Preflight Interview: Charles O. Hobaugh, Commander
JSC2009-E-064924 -- Charles O. Hobaugh

Astronaut Charlie Hobaugh, STS-129 commander, 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) at the Sonny Carter Training Facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-129 interview with Commander Charlie Hobaugh. Tell me about your hometown. What was that like? What was that place like, and how did it influence who you’ve become?

That’s probably the hardest question anybody ever asked me is where my hometown is, where I would consider home. My father was in the Coast Guard. We moved around. It used to be every two years until we started getting settled into some more, he had two-year to three-year rotations. Then we did back to back tours in Minnesota one time. So five years was the longest place I ever lived any place and that was tip of Lake Superior, Duluth, Minnesota, Great Lakes District Area. High School, I spent it in North Ridgeville, right outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and so prior to getting into college, which was the Naval Academy and that was probably the last place I could call home before moving all on my own. So North Ridgeville was a great place. It was right outside a big city but kind of a smaller town, smaller school, great teachers, fantastic academics, really, I had some really good math and science teachers there that made me want to stay in a technical type of field and one of the things that really influenced me to join the Marine Corps and become a Harrier pilot was going to the Cleveland National Air Races, what it was at the time, and watching air shows there and having the memorable thought of seeing a Harrier demo a couple years in a row which, in the end, ended up being my first Squadron CO that did that show that I worked with later, so that influenced me from the outset. Aviation interests came from when my dad was stationed in Juneau, Alaska. He was a ship driver with the Coast Guard but became interested in flying and took me up when I was young, driving or flying up this river between a glacier and a shoreline. It was just a beautiful, picturesque, serene setting. It was really remarkable. We lived near an airport and always enjoyed watching airplanes so [that] got me interested in flying that way.

Now you’ve been to space twice before. On either of those missions did you have a chance to see Ridgeville from space?

Oh, yeah. Ridgeville, I got to see and then my parents now live up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the first flight, we were timed in such an event it was late in the evening and they were starting to get sunrise because of the way we had to sleep shift, but I’d always try to get that last pass before going to bed to peek down and see that part of the country, basically in the Midwest. It’s beautiful.

Tell me about some of your other interests growing up. Did you play sports? What else did you like to do growing up?

I think I probably tried every sport I could. That was a benefit of moving around, actually, is every place you go, each town you go to or each region of the country has a different focus in athletics. Some places will be strong in wrestling and maybe another area you’d see snow skiing. But I think I tried just about everything once, each place we moved so…

How would you characterize the value of education in your life? How has it impacted your life?

I’ve always loved math and science. I liked all aspects of it. I was never really good in English or history except for naval history, something that really interests me, but I loved academics in the fields that I enjoyed which I just mentioned. My future in my mind was going to be in flying so in college I picked aerospace engineering to be obviously the closest thing that I could come to being aviation-related and directly applicable to my job in the future. I got a great quality education at the Naval Academy. When I was there the class sizes were small, and I wasn’t a natural learner. I can’t sit in a class and just take everything in and absorb it or read a book and it all comes in. I need to really understand it and so the Academy was outstanding from the standpoint that the instructors were half military, half civilian and that every one of them wanted you to succeed. You could go to them at any time, do one-on-ones with them and that’s where I really learned the most is just getting the one-on-one contact with the teacher and making sure he understood what I didn’t know and I could explain to him what I didn’t understand and really ingrained all the concepts they were trying to teach and instill and I got a really good fundamental education out of that. So I like the small school setting, the smaller classrooms, the one-on-one contact, the real personal nature of getting that one-on-one or at least doing small group type studies. But the aerospace engineering degree I’ve used throughout my whole career; not initially, it was just on a cursory level but as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper in my career, it becomes more and more prevalent and I still have used many of the concepts I learned back in early 80s today.

So after high school it was the Academy.


Then walk us through educationally what you did from there, from the Academy.

The main things I did, I started into some graduate studies when I got into Test Pilot School, but Test Pilot School I considered a school in and of itself as far as higher education. You just don’t walk away with a degree from them, but it’s almost like a trade school to a degree but in a highly technical nature. I also did some classes while I was there, both during and mostly after graduating from Navy Test Pilot School with University of Tennessee, which they have a satellite campus there.

And at what point do you recall getting the notion that this astronaut thing could be real?

Yeah. It never seemed like it was real until you just start being around all the people that you’re kind of starting to walk in their footsteps and this is the path they took. I had just done what I had always wanted to do. I wanted to fly jets. I wanted to be a tactical aviator. I loved flying Harriers. And to take it the next step further, start looking at the cutting-edge technologies of the next generation vehicle, looking at what is now the F-35. I got to work that program in its infancy. I got to really do the innovative things or be on the forefront of where we are in technology and aviation and then, in going that path, I just so happened to be checking all the blocks of becoming an astronaut and it’s a chance in a million. You never know. We had one of the, I think it was a current astronaut at the time, come and talk to the whole Patuxent River area, all the test pilots that were in attendance at this forum and basically trying to recruit to a degree which seems kind of ironic. Just say, “Hey, if you have the least inclination or any kind of desire to become an astronaut, nobody’s going to come knocking on your door and grab you. You have to apply. You have to be actively involved in it.” And I understood that. In fact, I had tried applying before I even went to Test Pilot School just to get my name in the hat and start along that path ‘cause just becoming an astronaut in my mind was the epitome of where you could go in aviation and that’s where I wanted to end up, just take it as far as I could. I was born and raised watching Star Trek and I Dream of Jeannie. I’d always see the big sci-fi type shows or even just with humor, but something that I always aspired to but just never thought I could attain.

Major Tony Nelson, I’d forgotten about him until you mentioned…

That’s right, Roger Healey.

Okay. So then from actually realizing that this was a possibility, walk us through the application process and what that duration was from then until selection.

Yeah. It’s obviously a lot of paperwork, a lot of toil but obviously well worth the effort. It’s very difficult to make yourself look good on paper. There’s thousands of applicants and they have to wade through all these different applications and individuals. Obviously there’s an actual person behind every application but it’s hard to highlight yourself or make yourself look good. I’m not sure how I was lucky, how I got the nod, how I actually got picked up. I’ll never argue it. I’ll just be glad that I got here but it was a matter of just fulfilling all checks in the blocks; to me it was no matter what job you’re doing you got to do your best. You got to put in a hundred and ten percent. You got to work hard. You got to play hard and hopefully you will get to where you want to be but the main thing is not to, I wasn’t trying to just be focused on, if I don’t become an astronaut I’ll never be happy in my life. I was happy doing what I was doing. I even miss what I was doing then but you can’t do everything and I love my job but it was a matter of just getting the checks in the blocks, trying to do everything you could in your field of study to further your education, further the different things you’re able to perform maybe different flying tasks, maybe different tests that we do. But all those just a natural outcome and it’s just a matter of timing and I think I was blessed with luck, timing and having all the requirements fulfilled to be able to become an astronaut some day.

And it basically took about how long would you say, for you?

Oh I applied one time, didn’t even get looked at. The second time I applied I got picked up so it was really, if you consider just from the time you’re a test pilot, it was four years before I was interviewed from the time I started Test Pilot School, and for a pilot, that’s really the check in the block you need in addition to being a tactical aviator for us, you then need time in the test community but also to become a test pilot. I think Andy Allen was a former astronaut that actually got picked while he was in Test Pilot School but hadn’t actually gone and done test work at the time, but he was a superb individual. They were looking at him from the very outset so good for him. He’s the true lucky guy.

Do you recall where you were, what you were doing when you got the call that you had been selected to come to NASA? Tell us that story.

Yeah, I was actually in the middle of a flight as a Test Pilot School instructor with a student in the back seat and we were doing a systems test but we were actually dropping bombs on a old hulk in the middle of the water on the Chesapeake Bay and basically everything I could do just to excitement and staying focused. I just finished the hop, get back and we’ll put up ‘cause they actually called me up on the radio and said, hey, Duane Ross had called and we all knew that when Duane Ross called that was a good sign. If it was somebody else it may not be as good a news but when Duane calls it puts a smile on your face so it was exciting.

So you came to NASA. What kinds of things did you do from selection to your first flight?

There was a lot of collateral jobs we do, areas of focus where we need astronauts to kind of concentrate on making sure that the operational influence is put into the field. I worked on the new electronic displays that we have in the vehicles now; [this] was one of my first jobs and as part of that there is enhancements that we could ask for. We started in the process of trying to get additional capabilities. Originally that system was devised just to replace old, antiquated gauges that were in the original vehicle back in the early 70s, late 60s when they were basically designed and implemented and then they just wanted to implement ‘em on glass displays or electronic displays so there’s obviously much more capability, much more functionality we could put into ‘em so we experimented with that so it was cockpit upgrades, working avionic certification. Whenever they do software updates, they have an integration lab that requires numerous tests so we would be participating in those tests as a pilot commander type. I worked on landing. I worked on rendezvous, some of the new visiting vehicles for the space station which are now flying today, just a myriad of jobs. My last job before becoming the commander on this mission was actually working with robotics systems so I kind of covered a broad breadth of fields which is really good for just preparing you for flight. In addition to working technical issues, it also just gets you smarter on many different aspects of space flight and shuttle flight in particular for us.

And your first spaceflight was as a pilot on the crew and…


…and I’ve heard other pilots say that even before being selected for their first spaceflight they could tell ‘cause it’s kind of like a list and [you] just kind of have a feel for when your name’s going to come up on the list. Was that the case for you, or were you taken by surprise?

It’s always kind of a surprise. You never know when you are going to come in line or when your number comes up and there’s a lot of factors that go into selection and they’re too complicated to even worry about so you hope your time has come and you work for that time but in the meantime that the jobs you’re doing and some of them are like Capsule Communicator where you’re in direct support of current missions and making sure their missions are going right, is very enjoyable. It’s enjoyable to see your friends go and the smile on their face they get and the stories they can tell afterwards and you just kind of like wait your turn. You know it’s coming. You don’t know when and it’s always a shock and surprise when you get called in the office and it’s a real happy moment. Usually what we do is announce in a way that there’s a meeting that’s conducted with all the astronauts to announce and it’s just called an All Hands, so if you hear an All Hands you’re hoping that your name’s going to be a part of that announcement and on my first flight I think I found out like probably an hour before the meeting is actually held, ‘cause usually you think it’s going to be days before, so when you have the announcement it’s like, “Yeah, they’re announcing me, but…”. In this case it was just prior and so it was really kind of a happy day. You wait your turn. You get your options and in the meantime you just enjoy supporting your friends, your compatriots, your work people that have worked hard and deserve their chance, too.

Your first spaceflight was STS-104 in 2001 and your most recent was STS-118. What things will stick with you about either of those previous spaceflights? What do you remember that you’ll never forget about either one of those flights?

You probably expect to hear that I’d remember about the remarkable things that you saw, the sensations you had, but quite honestly whether it’s space flight or working in industry or wherever, it’s not always the job you do but it’s who you do it with that’s most memorable, and I’ll always remember my crewmates, my associations with the spouses, the families, everybody we spent a year or nine months with in preparation for flight, flight and post-flight. It’s a long time. The flight in itself is just a snapshot in time and there are certainly things I’ll always cherish and remember from both of those flights, of the actual flight itself. But quite honestly it’s not only your crewmates and spouses, friends, families that are a direct part of your crew but also the Flight Directors, the Flight Control Team, the people at Kennedy that support the flight, the tens of thousands of people that go into making a mission happen and the part that they play just to make your flight work is a very humbling thing. So I think I remember the people more than I do the flight as probably the most memorable thing.

STS-129 will be your first mission as Commander.


What observations have you made about the differences in preparing for a mission as a Commander as opposed to as a pilot?

Yeah, it’s funny. I think I got my hands dirtier as a pilot, got more into [the] details of specific tasks. My first flight I was a backup spacewalker, an IV. On my second flight I was heavily into station robotics and as a Commander I kind of get to play just a little bit in all, just understanding them all, making sure that I’m smart on it and know what’s going on but I don’t get to do as much of the details or the hands on type stuff. I’ve got a very strong crew, the five crew members on the core group and then, of course, we pick up Nicole to come home. But they’re far more capable probably than I ever was and I now just get to be an orchestrator or the leader of a superior group of individuals but I just don’t get to play as much, so I guess that’s the biggest change for me.

What’s it like when you get a chance to go and meet some of the thousands of people around the centers when you go for training who ensure the success of the mission, the safety of the crew? What’s it like when you get to interact with those people?

It’s more a humbling experience for me. I mean, I think it’s amazing how many people actually come into actually making a mission happen. I mean, it’s very easy to think in terms of the folks that have to make the hardware and prepare the hardware, pour the solid rocket fuel out at Thiokol and build the tank and that stuff is probably more tangible and easier to think about, but what you don’t always respect until you see it yourself is all the people that work in making things happen, in coordinating stuff and ensuring that all the bits and pieces fit together, the ops team here with the flight control team that designs the mission, the program folks that put in their requirements and try to make all the pieces fit. It’s very complex and it touches a lot of people and it’s really humbling in my position to be the one that’s on the receiving end of all the hard work they do being able to ensure they appreciate that we may get the benefit of the ride but without them it would never happen.

Tell us about what the key objectives are for STS-129, just in a nutshell fashion.

JSC2009-E-124967 -- Charles O. Hobaugh

Astronaut Charlie Hobaugh, STS-129 commander, attired in a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit, occupies the commander's station on the flight deck during in a Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) mock-up training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Of course, we’re ending the shuttle rotation crew member era essentially when we bring Nicole home. We won’t be bringing up a replacement for her so once we bring her home all crew members on station will be up and down on a Soyuz so that ends that rotation. Additionally we’re in my mind kind of the beginning of setting up for the sustainment of the station before the shuttle program ends. The shuttle is an amazing vehicle; [it] can bring up a tremendous amount of equipment externally, internally, and bring it back. For our mission, we’re bringing up probably the long-term external stores or external parts that are critical spares to keep the station healthy and on orbit for a long period of time. So that’s probably the main thing is just beginning to stock up the station for the long haul.

Two key pieces of hardware you’ll have in the payload bay are the ExPRESS Logistics Carriers 1 and 2.

Yes, yes.

Kind of introduce us to those carriers and maybe some of the key items that are going to be on them.

Sure. Like I said we’re preparing, I think, for the long haul, making sure the station is healthy for quite a few years to come after we leave. These carriers are robotically extracted and mounted to the outside of the space station and when they’re either in the bay or mounted on the station, they actually can send or receive electrical power and get data from it and so when it attaches to these external attach points on the station truss at the extremities, these pieces of hardware are kept alive, kept thermally conditioned, the health of them is, depending on the equipment, is kept known. We’re carrying up some pump modules, some nitrogen tank assemblies, high pressure gas tank which we’ll actually attach to the airlock which is a fifth source of oxygen or it’s a third oxygen tank. There’s two nitrogen tanks already on it but it gives us more spacewalk capability and also oxygen makeup if need be while the station’s needing additional oxygen recharge. It’s an additional source. We’ve got some parts for the robotic arm on station. That’s a spare latching end effector in case one of theirs goes bad. There’s also a trailing edge umbilical system and there’s an ammonia tank. I might have missed something but those are the main elements and there’ll be a follow on mission, a ULF mission that follows us that will also bring up two more ExPRESS Logistics Carriers so we’re kind of the beginning of it.

One of your crewmates in a previous interview observed that he thinks that you know more about the shuttle than probably anybody out there.

I must have paid him to say that.

With the potential ending of the shuttle era, what’s your feeling about that? Shuttle’s become a good friend to you basically.

Yeah, you know I got to be a Capsule Communicator for quite a while and it was such a great experience ‘cause I really got lot of knowledge from the Flight Controllers and the Flight Control Team and working in all the different scenarios that the training teams will throw at us, you get a very large breadth of knowledge just by being a part of that and I really think [I] benefited from that. My last flight, I remember doing the walk around and it was just such an amazing thing to get outside of a vehicle you had been in for a couple weeks. Granted, we had space station, too, that we were there for but this amazing vehicle that just kept us alive for two weeks in the harsh expanse of space, gave us the perfect living environment, the perfect eating conditions, good lighting, power, I mean, that’s just the basic living part of it. But then to understand the capabilities it has the payload up, payload down. We had a Spacehab on that flight where we were able to not only bring a lot of things to station but bring experiments and hardware back and return it to Earth which, when we lose shuttle, we’ll lose a large portion of that capability of bringing things back. The way you can control spacewalks, the way you can perform robotics operations and not only just singular robotics ops but integrated robotics ops with shuttle to station arm and handoffs and getting hardware all up and down the space station which is huge at this point. It was really a remarkable thing and you just stand in awe, or at least I stood in awe as did my crewmates of just what a shame [it will be] when it has to go. We understand that we need to take the next leap so I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t, but the shuttle’s just truly an amazing vehicle, and it’ll be hard to equal its capability and to think that in the seventies when we started flying it is truly remarkable and we are doing things with the shuttle now that I don’t think were even considered to the extent we’re doing them now. It’s truly an amazing vehicle.

The remaining shuttle flights or all shuttle flights have been important but these remaining ones really are key for the sustainability of station. Talk a little bit about that if you would.

These are obviously [as] the shuttle era comes to a close, it’s been the workhorse of just getting the big parts up, at least on the U.S. and international partner side. The components we have left are basically just coming up now for the long haul. I mean, the station itself right now is an incredible vehicle. We just need to provide its sustainment so these last few missions, 130 that follows us actually be another build flight bringing up Node 3 and the Cupola, but we were essentially the beginning of the sustainment of the long term life of the station.

After launching and making it to orbit, you and your crew will transform Atlantis into a launch vehicle. You configure its systems. Then on Flight Day 2 you’ll do an inspection of the shuttle’s exterior tiles. Tell us about that process and what you’ll be doing for that.

I’m more or less the third guy on the first team to kind of get that started, essentially what I did on my second flight when we had inspection. First flight we didn’t do inspection. Second flight now we have [to] ‘cause of post-Columbia obviously. It’s been a very refined, well-scripted developed over numerous missions, a procedure that we go through now. It’s a long day. It’s a lot of intensive arm ops obviously but what we do is we rotate our crew members through to keep ‘em fresh. It’s a heavy day of shuttle arm ops right out of the barrel so Flight Day 1, at the end of that we basically prep to get that day started and then we want to come out charging hard right after our post-sleep activities having breakfast, getting woken up and dressed, ready to go. We’ll shoot off on that right off the bat.

And can you kind of walk us through what those arm ops are going to be for the operation of the…

They’re fairly standard when we start off with the grappling of the OBSS which is the Orbiter Boom Sensor [System]. And we hope to actually be postured for that coming out of Flight Day 1. We unberth it and then start on the starboard side of the vehicle inspecting the reinforced carbon carbon on the leading edge of the wing and once that’s complete, we basically group it into three phases. It’s the starboard wing and we go into the nosecap and part of the crew cabin and then on to the port wing and that’s the main three phases and within each grouping we try to rotate our crew members through it so that we don’t wear people out too much. We’ll bring in a fresh, kind of a fresh rotation, change roles so that everybody stays sharp through that day.

Then at some point on Flight Day 3 you’ll have the station in your sights and you’ll start the process of closing the gap between the two spacecraft. Talk us through the process of rendezvous leading up to docking and tell us what you’ll be doing.

That’s always a fun day, too. Space station’s grown so large that you can spot it pretty early on almost the beginning of the day you already got it in your sights. We do a series of burns basically trying to chase from behind to catching up by staying at a lower altitude. Then through a series of ground computed burns and then starting to integrate onboard sensors as we get closer in, we refine, kind of walk our way into a finer and finer control where we rendezvous up from beneath, do the standard rotation pitch maneuver to get some imaging of the underside of the orbiter that we can’t get by just doing our own, well, you can get parts of it but it’s kind of like searching with a soda straw. You want to get a big imaging of it from the cameras for the station’s lower windows. After we do this rotation, the imaging, [we] come up and then force ourselves, or rotate ourselves out in front of the space station, get co-altitude and then do a slow controlled closure from our docking ring to essentially their docking ring. So two vehicles in close proximity doing seventeen-five hundred miles an hour and trying to dock within a couple degree of attitude error misalignment, error or less in three inches of positional error. It’s actually done quite well and the vehicles are very controllable so I’m eager to try it for the first time myself.

After docking at some point you’ll board the station, say hi to the crew onboard station, have a little time to get acclimated but then it’s right to work. Part of that work that day involves getting that first carrier out of [the] payload bay and attached.


Walk us through those ops if you would and up to the point of telling us where it’s supposed to be installed.

Right. We are extracting the logistics carrier out with the shuttle arm and then what we’ll do is, and we’ll try to do this, some of this might be actually done before we even open hatches depending on when we can get good attitude control and part of it is a very complex attitude handover and attitude control type of operation that has to be coordinated between the station, the shuttle and then, of course, our robotics operation so the earliest opportunity we’ll try to take that out of the bay and present it to the space station arm which should be pre-postured to grapple. Once they grapple, we let go with the shuttle arm. We maneuver it out to its attachment site on the end of the truss and we’ll attach it that day. We’ll actually have the ground do some of the ungrapple and maneuver to set up for the first MT — it’s basically the transport assembly for the arm. It translates up and down the truss. The reason we’ve got to do this on our docking day is to get ready for our first spacewalk. The arm has to be in a different location so the choreography of when we have the arm in each location is highly dependent on what operation we’re going to perform and so we need to get ahead of it by just basically docking, getting the first logistics carrier mated to the station and then it’s off and running to the site overnight to have us prepared for our first spacewalk.

And that first spacewalk is scheduled to happen the next day, the first of three scheduled on the mission. That will be Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher outside.


Tell us about what they’re supposed to do out there.

We’ve got a team of three for our spacewalks. We have Mike and Bobby and then also Randy Bresnik. The three of them will be doing a rotation for three spacewalks. First, of course, as you mentioned, Mike and Bobby going out where Randy will be their internal vehicle or orchestrator of their spacewalk. We’ll have an S-band antenna that we’re pulling out of the payload bay that we’ll be attaching up around the truss area close to where the pressurized modules are. That’ll be one of the first things we do is extracting that. ‘Course in prep for that there’s getting Bobby to where he can actually get on the arm. You have to attach a foot restraint and so there’s an orchestration of arm maneuvers with Barry and Leland flying the arm to coordinate, getting all those operations performed. Then once Bobby’s on the arm then he and Mike work together to get this antenna out of the bay and up attached on the station.

On the day of the second EVA, it’ll be Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik outside. Talk us through what they’ll be doing for that spacewalk.

EVA 2 is a whole other series of tasks. It’s filled through the standard six, six-and-a-half hour timeline. There’s things that we have in our external stowage in the shuttle payload bay that they’ll be pulling out and attaching to the outside. We have a different like ham radio type antenna that’s going to be going on the European module and there’s been some moving of tasks right now as we get closer and closer to flight, things are changing so the spacewalk content's been changing all along.

There’s also some robotics scheduled for that day on that EVA 2 is scheduled. Tell us about that.


The ELC 2, is that coming out that day?

Again that day, that may be dependent, if we actually did a focused inspection then what happens is that ELC, our second logistics carrier comes out of the bay the morning of that EVA, so we, Butch is one of our prime or Barry is one of our prime station arm operators. He is doing the suit prep. He’d get pulled off to do that so then it’d be Leland, potentially me or one of the station crew members, that would do that second logistics carrier and it’s very similar in the berthing mechanism is almost exactly the same as what I did on my second flight where I was doing robotics ops with the external stowage platform. It’s basically a camera on the logistics carrier itself that’s looking at the mating surface for the actual precise operation.

Is there an idea of when you might know that you’re going to be doing focused or not?

I think it’s predicated before our EVA 1 or Flight Day 4 is over, we should know. We have to basically make that decision before.


Try to get an early heads up as much as possible.

Okay. Bobby Satcher and Randy Bresnik are scheduled to do EVA 3. What are they scheduled to do for that EVA?

The main task on that EVA is actually this High Pressure Gas Tank or this fifth tank that goes on the outside of the airlock so it has to come off of the logistics carrier. They actually de-mate it and actually pitch it up to present it to the arm, hold it in place while the arm grapples it and once the arm has firmly attached to it, it goes to the airlock essentially and once they clean everything up, set up some external experiments that once this gas tank’s gone they can open them up and start the science, essentially start the science clock on these science platforms. They head over to the airlock and then they will actually have the arm fly it in the close proximity to where it’s attached. The arm ungrapples it and then they manually place it down, lock it down, attach a gas fitting to allow the oxygen to come out of the tank into the airlock itself and then we’re set. That’s the main task.

Late in the mission, after all of your on orbit work is done, you’ll start packing for the trip home. You’ll close the hatches between the two spacecraft and spend the night in the shuttle. Then the next day you’re scheduled to undock. Walk us through undocking. What happens then for you?

JSC2009-E-061733 -- Charles O. Hobaugh

Astronaut Charlie Hobaugh, STS-129 commander, is pictured during a training session in the simulation control area in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at the Sonny Carter Training Facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Barry’s the man for this one. He gets to fly us out and fly us around the station. It’s a pretty exciting thing to do, be able to see the station you were living in again now on the farewell. I’m sure it’ll be very memorable for Nicole to see what has been her home away from home, gone for awhile. But it’s pretty well orchestrated, well choreographed. From the moment we get our wakeup, we have a time that we’re targeting to actually undock. We undock at night. Sun comes up, get a good lighting on the station, allows us to see it for imaging, not only just for good pictures to show later but also look for any kind of areas of damage to look at the whole station as a whole, how it might have changed since we were up, where everything is set, routing of cables. We actually have detailed pictures when we set up from flight to flight that we can draw on to make sure we understand from beginning to end if we have our spacewalker out there, what he’s going to see, where things are attached, what things may be in his way, handrail numbers. It’s in high definition, not only from pre-launch but how things may have changed over time, so they’re great study aids, great prep aids for future missions and for follow on. But just having it gives us a new snapshot in time of the condition of the vehicle at that point and then anything that changes past then we know is, maybe some event or another flight’s come up or whatever has reconfigured something, gives us a known state.

Station’s changed a lot since you’ve been up there. It’s increased in volume and increased in crew size. What are you most looking forward to seeing and experiencing when you get there?

Well, that not only the external truss and the additional solar arrays on the outside but also more habitable volume with Node 2, the Columbus module and the JAXA module and exposed facility, that whole segment is new since I was up last time and that’ll be pretty neat to see, not only just to see from the outside when you’re doing rendezvous but, of course, getting inside and seeing how much additional volume there is. Station without that on my previous flight seemed like a huge place and I’m sure it’s going to even be that much more expansive this time.

What do you think it’s going to be like trying to negotiate the space up there with more people than were there last time you were there?

We’re a six-person crew instead of a three-person crew, but it seemed like this expansive cavern before [with] three people, I won’t get lost in there. Now with six, with more volume it’s not even close to being tight so it’ll probably be hardly noticeable.

How do you imagine space station will be portrayed in humankind’s history when years from now, centuries from now, people are able to travel back and forth between worlds based maybe in part on some of the things that are being learned on space station now? What will history say about space station?

It’ll be interesting. I know there’s a lot of mixed thoughts on space station but the one thing I think you can definitely say is that it is truly a remarkable effort of a multinational effort to bring something together as incredible and expansive in such a hostile environment that’s been highly successful. There’s a lot of aches and pains and deliberations and negotiations that go on to making it work but that’s on the, management side has been extremely tough but it’s been extremely successful at the same time. When you get up on the station and you see what’s been done and how elaborate it is and how sophisticated, it’s so successful. It’s truly remarkable and there are no differences between cultures or individuals. You get down to the operational level working or get on board with your Russian crew members, your Canadian, JAXA, European, you see no differences. Everybody’s a common cause. Everybody’s out to do the same thing. We care about the same type of thing. We all have families. We all have objectives we’re trying to do on the mission and there’s very little difference even though we come from very different cultures we’re very similar and once you get to work together you see the similarities, the differences are slight and the similarities are great. So that’s kind of a neat opportunity to see all that come together.