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Preflight Interview: Hans Schlegel (ESA), Mission Specialist
JSC2007-E-47686 -- Astronaut Hans Schlegel (ESA) Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world, but there [are] fewer than a dozen European astronauts. Why did you want to become one of them and be one of the people who flies in space?

Image to right: Astronaut Hans Schlegel, STS-122 mission specialist, representing the European Space Agency (ESA). Image credit: NASA

A: Well to be honest, in the beginning, it was not important to be a European astronaut. I started as a German astronaut. Important was the decision. I love what I do, and that is scientific work in the lab. I worked on optical and electrical properties of semiconductor materials in the lab, and one day, one night, better, I got a sample, I got the job: hey, can you look at this sample; it’s very interesting. I said, "What is it?"; well, it’s plumbum [lead] telluride, it has been grown in space. "What? In space? Who did that?" Oh, some German astronauts. And I realized all of a sudden, I’m a witness of the first manned spaceflight, I’m a witness of the moon program, I was always interested in that; also, I realized, hey, there is something going on in your scientific field which connects to a very, very interesting thing, that is doing experiments outside, looking at, how weightlessness can join to gain knowledge about the things you work, solid state physics. And I said, OK, when we have German astronauts bringing me these samples here, whenever Germany looks again for astronauts I will apply. And so it just happened, two years later, it happened, and I applied. I never thought I would have had a chance, but I was lucky enough to be selected, and even more fortunate, four years later, five years later, I even flew. So, basically, what I liked at that point in time, my scientific work brought me to be an astronaut. I've been an astronaut for 18 years. So I have done a lot of training for a scientific mission -- that was D2 -- doing about 90 experiments from 11 different scientific fields, and I was the scientist on board. I was the lengthened arm of the scientific teams on ground. After that, I went to Russia, learned a new language, learned the Russian space systems, and I was a backup for a German-Russian mission to space station Mir. Already then I was more board engineer, a mission specialist. And then coming back from Russia, I became a European astronaut. That was the point in time where we generated one united European astronaut corps from all the various national teams. And I was lucky enough to be, be chosen to the European team, and they sent me to NASA. And here at NASA I’m now a Mission Specialist, a board engineer. So you got my motivation and I think a little bit of my course there.

Let me get a little bit about your further background. Tell me about the place where you grew up in Germany.

Oh, you know, I’m post-war generation; I was born in ’51. The war was very present for me, for all the stories my parents told. One consequence of it we came from the eastern part of Germany, which was occupied, by the Russian side at that time in a socialistic system, and my parents decided, pretty close to the Iron Curtain, they can’t bear it, so they came over to the western part. We started out in the south, we moved up north. I have many brothers and sisters, we were nine, so they’re all spread over Germany, from Munich up to Bremen, from Aachen, which is farthest west with farthest now in the united Germany, in Berlin. So you know, Germany is one-third [the size] of Texas. I’m at home in Germany, but I consider Aachen to be my hometown. That’s the farthest western part where I studied, where I spent most of my time.

Do you have a sense of how that place and the people who are there helped make you the man that you are?

Well, what I try to get across is that I don’t have one place, and even more, when I was 17 I had the luck to be selected as an AFS, foreign exchange student, American Field Service, and I spent an exchange year in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and I spent it in a very nice family, the Duchman family. I had many, many brothers, and American brothers and sisters again. So I think that is the key point: always being a part of a bigger team, I think that made me the person I am today.

If you would, give me a thumbnail sketch of your education and your professional career up to the point of becoming an astronaut.

I went to high school -- not everybody goes to high school, or went to high school in Germany. I spent one year as a foreign exchange student in the U.S. I went back and graduated in Germany, which was 13 years of school at that time. Then I went to do my military service and I lengthened it; I became a reserve officer. After that I started studying physics. I finished with a master of physics. I worked in a scientific laboratory at the university. I changed to a public company, building instruments for nondestructive testing, eddy currents probes, magnetic flux probes. We were using that really to check out parts of automobiles, to check out huge, wide bands of metal coming out of the, I don’t even know the English name, the oven where it’s melted. And from that position I applied as an astronaut, so then I was selected as a German astronaut, I flew STS-55/D2, second German Spacelab mission. Then I went to Russia, 2½ years in Russia with interruptions, learned a new language. I learned a new cultural field. It was a real eye-opener for me, what kind of prejudices I still had … And after that, coming to the U.S., working and, again, training as a Mission Specialist, working here at JSC to help other missions, to prepare other missions, International Space Station, also shuttle missions, becoming a Capcom for roughly three years, being the lead Capcom for Increment 10, a wonderful team, and now being assigned to spaceflight, the best spaceflight I could imagine, bringing up Columbus to the International Space Station.

We all know that the part of the astronaut’s job that involves flying in space can be dangerous. What is it that you see that we gain from flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?

Yes. I think it’s human nature to explore, and part of it going outside, beyond the influence of our Earth. And this is only the first step. And what do we gain? Knowledge. We gain capabilities, and I think this is a very, very much human nature to do so. And when you emphasize the risk … We all take risks. You deciding to drive a car all your life have a higher risk getting killed, injured, while me taking a risk flying one time with a shuttle. But of course it’s condensed; it’s agreed. But every day, we take risks in order to achieve something. I think going into space, doing research, is worth the risk. Going in space, building International Space Station, which is capability on an international scale, is worth the risk. Going on later to the moon will be worth the risk. There might be losses in future, as well. We probably cannot avoid that 100 percent, and we have to be aware of that, and we have to be prepared for it. But I think, in general, that’s our nature.

You are Mission Specialist 3 on this trip to the International Space Station. Hans, would you give me a summary of the main goals of assembly mission 1E and what your primary jobs are going to be?

OK. Big things first: the mission. Main objective is to bring up Columbus to the International Space Station, adapt it, connect it to the International Space Station, activate it, check it out, and do experiments from then on in Columbus. We have a few, other tasks like the R&R, remove and replacement, of a nitrogen tank on the ISS. We also do, as all missions, transfer -- we bring things up, we bring things down; very important, this exchange capability of the shuttle -- and then, of course, last, not least, we bring up a European long-duration crew member, Leopold Eyharts. After the first week of installation and activation of Columbus, he will continue activating and then work on the experiments in Columbus. These are the main tasks. My personal involvement is the role of MS3. During shuttle operations that means being in charge of the middeck, in the post-insertion getting the middeck or even the flight deck organized, getting the suit off, stowed away, get everything ready for the flight, for the various phases in flight and, of course, shortly before entry. And then, of course, main task is, later in the mission when we are docked, to go out EVA, prepare Columbus, make Columbus ready for the mechanical connection to the International Space Station. On the way back, basically the same again, preparing the shuttle for entry, and that’s about it.

Let’s first talk about the primary payload, the European Space Agency’s new laboratory, Columbus. Introduce us to Columbus: tell us what it’s about, what it’s like, and what it adds to the space station.

Columbus is a scientific module which has been built and developed in Europe. It’s about the size of the former Spacelab, also built by Europe, flown by the shuttle. So our cooperation now in the bigger international scale of ISS has had a long history, together with NASA, and since about 15 years [ago] together with our Russian partners. So this is just the logic development, the next step, having a manned laboratory science on station around the year, with a capability of doing experiments around the year, and on the other hand having the duty to share the operational costs, the operational, difficulties with International Space Station. That means we are building a control center in Europe to follow ISS and especially Columbus and control it from ground. A couple months later we will fly ATV, the Automated Transfer Vehicle, of the Europeans, [with] another control center, another control team. This will be a tremendous step. We are becoming a more important partner for the international spaceflight community.

Tell me more about that. How, what is the importance to not only the European Space Agency but to the European nations, of having your own laboratory module on orbit?

Spaceflight is, I think, for humankind: I think it’s deep in our genes that we want to explore, and having the capability to do research in micro-g, in low Earth orbit is a great chance to find new things, to move the borderline a little bit more out to the unknown. And on the other hand, it’s the first step. So, for us in Europe it’s actually the beginning of manned spaceflight as such.

It must be pretty exciting, then, for you to be involved in that first European manned spaceflight, to this extent and to be making this trip, along with Leo Eyharts.

First of all, it’s an honor to bring up Columbus. Second, it’s also a duty, and then it’s a joy to do that with such a crew. We are a crew of seven, including another European astronaut who will stay on station after we attach Columbus. We activate Columbus. He will stay on station, continue that work, and will start the first experiment. This is just a big joy. The bigger theme, though, is that we here at NASA, we know, and I lived that since 10 years, that every step we do is the most important one, because if that step doesn’t work the next one will have to be changed, will be endangered. So always the next mission is the most difficult one, the most important one. So is it for me, but I’m very well aware that we are just one little stone on our long progress to exploration, and, our more-detailed goal is to build up space station completely and then operate it for 10, 15 years, and hopefully we’ll get very many exciting results from our experiments.

JSC2007-E-21169 -- Astronaut Hans Schlegel (ESA) Image to left: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Hans Schlegel, STS-122 mission specialist, receives assistance in donning a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for an emergency egress training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

Let me ask you to walk through the, the couple of weeks of this space shuttle mission and the process. During the second day of the flight, you’re going to be involved in spending a portion, a good portion of that day surveying the orbiter for damage. Tell me about the, the task and the experience that’s been gained in doing the surveys with the Orbiter Boom Sensor System on the past few missions.

Well, let me first start out, we have, basically, three important parts of the mission. That is the launch and the approach for the International Space Station, and that is the first two days, then we have docked time frame of seven, eight days, and after that, we have again a portion of two days where we fly alone and prepare for landing. And you ask about that first part after launch when we are in space, the first thing we have to check out, and that is since Columbia, the accident of Columbia, we need to make sure in what state we are, that our orbiter, our spaceship, is working nicely so we can do all the steps ahead of us and we don’t need to deviate. And that is what you call the early inspection. We have a robot arm on board of the shuttle since a long time; now we add another length of robotic arm, about the same, we attach both, we have special sensors on the end of that extension robotic arm, and with this, with this robotic arm now we can look at all the important parts of the shuttle. These are mainly the wing leading edges and the nose cone. And we inspect that and get a first impression about the status. On top of that, we have pictures, during, which we took during launch. We have pictures which I will take of the external tank and my colleague Leland [Melvin] will take from the external tank, if foam came off. All this is put to ground and ground does a huge job of analyzing it and finding out later in the flight where we need to go and look detailed for. Hopefully we don’t have to do that, and even more so, we hope we don’t have to repair anything. But we could. And now you ask what changed. Basically, after Columbia we came up with that concept—we, I mean, NASA. And, everything is pretty well thought out and works pretty much as advertised. Of course, we do regular flights now using this, so the main difference is the process of getting the data is streamlined, it’s more efficient. The process of analyzing, have much more experience doing that. So it’s getting kind of a routine job. But basically, the thought-out process works.

Let’s talk about the delivery of Columbus after Steve Frick docks the shuttle to the International Space Station. The delivery of Columbus will begin with the spacewalk the following day, and of course, you’re going to be right in the middle of that. Have you gotten a lot of advice from fellow astronauts about what it’s like to go fly in your own little spaceship, the EMU [extravehicular mobility unit]?

Definitely. And I think I need to stress here, you know, that sounds like, oh, by the way, and oh, give me your personal feedback. It’s not that way. Indeed, it’s very formalized, that we exchange information of past missions, in many ways. First of all, all these lessons learned are somewhat integrated in our training flow, and especially for EVA. EVA is another little spaceflight mission within the bigger mission, and we have several phases of our training. It starts with ASCAN [astronaut candidate] training where we have basic training, where we go in that about 250-pounds heavy suit into the pool, underwater, 10 yards under water, and work on structures, on models, just to learn how to move, how it is to work in that suit, how to survive, how to function in that suit. Then, after a while, in my case, after four years, we start a so-called skills program where we do repeatedly runs, about 10 in my case. We don’t get a scenario in front, we are just put in the water and have a basic idea of what to do, and then while, during the run, special circumstances develop and you gain the skill to react to them accordingly with the capabilities you have. And then comes the mission, and then starts mission training. We have a dedicated task to do and we do a lot more planning. The whole team does the planning. And we go in the water and, believe it or not, even with this big team, we find out surprises, because nothing is like working in weightlessness, and the pool really resembles this quite well. And then, not enough with that, we also do runs in a vacuum chamber, to experience how it is to be in that suit in vacuum and not in water. Water is different. In water, you can kind of swim; you have still the resistance of water. In vacuum, you don’t. So all that, during that process, you get a lot of formal, informal, written, knowledge, gain of knowledge, transfer of knowledge, and most important you make the experience yourself. And then, of course, triggered by that, you go out and ask people who come back from their mission, you ask dedicated questions, and, you talk personally to them. You talk, very formal sometimes with them, and it is important to document what you find out. So, yes, short answer, yes. Vast transfer of knowledge is done, and I’m looking anxiously forward to do an EVA. It has been a dream since I’ve been an astronaut for me to go EVA one time, and I will do that, and I have the important task—important task for Europe—to do the first step to make it possible to integrate Columbus onto the International Space Station. It’s a, it’s really an honor and a joy to work towards that.

Tell us the story, then. Tell me about EVA 1. You and Rex [Walheim] are going to go outside and do the work to prepare Columbus to be delivered.

Yeah. The task on EVA 1 is basically to get Columbus ready to be taken out of the payload bay, and that the robotic arm does. From then on when we have gotten Columbus ready it’s going to be attached to the International Space Station; that’s done by the robotic arm operators, it’s done by the CBM [Common Berthing Mechanism] operators, all inside and supported by a huge team of people on ground. While they do that, in the second part of EVA, we go and prepare replacement of a Nitrogen Tank Assembly on the International Space Station. And basically, that’s it. So the second part of EVA, we are standing by in case something goes wrong unexpectedly. But you probably want a little bit more detail…

Tell me …

… about the task…


… how we get Columbus ready. There are basically, three steps. First step is, we need to put the attachment point onto Columbus, that attachment point which makes it possible for the robotic arm to grapple. This hasn’t been foreseen from the beginning on. It’s a consequence of the fact that we fly the extension robotic arm, the OBSS, because that would have interfered with that grapple fixture. That’s why we needed to remove it from Columbus, put it to the side board, and now we go out, remove panels, micrometeoroid protection, panels from Columbus, we get that grapple fixture from the side wall of the shuttle, we put it in, we bolt it together, we connect electrical cables, two of them with four connections on both sides, onto it, we put the panels back. That is the first step. Second step is, we need to remove protective covers of the surface which will, very tightly, vacuum-tight, connect Columbus and the International Space Station. We remove these protective covers, we inspect the seals, if everything is fine. And the third step of all is we disconnect the electrical connectors to Columbus which are there to keep Columbus in a steady temperature range when it’s in the payload bay of the shuttle during launch. Once we are in orbit the payload bay opens and we are just looking out into space, and it cools down, so we need to heat Columbus, we need to control the temperature. I remove that, hoping that shortly after the robotic arm goes out there, grabs onto Columbus and can now give power to Columbus. That is the pretty benign task, actually, but, I hope it came clear that every step has to work. If you cannot remove the panels, we have a problem. If you cannot remove the fixture, the grapple fixture on the side wall, we have a problem. Everything has to work and fit into the right spot.

Every task is there for a reason.


The second portion of the EVA, while the arm is delivering Columbus, you said, has you and Rex up on the truss of the space station. Tell me about what you do up there.

OK. The Nitrogen Tank Assembly, it’s nothing else but a big, huge tank for nitrogen, high-pressure nitrogen. And that nitrogen is used to pressurize the cooling system outside, the ammonia cooling system. Once we have pressurized it’s just to prepare in case the cooling loop needs to be shut down and afterwards restarted. For that, we need that nitrogen. And that tank which is up there right now is about used up to two-thirds, and so we exchange it for future operations. And what does that mean? We need to disconnect it mechanically. They are just pretty big bolts. On the other hand we need to disconnect the electrical connectors -- again, heaters, lines for data, for control commands to this tank, and on the back side, and that I personally will do. I disconnect the high-pressure lines of nitrogen. Not of course before we have shut off these lines and we have vented these lines, and then we hope these lines come off easily. They have been there, connected under high pressure for five years, so that will be a surprise, but we are prepared, and we hope everything works as advertised.

It also occurs to me that you may have a really nice perspective from up there on the truss of Columbus being put into place out on the side of Node 2.

That is definitely true for my colleague, for Rex Walheim. The nitrogen tank is on top, on the truss, and we pull it out from aft to forward, and Columbus is forward, so Columbus, all that happens in our back. And then I go on the back side. You think, oh, I can look above the truss and below the truss. No. The truss is huge, it’s about 4.5 meters, so 5 yards. My view is just blocked by that truss. No, I’m back there in no man’s land, because there is no camera really looking there. Only my helmet camera is looking at the nitrogen tank, all the tasks I do. But it will be, indeed, a very nice experience. You know, in case you have half a minute to wait for something the ground has to do, you just turn around and you see the Earth below you, you see the stars at nighttime. It will be a wonderful experience.

That first spacewalk concludes with Columbus attached to Node 2, but you all don’t get to go inside Columbus until the following day. Talk a little bit about what has to be done, then, before you can open the door and go inside the European laboratory.

Well, that’s indeed, a good question; often underestimated, what we need to do. You put Columbus onto the space station, and now you need to make sure that, you know, where they meet, the seal, the vacuum seal around, is really keeping tight. And you do that not by just opening the door and see what happens; you just keep the hatches closed until you test every little volume by itself and find out how good these seals are performing. Once you’re sure about that you open hatches, you remove protective covers -- all for thermal reasons and for meteoroid protection reasons -- and then you need to put some connections in there: electrical power, cooling, water cooling, air cooling. You need data cables for telemetry, data from Columbus to command lines, to get the commands into Columbus, and then, you go and open Columbus a little bit, and get things which are there for launch out without having light, without having fresh air. You just need the, get the negative protection valve, negative pressure relief valves, out. Then you need to reconfigure air duct lines that, in diameter, that thick in diameter [holds his fingers in a circle a few inches across], you need to put in some valves which allow us, the rest of the space station, to control the contact to Columbus with air, to shut it off in an emergency case. It’s not easy to imagine what kind of provisions you really need to make Columbus an integral part of space station, interacting as well, and all that is done during the first day. Then, indeed, we only go then into Columbus the next day when I’m, again, out for the next EVA. And once we have everything established, everything works right, we power up first of all the electrical power supply, then we power up heater units, what we talked about before; you need to thermally control Columbus. Then we pull up various computers which control Columbus and check it out. And, basically, it’s a process taking the rest of the flight to continue that task, and once we have the basic things done, then of course we can fully open the hatch, we can turn on the lights, and we can enter Columbus and start working on the activation of the system and the payloads.

Tell me about some of those things that have to be done during the docked operations, before you leave, but, well, that Leo will continue to do, I guess, after you’re gone.

Yeah, but there’s even more. What I described so far is just the connection of Columbus. Now, once we have the hatch open and we go in, we find a huge laboratory, about half of it is equipped with racks, with experiment racks and system racks, and half of them are still open for racks to come. We have to keep in mind that half of Columbus is, bartered: that means it will be handed over to the U.S. side to do their experiments, to bring racks from the American laboratory into Columbus. So Columbus on orbit will change in shape. So during launch we distributed the racks in such a way that the, mass, the center of mass, is in the right spot. Now we come there and we need to rearrange these racks. At least three of them we have to move to a different spot, and once we have them moved to a different spot, we start doing the same as we did with Columbus, now with a little experiment. "Little” is one-and-a-half yards wide and about two-and-a-little-bit-more yards high, and we have to connect power, we have to connect cooling, water, air cooling, data, telemetry capability. We have to go into, maybe, on the back side of the right, to remove launch locks. These are just mechanical connections to make it capable for this, delicate experiment hardware to sustain, to survive the launch load, the vibrations, the acceleration. All that will be done, and, I will not have the fortune to see it fully function, but at least the mechanical reconfiguration, removing of launch locks, at least for most of the racks, we’ll be able to do that. The next step after we have rearranged everything, then when we leave and Leo stays on station, he does the rest of that activation, and he will start the first experiments.

JSC2007-E-14458 -- Astronaut Hans Schlegel (ESA) Image to right: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Hans Schlegel, STS-122 mission specialist, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a post insertion/de-orbit training session in one of the full-scale trainers in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

The day after you first go into Columbus is the day for the second spacewalk, and this is you and Rex going outside again. Tell me about the, the tasks for EVA 2, which I think picks up where you left off on EVA 1.

Yes, and you know it sounds so simple, just exchange a nitrogen tank, but you have to realize, there is one spot in station -- in fact, there are two, but we are only dealing with one -- where the nitrogen tank is, and in our payload bay there is the other tank. Now you need to exchange them, so you need to intermediately stow them in order to be able to free the next side where it needs to, to go in. And then, what is the size -- did I say that already? It’s about a yard times a yard times one and a half yards, and the weight is roughly 500 pounds. It’s quite a heavy thing. You cannot just put it on your back and move and get it there. We are in the arm, we remove the tank, and then the arm is flying us with the tank to a place where we either install it or intermediately stow it. And that choreography is very well thought out. We take the new tank out, we go to the new tank, which we bring in the payload bay, we put it to the truss and temporarily stow; we go to the truss, take the old one out, stow it very closely to the new one, take the new one and, install it. Remember, the installation includes mechanical connections, electrical connections and then, the hydraulic, or let’s say nitrogen, highly pressurized, and after that, you have to close thermal covers to keep it protected from thermal influences by the environment. Then, once we have done, we have installed the new one, the ground will check it out, and we are still around. If something didn’t go right we can look after it and maybe correct it. Hopefully [that will] not [be] needed. And in the meantime, we take the old one, which is close by, and fly it back -- we call that flying when we are out there on the arm carrying that heavy payload, what we call our ORU, Orbital Replacement Unit, and move it back to the payload bay, install it there. And here again, it’s critical. We cannot afford to have that tank come loose, so we need to pay attention and mechanically connect [it] as solid as we, we brought it up, make sure that the MLI [multi-layer insulation], the cover is secured, and fastened properly, and, we hope that we will be done with two-thirds of the EVA, and then we have some get-ahead tasks like putting out some cables which are needed for future flights when we have a shuttle coming up using power from station to make a longer stay on station for the shuttle possible, and there are some cables out there which need to be connected. Remember, we have now Node 2 up there, that is where we dock Columbus on, that’s where, we are the first shuttle flight docking on the node; now these cable connections are still out there, disconnected, and we need to go, as a get-ahead task, to connect these cables.

There is a third spacewalk scheduled for the docked operations, with Rex and Stan [Love] doing the work outside to transfer some experiments to the exterior of Columbus and retrieve a Control Moment Gyroscope that was left there for you. Talk a bit about what those tasks are for, for Rex and Stan on EVA 3.

Yeah. You know, the Europeans, I think, are a little bit disappointed that we do that on the third EVA, because, two of these which we call payload experimental instruments, we wait ’til the third EVA to take it out of the payload bay and to position it outside onto Columbus. These are two major payloads. It’s SOLAR: it’s an instrument -- again, roughly 500 pounds, give or take a hundred pounds, so a huge instrument -- which we put out there on Columbus pointing upward toward the sun measuring various parameters of the sun around the clock, around the year; very interesting experiments, very interesting results we expect from that. And the second one is EuTEF, European Technology [Exposure] Facility, and that is again a facility which houses more than 14 different experiments which take advantage of the vacuum, the radiation, and the, and the special environment up there in space. And we put that also out there. For both of these we need to take them out of the payload bay, we fly them with the arm out there, and we attach them. Again, everything involves, electrical connections, mechanical connections, and most important, while we do that not to damage it, not to bump into things; you know, easily said, but it’s our major task to do that the right way. And then the third task, which they do, also very interesting, is to, bring down a Control Moment Gyro[scope]. Why do we bring it down? Space station has, as you probably know, four of those, and they are needed to control the altitude of space station. And, usually, around the day all the cancellation, or the change of the altitude, cancels it out; the mean value stays pretty much the same. And because of that we can use these control gyros. And one of those, or several of those, one after the other, started to fail. They have only a predicted lifetime, but the lifetime of, in reality is a little bit shorter, and why is that? And this one, CMG 3, we shut down when it showed the first signs of failure. So by bringing it down in that state, we expect from opening up the bearings and looking at them to find out what the core cause of our problem is, and that is development, technical development for the future, not only for space station, but for any satellite which is out there -- meteorological, GPS [Global Positioning System], maybe in the future Galileo satellites, which need that stabilization. If they use a gyro, we will learn from that.

You mentioned earlier that, there is, there is another European Space Agency contribution to the station that’s going to be engaged here shortly after your mission: the first of the Automated Transfer Vehicles, due to arrive at ISS. Tell me about that craft and what it adds to ISS.

Yeah, what it adds is basically another, line of, getting supplies up to station. And the background we should really make clear. What do we really need to operate space station? We need to use vehicles which bring up supplies, that is, food, clothes, water, that means replacement units, things will fail, and of course, new experimental setups. And of course, people. So we separate that, in Europe at least. We build a vehicle only bringing up things. So, but on the hand, that unmanned vehicle will be docked to a manned vehicle, International Space Station, so in some sense it needs to follow the rules and fulfill the safety requirements for manned vehicles. And this is a step Europe never has done. And we use the chance to be a partner on International Space Station, not only bring up what we are good in, historically, experiments and research modules, but also to gain a new capability, and that is bringing up a vehicle which does a rendezvous and docking approach and then finally docking to the space station by itself, and bringing up supplies. And this is, of course, needed. I mentioned that before. Here I want to stress again: the international community, to operate ISS; we don’t only gain privileges to be on station, we also gain duties, and that is to take part in the operational cost, to take responsibility and help repair space station in case something goes wrong, and of course, do the everyday business like what I said before, but also on top, space station needs to be reboosted, reboosted once in a while, because in 400 kilometers, 250 miles height, we still have some residual resistance, there is still atmosphere out there, so the space station comes down every minute, every second, a little bit. So once in a while we need to reboost it, and with ATV Europe will do its share to help to keep space station up there running.

The ATV is going to be controlled from a control center in France; the Columbus control center is located in Germany. It strikes me that, that’s, starting up two control centers is going to add some complexity for European ground operations.

Definitely true, but, NASA has two control centers. Basically, we are all united here, but, basically, it is two control teams. One control team controls the shuttle, the other control team controls International Space Station, at least the U.S. part of it. And with U.S. part we mean also the international partners. And just giving you a short, description of that control center, there’s several hundred people. We have in the front room, being directly in that one central control room, might be 20, might be 30 persons, but each of these persons have, again, a back room with people supporting sometimes around the clock, 24 hours, to solve problems or to think ahead. And indeed, this is a huge undertaking, and Europe, indeed, starts it up for Columbus, bringing Columbus up there and then integrating it and then operating Columbus, and that is the first time that we’ll ever use a control center year-around. So this is really a new capability. On the other hand, ATV comes up, I just elaborated a little bit on that, what that means, a new quality of spaceflight, actually, and another control team and control center. You are completely right, this is a huge undertaking, but it’s that major step which will make us a more important partner to NASA, to the international community, and this is logic to, tackle the future tasks. Let me add one more thing. There’s one control center in Germany, a European control center. There’s one European control center in France. We are on the verge of being a united Europe, and I think ESA and our task and our participation in the International Space Station could be a role model how future Europe works, how we will work worldwide for larger undertakings in the future. And, I’m very proud to be a part of that, creating this united Europe for the future.

It’s very exciting to have that additional European participation along with the U.S. and Russian and Canadian and, soon to come, the Japanese, but all of that is leading towards something that’s beyond the International Space Station. Hans, tell me about your philosophy of the future of human exploration in space.

Yeah, I will come to that, but first of all building space station is the first step. The next important step is using it, and that means regularly bringing experiments up, conducting them, getting the results down, and working with the results for the benefit on our life here on Earth, but also for the benefit of life in orbit and gaining new capabilities, and here is where your question aims at. Space station is an important stepping-stone, and I’m really proud and that’s why I am working in that field, to make that happen. But it’s human nature that we want to go beyond what we know today. That’s why I studied physics, why I became a researcher, that’s why I became an astronaut, and other people work in the same field. And the next step, when we gain the knowledge and the capability to do all the things we want with space station, the next step is, now, could we leave low Earth orbit? That’s only 300 miles, maximum, outside of the Earth. Could we leave and go back to the moon and use the moon this time for a longer time, like a space telescope on the back side of the moon, like for learning to building to a habitat on a planet with some gravity and to learn the use the resources we find locally to sustain our presence there. And then with the next explicitly-written step, then we want to go and visit Mars and build a habitat. Mars has potentially the potential to support human life. So even if we are there I think exploration will not stop as long as we treat our mother spaceship, Earth, as nicely and as carefully as we do with our little spaceships. I’m very confident that we will once even travel to other, other solar systems.