Q: This is a question that you’ve probably been asked a few times before but knowing the odds against actually becoming an astronaut, what made you want to apply?
Image to right: Astronaut Richard M. Linnehan, STS-123 mission specialist. Image credit: NASA
Preflight Interview: Richard Linnehan, Mission Specialist
A: It’s just something I always wanted to do. I always wanted in the back of my head to apply to the astronaut corps and see if I could get in. And, you know, I never knew that I would or thought that I would. Actually I just hoped. I remember watching when I was 12, when they landed on the moon, watching all that and I’m like, “My God, they’re walking on the moon!?” When the shuttle flew for the first time, I was in veterinary school, I’m a veterinarian, and I watched all the landings on TV. I used to skip classes to go watch the landings. I started looking and they had doctors and they had geologists and physicists so I’m like, “Well, you know, they need a veterinarian because, you know, why not?” and I knew they were going to build a station and they were going to do some physiologic human and animal based experiments, life sciences stuff there some day. So I thought, “Well, when I’m out of vet school,” I always thought I would have like to have been a pilot or veterinarian and I ended up choosing the veterinary route. “Well, what’s the next best thing? How do I get back into this?” So I’m going to apply to NASA and see if I could get in the astronaut corps. And I got an interview and came for an interview and I guess did OK. I never really thought, you know, it was great just to say I did an interview, got an interview with NASA -- and I got accepted. And at that point it was like, “Well, I guess here I come. Houston, here I come.” So I’ve been here 15 years now and this will be my fourth mission. I’ve been lucky. I fully think that there are a thousand other people out there that could do the job as good or better than I could. It was just doing well in an interview and having the right skill set for that period of time. So everybody out there, with the skill sets if they’re interested ought to be thinking about applying if they want to fly in space or be part of the space program.
Could you recreate for us the moment when you found out that you had been selected as an astronaut candidate? When they called, where were you? How did it happen? How did you feel?
I was in the military. I was in the Army working for the Navy and I was standing out on a pier in the middle of San Diego harbor. I had been busy all day in the water with a bunch of animals that I was taking care of and I didn’t know that NASA had called eight or nine times. I was just saying, “I’ll call them back” because they never told me it was NASA. They’d just say, “You got a bunch of phone calls.” I’d go, “I’m too busy.” So when I went, when I went back in the office I had all these Post-its all over the wall saying, “Hey, you need to call NASA right away. It’s important.” That was like 8:30 a.m. and it’s like 4 in the afternoon now with another one. So I called back and I get the, the gauge at that time was Don Puddy, the head of FCOD and if he called you, you were in and if Dwayne called you, Dwayne Ross called you, that wasn’t good. So I called up and it said, “Dwayne Ross wants to talk to you”, so I go, “Hey, Dwayne.” I called up and it’s Dwayne and it’s like, oh, “Hi, Dwayne.” I didn’t want to sound like too bad. I was like, “Should I even call him back?” He goes, “Hey, Rick, I have someone I want to talk to you,” and he puts Don Puddy on the line. So, of course, it was kind of like the good cop/bad cop thing and he goes, “Hey, how would you like to be here?” I said, “Yeah,” and I took off, ran off the pier and jumped in the harbor. So it was like, screaming out, I remember that. So that was a red letter day for me. And that was like 15 years ago now and that’s in 1992. But I still remember it.
NASA’s currently recruiting the next class of astronaut candidates. What advice would you give to one who’s thinking about applying?
Get ready for a lot of work. Get ready for a lot of things you didn’t expect you’d have to do. You’re going to have to kind of give up a lot of your career in terms of what you used to use your skill set for and learn a lot of things you never would think you would have to learn, and at the same time bring it all together somehow and figure out how to meld it all to use everything at some other time. It’s a very different kind of place in terms of how to function so you have to become I would say a Jack or Jill of all trades and that’s operationally, bureaucratically have to stay in shape, have to think about keeping your body as healthy as possible and you have to study a whole lot. The initial couple years of astronaut training are like drinking from a fire hose. It was the only thing that I’ve had similar to that was my veterinary school education early on, too. So there’s a lot to learn and you have to learn it fast and you have to come up to speed with your feet running and so it’s important that you have the skill set for that and that’s why NASA … But I guess the, the short of it is you've got to do well in school, study hard and if you really want to be an astronaut get ready for some hard work but get ready for some big payoffs if you’re selected.
Tell us about the place that you consider your hometown and how growing up there and the people there made you the person that you are today.
Well, I grew up in Massachusetts until I was about oh, about 12 or 13 and then moved to southern New Hampshire so I guess that I could say that, you know, I have Lowell, Mass., as the place where I grew up and then Pelham, N.H., as kind of my hometown after that up through high school and into college. And I can’t really say that either of those places, the geographic locations made me what I am. But I can say the people I interacted with -- my grandparents raised me, and if it wasn’t for them, I’d never would be here. The teachers that I had growing up through elementary school and in high school through college, obviously all had a big, big influence on me in terms of what I wanted to do. Getting interested early in veterinary medicine and biological sciences and in general medicine was a big thing for me. And a lot of people early on in my undergraduate education helped me a lot. If it wasn’t for them I would never have probably been accepted into veterinary school and, if it wasn’t for veterinary school, I would probably never have been accepted into the Navy program that I ended up working for in the military, and if it wasn’t for the Navy program I probably would have never been accepted by NASA. So everything builds on. So you can trace everything back to a time when you were like 5 or 6 years old where someone did something for you and got you interested in something and then look at all the way, that chain the whole way and know that if I’d done this or hadn’t done this or done that, then maybe I wouldn’t be here today. It was all because of those people. You could go on and on but I can think of, you know, discrete instances and things throughout my life that, where people have made me make decisions about things and kind of turn corners that have helped in a whole lot of ways.
You’ve kind of touched on your education as well as your journey to NASA so…
Yeah, just put it all together.
That’s fine. You flew in STS-78, STS-90. You also flew on STS-109 which you had mentioned was the Hubble telescope servicing mission. STS-123 is your fourth flight. What is your perspective on space travel now as you prepare for your fourth flight?
Like I said, stick a pin in me. I can’t believe, I just can’t believe I, I’m still here actually. I’m getting old now but I’ve got one last flight. My perspective now is that it’s really important we finish the station and get everybody involved because if we’re going to continue this whole thing about human exploration of space, it’s got to be, it’s got to be global. The best way to do this is the initial test bed, the International Space Station. It’s actually not only doing things in space but it’s getting all the different countries and organizations on the ground some experience in how to work together and get things done. And if we can’t do that more than likely we’re going to have [a] problem getting to Mars because that is going to be a multinational effort. Now, I had always hoped that we would go back to the moon. I would love to go to the moon and be one of those guys. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ll be a little too old. But I can look at people in the office that, that are coming in right now and say, “Hey, you know, you could be going to the moon again.” And then, “If you go to the moon, then, hey, Mars isn’t that far off,” or, “You may not go to Mars but you could easily make this moon with the new vehicle and all that and then you’re going to train that next generation.” So it’s kind of like you’re looking at everybody coming in, and I’m placing myself in their shoes. I’m 50 now. When I started I was 34, 35. And all these guys, a couple guys I’m flying with, they’re in their late thirties. They actually have the potential to do the shuttle, the station and go right on to CEV and maybe go to the moon if they stay long enough. That kind overlap is a good thing with everybody because they continue all that. That's how we get back to the moon and to Mars. And we’re going to do that with a multinational effort. So I think for me, the biggest benefit of the space station is not only the operational stuff that we learn to do, EVAs and working in space and living together up there, it’s that everybody has learned on the ground how to work together and communicate globally and that’s going to be a really important aspect of human exploration as we move into the next century.
What advice, what advice do you have for your, your first time flyer crew members?
Don’t move around too fast. Take it real easy and if you feel like you’re going to be sick, have that bag ready.
Flying in space has proven to be a very dangerous endeavor. What do you think we gain from space flight that makes you so willing to risk that danger?
As I alluded to in the previous questions, it’s a multinational effort. We have to learn to work together globally if we’re going to continue human exploration, you know, past the moon and Mars, who knows, to who knows where. But I think if you don’t explore you lose -- you lose that intangible that for me was always there when I was a kid watching the early space program with the original seven and all that, in terms of being interested and knowing that there’s something out there that’s off the planet. We can leave the planet and go some place else. We can get kids interested in areas maybe they never thought they were interested in or never thought that it was worth being interested in because there was no chance they’d ever get to do anything like that. I don’t just think it’s in this country now or Europe but that could be a global kind of thing. And it’s a big driver, I think; the space program is a big driver with imagination and creation and getting kids interested globally in science. That’s kind of a nebulous term but it may be in education or it may be in ways that they can better themselves, that they can find the tools to work on problems that are near to them in their countries or in their towns or whatever -- but also with what they’ve learned, go wherever they want to go. I don’t think there’s any other government agency or any other agency that, at all anywhere, for me at least and I’m biased I know, that still has that kind of, I don’t want to say this is really sci-fi, but this, but this imagination aspect of it where, you know, “Hey, you know. I’m, I’m flying. I’m leaving the planet this week. I’ll be back in two weeks. And, you know, I’m going to a space station. It’s traveling at 17,500 mph and we’re going to go build things in a vacuum in spacesuits and I’ll be back next week.” I mean, where else are you going to do something like that? And when you really start thinking about that, you can watch a movie but this is better than any movie. This is for real. And people can actually do this. That’s what got me interested in science. I think one of the main benefits that the space program has, outside of what we’re already doing -- the obvious, sending people into space and maybe colonizing other planets some day -- is keeping each generation interested in that and, and letting them know that we’re driving forward, we’re going to do something here, that we are going some place and that you can be a part of it. We’re not just going to be this insular planet that just sits and doesn’t do anything. This has been likened back to things before about colonization of the United States or Columbus coming over … If we don’t explore as a society or as a country or better yet as a species, I think at some point you lose something and you become just kind of lackluster. You've got to have that carrot. To me the space program’s the biggest carrot we have as a species so we've got to keep it.
Rick, give us a summary of the primary goals of the STS-123/1JA Mission to the International Space Station, both hardware transfers and a crew exchange.
We’re exchanging crews. We’re going to bring up Garrett [Reisman] and bring back Leo [Eyharts]. We’ve got a lot of hardware going up. It’s a multi-national mission as all space shuttle, ISS missions, are actually, but we’re flying Canadian and Japanese hardware. We’re flying the special purpose dexterous manipulator, SPDM, otherwise called Dextre, for the Canadians. It's built by MDA and it’s managed through the Canadian Space Agency. We’ll construct it on orbit -- myself, Garrett and Mike Foreman on the first two EVAs. The other big piece of equipment we’re bringing up, actually is the biggest piece of equipment and takes up most of the payload bay, is the ELM-PS as you said or we call it the JLP for short. It’s got all kinds of different abbreviations so sometimes you, you have to think about which abbreviation you’re going to use this day. Anyway, it’s the small module, one-sixth, they say, of Kibo. It will be the logistics module that eventually will sit on top of the large module. When we first bring it up, it will be positioned up on the Node 2 and then, as a temporary location, and then brought around after the large JEM is placed by the next mission and put on the top of the JEM. You’ll be able to actually go down to the end of JEM, look straight up and have another little room upstairs which is the JLP. On the end of the JEM will be a larger robotics facility with several small arms. So we’ve got a full plate in terms of hardware, in terms of mission preparation and training.
You mentioned it’s going to be in a temporary location and can you touch on why you’d bring up a piece first, have to put it in a temporary location and then, and then later on you’re going to have to move it again.
That’s a good question, a good point. It’s a bit of a shell game with the station in terms of construction with modules because you’ve got these things called nodes and each node has you could say plug in points. If you’ve had tinker toys and you had those ends where you could plug in several different connectors into one main piece, that’s kind of what the nodes are and depending on how the modules are located and where we’re going to place our modules for power consumption, internal air circulation, things of that nature, they all play a part in terms of initial placement of modules. When the JLP goes up it has to be left there and connected, but it can’t be connected in a spot that the, the main JEM module is going to be connected. You’d have to have a big cork when you took it off. So you have to put it some place else. We have two ports, so to speak. We put it on the top port and when the main module comes up we put it on the side port of the node and then we’re able to close that top port off and then move the small module back over once the JEM is up and running. Pressurized and there’s power and then the JLP will be relocated and it will become one large piece of Japanese hardware so function in totality.
So quite a shell game.
Yeah, it’s a shell game.
Once the JLP’s installed, what kind of access will there be? Can you actually be able to, will the crew be able to access and use it?
Takao Doi and I, Takao is the prime on the JLP or the ELM-PS. He’s from the JAXA, Japanese Space Agency. This will be his second flight and I’ll assist Takao in the operation, the initial operations in getting JLP up to speed in terms of opening up, pressurizing it after it has been relocated. Takao will actually relocate that with the shuttle arm and put it on the top of the node, lock it in through some robotic operations where giant bolts drive and actually seal the modules together and then once that’s complete, we’ll be able to open it up. After all the safety checks are done in terms of atmosphere, fire, all the standard safety things that need to be done before you can ingress a module, we will ingress and then begin to bring systems up on-line. Initially it won’t be a place that we will nominally habitate because a lot of things have to happen before relocation in terms of fire circuits and bringing things on-line that way so it doesn’t have its full up capability yet but yet it’s still an open compartment that people can go in and use logistically, for storage, things like that. Some of the modules or racks that will go into the large JEM facility are being transported up in the JLP so we will initially transfer some of those racks, open things up and get things ready. We’ll do as much work as we can for the next crew which is STS-124, which will have the lion’s share of work with the large JEM.
Earlier you talked about international hardware on this one and if you could share with us your thoughts about adding this initial piece of Japanese hardware to the station in regards to an increased international presence on the ISS.
We’re having kind of a growth spurt right now in terms of we’re finally getting the international partners on-line, so to speak, in terms of the modules up and running. It’s almost an exponential growth in space aboard the ISS and in terms of scientific capability and also bringing in, bringing in a larger crew with larger space, larger power capability with the new arrays that are up there. We’re able to put more modules and we’re able to open up space. I think the JEM itself is about the size of a Greyhound bus. It’s a really big module. It’s going to give us a lot more operational space and I think once we have that happening with Columbus and all that, that’s when we’re going to be looking at increasing crew size and bringing people up and we’ll have a true multi-national crew on ISS.
Can you tell us a little bit about your training for delivering this piece.
Training for the JLP is, it’s a lot of robotics training for our Commander Dom Gorie and Takao Doi in terms of what they’ll do for the transfer because it’s going up in the shuttle payload bay. For the EV guys, Garrett Reisman and I will go out on the first EVA and we’ll actually translate from the airlock of the space station and go down the truss back over across the lab and, where the JLP will be, straight down into the payload bay and we’ll do some initial reconfiguration with power cords, things of that nature, on the JLP and we have to go to the back of the JLP and take off some covers which protect the mating surfaces. So once we take those covers off, we’ll transport those back and then that will free up the mating surfaces so that when the JLP does come around, there’ll be a clean mate to the top of the node. And we’ll actually be out there and, and there’ll be several things going on at once robotically so we may get a good picture here as we look up and see the arms flying around with large pieces of machinery being hoisted over to the main part of the station. Once we’re done with our aspects of the EVA with the JLP, we will go and start construction on the Canadian piece of hardware we talked about which is the SPDM, flown in the payload bay in something called the Spacelab pallet. That Spacelab pallet will previously have been moved, transported up and around and be put on the truss of the space station and we will at that point go back up on the truss out of the payload bay and start work on construction of the SPDM or Dextre which will take at least two EVAs to complete.
And, and as far as training for the JLP you’ve done that, I guess, at the NBL.
Image to left: Astronaut Richard M. Linnehan, STS-123 mission specialist, is wearing a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center, Houston. Image credit: NASA
Yeah. The external EVA stuff we’ve done at the NBL and I also spent a week in Japan at JAXA doing the initialization ingress parts of the training for the JLP when we relocate it and we’re able to get inside it internally.
So you’ve actually had experience with the actual piece of hardware that you’re going to be delivering.
Yes, at least a mockup of it.
As you mentioned, the second piece of hardware is going to be the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator or Dextre for short.
Tough to say in a long string out there, SPDM.
What is Dextre and what type of capabilities is it going to add to the International Space Station?
Ah, the SPDM or Dextre is for want of a better word a giant robot. It’s this really amazing looking, dexterous … If you could picture what a praying mantis would look like, that’s what I liken Dextre to. I grew up with cartoons and sci-fi and there used to be this show on when I was a kid called ‘Gigantor, the Space Age Robot’ and so, you know, my pet name for Dextre is ‘Gigan…’. It’s this giant robot with arms and out-riggers and all this equipment, with wrists and hands that actually moves and can, can articulate itself all over the station. It will sit on the end of the SSRMS, the large station robotic arm, and be able to be flown around and actually interface with equipment -- go in, lock down on it, change out ORUs, Orbital Replacement Units, large boxes or parts, pieces of station and actually take the place of some of what we have to do as humans when we do EVAs. We’re hoping that helps us a lot in terms of longevity with maintenance and R&Rs on station components having the SPDM up there to work with us because while we’re inside it literally can over a course of days be working on the outside, removing and changing out boxes for us and also function as a large extension. It actually helps us reach areas that we normally couldn’t reach with the SSRMS. So it’s a pretty important piece of equipment and it’s a pretty capability-wise and operation, a pretty amazing piece of equipment and when you look at it, it’s a pretty cool piece of equipment. So it’s kind of fun to be able to say that, when you leave and you see this big robot on the outside of the station that you built it and it’ll be good.
So it sounds like you’ve had a lot of training, I guess, putting Dextre together, assembling Dextre and, and where did you do that training?
All the training EVA-wise down in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, NBL … . We did some training in Canada already for some of the sub-systems and looking at the parts of this SPDM before it’s been assembled. All of it’s down at the Cape now at KSC waiting for integration onto the space lab pallet so it can be put in the shuttle’s payload bay and launched aboard Endeavour. Most of our training now, EVA-wise, has been completed in the NBL. And once that robot is together, it’ll actually be rotated out of the SLP. The arm will come in and actually interface with the SPDM, take it off and then it will fly it over and attach it to the station where we’ll leave it until we, we’re done.
Let’s talk about some of the early part of the mission. Even though nighttime occurs about every 45 minutes during orbit, let’s talk about what we would call here on Earth ‘your first night in space’. You’ve just experienced an intense launch into low Earth orbit. You’re traveling at 17,500 mph and flight day 2 is going to be extremely busy. Do you think you’re actually going to be able to get any rest that night, that first night in space?
A good question. You know, every day up there is extremely busy. I can’t really remember any days that I had in space that weren’t busy, maybe with the exception of one where we had a half day off which was really nice. But any time you get up there to just look out the window, slow down and take a, a breath is good time. The first day up there, that first night, people sometimes don’t feel that well. Even if you’ve flown two or three times, you can’t be 100 percent certain that you’re not going to feel differently than you did all those other times and maybe not be as good. So we talk a lot about that. We talk about medical preparation, fluid loading, not getting dehydrated, how important sleep is that night and you don’t want to tax people too much too soon. You want to let them kind of get their space legs, so to speak. So along those lines, a lot of the scheduling of what we do kind of takes that into account although there are some things that just have to get done. So, if you’re not feeling well, you just have to work through it and then that first night, try to get some good sleep. Usually by the second and sometimes maybe it takes up to the third day, people are feeling much better and have their space legs about them. They’ve done their fluid shifting and they’ve kind of adapted, so they’re better off. But that first night, it’s like … I guess it could be along to a bad camping, a camping trip gone awry. You’re just like wondering, "Boy, how am I going to get through this?"’ And then you get up the next couple days and "Ah, I feel a lot better." And then you kind of just get into the swing of things and it starts clicking. By maybe the third or fourth day, you can’t believe how fast the time is going. It just accelerates … .
We’re going to talk a little bit now about rendezvous and docking. Those are two major events during any mission. First take us through the rendezvous process and what happens during that part of the mission and what will you be doing.
I’m going to be assisting with rendezvous but I’m not going to be one of the prime guys this time with rendezvous. I will be doing the handheld laser, getting … hits on the station as we come in for distances and range and closure rates, things of that nature. And I’ll be assisting Takao and Dom and just about everybody else on the flight deck. You can imagine if you’ve got seven people up there though you don’t want seven people on the flight deck when you’re doing rendezvous because it gets crowded and there’s not a lot of room and there’s a lot going on. So Dom, Takao, Box or Greg Johnson and Mike and Bob have all been training in their ascent entries and a lot more together as a team whereas Takao, who will go up there for the rendezvous, and I are mostly downstairs with the ISS turnaround people to get the mid-deck going. But obviously it’s a very important phase of the flight because if we don’t get there we’re, we’re not going to finish what we started. So everybody trains a bit and everybody helps on the team. As I said, my main duties there will be to assist them with range rates and closures both for the rendezvous and for the separation when we leave station.
After the orbiter docks with the ISS, the hatches between the two vehicles open and you’ll be welcomed aboard the International Space Station. Then you and your fellow crew members are going to be given a safety briefing. What do you think you’re going to do those next few moments right after you have that briefing?
I suspect at that point Peggy’ll tell us, “OK, it’s time to get to work.” We’re not going to have a whole lot of time but we’ll get the safety brief. I think, I think it will be obviously a new experience for everybody. I’ve never been in the space station. Dom’s the only one in our crew who’s been to the space station. … Everyone else hasn’t been there yet, new first-time fliers. I’m sure they’ll go back. For me my last flight was to the Hubble Space Telescope and the rendezvous aspects of it are similar in some ways but you don’t get to go into the Hubble in shirt sleeve environment. So it’s going to be a really incredible experience, I think, to open up a hatch and know that you've rendezvoused with another space ship in orbit. You know, kind of sci-fi stuff. You open up the hatch and you’re floating around so I think it’s going to be a little like, hey, stick a fork in me; see if I’m done. And then once you get over that part of it, then it’s kind of like, “Well, we’ve got a timeline here, guys. It’s, … ”Get, get to work because everything’s been choreographed right out; you can’t fall behind." So it’ll be fun. I think people will have a real high, an adrenaline shot from it, and then we’ll get to work and see how everyone feels at the end of the evening and go from there.
Flight day 4 ushers in the first of several spacewalks during this mission. During those spacewalks or EVAs, the Kibo logistics module and Dextre are going to be transferred from their temporary [place] inside the orbiter’s cargo bay to become part of the ISS. We kind of talked about that.
Maybe in a little more detail, describe the process for transferring the Kibo logistics module and tell us what you’re going to be doing in support of that task.
Well, as I said, the module will be transferred via the robotic arms and that will happen from the inside. … . My task, while all this is going on, I’ll be outside with Garrett, so we’ll be prepping the JLP for the move. We’ll be taking off some thermal covers and some protective covers for the mating. Garrett will be in the front of the JLP doing some power reconfigs with some lines there. Once we get that done, internally they’ll release the locks and the sides. They’ll lift the JLP out of the payload bay with the robotic arm. At that point for us, we’re done. We two EVA guys start construction on the SPDM. They’re going to fly the JLP back up and relocate it and, and get it, get it positioned in a temporary spot. But for us, as EVA crew members, there’s not a lot going on for us to do in the JLP other than the initial preps to get it ready for the robos to do their job. And then as I said, after that’s done, we go straight to the SLP and start construction on the SPDM, Dextre. The initial construction will be assembling the arms and the wrists that day. Garrett and I will do that.
That’s EVA 1 and then go ahead and that was my next question is talking about how you’re going to transfer Dextre. You’re actually going to have to be assembling Dextre in orbit.
Yeah. EVA 2, Mike Foreman and I will go out and go straight to the SLP and continue construction on the SPDM. It’s a long process, takes quite a while and it’s going to take at least, as I said, two EVAs to complete the construction of Dextre, maybe 2½, depending on how the timeline goes and how everything goes. It may take a little bit longer. But at any rate, on the second EVA Mike and I will take the constructed arms that Garrett and I built from the previous EVA which are still positioned on the sides of the SLP but constructed so that the wrists and the hands, so to speak, are on the arms. At that point, Mike and I will take each of those arms off the sides of the pallet and we’ll have to rotate the main body of the SPDM up and then plug those arms in on these giant outriggers. And as I said before, it kind of looked like a mantis. That’s when it takes on its big mantis kind of robot look. Once those arms are on, we have several other things that we have to do in the SPDM such as install cameras, go down and put these special tool platforms and adaptors that allow it to hold equipment from the space station on the lower part of it and actually plug in and interface its own tools, take them out and work on things. All that takes a little bit more time at the end of the EVA and some of it involves me on the end of the arm, the robot arm flying around doing it and at other times both of us will be free floating, moving around all over the pallet and building stuff that way. And we hope to finish all of that in two EVAs and, as I said, if for some reason we’re slow or something doesn’t go the way we like, then on the third EVA Bob Behnken and I would be able to finish most of that.
What are the different ways that you train? There’s the NBL, VR lab, just kind of touch on those real quickly.
Image to right: Astronaut Richard M. Linnehan, STS-123 mission specialist, participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article (SSATA) in the Crew Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. Image credit: NASA
Well, EVA-wise the lion’s share of the training is done in the NBL. It’s the only way to simulate the space environment, free fall micro-gravity, by being neutrally buoyant in a spacesuit, so you float. And that’s pretty close to being what it’s like to work in space. Obviously you don’t have the water viscosity and there are some differences but it’s still a great way to train. We have CHARLOTTE which is a VR lab simulator. We can actually wear these big headsets with goggles that puts us in a virtual environment with hands and arms that we can move around and look at mass handling properties of large pieces of equipment and what it’s like to translate on station and also how to fly the SAFER in case we came off station and there was an emergency where we lost our tether or something happened. We’d be able to deploy our SAFERs and actually fly ourselves back to station. One of the coolest parts about the VR Lab, I think, is getting to fly the SAFER. When you come off station you actually fly around and you fly back to station and grab hold of it. It’s a pretty amazing training aid and when you incorporate that in with the NBL and some other things we have in Building 9 like the precision air-bearing floor and a pogo simulator. All of that together does a really good job of simulating what we’re going to find in space.
How are you going to spend your time when you’re not doing or being involved in EVAs?
I don’t think we’re going to have a whole lot of time to spend other than getting ready. We’re luckily booked, having an EVA every other day initially and if we add another one, hopefully we'll stay [on] that schedule so we don’t have back-to-back EVAs. But when you’re done with an EVA, it takes a long time to reconfigure the suits, charge them and get them ready and you really need that day in between just for tool configuration and just a little bit of rest to get ready for the next team to get in and the next IV team to get them going. So it’s going to be fast and furious once we get going on the EVA schedule and we’ll just be clicking in EVA to EVA to EVA and reconfiguring. I think our mind set, at least for the EVA guys, is going to be, let’s keep going. Once you get a rhythm going, you don’t want to break that.
It doesn’t sound like you’re going to have much off duty time, but if you do have some off duty time what do you think you’re going to do?
I think they build some off duty time. I don’t want to make them sound like slave drivers here. They built some time in for us but I think we’ve got some things planned up there. For me Earth obs is a big deal. I like [to] be able to just kind of look at the Earth map and set places that I know of, that I have of interest and try to get some pictures from space. I like doing that and I’ve got some ideas about what I want to take and I’m sure there’s going to be interaction with the Russian crew in terms of, like I think they have a dinner while you’re up there with all the crew together and some kind of like social event. And then of course we have the PAO, um, you know, downlink, things of that nature. And I think it’s going to be just fun to have a little bit of time off just to float around the station and look at things and spend some time examining and exploring. For me that’s going to be a big thing.
How does it feel to be a critical part of the largest scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken by humankind?
Feels great! I mean yeah, wow! What, what an opportunity! I mean, you’re really, really busy and you get tired, you know, because you’ve really got an intense schedule and then you start thinking, you go, “Wow! But, you know man, I’m pretty lucky. How many, how many people get to do this?” and, you know, I’m getting to do this and, so you’ve got to kind of like, got to take that hundred thousand foot backup view of everything and say, “Wow! This is a really kind of an opportunity and an honor to get to be part of all this.” And, you know, when I’m seventy years old look back and say, “Wow! You know, that robot out there. I put that there or I put that camera in or I was on that and, you know, and part of the space station and part of the whole space program.” And who knows when I’m seventy where we’re going to be, you know, so it’s nice to know that you’re a part of that and it’s an incredible opportunity to be afforded the ability to be able to go to the space station. The other thing is, the crew I’m with is just the best crew I’ve ever, I mean, everybody, all my crews are great. I’m not saying anything bad … here, but this is the best crew I’ve ever flown with, the best group of guys and people. We just get along and it's fun. It’s a lot of fun. So I think sometimes that gets a little bit undersold in terms of it’s a lot of work, it’s like this, they say, but if it’s not fun, if you’re not having some kind of fun, then it’s not that good. So you got to work at doing well with the job but also try to make it fun at the same time.
Well, once EVAs are completed and all the transfers are done, you’re undocked, adios to the ISS, you guys are thinking about heading home. What’s involved in getting prepared for landing?
It's probably in some ways even more of a busy, busy day coming back than it is getting up there. At that point, you’ve unpacked everything and you’ve done your transfers. You’ve got everything to ISS that needed to go. There’s probably still some stuff that you have to recheck and is going to be coming back with you. You’re going to bring some stuff back on shuttle. But the big deal is, at that point we’re out of our suits. We’ve got all the EMUs, we’ve got our LESs, our ACEs, our orange suits. Takao and I will have to clean up, set up all the seats, configure all the com, oxygen lines, get the suits ready, get everybody dressed, get everything put away, stowed, the escape pole, deploy it out for, for re-entry. There’s a lot to do in the mid-deck and while this is happening. Everybody upstairs is very, very busy with procedures, going through flight data files, getting systems powered up, getting everything ready for entry, looking at the deorbit burn and that’s all after we separate from station. And that in and of it itself is a very time compressed, very, very busy time for everybody in the flight deck just to get that initial separation. After the separation we have some time to breathe a little bit, spend some time reconfiguring in space and getting ready for the burn. But it’s a very, very busy time because everything has to be just right for re-entry and everyone’s counting on having good weather and getting that deorbit burn at the first opportunity, so everything has to be ready. And then if you’re waved off, if the weather isn’t good and you’ve gone ahead and set it all up then you’ve got to take it all back apart and put it back again. It can be challenging and you have to plan things right. The best part of this is Takao. He’s a, a planner and he’s got everything down and he’s got a plan for everything and I’m really, really confident that our deorbit prep as well as our post, post insertion in terms of set up and pull down is going to go great because Takao’s running it.
He’s our loadmaster so to speak.