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Preflight Interview: Peggy Whitson
jsc2007e045195 -- Peggy Whitson Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world but there are only about 100 astronauts. What made you try to become one of them, one of those people who flies in space?

Image to right: Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson. Image credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

A: Well, I was inspired by the men who walked on the moon. It really was my inspiration, I think, you know, as a kid of 9 years old — I know I’m dating myself but — I thought what a cool job! It really didn’t become a reality to me to become a goal until I graduated from high school, which was coincidentally the same year they picked the first set of female astronauts. I think that was when I decided I wanted to become an astronaut. Still, I knew very little about the whole process or what it would take to get in. But I do have a healthy dose of that stubborn thing going for me which, I think, kept me pursuing the goal. I knew I wanted to be a part of NASA in any case, and so I chose my goals in education to be consistent with working at NASA even as, you know, a scientist.

You were a scientist at NASA — you still are a scientist at NASA — but, before you were an astronaut. Take me back to the beginning and tell me about your education and your professional background that got you to this point.

I came from Iowa, south central Iowa. It was a very rural area. I saw a lot more hogs growing up than I saw people. The closest town had only 32 people living in it, so my high school was consolidated for the whole county. We had around 300 students in my high school, so it was a very small environment that I grew up in. But I actually had a, a lot of support, from my parents, primarily, encouraging me that I could do whatever I set my mind to. So I tried. I went to a small college in Iowa also, Iowa Wesleyan in Mount Pleasant, and then after going through college in three years I went to graduate school here in Houston, Texas, at Rice University, in biochemistry. My undergraduate I double-majored in biology and chemistry. Biology was kind of my love. I found chemistry challenging and the aspects of both of those very interesting together, which is why I got my Ph.D. in biochemistry from Rice University.

What made biology your love?

I, it was just something I was always interested in. Maybe it was teachers, but I think really, maybe, growing up on a farm and being around animals and plants and seeing things grow, I think is probably why I was interested in that. It struck a chord in me; the farmer’s daughter thing, I guess. And after Rice University I started working, immediately at the Johnson Space Center, so I’ve always said I’ve never had a real job because I’ve always done what I wanted to do, which was work at NASA. I started off doing a post-doctoral fellowship here at, at the Johnson Space Center, and later was hired by one of the contractors and then, in 1989, I was hired by NASA, to be the head of the biochemistry section here. I, pretty quickly got put into some joint U.S./Russian scientific work — and at the time it was the Soviet Union — that I actually started working with the Russians on some joint scientific activities. Because of that background, then, when our new project, the NASA/Mir, Shuttle/Mir project came along, I was put in charge of developing the entire science program, the joint science program, U.S. and Russian together, which I think probably gave me a lot of visibility and maybe was a big contributor to why I was selected to be an astronaut. But, I, I’ve had a lot of fun in all the different types of jobs I’ve done here at NASA, obviously flying in space is a pretty special one.

You’ve described your, your home, well you didn’t name it, Beaconsfield, Iowa, right?

Yes, that’s correct.

Your hometown. What’s it look like from space?

Well, I spent a lot of time trying to find it. It’s pretty small, so there’s not much to it.

But you certainly get to fly over that part of the state …


…and can see it from orbit.

I think probably the most interesting thing flying over the, the Midwest in particular, is the checkerboard pattern of the fields that, that you see. because the roads are all mile by mile, dividing up the, most of the state, it’s pretty easy to see. There’s this checkerboard of patterns based on what’s planted in what field and the exact color of it and so that, that’s the interesting feature that I recognize as being Midwest.

iss016s001a -- Expedition 16 insignia You think about that place and the people there, how do you see that they contributed to making you the person that you are today?

I think my parents are probably the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. I think I got a double dose of the dedication and stubbornness gene from them which contribute to being my success.

Image to left: Expedition 16 insignia. Image credit: NASA

You are going to be, when you arrive there, the first woman to command the International Space Station. Does that bring with it any special pressure for you, or any special pride?

I think there’s obviously more pressure involved, as I mentioned. As the commander I have to be responsible for the, the health and safety of my crew in addition to the vehicle safety as well, and so I think there’s more responsibility involved and, and so there is a little more pressure added with that. I think the pressures I felt on my first flight, of having never experienced space, not knowing what to expect; I don’t have any of that this time around. Obviously, having lived up there for six months and been very comfortable there, I’m looking forward to that part of it this time around.

Is there any special pressure from being the first woman to command the station?

Well, I hope not! [Laughs] I don’t think so. I feel very lucky to work with the crew that I have. All the guys that I have as members of my crew are really special guys, each in their very individual ways, which I think is going to make it very lively mission with all the crew changeouts and getting to interact on a different level with each of them. With all their different backgrounds, it will be very interesting. I think being a woman doesn’t really play too much into that. I think it’s special that I get the opportunity to play that role, but I think it’s also special to have an opportunity to demonstrate how many other women also work at NASA. So I’d like to be able to do that as well.

By the time you come home from this mission, you will have completed two long-duration flights and have spent more time in space than any other woman. That the kind of thing you had in mind growing up in a, on an Iowa farm?

Well, no. I don’t think I was perceptive enough to know that that might be where I would end up. There is so much involved, and just being in the right place at the right time that I can’t really say I’ve taken credit for any of that. But I’m happy to be here and happy to be able to play that role. I think the important part of that role is encouraging other women to break that record.

The “flying in space” part of your job as an astronaut has shown that it can be very dangerous. What is it that you believe we get from flying people in space that makes it worth the risk you’re going to take?

Well, I think there is risk associated with exploration, period. That’s what exploration is about. I think that history has demonstrated for us that exploration is worth doing. We never exactly know what we’re going to find around the next corner and it’s worth finding out; every step of the way has been worth finding out. Obviously, we want to do what we can to minimize the risks where we can, but we have to accept that to go a step further, we have to take some risk.

You are the commander on Expedition 16 to the International Space Station. Summarize the goals of this flight and what your main responsibilities are going to be.

Well, as the Commander, obviously, my primary responsibilities are the safety of the crew and the safety of the vehicle. But we have a very exciting mission planned. I’m looking forward to all the new elements that we’re going to be able to add to the International Space Station. Three new modules will be arriving, and a new, attachment for the robotic arm will also be arriving, so we have the involvement, truly, of our international partners for the first time through all phases of this mission. So I think it’s going to be very exciting.

jsc2007e045197 -- Expedition 16 with spaceflight participant Image above: Expedition 16 will launch to the International Space Station with spaceflight participant Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. From left are Shukor, Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Commander Peggy Whitson. Image credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

You’re going to spend the entire six months there with Yuri Malenchenko, as your flight engineer and Soyuz commander, and you and he have each completed a long-duration mission to this space station before. Has that made a big difference for you in your training, or do, do you expect it to help once you get there?

Well, for sure it has made a difference in the training. I think the first time around, having never flown in space before, I worried about everything. I wasn’t sure what it was I had to know, so I thought I had to know absolutely everything. The second time around I’m a lot more relaxed about it. It’s easier to know what’s important to worry about, what will be written down in a procedure, what will be required of me while I’m on orbit, so it’s much more relaxed in that sense. Obviously, in a different role as Commander, I have a lot more responsibility in terms of thinking about the emergency procedures, the roles and responsibilities of the different crew members and who I’d like to have do which actions in various different emergency scenarios. So that role is bigger and I’ve worried a lot more about that this time around. Once we arrive on station, I think Yuri and I will both be ready to step in very quickly, which, I think, we’re going to need because this mission is, a very aggressive mission, planned with three different shuttle flights arriving, two different Progresses and an Automated Transfer Vehicle, a European module that will be arriving, plus on the three shuttles we will be installing new elements, and conducting EVAs after the shuttles depart. So it’s going to be a very exciting mission.

Three shuttle flights delivering new hardware that comes from four different space agencies; I added up, all together there’s 14 spacewalks in the plan. That is a much more lively pace than you had in Expedition 5.

Well, actually during Expedition 5 we also had three shuttles, two Progresses and a Soyuz. This time around, and I did one stage EVA during that previous Expedition, this time I’ll be doing three stage EVAs but we’re doing a lot more of the assembly operations during those EVAs and they’re actually very critical for each next step. The EVAs that have to be conducted between the arrival of Node 2 and before arrival of Columbus are critical. We can’t, accept the new module without the completion of those EVAs. So the criticality of those stage EVAs is much higher.

On top of all of that that we’ve mentioned, you also have a flight engineer exchange on each of the three shuttle flights. Has that complicated the preparations and the training for the mission?

It’s definitely made training more complicated because we’ve had to train with multiple crew members. I think it’s also made training, and I’m sure it will make on orbit operations, a lot more interesting. I think the huge advantage of having individual crew members associated with a specific stage is it allows those crew members to be specialists in the specific tests that are going on associated with the modules or the elements that they’re bringing up, and allows us to have a much higher intensity and a higher knowledge level at each phase of the mission.

Another thing of note for Expedition 16, as we’ve noted, that you will be the commander, the first female to command the station. There will be a lot of women in leadership positions throughout the different phases of this flight, right?

Yeah. Actually it’s going to be kind of exciting. During STS-120 Pam Melroy will be commanding that shuttle mission; my lead flight director is Holly Ridings. I also have Lead Flight Directors for two different shuttle missions during those phases, Dana Weigel and Sally Davis. And so we have a big team, which is consistent with any mission, but it happens this time around we have a number of females in the leadership roles. So I think it’s exciting.

Let’s talk about the, the shuttle missions. STS-120 is the first to arrive after you; it’s scheduled to arrive just weeks after you do. The payload is the second connecting node, Harmony. Tell me about that, that module and what it adds to the station.

Well, Node 2, Harmony, like Node 1, has six different ports that we can add modules on to to build the station. So it’s, it’s our next big connecting piece in our puzzle of putting this huge station together on orbit. Node 2 is required to power and provide the thermal heat rejection for the science laboratory modules that’ll be coming up, the one built by the European Space Agency and the one built by the Japanese space agency. So it’s a pretty key module for us, for the continued development of the station. So the node is required. It’s an important step in the building of the station.

iss016-s-002b -- Expedition 16 crew members And it’s going to be installed on the front end of Destiny where there’s a pressurized mating adapter currently located. Describe the sequence, the series of events that, that robotics work that has to be gone through in order to get Harmony in place.

Image to right: Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Clay Anderson (from left) will join Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Image credit: NASA

Well, the STS-120 crew is actually going to temporarily stow Node 2 on Node 1. It’s got an open port there and we will temporarily stow it there. And the reason we have to stow it there is because the place we want to put it is where the shuttle docks normally, so we have to, on the front of the laboratory, remove the pressurized mating adapter and install it onto Node 2, after the shuttle leaves, then move what we call the PMA/Node 2 stack around to the front of the laboratory module again, and then after that, we would be able to accept shuttles on the forward end of the station which would now be the forward of Node 2. From there on each direction we’ll build out starboard and port, the laboratory modules from the ESA and JAXA [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency].

During the STS-120, when the node is installed, that is work that involves, I think ultimately, both the station and the shuttle arms?

Yes. When Node 2 is installed, we are using the, the station arm. There’s some interesting tasks during STS-120. For instance, we’re relocating the P6 Truss, and that requires a handoff because we have to position, this truss is currently on the center point of the station and it has to be moved completely to the far end of the truss, and the arrays will be deployed out there. But in order to accomplish that the, the arm from the shuttle has to grab the centrally located P6, pull it off and hand it to the station arm which will be located out near the end of the truss. It’ll reach back, grab the P6 and then install it on the end. And, of course, we’ll have crew members in the shuttle running the shuttle arm and crew members in the station running the station arm, so it’ll be an exciting handoff, because of the distances we are reaching to install this element.

It’s a good example of why having a mobile robotics system on the station is critical.

Yes, actually the ability to move that arm around is the only thing that allows us to actually build a station as complex as the one we are constructing on orbit now.

Absent having a lot of different arms in different places. Now, Node 2, as you said, is installed on Unity. You guys get to go inside that, that new module while the shuttle is still there, right?

Yeah, we are. We have it temporarily, powered. We’ll have some lighting and some of the heater elements controlling the external heating on the Node 2 started up. We’ll be going in and beginning the outfitting processing, removing launch restraint bolts and configuring the hardware so that once we install the element in its final resting place on the forward of the lab, we will have reconfiguring the internal components and get it ready for the final configuration so that we will be able to accept another shuttle flight a couple of months later and add another module to that.

Before we move off to the next shuttle flight, while STS-120 is there, there are four spacewalks that are planned, the fourth of which is to be conducted by you and Yuri Malenchenko. Why are station crew members doing a spacewalk during a shuttle mission?

Well, actually, the planned tasks that we are doing originally were in the stage, and we’ve changed vehicles and this vehicle now has the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System capability … so we’ve added an EVA. The criticality of the task, the EVAs that we had to do during the stage, made us prioritize doing the EVA that Yuri and I had planned to do previously, just doing it during the docked, time frame. So, we will be doing an EVA where we demate the station-shuttle power conversion system, demating the PMA so that we will be able to move it with the robotic arm once the shuttle leaves. We’ll be taking the cover, we call it the “shower cap,” off of the end of, of, Harmony module so that we’ll be able to move PMA into its position. So we’re doing all these preparatory steps that will allow us to be a little bit ahead once the shuttle departs.

When the shuttle departs it will leave Dan Tani behind in place of Clay Anderson and, as we said, with Node 2 docked to Unity. Talk us through, then, the job that the three of you will have to do to move the new element from the side, if you will, all the way out to the front of the station.

Dan is our robotics expert and he will be the lead for the robotics operations and I’m going to be, the CBM operator -- the CBM is the Common Berthing Mechanism. It has a 16-bolt system that mates the two modules together, so I’ll have to demate the PMA, which will allow Dan then to move it around, and we’ll, he will bring it into position at Node 2 and I will, use the computers to remate those bolts, to drive those bolts and, and, remate those two pieces together. Then we’ll do the same process again, demating 16 bolts, and then Dan will move the, the stack, the Node 2/PMA stack, to the forward end, and we’ll go through that process of driving the bolts and remating the system together. It’s going to be a lot of robotics operations. It’s obviously required to do these operations without the shuttle present because that’s where the shuttle is typically docked. So it’ll be an exciting time for us, I think.

Does it strike you, is it a particularly difficult robotics to move those pieces across that distance?

The robotics are relatively straightforward. We have systems that allow us to computerize that trajectory. The thing that’s going to be tricky is it’s such a heavy element and we can’t always predict, the behavior of the control moment gyros and whether or not they’ll be able to support movement of such a, a big element. And so we, we are, have our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to move that without going into what we call LOAC, loss of attitude control, but we anticipate that there’s a distinct possibility that it will happen, because the element is so heavy, while we’re moving it around.

Once Harmony is put in place, what other, other kind of outfitting jobs do you folks have to do before the arrival of Columbus?

Well, the two EVAs that Dan and I will conduct actually will lay what we call the umbilical trays, and they are the fluid lines that will connect the thermal control system that’s based in the truss. We have to run them along the laboratory module and then be connected to the Node 2. And the reason that’s important is the Node 2 has six different heat exchangers; some of those will be providing the thermal heat rejection for each of the new modules that come up later. So it’s got a big thermal job, and we have to connect all those lines that will allow it to happen. Obviously we also have to do the electrical and the data connections as well, so that we’ll be able to transmit data and receive telemetry back and forth throughout not only the Node 2 module but then later, through the laboratory modules on Columbus and the JEM [Japan Experiment Module].

All those connections then are on the outside?

A large percentage of all the thermal connections are on the outside. We do some mating on the inside: the internal thermal control system’s mated on the inside. We also have power and data, connections that are done on the inside. So, it’s a, it’s a mixture of both internal and external connections that have to be made.

With all that done, the next thing you know, shuttle is back with another major payload. To your mind, what’s the significance of the arrival on orbit of the European laboratory, Columbus?

Well, it’s, this is an international space station but this is actually ESA’s first big element to arrive to the station. So the European Space Agency is obviously extremely excited, just as we are, to have a new module on the space station. It’ll allow them to initiate, a much bigger science program based on using the new scientific modules that are in their laboratory. We’re all looking forward to that arrival, from a scientific perspective. From an international perspective, obviously they’re very excited as well they should be.

It’s going to make for a much bigger station than the one you’re going to arrive at.

Yes, absolutely.

Describe then the, the plan for how, how do the, your crew and the shuttle crew, go about installing Columbus onto Harmony?

The shuttle crew will install the module onto the Node 2. It’s an interesting set of choreography that has to go on between the ground team, the shuttle team, and the station team, because we have to do all the vestibule operations. It’s an interesting set of choreography that all has to be done in sequence. Some things going on in parallel and other things wait until one particular step is completed. Obviously, that’s something we’ve trained on a bit because we want to make sure that everyone understands how their piece of the pie is fitting into this big puzzle that we’re building and putting together.

The installation, the robotics installation, I take it, then, is similar to the installation of Harmony.

Yes, it is.

Once that’s installed, is there a similar outfitting task that you and your crew will have to do as you did with Node 2.

Yes, we will. It’s a little less complicated in some ways. There are fewer launch bolts that we have to do during that actual docked time frame. Leopold [Eyharts] and I, in the stage ops, will have much more of an opportunity to activate and check out the specific racks, the scientific racks, that will be involved. Obviously, during the docked time frame we’ll be focusing on getting the systems, the computer systems, the thermal control systems and the life support systems, up and running. And so we’ll be activating and checking out those systems during the docked time frame. The stage time frame will focus more on getting the pay, the scientific racks up and running and checking them out to make sure everything survived the launch.

Well, one of the things you’ll be doing then is working with yet another control center, as the Columbus control center gets up full time outside Munich.

Yes, that’s going to be interesting, I think. We did training in Germany, this last year and the year before. It’s been exciting to see their excitement about being an active participant in the control centers. When I talked about the choreography before, it also includes the control center in Europe as well as the control center in Houston and Moscow, all working together to get the Columbus installed. There is a lot of choreography on the Earth and as well as up on orbit.

Well, you mentioned Leopold Eyharts, the European astronaut from France who will stay when Columbus is delivered and Dan Tani goes home. I take it then that most of his time on the, as member of Expedition 16 will be devoted to getting Columbus up and running.

Yes, it is. I think that’s going to be his primary task. Obviously, there are many tasks that we have ongoing all the time on the station. He’s also trained to be a participant in them as well, and he’s our robotics expert during that stage time frame, so he’s got a lot of roles and responsibilities. I’m sure we’ll keep him plenty busy getting ready for the next shuttle to arrive because we have a certain set of activation and checkout things that we want to have complete in preparation for the next shuttle arrival.

The European Space Agency has another first coming up early next year. That’s the scheduled arrival of the first of the Automated Transfer Vehicles. Describe that spacecraft a bit and tell me about how it contributes to ISS operations.

It’s got a three to four times the mass of a Progress vehicle. It can bring up pressurized gases as well as, water for transfer, and it has obviously a, a lot of volume to carry up, food, clothing, other crew provisions. So in some senses it’s a much larger Progress vehicle, which is our Russian resupply vehicle. The unique thing is that the Europeans wanted to try out a new rendezvous and docking system, so that’ll be a new test. Yuri and I have been trained on it to do that rendezvous process and monitor it. It’s all automated, but we have to monitor to make sure that the system, which will be tested for the very first time, is actually working correctly. So that’ll be exciting as well, I think. We’ll have, two demonstration days where we’ll approach the station to different, distances and check and make sure the abort systems all work properly, before we actually approach the station to actually dock.

Unlike the Progress, which docks two days after launch, at least for the first flight of the ATV the rendezvous is quite lengthy.

Yes, it is and that’s because they’re conducting so many tests to make sure all the systems are working properly.

Now, that will dock at the aft end of the station, right?

That’s correct.

It serves not only to deliver supplies but, I guess in the same way Progress did, it can be used to help keep the station attitude.

Yes, it does have the propellant that will allow us to use it for attitude control as well. It’s also a great closet. We will be holding some items inside the ATV as a closet, and then as we use things we’ll pull them out and then add trash back so that when we get ready to undock the ATV, hopefully it will be all full of trash and taking everything away because it, like the Progress, burns up upon re-entry.

You’ve got another shuttle visit, a third one, during Expedition 16, and this one brings hardware from Japan and Canada. Tell me about the, the Dextre, the robotic hand from Canada, and the first component of the Japanese laboratory, Kibo.

The Dextre is an addition to the current station arm. The station arm is a very large arm and Dextre is an add-on that will allow it to do finer manipulations, potentially even do ORUs, on-orbit replaceable units, outside that would save us the time of doing the EVAs. It requires a lot of robotics ops so there’s a balance and a trade there but many, many of those tasks could be done by the ground as well. So for future maintenance operations, this component would be a key element in those R&Rs -- we call ’em, remove and replace tasks on orbit. The first element of Kibo is the JLP, the logistics module. It’s also kind of a big closet but it’s actually carrying up many different systems racks in it. The Japanese module is so large that it has to be launched almost empty. It’s got only a few minimal racks in there, and one of the first things that we do after the, the large scientific laboratory is mated to Node 2, will be to move all those racks from the logistics module and install them. These are primarily systems racks that have to be installed inside there, and its power redundant, commanding, and redundant life support systems that would have to be installed, and there are a couple of scientific racks in there as well. So during the 1J/A stage, Garrett [Reisman] and I will be preparing all those racks for transfer. There are a number of different setup steps that are required for that because it all has to be ready to go as soon as we dock the JEM to the JLP.

And to clarify that, under the current schedule that would happen after you would be gone.

That’s true.

The component that’s delivered in the third shuttle mission, in STS-123, is temporarily installed on top of Harmony, right?

That’s correct. Once the JEM, the laboratory module of the JEM, arrives we’ll move the JLP out to the far, port end of that module, and have it serve directly as the closet/storage place for the Japanese scientific module, the JEM.

And the delivery of the Dextre on STS-123, will that just be delivered or will it be set up, installed, ready to go, ready to operate?

Actually the hardware has to be constructed somewhat in pieces, the shuttle crew's EVAs, will be putting those components together and then, installing it, onto the station, for later use. So they’ll be putting the components together.

So that’s some of the plan for the rest of the STS-123 docked operations?


You referred to it, after STS-123, now Leopold Eyharts will have gone home and Garrett Reisman will be with you. what work do you folks have to do to complete the checkout, if you will, of the, the Dextre and the, the Kibo element.

OK. It’s Kibo.

Thank you.

After my training in Japan I learned that we’ll do all the preparations for the racks that will be installed into the JEM. So that setup is going to take some amount of time, because they aren’t immediately ready for that installation. We have to get them ready for that. The checkout for the Dextre is pretty limited. Most of that checkout will occur during the docked operations and Garrett -- he’s our Dextre specialist -- will be performing final checkout steps, any checkout steps that we didn’t complete, during the docked phase, during that time frame.

We’ve talked a lot about building and installing and delivering; there’s also science on board the International Space Station, laboratory science, most of which at this point is devoted to finding out about how people can live and work in a weightless environment. Tell me about some of the experiments you’re going to be working on during Expedition 16.

We have some integrated immune studies where we’re looking at the effects of spaceflight on the immune function in crew members. We’re looking at the nutritional levels and how that impacts the crew members’ health on orbit. One in particular that most people can relate to is the Vitamin D levels are very important for bone density. Obviously during spaceflight, we have seen in the past decreased bone density and we’re trying to correlate Vitamin D levels to that process, to get a better feel for how that’s happening and whether or not higher levels might help prevent that loss. The Sleep experiment is another one. We’ve seen real impacts to how well some crew members are able to sleep on orbit, and obviously having tired crew members, particularly when we’re doing such complicated operations, is not a good thing. So that study is trying to look at how sleep is impacted because it’s important to us in terms of crew rest to make sure we’re not setting our folks up to be making mistakes, which is not something we would want to do. There, there are number of other interesting experiments. One that I actually, in a different variation, performed during Expedition 5, had to do with ultrasound. We’re doing another ultrasound study, looking at, some specific hardware and how that works, during spaceflight and look, using ultrasound as our tool for that. I think that’ll be fun. It was very interesting to do that experiment previously. Another, not life sciences related -- we call it Detailed Test Objective -- it’s not really an experiment—but we’re testing out RFID, Radio Frequency Identification. We’re having small tags placed on some objects of mine and then, during the course of the mission, we’ll try to track, using just this one piece of hardware where those tags are located on the station and be able to count them. It’s testing a new hardware that we would hope to use to keep track of things and make that process of inventory management a little simpler on board the station.

Unlike most, or all, of the other station crew members, you’re also the Principal Investigator for an experiment that’s been conducted on board ISS [Renal]. Are, are you still taking data for that?

Actually, Mike Lopez-Alegria was my last subject, on Expedition 14, so, we’re analyzing the data now to see what the results of that would be.

Nothing reportable yet, I take it.

Nothing I’m ready to report on publicly yet.

It is also worthy of note that the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, is coming up Oct. 4, just before you launch. What do you think about the progress that we Earthlings have made in the first 50 years of the Space Age?

Well, obviously it’s very exciting. I think taking that first step Oct. 4 50 years ago, was a very important one. It’s interesting to me that so much of the early Space Race was a competition, and it has evolved into being a huge international project. I think the legacy of the International Space Station will be the fact that it is a peaceful international project that we have conducted together.

The nations that are building this space station, as you note, have plans for exploration that go well beyond this particular vehicle. What is your philosophy about the future human exploration of space, and the contribution that ISS is making to that?

Every phase of exploration involves some stepping-stones. I think, ISS is a key stepping-stone, not only for the international, the development of an international relationship that allows us to extend as a world beyond our planet, which I think is a key thing -- but also just the nuts and the bolts of figuring out what types of hardware fail on orbit, what do we need to do in the next phase to engineer something that will be better, what things did work, what didn’t work, what surprised us. There have been a lot of surprises we’ve seen in constructing such a big facility on orbit, and those are some important lessons that have to be learned that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. It’s a key, I think, a stepping-stone to allowing us to go beyond Earth, hopefully minimizing some of the risks of doing that. Obviously there is always risk associated with exploration, which is what makes it so exciting.