Q: Susan, before we talk about the mission, let's talk about you and how you got here. Why did you want to become an astronaut?
Preflight Interview: Susan Helms
A: Well, I think it's probably related to the kind of work I was doing before I arrived at NASA. I'm [an] Air Force career officer, and I basically had been working on some jobs in the Air Force that allowed me to fly in jets. When I had a taste of that, I got fairly addicted to it, and at some point along that career path, I decided, "Well, how can I fly higher and faster than I am doing right now?" And that, combined with a couple of other brushes with NASA people, made me realize that this could be something I'd be very interested in doing, and I just put my application in, of course, never expecting to get selected. But when that happened, my Air Force career sort of took a turn to a NASA career, and I've had the chance to do just that: fly higher and faster. And that was what I was originally after.
Tell me about how you got to that point in the first place. Does your interest in flight go back a long time or your interest in the Air Force?
Definitely my interest in the Air Force has been there since probably the day I was born [because] my dad was career Air Force. And I basically decided at a young age - and by young, I mean junior high - that the whole thing of being in the military and particularly the Air Force appealed to me. There were a couple of strong points that I wanted. One of them was the opportunity to travel - little did I know how far that would go - and then also the opportunity for a stable career. I like the idea of moving every few years and seeing different places, and it appeared that my dad had had a very rewarding Air Force career. It looked like, as an engineer, I could also have the same. And so, I sort of followed in his footsteps. He was a pilot, and I never had the opportunity to be a pilot because I have bad eyesight. But, basically the Air Force ended up providing a very rewarding career beyond my wildest imagination.
It sounds like your dad is probably one of the people you consider to be the most influential in your life.
My dad and my mom are both very influential. I would say the other people that influenced me were teachers. When I was in junior high, I had some very influential math and science teachers - interestingly, for the most part they were all female - a very strong guidance counselor, and a lot of very supportive friends. We felt pretty invincible back then. We felt like there was nothing we couldn't do. So, I just grew up with that attitude, and certainly my parents supported that.
In your time at NASA - not all of it but recently - you've been involved in the international effort to plan and assemble and crew this International Space Station for a number of years now. Give me your perspective on how the different nations and space agencies and the people have all matured in their ability to work together on this thing.
Well, I think that for a long time this program had been moving forward without Russian participation. Certainly, when my class got here in 1990, the plan was that we would have an international partnership, but the Russians were not part of that plan. In fact, they were still the Soviet Union when I first arrived here, and the interesting thing about all that, of course, is that they were the ones with all the experience. NASA had had a little bit of experience, but not, certainly, what the Russians have had. And when it looked like the partnership had the potential to include them and NASA made the decision to join up with them, I think that was a very smart move because, when you're dealing with a country that has that much space experience with space stations, you would be foolish to not listen to them and not work with them and not try to learn the things that they've already learned. And I think one thing about this partnership, if nothing else, NASA hopefully has picked up on the fact that the Russians have a lot to offer. And when the Russians talk about how they want to do certain things, we ought to be listening to them because they're the ones that have the practical knowledge and the space experience.
Now, you and your Expedition crewmates got a sneak peek at the International Space Station in progress when you were assigned as crew members on STS-101. What were your impressions of the station, and how has the experience of having been there helped you, after you returned, to continue to prepare?
Well, there's no question that when Yury and Jim and I basically floated inside the space station from the shuttle on STS-101, we all looked at each other and went, "This is great!" And when the time came to leave, interestingly enough, the shuttle crew members were - and by shuttle crew members I mean the four of us that were not planning on returning to space station as an increment crew - the four of them were all like, "OK, it's time to go home. It was nice being here, but the mission's over and we're returning." And Yury and Jim and I were all, "No, we're not ready to go. We want to come back. We need to stay longer. This is just a taste of what we've got coming." And the three of us understood each other, and I think that we were very relieved that we had the opportunity to come back again because I'm positive that those four days that we spent on space station on STS-101 were not even close to enough time. Even though we had to go, we were so relieved to know that we were coming back, and we've all been looking forward to it. The other part of it, too, is that the three of us realized, through the flight of STS-101, that we were a great team, and when we got back from that flight we looked at each other and realized, even though in principle we didn't expect to have any problems flying together, the practical reality of it was, having worked together on 101, we realized what a strong crew we were and how much better our mission was going to be as a result of realizing that.
You're going to be going back on shuttle Discovery, on mission STS-102…
…summarize the goals of this mission for us. Are you the primary payload?
I don't like being thought of as a payload. One of the main goals of that mission is to deliver the increment crew and swap out with Shep and his crew, and that could easily have been done on a Soyuz. It didn't have to be done on a shuttle, so the shuttle can go with or without us [because] we have another method of getting up there. But in this case, it is the shuttle. We are going to not only be delivering a new crew, but we're also delivering a whole bunch of supplies that come along with the crew. The food trail has to keep going, and the water trail has to keep going. And the MPLM - it's not a habitation module, but it's sort of a logistics module that you can attach to [the] space station - the first flight of that new module design is going to be on 5A.1. In addition, there's some assembly work that's going to be ongoing. Every mission that goes to [the] space station seems to have some external work that needs to be done outside of the station to keep it growing and keep it going, and Jim and I are participating in a space walk to support that. I would say that those are probably the prime goals of 5A.1. Of course, for us, it's just the start of our mission, and we're really looking at the shuttle more as a method to a bigger purpose. Whereas, the four guys that aren't staying behind probably have a different perspective than we do.
Let's go through some of the highlights of what's going to happen, and start from that first day when you reach the station. The exchange of Expedition crew members begins shortly after the docking with your…
…commander, Yury Usachev, moving on to the station and Yuri Gidzenko, the…
…Soyuz pilot on the first Expedition coming off. Tell me first, why that pair?
Well, Yury Usachev is the obvious choice to go over across the hatch first because he is the commander of [Expedition] Two, and we need to get the [Expedition] Two commander and the [Expedition] One commander talking to each other. So, Shep will stay on the station side, and this whole thing is driven by the fact that the hatch has to be closed for a day or two after we dock, and that's in order to support the shuttle EVAs that are coming within a couple of days later. And when Yury Usachev rotates over, he is a Soyuz commander in addition to being the station commander, and even though Shep is the station commander for [Expedition] One, Gidzenko is the Soyuz commander for the rescue craft - the Soyuz that's attached to space station. So when we rotate crew members across and then close the hatch each time, what's really driving who comes back over is what seat you sit in in the rescue craft because we always have to protect for the very low probability of the station crew needing to do a rescue mission, meaning that they have to abandon ship and come home in the Soyuz. So the Soyuz needs to have all the proper players in the right seats in order to support that rescue mission.
What is required, then, to complete the transfer? It's not just a matter of the two shaking hands and swapping sides of the hatch, is it?
No, it's not. In addition to having the transfer of the human, you also have to have the transfer of the support equipment that goes with the human, and that support equipment is driven by what needs to go in the Soyuz. So again, this relates back to the requirement that the Soyuz is always available with all the right people and the right training and the right pieces inside to support the very low probability of someone having to abandon ship. And so, when Yury gets thrown across the hatch to start talking to Shep, the one thing that'll go with him is his Soyuz seat liner kit - we call it a lozhiment - and probably the food. Whether or not he's got all the right clothes and all that kind of thing isn't nearly as important as making sure that there's the rescue capability for him to leave the station in the event that there's a fire or a depress or something like that. So, Yury will have to rotate with his rescue and survival equipment, but he doesn't have to rotate with his food preferences or his clothing preferences. In the event that the shuttle needs to do a very quick undock and return to Earth for [an] emergency of some kind - a shuttle cabin leak or a medical emergency of some kind - Yury will stay over on that side because he's the one that's got the seat liner over there, and Gidzenko would come home. And that would be a situation that would be acceptable when you balance all the risks of the things that could happen. And then Yury and Shep would have a very long handover until another shuttle could come up and bring up the rest of the crew. I, for one, would not like to see that happen, of course because I would still be on the shuttle side, and if I go up there and dock with station again, I don't want to come home in five days, I want to come home in about five months.
According to the current plan, the day after that first exchange is the day that the first space walk, during the docked operations, is scheduled, and you and Jim Voss are scheduled to be in the spacesuits, climbing around on the outside of the station.
Talk about the sequence of events that are planned; what is it that you two are going to do out there?
Let's see. I have to think about the choreography. When we get out there, one of the first things we do-I'll just go through the big picture steps-is we're going to reconfigure some of the cabling that's on the PMA-3, which is one of the support structures for a docking. That PMA is…it's got a whole bunch of cables on the outside of it, and those cables get reconfigured at various times in the assembly sequence, and this is one of those times, so he and I will go out there and unplug those cables from the Node and then reconfigure them on the PMA so that the PMA can then be moved, because it's no longer attached by cabling to the rest of the station. In addition to that I head off and start configuring some other support equipment, and I think Jim goes off and takes off the ECOMM antenna, which is up there right now supporting the crew videoconferencing operations. And the reason we're doing that is 'cause we're getting a bigger and better system coming along, and so we need to remove the antennas that are there and start preparing for the better antennas and the better systems. At one point, he and I meet up in the payload bay; and we remove a structure from the compartment that's in the payload bay-it's called the LCA, the Lab Cradle Assembly-and one of the major objectives of this mission is to go up and do prep work for bringing up the Canadian-built robotic manipulator system, which is a large cherry-picker kind of arm, a robotic arm. And he and I are taking from the payload bay over and attaching to the Lab one of the main support structures that's going to receive that arm when it comes up on a following mission. And he gets on one end of it and I get on the other, and, working as a team, we unbolt it from the structure and then we end up carrying it over- he's the prime one that carries it over on the robotic arm and I meet him there-and we end up attaching it to the Lab once we get where it needs to be. And then from there, we do some cable work to it to make it come alive so that it's ready to receive the robotic arm on a later mission. After that he and I swap places, and we go out and get another piece of support structure, which is called the Rigid Umbilical tray, and it's got a bunch of cables that are required also to support the robotic arm. We go back to the payload bay, we unbolt that from the support structure, and then we meet back at the Lab again and bolt it on. And if time allows, then we'll also do the cabling and connect that to the structure, to the Lab structure, of the space station.
Are you pretty excited about getting a space walk?
I'm excited about this mission in general, but I have to admit that, since that's one of the few things I haven't done yet in space, I'm looking forward to trying it.
Any tips from your friends in the Astronaut Office about what to expect the first time out?
Oh, we get a lot of help about what to expect! We have a lot of people that are happy to offer all kinds of advice for what to expect on a space walk. I've been on three space walk flights already, so this will be the fourth one that I've been on but it is the first time that I'll get a chance to go outside. But I have seen firsthand, three separate times, what it's like, so I think for me there may not be as many surprises as there would be for someone that hasn't yet been on a space flight where they've seen space walks up close and personal. But I certainly am open to any and all suggestions for the best way to go about things.
The day after that space walk the schedule calls for the transfer of another set of crew members as well as the first mating of that MPLM you referred to to the Unity module. Talk about what goes on that day… what sort of things are on the schedule?
Well, probably the first thing on the schedule is to get Jim over to the other side of the station, and when we do that we'll end up getting Sergei Krikalev over to our side; that fits with the philosophy of swapping people depending on where they sit in the Soyuz. And once that swap is made I think the idea is that those three people on station, their prime job will be to empty this logistics module, which is called the MPLM. This is the first flight of the MPLM. And Andy Thomas will be actually pulling the MPLM out of the payload bay and mating it to the station using the shuttle robotic arm, 'cause there isn't a station robotic arm up there yet. And once he does that, if the hatches are open, I think everybody's going to be dedicated to trying to get the stuff out of there and if the hatch is closed between the two vehicles, well then the people on the station side will have to be the ones to do that. That logistics module is only up there and attached to station for just a few days; it's not like it's going to be there for weeks and weeks so because of the short time constraint everybody on the station side or people who can get to the station from the shuttle will be dedicated to getting that stuff out of there. And the stuff that's in there is our clothing, some payload racks, I'm sure there's food, I'm sure there's all the things we need, extra computers, things we need to support the duration of [Expedition] Two. And that logistics module will show up on several shuttle missions; I know the one following 5A.1-6A-will also have an MPLM, so I'm sure it'll be a welcome arrival because any time you get an MPLM you're going to get a lot of resupply items, which we would probably want for a five-month flight.
And, as you say, it will be only there briefly-it's only there during the duration of the docked operations with the shuttle.
It's only there between the time that the shuttle crewmember puts it on and the shuttle crewmember takes it off, and I think on this flight that's something like three or four days. I haven't seen the latest timeline recently, but it's not something you can be lackadaisical about-you're going to need to make sure you get everything out of there and maybe put some trash or home-return items inside and get 'em in the right configuration for landing so that the shuttle people can undock it or unmate it from the station and put it back in the payload bay of the shuttle and then bring it home.
After that day on this mission, there is a second and perhaps a third space walk that is scheduled for STS-102; your role's going to be quite different than it was during the first space walk. Tell us what you're going to be doing and, if you would again, hit the high points of what's to be done in the remainder of the EVAs.
OK. This crew has basically two space walk teams. We have already talked about Jim and I doing the first space walk; well, the second space walk will be done by Paul and Andy, and I'll be inside the shuttle still at this point so I will serve the role as the space walk director, which is called the IV. And it's something I've done on previous shuttle missions so it's a very familiar territory to me, but Andy and Paul, their prime job is to basically deploy a couple of major space station servicing items which we have bolted to the support equipment inside the shuttle payload bay - the big one being the Early Ammonia Servicer. The space station external cooling loops run using ammonia as the medium in the tubes in order to keep the station at a regulated temperature. And, the thinking is that if we don't preserve the capability to reservice the ammonia inside those external loops, well then we could end up having some serious thermal problems with space station and that would be something nobody would want. So one of the prime objectives is to make sure that we have a servicer on the space station that's going to be capable of refilling the tubes with ammonia if there were to be some losses that were experienced because of micrometeoroids or whatever. So Andy and Paul, their primary job on EVA 2 is to deploy the ammonia servicer, and then after that they've got other boxes that are considered to be items that could be used in the future, but they're probably, in my mind, not as critical as the ammonia servicer-I think that's probably one of the most important ones because you need to have the capability to keep the station thermally stable; in the event there's some problem that would be very important.
At the conclusion of the space walk activity there's another day of transfers to come, and, this is the day that Bill Shepherd leaves the station and you officially become a…
…member of that crew.
Yes. Bill sits in the right seat of the Soyuz, and so do I, and that's why he and I are tagged together in this event. But, yes, when he comes across to the shuttle, that means that I'm headin' over to the station. I know that this is in the plan, but there is some time when the hatch is open between the two space vehicles, and when that happens, all six of us-by that I mean the [Expedition] One crew and the [Expedition] Two crew-can spend some time all together on the station side talking and catching up on last minute details and doing what we call handover. Handover is a very popular term that's used to represent the time when an old crew and a new crew are together and there's a data dump, if you will, of information of the old crew, and everything they've learned in the last several months, and what they feel compelled to tell the new crew before they go. The neat thing about space station program is that…just because Shep and his crew goes home doesn't mean that he'll never be able to tell us anything again, but if you're sitting there-or I should say, if you're floating there-face-to-face, in front of the real hardware it's a lot more intuitive to talk that way about nuances of the hardware or the software or living in space than it is to try to talk to each other after one crew's already returned to Earth. So then we find this handover time to be very, very important, and the six of us, I know, will have at least a full day to do that prior to the shuttle doing its undocking to come home.
This is more than simply pointing out where things have been stored?
Oh, I think that there'll be a lot of time that Shep and I spend together talking about the computer system; I'm supposed to be the computer expert on the [Expedition] Two crew, and I think he's learned quite a bit about how they're operating in space, and there's a lot I want to ask him about that before he leaves through the hatch.
Are you and Yury and Jim having much of an opportunity to get some of this information from Shep and Yuri and Sergei before you fly?
That was the concept, and in fact we're scheduled tomorrow to go to Mission Control and talk to Shep and Yuri and Sergei on a videotelecon. So, tomorrow will be our first time talking crew-to-crew and doing some handover, if you will, before we actually arrive, but hopefully, it won't be the last time. The on-orbit time will be very precious, and if there's information we can get from Shep, either by reading his ship logs, which are posted on the Web, or by talking to him face-to-face to ask him things that he hasn't included in the ship's log, well, that would make things all the better, so that when we arrive up there there's not so much to talk about.
After a week's worth of docked operations, the 102 shuttle mission to the station is to start to head home. Do you expect there'll be a farewell ceremony, a turning over of the station?
I don't know; we've talked about this…I suppose there'll be something formal but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Yury and Jim and I are, like, well, get out of here-we've got work to do! So I'm sure, because we're talking about NASA, that there will be some formal handover of the ship from Shep to Yury; I mean, that would be expected and we have a lot of military traditions and it would be something that I wouldn't be surprised to see. But in truth, you know, when the shuttle leaves, we've only been on orbit for just a few days, and we have several more months of work to do. And, I think we're anxious to get started on that.
One of the first things, I guess then, would be, the question is what you would do as the shuttle undocks and then flies around you before they head home; what are your [jobs] on board then?
I'm sure the three of us will be taking pictures, as best we can; the station now has a lot of really good windows. And we have seen the station, of course, from the shuttle windows-we haven't seen the flyaround of the shuttle around the station from the station windows, so that'll be a new experience for all of us. There'll be some minimal duties to make sure that the two ships separate from each other safely, but I think the brunt of those duties are on the shuttle guys, and we are there, we're sort of the center of the flyaround, and their job is to back away from us and, to a safe distance, and so the most spectacular part of this thing is the visual part, and hopefully we can capture that with cameras.
The shuttle's undocked and flown around and gone away, it started heading home-the three of you are left to begin your job. Your title on this crew is Flight Engineer; tell us what that is, and how you expect to be spending your time day-to-day, generally, on board ISS.
Well it's not going to be like shuttle where there's a very, very specific mission objective and a very packed timeline and where every minute, basically, is going to be outlined and detailed; it's just not going to be that way. This we look at from a completely different viewpoint, and Yury is the one that has the best insight about what's to come 'cause Jim and I have never flown long-duration before. But we expect to go from the shuttle mentality to the station mentality, which basically means we go to start living our lives as opposed to living a timeline, and we do have daily objectives, I'm sure, and we do have work to do every day, I'm sure, but the idea is that you work it as if you're living your life and you're not working it like a very intense business trip; as, there's a big difference between shuttle and station in that respect. And so, Yury has already mentioned that we can expect to have things relax a little bit. And it doesn't mean we're not going to work hard, we're going to work very hard, but the mentality of your daily work will be approached from a different angle. I know that there's daily maintenance on the space station: we've got consumables, such as the, you know, the holder for the toilet and the urine filters and the filters for this ventilation system and that battery may need some work, and it's just like what we did on space station when we were there on 101-we're going to have to do regular maintenance activities to keep the whole station alive and breathing and going. Also when we get up there, the Laboratory will have only been up on orbit about a month or so, and we are positive that the work going on to outfit the Laboratory isn't going to be complete by the time Shep leaves, and so we'll end up spending a lot of time continuing that work getting the Lab ready for long-duration flight. When the MPLM is attached to the station, we will have been dragging out all kinds of racks and those will probably not be completely installed by the time the shuttle leaves, so we'll turn to the task of completing those rack installations and getting the payloads up and running and basically continuing whatever work needs to be done in order to get the station healthy and growing.
The station that you will assume control of is going to have a lot greater capabilities than it did when the first Expedition crew arrived. How does the presence of the U.S. Lab module change the command and control capabilities of this Lab and its relationships with flight controllers in Houston and in Korolev?
Well, right now the Russians are the overall integrator for space station operations, and when the Lab gets up there, the way the agreement has worked, is the United States mission control will then take over the role as the prime integrator of all space station operations. And so what I think will happen near the end of Shep's increment is that instead of speaking in Russian, the big signal will be instead of speaking in Russian all the time people will be speaking in English; when the handover takes place between the two control centers, that's going to be the biggest, the biggest sim, the biggest sign. And, when we get up there Shep will already have established some methods of how to do business day-to-day; there'll be some things that don't change-he'll still get daily schedules, he'll still get messages, they'll still get a lot of computer traffic back and forth and what won't change is the amount of work that needs to be done, and it'll still get conveyed up to the crew with the procedures on what needs to be done and how to do it, but it'll be conveyed through the United States mission control instead of through the Moscow mission control. When the Lab gets up there it also improves the communication capability a great deal, and so instead of having these ground passes which happen several times a day and they're usually only several minutes long and the crew has to speak a lot in a very short period of time and the communication really isn't all that good, the reception's really not all that good, once the Lab gets up there and they activate this new comm system, well then there's going to be a lot more continuous communication, and that'll be the other big difference you'll see after the handover and the change of command of the mission controls. The United States will have the primary comm path, and they'll also have the primary comm coverage.
This is by virtue of the activation of the Ku system that's contained in the Lab, right?
It's the S-band system, actually. Yes. The Ku system gets activated on a following mission, and that's where they get the video capability from the station-not through the computers but through the actual video link between the satellites.
I want to find out then, how that impacts your work, but there's a question missing in the middle: as you settle in on board one of the things that you're going to be doing is starting science work inside the Destiny lab; can you give us an overview of what the science is on your plate for your few months up there?
Well, it can be divided into two categories: one of them is life science, and the other one is microgravity science. And…there's actually a third link, and that's the radiation science. We have three different radiation experiments that are up there characterizing the environment. The life science, I like to think of as the part where the human is the test, and we don't actually have a whole lot of those during our increment; those are really going to start getting piled on in following increments and our primary set of experiments has some life sciences and some radiation, but a large number of them are microgravity science. And those don't show up right when we do, they show up a little bit later than we do, but it's still underneath our watch. And there are a lot of people out there doing a lot of good work to try to exploit the space station as an environment that's unique in the world, if you will, to do that kind of research.
You've done science in space before on lengthy shuttle missions; do you expect this to be much different than science on board the shuttle?
I expect this to be different in that this is a laboratory that just sort of hums along for weeks, whereas on the space shuttle flight that I had, we were doing very, very intensive science work over a period of many, many days, but every day was different, every day was packed. The plan was to exploit as much of the mission as you could, to collect as much science as you could, and do as much as you possibly could fit in to the mission timeline, whereas on space station, shoot, you've got fifteen years to do this science. And so I expect it to be more of a laboratory where the payloads, in many cases, just take care of themselves, and it's our job to just make sure that they continue to run. In the early increments, because we're so busy as a crew outfitting the station as a station and trying to get the assembly ops to continue, that the crew members don't actually have that much time to spend supporting the science. When we get to the point where we fly six people instead of three, that's when you're going to see a tremendous change, I would imagine, and you'll have three of those six people who are actually fully dedicated to doing research with payloads, and that's going to start a new phase of space station as being sort of a full-up platform by which, you know, you can do some fairly amazing things.
A lot of construction on the Lab module…occurred at the Marshall Space Flight Center, and people at Marshall are going to be continuing to play an important role in the Lab once it's on orbit. Talk about how the payload control center there is going to be contributing to the work that you and your colleagues are going to do in space.
Oh, those guys are just great. They have been given the job of handling all the utilization for the space station, and by "utilization" I mean all the payload operations; and they have taken it and run with it! They have set up an entire system by which all the payload activity can be done through them, controlled by them, monitored by them, procedures are done by them, and they, basically, off-load the need to have people in Houston doing this work. And the good thing about that is because they're in charge of all the payload stuff they can integrate all that together and come up with a very cohesive picture and worry about all the payload constraints and making sure they don't conflict with each other. And it'll be a real pleasure to be on orbit doing some science work and to be able to call people in Marshall who are doing nothing but supporting that science work; I think that that'll be a nice change from talking to Russia about the Service Module or talking to the Americans about something that's going on with the assembly operations or utilization or training or whatever, but then you also have these experiments running in the background, which are scientifically interesting anyway, and you can call people in Huntsville and talk to them about what's going on there. I think it's a very important role that they're playing. They don't…it's good because they don't get…they don't have to worry about being low people on the totem pole in Mission Control; they have their own entity and their own identity, and I think that's a really good thing.
In the early weeks you're scheduled to be busy with an item called the Human Research Facility in the Laboratory. And this may be what you mentioned a moment ago-can you give us some details about what this project is, the kind of research that gets done with it?
Yes. That the HRF, or the Human Research Facility, it's really a name for a rack, and in this rack is some supporting equipment that can be used by any investigator to perform human life science research. The parts of the rack that'll be active when we get up there are the ultrasound and the GASMAP technology, which is basically an apparatus that can be used to check out how humans can breathe and how the lungs mix gases and things like this, and in fact we're going to be using that technology for our once-a-month medical checkouts; and by that, they're not science checkouts, they're actual medical checkouts to make sure we're still functioning well as human beings on orbit by our doctors. And then the rack itself also has the ability to collect data and download files, and it works really slick; we've already had a lot of training on that rack. The use of [Expedition] Two as subjects, however, has been greatly reduced; and so Jim and Yury and I will be doing very minimal operations as humans who are being experimented on, but we'll be doing a large number of operations to make sure that the rack is healthy and the rack is working well. And so our primary role in [Expedition] Two is to try the ultrasound out, make sure it's working properly, and try out the GASMAP and do regular maintenance checks on it, but not to do any experiments on it yet; that's coming down the road with later increments.
Along with the work of science inside the Destiny laboratory, there's also a space walk scheduled during this first stage of your mission; talk about what's on the agenda here, and who's going to do what?
That space walk is, if it's the one I'm thinking of, it's actually an internal EVA, which you could call an IVA; but that is to move a docking cone from one port to another inside of the Service Module adapter. There is, the Service Module, if you look at it, there, it's got a long, kind of cylindrical shape and then it's got sort of a sphere on one end of it, and that sphere has a host of docking planes, and there's only one reception cone which they needed for the joining of the FGB and the Service Module. But now that that joining is already taking place, you don't need that reception cone to be where it is any more, so there's a space walk-an internal space walk-to decompress that sphere and move that reception cone from that port to a different port. And, Yury and Jim will be doing that. It sounds like that's going to take place now between 5A.1 and 6A.
And the 6A [mission] will be the next shuttle assembly visit; before you see them, though, you're currently scheduled to get a new shipment of supplies on a Progress ship. Can you talk a bit about, in general, what is it that it takes to prepare an old Progress to leave and what do you folks do when a new one arrives?
I'm sure that the Progress work is probably not unlike the MPLM work. You get this compartment with a bunch of stuff in it, and the idea is that you pull out everything useful and put in things [that] are not useful so that you can get them away from the space station, 'cause the last thing you need is clutter on a space station. And so these Progresses and MPLMs have the same functional purpose, which is to receive useful stuff and get rid of clutter. And I'm sure that, because the MPLM can be returned to Earth, we put more useful clutter in there that people want back, but for the Progress it just burns up in the atmosphere so the kind of clutter, which would be like garbage, those are the kind of things we would put into the Progress because we knew that nobody was ever going to see those again.
Is it a long-term management process that you all have to go through to keep [things] orderly about what's going in and out of that module?
I think that we probably have to pay attention to it. Yury, of course, has done this a lot of times, and this is one of those things that Jim and Yury and I can talk about it, a lot, prior to launching, but it's probably better to get up there and have Yury show us what works and what doesn't work, and…and in truth we actually, we did go look at a Progress, we've already looked at one of the ones that we will be receiving [when] we were in the factory floor poking around in a Progress that is due to arrive while we're in orbit and so we had a chance to see how it was configured, and Yury was there to show us where the storage compartments were going to be installed and we talked about whether or not our Progress was primarily going to bring up oxygen or fuel, because Progresses sometimes have different purposes. And then Yury talked to the two of us, inside the Progress-the three of us were just standing there talking about it-Yury was talking to us about his ideas about what works for off-loading the Progress and then putting stuff in the Progress. I certainly have the impression it's going to be holding garbage for most of the time that it's docked, once we get it emptied; once we take out what's useful, we're going to turn it into sort of this big garbage receptacle and put all that in there.
You've got three shuttle visits coming during your increment, the first of which is going to bring the space station's robotic arm, which you mentioned a few…
…moments ago. Talk a bit about this component to the station: how is it going to be used in the future in assembly and maintenance of the station?
Well, the Canadian-built robotic manipulator system, which is the arm, is probably one of the most important pieces of space station from the standpoint of flexibility. It gives you the chance to do some things that you normally would not be able to do. For example, if you've got a very large box, a very large component such as what just happened on 4A, the, you know, the putting on of the arrays, I mean, those are pieces of hardware that cannot be manhandled by a couple of EVA space walkers, and so the robotic arm ends up being the only means by which you can lift heavy pieces from an arriving shuttle and actually attach and add to the space station. That's our primary method of doing that right now. The Airlock is coming up during our watch, and we're using the robotic arm on station to reach into the shuttle payload bay and pick it out and then mate it to the side of the space station, and that is something you can't do, not only with just two people carrying it, but you also can't even do it with the shuttle arm. The shuttle also has one of these robotic manipulator systems, but the station one is more flexible and it's larger, and it can reach to places around the space station that the shuttle one cannot. And so, for the Airlock operations the station robotic system is all you've got. And it's incredibly important.
Part of the reason that the station arm can reach places the shuttle cannot, although not in the case you just cited, is the fact that it can walk along the surface.
Oh, yes, the station robotic arm is being built so that it can effectively be an inchworm. At our stage, it's not going to have a lot of places to inch along to, but on later increments they'll be bringing up a platform where it can actually mount to the platform and the platform can scoot along the, lengthwise, the whole space station, the whole American part of the space station. And that arm's going to be able to reach all kinds of places, which, of course, helps you augment your ability to keep the station growing. So, yes, it's going to be pretty exciting; it's a first.
And all of you have trained in what it takes to operate that arm?
Oh, absolutely; for three years we've been training some with the Canadians and some with our own people. And, it's having flown the shuttle arm before, I would say that the station arm is about ten times more complex; there's a lot more to it. It's got a lot more flexibility; it also has a lot more redundancy. The shuttle arm is a great cherry picker but the station arm is going to be, you know, more of a Cadillac; there's a lot more to it.
During the shuttle mission that brings this arm to the station, the shuttle astronauts are going to perform space walks for the installation; describe what you and Jim and Yury will be doing during these operations outside your space station.
Well, I know that one of the things that'll be happening is, for example, on 7A, I will be supporting those space walks with Jim and Yury's help, using the station robotic system to do the tasks that the shuttle can't do during the space walks, like lifting the Airlock out of the payload bay and mating it. That's a joint EVA/robotic task that needs everybody's help. And to put the gas tanks onto the Airlock, so that it can be used at some later date, is also something that you have to use the station robotic arm for. So, at least during our increment I would say that, whenever a space walk does happen outside, where people are crawling around on the surface of the space station I would say that it's a team of probably ten people doing very intensive work together. And certainly that seems to be the case on our increment.
And I take it, then, that that would be the same during the space walks on 6A for the installation of the arm itself.
That's right. When the arm gets installed there's a lot of work that Jim and Yury and I will need to do in order to get it prepared to do its step-off. It comes up on a pallet, and it doesn't just stay on the pallet, it needs to come alive, and it needs to walk itself off and attach itself to the Lab. So that work is being done by the station crew; that work is not being done by the EVA guys. The EVA guys get it started, and then, using the shuttle arm as a helpful moving camera the station crew is the one that actually steps it off and attaches it to the side of the Lab, and then from there, it makes its semi-permanent home for many, many increments and helping out with the operations from that point on.
Following the shuttle's departure - before it departs but as well as afterwards - you're scheduled to be doing a lot of checkouts on this new station arm.
That's what I hear.
What is it that you're going to be doing: is there some set of criteria that's got to be met to say, OK, this thing is actually operational?
Yes. There is…you know, they think they know how it really works, and I'm sure that they have an excellent prediction model for how it really works but until you actually get up there and try the hardware, no one really knows for sure. And so I think they want to do as much possible testing as they can just to make sure that everything we learned about that arm prior to launching, that in fact it does operate the way people said it would. And so a large part of our job will be to go ahead and quantify everything that they were thinking, and then also to be able to deal with surprises in the event things don't work the way that they're supposed to. I would predict that there's going to be very little of that, but at the same time, if it does happen, we're ready to support it.
Then are these checkouts just an expansive version of powering up the arm and moving it through its paces, if you will?
I think that's probably a good way to describe it. Of course, we have to do all that in a very short time frame and that's between 6A and 7A, because when 7A arrives it needs to be absolutely ready to go to support the heavy-duty EVA and robotic work in order to get that Airlock installed with its gas tanks.
I want you to talk about that in a moment; before that, though, again according to the current schedule, you've got another big event scheduled and that's the arrival of the new Soyuz spacecraft at the station. Why is it that there's another Soyuz coming up, and also, tell us what you're going to do when it's time for that Soyuz to dock to the station?
You know, that's just going to [be] like another arriving spacecraft: ho hum, they come about every other week…no, really, it's not quite that, not quite that…la-di-da. But anyway, that Soyuz aircraft is required because, or spacecraft is required, because the lifetime of the Soyuz on orbit is only about a hundred and ninety days or so, and the one that Shep launched on is still up there. And that, as I had mentioned before, serves as a rescue vehicle in the event that there's some sort of emergency on the space station and you have to abandon ship. But, while we're up there, that Soyuz will have gone through its a hundred and ninety day life, so you need to bring a replacement up and that replacement, it sounds like, will get up there around the very, very beginning of May; late April, early May…I think its launch date is April 30th. And, that crew is what's called a taxi crew: they come up, they don't actually provide any space station roles, but they may have a little bit of a science program that they do in the seven days that they're with us, and they'll come, they'll dock-they'll dock, of course, not to our American docking compartment but to a Russian docking compartment, and then, that crew will having docked, and they do primarily all the work for the docking, they'll come inside, they'll adapt for about seven days or so, and then they'll leave on the old one right about the end of its service life. And, from that point on, we've got another Soyuz whose clock has been restarted, basically, and now is good for about another hundred and ninety days.
We've referred a couple of times to the station's new Airlock; it arrives on the second shuttle visit…
…during your increment. Let's talk about the Airlock itself; what is the capability that this piece of hardware adds to the International Space Station?
Well, I had mentioned that because of space walks that were happening on the shuttle, we had to keep the hatch closed between the shuttle and the station. The reason for that is because our prebreathe protocol for doing a space walk requires that, these days, that the cabin atmosphere drop down to 10.2 psi and there's some sound medical reasons why you need to do that. Unfortunately, when the hatch is closed between the two vehicles, you can't do any work that involves transfer operations or handover or any of that, and it's really constraining to the mission to have to do that. This new Airlock, not only is it larger and not only can you carry more in and out of the Airlock if you're replacing parts on the outside of the space station, but it also is sort of a little self-contained capsule so that the crew can do their own protocol for preparing for a space walk without having to depressurize the rest of the station to 10.2. It gives the Americans the capability to do space walks with the American suit between shuttle visits; however, we can do that with the Russian space walk equipment as well, and we'll have had that capability from the very beginning-they have that capability now. So it doesn't add anything as far as capability, other than to be able to use American suits in addition to Russian suits. But what it does do is, for American space walks, you do preserve the ability to not have to lose a whole bunch of air to do a space walk, like would have to happen now if you didn't have that Airlock and you needed to go out of the station in an American suit. The station, that's just way too much consumables to throw away for a space walk, and so the Airlock provides you that.
You've referred a couple of times to the use of the station's new arm, delivered on the previous visit, to install the Airlock on this; this is also in coordination with space walks by the station crew?
This is in coordination with space walks by the shuttle crew. The 7A crew, when they arrive, they'll have a space walking team, and those guys are doing three space walks: one of them is to prepare the Airlock for removal from the payload bay to mate onto the station…they have to stay outside to do all the prep work for the removal, and then they need to wait until I mate it onto the station, and then they have more prep work to do after its been mated to the station, primarily for thermal reasons; and then the next two space walks involve moving gas tanks of nitrogen and oxygen from the shuttle payload bay to the station and mounting them on the Airlock. But, during that time frame there aren't any station space walks happening, they're all shuttle space walks.
How intricate a maneuver is it to use the station arm to lift this out of the shuttle payload bay and put it where it belongs on the station?
Well, if you didn't preplan the maneuver it could be very intricate, but I've been working with the flight designers in the Virtual Reality Lab to make that movement as simple as possible. And we're not interested in going for something really difficult and proving we can do it, we're just interested in doing something that's very simple and elegant, so probably the biggest…the biggest movement is to grab the Airlock with the arm and then just basically lift the Airlock and flip over the arm along the elbow to basically get it up to where it needs to be on the Node; it's a large rotational movement around the elbow. I can't, you, none of us could make our arms do what the station arm can do-it can bend from the elbow, all the way in the opposite direction, and then you take it through the elbow and bring it up like this and hook it on. So I'm not describing it very well but I'm sure, when the time comes, there'll be all kinds of NASA PAO video to describe the arm movement so people can see it. And it may look extremely difficult but in fact, it's very easy to do.
After that shuttle crew heads home you'll have about a month left in the flight. Talk about what goes on during that time, including the arrival of another Russian component to the station, the Docking Compartment.
Yes. We will have, hopefully, the Russian version of a new airlock brought up there. Now understand, they have the ability to do space walks now out of the Russian segment, but this Docking Compartment ends up not only providing a more mature capability to do space walks, which is like our Airlock, it can be separated from the rest of the station, but also it provides I think an enhanced capability to do dockings to the Service Module via the docking port if more Soyuzes come up, so it expands the number of docking ports we have available on station for Soyuz all together. And that's coming up, I hope June 1st, and once it arrives it will have inside of it new equipment as well that we'll be pulling out and using to outfit the Russian segment, and then we'll prepare the Docking Compartment and then Jim and I and Yury have space walks involved with outfitting the Docking Compartment on the outside as well. We'll actually use the Docking Compartment, we'll deploy a new antenna, we'll connect some cables; we have both high- and low-frequency cables that we'll be laying on the outside of the Docking Compartment to give it video capability and…and it's just basically another stage to the whole space station growing and becoming bigger and better.
That's a component that's launched without a crew?
Yes, the Docking Compartment is launched on an unmanned Russian rocket.
And I think you said it is headed for, or destined for the nadir port on Zvezda?
The nadir port on the Service Module, yes; that's where it's meant to go. Right now there's no Soyuz docking capability on that port, but with the Docking Compartment in place then that, then you do have the ability to later dock a Soyuz to the nadir port.
The third shuttle visit that we've referred to a couple of times comes that summer and it carries your replacements. Is the handover to Frank Culbertson and his crew, in your eyes, is that the main goal for your activity during the shuttle mission, during this shuttle visit?
I'm sure that having Frank and Volodya and Misha come up there and showing them the station as it exists at that time is going to be our prime job. Now, they are also bringing up an MPLM, so that MPLM will be docked to the station again, and I think there are going to be some space walks on that flight, I'm not exactly sure; I'm not sure whether those are going out of the station airlock or the shuttle airlock. If they're out of the station airlock then we can do all kinds of handover work even though the shuttle guys are doing EVAs, and we'll also be able to just unload that new MPLM with all of Frank's clothes and food and the other guys' clothes and food, too, so that logistics module, that'll be the third time we see it, and I'm sure that'll be one of our prime jobs, is to be off-loading that thing so that it can be brought back at the end of the mission.
As eager as you sound to begin the mission, I suspect you'll be a little sad [too] to have to leave.
I don't know; maybe I'll be really happy! I'm just pleased Scott Horowitz is the Commander of that flight, 'cause we flew with him on STS-101 and that was a real joy, and when we heard that he got assigned to be the Commander of the crew that would come and pick us up, all three of us were delighted because we had flown with him on 101, and it was just great. So I wrote Scott a note while I was in Russia, when I heard the news, and told him how terrific it was that he would be the guy that would make sure we got home safely.
You and Yury and Jim are in a unique position in the history of the space station: you're going to be there during the installation of the Airlock, as we mentioned a moment ago, and be on hand for the transition of this station from the "assembly needed" phase to the "start of research" phase, the Phase 3 of the station. Finally, talk to me a little bit about the kinds of science that's going to be done on this station in the future, and how you expect to see it contributing to life on Earth and our future in space.
Well that question is so open-ended. I would like to highlight the fact that you can't probably figure out how to go other planets unless you figure out how humans live in space for a longer period of time than a three-week shuttle flight. And, we're not going to know all the answers in the early years when I'm flying and when a few more increments after me [are] flying, but there should be this overriding objective to understand how the human body responds to long-duration space flight. And the reason is 'cause the nearest planet, which would be Mars, the obvious choice, is many, many months away, and when you leave Earth and fly for months at a time to another planet, when you get there, you'd like to be able to think that the humans are in good enough shape so that they can crawl out of the spacecraft and walk around on the surface once they arrive; otherwise, it would be a waste. And we don't quite understand how the body is going to react to that, and so I would like to look at one of the prime objectives of space station as figuring out that specific question. And there's a lot of nuances to the question, there's a lot of little things you're going to have to figure out to get the basic question answered. The other part of this is you can't treat a flight to Mars as a shuttle flight-you can't treat it like it's a tightly-controlled business trip, not for months and months and months on end-you've got to figure out how humans establish a life [in] space, sort of like how they would establish living in an outpost in Antarctica. And that's not the same as a shuttle flight. I think the Russians are way ahead of us on this, by the way, because they've been doing it for so much longer than we have. But humans need to be able to deal with an austere environment that's isolated, with just a couple of other people, and understand what makes that work and what makes that not work and how you can work together as a team to get your objectives accomplished. And, that's what I see as the other big thing about space station. You can sort of…subvert all that for a shuttle flight, because it is such a small period of time, but for a station flight we have to understand how to live out there, and what's required, and what you can get away with, and what you can leave behind and what you can't leave behind, and what makes the humans continue to work together as a team because if they don't work together as a team, then you're not going to get your job done. And you can't just project the answer to that question; you have to go out there and live it to get the answer.