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Preflight Interview: Joe Acaba
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NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, Expedition 31/32 flight engineer, fields a question from a reporter during an Expedition 31/32 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?

A: It’s a great question. You know before I was hired at NASA I was working as a schoolteacher, so making that transition from school teacher to astronaut, I know, is quite the leap. But if you go back when I was young, of course the Apollo missions were going on and my grandfather used to share the Apollo tapes with me because I was too young to remember the actual flights themselves, and that really, I think, started to spark the imagination. In school, I’m a science fiction kind of guy so that was, you know, neat to read those things and think about what it might be to live and work in space. But life is strange and it takes you in different directions. I studied geology and tried different fields until I found a job I really, really enjoyed, which was being a school teacher. But in the back of my mind there’s always this, you know, the dream of going into space, and when I heard NASA was looking to hire some school teachers back in 2004, to me it was like, wow, this is, you know, the opportunity I’ve been looking for, and you know, applied for the job and here I am. So it kind of goes back to when I was a kid and all the things that I’ve done that have led me to be where I’m at today and it’s still hard to believe sometimes that I have this great opportunity, and privilege to do it.

I’d like to take you back to the beginning of that and have you fill us in a little bit. Start by telling about your hometown and what it was like, what your kidhood was like then.

Yeah, I grew up, I was born in Englewood, California, and most of my childhood I lived in Anaheim, California, in Orange County, and it was a great place to live even though Anaheim’s a fairly big city, back then it felt more like a small town and it still somewhat does today. A lot of open area around the house so I can remember being a kid with my buddies, we’d hop on our bicycles and we would leave in the morning and you know, you wouldn’t come back until dinner, and, you know, we could do that and we kind of explored in our own backyard on our, you know, on our bicycles, getting out there in the orange groves and things like that. So it was a very nice place to grow up, a good group of friends that I had, that I still have today, so very fortunate to be there. It was fun.

Did you, were you able to isolate Orange County out as you flew over it on your mission?

Yeah, unfortunately on the shuttle flight we were so busy that, you know, we looked out the window, it was kind of a moment of opportunity of what you really saw. And that’s one of the great things about having a long duration flight is I can put things on this world map computer program that we have that will let me know when I’m heading over my hometown or places that I’ve worked, and I look forward to looking out the window and kind of getting the bird’s eye view of my home.

Anaheim, I’m thinking that may be a little less easy to isolate than the, in the Los Angeles area than some other places that are out by themselves.

Yeah, it’s a, you know, it’s a big area right there but it’ll be easy to find L.A., look at that coastline and, you know, go a little bit south and find the hometown.

I know the streets, I could find it.

That’s right. We’ll pinpoint.

How did that place and the people that you grew up, how did they help make you the person that you are?

Well, you know, a big part of it is, of course, your family, and it doesn’t matter where you live, the family has a huge impact and I had that same thing with my family and brothers and my sister and my mom and dad, and so, you know, we did a lot of things together. But again, having a really good group of friends that we could just go out and explore, you know, a nice place to do that. The schools were great that I had. It’s always nice having a baseball team nearby so I’m a big Angels’ fan and, you know, things we would do as a family, go to the Angels’ games, you know. Anaheim, I’m not doing a commercial but, you know, has Disneyland so, I mean, it has all these great things that as a kid growing up there’s so much you could do and so many different environments that you could explore in it, it had a huge impact.

And you were there all the way through high school, right?

All the way through high school.

Pick up the story then as you get out of high school and go on through your education and your professional career.

Well, from high school I went to school at the University of California in Santa Barbara, a couple of hours north of Anaheim. A wonderful school, studied geology there, and from there moved over to Tucson, the University of Arizona, again to study geology, so really some neat places to live if you’re looking at studying geology, going from the coast of California and now being in the deserts of Tucson. Went there, got my master’s degree, and the story continues working professionally as a hydro-geologist, utilizing my schooling to do some environmental work. But always in the back of my mind I, I’d wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer. I thought about doing that after my undergraduate work but had this opportunity to get my master’s, so after some time I decided to join the Peace Corps and spent a couple of years living in the Dominican Republic working on environmental education, and that, of course, had a huge impact on my life, living there and working there. Then another strange job working in the Bahamas as an island manager. It was a fun job working out there, a great little business card that you get.

An island manager?

Island manager, it was a, it’s a research facility there so we housed, we had boats and housing for scientists from all over the world to come out and really study pristine ocean environments. Neat place to work, a lot of great research that was going on there. Then after that I started heading towards the education field and that’s where I became a math and science teacher.

What moved you from geologist to teacher? What was, what, that got you, that turned your interest that way?

You know, it’s a great question. You know geology is a wonderful field and as kids we went camping every year so I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors, and it was a, it’s a wonderful profession, but I don’t know what it was, there was something just kind of kept driving me in the environmental, or the education direction. And I remember having some discussions with college professors and, you know, talking about male and minority teachers and, you know, how few there are, and it just, everything kind of came together and once I started teaching for my first year, which can be hard, it can be terrible, but after that I really knew that was the field I wanted to do and I’d still be there today but this pretty cool job offer of becoming an astronaut came up so I thought I’d put that on hold for a while.

How do you think your experience as a teacher, and as being an educator astronaut, how will that help you communicate the experience that you have during this flight to the public, and especially to kids, to students?

Yeah, I think it’s going to be very beneficial. The teaching profession is a difficult one and a big part of that is making everyday life relevant to school kids. And so I think by me being a former teacher and then being up in space and living there for a longer period of time, I’ll be able to see events that are going on that I might go, you know, this would be really cool for a teacher to have and something they might be able to share with their students, and then try to capture that. I’m very fortunate, I’ll be up there with Don Pettit; great guy, he is a genius, he’s got a lot of great ideas, so I’m hoping I can just sit there for the first couple of months, hand him tools and learn from him, and I think a lot of the things that he’s going to do will be really, really invaluable to school teachers. So hopefully I can help identify those and get those back down to the ground.

Now you’re getting ready to fly to space and you’re doing a job that has some risks that weren’t really associated with it when you were a teacher, or a geologist, or that most of us run into in our daily lives. So the question is, why do this? Why, what is it that we’re going to get out of flying people in space that you think is worthwhile enough that you’re willing to take this risk to do it?

Well, the list is long and it is a risky endeavor and I think everyone’s aware of that, and we have a huge team on the ground that prepares our vehicle and makes sure everything’s safe, and while we’re on orbit they’re looking out for us. But if you look at the science that we’re getting, it’s really, really important, again not only for living here on Earth but also for going further out. Humans, we’re explorers; we’ve always been explorers, and there’s always been risk involved with that exploration. But if you look at anything in the past, if you look at history, when people set out they had ideas of what they might find and what they may see, but they would have never thought what they discovered. So it’s really necessary for us to go out there. We can imagine what’s going to be there and what we’re going to gain, but I can guarantee you it’s going to be much than that.

You’re getting prepared to launch to the International Space Station to be part of Expeditions 31 and 32. Joe, give me a brief summary, what the goals of this mission are, and what your jobs are going to be when you get to space.

It’s going to be an exciting mission; they’re all exciting nowadays. We’re really going to be hit with a lot of visiting vehicles: we’ve got a couple of Russian Progress cargo ships that will be coming up, and then we have an ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle], an HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], so we have the international partners involved, and then, of course, we’re hoping to have a couple of the commercial crew vehicles coming up. Sciences are our main priority, that’s why we’re there, so we’re hoping to, you know, get to that, at least 35 hours a week of science. There’ll be a Russian EVA and right now we’re training for a U.S. EVA but still not sure if that one’s going to happen or not.

That’s an awful lot of different things that are going to happen.

It’s a lot of things, and you’re asking now what my role is, it really depends on what the activity is. I’m hoping, you know, get some robotic, hands-on robotic station if the opportunity comes up, help my crew members with the EVA, and just, you know, being part of the sciences. It’s going to be a good time.

Now you went to the International Space Station on your first spaceflight. What is it that you’re looking forward to about this trip that’s going to be different, or is it just the duration or…

Well, the duration’s a big thing. When you do a shuttle flight, you know, it’s two weeks, you’re jam-packed and, you’re just there and you’re working hard and I don’t think you get the opportunity to really enjoy living in space, which is going to be great now. Six months, it’s like moving into a house; you’ve got to make yourself comfortable, get to know the home, and just, I think, living there instead of just working there will be a neat thing, personally, and then professionally just the wide range of things that we do, I’m really looking forward to that.

JSC2012-E-018626 -- Joe Acaba

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, Expedition 31/32 flight engineer, participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) in the Crew Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. A technician assisted Acaba. Photo credit: NASA

Now the station assembly is all but complete now and it’s changed since you saw it the first time. Give us a tour. Take us around and tell me about the different modules and the equipment that’s in space right now to support crews’ work and your life in space.

Well, it’s a long tour. This station’s getting really big now. If you start on the aft end, the back end of the station, of course we have the Russian Service Module [Zvezda]. That’s where the Russian crew members, they eat, sleep and they conduct most of their experiments there. You start coming forward, we have what we call the FGB [Zarya], kind of stowage area, also kind of Russian/U.S., and then from there, going forward, we hit Node 1 which is the first U.S. part of the station, and it’s really a connector block. You go off to the left, we have Node 3 which is different from a, wasn’t there when I was there on [STS-]119. Of course, the big addition there is the Cupola, so the views are going to be outstanding, I’ve heard a lot of good things about it; I’m sure everyone’s seen the pictures from the Cupola. Also in [Node 3] is where we work out. We have the ARED [Advanced Resistive Exercise Device] so we can lift weights, we have a treadmill there; a lot of the life support stuff is also in Node 3. If you go to the right of Node 1 is the airlock, so if we have any EVAs we’ll go from there. Keep going forward, we have the U.S. lab: just like it sounds, it’s where most of our experiments are done. Keep going forward is Node 2, another connector, and that’s where our little homes are, they’re in Node 2, so we have the crew quarters there that we can house four people. Off to the left from Node 2, you have the JEM which is the Japanese Experiment Module, and off to the right is the Columbus module where we have the European experiments going on. So, it truly is an International Space Station, it’s really big now and just lookin’ forward to getting there.

You talked a bit earlier about the science, looking forward to getting, to take part in that, and of course that’s the main reason that the station is there, and there’s science of a lot of different varieties. Let’s talk about one of them first, and that is figuring out how people can live in that environment, because it’s very different that it is on Earth. Give me a couple of examples of the kinds of things that you and your crewmates have to do in order to help the research in human life sciences.

Well, we are, you know, human guinea pigs, as people like to say, and it’s a true statement. There’s still a lot we don’t know about living in space, so for me personally and professionally it’s really neat to be part of that and know that you’re kind of contributing in a small way. One of ’em is the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment, and you’re looking at the entire cardiovascular system, you know, how the heart works, how blood flows. It’s very comprehensive, there’s a lot of data that’s collected on the ground. Tomorrow I’ll be putting on electrodes and a little pressure monitor on my hand, I’ll kind of look like a RoboCop for the next couple days; so we’ll do that on the ground, also do it on orbit, to see how the system changes. When we come back, as soon as I land, I hear, you know, I put that thing back on and on the plane ride back to Houston they’re taking data right away, so it’s a, very comprehensive. So that’s a big one. Another one I really like is this functional fitness [Functional Task Test], and it’s really looking at how does the body adapt to being in space. You know, how do the muscles work and is it all in your, you know, in the mind trying to figure out, hey, what muscles do we drive to do different tasks, and so we have things that we do on the ground before we go, a couple of tests on orbit, and then as soon as we come back, on the first day back, OK, how does the body now work that you’ve been up in space for six months. Those are just a couple. We’ve got tons of ’em and they’re all pretty cool.

Is it, having been there you have some experience of what it feels like just to be there as well as to try to work there. Can you describe how it’s different for those of us who haven’t been there?

In terms of living for a longer period of time?

Or just to be there, to exist and live and work in that environment.

There’s nothing cooler than living in space, let me just tell you, and I hope everybody that wants to go has this opportunity in the future. When I talk to kids, I tell ’em how outstanding and how cool it is to be there. And it’s amazing, it was amazing to me my first time there how quickly the body adapts to being, you know, you’re here on the ground, you’re in the regular Earth 1 g, eight minutes later now you’re in space, you undo your seatbelt and you’re floating out there, and how quickly we learn how to do that. But if you look at video of the astronauts working, or maybe playing in space, there’s always a smile on their face because it is so enjoyable, and when you float around and then you have an opportunity to look back on the Earth, it’s a feeling that is just incredible and I wish everyone could experience it.

It sounds like what you’re referring to is that your mind adjusts right away to that; does your body adjust as quickly?

Yeah, I guess the body takes a little bit longer than the mind. Everybody’s different; usually within a couple of days you’ve adjusted to all this fluid shifting up towards your head. People describe it as if you were to go in your living room, stand on your head for a long period of time, and feel that pressure building up in your head. It, it’s kind of what it feels like for those first couple of days. Of course, muscle atrophy, losing of bone density, that happens to us while we’re on orbit, but we’re working out a lot, so it takes some time, and then coming back is another challenge. I remember coming back on my shuttle flight going, how do people live on this planet, you know, with all the force of gravity, but again the body will adjust within a couple of days and we’re coming back now stronger than we’ve ever been before.

And the work that you do, there’s a lot of work that you do while you’re there to try to help your body deal with those different conditions, right?

We do. We spend a lot of time working out which is great, at least a couple hours a day, lifting weights, we have ARED there which, it’s really like a weight lifting machine that we have that have cylinders full of compressed air so that you can go ahead and have a resistive force. So we’re spending a lot of time doing that. We have a stationary bicycle, we have a treadmill. And it’s really important for us to stay strong while we’re on orbit, but then also for coming back, and if we look at going further out, going to Mars and other places, it’s going to be really, really important to know how the body reacts over time in space and what we can do to stay strong while we’re traveling.

Well, and because, for example, a mission on the International Space Station is roughly the amount of time it takes to get to Mars.

That’s correct, so we’re really learning a lot and we’re getting smarter every time we go up there and send people back.

You’re doing a lot of work in this area. There’s a lot of other kinds of science that are done on the station as well. Give me some examples of what other experiments and other disciplines you guys are involved in.

Well, one of the neatest things about being a long-duration crew member is just the wide array of experiments that we’re going to do and all the training that we get on these different experiments. Of course, you don’t know exactly which ones you’re going to do. We’re up there with a crew of six so sometimes they mix and match depending on your schedule, but to see ’em all is pretty neat. Some of the ones that I really enjoy, one of them is called SPHERES [Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites]. They’re these floating robot orbs that are, you put up there and you set ’em in the middle of the, let’s say, the JEM, for example, and they’re programmed to do various things, and what’s really neat about that is we’re getting students involved and so they’re going to actually program these things and see how they can make ’em operate in space. So it’s a fun one to set up, it’s a fun one to do, and to know that kids are involved also is pretty nice. In the training, doing stuff with fire is always fun; it’s fun on Earth, it’s fun in space. We want to learn how do flames and how does fire react in a microgravity environment. I’m a geologist so a lot of the work that we do with crystal growth, I, you know, find personally interesting. We could probably spend two hours talking about all the science, and that’s really one of the neat things is that there is so much going on in all these different fields.

You are sort of a lab assistant in a lot of those cases, right, because there are scientists on the ground who are, you’re working with when you do this.

Correct. We are lab assistants, so part of the time we’re being used as the experiment, like we talked about previously, but a lot of it is just us changing samples inside different racks to help those scientists out.

The U.S. segment of the International Space Station was designated as a National Laboratory. That was done to increase its use by different government entities as well as the private sector and to pursue national priorities in science and technology and engineering and math. Tell me how that’s working so far; in what new ways has the station been used since that designation?

It’s really a neat designation and it does offer a lot. For us as crew members on orbit, it’s somewhat seamless: We’re conducting the science, we’re lab assistants, and we’re doing that regardless if it’s a National Lab or if it’s NASA research. But what really makes it interesting is now we’re trying to get more of these private entities, various schools involved with science that might, well, that will directly affect us here on Earth—people always ask, well, why are we doing things up on the space station. So by being a National Lab we can go from just doing NASA research that will allow us to see how we can go past the space station, low Earth orbit, and to get us further out, but then at the same time do a lot of science that’s going to help us here on Earth. So right now we’re at about a 30-70 mix with National Lab science and NASA science with a goal of increasing to about 50-50, and we’ll get to the point where half the research we’re doing is directly beneficial to everyone here on Earth and the other half we can use to see how we can get smarter about traveling out into space.

We’ve talked about the different kinds of work that you’ve done: sometimes you’re the subject of experiments, sometimes you’re the lab assistant, but you’re also, you and your crewmates, are also responsible for keeping the whole thing operating all the time. What else do you do? What other kinds of work, outside the laboratory, does a space station crew member have to look forward to?

Yeah, we’re at times glorified maintenance personnel. It’s just like living in your house. On a Saturday, you know, you got to fix the plumbing, you’ve gotta, you know, cut your yard, things break down, and the space station is very complex and takes a lot of our time to maintain it. And so, if you look at the amount of time we spend on science, there’s a goal of about an average of 35 hours per week between the three USOS [United States Operating Segment] crew members. And, I know when I first heard that number, well, it seems like a pretty small number, but if you look at other extreme environments where people are studying and living, we’re right on par if not higher, because it does, it takes a lot of effort to maintain this very complex laboratory/home up into space.

What other kinds of work then do you have to do to maintain it?

Well, there’s, of course, filters that need to be changed out; every Saturday morning we have our weekly housekeeping just like you would inside your home, we’re taking out a vacuum cleaner, making sure everything is changed. Water is a big deal so we’re constantly adjusting our water balance, keeping track of the water that’s there. The space toilet is a complex piece of machinery so things are constantly having to be changed there so if you could think about anything that you do within your home, we’re doing something similar up in space.

So it’s not just what you’d planned to do, sometimes it’s what you had no idea you were going to have to do?

Yeah, and that’s where things get exciting is, you know, the team on the ground, they have this wonderful plan to get all this science done, we’re going to do these tasks at certain times, but you know in a six-month increment things are going to break that you didn’t expect, and you need to be flexible. So a lot of the training we do is not specific to one task, like it is on a shuttle flight; now we’re trained on a wider array of activities so that if anything does break, anything comes up, we have the proper tools, not only physically but in our mind, on how to fix those.

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NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, Expedition 31/32 flight engineer, participates in a robot install training session the Space Station Training Facility in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Sometimes that fixing work requires that, crew members to go outside of the space station. You mentioned that there’s a Russian spacewalk in the plan for, the middle of the year. What’s on the agenda for that EVA? Who’s going outside and what do they got to do?

For the Russian EVA?


So we’ll have, the Russian EVA will have our commander, Gennady Padalka, going out with Yuri Malenchenko, and what they’re doing is they’re getting the station prepared for their new lab module that will be launched in the next year or so, so they’ve got things that they have to relocate, and that’s the main objective of their EVA.

And you said that there might be a U.S. EVA?

Yeah, of course, we’d love to have a couple of those. Everybody likes going outside and doing an EVA. So right now Suni Williams and Aki Hoshide are planning for U.S. EVA #18. Right now we’re not sure if it’s going to happen during our increment, but again what they’re training for is running cables for the Russian module that we, that the Russians will be working with, and, if any other maintenance items come up, that will be included in that EVA.

Now you’re the man with the experience spacewalking; you’re hoping to get an opportunity to go back outside?

I would love to go back out again. If we do a U.S. EVA 18, Suni and Aki will have that opportunity. It will be Aki’s first time so that would be a, pretty cool to see him go outside. And, if they do that any kind of arm support, I’d be able to provide that. And if anything breaks down, something we don’t think about, then Suni and I are part of that team to go outside and take care of that problem.

Well, there is one thing that people are thinking about. They’ve been keeping a close eye on the Main Bus Switching Unit on the station and working up plans for how to keep all the systems powered if that piece of equipment does fail. Tell me what you might be called on to do if this MBSU does fail? Would that mean going outside?

Yeah, it would mean going outside. Right now it’s operating in a degraded state but it’s still functional, and really it’s almost like a breaker box that you would have in your home and so it’s allowing power to pass through; it’s not working as intended but still it’s functional, the station is still safe. But if it gets into a position where it no longer can pass power then we would have to go outside and replace the box. In the meantime, we have some jumper cables we could install so the station can be safe and we can continue to operate all of the core systems. And so depending on when it might break, if it does during our increment, Suni and Aki are also training for that, so we may be able to attach that to EVA 18 and have them go out, and if that happens and something else unfortunate happens, then, you know, Suni and I have trained and we’d be ready to go outside. So everybody’s keeping an eye on it and hopefully it will continue to operate like it is now.

You mentioned earlier that there’s a lot of traffic expected. These days the station is getting supplies on vehicles that are launched in Russia and by the European Space Agency and by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and there are two new cargo ships that are being developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. They have their initial flights scheduled to be coming up soon. Tell me about these two vehicles: how do they mix in with these current ships to keep the station supplied?

It’s really a cool time to be up there, a lot of traffic going on, and we’re really relying on these commercial vehicles to help us resupply the station. We may see one or both with the SpaceX Dragon or Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus going up there, they’re going to bring a lot of equipment up. And to have an opportunity to work with those, to get one, attach it to the station, remove all the equipment and send it back to Earth, would be awesome. The big difference for us as a crew member, pretty much the same as they come up, they may have a different profile to dock to the space station, but in terms of grabbing ’em and attaching to the station, pretty much the same. One big difference though is when they return: SpaceX, we can actually get the cargo that’s in there [back to Earth], and anything with the Cygnus would burn up in the atmosphere. So it will be nice to have that opportunity to really send supplies back down to Earth now that the shuttle is gone.

You referred to the fact that you would grab it: these don’t dock to the station in the same way that a Russian Progress ship or the European cargo ship do.

That is correct, and when I say grab it, I’m not going out there and reaching with it and bringing it in. We do have the robotic arm that will be pre-staged when the vehicle comes up, and really you’re up there, flying the arm and grabbing on to a little pin that’s sticking outside of the vehicle, and so that’s what we call capturing the arm, and then from there it takes some fairly complex robotics to now attach it to the space station.

So that’s another ship that’s flying formation?

It’s another ship that’s flying in formation. It comes up on its trajectory, we’re watching it the whole way, and then, at some point, we send into what we call free drift so now all of its engines have all been, you know, disconnected from the system, and now it’s just floating in space and that’s the time that we’ll go in with the robotic arm and capture it. So, yeah, a little formation flying up there a couple hundred miles above the Earth.

And once it’s captured then it has to be, I think the term is “berthed,” right?

Yes, we berth it to Node 2 nadir, which is on the bottom side of the station, and that allows us just to bring all that cargo out. When you talked about what are the things that we do, with all these visiting vehicles coming up, a lot of our time is moving boxes from one space to another, and when you get these cargo ships that come up with a pretty big volume, it’s a lot of work trying to coordinate. You can imagine having everything in your house right now, and then bringing in new furniture while you still have the old furniture in the house and how do you move things around and get ’em from one room to the other. It’s a very complex job, and luckily the ground is tracking all that and giving us a good plan to take care of it.

The berthing procedure, is that the same or very similar to what’s done with the Japanese cargo ship, the HTV?

They’re pretty much identical, yeah, so we’ll take those and go ahead and put ’em on the bottom of Node 2.

And then when those ships are ready to leave, it’s the reverse?

It’s the reverse. It’s maybe a little bit more, from our perspective, a little bit more relaxing because you’ve already had this thing attached, but you go in with the arm again while it’s affixed to the station, we go ahead and move it out to a position where it can now, you know, fire its engines to come back to Earth. So pretty much identical, just going backwards.

The next HTV that’s I believe coming in July, is carrying some unpressurized cargo on its exterior. Talk me through how the robotics works in that case where you have to remove cargo from that vehicle and place it on the outside of the station.

It’s going to be fun to do, and you’re absolutely correct. They have this platform, it’s not pressurized, so we’ll go in with the station’s robotic arm, go in and grapple it or grab it, and then we’ll pull that platform out, and then from there we’ll move it to another spot closer to the left side of the station, on the port side. Some equipment will be removed at that point using SPDM [Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator] and so we’re going to have this platform with the arm hanging out in space. This other arm’s going to come and grab equipment, attach that to the station, and then we’ll use the Japanese robotic arm to then grab that platform, so we’ll do a little handoff, and then from there attach it to the Japanese module. Pretty complex, you’re using all the arms pretty much that we have on station. It’ll be fun to do.

And that’s delivering, I guess, science research that gets attached to that exterior platform?

That’s correct. So there’ll be different boxes on that platform that will remain on the station, and then at the end we’ll have that platform that will be, you know, hopefully empty, everything came off, is now attached to the station, and then we’ll go ahead and put it back into HTV.

So a lot of different science as you’ve described and robotics and spacewalks and now commercial cargo ships instead of just vehicles from government space agencies. It’s like we’re really moving into a new era of spaceflight.

It’s really a neat time to be part of the space program, and we’re really looking at that transition now of building the station, and now it’s done, we can use it for what it was made, to do a lot of science, and now, like you said, we’re getting those commercial vehicles up there and how cool is that that now we have commercial companies sending vehicles up to the space station. And it really allows NASA now to start looking, you know, more at the big picture and getting us places we haven’t been before.

Well, and we’re working on building the vehicles that’ll take people there. Dream a bit for me there: if you look ahead 20 or 50 years or whatever, where do you see human space exploration being?

I’m feeling pretty good about human exploration of space. It’s really a neat time to be part of the space program and, again, when I talk to kids that are out there, their future is very, very bright. And, just like when I was dreaming as a kid all this science fiction, you can do the same today and see where we might end up going. You know, there’s, Mars is out there, asteroids are out there, and things that we’re not even really, we don’t even know about today, might be a possibility. If you look at what we’ve done in the last 50 years, that, it’s pretty impressive. So I think as much as you can dream, I could see that happening, and you could tell me something today and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually occurred in the next 50 years. I’m just sad that I’m so old that I might not see it all ’cause I’d love to be a part of it.