Q: Our Expedition crew interviews continue with Expedition 7 Flight Engineer Ed Lu. Ed, to start off with, why did you want to become an astronaut? What was it that inspired you to want to become interested in human spaceflight?
Preflight Interview: Ed Lu
A: I can't think of a bigger adventure than getting to be an astronaut and going into space. I sent in an application one day, and here I am.
You're about to embark on a very different type of mission than you had previously trained to carry out aboard the International Space Station. First of all, tell us how you [found] out about the Columbia accident, what your reaction was, and how that in the past weeks has changed your training template to prepare for this very different type of mission.
Well, about a month ago, early on the morning of February 1st, the phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. And, it turned out it was Eileen Collins, who was to be the Commander of STS-114. And, she told me the news. And, I rushed right into the office; that's how I first heard about it. So, a lot has changed since then. Two weeks after that, here I am, with a totally different mission, trying to do something that no American's ever done before, which is launch essentially as a Copilot of this vehicle back here. And it's been a tremendous challenge. We only had nine weeks from that point until launch. And, typically this training takes in the order of nine months to a year-and-a-half. So, we're running at sort of about five to ten times normal pace, which means I'm in class with a simulator seven days a week, morning till night, and hit the books after that. It's been quite an adventure!
What do you think it's going to be like to launch in a Soyuz vehicle? You've obviously seen other Americans do it. But for you, you had not expected to do this,-
-even though you had trained just in generic terms for a Soyuz systems type of activity. What do you think it's going to be like to ride in a Soyuz from Kazakhstan?
I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be totally different than, again, than a shuttle, which is this big, giant thing. But my understanding is, from talking to folks like Bill Shepherd and other people that the ride isn't really that much different because the acceleration profile is actually pretty similar. What will be different is the fact that I'll be riding as the left-seater; I'll be the Board Engineer and the Copilot. And, that means a whole lot more than riding in the right seat, which is essentially the passenger seat. So the folks that I've spoken to, Americans, they said, "Well, we're just along for the ride." So, my responsibilities will be a little bit different than theirs.
And, conversely if everything [goes] as it appears it will with the shuttle downtime, you likely will ride a Soyuz home to a landing in Kazakhstan. What do you think that's going to be like?
Well, I've heard all kinds of stories. And again, now in this case, it's totally different than a shuttle, unlike the launch, where the g-profile's fairly similar. Because here, you're coming in down in a capsule, kind of like the old Apollo and Gemini guys did. And coming down on a parachute. And, my [understanding] is, it's quite an interesting ride, especially when the first braking parachute comes out. I understand it really…the vehicle really moves around.
Ed, let's talk about the mission a little bit. You're going to spend six days during a handover period with the Expedition Six crew on orbit. That is slightly less than you normally would see during a shuttle crew rotation-type of flight. How tough is that going to be to gain the wisdom on hands-on experience as you hand over the reins from the Expedition Six crew over just a six-day period?
I'm actually pretty confident about that handover time. I correspond with the crew that's up there right now by e-mail all the time. They've actually tried to phone me a couple of times this weekend using the phone that's on the station. As it turns out, I wasn't in. It's interesting to receive a message on your answering machine from space. But we're actually going to talk them quite a bit before we actually go up there. So, I'm pretty confident that the six days will be enough. Or four days. Whatever it happens to be.
What do you anticipate six months on the station with just one crewmember to be like? Performing the work that was designed for three people, and it's only going to be two?
It's going to be more of a challenge, obviously. But, I think we'll have a really good time with it. That's our plan.
How difficult was it for you to find out that your Expedition Seven crewmate, your original crewmate, Alexander Kaleri, would not be part of this crew? You had trained as a three-man crew for so long; now, what was that like for you and Yuri Malenchenko?
Well, obviously, it's tough. You get…you bond with your crewmates. But, this is actually not our first crew change-out. We actually had a previous crewmember. And, I've actually previously had the experience of being on a crew that was broken up on a shuttle flight, the old STS-101 flight, which I was originally assigned to and then became the STS-101 and -106 flights, and half of our crew went to one, and half of our crew went to the other. So, it's actually, it's [kind] of like déjà vu all over again! So, I've seen this before. As it turns out, Sasha's going to fly right after that. And, I'm happy for him. He's training to be now the Commander of the Soyuz. And I think he's going to do just great. I obviously will miss him in space, because he's quite experienced. He's among the most experienced cosmonauts in the world. And so we're going to miss having his knowledge around on space. But, I think we'll get by without him. We'll try and pass on what we learn to him when we see him on board.
You and your Commander, Yuri Malenchenko, are certainly no strangers to one another. You flew together aboard Atlantis on STS-106 in 2002, and you conducted a space walk together. What is Yuri like to work and live with in space?
He's great. He's about the steadiest guy…you've ever met. Nothing ruffles him. And folks who know him on the ground say, "Man, you know, that guy's pretty even keel." And…he's a total professional in space. It's going to be easy, I think.
Do you think it's going to be a tough increment, however, Ed, in lieu of the fact that the consumables will not be there in the same abundance that they would have been had shuttles been flying? That…you're going to be asked to conserve on clothing and water consumption and those types of things. Is it going to be more like a camping trip type of expedition than the full-up E-ticket that you had expected when you thought you were going to fly the normal mission?
Well, it's all part of the game, I suppose. No one ever promised that the whole experience was going to be, you know, living in a luxury hotel. And, the original mission wasn't either. I mean, the space station is not meant…to be, you know, living in a five-star hotel. And, we're going to even more so have to conserve things, which I think is going to make it extra more interesting because we don't have the luxury of having a shuttle come up and bring up extra things, or of having a shuttle or Progress bring up spare parts as things break. So, we're going to have to probably have to improvise with the help of the ground quite a lot more than other crews have done. And, I think that's going to make it much more challenging. So, in the end, it actually turns out I think our mission has become much more challenging than our original mission simply because of that. Challenging and also you're going to be called upon to use your creative resources, I guess.
You're not going to have, I suppose, the same numbers of personal items to be able to carry up, at least at the outset of your increment. Can you give us a sense of how Spartan it's going to be for you on board?
Well, I don't really know for sure. They're still arguing about how much room we have of things to bring up, although we do know it's not very much. So I won't be able to bring too many personal things up. There's a lot of things on board, creature comforts on board that other crews have brought up there and left up there. And…there's books left over. There's some movies and video tapes. There's CDs and music, that sort of stuff. So, I'll listen to whatever the previous folks listened to or looked out the window to. But I think we're not going to be bored by any means.
Running the whole gamut, Ed, from politics to psychology, how important is it at this particular time to maintain a human presence on board the International Space Station and press ahead with the work that is required to keep the station going and productive in a scientific sense until shuttles can resume flight?
Well, actually, I think…it's quite important. Because there's a big psychological thing about continuing it. It's always harder to start back up after stopping than it is to continue. And, I think that's also true in a technical sense. Because we have, once you shut the place down, it is much, much more difficult to bring it back up than to keep it running. And, our job is…to keep this place running until such time as we can finish the construction.
You had planned on an increment that amongst other things was going to see the delivery of arrays, major hardware, the start of a complex reconfiguration of power systems on board the station. And, that's obviously not going to happen during this increment. Was it disappointing for you or as you said earlier, is that just part of the game, where if you're an astronaut, a cosmonaut…you're trained to be as flexible as possible?
Yeah, in the end, I think, we're going to have plenty of new challenges. And, like I said, I actually think that this increment has the potential to be much more challenging than the original version of this increment simply because of the fact that we don't know what we're going to be doing. There's many more unknowns now. And, that's part of the fun of it.
Ed, when history writes the legacy of this trying time in human spaceflight, how will it treat this period keeping the ISS manned, the strength of the partnership, working together to press ahead in the wake of adversity?
Well we shall see, you know, in ten or 20 years when we look back at this. I think…I hope they say, "Hey, they did a really good job keeping this going. And in the end, look at what they made out of this." That's kind of our real goal here as this increment is to keep that thing moving. Keep our momentum going.
From the time that you floated into the Mir space station on your very first flight to now, where you're being asked to basically take a flight plan and improvise to a certain extent to continue human spaceflight, how would you view that progression for you personally as an astronaut?
Oh, obviously it's a great challenge. And, we wouldn't be in this business if we didn't like big challenges. I mean, that's what the whole program is about: doing something that's difficult. And that's why I'm really looking forward to it.
The science on board the International Space Station: obviously there will be some new science that will be brought up in June on the Progress. It's not all that it had been expected to be. But the expectation is to continue a productive science program during your increment. What do you expect you'll be able to perform in terms of maintaining and progressing the scientific program on the station?
Well, actually, I've heard people say this before, that the science program will be reduced. And, in some sense it is. But, really I think that the most exciting results so far we've had on space station will be continued. And, that is that it does seem possible to reduce or even eliminate possibly the calcium loss in bones from astronauts. One thing that we're doing differently on ISS than, say, on Mir or on Skylab is that we now [have] the capability to do heavy weightbearing, weightlifting-type exercises that we did not have before. And, interestingly, on the first six increments thus far, we found that you can very, very much reduce the calcium loss in bones by doing heavy weightlifting things such as squats, dead lifts, exercises like that. And, this isn't rocket science. We kind of know this on the ground, that you, to build bone and muscle mass, you need to do heavy weightbearing exercises. Athletes have been training this way for hundreds of years. And well, even in the last ten or 15 years, we've [understood] that this same technique works for elderly people who are losing…bone mass. And in particular elderly women, we found that a program of weightlifting can be very, very useful. And, we've also found the same thing on board. To me this is by far the most interesting scientific thing we've found so far in the early stages of space station. And, what we will be doing is trying to continue that. We are changing our exercise protocols, and we will be switching to as many of these sort of heavy weightbearing-type exercises as we can. And, if we can show that some of the previous results we have aren't a fluke, I get more data and show that there is a real trend there, and we think that there is, that I think is tremendously important. Because if you want to fly on long, extended missions across the solar system, as we do someday, you have to solve the problem of bone and muscle loss. And, we may have actually essentially solved that. Or, come very much of the way towards solving that. So, it's going to be kind of interesting on board. One of our jobs will be to keep the station operating, obviously. And, the other one is basically work out like a fiend! Now, and it turns out it doesn't need necessarily that many hours a day of working out. But, it's simply the fact that you're using lifting near your maximum strength. You're doing sort of full-strength-type exercises, which we had not done before. And, those seem to be very well correlated. The number of those that you do with your lack of bone loss. And so, I'm actually very excited about that. I mean, I'm kind of getting…paid to live in space, work in space, look out the window when I can in my spare time, and work out.
Ed, one follow-up as a final question to that: do you think the fact that you'll have a two-man crew instead of a three-man crew might, time will tell, of course, but…that it might be serendipity to enable you to have some more time for science because of a modification in your overall work program?
Well, I don't really know how much time we're going to end up having. Because it all depends on what might break on board, or what resources…we end up limited by. And that, I don't think anyone really knows too well right now. So, we're kind of prepared for whatever might happen.