Preflight Interview: George D. Zamka, Commander
JSC2009-E-155123 -- STS-130 Commander George D. Zamka

Astronaut George Zamka, STS-130 commander, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a water survival training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA's Johnson Space Center. United Space Alliance suit technician Daniel Palmer assisted Zamka. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the STS-130 interview with Commander George Zamka. George, I understand you moved around a lot as a kid. Tell us about some of the places that you consider to be your co-hometowns, I guess, and how those places influenced who you’ve become.

I moved around four times so I’ve got four places that I consider hometowns and each of them had a special relevance, I think, to where I ended up. I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. My parents were living with some family members at the time and very shortly thereafter we moved to New York City, and I lived on 79th Street and West End Avenue. It was an intersection. It was on a hill that sloped down to the Hudson River and what I remember starkly about that is that my parents had a bedroom window that overlooked the Hudson River and so you had this very dramatic contrast of looking through a canyon of buildings and then seeing the river beyond it. It was kind of inviting and suggesting ‘Hey, there’s somewhere else than the city.’ It was a very nice place. and while I was there I went to a very good school. My parents sacrificed to send me to a nice place where I learned how to develop some study habits. We went to museums. We went to the Hayden Planetarium, the Natural History Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art so early on in that childhood period I had a lot of exposure to science and arts and I think that timeframe is where I developed my curiosity and interest in academic things and so that was a great head start for me. Shortly thereafter we moved to Irvington, New York, which is just up the river from New York City. It’s a beautiful area. It’s on the Hudson River also. It’s probably most known for Washington Irving’s story about the ride of the headless horseman through Sleepy Hollow. That is the area where he supposedly took his ride but a great area for at the time I was between twelve and fourteen and it had a lot of haunts. There was a bike path that ran along the top of an old aqueduct that used to bring water to New York City and it went for miles so you could get on this bike path and travel for hours without seeing any traffic. We also had a reservoir that we would go up to and there was a fishing pond that belonged to an old estate where the lady of the house allowed us to go fish there, and it was Admiral Halsey’s former estate. It was a beautiful place. So we had a lot of options as kids to come up with plans and go do them and explore and one thing we used to do was we’d go to a nearby village, ride bikes there, buy model rockets and then travel down to the Hudson River to a little elementary school and launch the model rockets there, so that was kind of an exploring time, and I think that gave me an interest in going out and having adventures. I moved from there with my mother to Medellin, Colombia, in South America and I lived there for a year. That was a tough year but it was a wonderful year and it was tough because I had to get along in a different culture and a different language as a kid and so you have to develop some skills there, some communication skills, learn how to play fútbol, soccer, and do other things that those kids like to do. At the same time, I think it opened my eyes up to aviation because the school I went to was on a hill and Medellin was in a valley surrounded by mountains, and airplanes coming into the city airport would have to make this very steep approach over these mountains. From my school they came right over the top, and I felt I could almost reach out and touch them, and I know my uncle was a pretty renowned aviator in Colombia and I think that lit the spark for me in terms of trying to be a pilot. So it was a beautiful time and it was a very neat experience. From there I moved to where I graduated high school which is Rochester, Michigan, a very pretty place. It had lots of hills and trees and lakes and things were more formalized for me in terms of activities. I had things like Student Council and Math Club and sports and at the same time I could do things with friends. For instance, I had an old Mustang that I tried to keep up and running, and I would take it to a friend’s, his father’s business where he had a working hoist and after business closed down, we’d roll the car up in there and we’d work on brakes and water pumps and such so the combination of experiences there gave me the confidence to think that I could take on just about anything, so that was a neat time there.

George, did you get a chance to see any of those places on your previous spaceflight and, if so, what was it like?

I did. The easiest ones, of course, were New York and Michigan because of the land/water contrast but when we were up there, I was new at the art of geographical recognition and normally what would be happening is we’d be doing some part of the mission and we’d over-fly something. We’d get a glance out the window and we’d try to make a game of it, try to guess what it was we were looking at. There’s a laptop computer that has a world map application and we’d take a look, take a guess and see how it worked out, and sometimes I was right. Sometimes I was way off. I thought Spain was Western Australia. That was kind of a bad moment for me, but for Michigan, I remember it was one of those fleeting glances. We were on a north ascending node so we were traveling to the north and to the east with Michigan receding. You could see that catcher’s mitt kind of shape to it, but it was upside down and going away quickly so in a sense when you leave your hometown you always, I think, have that sense that you’re going away from it and you wonder when’s the next time you’ll be back, and it was neat when I did see those places because you look down and you have an image that’s very much an image from two hundred miles but at the same time you know a lot about the place. You have kind of an intricate knowledge of it, so it’s neat to have one image and have that stir a bunch of other images in your mind. When I over-flew Colombia, the one time I had it was overcast and I’m hoping for better luck this time.

You mentioned working with cars and soccer. Were those types of things the things that you liked doing the most in your spare time as hobbies? What interested you?

I’d say I’ve hopped around. I have had different interests throughout my growing up time and even now and then every once in a while I’ll revisit them but growing up probably the things I did the most were sports. As a young guy I’d get up with a bunch of friends and we’d get a pickup game of football or baseball and when we were in New York City we traveled down to the park that was by the river and do that. There was the exploring times when I was in Irvington, New York, and what I did do that probably was relevant to what I ended up doing later was study math and science. I was part of a math club that ended up winning a regional prize. That was a big confidence builder. I didn’t think of myself much as a math guy until I did that, but that was a nice thing and I also built model rockets and model airplanes. So these were a bunch of little things that ended up building up over time and I think spurred me on to do what I’m doing now.

How would you characterize the value of education in your life? What’s it meant to you?

Well, it’s been an enabler. I’m very thankful for having been able to learn how to learn as a young kid and I think the secret is to be interested, to find a reason to be interested and the way I would do that is I would see not so much the homework that was in front of me but what it would enable me to do later. Math and science basically are ways to learn how to build things, how to understand how things work, make things better and so in doing that I could get to somewhere that I wanted to be, for instance, flying airplanes. So that kept me interested and it still does.

Did you get to that point of awareness by yourself or did you have help, maybe a teacher told you that, “Hey, this is going to help you do…” or your parents, I mean, did you get to that point of awareness yourself?

I don’t want to say it was by myself but when I would go to museums or exhibits, I remember for instance at the Smithsonian, my parents took me to Washington when I was very young and at the Smithsonian there was a lunar landing SIM which today would look very archaic and very, very simple, but knowing that that had to do with science and with mathematics was enough for me to make the jump and realize, ‘Hey, these two are connected and I can learn how to do these things by studying math and science.”

Can you tell us about your educational background, the steps you took after graduating high school?

Probably the most important one was at the Naval Academy. I was a math major and math was a choice, it wasn’t quite engineering which I didn’t understand at the time and at the same time it got me in the direction of building and understanding how things would work. And it was a tough major. There’s a lot of abstract concepts with it but one thing it did do is it established the idea of proving a relationship between numbers and once you have that relationship proved you moved on to something a little bit more complex so you take that proof and you use that proof as part of the case for understanding the next proof, the next complex subject and that’s a good model for just about anything and that has served me since. If I have a very complex problem, I start with very simple things. I try to understand those and then build up from there.

At what point do you recall first getting the notion that you wanted to be an astronaut?

I think I first had the vision or the seed planted with the Apollo 11 landing, and it was in kind of a strange way. We missed it. We were returning from New Jersey. I had some cousins there and I was driving back with my father. I was in the back seat of a Volkswagen and to get to our home in New York from New Jersey you have to travel through one of the tunnels and I can’t remember which it was, the Lincoln or the Holland Tunnel, but just as the Eagle was landing we went into the tunnel and when we came out the other side, it had already happened, and I didn’t know what it took to do those kinds of things and I didn’t know what kind of people were involved but just hearing crackly voices and very simple sentences was somehow very captivating to me and so that set the bug. Now I didn’t consider that it could be part of my reality until many years later but it certainly got me interested in space and being an astronaut and that kind of thing.

Tell us then about the steps that you took to get to NASA once you were in the Marine Corps.

In the Marines it was very simple. The Marines are a big team, so I just did my job. I tried to find out where I could best contribute to the team and in most cases it was pretty simple for me. I’d try to be the best pilot I could which meant learning everything about the airplane that I could learn, flying as well as I could, and there’s lots of little things that you can always pick up about flying and then also doing my ground job. There are things that had to be done on the ground; everything from training to safety to operations and all that needs some careful stewardship and I’d try to do the best job that I could. When it came to flying I also try to be pretty humble. You want to get good at something and you want to feel good about yourself. The risk of that is getting complacent, getting to a place where you think you’ve learned enough and that’s not such a great place to be in aviation, and I think I was lucky to be self-correcting enough. I didn’t always get it right but there were enough times when I realized that, hey, I’ll probably need to tweak my attitude a little bit and start thinking, hey, there’s always a little bit more that I can learn and that got me eventually to Test Pilot School where Test Pilot School was my reeducation to academics. When I got selected I got a stack of notebooks on math and physics and engineering, and this wasn’t something that I had looked at in probably about ten years, so I got into those and struggled through those. That prepared me for Test Pilot School where we did learn about engineering and control theory and mathematics so that was probably my next big academic step. Then during my test pilot job I went and got a degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in engineering management and the degree was in things that I was doing as part of my test pilot job where you have some engineering development and some conceptualizing and at the same time you have to manage your assets. You have a project that you have to go through and you have a limited amount of time and assets to do that so you become careful about how it is that you’re going to get from where you’re starting to achieve what it is you want to do. So with that engineering management degree I still use it today in my job in the Astronaut Office. It’s the same thing.

When did you make your first application to NASA? How many times did you apply for…

I applied twice. My first application was in 1996, and I was surprised to be invited down for an interview, and I think I was a little bit unprepared. I came down and there’s a lot of medical tests and those were okay, but when I went into the interview I remember walking in the door, shaking hands, looking at John Young and sitting down. Then I remember leaving and somewhere there was fifty minutes in between, so within that fifty minutes I didn’t think I hurt myself so badly that they wouldn’t invite me back, but I didn’t get picked up that time. I did get invited back down two years later, so I got picked for the Class of 1998.

Take us back to your first spaceflight. Tell us about what things stand out the most in your mind about that first experience in space.

Sure. There a lot of little things I remember. One of the big ones was walking up to the space shuttle fully fueled up and ready for launch. We got out of the astrovan and walked out and just took a look around outside. The tank was hissing and creaking and there was a cloud around the bottom of the tank from all the cold air that was around it. It was even raining out of the bottom, so it was a pretty surreal experience for me. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this rocket’s ready to leap off the pad.’ I also remember MECO (Main Engine Cut Off), during the ascent itself, a lot of bumps and jolts. I felt like I was strapped to a girder and that I was a pretty significant little payload as we’re getting pushed up into space. At MECO I remember seeing a boomerang-shaped piece of ice, I don’t know where it came from, but it was rotating slowly back towards me and up above me and it rotated over the cockpit. Seeing as I was feeling upside down at the time, that’s what zero G felt to me. It felt like I was going to fall out of my seat upside down. That was a pretty interesting experience also. One of the starkest moments was later on in the mission when we were unfurling the solar array, hearing the All Stop and looking out the window and seeing that tear in that solar array. I don’t know how to say [it] other than that my heart just stopped. We hadn’t trained or practiced for that to occur, and I didn’t know what we were going to do after that. But then on the other side, a few days later, I remember hovering around a PGSC where we’re doing a little video conference and I could see people that we knew gathering and sitting at the table and they were showing us little pieces of wire and realizing that they had a plan to fix this. That was a pretty happy moment, pretty exciting moment for us. And then coming back for landing after doing our re-entry from space, the Commander, Pam Melroy, said, “Hey, expect to hear wind noises when we pass a hundred thousand feet,” so her saying that kind of cued my ears to start listening for stuff and, sure enough, as we descended through a hundred thousand feet I could start hearing wind blowing over the shuttle. As we got lower and lower that wind got louder and louder to the point where to me even through a comcap and a helmet, it sounded like a freight train coming down for the final part of the approach. I was amazed at how loud that was and later I wondered if that was just from being used to hearing nothing or just fan noise for the two weeks prior. So that was kind of a surprise.

Interesting. Your second mission is your first as a Commander. What’s it been like preparing for this mission as a Commander compared to your first mission as a pilot?

Well, it’s a different role. For starters, on the Flight Deck I have different responsibilities whereas before I was in charge of the reaction control jets, the orbital maneuvering engines and the main engines. Now as the Commander, I’m in charge of the computers that run the space shuttle as well as the environmental systems. For ascent and rendezvous and landing I’m at the controls, so on ascent I don’t actually touch the controls except for when we do the pitch to photograph the tank, but I’ll be at the controls for most of the rendezvous and the docking and then I get to land the shuttle. That’s a pretty exciting thing. For the rest of the mission I’m largely in a support role. I’ll be helping our spacewalkers, Bob and Nick, get out through the airlock on the way to their spacewalks. I’ll be helping Steve Robinson outfitting Node 3 and during the EVAs I’ll be doing a lot of monitoring. I’ll be adjusting, I’ll be the camera guy adjusting camera views, recording things, sending things down to Houston and supporting in that way. As part of the preparation for the mission there’s a lot of prioritization and planning and decision-making that goes on and working with all the other groups that help build a successful mission.

Tell us what it’s been like working with these crewmates as you’ve trained for this mission.

It’s been a lot of fun. They’re a very special group of people. I’ll start with my pilot, Colonel Virts, from the Air Force. Terry, excellent pilot, knows his side of the cockpit inside and out. He’s also aware of his own tendencies so he’s also very self-correcting and proactive when it comes to our training. So he’s a great person to be sitting up in the front with me. He’s also very capable of building relationships with the other crew members, so he brings a little bit of levity at the right times. He’s going to be a great person to fly with. I’m looking forward to that one. My MS1 (Mission Specialist 1) is Kay Hire. She’s also a Captain in the Navy Reserves, and she’s a very organized and meticulous person and a great source of information. As a matter of fact I have a nickname for her and that’s ‘Rogue’ which stands for ‘Retainer of All Gouge”. ‘Gouge’ is a Navy term for information, but she knows basically everything about everything and as MS1, that’s great for her because her job is to track where we are in terms of failures. This is during our training and what the next worst failure is and so she keeps us on track, and she’s wonderful for that. MS2 is Steve Robinson. He’s our heavy flight-experienced astronaut. He’s also a genius in airplanes and aerodynamics and also in safety. He’s had the safety job in our office for quite a while, so he’s a great source of questions and judgment about just about everything, so he’s going to be my Flight Engineer as MS2 as we go uphill, and he’ll also be the IV during the spacewalks, meaning he’ll be the person conducting the spacewalks from the flight deck of Endeavour. He’s a great guy to have also. Nick Patrick is going to be one of our spacewalkers. He’ll be EV2. When you talk to Nick, you realize he’s from a different system. He was born in Great Britain and having been raised there and also here in the United States, he’s wonderful for offering a different perspective on things. I value that greatly because we’ll all have an idea about something and he’ll often come by with a slightly different take on things, so it’s great for kind of protecting our backsides in case there’s something we didn’t think about. He’s also very organized and a great planner, and he is in charge of our transition to and from our on-orbit configuration. Bob Behnken is my lead spacewalker. He’s EV1, very smart and gifted individual and a great communicator. I trust him to do everything with spacewalks including working with other organizations and communicating and making training decisions, so he’s a wonderful, wonderful guy to have on our crew. I’m looking forward to going flying with him.

There are thousands of people who work behind the scenes to make every space mission, or attempt to make every space mission a safe one and a successful one. What’s it been like for you and your crew traveling around and meeting these people when you’ve been out to train?

It’s always very inspiring to me to meet people that are devoted to their careers. This is the best part of their lives and their livelihoods to human space flight travel. It’s an amazing thing because it’s a tough business; it has ups and downs and for them to stick with it, especially those in the shuttle program that have stuck with it from the beginning to the end. My goodness, that is a tremendous way to spend an adult professional life, and I’m always inspired when I meet them.

JSC2009-E-125132 -- STS-130 Commander George D. Zamka

Astronaut George Zamka, STS-130 commander, dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit in preparation for a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Tell us about the key objectives of this mission, STS-130.

Okay, there are three primary objectives. We’re going to bring Node 3 called Tranquility up to the space station. Attached to it is the Cupola and once we’re up there we’re going to rearrange the space station so that Node 3 becomes the primary resident of all the environmental support systems of the space station, and we will also place the Cupola on the bottom, the nadir side of Node 3 to provide external views of robotics captures of free flying vehicles and also should provide some pretty good views of the Earth.

Introduce us a little bit more to Node 3 and the Cupola. Kind of give us an idea of, of what they look like, how big they are…

Node 3, it’s called Tranquility. It’s named after the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. It’s a cylinder, a pressurized vessel. It’s about 21 feet long and about 14 feet in diameter and weighs roughly 30,000 pounds. It’s got six common berthing mechanisms around the outside of which we’re going to end up occupying four of them and inside it has room for eight racks and the racks can be anything. In our case they’re going to be environmental systems, our two racks for the water reclamation system. There’ll be an atmosphere revitalization system rack that’ll be there, oxygen generation and we’ll also have a couple of supporting avionics racks and also what’ll end up being there is the C.O.L.B.E.R.T., the treadmill that we’ll be using in space. Inside Node 3 we will also have the robotic workstation that’ll be part of the Cupola. Now the Cupola is a separate attachment piece that has seven windows. It’s about 10 feet in diameter and about five feet high and where it will end up is underneath Node 3, underneath the Tranquility and its purpose will be to provide the robotic arm operator a direct view of resupply vehicles that are coming back up to the space station so that they can be captured in free flight and also it’ll provide a direct view for other robotic activities on the station. Currently we do that with cameras, and we’ll continue to do that with cameras, but there’s nothing like looking out the window to give you the big picture of what’s going on. In addition, with that seven-window configuration, you will get some wonderful hemispheric views of the station and the Earth below us.

Based on your knowledge of and involvement with either the robotic ops or the outfitting and activation of Node 3 and the Cupola, kind of give us an idea of just how complex it is to actually do those things.

The big thing with robotic operations is that it takes a lot of coordination between crew members on both the station and the shuttle. We don’t have currently an outside direct view of either of these things so we use camera views and what I’ll be doing on the flight deck is shipping camera views from the shuttle cameras to the robotic operators in the lab on the station and that’ll be Kay and Terry who will be looking to grapple Tranquility while it’s in the payload bay, remove it from the payload bay and then very slowly move it and connect it to the space station. So there’s some communication between the two vehicles and matching up on different step numbers and then, once we are in a position to join Tranquility to the space station, we bring another piece of equipment into operation. That’s the common berthing mechanism and what that involves is 16 mechanized bolts that will pretty much seal Node 3 up to Node 1.

And those are self-driven?

They’re self-driven and mechanized and they operate through four different controllers that will drive them and talk in turn to the main computers on the space station as to their health and status and we have to get as far as what they call A Bolts, which is acquisition bolts. Once we’re there then we’re pretty much home free. The bolts’ll drive home the rest of the way and we can relieve some of the station attitude constraints and start flying again.

Delivery of Node 3 and the Cupola marks a major milestone for the station. Give us your thoughts about having direct involvement with basically putting the finishing touches on the U.S. pressurized section of the station.

Well, I feel very fortunate to be part of that mission. When we left on STS-120 we put a sticker up there as just kind of a memento of our involvement with the space station and having been there and contributed, and so you want to have some way of feeling a touch or a link with the space station. We’re also kind of fortunate in that we left a change to the outside of the space station. When we repaired the array there were five cufflinks that were made by Peggy Whitson and me and installed by Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock, and if I look during the final docking part of this rendezvous when we go up to the space station I may be able to see them out there. When we attach Node 3 the appearance of the station is going to change forever, so we’ll be able to look at that station and be able to say, “Yes, we were part of that mission, and that station didn’t look like that until we were there,” and we will also leave the station in its final envisioned configuration where the labs are for science and the environmental systems are housed for the most part in the nodes. So the space station will become what we have wanted it to be, a workplace for science and research with all the environmental systems that we need to sustain humans on board for a long time.

You will launch, make it to orbit, then transform Endeavour into an orbiter for the stay in space. Then on Flight Day 2 you’ll do a limited inspection of the shuttle’s exterior tiles. Tell us about that process and tell us who’ll be doing what for the inspection.

It’s a busy day for us. We start running right out of the gate and Kay and Nick will take the shuttle’s robotic arm and grapple to the orbiter boom sensing system which we keep on the starboard side of the orbiter. They’ll pull that out and they’ll begin to image several parts of the orbiter but the meat of the inspection is using the Laser Dynamic Range Imager which paints a three-dimensional picture of the leading edges of the shuttle and the nose as well, and we transmit those images down to Houston. We also record them on board the orbiter in the case of transmission gaps. It takes a good part of the day for us to do that and once that’s done, because it takes part of the day, we’ll be swapping crews. Kay and Nick stop and then we’ll be tag teaming as we go along through this inspection and when it’s done, Kay gets back on and she and Terry will stow the boom back in its housing on the right side.

Flight Day 3 is when you’re scheduled to eventually maneuver the shuttle to a docking with the station. Walk us through what your duties are for rendezvous and docking.

Flight Day 3 is an exciting day. There’s a lot of activity. There’s a timeline that we’re marching to that is a very quick timeline. There are dramatic changes in light and dark. There are on other days but we’re looking out the windows on this day to join up to the space station so you go from a sunny day on the beach to darkest night in a matter of minutes and we’ll do that about sixteen times over the course of that day. In the meantime we’ll be getting closer to the space station, it’ll be getting bigger in the window. We start with a whole lot of closure and quite a lot of closing the miles between us and the space station but at docking we’ll have a relative speed of a little more than an inch per second so it ends up being very controlled. The shuttle attitude will be controlled by the Digital Auto Pilot either referencing the Earth or referencing the space station. If we want our radar and our star trackers to point toward the space station, we’ll just take the top of the orbiter and point it toward the space station and when we’re doing our fly around of the station to the front of it, we’ll be referencing the Earth to point a certain vector off of the orbiter towards the center of the Earth and that keeps us in the right orientation. We control the movement of the shuttle through the translational hand controller. I’ll be doing that for a good part of the flight. Terry will be doing it for the burns, the “T.I. burn” and MC4. He’ll get those and then I’ll take over for the manual phase but it’s a great day because we’ll be playing with orbital mechanics and using the shuttle’s control system to have a nice smooth controlled docking with the space station.

After docking you will eventually open the hatches and have a little time to say hello and get acclimated. What other activities are happening on Flight Day 3 post-docking?

It does end up being a busy day. After we dock we use the shuttle’s reaction control jets to yaw the entire stack around so we end up flying, whereas we dock with the station in a plus-X velocity vector orientation. We will yaw a hundred and eighty degrees around. That puts the orbiter behind the station and provides the orbiter a measure of protection. we’ll be doing that. We’ll be starting to shut down some computers in order to save electricity and some other systems as well and this is while we’re testing the vestibule or the space between the space station and the shuttle for leak checks to make sure it’s safe to open the hatch. Terry will collapse the dead bands; what this means is that we get to take the space station to an attitude where we think the control moment gyros on the station will have to work the least to hold in that attitude and once he’s done that we’ll transition that control to the space station. Then we open up the hatches. We have a quick hello and right away we start getting ready for our combined operations. We’ll be initiating some nitrogen transfer and Nick and Terry and Kay and T.J. Creamer from the space station crew will be involved in grappling the orbiter boom sensing system from the space shuttle and getting it into a position to observe the installation of Node 3.

Tell us about what your scheduled activities are for Flight Day 4.

For Flight Day 4, that is the day between our rendezvous and our first spacewalk. We’ll start out doing some transfer of experiments and supplies from the mid-deck of Endeavour onto the space station. We’ll operate from a list that has been prepared in advance by Mission Control, and we’ll get updated as we go along. Some of the things we transfer is our water. We’ll make water off of our fuel cells and bring that over, nitrogen, which the station uses to help maintain its atmospheric pressure, as well as food and clothing and other things that we’ll be bringing up to the space station. We’ll also have some off duty time, probably about a four-hour period, which will be just a nice opportunity to catch our breath for a moment, maybe catch up with our space station crewmates for a little bit before we start preparing for our EVA 1 on the next day.

And that first EVA, one of three scheduled for the mission, starts the next day as you mentioned. Bob Behnken and Nick Patrick will be outside. Give us an overview of the work they’re scheduled to do and tell us about what you’re going to do on the inside during that EVA.

Sure. My primary job for the EVAs as they’re going and in preparing for the EVA, I’ll be putting them in their suits. Once they’re in their suits and they’ve got the proper depressurization so that they can have their blood denitrogenated and are ready to go out the door, I’ll work the airlock to get them outside into space. After that I’ll be on the Flight Deck recording what they do and adjusting camera views and also monitoring the progress of their spacewalk. What Bob and Nick have to do on EVA 1 is they first have to go into the shuttle payload bay and prepare Node 3 for its removal from the payload bay. That involves disconnecting some shell heaters and some other preparation. As Node 3 is being moved robotically over to its installation point, they’ll do some other tasks on the space station, some get ahead tasks and once Node 3 is connected to Node 1, they’ll return and they will hook up some avionics jumpers and also some shell heaters to keep Node 3 at the proper temperature until we can, in a later spacewalk, activate the ammonia cooling loops and keep Node 3 at the proper temperature for all its operations.

If mission managers decide that they want to take a closer look at the shuttle’s exterior after you’ve docked to the station, you’ll do what’s called a Focused Inspection. Walk us through what that entails, assuming that you’re going to do it. What happens for that?

What would kick it off would be that the mission managers have seen something that they would call an interest area and they would like to get a little more detailed information about it. What that means to us is they would send us some instructions about what it is we plan to look at and how to look at it. It’ll be new to us because we will not have known what this area is and we will not have had the ability to practice it so it’s something that we will intend to do very slowly and very deliberately with stops if we don’t fully understand what is going to be happening with the arm and the boom. Kay will take lead on that. She’s going to be the principal shuttle arm operator. Terry will back her up. My job will be working the laptops which have some of the applications that help us project and predict what the final arm position is going to be and how it’s going to get from where we are to where it’s going to be. Since we don’t have any direct views, it’s very careful, we have to be careful and make sure that we’ve got good clearance and we don’t make a situation worse; worst thing would be contacting another part of the orbiter with the boom or just not being sure about where it is.

JSC2009-E-240770 -- STS-130 Commander George D. Zamka

Astronaut George Zamka, STS-130 commander, occupies the pilot's station during a training session in the fixed-base shuttle mission simulator in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Focused Inspection or not, on that day there’s also other work happening. Tell us about what else is scheduled for that day, Flight Day 6?

On Flight Day 6 we will have Node 3 attached to Node 1. We’ll have some ventilation in there so we’ll be able to get in there and, if we don’t have to do a Focused Inspection, we’ll probably do some get-aheads. We’ll go in there and remove some of the stowage that we brought on the integral stowage platforms. We’ll have three of them with lots of equipment and supplies on board there. We’ll also go ahead and probably do some of the preparation for moving the Cupola on the following EVA so we’ll get in there and do some of the prep work and clearing out so that we can do that as well.

You’ll then need to move the Cupola. Tell us about those operations.

Those operations involve the common berthing mechanism. It is a computer-controlled berthing mechanism that is common to many of the locations on the space station. It has two main brains and it has four sub-brains that control different numbers of the 16 mechanized bolts that would provide the hard mate function. So we’re going to first take the Cupola and unberth it using the common berthing mechanism from its launch location which is on the axial end of the Tranquility Module and then we will move it to the nadir side of the Tranquility Module and berth it there. That’s the big picture. Both of those operations involve leak checks to make sure that the sealing surfaces are all good and that we will not lose any of our atmosphere either when we remove the Cupola or attach it on the underside.

The second EVA of the mission is also planned for that day. Tell us what you know about what Bob Behnken and Nick Patrick will do outside for EVA 2.

EVA 2, that’s kind of our big one. That involves for us the more difficult of the tasks we have connecting the ammonia lines that run from the lab to provide the external cooling of Node 3. Nick will be the person hooking up the ammonia lines on the lab side and Bob will be taking them through a bracket on Node 1 and hooking them up on the Node 3 end as well. There’ll also probably be some tethering involved to get those positioned in the proper location and they’ll also have to take a blanket, an insulation blanket and wrap it around those lines so they’re maintained at a controlled temperature independent of where the sun location might be on orbit. Once they’re complete with that, there’ll be some outfitting of Node 3 and for us that means an installation of hand rails and removal or installation of more insulation on some of the trunnions and pins that would otherwise be unprotected from space on Node 3.

Okay, tell us about the activities planned for Flight Day 8.

Well, on Flight Day 8 by then we will have had EVA 2 complete which means we would have had one line of external cooling to Node 3 which means we can bring all the systems to life, can bring up all the computers and the MDMs and the environmental systems and we can begin to move the environmental racks into Node 3 and begin to get those online and into the final configuration. So that is a great day for us as we begin to move the oxygen generating system and the atmosphere revitalization system as well as the water recovery system into Node 3.

Then for EVA 3 Nick Patrick and Bob Behnken go back outside again, by that time Node 3 and the Cupola are installed; that assumes everything’s gone well with that. Tell us about what’s planned for that day with outfitting the Cupola and work on the outside.

EVA 3 is very exciting for us because we will have done just about everything with the Cupola to be able to open the shutters and look out through the windows with the exception of removing the insulation from the outside, so that’ll be one of the things that Bob and Nick do is they’ll egress the airlock. They’ll go over to the Cupola and they’ll begin to unfasten that MLI, gather it up and then put it in the bag for return into the airlock. Once they’re complete with that, they’ll be routing some of the lines that’ll be needed to keep PMA 3 heated after we move that into its final location and then there’ll be some more outfitting of Node 3 as well.

Some varied activities scheduled for Flight Day 10, give us an overview of what you’re scheduled to do on that day.

Flight Day 10 will be our last day on the space station so we’ll be finishing up the transfer, making sure we’ve covered all the items on the transfer book, not only bringing up items to the station but also bringing back items from the station that we’ll either be bringing down to Earth for servicing and repair or some things that just no longer are of use on the space station and that relieves some of the volume constraints that the space station has. We’ll be securing from some of our nitrogen and oxygen transfer operations. We’ll get a little bit of off duty time and hopefully we’ll get a meal with our station crew members and get to share a little bit of time with them before we close the hatch at the end of the day in preparation for undocking the next day.

And you mentioned the undocking. Talk about what your activities are for that day, what you’ll be involved with and then what everybody else will be doing.

On undock day Terry and I will be reversing roles. I’ll be the person who’s got the flight data file and I’ll be running down the checklist and making sure we’ve got all the steps covered. Terry will get to do the undock and the fly around. Essentially we separate from the station at a very slow rate and then at about four hundred feet Terry will initiate a climb to travel above the space station and at the same time we’ll be rotating our attitude so that we’re constantly facing the space station as we rotate around it and that’ll be our first look of the space station with Node 3 attached and it’ll also provide us some astounding views. The space station from space is very brightly lit. There’s lots of contrast will all the elements that are on there and the Earth below it is very subtle blue hues so it’s usually a tremendous view of the space station and once we’re done with that and that survey, we will separate from the space station and then do our late inspection which is kind of a repeat of what we did on Flight Day 2 but with some increased emphasis in some areas for micrometeorite checks.

We are fast approaching the scheduled end of the space shuttle era. For many people who’ve been intimately involved with the shuttle, it’s a sad time. Others are choosing to mark the time with celebrating the shuttle’s accomplishments. What does this time mean to you?

It’s a bit of an unknown time. It’s a bit of an open question. The shuttle’s been flying for 30 years and we think how much has changed from the first flight of shuttle to where we are today, it’s pretty amazing. The first flight of shuttle was mostly about getting the shuttle to operate. This amazing machine that would take off like a rocket and land like an airplane and we remember how exciting that all was and over the years we’ve learned a tremendous amount from it. We’ve gained a lot of access to space. We’ve launched and retrieved satellites. We’ve done missions of ever increasing complexity and we’ve had some bumps along the way and throughout this timeframe the shuttle program has been executed with a lot of optimism and a lot of grit. There’s a lot of things that could have turned the shuttle program off or deterred us and we didn’t do it. We pressed ahead and I think where we are today is remarkable and I think it’s altogether proper that we celebrate the work that has been done on the space shuttle, especially for those that have spent their entire careers on this program. It’s given us things that we couldn’t have imagined back when we started. As for the future the shuttle was something the nation committed to thirty years ago to give us increased access to space. We’re at a point now where we’re trying to figure out how to maintain that and how to do other things and it’s going to require that same kind of commitment so that’s the open question - how is it that we’re going to do that?

Are there shuttle moments that stand out for you? If so, tell us about some of those and why they made such an impact on you.

Just for different things. I think it’s mostly visuals of different moments that I’ve experienced. The first shuttle launch that I can recall was for me seen from the back part of the ST Airplane. I was with the Chief of the Astronaut Office as he was doing the weather check for the launch of STS-101, and I got to watch the shuttle launch from a pre-dawn morning. It was dark below and to me it looked kind of like a road flare just very slowly ascending and then it broke into the light of the dawn and it was just a spectacular sight. I could see the different colors of the plume as it went up and then I could see the solid rocket boosters tumble as they’re re-entering the atmosphere and they were strobing bits of sunlight as the sunlight caught them at different angles and that was a tremendous view. I remember my own first ascent, how violent that was and feeling the G’s through my chest and what it was like to be part of that experience. I remember looking at the space station for the first time. It was similar to me looking at an aircraft carrier when I was going to go land on it when I was going through flight training. It looked very small at the time, and I thought, “Oh, my goodness, how are we going to connect to this. How are we going to do this trick?” but I remember how wonderful that was. I remember making the cufflinks with Peggy Whitson, how that day started where I wasn’t exactly sure what I was making at the beginning of the day and as we started to form these things and tape them up and cover them then I thought, “Oh, okay, I see how this is going to work.” So that was a neat time.

How do you think the space shuttle will be remembered in a future where space travel between worlds is as common as airplane travel is today, just because of what the shuttle accomplished and as a precursor?

I don’t know. I was trying to think of an analog. I don’t think there is a direct one. I suppose the first boat was probably a log and the shuttle is so much more. It was such an ambitious concept to have its own airlock, to have its own robotic arm to capture and release satellites in space and to land like an airplane. It was a machine that was designed to do a lot of things. We were definitely reaching when we built the space shuttle and we’ve flown it for thirty years and we have done some amazing things. When interplanetary travel becomes normal I have a feeling we’ll look back to the space shuttle and we’ll see that we were a lot closer in this time to doing that kind of thing than we thought.