Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but there are only six astronauts in Canada. What made you want to be one of them, to be one of the people that flies in space?
Image at left: STS-115 Mission Specialist Steve MacLean trains in the virtual reality lab at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA
Preflight Interview: Steve MacLean
A: When I wake up in the morning I still feel like I’m floating six inches off the ground, I feel so lucky, so privileged that I was selected back then. As a Canadian I watched John Glenn launch. In fact, one of my heroes was John Young, and I can remember him splashing down into the Atlantic; I think I was 7 or 8 years old, something like that, and being really impressed. But at that time I was thinking, "It’s for Americans only; there’s just no way I can do something like that." I can remember thinking, "Oh, maybe I’ll be part of a team that does that kind of thing." I was very interested in science -- inspired in part by the Apollo program. It’s something that I remember, like everybody else, where I was the day they launched to the moon and the day they walked on the moon. It certainly inspired me. I did take a science bent, but I never thought I could be an astronaut. In fact when Canada put out the announcement for astronauts I didn’t apply at first. It took a phone call from a colleague of mine to say, "You know, you should really do this; this is something that maybe you could do." And so I did, and six months later, I was on that team. It’s not like winning a race on a given day, because I strongly believe there are many Canadians that can do this job. It was a very good feeling to win a race on that day, but it’s not the same. It’s a very difficult thing to select who would do that, and I just really feel lucky that I am able to do it.
A few questions about who Steve MacLean is. Tell me about Ottawa, where you grew up.
Ottawa is a, a great place. We lived on the second to last street on the edge of town, on the border of the city and the country. It was great to grow up there as a kid. I had parents that were very active in our lives and in the community life. I had teachers all the way through that really cared about who you were, where you were going, what you were doing and what you were thinking about -- that kind of thing. I lived in a community that was involved. It was a relatively small community but it was very much involved in, in all the kids that were growing up. I very much enjoyed being a part of Ottawa. When I go back there it does feel like home. My parents came from Nova Scotia; where I spent my summers. One grandparent had a farm on the ocean in Nova Scotia and one had a, another larger farm, a couple of thousand acres in the middle of Nova Scotia in the center of “timber land.” I have pleasant memories from Nova Scotia where I spent my summers exploring the cliffs of Nova Scotia or in the middle of the woods with all the bugs … We live in Montreal now because the Canadian Space Agency is in Montreal, but my mother still lives in Ottawa, and I very much enjoy going back there and seeing the old members of the community.
It sounds like you have a real sense of that place, and those people had a real influence on you.
Oh, they very much did. And it’s something that you can’t weigh. It’s something that you’re just lucky to have had, I think. The perspective that you get when you live in a community like that, that’s very involved, is much more balanced and much more dynamic as well. And so, yeah, Ottawa’s my hometown.
I don’t guess you got a chance to see it very much on your first flight, though.
We were on an equatorial orbit. In fact I could see kind of the bottom of the Great Lakes, just on the edge of the horizon. Even then, because I knew they were there, I told myself I could see them, because they’re right on the edge of what you can see. But on this flight we’re going to be at 51.6 [degrees latitude inclination]; we will fly directly over almost every Canadian city, and I’m looking forward to trying to make sure I get pictures of them all. I look forward to that very much. Also, the northern lights in Canada are spectacular. I grew up with those as a child. To get pictures of the northern lights over Canada -- we got some last time over Australia -- but to get some over Canada is going to be fun to do as well.
Can you give me an, give us an outline of your education and your professional career leading up to becoming an astronaut?
That’s always difficult to do, to talk about yourself. But I went to high school in Ottawa; very much enjoyed it; went to York University which is in Toronto for a science degree. So I took my bachelor of science at York. The campus at York is a college-type campus, where it’s broken up into colleges, very much like some of the European universities are. There is a, there is a lifestyle and a healthy competition associated with each college. I was in a college called Winters College. York also provides a balanced education for the first couple of years: it’s important to take all of the sciences -- physics, biology, chemistry, and even some engineering concepts as well -- so you get a balanced viewpoint. In the third and fourth years you specialize, and I ended up choosing physics which is something that intrigued me. It was my lowest mark at the time but it really intrigued me, so I got heavily involved in that. All the while I was competing in gymnastics while I was at York University, and that was great fun. It allowed me to travel pretty well all over the world. And I met a phenomenal number of people from around the world during those ventures that I still keep in touch with. Then I ended up staying at York University for my doctorate. I had a promise from a particular professor to travel every summer to a different university to do basically kind of a two-month sabbatical in that particular area we were interested in. So I considered staying and did. And I got my doctorate at York University in physics and I specialized in solid state physics, specifically with respect to lasers. That was a great deal of fun. By staying in lasers you kept many doors open because the laser is part of a solution in many areas of business. I kind of realized I was doing that once I was in it which was a, a plus. I ended up going to Stanford University for my post-doctoral work and worked in a, a very good lab down at Stanford. That was a lab where you didn’t have to travel, because everybody came to you. Again, I met a number of people that I’ve been privileged to stay in touch with over the, over the years.
And, you were still at, at that point when you joined the Canadian Space Agency.
Yes, I was working at Stanford University when the call came out for the Canadian astronauts. In fact I had been talking on the phone for a couple of hours with a colleague about a research project, or venture, that we were involved in, and he mentioned at the end of the phone call and said, as I said earlier, that you should do this.
The job you have now as an astronaut, the “flying in space” part of that is the most dangerous. I think that there’s no real argument about that. And yet you’re willing to take that risk, so I must ask, why. What is it that we get from flying people in space that you think is important enough that you’re willing to take the risk yourself?
This is a very difficult question to answer. You cannot do this question in a sound bite; that’s impossible. I think any one of us, me, for sure, if I thought I was going to die on such a mission, I would not go. The big privilege of being at NASA is the people that you work with. And when I go to the Cape, or when I go to Stennis [Space Center] and we’re meeting the guys that actually do the work, it’s a phenomenal experience. Just seeing these guys, the dedication that they have, how good they are, how smart they are, it’s this that gives you a tremendous amount of confidence in the vehicle. There have been issues with the vehicle; there will be issues with the vehicle. But the people that work close to this vehicle are some of the most impressive people that I have met. And for me that’s a privilege. Now, if you ask a politician about risk and, and his answer is valid, he will say, it’s very important that we maintain leadership in space. Each country I’ve been in -- and this is true for Canada -- you will get that comment, that leadership in space is something that’s important. I think leadership brings excellence, and excellence is something we can all be proud of. This is not an easy answer. In Canada, sometimes things are discussed on the short term, like bureaucratic responses -- what would be the cost/benefit ratio of flying in space. And if you put your blinkers on and then when they ask over the next two years, what is the real value for us to fly in space, as with any answer trying to get it out of a bureaucrat, it’s difficult to get a good answer because you’ve constrained what he’s able to do. But in Canada, that’s an easy answer because our investment ratio is four-to-one: for every dollar we invest, invested in Canadarm, we got four dollars back. If you look beyond just the, the direct impact into the diffusion of the technology, it’s 10 dollars. A bureaucrat would say, that’s worth the risk. Now, if you kind of open up your blinkers, and open up your blind, and think – blinders – and look long term it’s a little easier to answer. Like, why are we involved in this in the long term; and, you know, we’ll get a little bit more philosophical here but things like survivability, sustainability in the environment, there are answers to those issues in spaceflight. I can’t guarantee that we will get all the answers, but by working in space, by living in space by observing space from the Earth so that we better understand it, we as a species have a better chance to survive. If you look at Venus, it’s too hot; if you look at Mars, it’s too cold. The Earth is just right; we’ve got to keep it that way. By working in space, we’ll understand that a little bit better. There are energy sources out in space on the head of a pin that would power the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, and they’re energy sources that we don’t fully understand. Now, that is, you know, an esoteric part of the answer but, by working in space and learning from space, maybe we’ll understand that. And then a by-product of that is our environment. By living in space we’re going to become more efficient. I could predict, perhaps, that our rivers will be cleaner; our air will be not polluted because we work in space. I can’t guarantee that, but if we don’t work in space, you can guarantee that it will take a lot longer to clean up our air and clean up our rivers. And so if you look at it that way, even an environmentalist, a respected environmentalist, is going to agree that it’s worth the risk. Even an evangelistic environmentalist will probably agree that it’s worth the risk, if you couch it like that. The problem is you can’t promise it. I wouldn’t underestimate the personal adventure, either. It has nothing to do with risk, really, but the personal adventure is amazing, to feel yourself floating in space, to look at the Earth from space, and to think about how you feel when you see that. To see the solar system dust cross the, the Milky Way or to feel suspended in this milk bath of light that you know that comes from another time; these are phenomenal feelings. Now they have nothing to do with risk that you know you can’t justify it that way. But, come back to STS-115: We are building space station; we are building an, a laboratory that may do some phenomenal things if we handle ourselves properly, if we actually execute what the original plans were, it may do some wonderful things. And so for me, when I think about the risk that I’m taking, because it is a personal question that you have to answer, I, what I hope is that kids -- and this is just a thought -- what I hope is that children, before they understand that the world really is in quite a mess, see the space station, because once we’re finished with the assembly of space station -- after our mission it’s half complete; optically it will be a lot easier to see from the Earth, and you will be able to see it go over -- that those kids are inspired by what we’ve tried to do, by what all the countries -- I guess it’s  countries in the world -- tried to do in peaceful cooperation, and that children inspired by that and end up showing leadership with respect to continuing that kind of idea. If that kind of thing happens, then for me it’s worth the risk.
You’re a Mission Specialist for ISS assembly mission 12A. Steve, give me a summary of the goals of this mission and what your jobs are on the flight.
This is a very exciting mission. We are the first assembly mission back after the accident; it will have been almost three years, I guess, or just over three years, and it, it’s incredibly exciting to be part of that team that is doing that. We are taking up the P3/P4 Truss, and that truss. It weighs about 36,000 pounds and the main thing on it is the solar power panels. So we’re going to take those up; using the manipulators we’re going to install them, and the manipulator operations are complex. We’re going to install them and then we have two teams of EVA guys that’ll go outside and basically, we’re construction engineers: we hook it up electrically, we hook it up, hook up the cooling, and we remove all the launch locks so that on the sixth day of the mission we can deploy the solar power panels. The solar power panels will effectively double the power that’s available to the station. It will provide redundant power for the International Space Station, and of course we have the radiator as well that provides the cooling for that portion of the truss.
You touched on this. You have been training with these same crewmates for this same mission now since February of 2002. How have you folks been able to keep focused on what you’re doing over that long period of time?
You know, in spite, in spite of the accident, it has been great. I’ve done a little bit of mountain climbing, mountain wandering actually, before I got married; I haven’t done much since then, but, and there’s an expression in the mountains that you either come out best friends or worst enemies. Our crew for me it’s a dream crew. When I look at each member of the crew sometimes I wish, boy, I wish I could be like that; I wish I could be as smart as this person or be as efficient as that individual, or as organized as another member of the crew. We really have a fun crew to be with. So the fact that we’ve been together now for over four years is really a plus; and the ability to stay focused is, is quite easy when you’re a happy camper with happy crewmates. We had a job to do; it was very difficult after the accident; we all had a piece of solving the problem. Our crew was involved in search and rescue; others were involved in other aspects. Later on I became involved in a sensor system for inspection of the wings of the shuttle on Return to Flight, an area that I’m, I was very interested in to begin with. Other of my crewmates were in equally important roles throughout that time. And then as the Return to Flight came back into being we were, you know, we were kept in a maintenance training mode for a couple of years, but then as the Return to Flight came back, we started training seriously again, started checking off the blocks towards spaceflight. It really has been, in, in spite of some of the difficulties, a wonderful experience.
As you said, a lot of the time over these past few years has been spent implementing changes that came from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Are you satisfied that those things, those changes, those improvements, have led to any real improvement in shuttle safety?
Image at right: Official portrait for Canadian Space Agency Astronaut and STS-115 Mission Specialist Steve MacLean. Photo Credit: NASA
That’s an interesting thing. We’ve had two accidents, Challenger and Columbia. My first flight was delayed because of the Challenger accident. If you look at that accident and what we did to the shuttle after that accident, we had eight major areas of improvement broken into basically three categories. We improved the solid rocket motor design. We improved the main engines -- we now have the Block II engines because of that accident, where the turbopumps are much, much more reliable. In terms of abort modes, we put in an escape hatch on the glider, or an escape slide on the glider portion of reentry; we adopted the launch and entry suits, the orange suits that we now have, and we have more abort configurations as we go up the East Coast than we had before Challenger. And in addition to that, we made the vehicle safe to land: we improved the braking system nose wheel steering, and perhaps the biggest improvement with respect to landing was the addition of the parachute, which really reduces the landing weight of the vehicle by about half, because we have a negative lift just aft, when we rotate the nose down. So those were phenomenal improvements that really improved the safety of the shuttle. Now with the Columbia accident we had a problem of foam shedding that had been plaguing us for some time. In fact the vehicle in a way was shouting out at us to fix it, and unfortunately, it took the accident to make us realize that we needed to do that. But now, I don’t think we’ve actually solved that problem, but we have certainly minimized the risk of foam coming off and damaging the shuttle, and in addition we have now the option of safe haven, where we’re going to inspect the vehicle once we get on to orbit, and we will know if the vehicle has an issue or not. We also watch the vehicle all the way up on orbit, so we know if we’ve been hit, and that makes the vehicle much safer to fly. So with the two accidents, I do believe that we have minimized the risk with respect to the known risks. And hopefully, by being careful, we’ve done that with the unknown ones as well.
One of the changes that the board recommended is to be able to inspect the vehicle to see if there’s damage and that’s a task that is going to be new for your second flight from your first and take up most of the second day on orbit. Talk about the activities that, that you guys will be involved in to use some new technology from one of the partner nations, to inspect, to inspect the vehicle.
That has been a major role for Canada, the inspection of the vehicle. We have the robotic manipulators, the shuttle arm and Canadarm2. The shuttle arm is basically going to pick up this 50-foot-long telephone pole that’s going to act like a dental mirror, and then work under the wings of the shuttle and see if there’s any damage. In addition to that, we have a laser camera system that is used in that; one of them comes from Canada, another one comes from Sandia [National laboratory, Albuquerque, N.M.], plus two cameras. On our flight we’ll be flying a high-resolution camera called the IDC [Integrated Sensor Inspection System Digital Camera], which will also help us with these inspections. And on Flight Day 2, Dan Burbank and Chris Ferguson, and myself are the three operators of the inspection system. Initially Dan uses the arm, picks up the boom, and then we start the scanning. We rotate a little through our positions and it takes the entire day to scan the port wing and to scan the starboard wing and to look at the nose cap as well. It’s not a pun, but it is a focused day in order to make sure that we did not sustain any damage through the launch sequence.
It takes that long because the search is that meticulous, thorough?
Yeah. You know that where the double shock crosses panel 9 we need to make sure that we don’t have cracks that are larger than 20 thou [20 one-thousandths of an inch], so 20 thou is kind of the minimum that we’re looking for. And the 2-D, two-dimensional, capability of the LDRI [Laser Dynamic Range Imager] laser can actually see 20 thou. And so that limits how fast we can scan and just in order that we see that kind of resolution. So we scan at just around five meters a second, which sounds fast, and do three swaths of each wing on the starboard side and the port side, and then we have kind of a clockwise rotation to do the nose cap. It takes practically the entire day to do that operation.
Let’s talk about the big hardware. Your primary cargo for this mission is a piece of hardware called the P3/P4 Truss. Tell me what that is, what it does, and why its delivery to ISS is so important.
Yeah, the P3/P4 Truss is, is our payload, and given that we’ve been training for four years, we’ve become very attached to our payload. We often go down for EVA-type training and just do different operations down at the Cape, which is a very exciting place to be. We spend a great deal of time in the pool working around the truss. Basically we’re going to launch with this truss in the, in the cargo bay. I believe it weighs about 38,000 pounds. And on Flight Day 3, Dan Burbank will pick it up with the shuttle arm and bring it out to a park position on the port side of the shuttle, and then I will pick it up, he’ll hand it off to me in, with multi-arm operations, he’ll hand it off to me on the station arm, and I will control it to, to bring it to a park position for that night. And then in the morning I’ll take it from the park position and will install the P3/P4 Truss; and here we’re using the Canadarm technology plus the station arm technology plus a vision system that can show me guidance information that tells us where we are to a fraction of an inch and a fraction of a degree. So that will allow me to install the P3/P4 Truss onto the P1 truss that’s already there. And then the following day Joe [Tanner] and Heide [Stefanyshyn-Piper] go outside and, and start their EVA to connect it up, and then on the Flight Day  Dan and I go outside and we do our EVA to work through various aspects of preparing this launch for the big day, which is Flight Day 6, which is the deploy. And once we deploy the solar power panels we will have, you know, doubled the power that’s available for space station and provided redundant power as well.
That operation that you describe on Flight Day 3 after you’ve docked you’re going to be on the station, operating Canadarm2, at which point you’re going to become the first Canadian to operate Canadarm2 in space on the mission. I’m guessing that must be an exciting prospect for someone who’s been involved in a program for 20 years.
You know, the whole idea of operating Canadian technology in space is really a privilege for me. If you look at this mission we have the shuttle arm, which we call Canadarm up in Canada. We have the, the big arm or the station arm or, some call it affectionately Canadarm2; and we’ll have multi-arm operations. We’ll be moving the Mobile Servicing System back and forth on the station with the Mobile Transporter during the mission. We have the laser sensors that are from Canada in addition to the laser sensors that are from the States, and on top of all that we have a Space Vision System, which I tested on my first flight. Bringing it all together in one flight, all this technology that I’ve been helping with for the last number of years, is really exciting for me. The privilege, though, is having worked with all that talent -- talent in the robotics area, talent in the vision system area, talent in the imaging area and it has really been a great deal of fun for me over the years to work with all those guys. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. And then to get to do it in space is the icing on the cake or the last 10 minutes of the movie or …, it’s just wonderful.
In preparation for the spacewalks on this flight, there’s also something new that your crew’s going to do that hasn’t been done before; it’s called a campout pre-breathe. Can you explain what that is and why it is being done by this crew this time around?
Image at left: STS-115 Mission Specialist Steve MacLean prepares for spacewalk training at the Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory in Houston, TX. Photo Credit: NASA
We just did our chamber runs a few weeks ago, which is a major milestone. I can remember Joe saying, welcome to the, the vacuum club of America or something like that. And what it is, is it’s very similar to scuba diving. It’s very important to make sure that you have no nitrogen in your system so that the nitrogen can’t come out of phase, and become bubbles in your, in your bloodstream. We are at 4.3 pounds per square inch inside the suit and outside is vacuum. We need to prepare so that we purge all the nitrogen from our systems. It’s a process that starts the night before. We breathe pure oxygen for about 70 minutes on a mask and then after that we bring the airlock down to 10.2 psi. That’s like being up on top of a mountain where there’s less nitrogen to begin with and you’re able to purge the nitrogen out of your system overnight while you camp out with the airlock hatch closed so the rest of the station is still at 14.7. In the morning we do the same thing again. We put a mask on while they bring this airlock up to 14.7; some of the crew come in, and then we have that mask on for another hour, approximately. Then we begin the process for our EVA where we do all the preparation that it takes. It is interesting that it takes about four hours to prepare for an EVA before you go out the door. So basically, everyone is going out the door halfway through the day on their EVA.
There are other methods that have been used in the pre-breathe process, in the getting nitrogen out of the blood. What is it about this method that is advantageous enough for this crew to use at this time?
On the shuttle we used to take the entire shuttle down to 10.2 and just leave that overnight. It is a similar process to campout minus the extra breathing that we do on the oxygen mask. On previous station missions they have done an exercise protocol. When you exercise you basically are getting your metabolic rate up high, your heartbeat is up higher, and you are purging nitrogen out of your system if you’re breathing pure oxygen faster by doing that. We have done that in our preparations for EVA. We have practiced that, and we are prepared to do both, if need be, but campout is just so much more relaxing. When you’re getting prepared for the EVA you’re not sweating; when you do the exercise protocol and you’re putting on your thermal underwear you’re still sweating, when you attach the electrodes for the vital sign data that the ground needs to see. It’s just a lot easier to do under those relaxed conditions of a campout, where you’re just taking your time. And it is more efficient. Believe it or not, the exercise protocol adds, I think, close to 45 minutes to an hour on top of how long it takes for campout.
OK. I want to get you to talk through some of the, the big show as, as it happens as you’re going to install P3/P4. Talk about the operations on that first day in more detail as you’re going to be at the controls of Canadarm2. What is it that you folks do that day in preparation for the first spacewalk?
Flight Day 3 is very busy for us. During the first part of the day we rendezvous with the International Space Station, and as soon as we have the hatches open and have finished the safety briefing, we start the robotic operations for the install of the P3/P4. We get only about halfway on that on Flight Day 3 because the rest of the install is done on Flight Day 4. Dan Burbank picks up using shuttle arm. He picks up the P3/P4 Truss, pulls it out of the guides and moves it over to the port side of the shuttle. I’m on the station using the Lab workstation, controlling the arm, and I just have cameras that allow me to see the scenes that I’m, I’m working with. And Dan and Fergy [Chris Ferguson] will send some views over from shuttle, and I use station camera views as well. I reposition the arm to accommodate the handoff, and so Dan puts it into position, I’ve already repositioned the arm to a pre-position, and then I bring it up to the pre-install position and I’m ready to grab the P3/P4 Truss. After we’re in that position I actually go in for the grapple, grapple the P3/P4 Truss, and then give the go for Dan to back off of the P3/P4 Truss. We then leave it in a thermal park position -- that’s a position where it’s thermally will, can thermally survive overnight -- and leave it there for the entire night. And then on Flight Day 4, I basically bounce from sleeping right over to the station, sleeping on the shuttle right over to the station, and start the maneuver which basically goes from the port side of the shuttle, it kind of comes under and over and onto the P3/P4 Truss. It’ll take about an hour to get to the pre-install position there, and then we have to wait for an attitude change that we need in order to have the P3/P4 Truss at a thermally viable position for attitude. And then we install. And the install is done, Fergy will come over and back me up with the Space Vision System and we will, he, he will basically provide that data to me, and then using that data I will guide the P3/P4 Truss in to the P1 Truss. And that’ll be it; a good day.
About that time, you get spacewalker help. Tell me, tell me what happens when they come out.
Joe and Heide are on the wall while we’re doing the last phases of that operation. And as soon as we have three bolts tied down of the four connecting the P3/P4 Truss to the P1 Truss, Joe and Heide head outside and they start their first EVA.
Tell me about their activity outside then.
They’re involved with removing launch restraints. Basically what they’re doing on the first EVA is connecting up the truss electrically to the P1 Truss, and also preparing the, the solar [array] blankets and the mast canisters for deploy. They remove launch locks on each side -- Heide has one side and Joe has the other side -- and they remove gimbal constraints as well, and then they actually manually release the mast canisters. They deploy with the springs on their own. Then each of them will manually move the solar array blankets into their deploy position from there. The pictures we get that day will be great, because Joe and Heide are out at the end of the space station and against the backdrop of the Earth; those will be just phenomenal pictures. That’s what happens on EVA 1.
The next day will be EVA 2 and your opportunity to do a different kind of task. What’s it been like as you, as you’ve been training, thinking about the prospect of making a spacewalk yourself?
This, perhaps, is the most exciting part. I am really looking forward to operating the arm; it’s something that I’ve been doing for a long time and I will cherish that moment. In addition to that, I will certainly cherish the opportunity to go outside and to do a spacewalk, and to contribute in that manner. Dan and I will finish up anything that Joe and Heide couldn’t get done on the first day, we do have linear EVAs; and then once that is done we will start into what was scheduled for our EVA. There’s a solar array rotary joint that is why it’s called a P3/P4 Truss: the P3 Truss is here, the solar array rotary joint is in the middle, and the P4 Truss that holds the two wings of the solar panels, on this side. That motor, or the ring, the race ring for that is about 10.5 feet in diameter, it’s called the alpha joint, allows the wings of the solar panels to track the sun. Out on the solar panels we have beta joints that allow the solar panels to track the sun in the other direction. Dan and I spend a lot of time around that solar array rotary joint, making sure that it’s ready so that that joint can move later on during the mission. So we’re removing all the launch locks associated with that, and that takes us a while because it was very important to minimize the vibration of that area during launch and we have several launch locks to take off. In addition, we will stiffen up the truss. There are some SARJ [Solar Alpha Rotary Joint] braces on the P3, 4, P3 side, sorry, and Dan will do two of those braces, and here we are, construction engineers where we’ll basically remove a brace and then bring it over and then reattach it, and that stiffens up the torsional mode of the, of the truss that could be possible. And, we do something similar on the, on the P4 side. We have some AJIS [Alpha Joint Interface Structure] struts that if Joe and Heide haven’t got them done the day before we will do the AJIS struts on the P4 side, which again stiffen up the torsional mode of the, of the P4 side. We have a, another, smaller task that we need to do during that time frame, but that is the main, the main rationale for the EVA.
You’ve about six hours to be your own spaceship, though.
Yeah, it’ll mean 6½ hours scheduled and, and we have LiOH [lithium hydroxide] which allows us to go longer if we need to. It’s very important that, that what’s totally planned for EVA 1 and what’s totally planned for EVA 2 is complete by the end of EVA 2 so that we can deploy the solar power panel the next day.
Let’s just get you to describe that, because that’s, in the case of P6, very visually impressive when they deploy those.
One of the things about being on this mission that is really good especially for me, is that when they deployed P6 back on STS-97 they had an issue with the deploy. The tension bar snapped back onto the frame, and de-spooled the tension wheel. That required an EVA, and Joe will talk all about that. I was in the control room that day when Joe fixed that, and it really was an impressive thing to watch him operate out there. To have both Joe Tanner and Brent Jett on our mission, which is a very similar mission -- we’re taking up the next solar power panel -- as experience guiding us through each contingency that we see in training ... Joe and Brent have real data, real information, on what could happen, what we should do, and I think we have been very efficient because those two are there. There are many contingencies. We have a different deploy procedure for the arm, for the solar power panels now. One of the major issues is that the atomic oxygen coating that’s on the panels for the same reason that it protects the panels from atomic oxygen and extends the lifetime of the panels it causes the panels to stick together. And so when you deploy during those ventures, every other panel comes off, or deploys immediately, but every first panel, where the atomic oxygen is, sticks. So we will deploy the solar power panel halfway, make sure it’s under high tension, continue the deploy, and, I expect that we’ll watch the sticky panels kind of, sequentially unfold. But because we have the experience of Joe and Brent I have a lot of confidence that everything’s going to go fairly well, because first we’ve developed a procedure based on the STS-97 flight, and based on all the cycle testing they did down at Sunnyvale. We’ve also done the training for the contingencies in the event that we have to go outside and manually separate these panels. And that day is the highlight of the mission, in the sense that we will know if we’ve been successful at the end of Flight Day 6, or perhaps it slips to Flight Day 7, but when we finish that deploy, we will know that we’ve been successful. And that, that I predict will be a great feeling.
The following day, the third EVA is scheduled for Joe and Heide to go outside again. Tell me about what’s planned for them during that EVA.
The EVA has quite a number of activities on it, and they’re all separate in nature. We need to remove the keel beam and drag link that will allow the pathway along the rails for the MT to be clear. We have several tiny things that we need to organize along that set of rails as well. Joe will go up and do the four-bar [linkage] fix. There is an issue with the deploy mechanism on the four-bar, which supports the solar power panels, and he needs to go up and fix that. Heide will go and, and do an S-band BSP [baseband signal processor] and transponder replacement over on S1. And so it’s a very, very busy EVA. It’s a coordinated EVA, too, because the ground has to bring strings of power down and then bring strings of power up, and the crew has to be in the right place at the right time. Heide and Joe will also install the EWIS [External Wireless Instrumentation System] antennas on the Lab end cone near the end of that EVA. It is an exciting EVA for them. It is a mishmash of activity, all with the goal of getting ready for future space station assembly flights.
Well, it’s your mission that’s restarting the serious assembly of this International Space Station after more than 3½ years. Tell me what you see as the significance of the partner nations getting to this point and getting to restart the building of the station again.
It’s a phenomenal thing, what we have here with the United States and Russia, Canada and Japan, and I believe  other nations involved in putting the International Space Station together. To be back on track where we’re going to double the power that’s available, provide redundant power, I think is a milestone for each of the partners. For Canada, I think it’s arguably the mission with the most Canadian technology yet. That is something that makes it exciting for me to be part of that, to be part of a team, a large team that is putting that together. For Japan when they see the redundant power go up and the extra power go up, they know that they’ll have the requirements for their module when the Japanese missions go up in the near future. And for ESA, it’s been a long wait. I think, for the international partners the importance isn’t necessarily in the waiting; the importance is in the result that we get once we finally do accomplish the mission. Each partner has a specific goal with respect to what they’re trying to achieve once we have this laboratory up in space. I think you’ll see some interesting results, especially from the partners in that area.
And yet, Steve, I think the building of this space station in orbit right now is, for most people, not the end goal. Tell me, what is your philosophy of human exploration of space.
We are, we are building the International Space Station right now. It will be there for 15 years after we finish building it. Right now, we are concentrating on assembling it; we are concentrating on operating it. But I personally believe that we will effectively use the space station for what it was designed to be. There are some amazing medical possibilities: if you look at what happens with nerve regeneration at the cellular level, if you look at what happens to the immune system at the cellular level. The partners will participate in those experiments, and I think we’ll see some interesting results from there. I think, at the end of the day, it will be the laboratory that it was planned to be. Operationally, the space station also is a test-bed for the next step. And the next step is returning to the moon and hopefully, visiting the planet Mars. I think all the partners will continue to participate, at least I hope that happens. That, perhaps, is one of the most important parts that we can show people around the world that we can work together on an international project doing something that has a fairly important magnitude in terms of what it gives back. I really look forward to participating in that after my flight because there are some exciting avenues to move down with respect to going back to the moon and going to Mars. We really do need to understand how Mars evolved. I think once we get a handle on that and understand its evolution, we will better understand our own evolution here on the surface of the Earth and perhaps improve the quality of life here.