Q: The STS-120 interviews continue with Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski. Thanks for being here.
Preflight Interview: Scott Parazynski
A: Great to be here.
Image at right: STS-120 Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski. Photo Credit: NASA
Let’s start with just a summary of just the goals of this ISS assembly mission.
Well, STS-120 is really one of the keystones of the International Space Station construction. We’re going to be delivering a fundamental interconnecting module called Node 2, or Harmony. It’ll be the location for all our international partner elements in the future, so we can increase the scientific capacity of station. And then we’ll also be relocating a major power platform, the P6 truss, out to the very tip of the space station, so that we can power all of these laboratories, and also support a six-person crew in the future. Very, very exciting, challenging mission.
Let’s focus on the primary payload there, and that’s Harmony. Can you tell us what it is, what it’s going to do, how it’s important to the ISS?
Well, I guess there’s sort of a harmonic convergence of sorts, when it was named. We’ve always called it Node 2 in all of our training, but recently it was named Harmony by school children around the country. There was a nationwide competition to name the facility. I think it’s very appropriately named because it is a focus for all the international partners to come together, working together in this international collaboration on ISS. Essentially it’s a large module that has four radial ports that will accommodate the Columbus module in the future, as well as our Japanese partner laboratories. And then, ultimately in the future, the space shuttle will dock on the front end of it. So it has a lot of very complex systems, it will take several spacewalks to activate it, both externally as well as a lot of work internally to outfit it.
And you mentioned one of the other aspects of this mission is relocating the P6 solar arrays. It’s kind of a unique new thing, it hadn’t been done quite this way, so can you tell us a little bit about that?
I think this is one of the most exciting things in the entire space station assembly, sequence. I think to bring it down into terms that most people can understand, I’ll reflect back to this one very vivid memory I had as a child. I watched this very large Victorian house have a structural relocation. And what that entailed is, a very highly skilled set of construction workers came and disassembled, the, the connection between the house and its foundation and demated all the electrical and telephone connections, the plumbing; all the utilities. And then with jacks and cranes and flatbed trucks, they were able to transport this huge home to some unseen location off in the distance. So, fast-forward 30 plus years and I find myself an extreme high altitude construction worker, literally. We’re going to be doing something very similar. The one distinction is when I saw that structural relocation of the home, they actually had to saw that house in half in order to do that process. We won’t be doing quite that degree of work but we will be using cranes, we will be using a lot of teamwork here on the ground, a lot of coordination with the mission control team to perform a very orderly power down of all the systems onboard the P6. As you’re probably aware the radiators and solar array wings have already been retracted by prior crews, so we’ll go up, apply some protective blankets in certain regions of the P6 truss. We’ll demate the cooling loops, the ammonia fluid lines; we’ll demate power and data connectors, also on spacewalks. And then the robotic crew from inside the space station will grapple the P6. Dan Tani and I, my spacewalking partner on EVA2, will unbolt the P6 and then the P6 will be lifted off its perch on top of the station and over the course of the next couple of days, involving a handoff to the shuttle arm and then back to the space station arm. We’ll get it into position for EVA3 when Doug Wheelock and myself will essentially reverse this whole process. We’ll guide the, the P6 into place, giving verbal commands to the robotic operators inside. Once it’s exactly where we want it, we’ll bolt the two structures together. This is an enormous piece of hardware, I believe on the order of 35,000 pounds, so very precise robotic flying is involved for the crew inside and a lot of coordination between the spacewalkers and them. Once we have it all bolted together, then, as I said, we reverse the process. We mate electrical connectors; we mate data connectors. The ground then gets very involved, issuing commands to start up all the systems again. We’ll deploy a radiator panel on the P6 truss, and then observe the solar array wing deployment. Hopefully that all goes as planned on flight day 8 of the mission.
Is there any concern with redeploying those solar arrays? They had a little trouble getting them back in. But they did successfully get them back in with a little help from some EVA astronauts. Any concerns about unfolding them again?
Well, as the lead spacewalker on the flight it’s my job to worry, I suppose, and so there are a number of contingencies that we could find ourselves in, in terms of deploying those solar array wings. Our advantage is that in the deployment we can apply more tensioning force as the wings deploy. So it’s less likely that the solar array panels will bind up as they unfurl from the blanket boxes. But there certainly is potential and we trained, quite extensively, not only in the water – where we practice a lot of our spacewalking activities – but we have a 1g simulator here in Houston, at the Johnson Space Center, where we can actually get hands on with real solar array hardware.
This is going to end up having you repeat a few things, but I want to go back anyway and just, step-by-step if we could, discuss the spacewalks that are going to be going on with this mission. Just take us through what your role will be.
Well, central to the assembly activities on this flight are the spacewalks, and a very tight association with robotic activities as well. We start out on flight day 4 with our first spacewalk; Doug Wheelock and I will go out the hatch together. It will be Doug’s first spacewalk. I'm looking forward to seeing him have that experience. Our first activity right off the bat will be to transfer an S-band antenna that will be returned to the ground for servicing and then flown back up, on a future flight as a spare. The reason we have to do it so early in the flight -- it’s not our highest priority activity; it’s just that’s the only time the robotic arm is available and in position to support this activity. So we’ll pluck this off of the Z1 Truss through a handoff, we call it a leap frog maneuver. Doug will hand the SASA antenna to me; it’s about 10 feet, 8 to 10 feet in length. I’ll hold on to it, then he’ll jump into the space station robotic arm, I’ll hand it back to him, then he’ll take a beautiful ride down to the payload bay, while I translate hand over hand, to support him in installing that on the sidewall of the orbiter for return to Earth. Then we really get into the meat of our assembly activities. We’ll activate the Node 2 or Harmony module in the payload bay. First we’ll be translating a payload and grapple fixture that’s on a sidewall in the payload bay, and we’ll temporarily stow it on the front end of the, the node. And I’ll get a free ride to its installation location up on the Node. So we’ll just tether it in place up on the front of the Node and then we’ll go to the back of the payload bay and we’ll move some protective covers on the seals that we’ll mate to the, the Node 1, or Unity Module, while we’re up on station. We’ll also work with some power connectors, the launch activation cable on the front of the module and some other cables on the back of the Node. Once we’re completed with all our work in the payload bay, we’ll translate back up to the airlock and drop off some gear, and then we’ll head up to the P6 truss. Again, these are all independent, closely choreographed, tasks. I’ll begin demating the cooling umbilicals that have been connected between P6 and the Z1 truss for almost seven years now. So I’ll have to close those valves very carefully and stow them back on the Z1 truss. We’re hoping for no leaks, but since the valves have been operational for so long, that’s one area of concern that we don’t want to get any contamination. While I’m doing that, Doug will be up on the P6 truss about 10 or 15 feet higher than me, and he’ll be deploying a blanket over the, the radiator there. I will join him for the final activities associated with that radiator blanket. And then we’ll go to the top of the world, the top of the P6 truss, and we’ll be installing two protective thermal blankets on Sequential Shunt Units. They’re basically large power boxes, associated with each of the large P6 solar arrays. So we’ll put those blankets on, probably take a few pictures, I imagine, 'cause that vantage point up there is just spectacular, and that will be the completion of our first spacewalk. We may get ahead to some other activities, to put us in good stead for our next EVA on flight day 6. Flight day 6, Dan Tani and I, he’s the Expedition 16 flight engineer, he and I will go outside and begin the process of unbolting and demating connectors between P6 and Z1. So that will take us quite a bit of time to demate several connectors and work with these, they’re called Rocketdyne Truss Attachment System bolts. Huge bolts, as you can imagine, that would carry that load on top of the space station. So we’ll demate the RTAS bolts and Stephanie and Doug will then unberth the, the P6 from top of the Z1 truss and they’ll be off to the races with that.
You’ll still be outside, working?
We’ll still be outside working. We’ll have about four more hours of work ahead of us, so I’ll head over to Harmony and do some of the external outfitting. We have about 11 handrails and three worksite interfaces, which are basically, places where we can install foot restraints; I’ll be installing those, and installing gap spanners to help future crews translate, or move around the outside of the Harmony Module. We’ll also be installing that Power and Data Grapple Fixture that I mentioned. Later in the EVA, Dan will join me and we’ll move that PDGF as we call it, to its installation location on the bottom of the Node, or Harmony -- still getting used to the name. We use special fasteners to bolt that in place and we’ll give it power, connections and continue external outfitting. Some of the things we’ll be doing on Node 2 during the spacewalk will be get aheads to help the increment crew after we leave, relocate it to its final location on the front of the lab.
At the time that you’re doing this outfitting, is it still in the payload bay?
Actually, no, it’s up on Node 1.
OK, it’s already been moved to Node 1. And just to be sure too, the Power Data Grapple Fixture, if you could just explain. It’s for the robot arm, but how does it serve the robot arm?
The Power Data Grapple Fixture is a remarkable piece of a system that supports the space station robotic arm. Which, coincidentally, I helped install on my last mission, STS-100, 6A. The space station arm is a Canadian built piece of hardware that really can leap frog from PDGF to PDGF so it, it can gain its power and, and video and data from one, one location and then it can leap frog to another spot and use the other end effector to move an EVA crew member around, to move a module around, whatever it needs to do. So it’s a really ingenious piece of technology that we have, we have at our use now.
So that will be a good location for it eventually, it will be able to reach really far out, from the front end of the station.
Absolutely. After the shuttle leaves, the Space Shuttle Discovery leaves, Peggy, Dan, and Yuri will be involved in relocating not only the Harmony module, but PMA 2 to the front of the space station and fully activating the Harmony module. And that’s where the space shuttle will then dock. So in the future, the PDGF that we install on Harmony will be used to grapple things in the payload bay. Future modules and, for example, the Columbus module on the next flight.
OK. Did we finish with that EVA? You were outfitting the Harmony module
Yeah, let me just continue and say that on EVA2, while I’m doing a number of activities associated with outfitting Node 2, Dan will be on the forward face of the truss doing some other activities. He’ll be changing out an avionics box called an RPCM, and reconfiguring a Main Bus Switching Unit, and connectors associated with that. So he’ll be working independent from me for quite some time. This is probably a good time for me to make mention that the person that brings all of this together, the quarterback if you will of the spacewalk is our intravehicular crew member and this is Paolo Nespoli, for our flight. He’s doing an absolutely wonderful job. It’s times like these when crew members are at very disparate parts of the space station doing demanding tasks, that his job is ten-fold more difficult because I’ve got to report my turn and torque count to him as Dan has to report his connector status in a very different part of the space station. So to keep all that straight, keep us all going, if there are malfunctions that happen along the way, there are surprises that happen during spacewalks, he’s got to be able to juggle all that. So it’s a very difficult job.
We’re continuing on with the EVAs. I’m not sure where we left off. You just outfitted the Harmony then?
At the conclusion of EVA 2 we will have enabled P6 to be taken off the top of Z1 and we will have completed outfitting, to a great degree, on the, the Harmony module. We may have an opportunity to do a few get-ahead tasks. Each spacewalk is scripted such that if we’re ahead of the timeline, we’ll try to get some additional tasks done to help crews down the road. So that more or less wraps up our second EVA. And then on flight day 8 I’ll be going out again with Doug Wheelock, on what I think will be our most spectacular spacewalk. We’ll be at the very tip of the space station, as far as you can possibly get from the comforts of the airlock, a [greater] distance then we’ve ever had the opportunity to go. We’ll have Dan and Stephanie at the controls of the space station robotic arm. We’ll be giving them verbal feedback on the precise alignment of the P6 truss relative to the P5 truss. Once we see everything is perfectly aligned, then they’ll be issuing a command to bring the P6 into opposition with the mating interface there. Hopefully, we’ve given them, the best insight possible. Everything is perfectly aligned and we’ll drive those four RTAS bolts around the corners of the truss, and then it’ll be hard mated, where P6 will live for the duration of the International Space Station. Following that, Doug and I will mate several connectors, power and data, to and from the P6 truss. We’ll then travel out to the very tip of P6 and remove those blankets that we installed on EVA1 over the Sequential Shunt Unit boxes. Doug will then depart the pattern and head back toward the center part of the space station, for the lab. He’ll set up the shuttle arm with a foot restraint. And he’ll get in work to transfer the MBSU, or the Main Bus Switching Unit – we have that on a side wall carrier in the payload bay – he’ll bring that up to space station. Later in the spacewalk I’ll help him attach that to a kind of a maintenance and logistics depot that we call ESP2, or External Stowage Platform number 2. It’s very close to the airlock. While he’s off working with the robotic arm, Stephanie and George Zamka on the flight deck of the shuttle will be controlling that portion of the flight. I’ll stay out at the tip of P6 and I’ll deploy or enable deployment of the aft radiator. There’s several cinches and other interfaces that I’ll have to work with, to enable that. Once that’s complete, I’ll get out of the way and then the ground controllers are really off to the races. There’s actually three separate teams in mission control working on the power systems of P6. Very complex choreography and sequenced events such that we can hopefully get both solar arrays deployed on flight day 8. That’s our goal. So as I clear the P6 worksite, the radiator will come out and hopefully fairly soon thereafter we’ll start deploying the solar array wings. Pam and Dan Tani inside will be on a PCS, a laptop display and looking at various cameras and working in close concert with folks on the ground to deploy those radiators. Then I’ll have a number of different tasks that I’ll jump off to once that’s complete. I will help to reconfigure some radiators on the, the S1 truss.
OK. A couple of questions come to mind.
The blankets that you guys work with, is that just for the moving process?
Yes. The blankets on the SSUs or the Sequential Shunt Units, are there because as P6 is being relocated over that two-day period, it’s getting cold. And those are the boxes that are the most sensitive to the cold environment. So we want to keep them fairly thermally stable. There’s no power being applied to P6 while it’s just kind of hanging there in space.
OK. And then the deployment of the solar arrays; do they want to finish that while you guys are still out there, or is that not really important?
It was initially our intent to actually have me be in close view of that in case there’s something fairly simple that I can do to help encourage the solar arrays to deploy. Unfortunately, this is a very long EVA when you factor in the, what we call the GCA, the Guided Control, of getting P6 aligned and mated with P5 and all the bolting activities and the connector activities and so on. We just don’t have enough consumables in the suit for me to be out long enough for the ground controllers to be in a posture to deploy the solar arrays. There is an outside possibility that if they were right on schedule or maybe a little bit ahead of schedule and there was a snag of some sort I could go take a quick peek. But the current thought is we’ll do our best on flight day 8 to get one or both of the solar arrays out. If there are any issues, we have a fourth contingency EVA that Doug and I could carry out on flight day 10. We have foot restraint locations and special tools that we would use to help nudge the solar array deployment. The distinction we have on our flight is that, unlike the 12a1 and 13a missions where they had a robotic arm that could get them to everywhere they needed to go to work on the solar array panels. The arms simply will not reach that far. So we have to have what we call a worksite interface extender, a WIF extender and a blue plate foot restraint off of the P6 truss. And very unusual orientations to get us to, to the lower portion of the blanket box. It’s not ideal. It might take several iterations of rotating the solar arrays to get the arrays to deploy properly. It’s a more challenging job.
OK. It sounds like every crew member is busy between robot arm, solar array deploys, sounds like everyone’s got something to do.
Everyone’s in full afterburner the whole flight. It’s, there’s really, no, nobody, with a free moment to spare. So, yeah. Everybody is fully tasked either in EVA, IVA duties or with the robotics. Or we also have transfer activities, and we’re also transferring human beings. We’re transferring Dan Tani to the space station crew and bringing Clay Anderson back. So, there are a number of things that have to happen to make that take place as well. So, every second of every day is spoken for.
Scott, late in the planning there was an additional EVA added to this mission that kind of changed the order of things. Could you talk about the new lineup of EVA4 and EVA5?
Absolutely. On the 10th flight day, we’ll execute our EVA 4, a new addition to the flight. My good buddy, Wheels (Douglas Wheelock) and I will egress the Quest Airlock, to conduct a development test on tile repair materials for the Thermal Protection System on the shuttle. That is, as I said, a new addition to the flight. EVA5 will be the following day. It’s a back-to-back EVA that will be conducted by Peggy and Yuri, the station crew, and led by Dan Tani inside the shuttle. There’s a little bit of decoupling between those two EVAs, which is nice because after EVA 4 we need to start thinking about closing up the hatches and getting ready to come back home. So flight day 11, EVA 5 day, is a day for us to kind of regroup, get the shuttle EVA suits back on the shuttle and get ready to go back home while the station crew is doing their EVA. The content as I mentioned for EVA 4 is development test for tile repair on the space shuttle should the shuttle take a hit of some sort, either on ascent or micrometeoroid debris. We can go out with Shuttle Tile Ablator material, we call it STA-54 and extrude some of this material very carefully into a damaged tile. We believe that would give us the protection to then withstand the energy of re-entry, the high heating that some of the tiles can see. So on this EVA we’ll go out and primarily we’ll be in one location for the duration of the EVA. We’ll go to the nadir or the Earth facing side of the laboratory module. I’ll be mostly in a foot restraint and Doug will be to one side or another of me and we’ll have a, a tile board that we’ll be working on. Inside this tile board will be several different damages that we’ll repair. What we’re trying to do is understand the material properties of this STA-54, and the way we can use the dispenser. We call it the Tile Repair Applicator Dispenser or T-RAD, and you’ll hear a lot of people use that acronym, as we like to do in NASA. Basically we’ll be extruding several samples of this material, looking at how it expands in the vacuum of space. We’re interested in the bubble density and distribution as the material cures. As a function of mixing the two parts of the STA-54, there are gas products that come out of solution. Alcohol is one of the by products of the reaction and also, A-1100 or Silane, which is the catalyst, tends to come out and bubble. We’ve seen that extensively here on the ground, but what we’re not sure of, up in space without gravity, without convection, will we see the same bubbling to the surface that we see here on Earth. The reason that’s important is, as we prepare our samples here in vacuum chambers on the ground, we’re able to tamp, or compress the, material down and get a very nice smooth finish. When it cures it hasn’t bubbled up and over the, the lip of the tile. We’re not sure that the material will behave the same in space. We’d like to see that we’re able to work the material and get the same finish properties as we do here on the ground. So we’ll spend on the order of three to four hours outside on the spacewalk that day. We have very hard “bingo” time to get back inside because after we get completed with our spacewalk and get back inside, we need to move our suits out of the airlock and then get Peggy and Yuri’s suits in there so that they can conduct their spacewalk on the very next day.
This type of testing has happened before; STS-114 comes to mind, and they did it in the payload bay. Any particular reason of moving that test pallet out to the lab?
This is a very different test platform that we’ll be using. They had actually a very large, sample box in the very aft of the payload bay. Ours will be roughly this size, two to three feet in diagonal dimension, I guess, and a very different repair as well. The STS-114 crew used, Emissivity Wash, basically like a shoe polish to, to coat some tiles very briefly and they also used another material called NOAX to repair some RCC or wing leading edge samples. We’ll be working on very delicate tiles, with this other material that I mentioned, STA-54. So it’s a totally different process.
How would you characterize this, this testing? Is this sort of like ongoing research on this material?
It would be wonderful to have the resources and time to do a number of tests to get additional confidence in the repair that we would like to be able to offer all future space shuttle flights. I think, though, we can accomplish a great deal on this single flight. We’ll see how the material behaves on STS-120 and that may be well enough to assure ourselves that any crew under any circumstances could effect this kind of repair and bring the shuttle back home. Essentially what we’d like to do is validate some of our ground models. We’ve prepared a number of samples here on Earth in vacuum chambers; we’ve run them through arc jet chambers to see how they would withstand entry heating. What we don’t know is can we do the same sorts of repairs in space and will they also withstand entry heating in an arc jet facility once we get back home. So I think what we’ll do is we’ll give the experts here on the ground, the analysts that will look at future tile damages should they occur and understand how tile repair material might be used in those situations. And then they’re very smart folks, they can build analytical models that will tell them whether or not this is the type of damage that could, could be repaired on orbit. Of course this is very important for the Hubble servicing mission next year where they don’t have the luxury of space station for, for crew rescue. So we’d like to, in particular, have something very capable for them to use, should it become necessary in that flight.
OK. And was it added to you guys' mission late in the game because of the Hubble mission, or is it just something they said this is the good time to do it?
That’s a great question. The last mission, STS-118, sustained a tile damage that had a lot of people concerned because it was fairly deep, it was down to what we call the filler bar, which is one layer above the aluminum shell of the, the orbiter. We did a number of tests including in a vacuum chamber, a dual glove box here at the Johnson Space Center, in which I participated. During the course of those repairs we looked at analytical models, we looked at the performance of our repairs and, just our whole track record with the thermal protection system. It became apparent that we didn’t need to effect a repair on STS-118, but it did bring to light that we really did have to have more information on STA-54’s performance in space. With the possibility to add another EVA to STS-120, as well as the presence of Dina Contella who’s our EVA task lead and flight controller, and my involvement on this flight seemed like a perfect opportunity to go ahead and, and do this test on STS-120.
Image at top: Attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski (right) and fellow STS-120 crew members await the start of a training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA
The experience was there and it seemed like a good time.
Right. in the aftermath of Columbia, both myself and Dina Contella and obviously a very large team of folks from around the country worked on this problem. A wonderful set of tools and techniques were developed but there was always a lingering question. We need to do this test, when can we do it. I believe it was slated for a mission late next year. The desire was just present to get it done as soon as possible.
So if you could, tell us exactly what you guys will be doing on EVA 4.
It is a very delicate process anytime you get next to the, the orbiter’s Thermal Protection System. The tiles are made of silicon glass; they're relatively fragile. So we approach these tile samples with the same kind of regard. When we work with them it’s not like driving a bolt with a huge power tool and large mechanical interfaces like we have elsewhere on the station. This is going to be a very precise, hand-intensive, delicate task almost like surgery. We have to be very careful, not only when we dispense the STA-54 … , but how we work the material on to the tile. So we use foam brushes made of melamine, and very gently and precisely try and tamp or pat the material into place to get the proper adhesion and also to ramp it very slightly around the edges. The tile samples will be pretreated with what we call Emissivity Wash. That’s just kind of a material that helps with the adhesion as well as some of the thermal properties during entry. So that will be coated on the damaged samples before we even fly, just to save a little time. We know how to do that; STS-114 actually demonstrated that on their mission. So over the course of perhaps three hours working on these tile samples, we’ll repair nine different, damaged cavities, or thereabouts. Some of them we’ll work very actively, some of them we’ll just allow them to expand on their own without any tamping at all to see what effect our tamping has on the samples. Some of them we’ll try and work on will be very complex damage cavities. One is an impact sample from Southwest Research Institute that is very narrow and will be very challenging, I think, to effect repairs. Others are multilayer samples so they’re kind of a stair step approach that will require several layers of applying some material, tamping it down, adding a little bit more, and of course, we, our desire is to stop the repair at a point where the material cures below the top layer or what we call the out mold line of the vehicle or the tile in this case. There’s a bit of an art to it as well. We’ll be talking extensively back and forth between Mission Control and the crew on orbit -- what we see, what their impressions are. We’re also very concerned about how the material in the gun is curing as time goes on. So every once in a while you’ll hear us talk about having to purge the lines. As soon as we mix the Part A and the Part B of the STA-54 in the gun it will start to cure. So we need to keep fresh material going through the gun. If we’ve been working our samples for a while, we’re going to need to stop and purge some material and keep it going. That in a nutshell is what we will be doing. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this in this environment. It will be very, very exciting for those of us that have worked on this project for years to see how it actually does in a real space environment.
How much of the material can you actually carry with you out to the site?
The canister is about the size of three large coffee can drums, stacked on to one another. There’s a hose, about four feet in length, that is used to dispense the material. It holds 100 cubic inches of the material. The first 20 or so cubic inches is probably not usable, it’s not fully mixed. So we will purge the first part of the TRAD and then begin doing our repairs.
Where does it go?
That’s a very good question. We have a discard container. We call it a CDC. We’ll get rid of some of the material first and then begin our repairs.
And how will you guys be restrained? What will you be latched onto?
Most likely, I will be in a foot restraint on the laboratory module, and Wheels will be using a body restraint tether or BRT on a handrail nearby and we’ll be working in concert doing these repairs.
That’s a great description. It should be an interesting thing to see.
There’s also a fifth EVA on this mission that involves the two expedition crew members. Can you describe what they’ll be doing?
Peggy and Yuri will be going out on EVA5 on flight day 11 of our mission. As we discussed previously, it’s back-to-back EVA. We hope to get them out at the very beginning of the day because it could be a full 6½-hour EVA. Because of that it will mean that we’ll have to limit the duration of our EVA 4 to roughly four hours so that we can swap suits and get them ready to check out their suits and begin their campout the night before. Dan Tani will be the IVA crewmember, or quarterback, on the aft flight deck of the space shuttle, talking them through procedures. I’ll be helping, as time permits, as well. Paolo and myself will be helping Peggy and Yuri to get into their suits and get out the hatch and we’ll also be there to greet them when they come back in after their spacewalk. The tasks are primarily focused on the outfitting of the laboratory and getting ready for relocation of Harmony to the front end of the Destiny lab module. So they’ll be disconnecting a number of umbilicals; the Station to Shuttle Power Transfer System connectors will be demated from PMA 2 and thus the orbiter, also demating a number of connectors and relocating items that would be in the way of their stage EVAs down the road. As soon as the shuttle leaves, they waste no time. They’ll be relocating PMA 2 out to the tip of Node 2, Harmony, and then bringing the shooting match onto the front of the lab, and then reconnecting everything. On top of that they’ll have to do some fairly complex work bringing two fluid trays with fluid connectors on them, and installing those on the outside of the laboratory module and connecting those with Harmony. After we leave, a couple of very challenging spacewalks will take place. This fifth EVA is basically get ahead tasks to make their life more streamlined on those, those EVAs.
This is the first time an expedition crew has been doing an EVA while a shuttle crew is still docked. What was the thinking behind you guys still being there while the expedition crew is conducting an EVA?
Any time you have more hands to help out, it’s more eyes, more cameras, it just makes the operations go more fluidly. And, obviously we have eyes on the flight deck that will be right there to help Peggy and Yuri as they're doing these operations. A lot of their activities are right overhead the space shuttle. So that’s where Dan Tani will be as the IVA crewmember; basically as the quarterback, you know, running them through their procedures. And so, just from a logistics standpoint, and also operationally, it makes a lot of sense. The airlock is already configured for spacewalks because of our presence there. It’s just the Ops tempo is very conducing for getting a lot of work done. The, as I mentioned, this is a very dynamic phase in the assembly sequence. As soon as we leave, the Node gets relocated to the front of the laboratory. In December we receive the Columbus laboratory and then I guess in February the next modules come up.
Some of these changes came down very late in the planning, very close to your flight. Is it tough to switch gears and try to add things like this?
I think as an EVA crew member and as an astronaut in general, we’re, we’re trained to be very accommodating and you have to roll with the punches. So I find this is actually quite a bit of lead time. I know it’s an enormous amount of work to prepare for an additional spacewalk, in particular the missions operations folks that support our flight. Dina Contella and Allison Bollinger and, and others that, who work the detailed timelines have been working incredibly long hours getting ready for this. But I relate back to all my experiences on Team Four during real-time mission support. Team Four is the group of folks that goes off and looks at problem resolutions. We’ve seen on several recent flights issues with the thermal protection system where we’ve had to go out and develop new strategies to deal with gap failures or blankets that have been peeled off a little bit, or things of that nature. And a team of very hard working folks gets together and, within 48 or 72 hours there’s a new timeline built, it’s been tested in the NBL. On this last mission we were in a vacuum chamber preparing samples and analysts were going off and looking at how things were going to look on entry. In this case for STS-120 and this additional EVA, well, the decision was made roughly six weeks before launch. So that’s, seems like quite a bit more margin. We only have one opportunity to look at this in the NBL, but I think, based on our generic, our baseline EVA skills, we’re ready to go. In terms of the actual repair, I spent a lot of time on the KC-135 aircraft in Zero-G parabolic flight and also in vacuum chambers and other environments looking at STA-54. So I feel very comfortable, going and doing those types of things. Granted, I wouldn’t have done these exact repairs, these exact damage cavities, but I think the generic skills are there to support us.
Even though Harmony’s not going to be in its exact final resting place because the shuttle’s docked there at that moment, you said on one of your EVAs, you get to outfit Harmony… but then you guys actually do get to go inside. Will that be gratifying to you as a space walker?
Absolutely. You know, the initial plan didn’t have us ingressing the Node at all, and that would have been a little disappointing, because we’ve taken it up to space, we spent quite a bit of time in the module here on the ground and, and looking at its, its various features. we’re very much looking forward to ingressing the Node and helping the space station crew do some of internal outfitting. And there’s quite a bit of it to be done. a bunch of launch locks, and things, but also systems, assembly inside the node. So we’ll have several days to support, support those activities.
I do want to back up real quick on the, the P6, when you take the bolts off. Are those the last things that are holding it on to the Z1 truss? Is there anything else that holds it on that is like automatically demated?
That’s a very good question. The full sequence of events to demate the P6 truss: obviously it’s all the electrical and fluid connectors come off. We have ground straps that we have to detach in each corner. Prior to actually releasing the RTAS, the primary bolts that hold the two elements together, we actually close the Capture Latch Assembly, what we call the CLAW, and it basically holds a bar, that physically holds the two assembly pieces together. So the CLAW’s closed as the P6 is grappled, and so we make well and sure that everyone’s ready to go and we release the primary at each of the corners. Then the final step is we open up the CLAW, and the P6 is good to go.
OK. Thanks for clearing that up. I was wondering, “How do they do that?” One more question about Harmony: You get to go inside of it, and when you’re working outside … How does it feel working on a module and working for this mission that kind of opens up the rest of the international partners' participation, meaning that this is where they’ll be connected to.
It’s very exciting to think that we’ll be enabling, in small part, the future expansion of the space station, in particular the science activities -- the payback of the space station, through these new laboratories. Also the power generation: We wouldn’t be able to operate these laboratories without the P6 being where it is. Currently it’s up on top of the space station, but because of the way the current solar arrays rotate, we had to retract those arrays. So they’re not providing any power to the space station. And in order to have the full robust capability of the space station, we have to have that out there. It’s very exciting to think that the work we’re doing is going to enable this exciting new research and also enable a six-person crew capability in the future.
OK. Your mission is going to be very close to the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the birth of the space age. What are your thoughts on our progress in space travel?
I’m just glad to say that Sputnik was before I was born -- I just thought I’d point that out. But we’re also just beyond the 100th anniversary of aviation. And, so when you think back on the last century … we have the horseless carriage, and we had the birth of flight, we had the birth of spaceflight, we had lunar landings, we had space stations, technology enhancements and computer, and fields in medicine. It’s just been an incredible last century. I think we’re on a very exciting trajectory, certainly in the space program. The vision for space exploration is going to be, taking us beyond low Earth orbit, back to the moon, hopefully, to Mars, the asteroids, Europa, places beyond. For me personally it’s exciting to think that at some future date, people will be doing that and in some small way they’ll be standing on our shoulders -- the work that we’ve done as a NASA team and as an international partnership.
There are hundreds and thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but only about a hundred American astronauts; what made you try to become an astronaut and be one of the people who fly in space?
Well, you know, I had a wonderful upbringing, great parents, and as luck would have it, a father who worked in the space program. He was an engineer for Boeing during the Apollo era. So I grew up with the posters on the wall, the model rockets and associating with rocket scientists every once in a while. I had the dream early on and, I just never lost track of that aspiration. I didn’t have the common sense to look at the odds and say, “Ah, that’s impossible to go do that.” I was determined that that’s really something that I would like to do someday. That’s kind of what it takes to make your dreams come true -- having the tenacity and perseverance, and believing in making your dreams come true.
Can you can tell me about the place where you grew up? How did that place influence you?
I sort of had a nomadic upbringing. There are no camels involved, but a lot of travel, a lot of distance traveled. I spent a number of years moving to various NASA locations. My dad was in Huntsville for a while, New Orleans and then Washington, D.C., in support of the Apollo Program. And then after that we moved overseas and I spent two wonderful years in West Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. And then some time in Beirut, Lebanon, Athens, Greece and Tehran, Iran. And all this before I graduated from high school. I think the fundamental lesson that I learned through all that experience is that some of life’s greatest lessons come outside of the classroom. I don’t want to downplay the importance of the classroom or anything along those lines. But the travel opened up for me new experiences. Being adventurous, meeting new people, traveling to new places, really broadens your horizons and it gave me the motivation to do some of the things I did later in life.
Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your education and professional career?
I attended Stanford University as an undergraduate, majored in biology, and did my medical school training there as well. I spent a year at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, for my internship in medicine. And then … a couple of years of residency training and emergency medicine when I was selected to the program.
I have seen a photo of you working the Astrodome during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in Houston. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah. I was deeply moved by what I saw in the aftermath of Katrina and I made calls to local physicians that I suspected might be involved in the support effort; people involved in emergency medicine here in Houston. On the evening of the first day when the refugees started coming in, I [went] down to the Astrodome and ended up taking a couple weeks of leave volunteering there, helping run the clinics. It was a tremendously rewarding personal experience. It was also very powerful to see the local support and, and the wonderful people of Houston that gave the shirts off their backs to help people in true need.
You were involved with STS-100, so you’ve been to the space station before and, and of course that delivered the Canadarm 2, which is being used extensively in this mission.
I’m just curious how you feel returning to the Space Station and seeing it grow, and helping it grow even more.
I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to get back. To be honest the incremental enlargement of the space station since, since my last mission is leaps and bounds. To see the entire truss, almost assembled, to see several additional modules including on the Russian segment, is really going to be exciting, and to know that, in particular, the Canadarm 2 that Chris Hadfield and I helped assemble has been a real key part of the assembly.
Flying in space and working in extreme environments has been shown it can be risky. What do you think we get from flying people in space that makes it worth the risk you’re taking?
Well, I think, every leading nation, including the United States, when our founding fathers came here, was created by people that were willing to take risks; to ask difficult questions, to press the boundaries, to learn, and explore. And that’s what we’re doing in the space program now. We’re asking difficult questions, such that we can improve life here on Earth and increase our knowledge of our place in the universe. The paybacks are substantial on so many levels -- in terms of new technologies, new jobs, and the motivation and excitement that it creates for young people to pursue math and science, which is, is critical in our country at this, at this juncture. When I look at the risk-benefit trade, as it stands, I think that, first off, everything that can be done to reduce or minimize the risk is being done. I feel very confident in the people that prepare the orbiter, prepare all of our hardware to go to flight, the people that train us, and that I’m trained to go do my job. The benefits so far outweigh those risks that I'm ready to take them.
Just, just looking back on your career, you’re a doctor, but then you’re so involved with something I wouldn’t think initially that a doctor would want to be so involved with, and that’s the EVAs. What attracts you to working in a space suit and working outside?
EVA is essentially working with your hands. I would call it the equivalent of surgery in space, working with the mechanical interfaces, developing tools and procedures, to go do very challenging things in a very challenging environment. I consider it a fairly logical transformation of, of my skill set to the space environment. Also, prior to coming to NASA I was involved, fairly extensively, in rock climbing and mountaineering and I’ve actually continued over the years mountaineering. There are a lot of parallels between the vertical world of mountaineering and the weightless world of EVA. When you consider we’re tethered at all times, we’re basically moving hand over hand, around, complex structures. And so it’s kind of a neat parallel. It takes a lot of the same strength and endurance, as well. Unlike here on Earth where we get around by walking or running, out on space when we’re spacewalking, we’re really space crawling. We’re, using our hands to translate around the space station much as a rock climber would.
Is that hard to do in a pressurized suit?
Well, it’s interesting. After quite a bit of training in the pool and having done it on orbit, the suit becomes more or less a second skin to you. You kind of consider it an extension of your body and you don’t really think about those inconveniences, the limitations of your motion and what have you. But if you are new to the suit for example, you’d find moving the pressurized glove pretty fatiguing. If you’re even working with a, a power tool for a few minutes, you have to hang onto it fairly firmly and that can tire you out pretty quickly.
We have some rookies on this flight and some EVA rookies too, that you’ll be working with. Can you talk about your experiences and how you may have helped trained them during this process?
Well, you know, I’ve had a charmed life and continue to have a charmed life and a charmed career. I’ve been in the space program for 15 years now and this will be my fifth flight so I’m very appreciative of the great things that I’ve been able to do in my career. But I understand that this is probably my last flight. We have a number of very talented young people, new folks in the office that will be taking the next steps in exploration as we return to the moon and go beyond. So one of the main objectives that I have on this flight, beyond trying to ensure mission safety and success as we do these assembly tasks, is to help train the future leaders of the office. So as people go on to become lead EVA crew members and lead robotics officers and station commanders and whatever else they do in their careers, I kind of share my lessons learned, along the road. It’s been a great experience to work with this crew and I recognize that the next time they fly, you know, the eyes around the table will be looking at them to make decisions on how they want to do their spacewalks or what have you. And, hopefully, through the experiences we’ve had on this flight, they’ll be in good stead for that.
Have you seen an evolution happen since your first flight? I mean, we did a lot of scientific type missions and now we’re in sort of nuts and bolts, hands on, and building some of these really intricate devices in space. What are your thoughts on that, seeing that in your span of your career? What are your thoughts on those changes?
Yes. Certainly the focus of the program, earlier in the, the Space Shuttle Program had been science utilization. Very early in the program of course it had been satellite delivery to orbit, and then, when I first arrived we were doing, payload bays full of scientific experiments. Looking at global ozone distribution, and astrophysics and things of that nature. We’ve also incrementally learned how to do more and more complex robotics and in particular spacewalks. On my second mission, STS-86, we did a development test EVA where we were testing out bilateral tools in the U.S. suit as well as the Russian Orlan suit -- in essence kind of baby steps. Now on our very complex EVAs we’re doing, several fold more tasks in a, in a given EVA. Very tightly timelined spacewalks integrated with robotics. Every flight now has rendezvous and robotics activities and EVA. I recall when I first arrived it was a really big deal to have one of those three things. If you had a rendezvous flight, that was really great; or if you had a free flyer capture on your flight that was a really big deal; or if you had an EVA that was a huge deal. And now we’re doing all three of those things routinely on every mission and those, those tasks are much more complicated then ever before.