Q: There are hundreds and thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world right now, but there are only about 100 American astronauts. What made you want to be one of them and be one of those people who flies in space?
Image to right: Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani. Image credit: NASA
Preflight Interview: Dan Tani
A: It's funny. I always think there are two types of people in the world: people that would do anything to go into space, and people that would do anything not to go into space. I think when you learn about what an astronaut is you either decide, "Gee, I really want to do that," or, "There’s no way in the world you could convince me to do that." So, ever since I’ve known what an astronaut is I’ve thought, that is fantastic, I would love to do that. Now, when I was younger I never thought it was a possibility. It’s a dream job: it’s like we’re playing in the World Series or being a movie star. It’s something that I never thought of as a goal. But if you’d ask me, "Do you want to be an astronaut?" well, of course, I want to be; who doesn’t want to be an astronaut in my mind. I certainly thought that’s probably the best thing, the coolest thing you could do. But probably until my first job out of college, when I worked for a space company in California and I got to meet a few astronauts -- because we worked on a, on a space shuttle flight when I was there -- and I got to put a face on the job, shake a hand and talk to them. I walked away feeling like they are the luckiest people around. Still never really thought that it was a possibility, but that here’s a human being, somebody that I shook hands with that got, got to do this really amazing thing. Now, it was no longer impossibility. I returned to grad school. I remember at that time I got my master’s degree and I made the decision to not pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to get back into industry and be doing things rather than stay in school. I remember at that moment, that was the early ’80s, there were, I don’t think, any civilian astronauts that did not have a Ph.D. So at that moment, I thought, well, any glimmer of thought that I would, could be an astronaut are probably gone by making this little decision about not pursuing my Ph.D. I kind of didn’t even think about it after that. It was like, that would be like thinking I was going to win the lottery and then giving up, not buying the ticket. You knew it was such a small percentage that you didn’t feel like you were really giving up anything. I went back and worked for another aerospace company on the East Coast and I got to work with more astronauts. That was a better, a more day-to-day relationship, with them and I got to know about the job and more about the types of people they were and I was still impressed. I still thought it’s the best job around. But it really wasn’t until somebody came into our office and said, hey, I heard they’re selecting a new astronaut class -- this is in 1992 – and we kind of laughed about it. "Wow, wouldn’t that be a great job?" And we called JSC and had them send out some applications. We filled them in. It's free, and anybody can fill in the application. I sent in my application for the class that was going to be selected in ’93. They did not end up, not doing a selection in ’93. I got reviewed for the Class of ’94 and got passed by for that selection. Really this whole time I knew the process was going on but it was not something I had been focused on. I just knew that my name was in the hat, really like a lottery. I was as surprised as anybody when I got the call in ’95 to come for an interview. At that point, my expectations and my hopes shot up. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the ’96 class.
Let me take you back to the other end of that story. Tell me about Lombard, Illinois, where you grew up. Tell me what that, what that place was like.
Lombard is in the western suburbs of Chicago, it’s about 20 miles west of the Loop in Chicago. Anybody who grows up anywhere must think that that’s sort of Americana, typical Americana, but it was a bedroom community to Chicago. Now of course, there’s much more industry around it so people commute both ways, east and west from Lombard. I felt like it was a typical Americana. I went to the local high school. I walked to my elementary school. Probably to every teenager where they grew up seems boring or like some places you can’t wait to leave. My family’s still there. I love going back and visit. I now appreciate everything that it had to offer that I did not appreciate as a teenager. It was a very safe place to grow up. I felt very safe there and comfortable. It offered Chicago just half an hour away for all the culture. I really enjoyed growing up there, but like anybody who lived there pretty much their whole life in one place, you don’t have much to compare it to. I was ready, when I went to college, I was ready to go out and explore the world and see what else there was out there. I eventually went East Coast, to Boston to go to college and, and really enjoyed living there. But then it made me appreciate all the things about home.
From the perspective of the years, as you look back, what is it about Lombard or the people that were there you think that make you the person you are today?
When I went to the East Coast, and this just must be a cultural thing, but there’s this Midwest friendliness or stereotype that, about the Midwest that people are friendly and, and sort of smaller-community-minded. I think that’s just a little bit different mentality there. It’s not that they’re less friendly there, but there’s the perception that they’re a little bit more distant. But then I moved down to Houston and I think that people down here are just incredibly friendly. I really enjoy that about the South, about Texas. But I think that Midwest familiarity and friendliness and hospitality, I think really helped me. I think one of the things they look for in astronauts is the ability to connect with people and talk to people and make the people feel relaxed and to be able to communicate well. So I think that that environment of the western suburbs of Chicago helped get me to where I am. It’s one of those non-academic skills that will really help you. I try to tell, tell people that it’s not just the academics that’s important. It’s to be able to communicate with people and be approachable and be friendly.
What was it like to see it from orbit?
It was fantastic. We had some great night passes on my flight, STS-108, five years ago. Unfortunately for me they were early in my flight and I didn’t appreciate the great opportunity. But one of my most incredible memories from my first flight was coming over at night, coming over Chicago. I saw it on the map; I knew that we were going over Chicago. It was a, called an ascending trajectory so I ran to the window and I looked at Chicago. It was cloudless. Chicago is very interesting because the city of Chicago uses different street lights than the surrounding suburbs. They use an orange, I don’t know what’s in ’em, but some orange kind of street light, so the boundary of Chicago to its suburbs is distinctly clear at night from space. I watched Chicago going over; I was trying to find Lombard and trying to figure out where everybody is and then I stayed at the window and then we passed over Lake Michigan, of course, and then over Detroit and Lake Erie. I could still see Chicago off in the distance as we were going over the Great Lakes, Cleveland and going east. And then I can look over here and I saw Boston -- you can clearly see Cape Cod, Boston -- New York is bright as a floodlight so once you find New York you can find Boston, and then down the coast and I could see the Baltimore/Washington area. And so I was able in one moment to look at Chicago off to the east and, or to the west, and see the, the Atlantic Coast on the, on the west, on the east. And I went to school in Boston, I lived in Washington, D.C., you know, my family is in Chicago. So I was looking out the window thinking, this is eighty percent of my life in one view out the window. It was amazing kind of realization, a beautiful opportunity to watch the whole Midwest, the East Coast go by, through the window.
The flying in space part of your job as an astronaut, we know that can be dangerous. Dan, what’s it you think we get from flying people in space that makes it worth the risk you want to take?
It goes back to expanding the boundaries of our intellect and even the physical boundaries of what we experience as human beings. I believe our program, I believe the entire space program, the effort that, that we as a world are doing to expand our boundaries, is good for us. I think we will eventually—many, many years from now—have to live someplace else: The world has a finite amount of resources and if we are growing people have to expand our boundaries. So I feel like I’m participating in a, in a very small part of that development, or of that figuring out how we do that. We all have to be motivated to do what we do; we all have to feel like we’re participating in something important, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that in my job. I worked within the space program for 10 years not as an astronaut before this, feeling that that was still important to participate, even putting satellites up. And I know that people that support me, the non-flying personnel that support the astronauts, feel that drive and dedication. I can’t thank them enough for that. We’re the lucky ones that get to go and have the great view. There is danger involved, of course, but you weigh that against the benefit that we will add to the, to the block of knowledge that we’re generating.
You are flight engineer on Expedition 16 to the International Space Station. Dan, summarize the goals of this flight and what your main responsibilities are going to be.
It’s an unbelievably exciting time to be in the Expedition Corps and to be flying at this time because of where we are in the assembly sequence for the International Space Station. We’ve pretty much had an established assembly of the space station for many years now with the U.S. Lab and the Node 1, the Russian segment. We’ve been adding segments outside to the truss, and increasing the power capability, but now we have the opportunity to really increase the inside volume of the space station by adding what’s called the Node 2, the Harmony node. That will allow us to add other modules to the space station, the Japanese laboratory and the European laboratory specifically, greatly increasing the internal volume of the space station, and in, and in turn increasing the amount of science that we can do and involving all of our international partners. So it’s a really great time and I’m really honored to be able to fly at this moment in this assembly sequence. I will fly with the STS-120 crew, we plan to go up this fall, and we will take with us the Harmony module, the Node 2. We’ll dock to the space station. Ironically we dock right at the place where the Node 2 is going to be, finally. So what we have to do is we have to temporarily stow it on the space station, on the, on the Node 1. We’ll do several spacewalks in preparation for the Node 2 installation, and then the Discovery, STS-120, will depart and leave me on the station, probably at that time with Peggy Whitson and Yuri [Malenchenko]. Then it’s our job, the three of us, Expedition 16, to prepare the space station and the Node 2 for its final move into place, where the shuttle was. That will involve a lot of robotic operations and that will involve several spacewalks. So I’m involved in all of that. The next shuttle flight that comes up is STS-122. They’re going to bring up the Columbus, European module. It will be attached to the Harmony module. I'll be involved in attaching that and I’ll get to see the Harmony module fulfill its purpose which is to attach these other laboratories. Then STS-122 will bring me home after several months’ stay in orbit.
What do you think about the way the International Space Station has changed since the first time you were there?
I’m very excited about it. I was there five, almost six, years ago, and internally it will be essentially the same. I think there are no additional internal modules. The external truss work will be much bigger, the power generation is much greater so once you’re inside the space station it, it will not be any different once I get there. When I leave the volume will probably have been increased by probably 30 percent, so just in those short few months that I am there, I’ll witness an extreme growth on the internal size of the space station. So that’s exciting. I just, I can’t wait.
Well, let’s talk about the, some of this in detail. As you said, you arrive on STS-120 and that will be just shortly after Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko arrive.
Let’s talk about the payload, the shuttle payload that you’re bringing, Node 2, named Harmony. What does it add to the International Space Station?
Well, it adds primarily the capability to add additional modules. We talk about the space station sort of like a Tinker toy, and this is one of those connector modules that has lots of holes in it that you can add additional modules to. Of course it’s not just a, it’s not just a can with ports. It has computers, it has thermal control systems and it has computer systems. So it is a complex module in itself. But the primary purpose, of course, is to allow additional ports for additional laboratories and modules.
And in the process, as you said, it expands the, the interior room, the pressurized volume, if you will…
…a good deal.
A great deal. Right. And that’s storage space, that’s rack space for experiments, and then once we add the Columbus European module, and the Kibo Japanese module we’ll have an enormous amount of science and storage space up there.
Ultimately Harmony is going to be docked to the front end of the Destiny laboratory. But, you can’t do that during the shuttle mission…
…that delivers you. So would you describe for us the robotics operations and then we’ll talk about the spacewalks that are involved in putting Node 2 onto the Unity node to begin with.
As you say, the shuttle right now docks to the front of the U.S. Lab, and that is going to be the final location for the Node 2 so we can’t then put the Node 2 on the Lab. So what we’ll do with the space station robotic arm is we’ll go into the payload bay of the shuttle, of Discovery, and we will release the Harmony module. We will move it and install it onto an empty port on the Node 1, on the port side. The docking will look just like its final docking. We’ll use the same mechanism. Once that’s complete we can actually open the hatches, get into the Node 2, do a few things that we need to do to get ahead and …
Well, tell me about some of those things. What sort of work do you have to do on the inside of Harmony? During those first few days while the shuttle is still there?
Like any spacecraft, anything that launches from the ground has to withstand the huge forces of launch, the vibrations and the accelerations, of launch. So even though we’re going to end up in a zero-g environment where the loads are very small, everything has to be designed to withstand those launch loads and vibrations. There are over 800, maybe 850 screws and bolts that are installed on the Node 2 just to hold things down, to survive the launch phase, that we will not need on orbit. So we will go in and, we have a very detailed procedure to remove all 800 and something of those bolts and washers that are required so that the Harmony can withstand the launch loads but that are not needed once they’re in orbit. So that’s the majority of the work inside the, the Node 2, initially. There are other activation things: there are fire extinguishers and masks that we store as emergency equipment inside the Node 2, that are not made to launch in their final configuration, so we install those. There’s some computer outfitting, electrical outfitting, those kinds of things. But we’re getting it ready to, taking it out of its launch mode into its on orbit mode and activating it.
Image above: From left are Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani, Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Image credit: NASA
The way you describe the robotics operations of installing it on Unity, it sounds like it’s really, like I could do it, but probably not true.
With enough training. It seems like all I’ve been doing lately is robotics. It is a very complex operation, and it is one of the heaviest elements, I believe it will be the heaviest element that we’ve ever moved with the robotic arm, so the rates have to be very slow. We train over and over again. Of course the trick of, with robotics is not just moving the hand controller so the payload goes to where you want it to go, but you want to make sure you don’t run into anything while you’re doing that. So we train extensively on using the only visuals that we are available to us which are external cameras. We use those cameras to verify that as you move you’re not going to run into anything and that’s the majority of the difficulty of that task. And then the final docking where you’re taking two enormously heavy and, and very large items, payloads, and you’re bringing them together at a very precise and accurate position and velocity and making sure that you get a good docking. That’s also very difficult. We have great trainers that really put us through the wringer, and make sure we understand how the arm works and the trajectories and everything that’s involved. I feel like we get great training doing that so I’m, I’m confident that we’ll do a good job for them.
Now the installation of, of Node 2 involves people working on the outside as well.
Tell me about the spacewalks.
We on STS-120 will plan to have four spacewalks. Two of them will be not dedicated but will have a lot of activity involved in getting Node 2 ready for its final installation. On the second spacewalk, I will be fortunate to be involved in that, I’ll go out the door with Scott Parazynski and we will install a lot of the things on the outside of the Node 2 that will be required, specifically handrails. Node 2 is a large payload. It sits in the shuttle payload bay, and like any module we have things that stick out from the module, and it wouldn’t fit in the payload bay with all the handrails on it. So we install handrails once the module has been installed on the space station. We install a grapple fixture so the robot arm can grapple the Node 2 for its final maneuver out and then we clean up some of the port that we will eventually put the shuttle docking port on. It flies up with a protective cover. So there are things that we take it from its launch configuration, and then we outfit it for its on orbit configuration.
You’re going to be one of the spacewalkers on EVA 2 …
… and on the other EVAs?
On the other EVAs I run the robotic arm in support. So, for the first EVA, well, there’s another enormous task on STS-120 which is to relocate one of these very large truss segments, the P6. We’re going to move it out to its final location on the truss. That is the other major milestone for our flight, for the shuttle flight, and I’ll be involved in running the robotic arm in moving that and installing that into its final location. So that’s the other big task, not only for our flight but for the EVAs and I’ll be do, running the robotic arm. If I’m not outside participating in that, I’m inside running the robotic arm.
Yeah, I wasn’t going to let you get away without talking about relocating the P6. That P6 Truss that’s been on top of the Z1 for, for many years now. It's going to be a pretty dramatic thing to watch happen from the ground, much less …
… seeing it up close. Describe what the crews have to do to move P6 from where it is all the way out to the end, the port end, of the truss, and your part in that.
Well, again, the P6 was actually the first photovoltaic element that was put on the space station, and even though it’s going to end up way at the end of the truss, what they did was launch it first and put it on top of the space station so it provided the initial power and cooling for the space station. Well, now that we’ve built the truss out to where it can move to its final location, we are ready to turn off its power and move it out to its final location so it can supply power in the final configuration. Conceptually it’s not that difficult: It’s four bolts -- very big bolts but four bolts -- it’s about a dozen electrical connectors and, and some fluid connectors. During the first couple EVAs we will disconnect the electrical connectors; on the second EVA I will help unbolt the actual element. We’ll have Doug Wheelock inside running the arm. He will initially move the P6 out and sort of away from the station. Now the difficulty here is that the arm is not long enough to take it from its initial position now and move it out to its final position. So we have to do a juggling act. We move it out to the side of the space shuttle and I believe Stephanie [Wilson] or George [Zamka] will then grab the P6 Truss so that the space station arm can let it go, and then we utilize the Mobile Transporter, which is this little rail car that’s on the truss, and they’ll drive this little rail car where, with the space station arm on it, all the way out to the end of the truss as far as they can go. Then the next day, I’ll run that space station arm to go pick up the P6 Truss again and hand it off from the shuttle. On the next EVA, I’ll run the arm and we’ll do a final install during the EVA with Doug and Scott outside, to do its final install and bolt it to the end of the truss and then redo those electrical and fluid connectors.
It raises a couple of questions. First of all, seeing what you’re doing. at this point, since the activity’s going on way out on the end of the truss the only cameras you have are on the arm itself.
We have the arm cameras, we have the shuttle cameras, and we fully utilize their zoom capability because, you’re right, it’s probably 50 meters out there, it’s, it’s a long way away. We have very few views to give us a good view of the mating of the modules. So in fact, we actually have to have Scott and Doug out there to be the eyes for us, watching that mate come in because we don’t have any other way to see that. So you’re right, that’s probably the biggest challenge.
Image to left: Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani trains at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. Image credit: NASA
Well, the interface of the P6 with the P5 is actually blocked from the camera’s view by the P5 itself.
By the P5, that’s right. The robotics challenges for the whole space station are that we have very, very few windows to look outside. In fact, we never train to look out the window at this big arm that we’re moving with the very expensive and heavy payload. We only have cameras and the cameras are only at set locations. We can’t freely move them so that is the challenge and this is a particular challenge.
Once you get it plugged in the right place, what else is done during, at this point, to get P6 ready to go back to work?
Well, right now the P6 solar arrays have been fully retracted. It’s a big element but at least it doesn’t have these huge wings hanging off them. It’s hard to think of an analogy but we are adding a huge source of power to the space station, or we’re moving it, and the power reconfiguration to protect all the circuitry, once you hook that up, is very extreme. In fact, we’ll have to power down half the space station while we do this because you don’t want to do what we call a hot mate. You don’t want power in one connector and have arcing across these connectors. So we will be powering down half the space station while we do this. We mate the P6 to the P5 and then as soon as we can, once the electrical connectors are made, the folks on the ground will start powering those channels back up and we will start attempting to deploy these solar arrays. Now there have been difficulties in deploying and retracting the solar arrays, so we’re trying to put as much pad into our schedule as possible to accommodate any problems we might have and we’re trying to learn as many lessons as we can from the previous shuttle missions that have done this.
The plan, though, is to redeploy both of those solar array wings while STS-120 is still there?
In fact, the same day that we install it. We’re trying to get them all deployed that same day. It’ll be a very, very long day.
You get a little rest afterwards and then there’s a fourth spacewalk scheduled during the docked operations that Peggy and Yuri will conduct, and you will be the, the spacewalk choreographer.
First, why have station crew members do a spacewalk while the shuttle’s there, and what are they going to do?
This was really an interesting move to put Peggy and Yuri’s spacewalk into the STS-120 time frame. Originally that spacewalk was designed to be done once the orbiter had left. A few months ago there was a big shuffle on which orbiter was going to be on which flight. We ended up with Discovery, and Discovery has the circuitry that, which allows it to stay docked to the space station longer, the SSPTS [Station-Shuttle Power Transfer System] circuitry. So now that we had a few extra days, we thought, well, what’s the best use of those days. Some very smart and clever people figured out how to take that spacewalk that was going to be done after the shuttle departed and put it into the docked time frame. There’s a huge advantage of that because you have more people around to help with the spacewalk, you have more camera and views available, you have more people to look out the window and have situational awareness about the spacewalk and what’s going on. I think it’s a really good use of the resources that are available once you, with the shuttle docked in terms of people, cameras and communication. Originally we had trained for that spacewalk to be me inside alone, running the robotic arm, while Yuri and, and Peggy were outside. Now that they’re going to be doing it with the space shuttle there I’ll be able to choreograph the spacewalk from inside the station. That’s exciting for me, I’ve never been able to play that role before and I’m looking forward to that.
So what’s the job outside during this EVA 4?
EVA 4 is primarily disconnecting all of the electrical connectors that require demating to remove, to install the Node 2. There’s a thing called PMA, Pressurized Mating Adapter, that’s the actual interface between the shuttle and the space station, so that has to be moved onto the Node 2 and then we move the Node 2 to the Lab. Well, there are connections between the node, the PMA-2, and the laboratory that have to be disconnected so that we can remove that. Preparation needs to be done; there’s preparation on the Node 2 itself to accept its new location on the front of the lab, the protective cover on the docking port ... Those are the primary goals of that spacewalk. Also preparations on other electrical and fluid connectors that will be connected once the Node 2 is in its final location.
So, as you say, that’s the condition that Harmony will be left in …
… at the time that your space shuttle colleagues depart…
… and leave you on board with Peggy and Yuri as members of Expedition 16, and one of the first big things that you have to do then is what you were beginning to describe there and that’s move Harmony and PMA-2 …
… back to their, to where you want them …
To its final location, that’s right.
… to be. Talk about that, that operation.
Once the, once the shuttle departs, we’ll have a, a few hours of rest and then we’ll get back into work. As I mentioned we’ll have to take the PMA-2, which is where the shuttle had just been mated -- we can’t just move the Node 2 and put it on the Lab because this PMA-2 is in the way -- so we remove PMA-2. When I say remove PMA-2 it’s a complex mechanism that involves 16 bolts and latches and, and we run that from the computer inside the space station, and then Peggy will run that mechanism and I will run the robot arm and we’ll move the PMA-2 and mate it to the Node 2. Then we have to use another one of those complex mechanisms to attach it to the Node 2 and then a few days later, we’ll take the, that entire bundle, the Node 2 and the PMA-2, and we will release it from the station and we’ll move it over to its final location on to, on the front of the lab and, and reattach it. So there are two big moves and four of these … we call them Common Berthing Mechanisms, CBM, mates and demates. That does the physical mating of the, of the modules. Then we have some internal attachments to do for power, ventilation and data, and then we have to go outside, do some spacewalks and hook up the outside utilities.
So the robotics operations that you’ll be running … it almost seems as though it’s, the second is the reverse of the first?
That’s right. Essentially we move the PMA from the Lab to the node, and then we, kind of in reverse, take that whole stack and move it from the, from the Node 1 over to the Lab. So, yeah, it’s essentially sort of the same trajectory, but backwards.
And you’ll be able to then go inside Harmony in its permanent location …
What other work is there to do then just to get it set up?
Since it’s in its final location it will have all of its final utilities, its power, its communications, its data, ventilation, and we will get its computers up and running. In its, in the parking position or I’ll call it the temporary position, we just make the mechanical connection. We will drag in some ventilation hoses to provide the ventilation while we’re in there; the lights should work but nothing else really, so the intent there is just to get in there and do the little things -- to remove all those bolts, for instance. It’s not a functional module at that point. When we move it over it will be a fully functional module. It will have its computers and our goal, what we need to do is get it ready to accept Columbus. We need to make sure that the node itself is operational, that it can talk to the rest of the space station, that it can pass through data and power to Columbus that will come up on the next mission.
Before Columbus gets there but after Harmony is installed …
… you and Peggy have two spacewalks.
What, what happens there?
From the inside we can hook up many of the utilities that are used on the inside of the laboratory, the power and the data, communications, ventilation. On the outside of the space station there are utilities sort of like outside your house and inside your house; the big power transfer, getting power from the big truss and cooling from the big truss to the Node 2 and to the modules that will attach to it. Once we attach Node 2 to the Lab we have many electrical connectors, 18 or 20 electrical connectors, to mate between the Lab and the node to give it primary power and pass-through primary power, and most critically we relocate these two very large trays, probably 25 feet long, trays that have fluid hoses on them that will carry the cooling fluid from the truss, where all the cooling takes place to the modules to provide cooling for the electronics and life support system and provide cooling to the Columbus and to the JEM [Japan Experiment Module], the Kibo, Japanese module. Those are critical for, both those modules but also once we interrupt that cooling, you have to shut down that whole cooling loop. Without cooling you can’t provide power because things get hot and you have to cool it. So once we interrupt that line, that circuit of cooling, we have to shut down half the station again of power and we need to connect that cooling back up within hours to provide the appropriate cooling for the rest of the space station. So that’s a very critical time and those spacewalks are going to be very delicate and a lot of work.
And they’re devoted to finishing the, the installation and the set up …
… of Harmony …
… because the next thing you know, before you turn around, there’s another shuttle ready to dock at the PMA-2 …
… at its new location …
… and bearing another major payload …
… Columbus. Tell me what is the, the significance of the arrival on orbit of the European Space Agency’s laboratory?
Obviously it’s a milestone for the European Space Agency. They’ve been partners with us in the space station for all these years since we’ve had the International Space Station. It will be fantastic to see them deliver their laboratory to orbit with Hans Schlegel and Leo [Eyharts]. It’ll be a great time for them and they can finally start their science program on orbit. So I’m thrilled to be a part of that and allow them to see their arrival and help christen their laboratory. So they’ve waited a long time as, as have we and as everybody to, to get their piece of space station on orbit and, and it’ll be a thrill to be part of that.
Describe for us then the plan for installing Columbus onto Node 2 and getting it set up for use?
It’s a, it’s, it’s sort of the same kind of story that we have for the Node 2, except that we don’t have to do a temporary stow. The STS-122 mission will come up in Atlantis, I believe, and they will have the European module in its payload bay. I’m not involved in those robotic operations but the robotic operator, which I think is Leland [Melvin], will remove . . . Columbus laboratory out of the payload bay, and attach it to the port of Node 2, the brand new Node 2 that we just brought up. So we get the Node 2 up and we utilize it immediately and get that Columbus activated. And then once again it’s internal connections for power and for communications, ventilation and then the STS-122 crew has some EVAs to help set up the external utilities on the outside, also.
What are the 122 spacewalks are all about, setting up Columbus as well?
Yes, they’re, they’re all activation and there are some external payloads on the Columbus and they will set up those external payloads on the Columbus module.
And then, at the conclusion of that mission, you’ll be heading home …
… with the STS-122 crew. In the time that you’re up there, though, you’re going to get, to spend some time working on science and the International Space Station’s science research focuses on finding out how people can live and work in space. Tell me a bit about just a couple of the experiments that you’re going to be involved with during the time that you’re not busy building the station.
Well, as you say, one of the questions that we’re trying to answer with the International Space Station is how do people and things operate in a zero g environment, a microgravity environment for long periods of times. Most of the science that I will be involved in has me as the subject. I will be doing a, an experiment called Sleep. We’re looking at people’s quality of sleep and their assessment of sleep. In fact, I’m wearing right now what looks like a watch but it’s a data recorder that records how much activity I’ve got and how much light there is, and they’ll correlate that with my sleep periods and how I, how I assess my own sleep. So these are very sort of basic research and development kind of questions that scientists are trying to answer to see what the differences are between life here on Earth and life in a microgravity environment. There are some questions about immunity, how the immune system functions differently in a microgravity environment, and I’ll be participating in that by doing food surveys and specific food samples and taking bodily fluid samples to assess that. So I am sort of the subject of my own experiment or the experiments that I’ll be running on the space station during my stay.
You have to note that shortly before your launch, on Oct. 4, we have the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, world’s first artificial satellite. What are your thoughts about how much progress we Earthlings have made in the first 50 years of the Space Age?
It is remarkable, isn’t it, that in one generation we went from having nobody in space to, for the past six years now, having permanent residents in space on the International Space Station. I feel incredibly lucky to be living at this time, especially since I get to participate in it and be one of the people that gets to go and live in space. It is quite impressive to think that in certainly within a generation we went from never even imagining that somebody could go around the Earth in 90 minutes to that happening every day and, and most people not even realizing it.
The nations that are building and operating the International Space Station have exploration plans that go way beyond just this vehicle. What’s your philosophy about the future of human exploration of space and the role that ISS is playing in getting us ready for that?
I’m, I’m a believer that it’s human nature to explore and to expand our borders and our intellectual borders to learn new things and to go new places. I believe that that’s just the nature of who we humans are and it’s exciting to know that at least the 16 nations involved in the ISS must believe, feel the same way and are willing to contribute resources to that development. Getting to space, doing this is very expensive, and I don’t think we can do it any other way besides having an almost worldwide participation in getting our Earthlings off of the Earth to find out what else there is. But I also realize that the International Space Station, even though it’s in low Earth orbit is a small laboratory in, in trying to find out the things about space travel that we probably don’t even know about, that we have to learn about because we’re doing the International Space Station, and we have. We’ve learned more than we ever thought we would about international cooperation. We have to answer things like psychological support for not only the crews but the families on the ground. There are things that the engineers who will design the rockets probably would never think about but end up extremely important in a successful mission. We’re learning how we as crew members who are fortunate enough to fly spend years and years -- I’ve been in training for over five-and-a-half years for this upcoming couple months in space -- and that involved a tremendous amount of travel around the world. That’s quite difficult not only me, but for my family. That’s probably wasn’t, wasn’t one of these things that we set up to think of as a goal, how you train, the astronauts that will go on these long-duration missions and, and how do we support their families and how do we make them happy people even though it’s not just their job. Our office I think has done a great job in helping support us and learn what it takes to train for these long-duration missions and it’s going to get even worse and worse when we go to Mars for such a long time. I think doing the ISS is answering not only the questions that we set out to answer but also to expose questions that we never thought of and to force us to come up with solutions. We are going to need to, to learn about those questions. We’re going to have to address these issues when we go back to the moon, when we go to Mars, when we go even farther, so I believe that it’s a, a crucial step in, in that direction.