Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but there are only about 100 American astronauts. What made you try to become one of them and be one of those people who flies in space?
Image to right: Astronaut Leland D. Melvin, STS-122 mission specialist. Image credit: NASA
Preflight Interview: Leland D. Melvin, Mission Specialist
A: I’d worked at NASA/Langley for nine years, probably seven and a half years before I applied to become an astronaut. A friend of mine who worked there with me who always wanted to be an astronaut, told me, "You know, Leland, they’re looking for materials scientists, and you’d be a great astronaut." And the first time I looked at him and said, "Yeah, right; whatever." But I had been working with fiber optic sensors and working aerospace vehicles and eventually started doing things with the space shuttle. So at that point I had met some people and kind of got to know what was going on with the Astronaut Corps. And then in 1996 Charlie Camarda got into the Astronaut Corps, and I had been working with him on some projects, and I said, "Well, if Charlie Camarda can get in, I can get in." So that next selection for the ’98 class is when I applied. One moment I remember; I was giving a talk and John Young and Charlie had flown up to Langley, and I gave a talk to a man who had walked on the moon, had flown every vehicle known to mankind. It was very inspiring. That moment, I said "Hey, this is something that would be really, really great to do." So I applied and came down and interviewed and got into the corps. You know, up until that point it wasn’t something that I’d really thought a lot about. I’d seen, back in the Apollo days, men walking on the moon, and it didn’t really trigger anything in me. It was like, hey, that’s, that’s pretty cool, but not that I wanted to be one of those men. And it was over the course of my life and, you know, playing football, doing all the things that I’ve done, and said, this is kind of getting me ready for this job. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful time.
Let me take you back to that beginning. Tell me about Lynchburg, Virginia, the place where you’re from, where you grew up.
Lynchburg … the City of Seven Hills. I was, always, you know, playing sports and riding bikes and just doing lots of things, in Lynchburg… It’s a great town. My parents were schoolteachers, and so when you have parents who are schoolteachers, when you’re in school it’s kind of hard to get away with anything because you know they’ll always call your parents. They have that teacher telepathy, you know, they know when you’re doing things wrong. But it’s a great place. My friends that are still there, a lot of them are going to come down to the launch, and [there's] a lot of support, a lot of love from the community and my family, and I’m, I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of those people.
Do you have a sense of how that place and those people made you the person you are today?
Yeah. My parents have always given to others. The students that they taught, there have been times when their students later in life have come up to me and said what an impact that my parents had on them. If it wasn’t for them, they would have been on drugs or in jail or who knows where, and they’re telling me this with their, their wife or husband in tow with two children. So they not only impacted this one individual, they impacted multiple people, and that’s a testament to Lynchburg and the people that are there. They care. They give love. They are very supportive in helping kids do and become and want to be better.
You went to high school in Lynchburg?
Give me the high points, a thumbnail sketch of your education and career after that.
High school, Heritage High School, was a very exciting time. I played football, basketball, and tennis. I was heavily into my science and mathematics, and there are two times that I really remember my educational moments, triggering my scientific career. One was in physics class, and our professor, or our teacher, was leaving in mid-semester to go off and do some other work, and so we had a, a student from Harvard University. He had just graduated, he was 16 years old, and he came in and taught our class. His name, we called him Mr. Mark, and he would sit on the desk and just kind of talk to us about, you know, physics -- but not only just physics, just about life, about the world. Thinking of someone that’s my age teaching us -- we were able to bond with him; we were able to learn from him. But we were taking a physics class that didn’t have calculus in it, so he started teaching us calculus with physics. And that was one of the most amazing things, to couple something that I hadn’t even taken before, but he was teaching us calculus as we went along learning the physical principles, and that was an, an eye-opening moment for the scientific side. Another moment was with Mrs. Campbell in chemistry class. I became a chemistry major because of this. I was in the back of the class talking to Mike Campbell. We were sitting there talking about the last game or something that went on, and she really cared about me. To separate us, she grabbed me by my ear, pulled me to the front, and said, "OK, you’re going to learn this stuff." She was doing an electrolysis experiment, running current into water separating hydrogen and oxygen. We blew up the balloon and lit the match and blew the hydrogen up. It was one of those moments that things clicked. I said, "Wow, this is what I want to do. Those, those moments -- Mr. Mark and Mrs. Campbell at Heritage High School -- kind of triggered my chemistry.
Take us beyond high school. Where’d you go to college, what’d you do at that, and of your career?
Well, getting to college, I didn’t know exactly where I was going to go. I had applied to a couple of schools. My senior year in high school, we were playing our homecoming game. I was a wide receiver on the football team, and when you play a homecoming game you’re supposed to play someone who’s kind of sorry so you can beat them so you can impress all your friends that come back from college. But I was flanked out to, go down the field to catch this touchdown pass, and I lined up, they called the play, and ran down the field, just as it was planned. In the end zone the ball was coming into my hands, and I’ve already made the touchdown in my mind, and then it just slips through. I, it was one of those, you know, moments of defeat -- the agony of defeat -- and I was, sitting there wondering if I’m the worst player in the world. Go back to the huddle, the head coach says, Leland, come here, grabs me by the facemask. "Get back out there, and catch that ball. He runs the same play; this time, I’m praying that ball in my hands, catch the ball, we win the game. And unbeknownst to me at the time there was a college recruiter in the stands; after the first dropped pass he’s walking out of the stadium, and then he hears the crowd screaming again, turns around and sees me in the end zone with the ball. That was my ticket to the University of Richmond and college. He believed in me after coming off of this horrific failure, dropping a touchdown pass in the end zone, able to come back and recover from that. So I got a scholarship to the University of Richmond to play football and study chemistry.
And thereafter, I majored in chemistry in college. I played football, did chemistry, and, there was a point in my freshman year when a professor or teacher saw something in me and allowed me to do independent chemistry research as a freshman throughout my senior year. So I was playing ball, and I was doing chemical research that also spurred me on to do more research. So it was a very exciting time, a lot of support, a lot of, back to this love thing, a lot of love from people that wanted to see me do well.
Post college, you got a chance to do football and chemistry.
I graduated from college, and right before that, I was drafted into the 1986 college draft by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round, so I went to the Detroit Lions training camp, and went from chemistry to the NFL [National Football League]. That was pretty exciting. I ended up in training camp pulling a hamstring pretty bad, so that was kind of the demise of my NFL career, but I played in some preseason games, I was released from Detroit and then was picked up by the CFL, the Canadian Football League, up in Toronto, the Toronto Argonauts. I went up there for a little while, and then my agent said, "Hey, Leland, why don’t you come back home and I think the Dallas Cowboys want to sign you for the next season." So I came home, signed with Dallas, and then I was waiting to go to mini-camp in March. This was October, I’m waiting to go to camp, and I’m just wondering what I’m going to do with my time. And I’m driving as a courier for my agent, delivering packages, and I have to deliver a package to the University of Richmond. A professor there that comes up to me and says, "Hey, what are you doing." I’m like, well, I’m waiting to go play football. He said, "Well, why don’t you go up to the University of Virginia and talk to Glenn Stone in materials science engineering." I said, "Why?, I’m going to play football." So I listen, I go there, and so instead of driving as a courier I’m now doing materials science research for a professor, making more money, and getting some technical benefit from it also. And then January comes around, and he has me enroll into the materials science engineering course at the University of Virginia. So, again, I’m asking him, why should I be doing this, because I’m leaving in March, in three months, to go play football. So I do it anyway, start taking a couple courses in materials science. So when I get to Dallas I’m catching footballs by day and watching materials science engineering courses by night. Long story short: I go out one morning with Danny White to catch some passes, and, Tom Landry’s walking on the field, and I can see this whole thing starting to transpire: We were planning to run a half-speed 10-yard out, and he does an audible on the line and changes it to a full-speed, go-to-the-end-zone-and-catch-this-pass. And, I try to, you know, kick it in, coming off of a pulled hamstring, and pull it again, injure my leg again. So that was pretty much the end of my NFL career. But I had this backup plan already in work. So I then go right back to the University of Virginia I get my master’s degree in materials science engineering, and that’s, my degree, in materials science. And while I’m at Virginia, I bump into a lady from NASA/Langley, Rosa Webster. I went to a career fair, and Rosa was telling me I saw her but I walked away from the NASA booth, just not thinking I’d work for NASA. I’m like, I don’t want to work for NASA, I’ll just keep going. And she stopped me, she grabbed me and she said, "Hey, what’s your name?" I said Leland; she said, I’ve been looking for you. And she brings me over. I’m helping her break the booth down, taking boxes to her car, and … I ended up going to Langley to interview for a position. So that chance, bumping into this person … It’s been kind of like the story of my life, bumping into the professor in the parking lot, bumping into people here and there who have led me to this position. So I bumped into her, got a position at NASA/Langley doing fiber optic sensor research. We were using optical fibers as strain sensors on aerospace vehicles. It was a very exciting career, and then I bumped into my friend who said, "Hey, you’d be a great astronaut." So I applied and got into the corps.
Image to left: Attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, astronaut Leland D. Melvin, STS-122 mission specialist, awaits the start of an emergency egress training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA
Being an astronaut is a very challenging and competitive job, just like being a pro athlete. Does playing pro football make you a better astronaut?
I think playing pro football or playing any sport where you have to work together as a team helps you become a better astronaut, because I’m on the flight deck as MS1 for both ascent and entry. Steve, Rex, Dex [Alan Poindexter], and I have to work together as one concerted unit, just like a wide receiver and a quarterback have to have that sort of telepathic sense to know -- if the crowd’s screaming, you can’t do an audible -- you just know what you have to do. I think that’s similar to what we do on the flight deck. There are times when I’ll look at a gauge and point to it or tap on the procedure or give Rex a nudge, and we just kind of have this communication that allows us to work efficiently and effectively as a team. That training in the NFL and all the sports has helped lead to that training.
Getting more excited about your first spaceflight?
I am. I’m trying to kind of suppress it a little bit before the engines light up. But it’s very exciting. We’re doing our integrated sim[ulation]s now, and the whole team is functioning well. All of our flight controllers and robotics developers and, everyone’s working really well together.
Do you have a funny story about how they told you were going to fly?
I was at home getting ready for work. I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone, and Steve Frick, our commander, called me on my cell phone, because he couldn’t get me on the home phone. He said,"Kent Rominger has put together this crew for the STS-122/1E mission, and we want you to be part of it." At first, I was like, what are you talking about, because I thought he was kind of kidding. But then it sunk in that I’m going to be a crew member on STS-122. And then, when I hung the phone up with him I was kind of running through the house yelling and screaming, and my dog Jake was looking at me like I was crazy. But it was a very exciting time, and I had another friend on the other phone, and she heard all the screaming, and she’s like, what’s going on? I told her, and she’s like, oh wow, congratulations, so it was very exciting. So when I got back to work that day, we all kind of celebrated and did some high fives and went on into training.
We know that the flying in space part of the astronaut job is a part that can be very dangerous. What do you think that we get as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth the risk that you’re willing to take?
When you can change an organization, when you can change a life, when you can change a person’s attitude about themselves, about their future, it’s worth it. You know, I talk to kids all the time about what do you want to do with your life, what do you want to be when you grow up, and sometimes they have no clue, kind of like how I was when I was a kid. I liked to do everything but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. There was a, a talk that I gave when some kids came in one summer at NASA/Goddard, and this group of kids came in late, they fell asleep. At one point in the talk, though, this one little girl woke up and saw me talking about Dr. Bernard Harris floating in space. I was a, a new astronaut. I hadn’t even been assigned to a mission or anything, but I could share with her other people’s ventures in space, their exploration. And about five years later, this young girl came up to me at a conference I was talking at, and she said, "Do you remember me?" I said, "No, I don’t." She said, "Well, I’m the girl that fell asleep in your presentation, and I woke up and did see Dr. Bernard Harris flying in space, and after that I wanted to be a medical doctor." So now, she heard a few words from me, and now she became a medical doctor because of what she saw the exploration of someone else flying in space. So I think exploration is about the people. It’s about giving back and allowing people to see what they can become through exploration. And you know, this young lady. I haven’t kept in touch with her -- but she may develop a cure for AIDS or for some disease that will save someone’s life, because she saw exploration. And I think that’s the testament to why we do what we do and how important it is, even if we do have dangerous moments or failures with the program. We can change lives, and we can make the world a better place.
You’re Mission Specialist 1 on this flight to the International Space Station. Leland, give me a summary of what the goals of assembly mission 1E are, and what your jobs on this flight are.
One of the biggest goals of this mission, 1E, is to attach the Columbus laboratory to the International Space Station, and my role in that will be to use Canadarm2 to go down in the payload bay, grab it, and very delicately attach it to the International Space Station. So that’s a, a big goal, and our international partners will now have a module on board and we’ll be even more international in flavor on the station. Another goal is to ensure that we take up Leo Eyharts and swap him out with Dan Tani, so Leo will be on board for I think about six to eight weeks on station, and we’ll bring Dan Tani back home. Other goals are, to do inspection, to make sure that the orbiter is safe for return, and, we’re going to bring home the failed CMG [Control Moment Gyroscope] module that was left up on the [STS-]118 crew, so we’re bringing that back, as well as transferring Nitrogen Tank Assemblies. One up on orbit now we’ll bring back and we’ll replace that with one in the cargo bay, as well as transfer some payloads, some European payloads, EuTEF [European Technology Exposure Facility] and SOLAR, and we’re going to attach them to the Columbus module once that’s installed.
We’ll go back and pick the pieces of this up. Let’s start with Columbus, your, your main payload. Tell me about Columbus and what it’s going to add to the International Space Station.
Well, the Columbus module will bring a, a new laboratory to the station, will allow us to do different types of experimentation. We’ll have a number of racks, and these are payloads on the, on the internal side, as well as external payloads. One is called EuTEF, and one is called SOLAR. And SOLAR will be used to look at emissions coming from the sun. There are three instruments on SOLAR that will actually have sensors measuring solar radiation in different wave, wavelengths. The EuTEF is an exposure facility that will have materials and different things exposed to the space environment, and we’ll use that for making measurements for materials development. Internally, we have the, we have Biolab, a fluid science laboratory, different types of payloads that will help with understanding more about the human body and materials. So this will be another way that we can help, humankind, with experimentation and exploration.
From the scientific point of view, is it very comparable to the U.S. laboratory?
It is, but this will be a chance for our international partners to partner with someone there, European businesses and colleagues, to have their particular experiments on board.
What’s it like for you to be right in the middle of really, one of the most dramatic assembly periods in the station’s history?
This is very exciting because the Columbus module ushers in a new era for the space station by bringing in our European partners, and the international flavor of the station will go up another notch. And then after this we’ll have our Japanese partners on board with the JEM [Japanese Experiment Module] and other modules like that. So we’re growing the station by another module, and so when you look up in the sky you may be able to see another little glint as it goes by, and it’s just a very exciting time.
The day after you launch, you and your shuttle colleagues, you’re going to spend a good portion of that flight day 2 in orbit surveying the orbiter itself for damage. Tell me about the task of that inspection, the experience that’s been gained from having done it now a number of times. How does that change the way that inspection has been conducted?
The first few times that we have done inspection it took much longer to do, so our robotics, flight controllers, and procedure developers have trimmed off quite a bit of time to make this a, a much faster process for inspection on flight day 2. You know, grabbing the OBSS [Orbiter Boom Sensor system] out of the payload bay, this long, 50-foot boom that has laser sensors and cameras on it for inspecting our tiles and our heat shields, will be used, like we’ve done in the past, but the procedures, like I said, have been streamlined to make this a, a faster task and allow us to get other things done on flight day 2.
Faster. Somebody might think that means you’re not doing as thorough an inspection. How do you get faster while maintaining the detail that you’re looking for?
You get faster by optimizing the trajectory of the motion of the arm, so instead of scanning down one side and then coming back and scanning another side, you might be able to get multiple scans in one motion. So that’s something that they’ve done, looked at how to optimize the trajectory so that you don’t have to make as many passes on the orbiter.
It’s still a several-hours-long process for two or three crew members?
It’s three crew members. Starting out, we’ll have myself, Stan Love, and Hans Schlegel, and Steve Frick will also be helping out with the inspections. We’re all part of the inspection team. So if someone gets a little tired or has to make a, a bathroom break or something we can all rotate out and, and get the job done.
Shortly after the orbiter docks to the station there’s an operation to unberth the Orbiter Boom Sensor System again and leave it attached to the shuttle’s robot arm. Tell me about that job and the reason that OBSS is being put in that position.
Leo and I are going to actually use the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station to go down and grapple and unberth and then move it into position where the shuttle arm can grab the other end of the boom and then move it out of the way into a viewing position. So we’ll actually use the boom to view the subsequent operations, but also, we need the boom out of the way to take the Columbus module out of the payload bay.
To simply, moving so that you don’t run into it.
Well, as you said, you’re going to be running the arm for the, for the installation of Columbus, and that gets started in the spacewalks, right?
Well, there are three spacewalks on the flight. Are you running the arm on all three?
I will be. Flight day 4 we do EVA 1 and Columbus install, so the first thing we do is, Hans Schlegel, I’ll move the arm into a position where he can install the, the boot plate for him getting onto the arm. And then he’ll get in, and then we’ll move the port sill of the orbiter where there is something called a Power Data Grapple Fixture. It’s basically a pin that we will attach to the Columbus module, and I will use that pin to grapple the Columbus and take it out of the bay. So it’s a way that we can grab onto it and move it around.
Before we get away from it, most of the time payloads come with that grapple fixture already attached. What’s the reason for your doing it in this order?
We don’t have the grapple pin attached to the Columbus to start out with because we have to close the payload bay doors, and with this grapple pin sticking up there are some clearance concerns with the payload bay. We want to make sure that we don’t have any problems with that, so we’ll have it stored, initially, on ascent and then we’ll grab it and then have Hans and Rex [Walheim] on EVA 1 attach it to the Columbus module, and then they’ll get out of the way, and I’ll use the arm then to go in and grapple and then take the Columbus to the install position on the Node 2.
Image to right: Astronaut Leland D. Melvin, STS-122 mission specialist, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a water survival training session in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA
Is it a complex or circuitous route to get from payload bay to the, out to the starboard side of Harmony?
It’s not too bad a route. We go in and grapple, we move up to a low hover position, we then move to the starboard side, or if you’re looking forward it’s the right side of the shuttle, and then we kind of make a motion around and present it to the Node 2 which has a CBM interface, Common Berthing Mechanism interface, where we attach it to the, to space station.
That sounds real simple. How long does that take?
Too long. No, it’s the whole maneuver for unberth and install. I think it’s about, maybe, three hours, two and a half, three hours. But a lot of that is because the arm has to move so slowly because we have this very large payload on the end, so you don’t want to move too fast and generate dynamics that can, that can cause problems.
Pick up the story then: you’ve, you’ve grappled Columbus and moved it out into position to attach it to Node 2.
OK, at this point, we are, we’re sitting about, I think about two or three meters away from installing Columbus, and I think everyone’s holding their breath waiting for this moment when Columbus gets attached to the space station. But Stan and I will then, change some displays, we’ll have a CBCS [Centerline Berthing Camera System] camera -- it’s a camera that allows us to orient the Columbus in a way that we can just pull on the hand controller, and it just goes right in. So hopefully we won’t have to make too many adjustments in the procedures, that we'll have automatically moved it into a position that’s, that’s aligned. After that we will start the motion in to berth. We’ll wait until we get four Ready to Latch indications -- these little four green lights that come on to show that we’re in alignment and at the right position -- and then Leo and Peggy [Whitson] will then start working on berthing the Columbus. We have a series of steps we have to do to actually have the Columbus pull in closer to the, to the Node 2. So they’ll be working, we’ll be working, we’ll be waiting in case anything happens, but at that point I think there’ll be lots of celebrations in, in Europe.
Common Berthing Mechanism, then, is what draws Columbus in and secures the two.
What’s the rest of the EVA, on the EVA timeline at that point?
After the berthing we ungrapple and get ready to have an overnight park position where we leave the robotic arm. I think Rex and Hans will go off and do some get-ahead tasks for EVA 2, working with the nitrogen tanks and a few other things.
So that first spacewalk ends with Columbus mated to Node 2, but nobody gets to go inside until the day after that.
Tell me a bit about what has to be done before you can open the doors and enter Columbus for the first time.
When we unberth Columbus, the Columbus is now getting powered by the big robotic arm on the station. So once we attach it then we have to run a series of cables to run power to the Columbus module, and then get the hatches prepared. There are some other steps to, make sure everything is outfitted properly, and get ready to go inside.
Tell me about what you think that’s going to be like, when you get to open that door.
That’s going to be another exciting time, you know. We will have grown the station by another module and have brought our international partners from Europe on board to be part of this huge, expansive station. I think once we all go in -- Leo and Hans will go in first and make sure everything is OK, no cobwebs in there or anything -- but, it’s going to be very exciting, and a testament to the teamwork from all of the nations that have put this, put this vehicle together. It’s just going to be very, very, very fun.
The second spacewalk of the mission takes place the day after everybody gets to go inside Columbus. Describe the rest of the tasks that are there on the second spacewalk.
OK, EVA 2, involves, again, using the big robotic arm, Canadarm2 to take Rex down into the payload bay. He’s going to be using the arm to pull the Nitrogen Tank Assembly out of the ICC [Integrated Cargo Carrier]-Lite rack. It’s basically a rack that’s, allows us to have payloads attached to it so we can bring them up and take them down. So he’s going to release some bolts on the ICC-Lite. Hans is going to help along with that task, too, and then Rex will grab the payload, pull it out with some handrails, and then we’ll start going up to P1, which is the large truss on the port side of the station. So basically it’s just one big series of arm maneuvers to take him upstairs, we call it upstairs, to the top of station, and that’s where we’ll temp stow that NTA, and then we’ll go in and grab the old NTA and then temp stow that, and then put this other nitrogen transfer assembly tank into the station for future use.
And that tank is out on the truss? I guess I didn’t realize where they’re all located.
Yeah, the tank is out on P1 which is a part of the truss system for the station. It’s sitting there, and we will, again take that one out and put the new one in, so it’s just basically a swap of tanks. And that’s pretty much the EVA. And I think after we’re done with the tanks, they’ll be done with the arm at that point, and we’ll move the arm to another position and get ready for EVA 3.
OK, EVA 3, the third spacewalk, has Rex and Stan going outside. And it also includes the transfer of two experiments onto the exterior of Columbus that you mentioned before …
… as well as the recovery of that old Control Moment Gyroscope.
Can you talk me through the timeline?
OK, so on this EVA, EVA 3, we’re going to use the arm again to have Stan on the end of it now. So Stan’s going to get to go for a ride on the arm, and up until this point he’s been flying the arm and now he’s going to go take a ride on it. And, Leo and I are going to be working the controls in the laboratory to fly the arm. We’ll go down to the payload bay, we grab, SOLAR first, I think, take that up to its position on Columbus as an external payload rack on Columbus, so we’ll attach SOLAR on top of that. Then we’ll move to ESP-2 [External Stowage Platform 2] and grab the CMG that had failed previously, that 118, the STS-118 crew had left there. And they had actually left a little present for Rex up there, too, so he’ll see something kind of floating up there; it’s an inside joke with our EVA people. But we’ll grab CMG, bring it back, and put it on the ICC-Lite, and then we’ll grab EuTEF and take EuTEF up and install that. And then at that point, Stan will get off the arm and they will both go back and do some cleanup tasks and go back to the airlock, and I’ll fly the arm back down to another position, and we’ll be done with EVA 3.
It sounds like that’s pretty much, EVA 3 is contingent on your moving one of your crewmates and a, big hardware from one spot to another.
Oh, it is. And you know, one of the things that’s very important when we’re flying people and hardware on the end of the arm is that there’s only one thing moving at a time, ’cause if the arm is moving you don’t want the payload to be moving because you can have all kinds of dynamics in motion. So we have an agreement that if the arm is moving, the payload’s not moving, and vice versa.
How would they both be moving at the same time?
If I’m moving the arm and Rex is moving the payload in his hands—you know, if we’re trying to get close to clearance and he’s making a motion and I’m making a motion, it may be difficult for me to understand or, or to know, how much motion is being used.
And even at the very slow speeds that you’re moving, as you described before, you really still can’t have any of that other motion.
Well, one of the other problems is when someone’s on the end of the arm, the motions go so slow, that it’s sometimes hard for the EVA person to tell if the arm is moving. So in the camera views that I have, I can tell Rex, OK, we’re moving, I see good motion, and if he’s moving the payload it might be difficult for me to tell if the arm is moving or if the payload’s moving, so it’s good to have, to de-couple those two to ensure that you have safe operation of the arm.
The Canadian robotics system -- this is another good example -- it’s crucial to the ability to build this space station.
Yeah, our Canadian partners have done a wonderful job on both Canadarm1, which is on the shuttle, and especially Canadarm2 for installing and building the space station. If we didn’t have that contribution, there’d be no way that Rex could go out and manhandle Columbus in place. It goes back to the international cooperation and flavor of what this effort is all about, and it’s just remarkable that we work so well and do all of this for humankind.
This is the biggest thing that people have ever built in space, I believe, so far.
What do you think about your getting to play this part?
I’m very blessed to, one, just to be here. Even being in the studio with you here shows the teamwork. I’ve played in lots of highly-functioning teams in my past, and I would have to say that this is one of the most dynamic, highly-charged organizations for getting really difficult things done. We’ve had challenges in the past with this, this space effort, but the fruits of our labor far outweigh those, those past challenges because of what we are able to do as a group and as a team.
Our Vision for Space Exploration sees way beyond this space station, though we’re going way beyond. What’s your philosophy about the future of human space exploration?
Exploration for me is something that, that started as a little kid. I had never thought about becoming an astronaut but everything that I’ve done up to this point has been exploration. My family and I camped when I was a little boy; we always went camping in the summertime, and that whole trip from my home to this campground or this beach or this mountaintop was exploration. So it’s something that has been inside of me at a very early age. Now with me being a part of the space program, and able to take this to another level and help, maybe, inspire another kid that will say, "Hey, I can do that," and helping move from low Earth orbit to going back to the moon with CEV [Crew Exploration Vehicle] and our other vehicles, for taking us, and building a moon base, to then maybe going to the Martian surface, going into the footsteps of Spirit and Opportunity. So it’s something that in my lifetime I can see us going back to the moon and building a moon base and then maybe even going to Mars and helping excite that child, that inquisitive child, to say, "Hey, I can do that, and I can carry on this legacy of those who have done it before."