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USA Today Interview With the STS-121 Shuttle Crew
07.12.06
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Discovery/ISS, this is USA Today. How do you hear me?

Mark Kelly: We’ve got you loud and clear aboard the space station.

Well, hello to all of you and thanks so much for taking my questions. I wanted to start with one for Lisa Nowak. Can you tell me a little bit about the final inspection for MMOD that you’ll be doing? Would you expect it to be substantially different from those first two inspections and how much of a challenge will it be?

Lisa Nowak: Well, it’s basically the same procedures and we hopefully won’t see anything different. If we do, it’s because of some micrometeorite damage that happened during the flight. But of course, we hope it looks exactly the same as the inspections we did before and since it’s the same procedure it should be mostly the same kind of challenge, except as I mentioned earlier since the lighting can change it depends on what kind of light and darkness you have on each inspection point. That might make it a little bit tougher at some points of the inspection.

USA Today: Dr Sellers, your previous flight did not include an MMOD inspection, of course. In retrospect, do you wish it had or think it should have?

Piers Sellers: That was way back in 2002 before Columbia and I guess we as an agency didn’t know any better. We’ve learned a lot since Columbia. You know it’s made us re-look at the whole ET business, the whole damage on ascent business. I think NASA’s done a lot of heart-searching about this and come up with a pretty good solution. The inspection methodology we have seems to be very effective.

USA Today: For Stephanie Wilson, then, what is your judgment of the risks of MMOD and how confident are you that this inspection will pretty much eliminate that risk?

Stephanie Wilson: I’m confident that the sensors we have on the end of the beam tip can detect the micrometeoroid debris or impacts that we much encounter and based on what we see on board and based on what the inspection and imagery team does once we downlink the images, the analysis that they perform I’m confident that if there is any impact we will detect.

USA Today: If there should be some kind of impact is the felling with you, for Commander Kelly, what’s your feeling on whether you’d be willing to fly home on a repair?

Pilot Mark Kelly: Well, actually I’m not the commander; he’s riding a bike right now. I’m the pilot. And coming home on a repair, well, you know, it depends on extensive the damage is. There is a chance that we could repair minor damage. You know that would be … we’d have to see that at a later time. I think it is possible to come home with a vehicle that has RCC or tile that is repaired. But we really don’t know to what extent at this point and part of our EVA tomorrow is to try to prove some of that technology and that repair.

USA Today: Just to follow up on that, the only re-entry you’ve flown is pre-Columbia. What’s your view on hazards of re-entry now and given that your inspections have cleared the vehicle, are you … is it pretty much certain that you’re going to make it home safely?

Kelly: In my mind, it’s 100% certain, but nothing ever really is. We always knew the risks of entry, well ascent and re-entry, you the danger is there. The fact that we did lose a vehicle in Columbia makes it … you know our friends were on board … makes it a little more real to us. But, you know, we each understand what the risk is and after the inspection, you know, that we did on flight day 2 and flight day 4, we feel pretty confident that we’ve got a good vehicle.

USA Today: For Mike Fossum, as one of the rookies on the flight, what’s you’re feeling as you head toward re-entry, a little more … a little less that a week from now? And, what did you tell your family about the flight?

Mike Fossum: I think the biggest thing was that we’re going to know our situation, we’re going to know our status, we’re going to know our vehicle’s health, and that’s a big change in the program from 114. That’s one of the big objectives for our flight -- to prove our ability to, you know, inspect and detect problems that do exist. When we light ‘em up to come home, I think we’re do so with the full confidence of being home in an hour and being home with our family and friends very soon.

USA Today: I want to continue with Mike Fossum. Are you sorry not to be testing the CIPAA, and did you agree with the decision not to do so?

Fossum: We’re the actuators … sometimes I call the crewmembers meat servos -- we’re do what we’re told. There’s was a lot of disagreement about the CIPAA, for a lot of reasons. It was kind of a difficult piece of equipment, however it was designed and developed and built and tested as best we could on the ground in a remarkably short amount of time. It was really big … it had drawbacks that became evident later. I wish we could do a little more testing with the tile repair. I suspect that some crew in the near future is going to get a small opportunity to test at least the STA-54 material to see how it performs as it cures in the zero-g vacuum.

USA Today: For Dr. Sellers, how does this repair DTO EVA that you're about to do stack up in terms of difficulty or exertion compared to the two that you've already done.

Sellers: Well, the first two were kind of heavy lifting. I mean, they really were. We were moving huge bits of equipment around and doing a lot of hard work. And EVA 3 is more like kind of a careful, meticulous lab experiment. Mike and I have got to be very careful. Mark's going to coach us through this on how to get the material at the right temperature and apply it to a set of samples. And it really is lab work. We've got to do the best, most careful job we can. But, it won't be very tiring.

USA Today: For Dr. Sellers again. I know that you still have a week left in your flight, but things are going very well so far. And I'm wondering if you can reflect for me on what a success of this magnitude would mean for the shuttle program.

Sellers: Well, I think we were all hoping in NASA for two things to come out of STS-121. The first thing is that the shuttle would fly with no problem, no big dings on ascent, and we'd have a clean vehicle. We seem to have achieved that. Second thing is that we would leave station in good shape and ready to pickup the assembly sequence. And the line would be drawn where it was rubbed out before Columbia. We would start again with the next mission and continue the assembly, and I'm hoping … I think we’re there now. We repaired the external equipment that will allow assembly to continue … two for two.

USA Today: For Lisa Nowak, as someone who's flown a lot of aircraft, do you think it's appropriate after this flight, assuming a safe re-entry and landing, to call the shuttle operational again?

Nowak: Well, the shuttle in a way is always a test vehicle, every flight is a test flight. But for the way we've been using it in the past and essentially calling it operational then, yes. Between this flight and the one last summer, those were the return to flight missions and doing specific test objectives to get the shuttle ready again for its normal task of assembling the station and doing other kinds of work like Hubble and some science. And after this flight I think it will be ready to go.

USA Today: For Mark Kelly, with such a success behind it, I'm wondering if there's a possible risk that there could be a little more complacency after 121 than there was before 121, and if so, how do you combat that.

Kelly: Well I think that you always have to be aware of being complacent. You know, we've got our third EVA coming back and that's something we'll talk about tonight. We've got two EVAs behind us that were complete and successful, and you know the third one, we've got to watch out for that a little bit. Just like the folks that manage the space shuttle and space station program, as you get more successes you just have to be aware of the possibility of that happening and I think everybody understands that. And the folks that I know well, they guard against that, and there are steps you can take to make sure you don't get complacent. I think just being aware of that fact really really helps you combat it.

USA Today: And one last question if I might for Ms. Wilson. Now that you've seen the station, how does that change your opinion of taking refuge on the station if something happened to the shuttle?

Wilson: Well, now that I've been here and I've seen how the expedition crew lives and works aboard the space station … I was comfortable for and I'm even more comfortable now that if we had to stay here for safe haven that we would be well received, and we would have enough consumables and supplies to keep us here until the next shuttle could return to rescue us. And I would also hope that we would be able to help with the work that the expedition crew is doing while stayed here, in the event that we did have to stay for safe haven.

USA Today: Thank you all very much.

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