Preflight Interview: John Phillips, Mission Specialist
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Astronaut John L. Phillips, STS-119 mission specialist. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-119 interview with Mission Specialist John Phillips. John, you’ve probably told this story many times but one more time, if you would. How and why you decided to, to become an astronaut?

I’d always been interested in the aviation business. My dad was a bombardier in World War II and after the war he became a pilot. He hadn’t work professionally as a pilot in a long time but I came from a family that was interested in aviation. And then second, Yuri Gagarin, first man in space, launched just before my 10th birthday and I just decided right then that that’s what I wanted to do. I grew in the era of Mercury and Gemini and Apollo and we were doing some extremely exciting things and 50 percent of the kids in America wanted to do that and I was one of them.

And once you made that decision there were obvious steps you took to get to NASA. Tell us about that.

First off I wanted to be a military pilot. And remember in those days, to be an astronaut you pretty much had to be a military pilot. It’s changed since then. So I decided I wanted to be a Navy pilot and I went off to the Naval Academy. I majored in math there and I was fortunate that things like math and engineering came relatively easy to me. I just wanted to be as technical as I could and prepare myself for a future hi-tech career -- not necessarily in the space business, but I always tried to keep an eye on that goal and to keep my options open. But my immediate goal though was to become a Navy pilot which, of course, meant four years at Naval Academy, getting through that and then going off to flight school and becoming a pilot.

What would you say was the most influential place, person or maybe event that may have impacted you and kind of shaped your perspective on life?

Certainly my parents. As I mentioned, my dad had an aviation background and he had my brothers and sisters and me somewhat interested or at least observant of the aviation goings on from the early days and then growing up in sort of the dawn of the space age for the first unmanned satellites. I still remember Sputnik and Explorer I and then the dawn of the human space flight era. That was very, very important to me. A lot of young men and women wanted to do just that at the time and some people set out in that direction. I was one of them.

One of the things that NASA sets out to do is to inspire the next generation of space explorers. How do you think is the best way for, for NASA to do that? What, what would you suggest?

Well, we can’t force it. We can’t try to make unexciting things look exciting. What we have to do is do the most exciting things. Do the grand new expeditions, grand new programs and that’s what we’re going to be doing in the next few years when we build the new vehicle, go back to the moon with a longer-term base and then go on to Mars. Those things are so exciting that they speak for themselves. You don’t have to try to convince young men and women that’s the business they should be in. They’ll have everybody excited.

How big a part of your life has education and what’s been its influence on helping you achieve what you have?

It’s been absolutely essential. As I mentioned, I went four years to the Naval Academy, had a major in math. Majoring in something like that, like math, leaves you open to study any hard science, physical science or engineering. And then when I went back to grad school after 10 years in the Navy, I went to UCLA and got a master's and a Ph.D. in a field called Space Physics. Basically at that point I still had my eye on human space flight. I still wanted to be an astronaut. I knew it was a long shot but I knew also I wanted to work in science. So I found an area of science that was interesting to me and set off down that path, all the while thinking, “Well, maybe this will help me be an astronaut.” I never bet everything on being an astronaut but certainly the education enabled me to do interesting work, to achieve my goals in, in science and eventually to be an astronaut.

Tell me what it was like going on your first spaceflight, just the whole experience from the start, an overview of what it was like.

Understand it was something I’d wanted to do for a very long time. My first launch into space was a few days after my 50th birthday. I’d had my eye on this since I was about 10 so it was the culmination of something I’d wanted to do for a very long time. So there was the idea that I finally accomplished this thing that I really wanted to do. For all astronauts, when you launch, I think the major thing that’s on your mind is doing your job properly. Don’t let me make a big mistake that’s going to jeopardize the mission or let my crewmates down. So there’s some pressure on you. But at the same time, particularly for a first flight, it’s a big relief. I finally made it to space. For the launch itself, I was with a great bunch of guys. They supported me all the way and helped me when I was having trouble and hopefully I did the same for them. It was a great bunch of guys to train with and to launch with. The launch itself is not as dynamic in some ways as the flying I did off a Navy ship. It doesn’t kick you in the pants quite as hard as a catapult shot or an arrested landing. The vehicle kind of lumbers into the air, kind of slowly with a bit of shaking. So in a physical, amusement-park kind of sense, it was nothing as dynamic as other things I’ve done. But just the overall scale of things and seeing how big the rocket is, how big the work force is and how many thousands of people are supporting that mission is really awesome. That maybe is one of the things that I took home from it most was that the big picture of what we do is really big. There are a whole lot of people and a whole lot of companies and a whole lot of facilities supporting what we do.

When you did get a chance to look down on the Earth, however brief a period of time that was, how did that impact you?

First off it’s beautiful. All astronauts will say that. You also get a very immediate feeling of how fragile our biosphere is. It’s supported by an atmosphere that when seen even from low Earth orbit looks very thin and tenuous. You see the sort of connections of the Earth as a whole better than you do here on Earth. A lot of people don’t have a good idea of what we can see from space and a lot of people have the wrong idea of where we are. They think we’re out near the moon whereas in fact we’re actually quite close to the surface of the Earth. But when you look out the window, the scale of what you can see is about the size of an average U.S. state. Maybe you can see the state of Colorado, the whole state. You can’t see the entire country, and so you see medium scale things going on like medium scale weather. You don’t see the whole Earth at once nor do you see little tiny local things. But I find it a very interesting scale to look at, to see the Earth at that scale and to see, there’s a river and there’s the desert and there are certain land boundaries and political boundaries. So it’s really one of the funnest things about being an astronaut is looking down at the Earth.

We talked briefly about the people who worked behind the scenes. They’re an extension of every mission. They do the work. They’re unsung heroes. What’s it like when you get a chance to meet those people and get a chance to talk to them?

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Astronaut John Phillips, STS-119 mission specialist, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. United Space Alliance suit technician Toni Cost-Davis assisted Phillips. Photo Credit: NASA

There are kind of two levels. First off I think of us. We the astronauts are the lucky people that get to ride the rocket. We’ve got the glamour job. We get our names in the paper. We have a lot of fun. But for every one of us there are a thousand people who are just as educated or skilled or diligent or dedicated to their work. And now some of those people are in places like Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center who often work with astronauts, who are really keyed into when the mission’s going. They know what our goal is and which orbiter is going. It’s very exciting to talk to those people and share your first-hand experiences. Then there are other people who are somewhat more removed. They might work for a subcontractor to a major contractor like Boeing or Lockheed. They might be a small contractor in some distant part of the country, who have only the vaguest idea of what their product is doing. There it’s really exciting because it’s the, when I talk to these people, for example on the floor of a factory that makes some gadget for us. Maybe I’m the first astronaut they’ve ever met. Maybe I’m the first person who’s given them a presentation on what we’re doing up there and what their part did, the thing they made. That I find really rewarding, to talk to those people who don’t get much of an everyday connection to our business.

You were also science officer and flight engineer on ISS Expedition 11. First of all what was it like living and working in space for that period of time?

I like long-duration spaceflight. I’ve had one shuttle flight, one station flight and I’m about to go on another shorter shuttle flight. All of the things being equal which, of course, they’re not, I would choose the long-duration mission. I like the fact that you’re not always in a hurry which you are on a shorter mission. You’re really working against the clock. If you don’t get a certain job done in the morning, it’s OK to do it in the afternoon. If you’re going over a part of the Earth that you’re interested in, you can take the time out, get a camera and get pictures of what you’re interested in. You also get a feel for living and working in space that you don’t on a short flight. You become skilled in maneuvering in weightless conditions. Another thing that people who aren’t really familiar with our program aren’t aware of is that when you’re up there for six months, you see changes in the Earth and in the orbit that really affect what things look like to you. You see changes of the season. You see changes of the angle between the sun, the Earth and the spacecraft that affect sometimes the direction we’re flying, I mean, the direction we’re pointing. Sometimes we see sunset for an entire orbit or sunrise for an entire orbit. Sometimes we see not even 45 minutes a day. Actually we never see quite that. Sometimes it seems like 48 and 43. And sometimes the days are longer than the nights by quite a lot and you see a lot of different things on Earth. So I like the fact that being in a long mission, you see those changes and you have time to enjoy them. When I came back from a long-duration trip on space station in 2005, and even more recently, people often ask me how many experiments I did while I was up there. I know people will ask me after this flight. We did in fact do conventional science experiments and we’re going to be carrying up and down conventional science experiments on this flight. But the way I used to think about it and the way I usually answer this question, "how many experiments did you do?" is – “one.” To me the whole thing is an experiment. The hardware design that was done in Russia and the United States and Germany and in Japan and Italy, that’s an experiment. The traditional science experiments that we carry on out there are an experiment. The life support equipment is an experiment. How we keep ourselves healthy up there is an experiment. The mission control concepts, with mission control, centers all over the world, that’s an experiment. And even the money and the political partnerships and the budgeting, that’s an experiment. So I think of it as one big experiment. I’m proud to have been a part of it and I think all the taxpayers of America and Russia and Europe and Japan and Canada should be proud of it, too.

What are you anticipating most about your return to ISS on this mission?

The first time I went in 2001 and the second time I went in 2005, the station itself hadn’t changed much. Two airlocks had been added, an American airlock and a Russian airlock, but otherwise it looked pretty much the same. When I go back for my third trip, the interior volume of the station has roughly doubled in size. There are a whole lot of laboratory equipment and a lot of spaces in there that I have never seen and don’t really know much about. In addition the external power trusses, which we’re going to complete, are much bigger. They all will be up there. When I was up there before, there was only one of the four [solar arrays] and so the station is way bigger. It’s much more capable and to me it’ll be very exciting. It’ll be like visiting a new place in a way and yet, at the same time, there’ll be some places that are very old and comforting to me, that I’ve seen before.

The ISS has been given a finite term of existence. So was Hubble. Hubble’s still going. How do you think ISS will fare compared to the life span that it’s been given?

I don’t really know. In NASA, we have a long tradition of extending missions much beyond their original lifetime. I was involved with the Ulysses science spacecraft project which just met its demise very, very recently after working about three times as long as it was supposed to. Then, of course, there are the early Voyagers and Pioneers that we’re still talking to after many years. I hope we keep the station up there as long as it’s returning good science. Eventually the next program comes along. If it can compete for dollars, compete for resources, that is basically what usually kills one of these spacecraft projects. You just can’t afford the care and feeding any more and I’m hoping that we can continue the care and feeding of the space station long after we start flying the Constellation Project and maybe even until we’re ready to go back to the moon which is another 10 or more years away. So I’m thinking that we will continue operating the space station at least another 10 years, but I don’t really know.

What’s it been like working with these crewmates as you’ve trained for this mission? Tell me about some of the relationships and some of the skills you’ve seen in some of your crewmates.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but of the six of us on the core shuttle crew, four names begin with ‘A’. So people have called us ‘The A Team’. But I’m one of the ones whose name doesn’t begin with ‘A’. Anyway they’re guys that I knew, a few that I knew relatively well, a few that I knew less well. They’ve been a great bunch of guys to work with. We have different levels of experience. Our commander and MS 2 have flown once before. Our Japanese astronaut and I have flown twice before and then we’ve got three rookies. They’re different personalities, different backgrounds, and a great bunch of guys to be with. All have a sense of humor. Nobody’s too serious and yet they’re all serious enough to get the job done, so I couldn’t ask for a better crew.

One of the things your crew will be doing is, is delivering JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata to the station. He’ll become JAXA’s first long duration astronaut on ISS. What are your thoughts about having a small part in reaching that milestone for that space agency?

Actually it’s wonderful for me. I have a, a long relation with a couple academic institutions in Japan. I’ve spent a sabbatical there. I’ve been to Japan quite a few times and I’ve worked with Japanese astronauts, having two of them in my astronaut class. When Koichi goes up, he’ll be the first Japanese astronaut to fly three times and the first to do a long-duration. I believe, and I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but he’ll be the first person to drive four different robot arms. That’s a little known first. I think it’s exciting to get another major international partner fully on board in the station program with a full participation. They’ve got their brand shiny new lab. They’re going to have a brand new robot arm up there and I think the Japanese participation is absolutely key to what we do. I wish I was going to be up there when the first HTV or transfer vehicle comes up but that’ll be a little after my time. This whole experiment we’re doing, this International Space Station, which I consider the whole thing to be an experiment, has its bedrock on international cooperation. We couldn’t do it alone nor could the Russians nor could the Europeans nor could the Japanese. I think every milestone for one of our international partners is a milestone for the partnership as a whole. So I think it’s wonderful to have Koichi on board.

Could you summarize the main goals of the mission?

There’s one real overriding goal. What’s our payload? Well, part of our payload is Koichi Wakata, taking him to station and taking Sandy Magnus home. But the real fundamental payload that we’re carrying is called the S6 truss and it’s the final piece of the American electrical power generating truss assembly and it’s been a long time coming. The first, the first piece was launched roughly early 2001, if I remember right and now we’re going to complete it. When you look at pictures of the station now, it looks very asymmetric. Well, we’re going to complete the symmetry. This is almost 16 tons. It fills up the entire payload bay of the shuttle. We’re going to deliver that and install it and deploy it, that is, unfold the solar arrays and complete the power generation part of the U.S. segment of the space station which will enable all these brand new labs, the Japanese lab and the European lab, to have the power they need to do the experiments they’re going to do.

And as a mission specialist, what are some of your key roles and responsibilities on this mission?

I’m sort of the lead crane operator for the station, the space station robot arm. Now, the space shuttle carries a robot arm but that arm by itself cannot pick this truss out of our payload bay and install it. So what we have to do is, Sandy Magnus and I driving the space station robot arm will pick the truss up out of the payload bay. Then we will hand it off to the space shuttle robot arm and they will hold it for us while the little railroad car that our robot arm is based on moves out to another position, way out on the starboard side of the station. Then we’re going to grab it back from them and position this new truss for installation way out on the extreme starboard end of the existing truss structure. And then, the next morning, the EVA team is going to go outside and they’re going to be standing by right there at the interface between the old truss that’s installed now and the new one that we’re bringing, and we’re going to bring them together and then they’re going to bolt the truss together and do a bunch of other manipulations to allow it to unfold the solar blankets.

How would you characterize the work that the STS-126 crew did on the starboard side solar alpha rotary joint and how that impacts your mission?

Well, the solar alpha rotary joint basically rotates a large section of the U.S. solar power arrays and right now there are two [starboard] solar array wings. There are two of them outboard of that truss, outboard of that rotary joint so when you rotate the joint, two of these solar array wings move. We’re going to add another two out there. So the effectiveness of the truss structure that we’re bringing and its solar panels depend absolutely on the ability to rotate this joint. Now what the spacewalkers on the previous crew did was basically cleaned up the damage that had been done. There was, there was a lot of small metal debris on the bearing of this, on the bearing and race ring of this old, of the rotary joint. They cleaned it up and they installed some new bearings. They didn’t quite complete the bearing installation job but they did most of it. From what I’ve read it was a great success and it has restored most of the functionality of that rotary joint, maybe not 100 percent but most of it. So once we deploy our solar panels, the controllers on the ground will be able to command that rotary joint to position the solar panels square onto the sun where they, where they generate most of the, their electrical power.

On flight day 1 you guys will, will launch onboard Discovery and configure and check out systems for your stay in space. Then there’s a limited inspection on flight day 2 of the shuttle’s exterior. Can you kind of tell us about that procedure?

That inspection is a piece of the overall scheme of checks of the orbiter, of the integrity of the orbiter thermal protection system. We put a big scheme in place after the Columbia accident. It includes photography from the ground. It includes photography from the space station. And on this particular event we have a boom called the Orbiter Boom Sensor System that we pick up with the shuttle robot arm. It’s got laser sensors and other cameras on board. We fly the space shuttle robot arm carrying this boom along the surface of the shuttle taking detailed pictures and doing detailed laser scans. Now I am not a shuttle robot arm operator so I’m the No. three guy for this task when we do the inspection of the starboard and port wing panels. So I’m basically operating some computers and some sensors while we’re doing this inspection. The real key, though, is the guys on the ground who are analyzing these data. We’re driving the arm and operating the sensors but we’re not analyzing the data and so all these, the data get telemetered down to the ground and then a team of people in the photogrammetry lab and I think other labs here at JSC do really detailed analysis. They can figure out if there was a small hole in a panel just how big it was and how dangerous it was or if there was a little bit missing from one of the tiles, how deep is the hole in the tile and whether that’s dangerous. And that’s going to affect the rest of our mission.

The next day is the first of several very busy days for both your crew aboard Discovery and the crew on ISS. Tell us about the activities planned for the rendezvous and docking phases of the mission and highlight what you’ll be doing during that time.

Well, I’m the rendezvous mission specialist. Most of the time the commander, pilot and myself are up on the flight deck. There are other times when Joe Acaba is up there and there are other times when Steve Swanson and Ricky Arnold and Koichi Wakata are up there as well. But for much of it, it’s the three of us, Tony and Lee and I. We’re basically driving the orbiter to rendezvous with the space station. I think of it in kind of two pieces. The first of it is what I would say is open looped, that we fire a lot of our maneuvering and rocket system on our reaction control system to guide the trajectory in to a distance of about a thousand feet away. And then there comes a point where, where we take over and do manual flying. This may surprise people but when the shuttle actually docks, there’s not much that’s automated about it. The commander is actually driving the vehicle. My job through much of this is to make sure that the commander and pilot have the information they need. We have a sensor suite on the, on the shuttle that involves a LIDAR ranging sensor that’s built into the shuttle payload bay and can measure distance to the space station. We have a rendezvous radar. We also have a handheld laser, sort of like in a police speed trap, that I’ll operate to make sure that the commander and pilot have the range and angle information they need to precisely fly us into a rendezvous.

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Astronaut John L. Phillips, STS-119 mission specialist, attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, awaits the start of a water survival training session in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

You touched on the flight day 4 activity of getting S6 out of the payload bay and into position, into the overnight park position. What options do you have if, for instance, one of the robotic arms fails?

That’s a very interesting question. First off we cannot install this truss without the space station robot arm. We just can’t do it. Fortunately the space station robot arm has built in redundancy. It has multiple ways to get power to it. It has ways to operate it in a degraded mode if you’ve lost one particular joint or one particular black box. So we’re pretty confident that will keep working. Now the shuttle robot arm also plays a key role because we have to hand the truss back to the shuttle robot arm in order to move the railroad car on which the station’s arm is based out to where it needs to be. If we had a shuttle robot arm problem there are ways we can work around it. It's pretty complicated and would involve a lot of real-time analysis by folks on the ground. You could perhaps temporarily park this truss on a part of the station. If that happened, it will be a bad day. It would be a day that would require a lot of work from a lot of people to come up with a new plan. In the end I think we’d still get it installed, and that it would be probably one of our finest hours.

Talk a little bit more about EVA 1, installing the truss. You mentioned a little bit about it. What will you be doing specifically and talk about the, the assistance you’ll get from EVs out near the truss.

Koichi Wakata and I will be taking this truss which we have stationed on the robot arm, just a little bit outboard, a little bit farther starboard, than the existing starboard truss and we’ll be, we’ll be bringing the new truss in to where it mates to the old truss. At the same time that two EVA crewmen are going out. They will be right there and they’re going to give us fine guidance to bring it in because we’ve got to line up four bolts with four holes. "A little bit to the right, a little bit pitch up," that kind of guidance. We’ll bring it in. And at that point, the EVA guys are doing most of the work. They’ve got to bolt the trusses together. Once that’s complete, we’re going to ungrapple or ungrab the truss with the robot arm and we’re going to back out. Then we’re kind of out of the picture for the rest of that EVA and the EVA guys are doing the work. They’re unfolding the pieces of the truss that hold the solar panels. They’ve got to hook up a bunch of wires and a bunch of beams. It’s kind of a complicated activity that leads to the real crux of our mission a few days later when we open the solar array wings.

If mission managers decide they’d like to take a closer look at Discovery, you’ll do a focused inspection on flight day 6. Tell us how you do that, if it does happen.

This is quite a complicated and focused inspection. We don’t know exactly what we’d be looking for or where on the orbiter we’d be looking. But for the most part we would be using once again the shuttle robot arm and the orbiter boom sensor system. Unfortunately once the shuttle is docked the shuttle robot arm cannot grab that boom. It just doesn’t have enough elbow room basically. It would have to stick its elbow through a module to do it. So that means we have to grab that boom and pull it off its resting place on the shuttle with the station robot arm. Well, as I mentioned, the railroad car that the station robot arm rides on is about as far to the starboard side of the station as you can get. It had to be there to reach our truss point. So we’ve got to move that whole railroad car back and then we, Koichi Wakata and I working together, use the space station robot arm to grab this boom off the shuttle and hand it to the shuttle robot arm. Then the, the guys driving the shuttle robot arm basically do the inspection. At the end of the day, they hand it back to us and we put the boom back on the shuttle. So my role in it is basically to, to get the boom out of the shuttle and hand it off to the shuttle robot arm, and then in reverse at the end of the day.

There is a chance that you might not do a focused inspection on the day it’s been timelined for. It’s my understanding that if that is the case you’ll move one of the major activities for the mission up to give you more time to actually do that.

That’s right. We’re hoping we won’t have to do a focused inspection and usually they have not been required. If one is not required then what I consider to be a real crux of our whole flight, the deployment of the solar arrays, will be moved forward on the schedule. ‘Deployment’ means we open up the solar panels so they can catch sunlight.

Can you give us an overview how that event will happen once you do take it on?

There are two solar array wings and each of them has two solar blankets, two big long solar panels. So there’s four solar panels in all and they are in what’s called ‘blanket boxes’, these complicated metal boxes. The ground preps the whole thing. The ground unlocks the boxes and does a lot of checks and then they turn it over to us. We've got the entire shuttle crew work on this. We’ve got 12 TV monitors looking at different views. We’ve got a guy on the shuttle, six guys on the station and I. It's a big team effort. When we unfold these arrays, they’re coming out of the boxes and they’re, and they’re pleated together. The pleats are flattening as they come out of the boxes. You don’t want to put too much tension on them but you have to put enough tension on them to unfold them. We’ve learned some lessons over the years in how to do these. This is, should be the final such operation in the history of the station, I hope. We’ve got six people stationed around monitors on the station, one on the shuttle. Two guys are just watching the tensioning devices on the, on the boxes that the arrays are coming out of. Two people are counting the number of bays or the number of panels that have unfolded. I’m the guy who pushes the button that says “Deploy.” We will deploy each solar array wing half way out and then I will abort that deploy. We do this during orbital day time. It takes about five minutes to do half the array and then we’ve got around 30 minutes to bake it out, where we let the sun get on it. That will keep the panels from sticking together. Then we deploy it the rest of the way. And then the next solar day we do the other side. This is the fourth time we’ve deployed solar panels but what’s very interesting is that these have been in the boxes for a long time. Once side has been in the box for five years, the other side about eight years. During that time they haven’t been stretched out. Now the folks at Kennedy Space Center have taken some measures to minimize problems that might occur but we’re still anticipating that some of these pleated together panels might stick and might not come apart so easily.

Assuming S6 is installed successfully and its solar arrays deployed, you’ll turn your attention to some other hardware on EVA 3. Tell us a little bit about what’s going to happen on that EVA.

I’m once again the, the robot arm operator along with Koichi Wakata. The two EV crewmen will go out and their first task will be to move the CETA cart. CETA, C-E-T-A is an acronym. I forget what it stands for. But there are these two utility carts that sit on either side of the railroad car that the robot arm’s on. In order to get the robot arm as far to starboard as we needed to, to install the truss, we had to put both of these cars on the port side of the railroad car. That was done on a previous flight. But then when we’re done, we have to move one of them back to the starboard side for some operations that will happen in the next flight. So the EV crew first has to move one of these carts. That involves a guy actually holding this cart weighing hundreds of pounds in his hands. He’s got his feet anchored in a foot restraint on the end of the robot arm. Koichi and I will fly him straight away from the truss and he pulls the cart off the truss. The other EVA crewman is disconnecting it and then we move him to the other side of the station and, and he mates it back in place. So we take him for a very long ride on which the only thing he can see is this cart right, a foot in front of his face. Once that cart is relocated, then one of the EV crewmen is going to go off and do something that doesn’t involve robot arm operations. He’s going to change some boxes of electrical relays that have been having some problems elsewhere on the station. Meanwhile, Koichi and I will take one of the robot arm operators to the new Canadian-built robot called Dextre, also known as the special purpose dexterous manipulator. It’s been on the station since February, but the installation wasn’t quite complete when the crew brought it up there in February. They got a couple of thermal blankets that we have to remove or adjust. I’m going to be flying the robot arm when Ricky Arnold goes in on the arm, right up to this robot, removes a thermal blanket and adjusts another one. Then we’re going to take Ricky and he’s going to get off the arm. He’s going to be on the side of a lot of the trusses of the station. We’re going to bring what’s called the end effector -- that’s sort of the hand of the robot arm -- right up to his face. He’s going to have a grease gun and some pliers and he’s going to work with what’s called snare wires, which are sort of the active component of the end effector, to lubricate them and, and move them around and take pictures of them. They’ve been up there since my crew brought them up in STS-100 in 2001. They will have been up there almost eight years and it’s about time to do a little preventive maintenance on them.

After your work on ISS is done you and your crewmates will eventually depart station. You’ll get a chance as you’re pulling away to, to see ISS with a fully built out truss and all of its solar arrays deployed. How do you think it’s going to make you feel to know that your contribution’s going to allow this craft to do more for more people in the future?

Well, it’s going to be a great feeling to be flying away and see this huge beautiful space station. We’ll be taking pictures like crazy and it’ll make me feel good to know that I had a piece of the action, to know that eight years before we helped put the robot arm up there and now we help put this truss up there and it’s a place I lived. At the same time it’ll be a little sad because I may never get there again. After three trips there and knowing that I may never see it again, it’ll be a little sad, but it’ll be with, with great pride, I think, that, that I helped build this guy. It’s one of the grandest engineering pro-, projects in the history of humankind and to know that you had an important role in it is really gratifying.