Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?
Preflight Interview: Greg Chamitoff, Mission Specialist
A: Well I have to admit I grew up watching a lot of "Star Trek" with my dad, and he was a space fanatic. This was in Montreal and the space program was budding. He would also see the pictures of Mission Control and say, who are those guys, how do they get to work there? That’s got to be the most amazing job in the world. The funny thing was my dad said that he knew Captain Kirk, because he knew him from high school in Montreal. I was probably five or six so it was a strange mixture of fiction and reality. I knew this was fiction, but on the other hand my dad knows this guy and somehow that made things seem more possible to me. But then we went on a family vacation to Florida and it was the time of Apollo 11 so we got to see the launch of Apollo 11 on a family vacation there. I was six and that was it—I told my dad at that point, I wanted to do that and never changed my mind.
I’m going to get you to take us through that story. I want to start with your hometown, or hometowns. Tell me about where you grew up and what it was like there.
Well I grew up in Montreal originally, till I was about 11, and then I moved to California. My dad felt that California was the land of opportunity at the time and he was probably right. In both places we sort of had a really small country house. A lot of my memories are spending time around a small lake and swimming and boating and things like that and playing around in the woods. Also I was in Scouts. I think a lot of my childhood memories are camping and backpacking and spending time in the mountains and some of that’s with family and some of that’s with friends but I grew up in San Jose, basically, went to high school in San Jose, California. When I was there I think most of the inspiration for me was from my parents and my teachers.
So you do have a sense that the people in those places really helped make you who you are.
My dad was a mathematician and a quality control engineer so he was kind of a perfectionist. I’d come back if I got a 97 on an exam he would say, “What happened?” instead of “That’s great.” An interesting thing for me coming from Montreal to California was that it’s kind of a reflection on our education system and why it’s so important that we try to improve it. I was three years ahead in math coming from fifth, sixth grade, from Montreal that they didn’t have a book for me at the elementary school. So I spent the rest of that year tutoring the kids who needed help in math, which was kind of formative for me because I kind of tutored the rest of my time through school and college and taught later after I finished school.
So in six months in space, did you get a chance to see Montreal and San Jose?
Yeah, that was a really, really neat moment for me on the space station. It was one day and I think it was pretty early in the mission when we were flying over North America. Having grown up in San Jose as a teenager and in Montreal as a young boy all my memories from childhood took place in those places and places in between. On trips my family took across the country, camping trips in the Sierras really all the places that I had been I got to see them in about three minutes. It’s like every place I’d ever been and everybody I knew and all the memories I had, I could just kind of look down and relive them all in about three minutes, and that was unbelievable.
That’s not the same as your life flashing before your eyes.
Not exactly, no.
Tell me more of the story from, give me the sense of your educational and your professional career that ultimately led you to become an astronaut.
Well, after high school I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in California. I started off in physics and I really was excited about physics but I really liked robots for some reason. I think part of it was the idea of a new field at that time. I kind of liked the idea of programming logic that comes out of your head into a system and then watching it live in a sense, and act on logic that you gave it. In other words, I suppose it has this sense of creating life in a way ’cause you give it something and then it uses that and operates from there. I changed over to electrical engineering and my senior project there was a, robot, the first one that I had made, and that was really pretty cool. I did it with a roommate who was also in mechanical engineering so he did all the mechanical engineering part of it. During college there was two things that happened that really were meaningful to me. One was that, it was during my freshman year, it was the first flight of the shuttle. I just remember so vividly being in the dormitory, people gathered to watch the first flight. For me I’d wanted to do this all my life but there any urgency or sense of direction of how to do it and as soon as that happened I said, I got to call NASA and ask them what I have to do. It’s the first time I reached out and tried to find out who at NASA could tell me what to do, and found the astronaut selection office and heard back from them and they kind of give everybody the same advice which is do the best you can be at whatever you chose to do, don’t focus your career on trying to do this but just be the best you can be and follow your interest. I never got a B again in college after that. I couldn’t allow that to happen and that worked out well for me. In the end at graduation at Cal Poly this is the end of those four years another thing happened. In between it was just college and had a good time and worked hard and made a lot of great friends, lifelong friends, and at the end, our graduation speaker was an astronaut, the first one that I ever met that was Hoot Gibson. I didn’t know this was coming. Suddenly there was an astronaut talking at graduation. Because I did so well I got to go up to the podium to get an award and instead of walking back to my seat I turned around and walked toward him sitting on the stage to shake his hand and later on I got to remind him of that—he remembered because it was out of order to do that. That was a really neat, kind of inspiration that kind of bracketed my college education was seeing the shuttle first go, and then an astronaut at the end that really focused me in college. Then I went to Caltech [California Institute of Technology] after that for a master’s, turned to aero[nautical engineering]—I was interested in aero but electrical engineering was also in Silicon Valley so this was the job security path and the field my dad was in essentially. I turned toward aero, did a master’s in aero at Caltech, and the thing that I kind of learned at Caltech is there’s a lot of brilliant people in this world and I wasn’t one of them. There’s people who are brilliant and there’s people who have to work really hard to achieve, and I’m in the second category. Then I went to MIT after that for the rest of my graduate work, for a Ph.D. The really neat thing about being there was I was working at Draper Laboratory as a research assistant; while being a grad student I got to work on NASA programs for the first time. The Hubble telescope, I got to work on analysis for that, for the release of it from the shuttle, and I got to work on the shuttle autopilot. I got to work on space station later, and so I got to work on real NASA programs which made me feel like I was getting closer. Then after I finished graduate school, my wife was finishing medical school and we decided to spend a couple years doing something different so we went to Sydney, Australia and I taught in the university there in aeronautics, for a couple years. The whole time I was applying to NASA for like 10 years and finally got interviewed and then after getting disqualified for a medical condition, which was devastating, that cleared up. Then I got in two years later after already coming to Houston. I worked in Houston for a couple years as a flight controller before getting selected - that was the path.
The “flying in space” part of the job that you’ve worked so long and hard to get is a part that, that has its dangers, there’s no denying that. But, Greg, what it is that you feel we get as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?
Well there’s a saying, there’s no reward without risk and also if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I think from NASA’s perspective that means doing it safely and we take measured risks. What we do, we believe and we think is very important and we do everything possible to make sure that there’s backups and redundancies and checks to make sure that it’s as safe as it possibly can be. Having said that there’s certainly an element of risk it’s sort of the sense of it’s part of human nature to explore and be curious and want to know new things. My kids are five right now and it’s neat because it must have been the teacher that told them that we do science because we’re curious. They say I’m curious, I’m going to be a scientist. It’s really cute. This science and exploration that’s what it is. We’re a curious species, we want to understand things and that’s what exploration’s all about. I feel like we’re kind of living once you’ve been in space and you can look down on the Earth and see the whole Earth floating in emptiness with your own eyes. You really get the sense of this is a small part of what there is to know about. It’s so important that we’ve explored it quite thoroughly and there’s still plenty more to learn and explore on Earth, but there’s so much more out there. We just have to be out there exploring it. I think it’s destiny, it’s our future, we have to do it and this is the beginning of it and it’s a very exciting part of it and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Greg, you’re a member of shuttle mission STS-134’s crew. Would you summarize the overall goals of this mission and tell me what your major responsibilities on this flight are going to be?
Sure. Probably the most significant thing on this flight without a doubt is the AMS, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that we’re flying up. This is a physics experiment. It’s a $2 billion dollar experiment built by 15 countries and we’ll be installing this on top of the space station. There’s no doubt this is probably going to be one of the most significant contributions to the science on the space station in the years to come. That’s a very big part of the mission - getting that installed safely and correctly in addition to that there’s a platform we have, it’s called ELC-3 [EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3]. It’s a logistics platform, it goes outside also. It gets installed on another part of the truss, and it has spare equipment. Basically there’s a list of equipment on it I could give you but essentially it’s there to enable us to keep flying the space station for the next 10 years and have the spare equipment that we need. Then we have a series of spacewalks on the mission. I’m excited to be doing a couple of those and some of that is maintenance, some of it is science related, installing some new equipment, and I think between those four spacewalks and all the robotics operations to install the two big payloads that come up in the payload bay those are the priorities of the mission.
Almost everybody on this crew has been to the space station before; in fact, you and Mike Fincke have had long-duration stays on the station before. Has that really benefited the group of you as you prepare to fly STS-134?
I’m sure we all feel that in a lot of the training it makes a huge difference because we know exactly what to expect. Now as you say, especially for Mike and I, we were up there—actually we overlapped for about six weeks, we were there together—and during the time that I was there and the time he was there were multiple shuttle missions coming and going. The whole dynamic of a shuttle coming up to the space station, the two teams working together, how the space station prepares for us which I did for another shuttle, how we work together when we’re up there, and then of course using all the systems on the space station in our case especially the airlock on the space station for the spacewalks. All that is so familiar to Mike and I. It helps throughout the training ’cause we can bring up these points that are relevant as they come up for the shuttle crew that hasn’t necessarily seen all these things. Roberto [Vittori] has been there on the Soyuz twice. He’s also got that same familiarity with the space station. It helps a lot of the training. I know during the mission it’s going to make things go a lot smoother. We’ll know how to treat the space station guys because we know how we would like to be treated. When the shuttle crew came up and we were helping them it’s a really helpful thing. I think it’s great, and we’re looking forward to seeing the space station again, I can’t wait to see it again.
Well, now you’ve done six months on the station so now you’re looking at going for just a shorter period of time, but you’re also going to a station that’s changed since you were there. So what are your expectations about what you’re going to see when you arrive?
Yeah, I can’t wait to get there again. Like you say it was home for six months, and I feel that way about it. It’s a place that I’ve lived in my life, for a significant chunk of my life, and I can’t wait to see it again. It has changed—the one big change I think that I’ll notice is the Cupola window. Every window that I had when I was there was a porthole window; some were beautiful. The Lab window and the windows that are in the JEM [Japanese Experiment Module] that are out the side in the Japanese module are spectacular windows. The Cupola you can move into it and have windows all around. It’s a 360° panoramic view. That’s going to be spectacular to see. There’ll be additional modules, it’ll be even bigger, even harder to find somebody, than it was when I was up there. The other thing when I was up there before we were ready to do a spacewalk if we needed to. I had a suit ready for me there, that I bumped into as I flew past it every day, and did a lot of work in the airlock, but never had a chance to go outside—nothing broke. We’re kind of in a funny way hoping for something really small and simple to break so we could go out and fix it. I’m very excited this time to get a chance to actually go out the hatch and see the outside of the space station. I can’t wait for that.
Let me get you to tell us a little bit more about the stuff that you’re bringing, EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, you referred to before—tell me what its function is on orbit.
This is a platform that sits in the shuttle cargo bay and it’ll move and it’ll be installed outside on the truss on the station. What’s on it is things that have to be outside or will be used outside, spare equipment. One thing is a tank, a high pressure tank for the airlock; another thing is a spare part of one of the robotic arms, it’s called SPDM, Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. It’s part of the Canadian robotic arm system and it’s a spare manipulator for that. There’s some extra antennas on it for our S-band radio and there’s spare equipment on this platform that we’ll be installing and setting up. One of the spacewalks will involve making sure some of that equipment is ready to be used when needed. It’ll be out there for the next 10 years and as needed, equipment will come off of that platform to be used to replace things as they wear out.
So it’s not anything that we have to have right now. It’s…
…prepping for, stocking the pantry.
That’s right, exactly.
How does it go from getting in the payload bay out onto the truss? What’s the procedure for getting it out?
The procedure’s all robotic and a lot of us on this crew are involved to make this all happen. Two guys in that case I believe it’s Mike and Roberto they’ll be doing the shuttle robotic work. They’ll take it out of the payload bay with the shuttle robotic arm and they’ll basically bring it out and put it in a position where we can reach it with the station robotic arm. Box [Greg Johnson] and I will be on the station side and we’ll move the space station robotic arm into position to grapple it. Once we grapple it, then they can release it—it has to be in that order—and then we’ll move into position to install on the truss. On the truss we have these mechanisms for attaching external payloads and they basically have guide vanes so you can bring it in. They have targets and camera systems so you could steer it in perfectly. We’ll be doing all of that and then there’s basically a big claw that once the mechanism for the claw is in operation, the claw grabs a capture bar and then pulls it down and pulls it tight and holds it in place. If everything works right it’ll be that claw will stay closed and it’ll be solidly attached forever at that point. There’s also some electrical umbilicals that have to connect to it and another motor mechanism has to move into place and provide power, data, communication to everything that’s on the platform. Box and I are taking turns. In that case, I’ll be flying the robotic arm and he’ll be doing the mechanisms on the attachment system, and then the next day we’ll do a similar thing for AMS where we’ll swap roles.
So, for AMS installation you’ll be on the station arm side as well?
Yeah, for AMS installation again on the shuttle side and this time I believe it’s Drew [Feustel] with Roberto flying the shuttle arm, moving AMS into position, but very similar thing. Different position, different side of the space station from the robotic team’s point of view. Everything’s different, but from our point of view it’s a similar or from a generic point of view, it’s quite similar in that station arm grabs it, puts it into place, mechanisms grapple it, pull it down. It takes quite a few hours; it’s a tricky operation. The tolerances are really tight. You don’t have camera views that show you clearances between things that you would like to know for sure that you’re not hitting. So it takes some training to make sure we know exactly what we’re expecting and get it in there right but if all goes well it should be no problem. I have to say on the AMS, which is the very expensive payload, the one that’s most important, the attachment mechanism we’re putting it on doesn’t have the same level of redundancy as some of the other attachment mechanisms. In other words, there’s not two motors if one fails for attaching it, for example. I’ll be breathing a little better after that’s been completed and I know that it’s attached successfully, just because we don’t have the redundancy there if something does go wrong.
Is that a possible contingency EVA task that you guys have prepared for?
There’s some potential tasks we could do. There’s a couple of fallback things we can do, and it’s possible to keep the AMS on the robotic arm overnight, if we have to do that. It can provide power to it through the robotic arm. We have some backup plans. Hopefully we don’t need them.
Right. Fill me in on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. What does it do once it’s in that position out on the station’s truss?
Well, this is an amazing instrument. The AMS, as you said, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. In my mind this is like the Hubble Space Telescope. It has the same type of potential for revolutionizing our understanding of the universe. It’s looking at cosmic rays differently than a normal telescope. It’s collecting cosmic rays. It’s basically going to be able to measure mass, the direction they came from, the energy they have and whether they’re also matter or antimatter. Fundamentally it’s designed to look for antimatter and dark energy, dark matter but it’s looking at all cosmic ray particles, and the thing is that on the ground they’ve been trying to simulate or create different nuclear particles with these…
…well accelerators, nuclear accelerators and the energy levels that they’ve reached on the ground are still an order of magnitude or more less than what’s in free space. It’s possible that they’re going to see things that first of all they’ll see the natural background distribution of these kind of particles, and they’ll see possibly some ones they have not been able to create in the laboratory. There’s a lot of potential for discovery and the other thing is that it knows where the particle is coming from because it can be pointing at a galaxy and if [anti]matter particles start showing up in the detector it could be telling us that that galaxy is an antimatter galaxy. The whole universe was supposedly in the big-bang theory made in equal parts, antimatter and matter, but now what we see is essentially all matter, as far as we know. If it turns out that this thing can detect antimatter particles in a certain level it’ll help us understand the nature of the evolution of the universe. It’s some pretty interesting things. Also I think the thing that Hubble did for us that was one major thing Hubble did for us was very interesting. We knew that the universe was expanding and we wondered whether or not there was enough gravity for it to stop expanding and re-collapse or whether or not it would expand forever. Hubble figured out that not only is it expanding but the rate of expansion is increasing. How does that happen with normal gravity there’s something else we don’t understand and that has to do potentially with dark matter and dark energy. If AMS helps us understand these things, the concepts of how antimatter and matter work and how gravity works, these are fundamental concepts we still don’t really understand. It doesn’t fit into the Grand Unified Theory yet just like when we figured out electromagnetism, we have things like TVs and communications and satellites and all this technology based on our understanding of electromagnetism. I think this is the beginning of the next phase of understanding physics that could really be important for the future. It’s pretty interesting stuff that they’re looking at. It’s fundamental physics but, in the long run, I think it has great potential for pushing us to the future, very interesting stuff.
And in this case, as I understand it correctly, the station is used as a platform for AMS but the crew members on board don’t…
…really have anything to do with it, helping it take its readings or measurements.
Right. It collects an incredible amount of data and it’s looking at all the particles coming through the detector. We’re talking many particles per nanosecond or whatever and it’s figuring out which ones came in the right way and left the right way so they can match up the one that left through this surface was the one that came in through this surface. It has a lot of analysis to figure out, to match up exit and entry points and figure out the curvature of particles in there and figure out the mass, and a lot of that raw data goes down to the ground. There’s some on board computation and data compression, and then it all goes down to the ground and there’ll be terabytes of data for physicists to analyze for the next ten years.
Keep them busy for a long time.
Yeah, no doubt.
You mentioned a few minutes ago that the plan for this mission also calls for four spacewalks by three different teams of spacewalkers. Tell me what your role as member of this team is going to be on this flight.
Sure. This is a real exciting part of the training and the preparation, too, just being part of this team. As you said there’s three of us, Drew Feustel, he’s going to be the lead spacewalker and Mike Fincke and I. Mike Fincke’s done several spacewalks on the Russian segment before. For me this is the first time the three of us work in a team for all of the spacewalks. On any particular spacewalk, two go out the door, the other one works inside. We call him IV [intravehicular] and those guys EV [extravehicular] and the IV is the sort of taskmaster, the one who’s keeper of the master plan. OK, next we’re doing this—as things evolve or if they change a little bit he’s the one who’s keeping track of everything. He’s also communicating with the ground and being the interface between the crew and the ground and the plan and how well the suit is doing and how much time we have left and all and everything. We just kind of rotate. On EVA 1 I’m out the door with Drew, Mike’s IV; and then EVA 2 I’m internal, I’m IV and those two guys are out the door. We rotate that way through all the spacewalks in combination. Then with the ground team we have a whole team of folks that have been working on us by the time we fly. It’ll probably be two years that they’ve all been working on this. It’s a really neat team of folks really focused on making all this happen. Who knows if we’ll execute it exactly as planned but we train to be able to be flexible. It’s exciting to be part of that team and I like the way that teamwork works. It’s a little different than the experience I had before training for space station ’cause I was flying with two Russians and a lot of my training was solo. It’s a neat difference in the training to be on a team like that.
It gives you a bit wider experience for your future flights.
Well, let me get you to tell us about what’s going to happen. Let’s start with EVA #1. You and Drew are outside; what’s on the timeline?
Alright, let’s see. On EVA 1 Drew and I go out and this is going to be my first time out the door. The first thing that I do is to stand back, they have a funny name for it, translation adaptation. We’re so used to training underwater. Underwater it helps, you get a sense of zero g and sense of orientation; of course, gravity is still there. But the water resists your motion so it takes effort to move and very little effort to stop ’cause you have the water helping you stop the motion. In space your expectation is that it takes work to stop because there’s nothing slowing you down. I have a couple minutes to do that, make sure I don’t go flinging myself off the station ’cause I’ve pushed too hard while Drew sets up a couple of tethers. The main things we’re doing on this task is there’s an experiment called MISSE [Materials International Space Station Experiment]. It’s a space exposure experiment: basically they’re like large suitcases with lots of samples inside it, and those samples can be everything from materials to paints to coatings to electronic equipment to biological samples, and they can come from different organizations, and the idea is to expose these things to the harsh environment of space for a long period and see what happens. If the seeds will still germinate, if a paint material will protect what’s below it, see if a circuit can still work and to help us design better systems for the future. There’s two experiments out there that are a part of MISSE 7; we’re going to retrieve those, close up, take them back, put them in the shuttle cargo bay, and then we take new ones out of the cargo bay, MISSE 8, and we install them up on the truss. They’ll be out there for six months to a year before they come in. That’s the first main task.
Does this give you an opportunity to crawl way out on the end of the truss?
Oh, not way out, but that comes later, yeah.
We do that and then one part of this four EVA sequence is refilling a radiator that’s out on one side. To do that we have to sort of connect a lot of ammonia hoses between a lot of segments including one that jumps across the rotating Solar Alpha Rotary Joint which normally can’t have a hose running across. It’s connected at both ends, because it has to spin freely. We’re going to go out and we’re going to connect all these hoses and then vent them basically so that they’re filled with N2, the nitrogen. We’re going to vent them so that they’re ready to be used for the ammonia fill on the next EVA. That’s another task. Then we connect them all and we disconnect the part that jumps that joint so that the joint can still spin freely. The solar panels are out here, they have to be able to continue rotating. Also on this spacewalk there’s some external, it’s kind of your wireless hubs in your house or a network; it’s basically a couple of antennas that enables a wireless system to be working outside the station. There are experiments and payloads outside the space station. They need to communicate to the data system and they’re installing a couple of antennas and all the wiring for that to enable those pieces of equipment or experiments to communicate to internal systems through those antennas. It’s a lot of wiring. It’s a little messy with long wires and it takes a while but that’s going to be in the front of the space station near the shuttle, and the thing that’s maybe a little interesting about that is just that in order for us to do that they have to disable some things internally. We may lose communication. We may have to wave through the window and say everything’s OK, and then go down and finish the work and come back and say everything’s OK. We’ll see how that goes but it should be interesting.
As you mentioned, two days later, you and Mike swap places, Mike and Drew go outside on the second spacewalk. What are they going to do out there?
Yeah this is a very interesting challenging spacewalk. There’s two major tasks. One of them is to refill that radiator that I mentioned and so ammonia has to fill these lines all the way out to the far end of the port side of the station while that’s going on that rotary joint for the solar panel on that side has to be lubricated. This is a long-term maintenance thing just to make sure that it can go for 10 more years and not have any friction with the bearings. That’s a big joint, I mean, it’s 15 feet across, it’s got lots of covers on it. All those covers have to come—well, not all of them—some of the covers have to come off. We’re going to be inside there with lubrication guns trying to lubricate different surfaces. There’s a lot of connectors to do this. I think we’re setting a record for how many fluid line connectors we’re connecting and disconnecting in order to set up all these lines to do this ammonia fill, and then take it all apart at the end. The danger is that if it’s a minor danger it could be with one of these connectors that some ammonia leaks out; if ammonia gets on the suit this is a hundred percent ammonia, unlike the household variety. So if any comes in to the space station on the suit that’s a big problem health wise. We can’t bring any in. We could bake it out on the suit, but we have to identify it and then go through a procedure to make sure that we can scrape it off or have it bake off the suit. We’ll be watching really closely to see if most likely Drew gets contaminated. If he does then we’ll have to be out for a certain amount of time to make sure that there’s enough time for the sun to bake it off the suit. There’s cleanup steps we can do and inside the airlock we could check if there’s any ammonia as we repressurize. This is our main concern on this spacewalk but it’s really a ballet between timing, because as we do this fill, you never want a part of that segment of hoses, essentially of lines filled with ammonia without any way to expand out in the sun. You really want to do certain things at night, other things in the day, and so we’ll be watching the timing. It’s an interesting choreography with that one just trying to make sure that nothing is left to expand and have nowhere to go. In the meantime Mike will be focusing on the lubrication of the rotary joint, we call it the SARJ joint, Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. Drew will help him as he can, and then we have a couple of other tasks while we’re waiting. They’re going to rotate the whole joint once they’ve lubricated it and lubricate it again in a different position, and then they’ll put everything away. It’s a big spacewalk.
That’s a lot of stuff.
And these same two guys are going out again two days later, but before they do they’re going to test out a new procedure for purging nitrogen from the bloodstream.
Spacewalkers have done this, but you guys are going to try out a new procedure.
Tell me about that new procedure.
This is very exciting. When you watch those science fiction movies and two people go out the door for a spacewalk, they don’t take 48 hours to do it. They just somehow jump in the suit and they’re gone. In real life it takes us a lot of time and we’d like that to be faster. For example on the first spacewalk we’re doing campout which is one of the normal things we do on the space station. We go into the airlock the night before, we depressurize the airlock down to 10.2 [pounds per square inch]—14.7 is a normal atmospheric pressure—down [to] 10.2. We breathe some oxygen off masks in that process, and we sleep at the lower pressure, and it’s just like scuba diving in a sense. What you’re trying to do is get the nitrogen out of your body, out of your bloodstream, out of your tissues, and that process by sleeping at 10.2 overnight you get a certain amount out, by breathing oxygen it helps that, and then the rest of the process to getting out the door makes sure that when you go all the way out it’s like coming up from depth. It’s the opposite of scuba diving: in scuba diving you go down, it pressurizes, then it pushes nitrogen into your tissues and if you come up too fast the nitrogen can’t escape and can give you the bends. Here it’s the opposite. We’re going to a lower pressure first, and so that you would get the bends on the way out not on the way back in. This is the normal process we go through by sleeping overnight in the airlock. Another technique is to do exercise where we’re breathing hundred percent oxygen and we do exercise on a bike and do a certain prescription of that which is based on our particular physiology, body weight and aerobic capacity and then another sequence of oxygen breathing and pressure changes before we go out the door. This is a brand new technique that would allow us not to have to spend the night sleeping in the airlock locked up, not have to do the exercise before basically get in the suit and spend a little more time in the suit doing some with hundred percent oxygen, doing very small motions just to make sure that you have some metabolism going. You’re not sleeping in there, you have to be doing something; you’re in there a little longer waiting to go out the door but overall the whole process is much simpler and you can do it on the day of the spacewalk. We’re going to try that on, and a lot of work has been done by a lot of people to make this protocol work out. We’ll try that on third spacewalk and, if it works great, we can do it on the fourth one, too.
OK. EVA #3, as we said, Mike and Drew are going back outside. What kind of work have they got in front of them?
On EVA 3 this is related to setting up. Ultimately it would be nice if we had the ability to have our robotic arm which can sort of inchworm around the station. It can grab in one place and work from the other end and it could also put that end down and inchworm and then use the other end as the active end to do work. We’d like a base for that closer to the Russian segment. We’re basically installing that, and it’s a very big contraption in the sense that it is combining Russian and American hardware. It’ll attach to the front of the FGB [Zarya], the forward-most part of the Russian part of the space station. We’re bringing that out of the hatch. It’s a very big thing. It’s got a lot of connections to make and installing it there and that’ll allow the robotic arm to base itself in that point and then work closer to that part of the space station for the long duration. It’s a good thing for us to have that ability to have the robotic arm work there and I think they have some specific tasks in mind for that potentially later. Then there’s also some additional I guess you could say power optimization cabling to do in that for things that are already working but could fail if a power channel went down. The power channels aren’t optimally distributed so that you lose the least number of things. If one thing fails there’s some cables that we’re going to reroute that basically go forward from the Russian segment to the U.S. segment that improves that. It’s just a matter of routing some cables and some connectors that are difficult to get to, but those are the main two tasks that we’ll be doing on that spacewalk.
Much of this work was a relatively late addition to your flight.
What were the circumstances that caused these jobs to move back and to end up on your mission?
Well, I think there’s a lot of things that are always in flux. I think as we get closer and closer, by the time we get four months from flight, and we think we know what we’re going to be doing, but when the actual date comes it could change. I think this is one of those things that just became a higher priority than something else and also it’s a matter of what could be done on previous flights. There was a, you may recall not too long ago there was a problem with the ammonia pump system on the space station. The Expedition crew, the station crew, was supposed to go out and do part of this spacewalk that we’re doing now. Instead they spent three spacewalks fixing this ammonia pump, replacing it, which those pumps are made expected to fail, we have the spares up there. They had to do the change out and they did, and it took them three spacewalks and this fell of their plate and fell onto ours. That could happen again before we fly, you never know.
With that in mind, for the last EVA with you and Mike going out the door, what’s on the plan then for you guys on EVA #4?
This is an exciting spacewalk for me, partly because I get to ride on top of the robotic arm. Box will be flying the arm. But what we’re doing is we’re leaving the boom, there’s an orbital, it’s called OBSS [Orbiter Boom Sensor System], it’s the inspection boom we have on the shuttle to use to inspect the tiles. That boom will be left behind on the space station with the idea that at some point if the space station has to do some work, it would give the robotic arm more reach if it could use this boom as well. We have left it up there before; we have the mechanisms in place to leave it up there. We’ll be attaching that boom to the truss, locking it in place, and normally the shuttle arm grabs that boom at the end and the station arm has a grapple fixture in the middle, but if we’re going to use it on the station at some future point, you want to be able to grab it from the end. The grapple fixture at the end is not the right kind and we have to change it so it’ll be kind of fun for Mike. Because we’re kind of tearing this thing apart in a way, we’re taking off that end, replacing it with a station grapple fixture, and we have to cut some wires and pull this thing off completely and while we’re doing that I’ll be on the station robotic arm and Box will be flying me around. That’ll be an exciting task to do. We do all of that and when it’s done Mike will be bringing the old grapple fixture back and putting it in the shuttle cargo bay; I’ll be doing a couple of miscellaneous tasks, and then we’ll meet on top of the ELC platform that we just installed. I mentioned before the SPDM the robotic spare mechanism that’s on that platform, they want to release some bolts on that to make sure that it can be utilized when needed. So Mike and I are going to be up there. There’s some extra stress on these bolts so we have a special pry bar. We expect to be doing some serious manual labor to try to break this thing free so we can get those bolts off. The neat thing about being on top of there is that this will be the last spacewalk, potentially, of the entire shuttle program in terms of building the space station, and on top of ELC-3, it’s sort of the highest perch above the whole space station. We’ll be on top looking back at the entire space station that has been built now over 10 years by 15 countries and all the shuttle flights and on this last task we’ll be able to look and see the fruits of all that labor, the whole space station below us. I think that’s going to be a special moment and we’re bringing us a good camera out, to take some pictures up there.
Of course STS-134 is the last flight of space shuttle Endeavour. Do you have any thoughts about this ship’s place in the history of the human spaceflight program?
Well, I think that the whole shuttle program leaves us kind of with a legacy of an incredible amount of experience in space. One time I was with my crew and we were in Florida. We were looking at the cargo bay and I was just marveling at the size of the cargo bay from standing right over it. All of the equipment that’s in there and the things we’ve figured that we have learned how to do in space. Over those 30 years we’ve learned how to do so much from of course launching and landing a giant spaceship but having cameras operating up there and the rendezvous and the docking and spacewalks and robotics. All this equipment that works in a vacuum and how to optimize it to work in a vacuum and bring it in and out and everything from the food that we eat in space which is a much expanded menu compared to what it was originally, to how to build a space toilet. Everything in between all this stuff that has been figured out during the space shuttle program it’s taken science fiction and made it reality over those 30 years. I think in the early days the things that we did before the shuttle were magnificent even though we haven’t been back to the moon yet and we haven’t gone on to Mars and further out but what we have done is learned how to get an incredible amount of hardware, and complex hardware, in space and operate with it. I think that’s one of the things that the space shuttle program has done for us is really made it possible to do all the future things that we want to do in space and with an unbelievable amount of know-how. The legacy of the shuttle program is really the space station. We’ve spent the more than a decade building the space station and there it is—I mean, you fly up to it and there’s another spaceship in the sky as you approach it and you get closer and closer and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and it’s a massive structure. It’s two football fields in size if you lay it down and when you’re inside it and you look out the window and you look out to the solar panels out on the truss, it’s far out there. They’re some big solar panels, and this big giant thing that has all the science capability and ability to keep six people living comfortably for months at a time, it’s just flying around the Earth running only on solar power. We built this thing with the space shuttle. I think as the space shuttle retires the legacy it left behind is really the foothold that we have now on everything we can do, the future in space, and the space station is that foothold.
Well, on the subject of legacies and, and perspectives, you’re going to be flying this mission right around the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin…
…and the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight…
…and close to the 50th anniversary of the first American spaceflight by Alan Shepard.
What are your thoughts about the fact that you are going to be in space while everybody is paying attention to these milestones?
Yeah, it’s amazing. I feel very lucky. It’s a whole generation of dreamers like me, who, grew up on “Star Trek,” and saw Apollo and watched all this happen. It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished in that time. You can look back a hundred years and look at Kitty Hawk, the first powered flight, and the Wright Flyer, it almost kind of looks similar to the space station in its shape. The first flight of the Wright Flyer would only been half the distance of the size of the space station. In a hundred years we’ve gone from that to this incredible facility flying in space. We’ve accomplished a lot. I mean I think a lot of people wish we were back on the moon and on to Mars by now and so do I—I hoped that I would walk on Mars in my career time—but it is amazing how much we’ve accomplished in 50 years. It took so many people to make all that possible and it’s an unbelievable honor to kind of be the representative of that generation of dreamers for me.
If we’ve done that much in the last 50 years, where do you think we’re going to be 50 years from now?
Well I think the key is going to be the time when it becomes profitable for more than just governments to be operating in space. That time is coming. Once we kind of pass that transition, I think there’ll be a lot more traffic. I’d like to have walked on Mars in my career time but maybe I can go for retirement vacation some day. I think we’re going to see many more people getting a chance to fly in space and I’m sure we’ll see bases starting to grow throughout the solar system, starting on the moon ,Mars and first colony. We’ll have the first people born in space and I think our future history will have more and more happening away from Earth and that’ll be very interesting.