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Preflight Interview: Andrew Feustel, Mission Specialist
03.24.11
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NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel, STS-134 mission specialist. Photo Credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?

A: Actually, many people have asked me that question, but it may be the first time I get to tell you the answer. I believed growing up that we would all be astronauts by the time I was an adult. That’s not true, obviously, and we’re not as advanced as I thought we would be, but I believed when I was young, that would be my place for some period of time in my life was to do that. I think when I went through university, I’m a geologist and a geophysicist—I thought, well, wouldn’t it be great if I learned about rocks, minerals and geology and then we went to the moon and I could help utilize resources on the moon because of my geological experiences and background. I was always interested in jets and flying and watching the Apollo guys walk on the moon. Those were the things that interested me and that really caught my attention, so I just thought that we would all, as a race, be advancing to where it was standard for people to be spacefarers, space explorers.

I want you to take us along that course but first let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about your hometown; tell me about where you grew up.

I grew up in Lake Orion, Michigan, from the age of ten, which is a suburb of Detroit, and before that lived in Royal Oak, Michigan, also a suburb of Detroit; Lake Orion was a little farther away. You have fond memories of summer and winter. I think winters were quite enjoyable; we used to do a lot of snowmobiling and snow skiing and in the summers we spent our time water skiing, and being a suburb of Detroit, Motor City, I became interested in automobiles at an early age. My father and uncle were both engineers at Ford Motor Company and when you grow up in Detroit, in the Motor City, and everybody works for the auto industry you, I think, have a natural affinity to like vehicles and cars and raced motorcycles, raced bicycle motocross, and raced go-karts at a young age for a number of years. After I got out of high school, I was always interested in doing those things, mechanical things, and worked as a mechanic at a shop outside of Detroit, so that’s sort of what my childhood was like, it was doing all those fun things but a lot of it revolved around motor sports and working on mechanical objects.

That place and those people had a real impact on the person that you’ve turned out to be.

Yes, I think so, very directly.

Did you get a chance to see it on your last flight?

I believe that the time I’ve spent in my life working with tools and familiarity with tools and that environment allowed me to be at ease with the things I was doing. Working with my hands when it came to that, not so much with the spacewalking stuff because that’s new to everybody, but I didn’t have to focus as much on the actual tasks themselves. I mean, clearly they were important and critical, but it didn’t require as much of my concentration and it allowed me to expand it to understand what else was happening around me like the fact that the Earth was spinning below us and we’re traveling at 17,000 miles an hour above it and all those things. It gave me a little more time to appreciate that.

What kind of view did you have of home from space?

Well, it was pretty good. On STS-125 we were 300 or so miles up which is roughly a hundred miles higher than where the space station flies, so we had a broader view of the Earth. Unfortunately, because of the orbit of Hubble, we stayed fairly close to the equator of the planet, so we were roughly 25° on either side of the equator whereas the space station mission goes all the way up to 55°, whereas the space station will fly over parts of Canada. On the Hubble mission we really didn’t get any farther north than Cocoa Beach, Florida. The view is higher and broader, but we don’t ultimately see as much of the planet because we don’t fly as high north and south of the equator.

Didn’t get a chance to look straight down at it…

Right. You see things at a very oblique angle, which was also very beautiful because some of my best memories of space, I’ve had really three or four, and one of the best ones was during a spacewalk, flying over just about New Orleans and looking north and seeing Michigan, my home state. I could see it in the distance and it was just beautiful. It was really at a slight angle, so I could see the Great Lakes and it was just falling into the shadow of darkness, but it was just a beautiful sight. I thought, that’s pretty neat—that’s my home, my state, I can see where I grew up, practically, or at least whereabouts. One of the other great memories is flying over Houston. On my first EVA, right at the end of the spacewalk, on the robotic arm, I was facing the Earth and the shuttle was behind me so there was nothing between myself and the Earth except my visor and just looking straight down at Houston, I could see everything. Maybe I couldn’t see it, but I certainly could identify where Beltway 8 was and 610 and all the freeways leading in were and I could clearly look right down at Clear Lake where my house would be, just about, so that was pretty neat. Then Hawaii, seeing it from space was pretty spectacular. Good vivid memories of that as well.

You touched on this. Let me get you to tell us the, sketch out your educational and your professional career that led you to be here to be an astronaut.

I left high school and stayed home, went to Oakland Community College for three years to get a degree in geological, well, it’s a associate science degree, a two-year science degree. I did that in three years, specializing in geology with a minor in industrial design, so you could say I was pursuing two careers, one as a scientist, one as an automotive designer, and those were the two things I wanted to do and I chose the scientific path over what you could say artistic path. While going to school at the community college I also worked as an automobile restoration mechanic in a shop, it was called International Auto Works, and we restored 1950s Jaguars and that’s all we did. We’d get these cars in and strip them down to just the frame and shells. We would send them off for metal stripping and then just slowly rebuild those cars with new pieces and parts and make vehicles out of them. So that was a three-year job while working and going to school at the same time. Worked a few summers after that, but once I left Oakland Community College I went to Purdue and pursued a bachelor’s degree in geophysics or solid Earth sciences, still geology, but with a specialty on geophysics, which is sort of like the physics of the Earth or using physics to sense what’s underneath the surface of the Earth. With the credits from Oakland Community College transferred to Purdue, I spent three years getting the other two years of my degree for a bachelor’s degree in geophysics. I stayed there to do a master’s degree in geophysics and then went on to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, for my Ph.D. in seismology, and there I studied underground mining seismology and spent some time working in mines in Canada and in the U.S. installing seismic monitoring or what you could consider earthquake monitoring systems in underground mines. That was a four-year program for a Ph.D. I worked a few years after that for a small engineering consulting firm in Kingston, Ontario. Then came down to Houston to work for ExxonMobil Corporation, as a geophysical operations specialist and doing oil and gas exploration here in the U.S. and worldwide surveys. That lasted about three-and-a-half years, in 2000 I was selected as an astronaut. It’s been ten years since that point and here we are on the second flight, STS-134.

And the “flying in space” part of your chosen career is one that we know has the possibility of dangers, so I need to ask, Drew, what is it that you think that we’re getting as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth doing it?

I think it’s just that: it’s flying humans in space. It’s flying us off of the planet; it’s considering the possibility of a different home besides Earth, ultimately, for the human species. I think for humans it’s always been about what’s out there, are we alone, could we be the only ones in this infinite universe, and I think the only way we’re going to find out is if we keep pushing the boundary, trying to get out there and this is just the beginning. I mean, we’re barely getting off our own planet, but some day, if we continue this and technology continues and as we get smarter or better at adapting to the world around us and the universe around us, we will be traveling throughout the universe doing amazing different things, and so I think it’s worth it because we can and we’re capable and getting better at it, and some day it’ll be just like I thought it was supposed to be when I was a kid that we all fly in space all the time and travel through the universe.

You are a member of the crew on space shuttle mission STS 134.

Yes.

Drew, summarize the overall goals of this flight and tell me what your jobs are going to be.

The overall goals of this flight; that’s a pretty big question, I’ll try to summarize it. Our main payload is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is a science payload that we’re carrying in the shuttle to place on the external truss of the space station. That’s a $2 billion dollar payload with 16 countries, participating, and some 500 scientists that have worked over the past, probably 20 years to develop this experiment and it’s a follow-on to AMS 1, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 1, that flew on space shuttle early on, back in [1998]…so this is a follow-on experiment to that but it will be permanently placed on the space station to hopefully collect data, high-energy particle physics data, for the remaining life of the space station. So that is our primary payload. We’re launching six crew members to space, all males, one European astronaut, Roberto Vittori, and during the mission we’ll do four EVAs. None of them are associated with AMS, but they all are, I guess what you could call standard space station repair or maintenance EVA activities.

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STS-134 Mission Specialist Andrew Feustel prepares for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

All of your crewmates have been to the space station before; all six of you, of course, have flown in space before… two of them have actually done long-duration missions on the station. Does that benefit the group in getting prepared for this flight?

I think so, we have a unique crew in that sense so if you look at the makeup of our crew, we have three space shuttle fliers—myself, Mark Kelly and Greg Johnson. Greg Chamitoff also flew on space shuttle but not as a crew member, he was flying up to do his long-duration mission to spend six months on station. Mike Fincke has never flown on a space shuttle, but he’s lived on space station for a year, but only flown on the Soyuz vehicle; Roberto Vittori’s made two trips to the space station but never for a long term so I think maybe he spent a week at a time up on the space station, also only flown with the Russians, so there’s a lot of experience but we have varied experience. And I myself have never seen the space station, I’ve only flown to Hubble which is a completely different type of a mission, so for all of us, although we have a lot of experience, very few of us have the same experiences that has benefited us in many ways, preparing so everybody has a different way that they approach tasks and objectives, and also problems. I think that’s been a positive thing. There’s been a lot of growing pains with us or learning about each other and the ways that we’ve done things in the past and all of our experiences, but I think overall it’s made us a stronger crew with more ways to approach problems.

Well, let’s talk about some of the cargo that you’re bringing to the station.

OK.

Start with the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3.

OK.

Tell me what that is.

EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, we call it ELC-3; it’s one of four that will live permanently on the space station, and essentially they are storage shelves for spare parts for the space station. One of the components on our EXPRESS Logistics Carrier is a [spare] robotics arm [for] SPDM, that’s Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, and I believe what that allows the Canadarm2 that lives on space station to do is, perform tasks that are normally done by spacewalkers. So it gives it, in a sense, arms and hands and allows it to carry out activities that we would normally do but over a much longer period of time with significant input from a ground control team. So that’s one of the components, that’s probably one of the main components that we see on our ELC component. Overall those pieces are spare parts racks for the space station.

So what does it take for you and your crewmates to install it, get it out of the payload bay and up on the top side of the truss where it belongs?

It’s robotically installed, there are no EVA activities associated with installing an ELC rack, and what we do is use the space shuttle Canadarm to lift the component out of the space shuttle payload bay and place it in the position that allows Canadarm2 from the space station to come over and grab a hold of the ELC. We call that a handoff, and then they take it and move it on to its permanent location on space station.

The other major component that’s riding up in your payload bay is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. You touched on that a moment ago, tell me more: tell me about what this does from its perch out on the station’s truss.

I’ll give you my best description as a non-particle physicist, if I can. It’s a fairly large component, it is roughly the size of the payload bay in diameter, which I guess makes it about 12 feet across or so, and it’s sort of round, shaped like a donut, you can think of it as that. It’s job is to detect particles, cosmic rays and particles in space that pass through the magnet. The magnet’s function is to bend the particles as they pass through the middle of this donut to help detect or characterize what those particles are. AMS is designed to look for dark matter in the universe which essentially makes up nine, or 70% of the universe; we believe it does based on estimates of planet sizes and stars and gravitational pull. The way we understand it—we think there’s a lot more matter and energy out there than we can see, dark matter and dark energy. So AMS’ goal is to characterize those high-energy particles, and try to determine which of those are antimatter, and specifically I think, it’s tuned to antihelium and anticarbon, and then also to characterize each particle that passes through it based on its mass, its charge and its total energy. There’s a series of detectors, kind of like a cake, built like a layer cake inside that device that as the particles pass through the middle, each of these layers has a different function to help characterize the mass, the charge, or the energy of that particle that’s passing through it, to determine what it really is. The advantage of it is that on Earth we could build particle accelerators and with magnets, try to accelerate particles around a ring and eventually smash those into a detector or another particle to make new particles, but we really can’t reach the level of energy that’s desired, and in space we have very-high-energy particles that are always present that don’t get attenuated by the Earth’s atmosphere or magnetic field, so this is sort of a raw, original place to measure these, we call like an in situ measurement, of these high energy particles. That sits out there on the space station truss and these energy particles with very high velocities, faster than we can accelerate them on Earth, are passing through this detector at all times and then we use the different layers in there to characterize what those particles are. So it’s something that we believe we can achieve on Earth in terms of creating the particles, to then characterize what they are.

I think the next question, though, is why? Why do we want to detect those particles? What, what’s the significance of what it’s looking for?

Well that’s a question of science: why do we explore anything? So it’s, in a sense exploration of the universe, and it’s a way for us to help determine what is out there, what is the universe made of, where did it all start—similar to what Hubble telescope does, looking back at the origins of the universe. By characterizing these particles that we can’t see, we can’t detect, we can only infer on Earth by trying to search for them in space we may better define and understand what is the makeup of the universe, what is its origins, how did it develop and where is it, where is it headed.

So that’s the only significance, huh?

Well, that’s the significance that I can relate to. I’m sure there’s much, much more but it’s an important experiment.

Talk about the procedure. How does AMS get out of the payload bay and into its position?

AMS’ position similar to what the ELC pallet is, or really any payload that flies to space station in the back of the shuttle payload bay, so we use the shuttle’s Canadarm to lift it out of the payload bay and Canadarm2 comes over and picks it up and does the handoff and places it up high on the truss, and, in particular, it’s sitting on an inboard location of one of the starboard side trusses. So if you’re looking at the front of the space station it would be on the left, on the top of the truss.

Which is presumably where the cosmic rays are coming from?

Well, I’m not so sure that it matters where it’s positioned. That happened to be the best position from a thermal standpoint and also an available place to put it because, of course, those particles are coming from all different directions up there.

Plan for this mission, as you said, calls for three, rather four, spacewalks by three teams of spacewalkers.

Yes.

What’s your role in the, in this group activity?

So we do have three teams of spacewalkers and I was fortunate to be assigned as EV1 or the lead spacewalker on this mission, and I’m heading up the team of two others, Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, both who are long-duration space station members. Greg has not previously done a spacewalk so he’s really looking forward to this opportunity to do two spacewalks on the mission, and Mike Finke and I will be working together on the three other spacewalks for the mission. So EVA 1 is myself and Greg Chamitoff; EVA 2 is myself and Mike Fincke, EVA 3 is myself and Mike Finke, and then EVA 4 is Mike Finke and Greg Chamitoff. That’s the way it’s playing out and it’s interesting to lead somebody Mike Fincke was a commander of the space station so as a lead spacewalker it’s interesting and I think it’s neat for us to work together. I mean, he’s a former commander and I’m sort of the lead EVA spacewalker so there’s a lot of great information that’s built into that team, we’ve got a lot of experience. He’s done I believe six Orlan EVAs in the Russian spacesuit so he has spacewalking experience, just not in a U.S. spacesuit.

And during the spacewalks, the one of you that’s not outside is going to be running things inside.

That’s right. The person who’s not outside is, I guess you could say, the quarterback or the director inside working from the shuttle flight deck, reading the choreography of the steps and trying to keep us on track on the timeline, telling us which tasks are next.

And it keeps all of you familiar with all of four EVAs…

It does. It really helps in that sense because we’ve also cross-trained in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab as well so we all have a good understanding of what the spacewalkers are going through and as spacewalkers you do need to have some appreciation of what you’re putting the IV [intravehicular] crew member or the quarterback inside through because there are a lot of tasks, a lot of activities. We’re not always working in unison, sometimes we get split up, and so the individual inside is responsible for the two of us and keeping us on track, and also coordinating with ground control. So there is a significant amount of effort that goes on inside the space shuttle, trying to keep the people outside working productively and not getting behind them so that things can keep moving.

Let’s talk about what’s on the plan, at least as we, as we talk today. First spacewalk, you and Greg are outside.

That’s right.

What’s on the plan for EVA 1?

The big plan, EVA 1, the first couple of objectives involve the MISSEs, [Materials International Space Station Experiment] which are static experiments, some are powered, some are not, that sit out on the space station trusses and are open to space and they essentially capture space particles as well, not in the same way that AMS does but they have exposed surfaces inlet’s call them exposed facilities, they have materials, they may have different materials in there or metals, fabrics, gels or whatever that they’re either looking at the effects of space on those materials or actually trying to capture little particles for later analysis within gels or some material like that. So on the first spacewalk Greg Chamitoff and I will go out and retrieve two that have been out there, for I believe over a year, or about a year or so by the time we get to them, and then we’ll place two new ones out in those same locations. That’s first, and what’s next for us on that day is to set up for EVA 2 which involves filling some filling ammonia back into one of the radiators that has leaked out over a number of years, so we’ll spend EVA 1 preparing for those activities on EVA 2. Then we’ll end the day with work on the U.S. Laboratory and Node section where we’re laying out some wireless antennas that are actually designed to communicate with the ELC pallets, and these are new antennas so there’s some wiring and cabling involved with that. That takes up the last couple of hours of that EVA.

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STS-134 Mission Specialist Andrew Feustel awaits the start of a spacewalk training session at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Photo Credit: NASA

This give you an opportunity to crawl around a significant portion of the station?

It does. We’ll be traversing from end to the other of the space station on just about every EVA except for EVA 3, and that’ll be new for me because on the Hubble mission we lived in the back of the payload bay and Hubble wasn’t very far and on the space station mission you get a lot of mileage out of the suit.

Two days after the first spacewalk, Mike and Greg are swapping places and, for the second EVA. What are the jobs for you outside on EVA #2?

Mike Fincke and I go out on EVA 2, Mike comes out the door first, we call him essentially EV 1 for the day and we each take turns leading each day’s activities. We go out on EVA 2 and that whole day is really dedicated to two things, refilling one of the port radiators with ammonia, and lubricating the solar array rotary joint on the port side of the space station. That’s something that’s been done in the past, we have, in history three or four times now I think, rotated the solar array rotary joints, and that involves removing some covers, using an actual grease gun, with some special lubricant to provide grease for this bearing surface that rotates in space. And then the ammonia fill is also a very time consuming job, not a lot of work to do aside from opening and closing valves and mating and demating ammonia lines but that in itself is fairly tricky and wrought with peril so we will do our best. We’ve trained hard for that activity and we’ll do our best to not let any ammonia leak out at that, because if it does that involves some other actions on our part to allow that ammonia to what we call bake out or sublimate off of the spacesuits before we go back inside. It’s not a substance we like to take inside of the space station with us.

Is that lube job on the rotary joint not exactly what you learned as a kid working on cars, was it?

Well, it’s probably exactly what I learned working on cars the grease guns look the same. It looks like a caulking gun but the concept is the same and I think all of us understand that pretty well what we’re trying to do; carrying out is always a little bit more challenging in space.

For a while now when spacewalks done on the station, prior to the spacewalk the night before, spacewalkers have camped out in the airlock as a way to get their bodies ready to fight against any decompression sickness. Before the third EVA on this mission, you’re looking at trying out a different prebreathe protocol.

Yes.

Tell us a little bit about what this new procedure is.

Right. So we were introduced to a prebreathe option by Mike Gernhardt, an astronaut in the corps, and it’s called the In-Suit Light Exercise prebreathe protocol. We call it ISLE, I-S-L-E, for In-Suit Light Exercise protocol, and it offers us , what we typically do for a space station mission, we camp out in the station’s airlock at a lower pressure to allow our bodies to purge the nitrogen that’s in our blood stream. Then in the morning when we wake up and start to prepare for the EVA and have to allow other crew members to come in to help us we have to put on hundred percent oxygen breathing masks and maintain that oxygen seal around our face so that we don’t introduce more nitrogen back into our blood. We have another option aside from campout which is called exercise prebreathe protocol, which doesn’t involved camping out at 10.2 [pounds] psi [per square inch] overnight in the airlock but involves us waking up in the morning, donning an oxygen mask and riding a bicycle for 10 minutes at fairly high level of exertion to get the hundred percent oxygen flowing through our blood and then purging that nitrogen by doing exercise. Now we have a third option which is called the In-Suit Light Exercise prebreathe protocol which involves us having a normal sleep period the night before, waking up in the morning and then donning the spacesuits, so getting into the spacesuit like we normally would, and then decreasing the pressure in the airlock and having the suits at that nominal pressure, and then performing exercise in the suits and it’s not really exercise as much as it is just moving your arms and legs for a certain period of time. Now you’ve got the advantage, you’re on a hundred percent oxygen and you’re at a lower pressure and you’re exercising so you’re sort of combining the airlock campout prebreathe with the exercise prebreathe with the suit itself.

And you’re already in the suit?

You’re already in the suit, right, so that sort of avoids exercising on a bike or camping out overnight. It just puts you in the suit, starts you moving your arms and legs while you’re breathing a hundred percent O2 at a lower pressure, and all those things combined allow us to go out the door and have better protection against decompression sickness symptoms while we’re outside working at those lower pressures.

Is the activity in the suit just normal, pre-EVA activities or is there something special that you have to do?

It’s a little bit special. I had one of our suit trainers tell me today that we’re going to do the Hokey Pokey in the suit, so it’s pretty simple activities. We’re just going to move our arms, move our legs a little bit and try to get the blood flowing a little more than we normally would and sort of wait there and purposely do it, so it’s really not much more than the things you would normally do moving your arms and legs as you get into the suit, but it’s purposely taking those actions to ensure that you’ve covered yourself and provided that level of protection against decompression sickness.

OK, the plan is to do this before the third spacewalk, which is you and Mike going back out…

Mike and I, yes.

What are you going to do outside for number 3?

Well, EVA #3 was a late add so we’ve been training for about a year now together and all along, up until probably a month-and-a-half ago, we had been training three EVAs and we’ve just added this fourth EVA, and this involves installing a power and data grapple fixture, or a base, for Canadarm2. So the Canadarm space station arm, has a capability of walking around the space station from end to end to do different tasks. The Russian segment doesn’t really have any of those bases for the arm to walk on to, and this is an opportunity for us to actually attach one of these base station mechanisms onto what we call the FGB or Functional Cargo Block portion of the space station [Zarya], to allow the arm to walk onto that position and do some tasks in areas that it wouldn’t have been able to reach previous to this. So this is an activity that’s been on the book, I believe, for a number of years and, hasn’t found a home and we think we’ve found an opportunity to do it then on our mission. The advantage to doing it on our mission on EVA 3 is that Mike Fincke has spent a considerable amount of time on the Russian segment in the Orlan spacesuit, so by having he and I go out on that task, being that he has some familiarity that I don’t have, that’s an advantage to us as a team to get out there and do that work.

And this was actually in the plan for the summer of 2010 and got delayed because of a different issue on the station.

Right. It got pushed off, so it fell, and that’s not uncommon for the stuff to roll downhill and land on the next point of opportunity, which happens to be us.

And that’s going to be your task being, for the entirety of EVA 3?

It is. Essentially that’s the main task although we have some other cable routing, which we’re calling Y-cables for lack of a better word, but they’re essentially two cables that have a Y–split in them. They fairly long but they also are strung along the Russian module and part of the U.S., module right where the connections made what we call Node 1, and the Russian module, and these are redundant power supply cables for the Russian segment. So we’re going to install two of those and provide the capability for redundant power supply to the portions of the Russian segment.

OK. Then the last EVA, #4, this would be Mike and Greg going outside…

Yes.

What’s on the schedule for this, the last EVA?

Greg is going out first for that EVA and that’ll be the second of his spacewalks, the third for Mike Fincke, and the primary focus of that EVA is to leave the space shuttle boom, the OBSS [Orbiter Boom Sensor System], the device that we use to extend the capabilities of the space shuttle robotic arm; that lives on the starboard side of the space shuttle payload bay and when we do inspections of the belly of the orbiter we use the robotic arm to take that boom out and it’s got some cameras on the end of it and we use it to extend what the capabilities of the arm are as it looks around the different components of the shuttle. We’re going to leave that boom on space station just in case that the space station ever has need for an extended Canadarm2. If for some reason they want their arm to be longer this device will be on the space station. We will change the grapple fixture that’s on the end of the boom—right now it’s designed to accept the space shuttle robotic arm but we’re going to put a new fixture on the end, which is again one of these power data grapple fixtures, PDGF, the same component that we’re putting on the Russian segment, we’re going to apply one of these devices at the end of the boom, and leave it resident on space station in case the station arm wants to use the boom.

Tell me about where it’s going to go and what it takes to prepare that site.

It’s been left one time before, I believe STS-123 left a boom on orbit, and it lives essentially right on top of the U.S. segments, on the truss, so it’s sort of on S0 and S1, so the starboard side, just to the left of the long axis of the space station, up on the truss, and involves coordination with the Canadarm, the space station arm, to place the boom in a position where Mike and Greg are ready to receive the boom into we call gun racks but they’re essentially sort of jaws that grab onto fixtures that are on the boom and close down like hands that hold it in place and they tighten down those fixtures and secure it into place.

Now four spacewalks is a, it’s a pretty busy…

We’ll be busy.

…busy time for you all.

Yes.

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STS-134 Mission Specialist Andrew Feustel prepares for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

But that’s not unlike what you were experienced on your first flight.

That’s right. On the STS-125 mission we did five spacewalks and we didn’t have a day in between as a break. I personally did so I did EVAs 1, 3 and 5 with a day off in between, and on [EVA] days 2 and 4 I was inside doing the choreography for the next event. On this mission, of course, we do our spacewalks on[Flight] Days 5, 7, 9 and 11 so there’s always a day in between still, but we’re not filling that with another team doing EVAs, so we all sort of get a day off in between instead of just half of the EVA team, which will be nice.

Something else new, during rendezvous and docking and then again after undocking and flyaround, your crew’s gathering data for what’s called the Development Test Objective known as STORRM, which stands for Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation.

Yes. I’m glad you knew…

I read, I read that.

…the full words of the acronym. Yes, we just call it STORRM.

This will include a re-rendezvous…

Yes.

…with the station after the separation…

That’s right.

...which is something we’ve never seen before. Fill us in on what, what this test is and what you folks will do to support it.

Yes. I’m certain Mark Kelly will be able to provide more information as the commander of the flight and helping with performing the flyaround itself but essentially what we will do is we will collect data on the original rendezvous. STORRM is a device that uses cameras, essentially, visual navigation systems, to look at reflectors and objects on the space station to provide guidance and navigation information to the approaching vehicle, so we have a laptop computer on the flight deck, and it’s actually my job to monitor the functions of the laptop computer and report the status to the ground and understand whether or not it’s operating in the way that we expect as we’re approaching because what they’re going to try to do is use the initial approach data to help calibrate their sensors so that they can relate visual images back to distance and position within the software and the hardware itself. Then when we undock we’ll do the standard space station flyaround so we’ll undock, we’ll do one loop around, one lap around, and when we get right back, or just about where we started from the undock, then we’ll go up around and depart out something like 250,000 feet or maybe further, but it’s quite a ways out on the back side of the space station. Then we’ll begin a second approach back into the station, I think within about 600 feet is the closest we’ll get. And on the way back in they will again collect data on the approach, this time hopefully having already done some calibrations with the instruments because of the initial approach, but also this is again just data collection and calibration of their images further so that in the future if they do additional tests or it’s actually used for, you know, operationally for the sole navigational inputs, um, the, the device and hardware would be ready to go.

And this was with an eye toward future vehicles…

It is. It would be a future rendezvous system for whatever wants to utilize that system.

STS-134 is the last scheduled flight of Endeavour, still gathering data on new, for new backup…

Yes, it is.

What are your thoughts about this shuttle’s place in the history of human spaceflight and the work that’s been done in the shuttle program?

You mean Endeavour or the shuttle overall?

Both.

All the vehicles are special and unique and they’ve all flown they are really just a small complement of what they were designed for, maybe not in years but certainly flight life—they were all designed for a hundred missions and we’re seeing mid-30s missions, I think out of each vehicle. My only experience on a spacecraft previous to this was Atlantis and it was a great space shuttle, it did its job and we flew back; I’m sure Endeavour will perform just the same way. They’ve all done very unique things, just as the shuttle program itself has done special and unique things for us in history, so my own feeling is that, yes, indeed, it’s time, if we’re going to change our focus from low Earth orbit, the shuttle has done its job in building the space station. It would be desirable to have a plan , or some capability that was overlapping with the space shuttle; it doesn’t look like we’re going to be there with a U.S. NASA-based program, but I suspect that we will get there in a matter of time. May not even be in my career, it may not, and I’m assuming, it’ll be in my lifetime, but I don’t think we’re going to stop exploring or flying in space, because we’re retiring the space shuttles. It’s certainly done a great job up till now.

You’re going to be flying this mission right around a couple of significant anniversaries. You’ve got the April 12th, the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight…

Yes.

…and the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight, and then in early May the 50th anniversary of the first American spaceflight. What are your thoughts about you being in space right around the time that these things are being commemorated?

Maybe it’s fitting if, 134, remains as the final space shuttle flight, maybe that’s the appropriate time to fly it is when we’re marking the anniversary of all these other great beginnings in spaceflight, we’ll mark a great end which will hopefully lead to another great beginning. I don’t think we’re going to stop exploring; I don’t think humans are capable of not exploring, especially outer space. We look up into the stars every night and wonder what’s up there.

Things have changed an awful lot in the 50 years since [Yuri] Gagarin and [Alan] Shepard flew. Look 50 years in the future and tell me where you think we’re going to be then.

I think we’ll be on Mars, or at least have gone to Mars. I hope that we will have the capability for sustained presence on the moon and that we will be utilizing the resources that we think are there, that we know are there, and those that we have no idea are there but they’re just waiting for us to go and take advantage of them and utilize what we have as our nearest neighbor.