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Preflight Interview: James Voss
James Voss

Flight Engineer James Voss. Photo credit: NASA

Q: The ISS Expedition Two Crew Interviews with Jim Voss, Flight Engineer 1 on this mission to the International Space Station. Jim, let's start by learning a bit about you. Can you tell me why it is that you wanted to become an astronaut?

A: Well, as a child, I did a lot of reading; science fiction was one of my favorite things to read, and it seemed like it was a very exciting sort of a job, and I liked the kind of work that these fictional astronauts did. Of course we didn't have a space program at that time, but as soon as we did I thought, well, that would be a really neat thing to do. And that thought was probably in the back of my mind the entire time I was growing up. And as I got into a position where I could possibly think about doing that, I decided to start applying; and they created the Mission Specialist program in the shuttle program just for me, I know, and that allowed me to start applying because I was an engineer, not a test pilot. And so I was able to fulfill what started out as just fiction but became a dream, and then became reality.

Amongst the astronauts who work for NASA and for the other agencies around the world, there are a wide variety of backgrounds in terms of academics and career path. What's yours?

I'm an aerospace engineer. I got a bachelor's degree from Auburn University in aerospace engineering, and then a master of science from the University of Colorado in aerospace engineering sciences. And then I was a soldier for the first fifteen years of my career before I came to NASA to finally get to use my aerospace engineering.

So, you were a, if I recall, you're [an] Army officer.

That's right. I just recently retired, so I'm now a colonel, retired, in the U.S. Army.

Is the military background, do you find, is that a part of, how important a part do you find that that is, contributed to the person that you were that NASA decided, yes, we want?

Well, I think that was pretty important because you learn a lot of things in the military that help you to achieve goals. Discipline, hard work, a work ethic that is important to accomplishing the mission; and placing other things ahead of self. All of those things contribute to preparing you to do something like a space flight. And so I think that those characteristics that I either learned or developed a little bit further through my military service, aided me in becoming an astronaut and in doing my job as an astronaut.

As you look back, all the way back to your childhood, who do you see as the people who have been or still are the most significant influences in your life?

Oh, I've had a lot of people who have strongly influenced my life and have greatly benefited me, starting with my grandparents, who actually raised me- Jim and Millie Wright. They were, I think, the foundation for who I am today. And then there were other people, including Jack Damewood, who was my ROTC instructor in college who, I think, had a profound effect on where I headed in life, influencing me to become an infantry officer and instilling some of those characteristics that we were talking about before so that I would apply them in my military career. And another area that I think was a great influence was the coaches that I've had through my, my athletic career- wrestling in high school and college and my football coach in high school. I think they also taught discipline, self-discipline, and a desire to achieve- a lot of the things that you carry through in a career. So Bobby Barrett Ray Campbell, and Swede Umbach, those were all guys that had a terrific influence on my life.

You've been involved in the International Space Station Program as an astronaut for a number of years now. Give me your perspective on how the partner nations, and the space agencies, and the people themselves, have matured in their ability to work together.

Yes, as you know, during Phase 1, I was a backup for some of our astronauts who flew to the Mir, so I got an early taste of our interaction between us and the Russian Space Agency. And, we had a very difficult time learning to work together: we have different cultures, we have different ways of approaching the space program, the ways that we train, the way that we operate in space; our perspectives-our shorter flights on the shuttle versus their longer flights that they have on the Mir. So we had a lot to learn about working together, and over the last five or six years we have learned a great deal, and I've seen huge strides that we've made in the way that we interact, the way that people on the lower levels work together to accomplish things and to produce joint products, and the way that our managers at the higher levels have learned how to interact, resolve differences, and to solve the problems that face us on a daily basis. So I think we've come a long way and we're headed in the right direction.

Got an example that comes to mind about how you've seen that improvement?

Well an area that I guess I could use as an example would be emergency procedures. We have two separate, distinct pieces of the space station, in some people's minds-the Russian segment and the U.S. segment. And we developed independent emergency procedures for those two pieces: the Russians developed their part, the U.S. developed their part, but as a crew, we looked at that and said, we've really got to come together with one. Well, they were working behind the scenes all this time, trying to come up with one joint procedure, and as we've gotten closer to flight we've seen the results of their work, which is a combined procedure that allows us to include all of the parts of the space station in one large, emergency procedure that considers both pieces of it as they're put together, because that's how we have to view it, and they were able to come together and do that, work together in a joint group and produce a joint product.

You and your Expedition crewmates got a sneak peek at the International Space Station last May, when you were assigned as crewmates to fly on STS-101. Can you give me, first of all, your impressions of the station at that stage, at that time, and second, can you tell me whether or not that experience has been beneficial for you and Yury and Susan since then, as you've come back and continued to prepare?

Yes. We were blessed, actually, with the opportunity to go to the space station early and to see what it was like, to learn about it, to get the feel of it. We were very fortunate to be in a good spot that the space program needed us to go up there and help with the repairs on the Functional Cargo Block, the FGB. So when Susan and Yury and I flew up there, it was a perfect opportunity to check out our future home. And, you know, to be completely honest with you, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy a four-and-a-half- or five-month stay in a very small space, and I had sometimes thought about that. But after being up there and thinking about it, I realized that in fact I could stay and live and work on board the International Space Station in the configuration we're going to have while we're there. And that was a great psychological factor, as far as I'm concerned-it helped to motivate me, it improved my morale, and it made me realize that I could work there.

You are riding to orbit to reach the station on space shuttle Discovery, on STS-102. Summarize the goals of the mission for me-or are you the goal of the mission?

Well, I think that the main purpose of this flight is to exchange the crew, to send us up there to replace the Expedition One crew, who's on board now, and while we're up there there's a lot of other things-important work-that needs to be done to prepare for future missions. We are installing some things on the outside that we need to put into place for future missions to prepare for leaving a particular docking port available for putting other pieces on - for putting on a cradle that will hold other pieces of the space station, installing some things and reconfiguring some cables that will allow the space station remote arm to be installed and save work on that particular flight. So we're doing a lot of things like that, as well as transferring over several other racks-these are the large closet-type things that go inside the Laboratory module, which will already be up there, and we'll install those, and we'll set them up, activate systems, and make sure that they're all working right so that we can use them in future experiments and work on the space station. So there's a lot to this mission, a lot of transfer, and a lot of stuff outside and inside that we have to do.

Crewmember transfer is, of course, one of the top priorities, and the first of that begins on the day the shuttle docks to the station with Yury Usachev moving on to ISS and Yuri Gidzenko moving on to the shuttle. Can you tell me, first of all, why that pair was chosen, rather than Commander for Commander, and second, what work has to be done in order to complete a transfer of crewmember?

Well, we chose to change the crewmembers this way because it's very important to have some face-to-face handover time with the other crew, and we know that the Commander-to-Commander face-to-face handover time is going to be very important. So Bill Shepherd and Yury Usachev need to have some time together on the space station. So Yury's going over the very first day to give him the maximum amount of time possible while we're docked. Susan and I are staying on the shuttle mainly because we have other shuttle work to do; we're members of that crew first, and then, when possible, we'll transfer over to the station. He's changing with Yuri Gidzenko because Shep, of course, needs to stay over there to talk to Yury, and Sergei Krikalev is the experienced Flight Engineer that they'll want to keep on board until I get over and swap out with him. So, it's very important that Yury get a lot of time. Now, during this handover time, what we do is exchange information mainly. There's a little bit of exchange of equipment-your personal gear and a thing that we call a lozhiment: it's your seat that goes in the Soyuz. It includes your emergency equipment, your suit that you would wear in a descent in the Soyuz vehicle, and it includes the seat that is made just for you; so those have to be swapped out. And then it's information exchange: we are going to learn, in that four or five days that we have together with the old Expedition crew, everything that we didn't learn in training, all of the differences to station that we didn't know about, the nuances of exactly how to use the toilet, and exactly how we do the things that we've got to do, what the daily routine is. And the thousands of little things that they've learned over a period of four months that we want them to share with us in just four or five days.

The day after that first exchange is the day that is scheduled for the first space walk of this mission to occur. And as you said you and Susan remain shuttle crewmembers-you two will be doing this space walk. Tell me about the sequence of events; what jobs are to be conducted during this EVA?

Well, the first thing that we're going to do is reconfigure some cables on what's called the Pressurized Mating Adapter #3-it's sort of a cone-shaped device that is used as an interface between the Node, which is sort of a central piece of the space station, and other pieces. We have to move it from one side to another side; well, before we move it we have to remove all the cables that are connected to it, that provide power to it and to other vehicles. So, we will go out and remove all these cables, put them into dummy connectors on the PMA, so then it's free to be moved to the other position. Then we remove an Early Communications antenna that's actually in the way of where it will be moved, so we've got to remove that antenna-it's no longer needed now-so we'll take it off, put it inside, and then we're going to move something that's called the Lab Cradle Assembly. It's like a small truss with a claw on it that can grab onto things that we bring up later to put onto the space station, and this claw will grab onto something to hold it into place. So we're putting this on board on the Lab-it, the Lab was so large in diameter this could not be launched in place so we have to carry it up there, stick it on, bolt it down, and pin it in place. So we'll be picking that up-I'll be on the robotic arm, and Susan will go over to where we're going to install this to prepare the work site, and then they'll move me on the robotic arm over, holding on to the Lab Cradle Assembly, into position; we'll slide it into place, we'll pin it, and bolt it into place, and then it'll be ready to do its job on future flights. And the last thing, the last major task we'll do is moving something called the Rigid Umbilical. This is a tray that has some cables on it that will be connecting up the power and data and signals, and video signals from the Laboratory module to a place that will allow the space station robotic arm to receive power, to send video. And so it's basically stringing some cables, but they're very delicate cables so they put them on a rigid structure that we have to move over there, bolt into place, and then make the connections so that when the arm does get there on the next flight, 6A, it'll be able to have power and to operate.

Most people think that having experience at something is helpful when you go back to do it a second time; you've already done one space walk outside of this station-is that going to help you?

Oh, it will. This will actually be my third flight, third space walk; one of them was on the space station. And the operations there, and the work, is pretty much the same no matter what the structure is you're operating around, but having seen the space station from outside, it'll be I think a familiar place to me, except now it's much bigger because we've got the solar arrays and the Laboratory module that have been added. But it will help a little bit, I think. And a lot of the operations will be things that I've done similar operations before.

The schedule for STS-102, for the following day after your space walk, calls for the transfer of another crewmember-in this case, you-as well as the first-ever mating of the pressurized logistics module, this one named Leonardo, to the station. Talk us through the events of that day and what it's going to be like, do you think, to actually become a crewmember of that station.

Yes. Our crewmates on STS-102 will already have moved the Pressurized Mating Adapter I was talking about before to another port; the MPLM, the Multipurpose Logistics Module, will be taken out of the payload bay of the shuttle, it'll be moved up and just plugged in to the Node. We have a very complicated apparatus called a Common Berthing Mechanism that will allow us to mate them together; some big bolts that will pull it together and make a very good seal between the Node and the MPLM; and then we'll be able to open up the hatch, once we've checked that we have good pressure integrity. And the MPLM is like a very big high-tech closet. Inside there is a lot of equipment: there are additional racks-that's one of the beauties of having this module is you can move very large things up, and then you can transfer them through the hatches and we don't have to move a thousand small components. It can already be assembled, all of the experiments can be in the racks, all the hardware can be installed-we just take the whole thing and move it and plug it in to the Laboratory module, make a few connections, and it's ready to go to work. So it's really a very nice method of moving things to space. When we open the hatch, we have a lot of things to do to reconfigure what we call the vestibule area; it's between these two areas. We have to remove some things, install some other things to get it ready to allow us to open the hatch and to operate inside this new module. Then we'll go inside there, we'll turn on the lights, and we'll start hauling cargo out.

You'll be on that side; you will be a station crewmember and involved in this transfer at that point?

Yes. Yury and I will be doing the reconfiguration of the stuff in the Multipurpose Logistics Module to get it ready to transfer. And then, he and I, along with Shep and Sergei and probably some other people, will be hauling things out of there, putting them into station. We have to make sure we get things in the right places, so we'll have somebody who's there responsible for ensuring people are taking things to the right places, installing them temporarily or permanently in the right spot. It'll be an all-day activity plus to unload everything and put it in the right place. So I'll be over there as a crewmember, on the station at that time. I will have done my handover while they were actually moving the MPLM, and so, at that time, it'll be Shep, Yury, and myself who will be the actual station crewmembers at that time, and I'll continue my handover throughout the day as we're working. I'll be learning more and more about the station, I'll have some dedicated handover time, but a lot of my handover will be while we're working together.

And, I guess the operations then, moving things out of and back into Leonardo, will continue for a number of days?

Yes, and everything is carefully choreographed. We have a lot of people on the ground who have thought about every aspect of where we move things to make sure there's an empty spot for it, and then to move things back to the MPLM, the empty cases, bags, and hardware that we're going to ship back down to the ground as well. So, they've done a lot of work to make this all work very smoothly, so we don't wind up with half-a-ton of cargo in the aisle while we're trying to move something large past it.

There is a second and, perhaps, a third space walk that's scheduled during STS-102, but now you're a station crewmember at the time that these are coming along. What role does the station crew play in this case, while there are shuttle crewmembers working on the outside?

Well, during this particular EVA, we won't have a large role other than to check a few things to make sure some things are powered off. The ground will also be doing that while they're doing their EVA. Andy Thomas and Paul Richards will be doing this EVA; they'll be installing the Early Ammonia Servicer-it's a device that carries some ammonia that we use in our Thermal Control System should we have a leak and they will be installing some other external hardware that we might need for future missions. I will be doing my handover that day, mostly; I'll spend a lot of time working with Sergei Krikalev and with Shep to learn all of the different things about the station that I will need to know to be a full Expedition crewmember.

The final one of the transfers-Susan Helms for Bill Shepherd-will come after the conclusion of all of the EVAs; subsequent to that is when the MPLM is removed from the station. Is that a procedure that's any more difficult than, say, simply reversing what happened when it was installed?

Well, it will be a reverse of that procedure, but every time we do one of these things, even though they seem routine, they're all very complicated and extremely difficult, and a lot of them we've never done before. Like this: the first time we will have ever removed an MPLM from the station and put it back into the payload bay of the shuttle. Those are very complex and difficult tasks to do. The robotic operations, just the physical unbolting of this thing after it's been there for a few days, is somewhat complicated. So there's nothing routine about them. It will be just a reverse of what we did before but still, it's one of those groundbreaking new things that we expect to work very well, and we hope that it will.

At about this point then, after all of that is done, a week's worth of docked operations between shuttle and station crews will be about to come to an end. Do you expect that there…as we progress in the life of this space station and set traditions, you suspect that there will be some sort of farewell ceremony or to acknowledge the change in command of this station?

Yes. The space station is somewhat like a ship, and-it's a spaceship-and we will have a welcome ceremony, welcoming the new crew and the shuttle crew, and we'll have a farewell ceremony, I think. It'll be, I think, a happy/sad moment for the Expedition One crew: they'll be very happy to be going home to their families; they'll be a bit sad for leaving this station that they have been the inaugural crew on; but I think it'll be a very pleasant time for us. We'll be starting a new adventure - about to be on our own with no one there to go ask questions to, and yet we'll be sorry to see our STS-102 crewmates leaving, and we'll be sorry to see that resource of the Expedition One crew leaving us behind, and it'll be a little harder to talk to them after they get back to the ground and start their rehabilitation.

On this crew, on the Expedition crew, you are called the Flight Engineer. Tell me what that is, and then tell me how you expect that you and Yury and Susan will be spending your time, day-to-day or week-to-week, on board the station; outside of the mileposts of arrivals of new modules or whatever, what's life like on the station?

OK. They needed a way to differentiate between crewmembers; they tried a lot of different names, and they needed a "Commander" and then the rest of us guys, and came up with "Flight Engineer" as just as a generic name. It's similar to what's been used on the Mir for a long time. But we think of all of ourselves as Expedition crewmembers, space station crewmembers, and once the flight gets going we'll all work on anything that happens to come up in the station. We'll share the good jobs, we'll share the dirty jobs, and we'll all work together. Yury, of course, is our Commander, and he'll make the decisions, but Yury has a very nice personality for working with, and he doesn't take a very authoritarian approach. It's more a, let's look at the schedule and decide what we should do. It's a very nice way of working with us. And we will probably spend our days doing the activities that the ground has decided is appropriate for that day of the mission, that part of the mission, that week of the mission. And it'll be some normal routine activities every day, the normal kind of things to make sure the space station systems are working correctly. We expect to be doing some repair work, like the Expedition One crew is doing, as we get these new systems up and running; we'll find problems and we hope we'll be able to solve them with the help of all of our specialists flight controllers on the ground. And then we'll have periodic spikes of activity as we see another shuttle crew arriving on 6A, another shuttle crew arriving on 7A, and then a shuttle crew arriving on 7A.1, when we go home. There's also a Soyuz crew that's going to be arriving to change out the Soyuz that's up there. There will be a new module that will come up, called the Docking Compartment, while we're up there, and we'll have a Progress vehicle that will arrive. So, almost every ten days to two weeks we're expecting some major spike in our activity-an arriving vehicle of some type with a huge flurry of activity for another week or ten days right after that. It'll be quite busy.

In the configuration it will be when you arrive there, the International Space Station will have a lot more capability than it did when the Expedition One crew arrived. Tell us how the presence of the U.S. Laboratory module changes the command and control capabilities of this station and its relationships with Mission Control in Korolev and in Houston.

Yes. There will be a huge transition when the Laboratory module gets there and gets activated. The center of mass, of control, of the station, moves to the Laboratory module; it will have the computers that are running the command and control software that control the entire space station. We still have the ability to hand back off to the Russian segment should there be problems with these computers, or with control of the space station, but it's intended for that control to be through the command and control computers in the Laboratory module. The same thing happens on the ground: when we switch over control to the U.S. Laboratory, the control of the station from a ground perspective also shifts from Moscow to Houston, and Houston then becomes the primary, or main, controlling center. And that's a pretty huge change from the way that we've done business for Expedition One, so I think we'll have some growing pains. I'm hoping that Expedition One works all those out before we get there-they've got about three to four weeks to get things running smoothly, but they will be activating the Laboratory module during that time, and I think we'll be learning how we're going to operate in this new phase during that time as well as during our increment.

ISS002-E-5069 -- James Voss

Expedition 2 Flight Engineer James Voss uses a soldering tool for a maintenance task in the Zvezda service module aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

One other thing that will be different for you guys than it was for the Expedition One crew is that you should have greater communications capability whether it be in terms of voice communication, the duration of voice communication, as well as video communications back and forth. How do you see that all of that is going to impact your day-to-day activities?

Yes, you're right. We will have a lot better communication; not constant, but in the 50-to-60% of the time frame, maybe even more than that. You would think that that would mean we would be talking all the time; in fact I'm hoping that we will have resolved all of the start-up problems from the initial activation of systems on the station-that's why we've had so much conversation during the times that they've had the ability to talk. The Expedition One crew has had so many problems to resolve that they've had to talk every spare minute that they've had- we hope that most of those will be resolved. We hope, also, we'll have better communication-it will be we'll be able to exchange information through other means - through written as well as oral communications. And that way we hope to minimize the amount of time that we talk on the radio. Our plan is to have a communication session in the morning, and then have one in the evening, and during the day of course we can talk and exchange information but generally, it won't be a constant running conversation the entire day. It'll be while the ground needs to get us information or while we need to provide them with information, but we'll tend to save things up so we can…we're trying to transition into a normal laboratory-type operation, where we would work along, then we'll give a status report periodically-and it may be more than twice a day at the start, but we hope to sort of head in that direction as the station becomes more mature and we learn a little bit better how to operate.

Let's talk about some of those things that you're going to be doing, some of that science. As you guys get settled in, you begin scientific research work inside Destiny. Can you give me an overview of the science that is planned for Expedition Two?

I can try. During our Expedition we have a number of different types of experiments. They range from radiation experiments-we're trying to characterize the radiation environment of the space station. It's different from the shuttle or from the Mir because we have different structures, different materials, a different orbit, a lot of things that we need to learn more about to look at the long-term effects on human beings and materials due to radiation in space, so we have a whole suite of electronic devices that are measuring the radiation that we will have while we're up there. There's also some experiments in life sciences - biological-type experiments where we're doing, looking at plant growth, we're looking at protein crystal growth, which is used in the research for pharmaceuticals. We're growing some crystals that will be used for studying the molecular structure of crystals. In space we can grow crystals much larger and more orderly because we don't have the effects of gravity that sometimes distort them, won't let them grow as large, and then if you can better understand the structure of the crystals you can understand how to enhance them or how to remove parts of them that are not good. We also have some vibration isolation experiments. You know, everything on board the space station-including us- we induce some vibrations; well, a lot of experiments like those protein crystal growths other crystals different types of things that you want to not have vibrations affecting them, so we're going to look at the way to isolate the experiments from the vibrations that we and the machinery on board the space station induce. And we'll be characterizing that during our Expedition so that on later flights they can utilize this isolation, this vibration isolation system. And so we have quite a variety-medical experiments as well. [We've] got a number of experiments that we're doing, on ourselves, that will help to characterize the effects of long-term space flight on the human body. And that's been done over a period of years on the space station Mir as well as on the shuttle, but now we hope to do more focused research in a lot of different areas and gather a lot more data so that we will fully understand the effects on the human body due to long-term stays in space.

That and some of the other things that you referred to at least sound similar to the kinds of experiments that have been done on the shuttle before. Is the science here going to be much different than what has been done on the shuttle?

Actually no, because we have always looked at the same type of things. You can do certain things in space: you can work with very low gravity and that's one of the main aspects of it, or you can look at very low vacuum-those are two of the things that you can do differently in space than what you can do on the ground. The absence of gravity allows you to look at an experiment with a few fewer variables, and that allows you to focus on certain areas more and cast out those things that confuse you on the ground sometimes. We had the same ideas for shuttle that we have now, the same use of that environment to better do experiments or research; we're just going to be able to do them over a much longer time period now: we can grow crystals not for fourteen days, but for fourteen months! That's an exaggeration, but it's the idea-we can spend a lot of time. And eventually the space station will have real scientists-not engineers like me doing work for scientists-but you'll have real scientists up there who are doing work, that are looking at their results as they get them, and then they're changing their experiment to do other things with it; just like that would in a laboratory, in that laboratory that we'll have in space.

While the engineers like you are doing that work up there, you're going to be in contact with scientists on the ground at a payload center at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, where much of the construction of Destiny was done. Talk for a minute or two about how that coordination works, and how the people at the payload center are going to be able to contribute to the science operation.

We hope to be very interactive with them. We know that we can't do the science the way that the Principal Investigators would be doing their science, but we can operate as an extension of those people: we can be their hands and their eyes and we can make observations for them, we can do their experiments. But, when we have questions or problems, we want to be completely interactive: we expect to have video teleconferences, we expect to be able to show them the things that we're talking about, and to be able to ask questions and to talk with the investigators themselves so we can get, firsthand, what we need to be trying differently or doing differently. If we run into problems we want to go right to the person who is the expert on this apparatus or this experiment in the entire world and let them help us to resolve the problems. So we're kind of an extension of them, and the payload operations center at the Marshall Space Flight Center will have all of these experts or they'll be on call-they don't have to be there all the time-but they'll be available when it's time for their experiment to operate. They'll be in contact and then they'll be called in should they be needed to assist us.

In the early weeks of your time on board the station you're scheduled to be working with the Human Research Facility. Can you give us just a little bit of detail about what that is and the kind of research you'll be conducting?

Yes. The Human Research Facility is a rack - one of these closet-sized things that have a lot of different experiment equipment in that one rack; it provides power to a lot of different devices. An example would be an ultrasound device-it will allow us to do ultrasound of the human body. There's also a device called a GASMAP-it has gases in tanks that allow you to introduce a known mixture of gas into an experiment or to measure the gases by comparing with known sources. This rack can have a lot of different experiments in it, and it has its own computer that is used specifically for running the experiments that are in this rack. It has a wide variety of uses and purposes that we can apply. We're going to be checking out all of the individual pieces of it while we're up there, making sure they're working, before we start doing experiments with them later.

Is this related to what you referred to a moment ago about the experiments where you will make yourself the subjects as well?

Sometimes those, that, in fact, will be the case. We don't have any specifically that we are the research subject on for the Human Research Facility, though we do have others that are separate from that.

Along with your attention to science while you're working inside Destiny, there is a space walk scheduled for the first stage of the mission inside the transfer compartment of the Zvezda module; you get to make that trip as well. Can you tell me about what you're going to do there and how you go about doing it.

Yes. The transfer compartment is like a little round ball on the end of the Service Module; it's where different pieces can connect in to the Service Module. The Russian system uses a cone and probe kind of a system, so you've got a cone and the probe comes into it. Well, this cone is inside this compartment, and after something is docked to it-like, right now, the FGB and the Service Module are docked, you have those two pieces together-well, you pull this cone out and discard it or move it out of the way. This cone is still there and we want to reuse it; we can reuse it. We pull it off and it's basically just in the way, but what we're going to do is remove this cone, rotate it 90°, and put it on to another one of the ports so that another module can come up and dock into that cone. If you had cones on every one of the docking ports, there would be no room inside at all, so they have one cone that gets moved from one place to another. Well, to move this cone we have to remove a large cover, and that means we have to expose that piece to space. So we'll go inside, close all the hatches. We'll evacuate the area, and then we will open this, the side where we want the cone to go, move it out of the way. Then we'll move the cone from one port to the other port, and it will be ready to receive the Docking Compartment, which is a Russian module that will be coming up in about another month or so.

It sounds like very tight quarters for two men wearing spacesuits.

It's very close quarters. The transfer compartment is not very big, so we've practiced this in Russia several times. The actual transferring the cone is not terribly difficult, but choreography is critical, so that one person is out of the way and doing certain operations while the other person is transferring the cone, and then it takes both of us to hold it in place and secure it in place with the latches.

Before you see a second shuttle crew you're due to receive a new shipment of supplies on a Progress ship; you referred to that earlier. Tell us about how as a crew-as a station crew-you all have to work to prepare to get rid of the Progress that's there, what you have to do to make sure that the arriving one is able to dock safely, and what do you find inside when you pop the top on it?

Well, if there's a Progress there and we have to get rid of it we have to pack it with things that we no longer need-it's sort of like a garbage truck at that time-so we'll fill it with things that we can just send back into the atmosphere to burn up: all of our trash, our waste products from our toilet, all of these type of things that we no longer need; packing materials, we'll put in the Progress. It will undock automatically and it will move away from us and it will do a deorbit burn and come back into the atmosphere burning up. If the Soyuz is in the place that we want the Progress to be, we will have to move the Soyuz, and that's going to be our case, where we're going to need to move our Soyuz. Well, we can't move the Soyuz automatically; we have to be inside it…just in case something went wrong we have to have our escape vehicle. So we will suit up, get inside the Soyuz, and then we will actually back the Soyuz out, fly it around, and re-dock it onto another port, leaving the primary port available for a Progress to dock. When the Progress is approaching us, it is an automatic docking system. The Russians do this very well, and they've done it many, many times very well. We will be watching it, and Yury will be prepared to take over control of it. We have a console called a TORU on board the space station, and he'll be sitting there with controls, just like he is sitting inside the Progress vehicle, and there's a television camera mounted on the Progress that's looking at us so if he looks at that screen it's like he's inside there looking out a window, and he can dock the vehicle manually should it be necessary to do that. So he'll be watching, Susan will be assisting him at the TORU, and I'll be looking out a window, taking handheld laser marks to measure the distance to make sure that the electronic stuff is corresponding to the actual stuff. And, as it gets closer, hopefully everything's going to go very well, it will automatically dock; should there be a problem and something doesn't look quite right, Yury will take over manual control, he'll do the docking manually. Then we check that we have a good pressure seal, we open up the Progress, and we'll find everything that they've sent up to us, which will include a lot of things like some fresh fruit and vegetables, new clothing, food, water. It'll have fuel on board. It's jam-packed-I've never unloaded one myself but I heard the Expedition One crew's experience what they wrote about it, and it sounds like it's just as we expected: very crowded inside but there's a lot of equipment, materials, food, water, things that we need, as well as a few goodies…they sneak in a few special things from your friends and families. Just a little special something to remind you of home, some cards, nice things like that that are there for your psychological support.

After you receive your first Progress, you get your first shuttle visit, and this one brings along a new component for the station-not a module but the space station's robot arm, that's built by the Canadian Space Agency. Tell me about this new component: what is it, how does it work, how is it going to be employed in assembly and in maintenance of the station in the future?

Now, we are really looking forward to the station robotic arm coming up. We call it the SSRMS; it's an acronym that we typically use. We're looking forward to it coming up because we've been training for three years to operate this arm. And the 6A crew is bringing it up, and when Kent Rominger and his crew arrive they're going to go outside on an EVA while the arm is placed on to the space station. They're going to hook up things to get it ready for us to control it to walk it off. It's like an arm, it's all folded up, it has to be unfolded; and then one end is moved off, grabbed on, it grabs on to the space station, then we release the other end and it can move off and grab on to the space station. So it's kind of like an inchworm way of getting it off of this cradle that it's in.

Not like the space shuttle's robotic arm, which is always attached at one end.

That's correct. Well, we will always be attached at one end but either end can be used.

…not always the same end.

So, we can use whichever one we want. We can walk it from place to place, should we need to, from one grapple fixture to another and either end is the same, just one end is permanent, is fixed while we're moving the other end. And this robotic arm is extremely important to the construction of the space station-we cannot finish building the station if this arm doesn't work. And the Canadians have done a wonderful job of creating an enhanced robotic arm-it has more capability than [the] shuttle arm, it is easier to use in many ways, and in some ways it's more complicated to use because it is a more capable arm. We will be using it for much of the work that is to be done in future assembly. In fact, on the next shuttle flight up, where the Airlock is going to be brought up, we have to use the station arm to move the Airlock and to put it on board the station. So we've got to get it up there and get it working.

Now following that shuttle's departure, you're scheduled for a lot of checkouts on this arm on your own beyond the work that has to be done to just put it in place. Tell me what it is that you do? Is there a set of criteria that's got to be checked off to say, OK, yes, this is operational?

Yes. They've made a large matrix of all of the functions that the arm can perform, everything it can do. And from that matrix we've taken a lot of different test items that we will do one at a time. Some of them will be done while we're walking off the arm. As I move the arm and bend it around to reach over to where it's going to grab onto the space station, it's doing a lot of those functions-not all of them, usually they're quite simple things at first. Then we'll do a little bit more complicated things, and during this time when we're no longer docked with the space shuttle, we'll be doing the more complicated aspects of the robotic arm operation that we didn't have time to do while we were docked but we can do after the shuttle leaves. It's a complete test program to make sure that every part of the arm works, and works well.

At roughly the same, big time frame that you're [doing] these arm checkouts, you're also due to be visited by a taxi crew on board a new Soyuz ship. Tell me why there's a new Soyuz ship coming in the first place, but then, what it is that you folks will do with this new Soyuz crew during the time that they'll be sharing the station with you.

Well, the reason that we have to change out the Soyuz-it has a limited lifetime. It's around six months-it can be a little more than that-but it's dependent on the fuel that is used during the last part of the entry into the Earth's atmosphere, and this fuel, after a while, it starts to decompose, and depending on the heating of the tanks it can decompose a little bit quicker, but six months is about the normal amount of time that it can stay on board, so that's what we plan for. And if we have a nice, cold attitude it can last a little bit longer. So every six months we will need to change out the Soyuz. Well, to change it out this time, they have a Russian crew that's going to come up, dock with the space station, and then they'll return on the old Soyuz when they go back. While they're there, they will have some small experiments-I don't know what they are, but they'll bring some things up with them to do while they're there-and we'll put them to work: we'll have things that need to be done, and they'll help us. Because they're not fully trained on the International Space Station we won't have them go off and do things by themselves, but they'll work side by side, they're trained cosmonauts, and they're people that we know and trust, and so they'll work side by side. If I have to go and do some type of work or change out some equipment they can assist us in the work that we're doing.

And, I would guess then that there must be some similar transfer of equipment inside, the seat liners that you referred to as well, to accommodate you in the new spacecraft.

Yes. We will have to transfer all three of our seat liners and the Sokol spacesuits, the suits that we use for launch and entry in the Soyuz capsule; those will have to be switched over from one capsule to the other. And that's one of the things that we'll do immediately after they arrive. We have to be prepared in the event of an emergency to be able to hop into one or the other of the Soyuz and leave right away.

The second shuttle visit in the midst of your increment involves another new piece of hardware for the station, the Airlock. Tell me about what capability this hardware adds to the ISS.

The Airlock is what we use for going out to do space walks, and this particular airlock we call the Joint Airlock, because it will allow us to use both the United States extravehicular mobility unit, the EMU, or the Russian Orlan spacesuits so either suit can be used to go outside through this airlock. Before this, we could only do EVAs in the Russian suits from one of the other modules, which could be either the Docking Compartment after it arrives, or from what's called the ?xO, the transfer compartment on the Service Module. The problem with using the transfer compartment is, if there was a problem with the hatch coming back inside and we could not re-pressurize it the way we would want to do, then we have to go back further into the Service Module and we lose the ability to go from one part of the station to the other, so there's a little bit of added risk by using that particular compartment. The Docking Compartment, the Russian module that will be like an airlock, can only handle the Russian Orlan suits. So we get a great additional capability by having the Airlock. And one other feature is we save air by using the Airlock. It has a pump, actually provided by the Russians that will allow us to pump air from the compartment we're going to go to vacuum in; we pump that air back into the space station so we don't lose it overboard. Every other airlock that we've used has just evacuated the air in the compartment out into space when you're getting ready to go outside, so we've always wasted some air. Well, now we save, oh, half to two-thirds of the air by pumping it back inside before we have to vent just a little bit out in space.

The installation of this new component, the Airlock, is going to give the station's new mechanical arm a tryout as it's put to use in coordination with space walks by space shuttle crewmembers. Can you talk us through the sequence here-what all happens to get that airlock out of the shuttle payload bay and into place on the station?

Yes, this will be a true test of the new arm. We will do a small, what we call loaded operation-that's having something on the end of it, something massive on the end of the arm to move-when we move the cradle that it was on off of the space station back, and give it back to the shuttle crew on 6A. But that's not a very heavy mass; the Airlock is much, much larger; it's much more massive, and we've got to move it with a great deal of precision while lifting it out of the payload bay of the space shuttle. There's very little clearance-I believe it's less than two inches on each side-so it has to be very precise in its motions, lifting this large mass out of the payload bay, then maneuvering it around, and putting it onto the space station. Another difficult aspect of this is that we don't have any good visual cues for doing this. We have to use a system that's called the Space Vision System or the artificial vision system, that uses all these little polka dots you see on the space station. It uses cameras to look at those and through electronic means it resolves exactly where the arm and where its payload is in space, and it allows you to move it very, very precisely-to the tenths of an inch- precision to where you want it to be. And it does all this electronically; it's like magic. And when it works, it works very, very well. Now we need good lighting for it to work, so this becomes an extremely difficult task if we don't have good lighting to do it. And we think we've got to have the artificial vision unit working in order for Susan Helms to mate the Airlock to the space station and then for us to get it bolted down.

And, that's part of the work that the space walkers from the shuttle will do…

No, we will…

…the bolting?

…no, the bolting is done from inside; I'll actually control that through our computers. [We'll] tell it to start the bolting, and it goes through a fairly complicated sequence of bolting down certain bolts, then other ones-it's like when you put on your tire you'll torque down one of them a little bit, then you'll use a crossing pattern; it does the same sort of thing with these sixteen very large bolts that will hold the Airlock in place. And the space walkers will have configured some things outside to get it ready to accept the Airlock, and then after it's installed they'll connect up some connectors on the outside so that we have heater power to keep it alive. Another problem is, we've got to get it connected up before a long time so that the Airlock doesn't get too cold and its components become damaged because of the cold.

The large structure of the Airlock is, I understand, only part of the payload; there are other tanks that have to be put in place as well?

That's right. We have high-pressure oxygen and nitrogen tanks that are installed separately, and they go on the outside of the Airlock. It would've made the Airlock far too big to be in the payload bay if they were installed on launch, so they have to come up separately. And, we will pick up each of those, bring them up to very close proximity to the Airlock, and then the extravehicular activity crew-which will be Mike Gernhardt and Jim Reilly in this case, from the 7A crew-they will be there to receive the tanks. So, we'll move them into position close by, and then they will grab them and manually put them into place and lock them down, and then they'll make the connections of the oxygen and nitrogen lines so that we'll then have oxygen and nitrogen that come into the Airlock and that we can use both in the Airlock and in the space station as well. That's our source of oxygen and nitrogen on the Airlock that we'll use for experiments, we'll use for providing oxygen if we need it inside the station, and we'll use it for servicing our spacesuits.

ISS002-E-5077 -- James Voss

Expedition 2 Flight Engineer James Voss performs an electronics maintenance task in the Zvezda service module aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

After the installation of the Airlock, you've got roughly a month left in your time on board the station. Tell me about what things are planned to happen during that time, including the arrival of the Docking Compartment module that you referred to a few moments ago.

Yes. Right now we have an extravehicular activity that we may or may not do out of the new airlock; that's based on, it will be based on whether or not there's work to be done. Right now, there's not enough to warrant doing the space walk, but if we continue to have extra tasks that pile up, then we'll do one of those. If not, we'll wait on the Docking Compartment to arrive, sometime around the first of June of next year. This is a Russian module that will be used for docking other modules onto, or for using as an airlock-it has two extra hatches for going outside, and it will have a lot of equipment inside it. We're going to remove some of that equipment; the rest of it goes outside, including one of the large Russian manipulator arms, called the Strela. It's one I'm very familiar with because, on STS-101, we moved a Strela to a new location on the space station. We assembled it and then in the payload bay, and then we moved it to another location. Yury and I will do a space walk not long after the Docking Compartment is in place, and we will do it from the Docking Compartment. And, we'll open the hatches, we'll take all this equipment out, the Strela and some other apparatus that we're going to put on the outside, and we'll install it; we also have some cables to hook up so that we'll have communications from outside using the Orlan suits. And when that EVA is complete, we will do a second one that will involve Yury and Susan, and they will go out and connect up a lot of cables that they have to remove from one place on the station and connect up to the Docking Compartment so that it will become fully operational and be able to dock other vehicles onto the end of it. So, we'll have two EVAs there, and there are a couple more that will be done later on but we believe they're going to be in the third or fourth increment now.

The fourth shuttle of your whole experience on this mission is going to arrive that summer and will carry your replacements, the Expedition 3 crew. By the time that happens and you're ready to go home, what in your mind will have had to have been accomplished for you to consider your mission a success?

Well, I know what I would like to have happened: I'd like for us to transfer everything over that we need to make the Laboratory fully functional; to have the robotic arm come up on 6A and have it operate successfully; to bring the Airlock up, install it successfully; and to complete the EVAs that we need to do to outfit the rest of the station, including the Docking Compartment. We've also got to have a Soyuz change-out or we won't be able to stay. And, I think if all those things happen, I'll consider it completely successful. But, you know, if any one or two or three of those things don't happen, the space program will find a way to accomplish the mission in the long run. Sometimes we can't control everything that happens. There are mechanical, material, and, once in a while, human failures that cause us to not accomplish the mission at that time, but we will always find a way to work around that and, in the long run get to where we need to be and that is, getting our space station fully assembled and operating.

With the installation of the Airlock that we discussed a few moments ago, you and Yury and Susan will be the crew on duty at the time that the second phase of the International Space Station Program officially comes to an end and the third phase, the start of research, actually begins. So, finally, if I could get you to talk a little bit about the science that's going to be done on board ISS in the future: tell me how you see it contributing to, not only to life on Earth, but also to future exploration.

You know, we never know exactly what we're going to learn through research. Oftentimes different things come out of the basic research that we're doing, and space is such a unique place to do work in a laboratory, we just don't know the wonderful things that we'll discover while we're doing experiments out there. I don't think I could tell you that, ten years from now, we're going to have a result from these experiments that's going to cure cancer or to solve the problems with pollution; but I know that the research that we're doing will make us take steps forward that eventually will help us to solve many of the problems that we face here on the Earth. If you look back at the shuttle program, a lot of the time we were doing experiments, we didn't really know where they were going; we knew that we were just able to use this laboratory we had for short periods of time, and a lot of really good science discoveries came out of that time frame. I think we can only imagine what will happen on board the International Space Station as we continue to do research and explore. And, for the future? Who knows? It's going to help us to reach out; this is going to be the start of the continuation of human beings going out into space. I think that we will probably never have a time in our future where we don't have humans in space after this: we're going to man the International Space Station for many years; I hope that we will soon be going back to the moon, and then after that we'll be going to Mars. And I hope to see the generation that are growing up with my daughter and future generations to see us really reaching out and exploring.