.
Well, I consider myself very fortunate and I consider it a privilege to be part of this team, the space shuttle. When I think space shuttle I don’t think about a vehicle, I think about team. I think about people. That’s what it’s really about. The space shuttle is an incredible vehicle. It first started flying thirty years ago but even if you look at it today, I’m still amazed at the technology to build something that could carry this much payload into orbit and takeoff vertically, land on a runway, serve as a rocket ship, an orbiting laboratory, a docking ship, a robotics platform and land like an airplane. I mean, that’s pretty incredible and so that’s, I consider it an honor to be a part of it, to be involved essentially with the last half of the space shuttle program and seeing all this happen and then to take this space shuttle and do things with it we never intended to do and then eventually build this fantastic space station that is kind of the legacy of the space shuttle that’s going to live beyond the shuttle. That’s what I think about it. So, it’s important to me. I feel very privileged. I think it’s a unique part in our history that I feel very privileged to be a part of much like probably the folks felt like that were involved in Apollo or, or Gemini and Mercury or any big program like that.
You’ve flown on Discovery several times, I believe.
I’ve flown on Discovery twice and one more to come.
Okay. It’s the most accomplished orbiter in the fleet. If you had to compile a list of just, based on off the top of your head knowledge of what you know about what Discovery’s done, if you had to compile a list of it’s greatest hits…
…so to speak, tell me which missions or events would have to be on that list.
Well, there’s a lot. The ones I’ll focus on are the ones that I think of and it’s been some of the deployment of the great observatories and things like that and but what I think about is, it’s flown all three of the return to flight missions and probably the most difficult parts in the shuttle program were recovering from the two accidents we had and those were very traumatic times. I wasn’t here for Challenger but in talking to the folks who were around, I know how traumatic that was. I was here in the middle of the whole Columbia thing and recovered from that, actually flew the second return to flight test mission after Columbia. In those missions, in basically recovering the program from a disaster and getting it back on track again I think that’s what Discovery will be remembered for at least in my mind as the most significant because deploying it’s flown all kinds of fantastic missions. I mean, I also got to fly it as the pilot on the flight with John Glenn and that was a really neat flight to be on. But those return to flight test missions, by accomplishing those successfully into unknown after an accident and uncertainty on whether, you know, uncertainty not just in have we made the repairs necessary to continue flying this as safe as we can, but also to get our confidence back after a major accident, that we could continue, we can still operate this vehicle safely and successfully and we can still do our job. Those missions were turning points because when they were successful they allowed us to continue the space shuttle program. In the case of Columbia, they allowed us to continue space station assembly and complete space station assembly. So those are the missions in my mind that are the most significant about Discovery. But Discovery, it seems like Discovery’s been around and hit almost every major thing that’s happened in the shuttle program and it’s just luck of the draw, just works out that way because of the processing flow, but it’s interesting that Discovery’s done all those things which I think is why it’s really appropriate I think that Discovery ends up at the Smithsonian when this is all over.
How would you characterize what space shuttle has meant to the advancement of human space exploration?
Oh, wow. I think when you look back, first of all, I think the model of launching like a rocket, landing like an airplane, I think that model will be used in the future and I think in, and I don’t know how many years in the future that’s really going to be, fifty years, a hundred years, you pick your time. I think someday we’ll be going out of low earth orbit in that manner and in using our infrastructure of runways and taking off and landing and, and going into space that way so that model will be used. The space shuttle I think was way, way ahead of its time in that we developed that very early. We were able to do that successfully with the shuttle but in the process of doing that we ended up with a very complex vehicle, difficult to maintain, complex to operate and that was a byproduct of that and so I think in the future we’ll do that but I think we’ll learn all of these things from the shuttle and the next vehicle we build hopefully will be simpler and simpler to operate and we’ll learn a lot from that. The way I describe the space shuttle to others is when you really look at the space shuttle and its capability, it can do everything, everything you can think of in space except for one thing, it can’t leave low earth orbit, but it can do everything else. It can do robotics. It can do science. It can do, it can go dock. When you dock with the space station, in the end you have to maintain a three inch corridor and one degree of attitude error and you can easily fly the shuttle manually and maintain that. I mean, that’s unbelievable for a hundred and twenty ton vehicle to be able to do that. So it can do everything except leave low earth orbit. And so in terms of capabilities of a spacecraft in low earth orbit, I don’t think there’s going to be another one that’s ever going to match the versatility of the space shuttle and I think that’s the legacy. All the things we’ve, the systems we’ve developed and things we’ve done on space station, or on space shuttle, have all had impacts in our society. I mean, literally any room you walk in, anything you do during the day, you can point at things in that room and say, “That came out of the space program. This came from shuttle. This came from Apollo. This came from space station and you can see it all around you. The public’s not real aware of all of that but all of this stuff that we use, all of it came from it and it’s very hard to measure but it’s all there if you really think about it and I think that’s the legacy. I think the legacy is that all these things came out of it and people take all of those things for granted.