Q: STS-120 interviews continue with Mission Specialist Doug Wheelock. Thanks for being here today.
Preflight Interview: Douglas Wheelock
A: Thank you for having me.
Image at right: STS-120 Mission Specialist Douglas Wheelock. Photo Credit: NASA
Doug, let’s just start out with a summary of the goals of this ISS assembly mission.
Well, the STS-120 mission is a very exciting mission in that we are delivering a fairly major payload, the Node 2, to the space station. And so, once we rendezvous and dock with the space station, our first major task is to, is to remove the Node 2 from the payload bay of the shuttle and attach it to the space station. And in order to deliver that, we’ll have three spacewalks that we’ll be doing on our mission, and some fairly complex robotics tasks to get it attached to the station. In addition to that, we will be moving the P6 truss, with its solar arrays, from its current location on the top of the Z1 truss. We’ll be moving it to its final place of duty out on the end of the port wing of the, of the major truss system on the International Space Station. So we’re very excited about that as well. Again, a very complex robotic task, and we’ll have some folks out doing spacewalks, to help reassemble that truss on the, on the far port wing of the, of the space station. In addition to that, we’re going to be bringing home a SASA antenna that’s currently lying dormant, actually attached to the Z1 truss. We’re going to bring that home. We’re going to retrieve that using robotics again, and the assistance of spacewalkers. We’re going to bring that back into the payload bay of the shuttle, attach that to the side of the payload bay, and bring that home, hopefully to use it on future missions on the space station. We’ll also be delivering a Main Bus Switching Unit which is a fairly large payload on the side wall of the, of the shuttle payload bay. We’ll be removing that from the payload bay and stowing that, on this, on the space station as an operational spare. In addition to that, we’ll be doing a lot of transfer, of course, the normal transfer that we would have of supplies, resupply for the station. And we’ll be delivering Dan Tani who would be the next expedition crew member to go aboard the space station for his long-duration stay. We’ll be returning Clay Anderson to Earth from his approximately five-month stay aboard the station. So, fairly busy mission -- we anticipate a 13-day mission and about 10 days docked to the station. We’re very excited about the amount of work we have to do. We’ve been working very hard at choreographing all that work.
OK. It sounds like it’s going to be a busy one. You mentioned the primary payload there. It’s called Harmony. It’s been known as Node 2. Can you tell me what it is and what it’s going to do on the station? How’s it important?
It’s, it, it really is important to us, actually, here at NASA and also as an international partnership, to all of our international partners. It’s a pressurized module that will flow, data, power, communications and cooling fluids, everything that’s needed to support laboratory structures. It’s a connecting module in that it’ll connect to the forward part of the U.S. laboratory, but it also provides additional ports where follow-on mission will deliver the Columbus Laboratory. That’s, that’s the European Space Agency’s, contribution to the continuation of laboratory science in space. That will go on the starboard side of the Node 2. Then on the portside, will be delivered on a future mission the Japanese experiment module laboratory that’ll eventually go on that side of the, of the Node 2. We like to think of our mission as sort of a gateway to opening up and expanding the capability of the station to be that world-class science platform that we hope and dream that it will be. It will also open up the capability to expand the long-duration crew on the station from a crew of three to something upwards of six people eventually, that can stay long duration on the space station. So this module is very, very important in that it provides a gateway to house those other laboratories and will also provide life support systems, power and data transmission and all the things required for laboratories to interact and be integrated with each other, and also be able to deliver the power to those laboratories where they can do the science that we desire.
While we’re talking about Harmony, there are a lot of steps to get it to where it’s going to be before you guys leave, and actually after you guys leave there’ll still be some more steps to take. But could you just give us a, a thumbnail sketch of, of the steps to get Harmony out of the payload bay of the shuttle and onto the station?
First of all, it’s a, it’s a robotic task to pull it out of the payload bay and dock it to the station. We’re actually going to be docking it to the portside of Node 1, which will not be its final place of duty. That’ll actually be on the forward side of the lab, but we can’t put it there because that’s where we’re docked when we’re there with Discovery. So that’ll be a future task for the Expedition crew after we depart the station. They’ll eventually move Node 2 to its final position on the forward side of the lab, and then the docking module, docking port that will accommodate arrival of, of future shuttle missions will go on the forward side of the Node 2. But, in order to get it there, we have to get it out of the payload bay. In order to do that, Scott and I will go out on our first EVA, our first spacewalk, and we’ll be in the payload bay, doing some preliminary things to get ready to pull it out of the payload bay. We have some things on the, on the aft-most, connecting port that we have to remove, some launch, protective equipment there that was there during launch. We’ll remove that and bring that back inside, so it can be a functional port. And then we’re carrying up a grapple fixture that’ll eventually find a home during our second spacewalk on the lower side of Node 2. That’s going to be carried to orbit on the portside of the shuttle payload bay. Scott and I will remove that from the portside; give it a temporary home and a free ride (if you will) once it gets pulled out of the payload bay. We’ll strap that down and secure it to the forward part of the Node 2, getting ready for its ride up to its temporary resting place. And then, once we configure all those things, there is also some keep-alive power that’s being generated through the shuttle payload bay. Scott and I will remove that power, those power cables, so we can have it untethered in the payload bay. We’ll release the latches and then Stephanie and Dan will be the primary robotics operators, to unberth Node 2 from the payload bay and move it to the port on Node 1.
OK. Earlier on, where you were talking about the overall goals of this mission, one of the ones that you mentioned was the relocation of the P6, which is the segment of the truss that actually has solar arrays on it. It’s folded up right now. Any concerns or, or, worries about moving that back out to the far side of the truss and redeploying those solar array wings?
Well, there are concerns, of course. They’re concerns that we’ve sort of developed over the most recent missions. Of course, we did have some trouble retracting some of the solar arrays. So we are anticipating, maybe similar-type issues when we go ahead and deploy those solar arrays once it’s in its final place. But we have been preparing, as a crew, for that moment if it should come. Scott and I will be outside on a spacewalk to assist the robotics folks in attaching that P6 and deploying the solar arrays. We’ll be outside, and we’ve trained fairly extensively for any kind of contingency that we may see. And, of course, the contingencies that we’ve focused on are what we anticipate, what we saw in earlier flights as we tried to retract those solar arrays. We’re just anticipating and training to overcome those same problems as we deploy those arrays. So like anything in spaceflight, there could be those contingencies that we haven’t planned for, but hopefully we’ve planned ahead with the tools on board and with the coordination, especially the communications, cadence. I think, between Mission Control, the spacewalkers, the robotics folks; I think we’ve got it down now where we’ve got a really good cadence on how to overcome anything that we’re going to see with that. It’s a fairly major, payload that we’re moving. Once we get grappled to P6, we’re actually moving the entire P6 truss with the solar arrays attached to it, so it’s a fairly massive payload. And we’re moving it from this sort of a central part of the station, did-, directly vertical over the top of the station, about as far out as you can get on the wing. We’re also anticipating the reaction of the vehicle and the command and control system to movement of that type of a massive payload. We’re anticipating those types of things as well, and we’re simulating the things that could possibly occur when you’re moving that massive of a payload. We feel very comfortable with things that we expect that we may see and how to overcome those particular challenges. It’s a very complex robotics task in that we first remove the P6 from the, from the Z1 with the station arm, the SSRMS, and we maneuver to a hand-off position and hand it off to the shuttle arm, which is again a very finely choreographed maneuver. The shuttle arm’s going to hold on to it while the station arm reconfigures and moves outward, as far out on the port truss as they can get, and then we’ll, we’ll go back and hand it off again to the station arm, so it can reach all the way out to the very far end of the port wing. Again it’s like a finely choreographed dance, and it’s, it’s, it’s really quite amazing, the amount of, the amount of effort and training that our training team has provided us. We feel that we’ve been able to kind of shake loose any kind of things that we would anticipate seeing, any kind of off-nominal things that we would anticipate in that motion. We’re simulating those including the communication between, between Houston and the vehicles and, and we believe we’re ready. It’s going to be very exciting. It’s a very complex spacewalk in addition to a very, very complex robotics task as well. Out that far on the, on the port wing, there’s very limited camera views as well for the robotics operators. So as spacewalkers we’re going to be out there sort of giving an old-fashioned vectors, to fly into, to mate those trusses. It’s going to be very exciting, very exciting. It’s going to take a lot of teamwork and I really believe we’re ready as a team.
It should be an interesting thing to see. You have touched already on a couple of the EVAs, but I want to make sure I got it on, on this interview that, when we have everything covered on it. So, if we could just backtrack a bit. You’re heavily involved with these EVAs, so if you could just kind of walk us through each EVA and how it’s going to take place on this mission.
The first spacewalk is to essentially prepare the Node 2 to be removed from the, from the shuttle payload bay and attached to Node 1. That’s the primary focus of the first EVA. There are, obviously, other tasks in there that we’re preparing for the future EVAs. But, the first EVA, Scott Parazynski and I will be outside. And we’ll work together, very closely, with our robotics folks. Our first task is to retrieve this SASA antenna; it’s our very first task on the, on the first EVA. We’ll remove that from the Z1 truss, and we’ll bring it down into the payload bay of the shuttle. We’ll get it situated there and, and attached to the, to the side wall of the shuttle. And then, it’s there for its ride home. Then, like I mentioned earlier, we’ll outfit Node 2 to be ready to be removed from the payload bay. Some of that is removing some things that were there for launch, some keep-alive power. We’ll temporarily stow the grapple fixture that’ll eventually go on during the second spacewalk. And then, we’ll prepare that Node 2 for removal from the payload bay. Once we’re finished with that, then it becomes pretty much of a robotics task from that point, and Scott and I will move out of the payload bay up on to the space station and we’ll proceed to the P6 and begin outfitting that for its move, on our third spacewalk. Essentially we’ll cover up one of the radiators, to protect it. We’re also going out to the very, very, end of P6 and we’ll install some shrouds over some electronic boxes to protect them and give them a little bit more thermal dwell time where they can be unattached from structure so when we disconnect the power cables and things, it’ll give them a little bit longer thermal life until we get it reconnected on EVA 3. So, we’ll put those protective shrouds on. Those are the major tasks on the first spacewalk. The second spacewalk, Dan Tani and Scott will be our spacewalkers. Their primary focus on EVA 2 is to outfit, as much as possible, the Node 2, the external part of Node 2. So they’ll be installing several handrails, some gap spanners, which are large straps used for translation between handrails when it’s difficult to reach, or be, may be out of reach, during a normal translation path. They’ll install those gap spanners.
Now, has the, has the Node 2 already been moved at this point? Or, is it still in the payload bay?
No. The Node 2, at this point, will be attached to the portside of Node 1. So it will already be attached. And that actually happens at the end of EVA 1, or while we’re, Scott and I are still outside during EVA 1, the Node 2 will be attached to its temporary spot. And, so, so while we’re outside, preparing the P6 for its move, inside Stephanie and Dan will be working, very, very hard with the robotic arm trying to get that node docked to Node 1. George Zamka will be operating our common berthing mechanism, the actual physical mechanism that connects the two modules together. Zambo will be working on that. So they’re very busy inside and out, during EVA 1. And then, when we come to EVA 2, which will be two days later -- we have, one day of transfer and, and, preparation and some robotics tasks in between EVA 1 and 2. EVA 2 -- Dan and Scott will go outside and they’ll outfit the Node, which will then be attached to Node 1. They’ll take that grapple fixture also that Scott and I gave a temporary stow-point, during EVA 1, they’ll take that and they’ll actually connect it to its final place on Node 2 where Node 2 can then be grappled in that area, and then moved to its final, final destination. So, they’ll do that. They’ll also outfit the exterior of Node 2 with new handrails, like I mentioned. There are some trunnions that stick out of the four corners of the Node 2; they are the connection points in the shuttle payload bay. They also have protective covers that they’ll put over those. They’ll install those on EVA 2. And then, they’ll go up to the P6 interface, and they’ll begin, essentially demating P6, from the Z1 truss, getting it ready for its move on EVA 3. There are a lot of fluid connections up there and they’ll be doing all those, they’ll be removing those things and capping off those connectors on the P6, getting it ready for its move during EVA 3. Again we’ll have one day between the two for robotics operations and for preparation, for the big move.
So, for EVA 2, we’ve, we’ve outfitted the, the Harmony module. Can you describe EVA 3?
At the end of EVA 2 and the day after EVA 2, which would be the day before EVA 3, we’re actually disconnecting robotically the P6 from the Z1. And we’re doing this handoff choreography that I mentioned earlier, where the station arm will disconnect the P6 from the Z1. We’ll maneuver it to a position where it’s going to hand off to the shuttle arm, hand it off to the shuttle arm and the station arm will ungrapple from the P6, reconfigure, we’ll move the MT, we’ll translate the entire MT out as far port as we can get it, and then we’ll reach back with the station arm and re-grapple P6. And that’s the preparation for EVA 3. And then Scott and I will go outside for EVA 3. Dan Tani and Stephanie will be on the station arm then, now holding P6. And we’ll go out; Scott and I will make our way out to the end of P5 truss at that point, to the mating surface, and we’ll guide Dan and Stephanie as they fly the arm, we’ll guide them in, essentially in, vector them in to, to a good mating port for P5 to mate the P6 truss to P5. And once the vectoring is complete, we’ve got a good sort of soft dock there, Scott and I will drive the claw, capture claw, to grapple the capture bar on P6 to make sure we have a hard capture. And then we’ll drive the bolts and the grounding straps in each of the four corners of the truss to eventually, come to, full, the, the full torque and the final torque on the, on the truss to hold in its permanent position.
Are those clearances pretty tight, when you’re talking in the, the arm operators to bring it in?
They are. They are very tight. We’re actually going to -- we call it a GCA, Ground Control Approach, but it’s a, it’s similar to what we would refer to in flying, in the flying world as GCA. Scott and I will essentially have our, have our eyes right at the very interface, at opposite corners, because of the limited camera views that the robotics folks will have there. They have our helmet cameras that will assist, and also our, our commands for this, GCA. And so, we’ll, we’ll, bring them in actually, very tight tolerance; in fact, we’ll bring them in to first contact, which is very excited. We’ve practiced this just a number of occasions in the Virtual Reality lab here. And they’ve been nice enough to throw in for us, attitude errors and, and translation errors and maybe some unexpected, un-commanded, arm motion that we would not normally see. But they’ve, but just to keep us, finely tuned. Communication is so important, communication between Scott and me and the robotics operators. They’ve actually thrown things at us that we’ve practiced that have caused us to very, very finely tune our, our cadence (we like to call it “our cadence”). We are ready for this task; we do bring them to first contact. So, it’s, it’s a very, very tight tolerance, till we have very first contact between the trusses. From that point, we’ll draw it in with the capture claw. And then Scott and I will be checking gap tolerances at all four corners. Then we’ll drive the primary bolts and connect the grounding straps, for the P6. We hope there are no issues there, but we’ve also planned for contingency operations as well. There are contingency connections that we can make should those primary bolts, for some reason fail or fail to drive. We have contingency actions that we can take, and we’ve practiced those as well. Once we’re finished with that and we can give the arm clearance to un-grapple from P6, Scott and I will then connect all those connectors that he and Dan had disconnected on EVA 2. We’ll reconnect those and bring life back to the P6 truss and so allow fluids to flow for cooling, allow data and, and power lines to flow to provide and deliver power from the solar arrays. We’ll make all those connections. It’s at that point that the ground can start into the solar array deploy activities. There are a number of things that have to occur that could be ground commanded and/or crew commanded from inside the vehicle to get ready to deploy those solar arrays and accept the power that will be delivered by the P6 truss at that point.
So you guys will still be there as part of that deploy or all of it?
We’ll still be out there as they begin the initial steps. The deploy won’t start until we’re clear of the P6 array. But Scott and I will go outboard and we’ll actually, release cinches on a radiator that’s on the P6 so we can deploy that radiator to provide cooling for that truss. It’s now cinched down in preparation for its move. We’ll go out and we’ll un-cinch those bolts so the ground can command that radiator to deploy to provide cooling for the truss. We’ll then go out to the very end of P6, and we’ll remove those shrouds that we put over those electronic boxes so they can come back to life. Now that they have power, we don’t have to worry so much about them becoming cold … We’ll remove those shrouds, and we’ll bring those back inside with us. Then we’ll make our way off of P6. Through voice communication we’ll let Houston know that we’re clear of P6, and they’ll begin the fairly complex maneuvers to get to the point where they can deploy those solar arrays. Scott and I will be doing some other tasks, both in the payload bay and on the ESP-2, which is essentially a stowage platform where we have replacement parts that we can put on the space station. It’s a holding, holding point for future development. We’ll be placing this main bus switching unit on that, ESP and doing some other things, around the Z1 interface to clean up. As we’re doing that, we hope toward the end of EVA 3 that we’ll be in a position close by where we can assist with the deploy of the solar arrays as needed. It’s not in our primary plan, to do on EVA 3. But, it is a contingency that we’re planning for, to be able to go out onto P6 and assist with that array deploy as needed -- even if it’s just providing another set of eyes and being able to relay back to Houston and back to the, the folks inside of the station what we see and what’s happening with the array itself. So, of course we’ll hope that the deploy goes without incident and, and we fully expect that. But we are also prepared for any kind of contingency that we might see. Our Expedition crew; it’ll be Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko will go outside, and they’ll do essentially preparing, some get-ahead tasks to prepare to move Node 2 to its final place once we leave. And they’ll be disconnecting several fluid lines, preparing the docking surface of the Node 2, for its final docking to the U.S. Lab.
Some pretty busy EVAs.
Busy EVAs, yes.
Anything you’re looking forward to in your particular area? I mean, you’ve been training pretty hard for it.
Well, we’ve been training pretty hard. Of course, I’m a rookie and it’s my first spaceflight, so obviously my first spacewalk as well. I’m doing my spacewalks with Scott Parazynski, who is just a tremendous man and just a terrific mentor for me. I don’t know how I could learn from anyone any better. He’s just a wealth of knowledge for me. He’s done this before. I feel very confident with us as a team. We’ve really come together, very well as a team. I’m excited about the opportunity to go outside. And, of course, it’s a huge personal goal of mine when I first came here. This was what I’ve been training to do and have been really focusing all my attention on. And so, I’m very excited about it. The enormity of the task is not lost by my excitement for sure. I’m very well aware of the complexity of what we’re doing, and I’ve a healthy set of butterflies, you know, just sort of the feeling before the big game. I feel very well prepared. I know that I’ll have a, sort of a “Wow!” factor when I first come out of the hatch. I’m expecting that. I don’t ever want to lose that, because, I think it’ll, it’ll keep me with the intensity and focus that I need. So, I’m very, very much looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun! Our training has been just tremendously fun, very, very challenging. The tasks we’re doing are very challenging. But the training has been such that it’s, that it’s almost … well, I can see it in my sleep now. I can close my eyes and walk through my timeline. And so, I feel very well prepared and very excited about it.
Image at left: STS-120 Mission Specialist Douglas Wheelock participates in a training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA
OK. The International Space Station is the biggest, most complex thing ever built. How does it feel to be a part of this historic work?
It’s just great. I get asked a lot about, does your flight feel like it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work? I suppose in a way it feels that way. But it’s not like a crescendo to me. It’s more a continuation of what I’ve focused my professional life on over the past several years. It feels great to be part of the assembly of the station. I know that we’ll eventually get to the part where the station will be complete. We’ll have a world-class science platform in orbit. We’ll have just a tremendous international cooperation and activities, developing and overcoming challenges in science. I’m very excited about that. We really do look at the delivery of this Node as sort of a hinging point to finally bring us together as an international partnership. After our mission, the subsequent missions will finally bring up the European Space Agency’s laboratory and then the Japanese laboratory, their contribution to the, to the station. It’ll finally bring us together. Naming the Node 2 “Harmony” is actually very appropriate because it will bring us together finally as an international partnership in this cooperative effort. And so, we’re very excited about that. To be sort of the jumping-off point to get to this final configuration. We’re also very excited about moving the P6 array and being able to deliver this additional power to the station. It’ll eventually allow us to increase the crew size on the, for the long-duration mission from three, which it currently is, to upwards of six people on board the station. It will allow us to do more science on board, and just to, just to face the challenges that we faced in a more cooperative fashion. So, we’re very excited about it.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the birth of the Space Age. Your thoughts on our progress in space travel.
It is a very important milestone. It means a lot to our Russian partners. It means a lot to us as a nation, and really to the world as we develop space, our International Space Station for peaceful efforts. I actually wasn’t born when Sputnik was launched. But I remember the stories. And I remember growing up through the years of the space race between us and the Russians. To see it develop now -- into, into a, it’s like one vision, one cooperative vision as international partners. Really, it’s just very, very inspiring to see that people can put down their differences and develop something of such magnitude, with such engineering challenges, develop and build and operate this International Space Station. We’re very excited about that. We’re also very excited about the role we play in the development of the new Vision for future exploration. We really believe that the International Space Station will help us develop materials, engineering processes, life-support systems, things that are going to be able to take us out farther. We’re going to be able to better understand how to live and operate in space for long-duration missions when we eventually go back to the moon and on to Mars one day. We will need these fundamentals that we’re developing now. There are things that we don’t know and don’t completely understand. We’re facing those challenges now, developing solutions to those things, developing work-arounds for areas that maybe don’t have solutions, at the moment because of, because we’re a, awaiting these technological breakthroughs that we’ll eventually have in place. We’re preparing the future of space exploration and development for the generation to come. The shuttle is leading the way. I feel in a way we’re sort of handing the torch to the International Space Station and the developments we’ll, we’ll find there, the discoveries we’ll find -- and then, eventually, on to our new vehicle in the future. I’m very, very pleased to be a part of this process since, since Sputnik and its 50 years, and it has been a long time. I think we’re seeing a new resurgence, in the area of space development and spaceflight and interest in spaceflight. It’s not easy. I think we’re finally beginning to realize how difficult it is to face these challenges and to overcome these difficulties, and the process of discovering new things, new ways of doing things, new processes, new materials, things like that, that are going to take us beyond the space station. Those things are still yet to come. I’d like to think that we’re another building block in building that foundation for a future like exploration. So, I think it’s a very exciting time. And, much like the excitement that the space race between the U.S. and the Russians happened so many years ago, I think that there is just that same resurgence of interest, but in a different light. It feels more cooperative; because we know that the best way to overcome these challenges and to make these new discoveries is to work together. And it really is quite an exciting time to be part of the space program.
There are hundreds and thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but only a few American astronauts. What made you try to become an astronaut and be one of the people who fly in space?
Well, I’d like to say that I wanted to be an astronaut since I was a kid. I suppose that I did. But the dream was just really too big for me at that time. I was 9 years old when we first landed on the moon. I remember watching that. At that time, I just felt like just an ordinary kid from sort of an ordinary little small town. You know, I think inside every young boy at that time wanted to be an astronaut. But it just seemed like something that was a totally different world than I was living in at the time. So coming up through my schooling and everything, I just had this tremendous interest in flying. I guess maybe subconsciously I had it in the back of my mind that I’d love to be an astronaut; but I just wanted to fly. Eventually, coming out of the academy and being able to serve in the military as a pilot and then as a test pilot, the dream for me sort of came from the back of my mind … I began thinking, “Maybe this is something I could do and really achieve.” For me it was more like a sort of a logical, progression. It was another goal to reach for. I feel honored … . Since, since the day, I came to NASA, I felt, in a way, just very humbled by the opportunity. I know there’s a stroke of luck in there as well, that the year I was selected they just happened to be looking for my particular specialty. So I feel very blessed. I don’t ever forget that. I feel very honored and very blessed to be part of the program. I feel very comfortable in this program as an operator. Maybe my eyes will finally be opened when the solids ignite, but it just seems like a comfortable progression for me. I’ve been involved now in the space program for about 10 years working in Mission Control, working with our Russian partners, working with our engineers, both here and down in Florida at the Cape. It’s just a very, very exciting place to work. Sometimes from day to day, I forget about, “Oh yeah, one day I’m going to be able to fly as well.” It’s that much of a team environment around here, where you, you all feel part of the team. I feel very blessed to be just part of the team. And, and the opportunity to fly in space is really beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. And so I count it a great, tremendous blessing and privilege.
Is there a good story of how you found out your were selected, as an astronaut, ... for this flight even?
When I was selected as an astronaut, I was in Atlanta at the time. I was on leave. I was working in the Vehicle Integration Test Office here in, in Houston. At the time, I was working down at the Cape. I took about a week leave, and I traveled up to Atlanta to take care of some things there. That’s where I got my call. It was my boss actually that called me. And, he said, “Hey, I need you to come back to the Cape.” I had already talked to him about this leave that I needed to take. And I said, “Well, can I come back there next week? Or, or be in a few days? "He said, “No, I need you back here now. In fact, I need you to talk to” … at that time it was our director of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate. “I need you to talk to him.” And, I thought, “Well, why would I need to talk to him?” I thought maybe I was in trouble for something. So he got on the phone and asked me -- I had interviewed already -- if I was still interested in, in coming to work for the office as an astronaut. Of course I was just thrilled. And, I said, “Who is this really?” on the phone. My initial feelings were not like what I had imagined they would be if I ever got that call. I thought [it would be] this feeling of euphoria; I reached a very personal goal. And my initial feelings were “Why me?” of all these people that interviewed … . I just felt completely humbled by the opportunity, and the hope inside that I could deliver, I could now give back just the tremendous amount that had been given to me in years prior. So it was a very exciting, of course. And then, when was I selected for this flight, I actually didn’t know until, Pam called me the morning that it was announced. I didn’t actually know I was assigned to this mission. I was in Russia for most of 2005. When I came back from Russia (I was the director of operations over there for NASA), I was told I was being brought back, for consideration for a flight, an assembly flight, on the shuttle. Of course I was very excited about that. It was a different flight I was told, though, at the time. So when Pam called me to tell me that I was assigned to STS-120, I was a little surprised. I was, of course, thrilled because I was completely in awe of this mission anyway before I was even assigned to it. It’s so complex robotically and EVA-wise with spacewalks that I had thought in the back of my mind, it’s like, “Wow! To be a part of a mission like that would be really, really cool.” I mean, just any, really any shuttle mission. But this mission in particular, STS-120, I looked at in my mind as a hinging point, for a way to expand the station. Having worked with the Russians and with some of our international partners up to that point, I knew the importance that they placed on the 120 mission (also referred to the 10A mission) and the delivery of the Node and how much of their development and their excitement and their program was hinging on this mission. It was just a tremendous level of excitement when Pam called me. And so, again, not really a, Earth-shattering story, but for me personally, it was just beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of.
Could you tell me about where you grew up and how that place influenced you to be an astronaut?
I grew up in a small town, Windsor, New York. Actually, we lived about 8 or 10 miles outside of this small town. We lived in a rural area just on the west side of the Catskills in Upstate New York. In fact my mom and dad still live there. It's very small town, an area full of hard-working people, very patriotic people, and people that just love their country, love the military, love everything about the space program. Again, a world apart; very far removed from anything with the space program, but an area that really nurtured me in work ethic, patriotism, things like that. My parents and my neighbors and people in that small town equipped me in a way that I don’t think I could have been equipped had I grown up in another area -- just the way that I’m wired. When I left home, I went to West Point where the motto is “Duty, honor, country.” It was just a continuation of my upbringing really, with maybe a few extra push-ups thrown in there. From that point, it became sort of one personal goal after another of developing my career. Looking back now, I never envisioned sitting here, as like an end goal. All along, it’s just been, it’s just been exercising this. One thing the people of Windsor and my family instilled in me was the desire and always setting a goal to expand yourself. Don’t ever allow yourself to become comfortable. It’s good being comfortable and content in what you’re doing. But if your potential is allowing you to see something beyond that, you know, then you’re obligated to press beyond what you know and try to achieve these other things and discover these other things about yourself so you can reach your full potential. I really lived by those things. I’m a person of faith as well. I just truly believe that we don’t have these visions, our dreams, for ourselves, that we fit in to a larger team. I don’t believe we get those things just by coincidence. I believe that those things are given to us as a gift, and not to try to achieve that potential or expand our potential. I think, is dishonorable to our, to our calling. That’s the way I was raised. And so that’s the small town I came from. In a way, it’s a strange feeling because it doesn’t feel like the chasing of a dream … It, it feels more like: This is the, this is the potential that I have been given, and I need to exercise that gift. I look at it that way. As my thoughts and my challenges expand, I need to expand with that and begin to do the things that I was placed here to do. So, that’s how I look at it.
Doug, could you [give] us a, a thumbnail sketch of your education and professional career?
I wanted to fly. I always get asked: “Well, why didn’t you go to the Air Force Academy?” or something like this. I applied to all the academies and I really was particularly interested in West Point because of its reputation as a leadership institution, where they taught leadership. It’s something that I wanted so desperately. I felt like I had good, fundamental, academics, to prepare me for there. But I also wanted to be exposed to my own leadership style and be able to develop my own leadership style, and be exposed to other styles as well. The military just seemed like the way to go to me at the time. I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing about that. I ended up going to West Point, and I really enjoyed all four years there. I enjoyed the last two about 10 years later. I just wanted to get out and get started when I was finishing up school and have, over the years, come to love and to appreciate what they taught me there. It’s amazing how some of the things that they taught me I didn’t really particularly realize the importance of until years later when I was put into a leadership role where people place their lives in your hands. It’s a fairly daunting challenge. All you have is your leadership style and what was taught to you about being able to develop your leadership style and to inspire and lead other people. West Point taught me that. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Academy for that. I’m still active duty Army. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Army as well. The, the Army has taught me things about leadership and working together as a team that I could never repay. And now, working together as a team to fly in space just feels so comfortable to me because it’s what I’ve been doing for my entire adult life -- to look another person in the eye and feel comfortable placing your life in their hands and them placing their life in your hands, and working together as a team to accomplish a mission that’s much larger than yourself. That’s a definition of the military. It’s really, quite literally, the definition of our mission as well. That’s my education, my undergraduate education, was from, from West Point. So, I studied engineering there and applied science, which are, which are great things and served me well through my years, but it’s more of the leadership exposure, exposure to me and exposure to other forms of leadership where I can develop and optimize my own leadership style. From that point, my education to arrive at this point was more flight training. I went to graduate school at Georgia Tech, just a wonderful point in my life where I finally was able to, as an operator operating this flight hardware and aviation systems. I just had such a passion for figuring out how all this stuff worked and how I can play a role in making it work better or finding something else, to be just a little bit better, to provide to the operators that were, that were flying these pieces of hardware. Georgia Tech provided that to me as I went back to graduate school. That school laid the foundation for me to be able to go back to be a test pilot, because now I could take this operational experience that I had, what it felt like in the seat of my pants to fly an aircraft and, and fly it in the environment that these, that our military people have to fly in, take that knowledge, combined with the engineering knowledge, that Georgia Tech had given me, and be able to combine the two and be a, be a test pilot and be able to logically make decisions and offer up decisions to, to the Army on how to, how to better develop hardware, airplanes, helicopters, modifications to helicopters -- a very difficult job in the military as a test pilot. But I just thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt very comfortable to me, as was the transition from that life to coming here to work for NASA. So my education has I think, prepared me very well. I owe those institutions, both West Point and to Georgia Tech. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for those two schools and the care that those, professors gave to us and the way that they inspired us. I feel very, very fortunate to have attended both of those institutions.
Just curious what led you in to the EVA world, as opposed to say, maybe, being a pilot.
I was selected as a mission specialist here at NASA. I’m a pilot in the Army, but I didn’t have the requisite fixed-wing and high-performance time, that would be required to be a shuttle pilot. So I focused my goal here at NASA to be selected as a mission specialist. And then, of course, the sort of the, the pinnacle of, of being a mission specialist (in my mind, my own personal goal) was to be able to be involved in EVAs, doing spacewalks -- and particularly assembly tasks, because of my engineering interest, the assembly of, and construction of an orbiting laboratory just was sort of the Holy Grail, if you will, for me as a Mission Specialist. That’s where I have focused my attention, since being selected. I wanted to be good at EVA and I felt like I had a good operational mind. I felt like I was fairly good with my hands, in tinkering with things. And so I felt like this would be an area where I could contribute and I could do well, I could be a contributing part of a team. This is where I thought I could do it best. As it turned out … So, so when I first went in to EVA training, I thought, “Gosh, I hope I’m good at this, because this is what I want to ...” You know, “I’ve set this as a goal for myself. So, I hope I like it and I hope I’m good at it.” It’s just such a comfortable world for me now. Scott and I have been in the pool so many times now that a lot of times I feel more comfortable there than I do at my desk or in a meeting or something. It’s a very comfortable suit. Fortunately, I’ve grown to love being in the suit. I feel like it’s an extension of myself, which is the position you really pretty much have to be in to really do your best in this job. So I feel very fortunate that I was able to be selected for this mission. The training has been great. Scott has been a terrific mentor, and he’s really helped me with some of the challenges that I faced in the suit in, operating, work space and handling tools and translating with large, with large pieces of equipment, and things like that. He’s really helped me understand the best way to do those particular tasks. He’s showed me in the pool, and I’ve done those things, and, they’ve really helped me develop my own particular style in translating and, and, operating, EVA ...
OK. Great. Flying in space and working in extreme environments can be risky. What do you think we get from flying people in space that makes it worth the risk you’re taking?
I look at the benefits in both the engineering frame of mind and the human spirit frame of mind. I see this is as an engineering challenge. And, you know, building a space station, it’s tough. I mean, it’s not easy. Seeing that challenge and developing a solution to overcome that challenge is a very, very strong passion for me. I know that it’s inspirational to those who are of the same mind. I know that we, in facing these challenges, developing solutions, and in the process of overcoming these challenges discover new things. That’s an added benefit to spaceflight is that some of these things we’re doing for the first time. When you do things for the first time and go places you’ve never been, you’re going to discover things that you never dreamed possible, or you maybe never imagined. To be part of that is just, is just particularly amazing to me. It’s inspirational to young people, I know, because it was inspirational to me. It continues to be to this day. If, through all of this, if we just inspire one person, one young person, to be that next great scientist, somebody that discovers the cure for cancer, somebody that develops a new medical process that, that assists people with some of these diseases that plague us as a human race, somebody develops new materials that, that could take us faster and farther to help us discover new things … Those kids are out there. I think about it when I go talk to young children at schools. I look at them as if I’m looking in the face of the first person that’s going to set foot on Mars. I really believe that. That person is somewhere in our schools. For us to decide who that person is, is not our job. Our job is to continue carrying the torch and by doing so, inspiring those young minds to say, “Hey, that’s something I could do as well,” or maybe to just look at themselves and say, “Why can’t that be me? Why can't I achieve something like that?” Which brings me to the other point about the added benefit of what it does to the human spirit. First of all this space program is not mine, and it doesn’t belong to the astronauts, it doesn’t belong to NASA. It belongs to the American people. It belongs now as an international partnership; it belongs to the people of this world -- our space program and this International Space Station. For us to look at it any other way as operators is not correct, and we, we don’t take that lightly. We know this program belongs to the people of this country as well as our international partners. We just feel honored to be sort of the ambassadors that get a chance to ride and to go and to do, hoping, by doing that, we’ve inspired the next generation coming behind us to do the very same. The thrill that it gives you in the human spirit -- by nature we’re inquisitive, we want to know what’s out there; we want to know. If we face a challenge that we don’t think that we can overcome, we inherently want to find a way to, to achieve that goal or to find a solution to that particular problem. I think it’s an inspirational to the spirit. I really believe that. If we can achieve some of that, as well in young people in the generation to follow us, our future leaders. I’m not talking about inspiring people to be astronauts. I’m just talking about inspiring people to be the very, very best that they can, to understand and to realize their full potential, and to set their goals and dreams to that where they can reach their full potential in whatever field they choose to be in. The importance of this mission as well as our entire space program, is to keep that fire burning in the, in the human spirit.