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Steve Robinson
08.26.06
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STS-115 Steve Robinson webcast

Transcribed by Corey Schubert

JON COWART: You are looking at Space Shuttle Atlantis, seated on Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. America's space shuttle is set to fly into space once again!

Good morning and welcome to the NASA Direct astronaut webcast featuring NASA's mission STS-115.

I'm Jon Cowart, an orbiter engineering manager and your host for today's program. In just a few minutes, we're going to talk about orbiter Atlantis, NASA's latest space shuttle mission, and we have a special guest -- a NASA astronaut -- live in the studio to answer some questions about space flight!

First, a little about the mission. Atlantis is about to charge into orbit on a mission to boost electrical power on the International Space Station.

The additional power will be supplied by the P3/P4 truss currently tucked inside Atlantis' payload bay.

The solar-powered component can generate enough electricity to power 30 homes!

And it will take three spacewalks to install the truss on the station.

You'll hear more about the new station truss a little later.

But first, it's my great pleasure to welcome a very special guest to the program, STS-114 Mission Specialist Steve Robinson.

Steve, thanks for being here today.

STEVE ROBINSON: Thanks, it's exciting to be here the day before launch.

COWART: You were a spacewalker on your last mission and we'll talk about that in just a few minutes. But, launch day is so close; it must be a very exciting time for the crew. Can you tell us a little bit about what might be going on this last day before launch?

ROBINSON: Well, I think this crew is really excited to go. You know, they've been training for four and a half years, if you can believe that. And they so much are ready for tomorrow. They're, they're in NASA crew quarters here at Kennedy Space Center getting a little time with their families today. They'll be out at the beach having a little family time. They'll all be exercising today, I'm sure of that, like they do every day, because space -- going to space is actually a fairly physical challenge. And they'll be doing the last little bit of studying and trying to get a good sleep tonight.

COWART: Well, a mission to the space station must take a lot of practicing. What sort of training has the team been doing during the final weeks before liftoff?

ROBINSON: Well, training for a space mission as complex as this is almost, it's like a combination of being in the Olympics and getting a Ph.D. all at the same time. As I said, it's taken years of training for these, this six-person crew. They're real experts at what they're doing, and there's a bunch of different aspects that we train real hard in the astronaut business. First of all and most important is the teamwork. You learn to work together. Everything you do, you work together, you rely on each other, you learn each other's strengths and weaknesses and you become a very strong team.

We need that, because we rely on each other in space, really for our lives and also to complete the mission. We do a lot of safety work. You can see we wear these orange launch and entry suits when we go up in the space shuttle and when we come back down for entry. And when we go out and climb into the shuttle, we have to be able to get back out quickly. We practice that a lot. On this mission, the spacewalking is a big deal, because the truss can't be attached to the International Space Station without three spacewalks to support it -- connect mechanical and electrical connections.

And spacewalking is pretty demanding and the training is very demanding and very fun. We train mostly underwater. We put on a spacesuit that's almost identical to the one we take outside. We go into one of the biggest pools in the world, as I understand it. And we go in and we stay down there almost all day, for about six hours we're down there. And underneath that water, there is a space station. There's a mock-up, a full-size mockup of the International Space Station. It's kind of folded, so it'll fit into the pool. And stay down there and do the tasks that we plan to do in space. Now, it's a little bit different in the water, in that it's not zero gravity, but it's called the neutrally buoyant environment. In other words, your space suit doesn't either sink or float. And so, that's sort of how it is in zero gravity. And we practice that over and over and over again.

COWART: That sounds like a lot of fun, actually.

ROBINSON: It is.

COWART: Steve, you have spent considerable time on Space Shuttle Discovery, but the STS-115 crew is launching aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is making its seventh trip to the ISS.

Let's take a closer look at one of NASA's most advanced and versatile orbiters.

NARRATOR: Space Shuttle Atlantis is named after the first open-ocean research ship sailed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

The original Atlantis -- like its modern space-faring namesake -- explored far-flung frontiers with an impressive kit of science instruments packed into its hull.

The orbiter was christened with the flight of mission STS-51J, launching on October 3, 1985.

During the 1980s, Atlantis dispatched the Magellan spacecraft for Venus, and the Galileo probe to Jupiter, giving us up-close looks at two of our distant planetary neighbors.

In 1991, the orbiter carried the record-setting, 17-ton Compton Gamma Ray Observatory into Earth orbit.

A member of NASA's fleet of Great Observatories, Compton spent 11 years in space performing high-energy astronomy.

"And liftoff of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a mission that will herald a new day of international cooperation in space."

Later, Atlantis played a pivotal part in establishing a partnership between NASA and the Russian Space Agency when it flew the initial Shuttle-Mir missions.

Sparking a spirit of cooperation, Atlantis was the first space shuttle to dock with Russia's Mir complex.

The flight tests proved to be valuable practice, paving the way for Atlantis' current assignment: the International Space Station.

To date, Atlantis has traveled to the station six times on missions to install modules like the Destiny science laboratory and skeletal trusses.

"This is great being up here on the station."

Its last mission to the station was STS-112, taking place in October 2002, bringing with it the S1 truss and a cargo cart for use by spacewalkers.

"Houston, Atlantis. Wheels stop."

"Roger wheels stop, Atlantis. Welcome back to Earth and congratulations on a truly spectacular mission expanding our new home in space."

COWART: Okay, Steve, now that we've learned more about the STS-115 orbiter, let's learn a little more about you.

Now, you have multiple degrees from Stanford University. You enjoy flying antique aircraft and we hear that you also enjoy music somewhat -- perhaps even play in a rock and roll band?

ROBINSON: Well, I have to admit it's true. And what's really exciting about STS-115: It's not only six talented astronauts going up to do an important mission on the space station, but two members of the all-astronaut rock and roll band are on this mission. There actually is a rock and roll band made up of all astronauts.

We've been around for, gosh, more than 15 years. I think I've been in it for about nine or 10. Doesn’t mean we're any good, but we do, we really enjoy playing music and Chris Ferguson, who is the pilot of Atlantis on this mission, is our drummer. And Dan Burbank, one of the spacewalkers and also the flight engineer on this mission, plays guitar and sings for us. And so we're, for the rock and roll band, we're really understaffed during this mission. So we can't wait for them to come back.

COWART: Well, I've heard you and you are good. Our next generation of astronauts could be found at Camp Kennedy Space Center.

Now, here in Florida, we have a hands-on program to teach kids about space flight and what it’s like to be an astronaut.

It's called "Camp KSC" and we stopped by with our NASA Direct cameras recently to see what kids wonder most about shuttle missions.

Let's see what a few of them wanted to know.

COLTON: Hi. My name is Colton. I'm from Ontario, Canada. I'd like to know, is it a bumpy ride to space?

COWART: So, what is it like on the ride to space?

ROBINSON: It's a very good question, Colton. I wondered that myself before my first space flight. And you know, you're laying on your back in the shuttle and you're all, you've got your big orange suit on, you're strapped in, you've got cooling and oxygen and your communications lines. And everything's actually fairly quiet until the main engines start. Now, there are three main engines on the tail of the shuttle, right here. And they start first, and they fire for about six seconds, and that's so the computers can check them out.

If the computers say go, then these two big white rockets here on the side get a firing command. And when they go, you really leave the ground in a hurry. You are off the ground in no time, and for the first minute or so, it is quite a bumpy ride. You're shaking and rattling, you're really glad you're strapped in.

It's hard to talk. It's impossible to write. It's actually hard to see sometimes. And then it smooths out after that, but it's, can be pretty exciting and dynamic.

COWART: Well, Steve, both STS-114 and 115 feature spacewalks. In an unplanned third space walk during the 114 mission, you were the first person to ever repair the belly of an orbiter while in space! So what's it like to be an orbiting, on-the-spot handy man?

ROBINSON: Well, we, we trained for a lot of different things for that mission. You know, we had, we were talking about training underwater. We had 73 different days of training underwater for that mission, and we did lots of different types of things that we didn't end up doing in space. So when time came on that mission to do something that we had never trained for, we were pretty ready, because we felt flexible. We had a good team on the ground and in space. One of the most challenging things about this particular spacewalk was the operation of the robotic arm. The robotic arm had never been to the location that it had to go to do this task. And Wendy Lawrence, assisted by Jim Kelly, with a whole bunch of engineers down on the ground, put together a fantastic plan in almost no time and very safely got me up to the bottom side of the shuttle to do this job.

COWART: Now, that is quite a high-wire act! We know you don't work all the time while you're in space. Someone wants to know how you handle your down time while you're up there.

SCOTT: Hi. I'm Scott. I'm from New Jersey. I was wondering, how do astronauts sleep in space because there's no gravity.

ROBINSON: Well, sleeping in space is kind of a challenge, because it's, it's just not at all like being at home. You use a sleeping bag and the sleeping bag has a couple interesting things. First of all, you can put it anywhere you want. If you want to sleep, if you've always wanted to sleep on the ceiling, you can do that. If you want to sleep upside-down like a bat, that's fine too because in space, there really is no up or down. So you strap your sleeping bag with little metal hooks onto the side of the wall, the inside wall of the space shuttle, wherever you want. On this last mission, I slept in the cockpit actually, across the commander and pilot seats.

And you climb in, but you have to strap yourself in because you don't want to float away during the night and wake up somewhere else. So that part is all very interesting. And you have no need for a pillow, because your head doesn't really rest anywhere. It just sort of floats. And that takes some getting used to. But after a few days, you get very comfortable with it and then you really miss it after you come home.

COWART: That sounds really good. Steve, as you know, three spacewalks will be required to install the P3/P4 truss during this mission.

Equipped with hundreds of little solar cells, the truss will provide electricity to the station.

Robbie Ashley, the P3/P4 truss payload manager here at KSC, helps to explain.

NARRATOR: The next part of the International Space Station might resemble a cocoon when tucked inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis for flight.

By the time it's deployed in space, the segment that will help provide a quarter of the completed station's power will look more like a butterfly -- an extremely large butterfly.

The port three and four integrated truss segment is the prime payload for the next shuttle mission.

Well, the truss in its launch configuration is about 45 feet long, but once on orbit and the solar arrays are deployed, it will have a wingspan of almost 240 feet.

The entire deployment process will require the astronauts to perform three spacewalks, which will include deploying the two solar wings.

The P3/P4 element will be installed on the end of the, what is right now the end of the port truss segment, or the P1 segment, on orbit. It's going to be providing two primary capabilities, the first being power. The power module will provide the capability to generate, store, distribute and, and regulate power for the space station. It's going to supplement the, what's up there, the capability that's up there now with the P6 element. In addition, the, the P3 half of this integrated cargo element has a mechanism on it that's going to allow, that's going to rotate all of the outboard truss segments, including the solar arrays, to allow them to stay pointed optimally at the sun for power-generation capability.

DAVID: Hi. My name is David and I'm from Pennsylvania. What's it like wearing a spacesuit?

COWART: Now that's a very good question, and we have a glove here. Steve, could you tell us a little bit about that glove you have?

ROBINSON: You bet. David, wearing a spacesuit is really an interesting thing because when you wear the kind of spacesuit that you do spacewalks in, it's actually your own little spacecraft. It has everything you need to survive outside, including air, it has pressurization, it has temperature control, it has communications, and it even has a little propulsion system that you can move around in case of emergencies. It's just an amazing thing and you wear it for a long time. On my first spacewalk, it was seven hours outside, but we were in the suits for 11 hours. So it's your home away from home, for sure.

This is a glove from a spacewalking suit and it looks soft, and it is until it's pressurized. In the vacuum of space, it's pressurized and it's actually like a little balloon and it's quite stiff, like that. And so, every time you want to, want to move your hand, you have to overcome the stiffness of this balloon glove, like that. So that's, you do lots of hand exercises and when you come in after a spacewalk, your hands are sore.

The rest of the suit is sort of like an extension of these gloves. It has many layers. The inside layer is kind of rubberized, like this, and that holds the air in. That's so you're in your own little balloon of air as you're moving around. This is thermal protection, because it gets very hot in space when you're in the sun, and it also gets very cold whenever you're in shadow. You can actually feel that in the spacesuit.

And if you ever look at a space, a spacewalker's spacesuit, if you look right on the chest, right here, there's a little knob. And that knob changes your temperature. And the way it changes the temperature is you have liquid-cooled underwear. And the liquid cooling that flows through little tubes in your underwear is what cools you off.

And once last secret, I'll tell you, is if you look at that knob, the numbers are on backwards. And there's a reason for that. It's because you're in your suit, you can't look at that knob. You can't really see it. So on your glove, you've actually got a mirror right here. And you hold it out and you can look at the knob in the mirror, and that's why the numbers are on backwards.

COWART: That is really cool. I know one thing, when I've seen astronauts preparing to go into space and I know they were going to do an EVA, I've often times seen them walk around squeezing tennis balls, getting ready for that phenomenon you talked about.

But another interesting thing about this glove is you see the rubber tips. What are those there for?

ROBINSON: Well, when you touch something with your hand, just here on the ground, when you touch something, you have something, what's called a tactile sense, which means you have a very delicate feel for what you're doing. In the gloves, you lose most of that feel, and, and these little rubber tips are, try to get your finger as close as possible to the surface you're touching, so you still have a little bit of touch feel through there. You lose most of it, so you have to do most of it sort of visually. But that's what that is there for. It's also rubber, so there's a little bit of friction so you don't slip on things.

COWART. Right. Well, thanks, Steve. That's really cool! Switching gears now, you started working at NASA as a college student. I'm sure many students watching today would like to know how you went from being a co-op to a spacewalker. Let's see what one of our campers wanted to know.

COLTON: Hey. My name is Colton. I am from Idaho Falls, Idaho, and what do kids all over the world have to learn to become an astronaut?

ROBINSON: Colton, I spent most of my life asking myself the same question. There's, there's a few keys to it. And I suppose one of the most important things is persistence. Don’t give up. If it's your dream, don't ever give up on it. I, I know that I applied to be an astronaut for 12 years before I actually arrived at the Johnson Space Center. And I had worked for NASA for, I think almost 19 years, by the time I launched the first time. So it was a long road. The other thing is, learn to do something well. Really concentrate on what it is you're good at, and be really excellent at it. To learn to excel at something is something that I think is important to be an astronaut, but also anything else in life. Learn to excel at something; preferably a couple of different things. And the way to do that is follow something you truly love in your heart. And all of us at NASA, we love space flight. We love flying, and aeronautics and exploration of the solar system, and it really comes from the heart. And that's our secret to success.

COWART: Well, Steve, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. It's been a real pleasure having you.

ROBINSON: Go for launch tomorrow!

COWART: Alright. Thanks to the kids at Camp Kennedy for all those great questions and to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Don't forget, you can follow the countdown to liftoff by reading the NASA Direct launch blog or by watching NASA TV on the Web.

For you iPod users -- you can see the launch replay shortly after liftoff by subscribing to NASA's video podcasts at www.nasa.gov/Podcast.

For all of us at NASA Direct, thanks for watching and go Atlantis!

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