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Preflight Interview: James Kelly
02.23.05
 
The STS-114 Crew Interview with James Kelly, pilot

You have a job that a lot of kids dream about having. Is being an astronaut what you always wanted to do?

Yeah, really it is, from the time I was 5. I was born in 1964, so I saw the first moon landings when I was 5 in 1969 and, really, from that point on, like most kids of my generation, obviously I wanted to be an astronaut. Certainly, at that time, and I just happened to keep it through all those years.

So what did you do in terms of your education and then your career that made you actually be qualified to be an astronaut?

STS-114 Pilot James Kelly Image to right: STS-114 Pilot James Kelly sits in a NASA T-38 jet at Ellington Field, near the Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

Well, after high school I went out to the United States Air Force Academy and majored in astronautical engineering. You need a science, engineering-type background generally to become an astronaut, so I got my undergraduate degree in engineering at the Air Force Academy, flew for the Air Force for about 10 years, including Test Pilot School, and picked up a graduate degree along the way in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama. And then, the big part was, I was fortunate enough to get called down for an interview and, and then get selected with the Class of 1996.

If you look back can you say that there was just one person who was really, played the most important role in your becoming an astronaut, or maybe, your, your inspiration?

For me, it was my parents -- it's not really one person, but, both of my parents throughout the time I was growing up, small town Iowa kid. You don't really think that much of going off to be an astronaut or anything like that, and, and anything I wanted to do they were like, yeah, you can do anything you want to, all you have to do is work hard. So I, I really think, for me, it came from the family first.

I think Iowa probably has a high per-capita number of astronauts.

I haven't checked it out but there have been quite a few, so it's kind of nice to get a lot of small state folks.

What are your other interests and hobbies? I mean, what do you do when you're not being an astronaut?

Well, mine's pretty simple. I've got, four kids, so most of my outside activities revolve around the kids. Recently, it's been science fair projects -- of course it's that time of year and all four of them did science fair projects this year -- so I spent a lot of time talking to them about that. It's a great chance for us to spend time together and for me to teach them a little bit, and, frankly, for them to teach me some things. For science fair we do, lots of activities, sports activities, all the kids are in sports and music so, just going to events for four children that are all in sports, music, church, those kind of things, keeps us pretty busy.

You spend a lot of time training in your job, especially any astronaut who's assigned to a crew, and that's time that you could be spending with your family or doing other things. What is it that provides you the, the motivation to make that sacrifice?

For me that's just, once again that probably comes from my family. I've been that way, even before I was an astronaut. In the Air Force I worked long hours and, and more than I probably had to, to do the job. I've always been very focused on getting the job done and things like that. Inherited it from my father. He was a workaholic as well. But you have to balance it, and it's tough sometimes. The bottom line is, in this job, especially for this flight, you could work 24 hours a day and there'd still be more stuff to learn, more things to check on, more stuff to practice over again. You just have to figure out where that line is and, and draw it as well as you can.

Especially since the loss of Columbia and its astronauts, we assume that other astronauts understand the risks of spaceflight and are willing to take them. Tell me why you think this job is worth that risk?

First of all, I, you know, my conception of the risk didn't change with Columbia. Coming from my background as a fighter pilot I've lost friends in the flying world, and so you realize that the next flight of anything could be the last flight you're on. While it's a bigger risk, obviously, flying in space than on an aircraft flight even in, in the Air Force, I knew ahead of time what the risks were and I, hopefully, prepared my family for it. What drives you on to do it, really, is just holding on to that dream, I've had as a kid. Part of it's personal, part of it's for me, but it's really in a bigger picture, too. I've always felt that we need to get out there and explore. I think, personally, we're way behind in going back to the moon, going on to Mars, like President Bush has laid out in his Vision. When I was five, growing up, I assumed that by the time I got to be 40 we'd have people on the moon, you know, we'd have people going to Mars. So, a lot of it is just tied up with the whole way I look at life, which is we need to be out there exploring, pressing on further, and moving faster to get out there.

You mentioned your family in that, context; how does your family deal with the risk of your job?

STS-114 Pilot James Kelly Image to left: Kelly practices emergency water bailout procedures. Credit: NASA

Well, some of the things you don't think about ahead of time. For instance, very directly for my family is I've always had the risk of me not coming home. I've had that my entire adult life, with the job I've chosen to have, first with the Air Force and now with NASA. So that part's always been there. The public nature of it is what really hit home after Columbia, watching the spouses go through the grieving process and all the eyes on them. That's something that you really don't really think about until you actually go through it, not that I went through it myself but watching them go through it. And so that's something we had to talk about a little bit. And for the kids, depending on what age they are, it's really talking it out. Obviously they're scared about the next flight, or they were more scared before, but I spent a lot of time talking to them about what we're doing to make changes, what's going to be better about this flight, things are going to be different. But you also have to be honest with them and just like any other Space Shuttle flight, when I step on this one, I think it may be our safest one ever, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some risk there of, of me not coming home. And so we talk about that and you deal with it as best you can. But, the bottom line is that's my job, that's something that we have to deal with as a family.

It's been more than two years since Columbia and its crew were lost. Jim, what was it like for you, as an astronaut, to deal with the realization that an accident had cost the lives of seven of your friends?

For me it was kind of an interesting process. I was, the morning that it happened I was actually taking, one of my sons to a band competition. I check on flights when they're airborne, and we were only four weeks away from launch; we were supposed to launch four weeks later, on March 1 in 2003, so we'd been really busy getting prepared for the flight. I checked on it before I left the house and everything was going fine. I got the phone call from my wife and came directly into work. I did a lot of work with the families and over the first two months I didn't get much of a chance to think about it, because I was so busy focused on taking care of the families, which, NASA made number one priority from, from, Administrator O'Keefe on down. He said our first priority is taking care of the families. So I kind of had a delayed reaction. It hits you pretty hard: I had three classmates on the flight, from the Class of 1996, and, and I knew all of them, obviously, and, so it hits pretty hard. I think, over time, you think about them as you're going through training, and we realize it's a legacy we're going to be carrying on in our flight. I think it turns back around once more to the fact that this is, this is my dream, going into space, this was their dream, and even the spouses have said, post-Columbia, that what they know their spouse would have wanted was for us to strap it back on again and go up into space. So, that kind of eases the pain over time and, and you learn to live with it.

When you think about those men and women, what are some of your best memories of them, either individually or as a group?

They were a great group. They were together for a long time; their mission got delayed several times, so they had times when they were in very intense training and then they backed off and so they had more fun. They were a good group to be around in the halls, 'cause you could always tell the STS-107 crew was having fun. It was obvious they all liked each other and got along real well. I have favorite memories, especially of my classmates. Laurel never had a bad word to say to anybody. She was just sunshine, bright floral shirts that she wore all the time -- actually, in our class, she got the nickname "Floral," because she'd wear her floral shirts and I got to know her real well and it was fun just being around her. Willie was a true professional. I learned a lot from Willie. He and I are pilots in the same class, and there are certain people that you look at and you know they do things the right way. Willie is one of those guys. But some of my favorite stories come from Dave Brown. Dave and I actually worked together down at the Cape for a little bit more than a year as Cape Crusaders, preparing other missions to get ready to go fly in space. Dave was a fantastic guy with just a great background with everything he'd done. Some of my fondest memories are working with those three because they're the ones I knew the best, being in my class -- just looking back on the good times that we had, both working and, and in off hours.

What have you and your crewmates talked about doing to honor their memory and their spirit while you're flying your mission?

We've talked about a lot of things, and, and we haven't totally decided what we're going to do yet. Obviously, it's very important to us that, that the recognition of the Columbia crew and the Columbia families are there, before, during, and after our mission. One of the things we did was change our patch for this mission. We had a patch already for our mission that was supposed to go in 2003, but we added the silhouette of the, 107 patch with the seven-star Columba, constellation that was on their patch, in honor of them. So, that's some, something that we're doing obviously before the flight. During the flight we're going to carry some things with us, and, think about them; we're going to talk about them while up on orbit and certainly make sure that everybody understands that, really, we are carrying on their legacy. Then there are some things that we're going to try to do probably for the families, both during and after, which I won't talk about now. So we're planning some things but the bottom line is for most of the time in flight, they'll be in the back of our minds. It's one of the motivating factors on the flight that you can't concentrate on that in the foreground and get your work done, so, you know, it's one of those things that, many times you kind of pull it out, the emotions out; you do what you want to do with that, and then they're going to have to get put back away again while we complete the mission.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board pinpointed the physical causes of the loss of Columbia and specified some mechanical fixes for making the Shuttle safer to fly. Assess the improvements that have been made to eliminate debris and to detect and repair damage that might be caused.

Well, in my mind it really falls into, depending on how you look at it, two or three different places. The first major one, obviously, was that the tank was the proximate cause of the physical event, and so that was the first thing we had to attack was the external tank. I think one of the most critical things we did, which is probably overlooked, is we didn't understand why foam was coming off. We didn't know exactly how it was happening, when it was happening, and so there was a lot more rigor put into the process of figuring that out. That was the first key, going back, getting all the data, figuring out what was going wrong, how it was going wrong, because only then can you start fixing it. Obviously, part of that is fixing the tank and making sure it doesn't happen again. They've made some major changes to it as well as many minor changes, which we think are going to result in only foam being liberated that won't hurt us. In other words, there's still going to be foam coming off the tank; there's no way to eliminate it completely. But the primary response was to get the size down as low as possible. And so that's the first half. The second half, which I think is just as important, and actually I think had it been in place for Columbia would have helped them a lot, is, knowledge of the health of your vehicle. Unfortunately with Columbia even early on in the mission when they thought that something might have hit, they didn't have anything on board to tell them whether it hit. And so, to a certain extent, it was all talking on the ground. Did something go wrong? Did it not? We don't know; there's no real way we can find out. We bypassed some opportunities, unfortunately, that might have helped, but the bottom line being it wasn't easy to just say, hey, go look at this and, and tell us if there's something wrong. So that's a critical difference in our mission, that's the second major area is inspection. We will have on board with us laser systems and robotic systems that can go out and look at any part of the Thermal Protection System and see if it's OK. I think that's the critical thing. Once you know the health of your vehicle, then you can start making intelligent decisions about what you want to do about that. And that then would lead to maybe the third part if you do have any problems, the, the repair option. I think the most critical part of the repair option is deciding whether you need one or not, because it's very tricky to go out there and do a repair. We don't have a lot of great ways of doing it yet; we've got a few that look like they have promise, but we're still not sure if any of them will work. So the critical decision is, do you need to do that or not, because it's just as bad to go out and try to repair something that doesn't need it as it is the other way around; you could easily do more damage. We're still working on all, all the parts of that, but most of them we think we've gotten a window now where we've got them under control. We understand what's going on, so in that way we'll be far better off on our flight.

There have been thousands of people all across the country who've been working these two years to help make those changes and make a safe Return to Flight possible. What are your thoughts about the contributions and the efforts of all those people?

Well, obviously it's critical. I mean, I'm sitting here on camera and, and they come talk to us a bunch but, like we always like to say we're just the tip of the spear. Our Commander, Eileen Collins, has done a great job of getting us all around the country. Over the last two years we've, we've been from East Coast to West Coast, from North to South, trying to get as many places as we can, in many cases giving out awards, and in all cases trying to talk to the folks out there working really hard and kind of put a face on the space program. A lot of the places we've been to had not seen an astronaut for a long time or, in some cases had never seen an astronaut. All that was geared around thanking the people that are out there working so hard. We fully realize that there are people that dedicated their whole life to Columbia itself that dedicated a major portion of their life to astronaut training or, to subsystems. Those people were hit, in many cases, just as hard as we were by the accident and they didn't have near as much visible or otherwise support to help them through that. So we just wanted to get out and thank everybody. Obviously, we're not going anywhere if every one of those thousands and thousands of people aren't doing their job as well as they need to. We wouldn't get there without them. When we launch it will be far more a testament to what they've been doing the last two years than what we've been doing.

It sounds like you, it means a lot to you to have had the opportunity to go around and meet those people.

Absolutely, and we need to do that, we need them to know that what they're doing is critical, not only to the success of spaceflight but to put the human face on it, too. I think, and, and we've been told this time and time again by the workers that when someone comes and talks to them who they know is going to go up, it makes it personal, and it rededicates them to their work so they know that every little thing they do really does matter. Over time when you're doing, especially very repetitive tasks that you do time and time again, sometimes you can lose the fact that somewhere on down the line that's going to be a critical item, on a long list of critical items that we're going to need.

The repair procedures, as you mentioned a few minutes ago, that have come up as a result of CAIB recommendations are still being fine-tuned; some of them are still being developed. But the Shuttle program is confident in returning the Shuttle to flight even though these procedures are still being tested and certified. Are you comfortable with that?

My personal take, which may be different than a lot of people's, is that I never expected on our flight to have what NASA would call a certified repair method. In other words, I never expected them to hand us this magic box that says we know this will absolutely work the first time ever done in space, and so you'll be safe if you do this. That's why to me, some of the critical aspects were, number one, knowing whether we had to do it, so I've really been personally pushing on being able to inspect to figure out if we've got anything wrong, and then also making that decision very well of whether we need to be repaired or not. Obviously, we've flown all of these flights; we've taken tile damage on every flight. So on our flight the chance that we're going to have tile damage that we're going to have to repair is very small. What you don't want to have is a decision that hey, we've seen this damage before, but we think you need to inspect it. That's not saying that all damage we've had before will be survivable now, but the bottom line is you need to have rigor in that, so that to me is a critical part of it. I always assumed for our flight that the best we would do would be to have one or two or however-many techniques to go out there and test in space so that we could bring them back down onto Earth and arcjet them and take them through the process to see if they would have actually survived entry. So we're about where I thought we would be; we're going to have some techniques to take up with us and try, but I never expected us to have a tried-and-true tested capability for coming back. I just don't think you can get there without actually testing it in space. To make a long answer even longer, that does drive us into we do have the option, if we do find damage, that we do make the decision that it needs to be repaired or that we can't come back home, we do have the option of staying aboard the International Space Station now, which is another key part of that.

Beyond the physical causes of what happened to Columbia, CAIB has also cited organizational and human factors within NASA that bear responsibility -- the management system and the safety culture at NASA. Do you see changes for the better from the past two years in those areas?

STS-114 Pilot James Kelly Image to right: Kelly takes a close look at a Space Shuttle Main Engine while visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Credit: NASA

I do see changes for the better. I think we still have a long way to go on that. The place where it's easiest to see change is changed people, people that were there before that have been replaced with other people that, that are doing a better job. We've got a lot of those, and you see a lot of positives in that, in that way. What it's harder to see is the organizational change such that if you get someone who's not right for the job in the future, will we have the management, the management culture, the NASA culture, to be able to overcome having the wrong people in those spots. There's no doubt, over the years, there are going to be decisions that are made to put people into positions that they may not be ready for. It could be me; that I'm not ready for a job and they put me in there, and the system has to be able to absorb that, figure it out, make the changes necessary, to either get those people up to speed or get them out. That's what you really can't tell at this point, I don't think. So right now we've come a long way, from the changing the people out. Obviously there's this big, bright light on everything we do. That helps out a lot because everything's under close scrutiny. Once that close scrutiny goes away, we need to make sure that we have the structure in place that we can absorb some of the wrong people in the wrong places and still get things done safely and, and still move on to the future.

STS-114 is called LF-1. What does "LF-1" mean? What are the goals of this flight?

Well, it stands for Logistics Flight-1. No matter what you call the Return-to-Flight mission, it was going to miss some critical element of it unless it had a ten-word name. Really the critical aspects fall into two areas. One is the logistics, and that's something that was on our flight from the beginning. We were supposed to launch in March 2003, and we're a resupply mission to the International Space Station. A lot of those aspects are still there. We're still taking up a logistics module, to resupply the inside of the Station, and especially after 2-1/2 years of not taking Shuttles to Station, it's, as critical to get stuff off the Station and bring it back home, because it's getting pretty cluttered up there. That part of our mission is relatively the same as it was two years ago. The part that's been added, a huge part of the mission now, is the test phase. We're a test flight, as all the rest of the Shuttle flights will be test flights, and there's a whole lot of new procedures and equipment, changed equipment that we're taking up with us, all of which needs to be checked out and tested. That's the other huge part of our mission -- all those new things that we're going to be doing.

As the Pilot, what are your primary jobs?

Well, the primary job of the Pilot in, in every flight, my first job is to back up the Commander. Eileen Collins is our Commander, and although she's totally competent to do absolutely everything, we never do everything with one person, we always have someone to back them up. So my primary job is to back up Eileen pretty much in anything she does -- flying the vehicle, reconfiguring the vehicle, all those kind of things. Probably the second biggest job I have for this flight is robotics. I'm a robotics operator on both the Shuttle arm, helping out with all the inspection process, with the inspection boom and sensors and all of those things, as well as a Station robotic, arm operator, primarily for doing all of the EVAs, all of the spacewalk work, as well as moving the logistics module back and forth, onto the Station and back in the payload bay. So most of my time in flight is going to be taken up with the robotics operations. Let's talk about the logistics, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, Raffaello, that you folks are taking up. Tell me about what you're delivering in there. How is this gear that is going to advance the science mission of the Station and support the crew on orbit?

When we were originally going we had quite a bit of science stuff on the MPLM, but as I said with the 2-1/2 intervening years of no Shuttle going up there, we've kind of had to reconfigure our logistics module. I would say most of the stuff that we're taking up now is service and support -- food, clothing, equipment, spare parts, things like that. We are still taking up some science payloads. The lead among those is the Human Research Facility-2 Rack, which we'll take up and install, aboard the U.S. Lab. So we still do have some science stuff on board the logistics module but we, we're primarily, a re-outfit the Station. It's been 2-1/2 years since we had significant upmass, and especially downmass to bring things back, so it's going to be critical for us to take all the stuff aboard Station that no longer needs to be there, get it on the logistics module, and bring it home. So we're primarily a service and supply.

I'd like to ask you to expand on how this is critical. The Station has gotten supplies on Russian launch vehicles, but their cargo is limited in comparison to the Shuttle. How does the return of Shuttle flights, how is that critical to the future of the Station?

Well, you pretty much nailed it. A lot of it is we just can carry more equipment and we can carry bigger equipment up to orbit. For instance, the Human Research Facility-2 Rack I talked about can't go aboard a Progress. Until the Shuttle gets back flying we can't take any other large scientific payloads up to orbit, and ours has some and the flights after ours have a bunch more coming up. You can't bring new modules -- you can't build the Space Station without the Space Shuttle. The solar arrays that have to go up; the rest of the truss segments that go up, the European lab module, the Japanese lab module, all of those things can't go up without the Shuttle. So, all of the big pieces you can think of can't go up until, until we, go up. And the other critical part is the, the Soyuz only has, I think it's around 150 pounds of return mass capability, so every time a Soyuz comes back there were huge raging arguments about what pieces of gear needed to come home. We've got so much that needs to come home; they really have to fight to see which one is actually going to make it aboard the Soyuz. Once the Shuttle starts flying again, you can take so much more home that you don't have to have most of those arguments anymore; you can get almost everything you want to get home. Hopefully within the first two missions, within our mission and the STS-121 mission after ours, we'll have cleaned out everything that needs to come home, and then we'll be back to the normal business where you're taking up about as much as you're bringing home.

In the first few hours of your flight, literally, you're going to be confirming some aspects of the redesign of the Shuttle's external tank. Talk about what's involved in getting data back to the ground from the wing leading edge sensors and from the old and new cameras that you folks are going to have on board, inside and out.

The first part of it is pretty easy. We don't deal with that at all. Down at the launch complex in Florida, they've got a huge number of cameras now, new and updated cameras that are going to be watching us all the way through. Some of them watch all the way through launch. All of them watch us through, solid rocket booster separation, a couple of minutes after launch, the first 2½ minutes of launch. They're going to get a lot of data on the ground that will tell them what's going on. If you remember from the Columbia accident, the one shot that they did have, of the camera, that actually showed the bipod ramp coming off and hitting the front of the left wing; we're going to have far better systems for seeing that from the ground. That's transparent to us but that's the first big change, with looking at the external tank. There also will be some very powerful radar systems looking at the external tank as it goes up. For us, a couple of things have changed. We've got a, a better camera now. When we separate from the external tank, it actually goes beneath us, we have a camera that's in one of the wells down there that actually looks out and takes digital still photos of the external tank. Now, before we didn't have digital still photos, we had analog. If you want to look at them that way, the old film cameras, you wouldn't see those until after we landed. They'd take all the pictures, we'd close up the doors of the well, and then we'd do our whole flight, come back on the ground, they'd take out the camera and film, and then they'd develop it so you'd find out after it landed. That's been changed to a digital system now where we will downlink it on Flight Day 1 to the ground. Another thing we've done is we've changed our handheld external tank photography. Andy Thomas and Soichi Noguchi are going to be taking pictures of the external tank after we separate from it. We're actually do, you have to do about a 120-degree maneuver, to get to look at that, which has always been true, except now we're doing it, about a minute and forty-five to two minutes after main engine cutoff, we're going to be doing that, as opposed to four minutes, which we used to do. We're also going to be doing a faster pitch maneuver. The bottom line being that we get to see the external tank from a lot closer, about one-third to one-half the distance we did before, so we should get a lot-better-resolution pictures from that. We also have the wing leading edge sensors, which you mentioned, which are done automatically. They're taking data, from the time they turn on, which is before launch, all the way until the ground really starts commanding some of them off. But all of them are going to be on throughout ascent and most of that first day until we get everything set up. The second part of the question is how do we get it all to the ground. We have to set up a computer on board into the network for the digital still photography from the external tank, and that's both the one that's in the wheel well as well as the handheld. Both of those will go on to computers, they'll get sucked into the computers, in files, and then the ground, once we set up our network and connect it to our data sharing with the ground, then the ground can come on board and pull all of those off. The same thing with the wing leading edge sensors -- it's a separate computer, and the information gets to the computer in a separate way, but same thing with it: we, effectively suck out all the, the file data from the, sensors into a computer on board, it goes into the computer network and then gets sent down to the ground the same way. By the end of that first night they should have the digital still photography from the camera well. They should have it from our handheld cameras; they should have the ascent data from the wing leading edge sensors.

Also new for your mission is an inspection of the exterior of the orbiter to look for damage from launch debris. First question is to describe this new component, this Orbiter Boom Sensor System, and tell me how it's designed to look for damage in the thermal protection system.

The first part of it, the boom itself, is, is pretty simple. It's actually parts from a regular Shuttle robotic arm, the Shuttle robotic arm you've seen on the port side of the Shuttle for most of its missions. The new boom looks almost exactly like it except it doesn't have an elbow joint. So, as opposed to the, the Shuttle arm, which can bend in the middle, it can't, so it's a 50-foot straight boom. It's got a grapple fixture at the end and in the middle, so you can go grab with it the robotic arm, take it out of the payload bay, and then move it around to wherever you need to go. The critical aspect of it for inspection is at the very end of that 50-foot boom; there is a platform out there that holds three sensors. Really: one of them is a, a TV camera, which is the same as many of our payload bay cameras. It's got a pan-and-tilt unit, you can pan it around. The second sensor, which is tied to that, is, a laser, called an LDRI [Laser Dynamic Range Imager]. That's a sensor system that we can use to look and get two-dimensional and three-dimensional data of what's happened with the leading edge of the wing or the tiles. That's on the pan-and-tilt unit. The third sensor that's out there is called an LCS [Laser Camera System] and it's also a laser system, and it is different, it effectively lases in a different way than the LDRI does, but it's looking for the same basic data. It's looking for two- and three-dimensional maps of the leading edge of the wing and the, and the tile. As to the details of those lasers, I'll leave that to someone far smarter than me to explain, but effectively that's what it is. We have those three sensors on the end of the boom. So once we take it out with the robotic arm, we can get to the vast majority of the places on the orbiter, above and below, leading edges, nose cap, anywhere we need to go see, and we can train one or all of those three sensors on those points.

The Flight Day 2 inspection is going to take literally all day long to do. Some might say that it is a tedious chore. What is your plan for making sure that, for a long task like that, you've got somebody still sharp who's watching what it's seeing?

That's the hard part about it: The process for going out and scanning was very difficult to come up with, the trajectories you have to fly to make sure you cover all of the areas and don't miss anything; that was very difficult. The actual operation, as you said, can become very tedious. You're doing the same thing over a long stretch of time. However, you're very close to the orbiter, so if we've got this boom and it's only 5 feet away from the orbiter, if it starts doing the wrong thing, instead of looking for damage we could be causing damage. So over that long period of time that we're doing this we have to stay sharp to make sure if anything goes wrong we can actually safe the system before any damage occurs. There's not a high likelihood of that happening, but that's why we're there is to make sure those things don't happen. Andy Thomas is in charge of our inspection with the boom, and he set up a rotation where there's three of us -- Andy, Charlie [Camarda], and myself -- that are pretty much intimately involved with the process the whole time. We'll trade places in and out, we'll take breaks and make sure that we're still covered. The other part of it is, that we've got Wendy Lawrence backing us up, so if one of the three of us needs a break she can sub in and do part of the task as well. A lot of it on board is just trading in and out crewmembers so you stay fresh, so you're not doing the same thing for nine straight hours and, you know, you're starting to lose your edge. We're going to try to change around enough that we don't lose our edge. The other thing that can't be forgotten is we have a fantastic group of folks here on the ground that have been working this stuff for two years to get the trajectories ready to go, all the scanning, and we'll be dependent on them quite a bit. They're really our backups to make sure we're not missing steps in the procedures, to make sure we're not doing the wrong thing, sending things off in the wrong direction, and they've got their own analytical gear to make sure that doesn't happen. So they're critical to the operation as well, and they do have more capability on the ground, obviously, of subbing people in and out and doing more, more, back and forth. So, with all that we have, we think we're trained to a point where, hopefully, although it will be tedious, it won't knock us off our game, where we can keep up on things.

New kinds of inspections are going to resume during the final phase of the docking to the Space Station itself, as well. Tell me about the plans now to inspect the upper surfaces of the orbiter, but also to spin it around and give the Station cameras a chance to look at the bottom side of Discovery.

STS-114 Pilot James Kelly, left, with a virtual reality trainer Image to left: A trainer, right, looks on as Kelly uses a virtual reality workstation at the Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

Well, essentially, we want to be able to photograph every inch of the orbiter while we're in space, and there are many different ways that we're going to be doing that. We've talked about some of them already. One of the key aspects is once you get close to the International Space Station you can use their help. Most of that help is going to come from the crewmembers themselves with digital photography, using 400- and-800mm lenses. There are windows in the Service Module that effectively look straight down at the Earth, and that's where we come from on the rendezvous. We come up directly underneath them. Once we do get directly underneath them they're going to be using those cameras to take pictures of the entire upper side of the vehicle and, more critically, since it's the hardest part for us to see, they're going to be taking, complete shots of the underside of the orbiter. So, Eileen, when she comes up and does the rendezvous, will actually get to a point where we're about 600 feet away from the Space Station and, in a nice, stable start position, and from there, she's going to execute a 360-degree flip maneuver, over about 7½ minutes, so that we're slow enough so that they can get photographic evidence as we go around and take pictures of everything. That will be coordinated with the Space Station crew. Their job is to take pictures, which will be put on the computer and then downlinked to the ground for analysis. That's how we're using the Space Station. Once we get aboard after we're docked they've got their own robotic arm which we'll be using extensively, and other cameras that we can use to check out a lot of other places on, on the orbiter.

Tell me about some of those plans. There are plans for after the MPLM operations where you, you are setting up for possible future operations.

Before we take the MPLM out of the payload bay, the first thing we do robotically aboard the Station is hand off the boom that we used on Flight Day 2 for the inspection. It gets put back in the payload bay before we dock. Once we dock we take the Space Station robotic arm, lift it out of the payload bay, hand it off to the Shuttle arm, and then the Shuttle arm will take it out of the way, and that way the Shuttle arm has it the whole docked time frame. If we need to go look at anything else, and there are plans in to do that on Flight Day 4, possibly Flight Day 6 to go use that boom and the sensor systems again, so they can hand it off to the Shuttle arm to do that, again later. We're also using the Station arm to do some robotic surveys. That depends on how much we get done, how much evidence, how much photography we get from the International Space Station, how much we've done with the sensor system before we get there, but the bottom line is we have a lot of capability to take that Space Station robotic arm and look at a lot of different areas with its cameras. And, a lot of it, we've got contingency plans in work, but we'll use that on orbit as well where we need to, to fill in the gaps that we haven't filled in yet.

Let's talk about the other main activity for the Space Station's arm -- that's the installation of the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. Describe the operation and the role you're going to play in it.

This is the first flight where we're act, we'll be using the, the Space Station robotic arm to take the MPLM up and attach it to the Space Station. On my first flight -- Andy and I were the arm operators on that one -- we did it with the Shuttle robotic arm. This time it's a very similar process. The only difference is we're doing it with the Station robotic arm. So the Station robotic arm will reach down into the Shuttle payload bay, grapple the, logistics module, members of the Shuttle crew will release it from the Shuttle payload bay, we'll lift it out, rotate it about 90 degrees and translate it up to where it's directly underneath Node 1. Then we'll attach it to the nadir port on Node 1, all with the Station arm. My role, interestingly enough, is exactly the same as it was on my last flight. Instead of Andy flying the arm, that time for the MPLM, this time it will be Wendy Lawrence who'll be actually flying the arm to do all these activities, and I'm her backup. I'm what you would call M2. I'm fully qualified to do it -- if she got sick or anything like that I'd hop in and take over for her. But the bottom line is I'm her eyes and her ears and her procedures back her up, make sure everything gets done correctly. Essentially it's a team effort. Anytime we're on the robotic arm it's a team effort between two or more people to get everything done. So that's my role.

One of Wendy's roles is also then thereafter to oversee the transfer of the supplies back and forth from that module, and you're going to play a role in that as well, are you?

Wendy's the perfect choice. She's been working stowage and Station issues for a long time, and she's going to do a fantastic job making sure everything gets on the Station that needs to get on the Station, everything gets off the Station that needs to get off the Station. My role in that, primarily, is to work for Wendy. She's setting up all the plans; she and Charlie -- Charlie Camarda is the assistant loadmaster -- so between those two they're setting up the plan for everything we need to do. And then I'm one of the implementers -- I‘m a mule, if you want to look at it that way. I just carry out the plan that Wendy and Charlie have set up and make sure I give them as much help as possible to get it completed.

You're also the one who's done it before.

Yeah. I've done it before. And actually, when we were first set up to do this flight, before Columbia happened, I was the loadmaster, so I do have a little bit of experience and background in everything that we're doing. I've stayed tied up with Wendy, and, so I'm pretty tied into what the plan is going to be. So, anywhere she needs help, I'm going to help her out.

It's apparently a pretty, a tight choreography of getting things into and out of that one small hatch.

That's right. And that's what will be a lot different from our last flight. On STS-102 we showed up three weeks after the Lab had just got on there, so the Lab was almost completely empty. It was much easier because essentially we just emptied everything out of the logistics module and put it on Station, and then took everything out of Station and put it in the logistics module. So it was pretty simple. Our problem now is there's no room on Station. Like we talked about, there's a lot of stuff up there that needs to come home, so we don't have that luxury. So the choreography now becomes to take everything off Station, temporarily stow it on the logistics module, then take everything out of the logistics module, get it where it needs to go on Station, go back in the logistics module and take everything out of temporary stowage and put it where it belongs to come home. That makes the choreography much more difficult. But, there's no other way to do it given the, the state of the Space Station right now. It's just filling up.

While all that transfer is going on, there are going to be spacewalks as well. Part of the training for your crew the past two years has focused on some of the spacewalk techniques for repairing damage to the Shuttle. How involved have you and your crewmates been in coming up with those, those techniques?

Very involved. We're not leading the effort, we're not the ones out there doing the day-to-day operations, but everything that they've done along the way they've especially involved Soichi and Steve, as much as we can. Obviously, we've got a lot of training going on so they can't do everything, but they have done a lot of NBL testing. They've done a lot of KC-135 flights; they spent time over in the vacuum chamber, so they've been very tied into what's going on, obviously, because they're going to be the end user of whatever techniques we come up with. So we've had a lot of great people in our office, and also the EVA branches, here at Johnson Space Center, working on those techniques. So they're very familiar with what's happened up to this point, and those are still evolving. We haven't come to the final solution of exactly what we're going to do on flight, but we're very comfortable with how we're going to do it simply because we've been tied in from the beginning. If you understand everything that's happened before, it makes it a lot easier to understand where you're at. We're pretty comfortable with what's happened.

Tell me about the current state of the plan for what's going to happen on the first spacewalk.

The first spacewalk right now is our test for tile and/or RCC repair. There are still a bunch of techniques out there for, for doing both of those options, and all of them are currently under review. We're not sure how many techniques we're going to test when we get up there. So a lot of our training to this point has been generic. We've tested each one for the most part, that we can, and now we're just waiting for, the program to decide which ones they want us to go test out in flight. It's hard for me to give you a complete answer to that because we're still waiting on some data to come back, a lot of testing to come back, and then the programmatic decisions to happen.

The goals of the second spacewalk on this mission are to change out one of the Control Moment Gyroscopes in the Station's Z1 module. Tell me what a CMG does and why we need a new one.

STS-114 Pilot James Kelly, right, with suit technician Len Groce Image to right: Kelly, right, is helped into the training version of a launch and entry suit by suit technician Len Groce. Credit: NASA

A Control Moment Gyro, essentially provides stabilization for, for the International Space Station. And I'll leave it to some of our doctorates on the flight to completely explain all that. But the bottom line is that when you spin the gyro up, you can use it to keep your vehicle stable. There are four of them on board the Station, and you don't need all four for the majority of operations. The reason we have to replace one that's up there is it's been, about 2-1/2 years, I think, since one of them spun down. There was some kind of a problem with it -- they suspect it's a mechanical problem -- and all of a sudden instead of spinning at a large number of RPMs it spun down to where it stopped. Frankly, we don't know what happened with it. They've gone through all the data they have, and they've got it narrowed down to a few things that could have happened, but they won't know until we bring it back. So the reason we're replacing it is, number one, there's only three operating on Station now, and we'd like to have four. Four become necessary a couple of flights after ours -- when they're doing some power reconfigurations, they're going to have to shut down half the power to Station, which takes out two of the CMGs. So if we have four in place, they need two at that time, so if they don't have all four, then when they shut off half the power they're not going to have two. So it's critical that we get back up to four CMGs to do some power reconfigurations later on. We're taking up a brand new one, which should be perfectly good. We're bringing the old one home, and a lot of the work is going to be done after we bring that old one home for them to tear it apart, figure out what the problem was, and see if it's a generic problem that could happen to all of them, or if it was just that this one particular one had some kind of a manufacturing problem or materials problem or something like that. A lot of the story on the CMG won't be known for several months until after we're back.

You're the arm operator during this spacewalk. Talk about the, the steps you have to go through, up and down, and up and down, in order to make this swap.

Well, it's kind of a shell game. The person riding the arm the whole day is going to be Soichi Noguchi, our EV1, our lead spacewalker. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. We're taking up the new CMG in the aft end of the payload bay of the Shuttle, and the old one that's not working is on the back side, port lower, on Z1 truss. We're going to meet him there, the robotic arm's going to be set in place over on the port side, near where the bad CMG is, and Soichi is going to come around -- and Steve [Robinson] -- and they're going to meet us over there, Soichi's going to hop on the arm, and then we're going to take out the old one. Once we take that out of Z1, I'm going to take Soichi from the Z1 site down to the aft end of the payload bay. Steve meanwhile is going to translate down separately and he's going to set up two temporary spots in the aft of the payload bay where we can hold these CMGs for a short time. We bring the old one down, we put it in a temporary stowage location; we go to where the new one is stowed in the back of the payload bay. We have to get it out by driving some bolts, so we take those bolts out. We get it out of the structure it's in and temporarily stow it in the aft end of the payload bay so now you have an open fixture and two temporarily-stowed CMGs. We go back and get the bad one, put it in the fixture that the new one just came out of, bolt it all down and get it ready to come back to Earth. Then we pick up the new one and take it up to Z1 and put it where the old one was. So, it's kind of a shell game going on there down in the aft payload bay, but that's essentially it.

Sort of like moving things back and forth, in and out of the MPLM.

Exactly; exactly.

There's a third spacewalk scheduled for this mission, too, the installation of an External Stowage Platform. Tell me about what that is and, and about the procedure to install it on the third EVA.

I kind of think of it as an external garage for the Space Station. It's going to attach to the airlock, and it's essentially a flat plate, with eight or nine attachment points on it where you can attach any number of different things. They're a common attachment mechanism. Essentially you can take any kind of spare part just about and attach it to there, and the spare parts can be fed with heater power and electricity so you can keep them alive. It's going to be a spares warehouse, the spares for any different part of the Space Station on the external part that can break down. You need batteries, battery switching units, you know, parts of solar arrays, things like that that we can put on here. So if something breaks the spacewalkers can come out later, just grab the new one, take it from the stowage platform, go get the old one, replace it, and put the old one back on the stowage platform to get picked up by a Shuttle crew and brought home later. The way it gets put on is this time Steve's going to be riding the arm and Wendy's going to be driving it. Wendy's going to drive Steve down to the payload bay. He takes one part, one piece of gear off of the stowage platform, takes him back up to the airlock and attaches it to the two trunnions that are there from the original launch of the airlock, and we're going to take advantage of those trunnions being there to put an attachment mechanism on there that we can then have Wendy go down into the payload bay, get the whole External Stowage Platform itself, bring back up and attach it to the airlock. And so essentially that, that, that's what happens. And, a lot of that's a bolting and unbolting process by Steve and Soichi, and, some stuff we need to do in the payload bay to release the External Stowage Platform to go up.

The day after that third spacewalk you guys close up the MPLM. The day after that you undock from the ISS to come home. But the last big event on your flight, the landing, is going to get more attention than probably any other Shuttle landing has, has gotten. What are your thoughts about that part of this flight?

I don't think it's going to be as bad for us, at least judging from my first spaceflight. You're so busy during all those times. If you look at our timeline, we've got a, a lot of stuff crammed into a small space. I don't think there's going to be extra apprehension on my part during the whole mission, apprehension of "oh, landing's coming up and, you know, the last one, obviously did not, happen. You know, the whole entry did not happen and we lost a crew and a vehicle." I don't think I'll be apprehensive through that, through the flight 'cause you're just so busy. When you get to the day of landing, I don't think the critical thing is on board. It's the large number of people down here on Earth that are going to be crunching all the data that we give them, all the pictures we talked about, all the sensor data that we're sending down to them. There's going to be a lot of folks down here on the ground that are going to be crunching all that data and coming up with answers. Do we need tile repair? Do we need RCC repair? Are we safe to come home? Are we not sure? All those things will be answered through the flight by the ground, and the Mission Management Team and the Flight Director team are going to be sending stuff up to us and letting us know. The big thing I'm waiting for, and the thing I'll most want to hear when we get to that point, is the answer from the ground, them calling us and saying, "Hey, we've crunched all the data, we've looked at everything on the orbiter: everything looks healthy, you guys are good to come home. Once that happens I think it's back to the normal routine of, of doing everything we always have to do to turn it into an entry vehicle and, and bring it back down home. I think the hardest part's going to be on the people at home, because Space Shuttle flights before and, obviously, Challenger pounded this home, the ascent part is probably the, the riskiest part of the flight. You've got 7 million pounds of thrust going on, the solid rocket boosters, the three main engines, the huge external fuel tank, all that fuel that you're taking to orbit, and a lot of dangerous things going on there, things that If they go wrong could, could end up in a disaster, as they did in Challenger. And so we had a real focus on that part of the mission. And, so after that was done, after main engine cutoff, a lot of people, including myself, would sigh with relief, because the most critical part of the mission is complete and we made it safely. And then you kind of exhaled, you did the mission, and although you know a lot of things could go wrong with, with the mission on orbit and, and with entry, which is the second, riskiest, part of what we do, I think, it just wasn't at the same level. Now, post-Columbia, I think people on the ground are going to be on pins and needles all the way through wheel stop, which will be a big mental change, I think. I think everybody was ready for entry before, I think everybody was aware before, but obviously the awareness is far more heightened, given Columbia. So I think until we hit wheel stop I think there's going to be a lot more people out there a lot more worried about what's happening.

I've heard it said that STS-114 opens up a new chapter in space exploration that will transform a Vision for Space Exploration into a reality. Do you agree?

Well, I think so. I think of it as a new chapter, not just because of returning to flight for the Space Shuttle. The critical aspect of that is President Bush's Vision. You know, he came down with where we go from here. He set an end point for Shuttle and a beginning point, which has already started, for looking at the moon and going back to the moon and going on to Mars. So I think of this being a new chapter that opens, I realize we have a good definition now of where we're going, flying the Shuttle to complete the International Space Station, keeping the International Space Station going; shutting down Shuttle operations, and then starting with the new vehicle, to go to International Space Station as well as continue on to the moon and Mars. I think that's really where the opening chapter comes from. I think 114's tied to it from the fact that it starts the plan that's now been laid out, that hopefully will be the roadmap for decades to come.

Building a Space Station just a few hundred miles up isn't the ultimate goal of the Space Station partners, though. So from the perspective of someone who's about to leave the planet to go visit it, tell me how you see the International Space Station helping achieve the Vision and advance us on that path of exploration.

Well, it's critical to us. I think, from my perspective being a pilot and, and an engineer type is that it's a proving ground. Every system we put on board, every nut, every bolt that we put on board the International Space Station we're learning about. Especially over the last 2-1/2 years, or two years now, but 2-1/2 by the time we fly, where we will not have visited with the Space Shuttle and all the capability the Space Shuttle brings to fix things. We've done a lot of things up there that we didn't think we'd ever do, breaking into spacesuits to take a look at them, breaking into heat exchangers -- we're going to do here pretty soon -- how all the systems work. And we've had to take a long look at how to fix those systems when you don't have the supply chain in place, when you don't have the Space Shuttle to take it up. That's all going to be critical to moving on to the moon and Mars 'cause we're not going to have that ready supply chain of a Shuttle visiting it every couple of months like we had before the accident. So to me, as an operator, that's a critical proving ground for all those things. From the scientific side, with people being in space for a long time, we're learning an incredible amount about how the body reacts to it, how the mind reacts to it, how people work together, isolation, working with less people than you thought you were going to have. I think we're learning a lot of things. We've become much more efficient in everything we do at the International Space Station based on not having the, the structure in place that we once thought. So, to me, all that is critical along with the science of what we're learning.

+ Read Kelly's 2004 interview.