This is the STS-132 interview with Mission Specialist Steve Bowen. Tell us about the place that you consider to be your hometown and what it was like growing up there.
Preflight Interview: Steve Bowen, Mission Specialist
Well, I grew up in a small coastal town, Cohasset, Massachusetts. It was an interesting place to grow up. It really was. Had a sea-going heritage so to speak. There were lobster men in town; it had a sort of diverse population, some really old money and a Portuguese immigrant area as well, so there was sort of a diverse community in that regard. It was a community where education was important. Most of the kids, most everybody I know, probably 80, 90 percent of my graduating class went on the college directly so my dad always joked that he moved there hoping the money would rub off. Well, it didn’t but the education did. My family had six children. Every one of us got a college degree and I think that was probably the biggest thing, that sort of drive to succeed, that interest in education because that was what would allow you to proceed from there. But the most fun, you know, it was a coastal community. The beach was a mile and a half away, all downhill to beach. It was uphill coming back and just a great place to grow up, ride your bikes, walk around, a good place.
Did you have a chance to see that region from space?
Yeah. Actually it was kind of funny. At one point, I think it was EVA 3, I was outside and Chris Ferguson called up from inside and said, “Hey, Steve, we’re coming up over Massachusetts. You might want to look down and get a quick look.” I looked down and he goes, “Oh, yeah, it’s nighttime. It’s coming up on nighttime.” But the funny thing was my sister was actually outside in her backyard looking up. She still lives in Cohasset and she got to see. It was perfect timing for a pass because the sun’s setting where we’re still in sunlight. They’re in darkness and so she could see me. I couldn’t really see her down there on the ground but, yeah, it was a good opportunity to see the area from space.
Tell us about what experiences stick out in your mind from your previous spaceflight.
You know, it’s funny; it’s hard. People always ask you, “What was the best part? What was most interesting part?” It’s almost impossible to explain or single out any individual point in time. The hardest thing, you can never explain to anybody what the launch actually is like or what it feels like, so that one goes into the indescribable area. But the rest was truly amazing. I’m looking forward to this mission too. Instead of sitting MS2, I’m sitting MS3 so I’ll be downstairs looking at lockers, is what I like to say and Piers Sellers told me, he said, “Hey, this is great, because this way you actually get to pay attention to how you’re doing”, you know. I was looking at the instruments and what we were doing as a vehicle before. This time all I can concentrate on is myself so if I have a little more sense of what is going on with me and what my sensations are to the launch period. Beyond that, it’s almost, you know, I can’t pick a spot. Pick a point and I’m sure they’ll all be once again re-emphasized and I’ll have the same problem coming back next time … no particular point in time.
You’ve talked about education and the role that it’s played in your life. There’s a saying that education can take you anywhere. You’ve been to space. It’s helped you get there. How would you characterize the value of education in your life and what it’s enabled you to attain?
Well, it’s funny. Like I said, my entire family, everybody went to college and that was sort of a big first for our family. We do such diverse things. I mean, I’ve got a brother that’s a house painter, but he has a master’s degree in education. He had those choices that education allows you to have. So the choices along the way that I’ve managed to make have brought me here. I’ve always sought more and more education. You know, the cynic would say, “That’s the one thing that people can’t take away from you because once you have it it’s internalized. It’s something that you carry with you.” And the education, whether it’s formal or informal, you should always seek it out. That’s what gives you opportunities and lets you make choices.
Tell me about the educational steps that you took after high school.
Well, immediately after high school I went to the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy’s a really good engineering school, a really good school. It’s because they have to hire you after you graduate, you know, they don’t really have the choice. But, actually before that, I usually tell kids in grammar school and high school that the choices you make when you’re young actually will affect you in the long run. I always tell them to look at the subjects that you don’t do well in, the ones that you seem to struggle in, and focus a little bit on that. There’s some reason these teachers are trying to teach you these things. For me it was reading. When I was just learning how to read, I was not a very good reader. Then, in the good old days, they would tell you that you were not a good reader and so they put me in the lowest reading group. Being a little stubborn, I worked real hard and eventually moved my way up to the highest reading group. But along the way I figure out, “Hey, I really like to read.” And I still am an avid reader to this day. Because of that, I think that I did pretty well across the board, in high school and that allowed me to have choices going into college. I could choose what college I wanted to go to. I wanted to go become an engineer so I went to the Naval Academy. I did very well, I think, at the Naval Academy and that allowed me to choose submarines, you know. I went into the submarine force and from there I went to graduate school at M.I.T. Every time you work hard and do well and keep your options open. The only time you narrow those options is when you make these choices and these choices allow you to progress and along the way I’ve ended up here.
Tell us more about the submarine job. What exactly did you do?
I chose the submarine force upon graduation from the Naval Academy. I had done a summer cruise on a submarine in the year before, so it would have been 1984, and the people on board submarines were fantastic. I kind of like that group of any group that I have met in the Navy so I chose the submarine force. So for the first two years you’re going to school. You go to Nuclear Power School. You go to Submarine School. You’re busy learning the business. Then my first tour on a submarine was on USS Parche for three years, from ’88 to ’91 and I spent almost a year on USS Pogy. We had chopped Parche in half and were refueling her and doing some modifications and I learned a lot; you have a lot of different jobs. You’re a junior officer at that point and so I was the chem and radcon assistant. I was the main propulsion assistant. You learn the ship. You learn the engineering side specifically and more heavily but then you get to learn how to drive the boat so I qualified Officer of the Deck and I earned my dolphins. I did one deployment on Pogy and spending a fair amount of time at sea and that I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed being at sea. The small groups of people you get to work with and actually accomplish a task or a mission. It was really an interesting and educational opportunity because you get to interact with people. As a junior officer, you’re leading one small group, whether it be in the engineering department or as officer of the deck, so I chose to stay in. In between my sea duty on Parche and when I went back to sea on USS Augusta in Groton, I went to graduate school. That’s when I went to graduate school at M.I.T. So I came back and I was now the engineer of the USS Augusta. You have one job and that, for me, it was to make the engineering plant function and operate and support the mission. But operationally, I was now one of the senior officers of the deck and did a couple deployments. Those were interesting, educational and exciting all at the same time. It was exhausting and extremely difficult job. I mean, mentally and physically; it’s the hours you keep, the time you put in especially on the boat that may not have been in the best of condition and was operated real hard and spent a lot of time at sea. You earn your pay on a fast attack submarine. After that I chose to stay in again. I took a shore duty down in Tampa at Special Operations Command. The two years I spent down there were wholly different than anything I had seen in the submarine force but it gave me a glimpse as to how the submarine force is a part of the larger military in essence. After that, I went back, served on the Inspections Survey Board, then inspected for nine months before I was the pre-commissioning unit executive officer for the USS Virginia. We stood up the command in May and I left in August so that was a very short period of time before I came down here. But as a whole the submarine force is just an amazing entity unto itself. You could study it from a lot of different places but the people make it work and the responsibility put down on the lowest member of the crew. You take these guys just stepping on board. They’ve just gotten out of school and they’re just qualifying their first watch. When I was qualifying some of them, I would literally ask them, “How can you sink the ship?” And they could. The responsibility that you have at an extremely young age on a submarine is incredible. Just having the opportunity to work with groups of people that know and understand that, it’s just a fantastic force to be a part of.
What’s it like getting acclimated to that environment? Obviously it’s a different environment than the body’s used to and even mentally … I mean, you’re submerged for periods of time and don’t get to…
Right. You don’t get to see lot of the sun and you go for months on end. I mentioned I went on submarine cruise one summer while at the Naval Academy and I had never really been on a submarine before. We met a guy, there were two of us who were heading down the waterfront and he said, “The thing that will strike you at first is the odor.” And sure enough, you get on the boat and it has a very distinct and peculiar odor. But you get used to it real fast and I just thought it was ironic because that was the first thing I noticed when I crossed over to space station on 126. It had that hint, that little scent that was “this smells like a submarine.” You get acclimated to it because you’re so busy and you don’t have a whole lot of time. You have a job to do. There’s lots of work to do. You can never run out of work and the environment is structured. It’s very habitable although it violates every federal prison code ever written. That was interesting. Try to figure that out one day. But it’s just, you just get used to it. People ask that question. I said, “You just stay so busy you don’t even realize it. You’ve got stuff to do and things you need to do.” The people obviously make it an experience worth the effort. I only spent a week and a half, two weeks up there on space station and I think it’s probably similar. It takes a few weeks to kind of get into the groove of it and then you kind of stay there and do your job. Then coming back, you have to reacclimatize back into the normal world. The space station crewmembers I’ve talked to have the similar issues. There’s a lot more physical accommodation that you had to do for space station. Getting off the boat you still have sea legs so the ground seemed a little wobbly at times but that usually went away pretty quick. But, similar in many regards I imagine.
Tell us what it was that you recall first getting the notion of becoming an astronaut.
That’s an interesting question. I grew up in the Apollo era and one of the things that we always point to is the hardware -- the cameras, the computers, the medical devices, all the stuff that we’ve developed from the space program. People always try and quantify the specifics, how much did we invest versus how much we got back. And I often tell people that the people in Silicon Valley and any of these other technological areas should bow down toward Washington every morning and thank them for the energy and effort that went into the space program and to DARPA and a lot of these research groups that in essence produced nothing. The direct benefit was nothing but we have the technological economy that we’ve had because of those efforts. Not only did they produce the technology and the understanding and the concepts that allowed the development of the Internet and computers and portable computers and other communications systems but they inspired an entire generation of engineers and that generation, which would be people about our age, they led and they developed from there and more than likely what allowed them to make that choice along the way, they may have been wanting to be an astronaut when they were four, five years old and somebody said, “Oh, you got to study math and science.” Well, I got to go study math and science then, and I think that is the benefit that you can’t quantify. You can’t look at the space program and say it’s worth X amount of dollars unless you include that little spark that gives a young child the interest in math and science because nowadays when you watch TV you don’t get math and science unless you go and look for it. When we were kids, it was on the news pretty consistently. You have to go and find it now and that’s mostly because there’s no advocate out there. If the Biography Channel did Shannon Lucid and Jerry Ross it would be interesting but nobody’s going to make a dollar off of doing that beyond the channel that shows it. So there’s a lack of that inspiration out there. If we don’t spend the time and energy we’ll lose a generation of engineers and scientists who may have otherwise existed. You know, the probability of becoming an astronaut is miniscule. I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have this opportunity, but I would have been perfectly happy not being an astronaut, just as well, continuing on in my career in the submarine force and that little spark that may have in 1968-69 made me become interested in math and science would not have been wasted had I not become an astronaut, and I think that that’s the little piece that we kind of lose. But you know, I never set out to be an astronaut. I had no inkling of it. After graduation from the Naval Academy, I met somebody in 1986 who said they were going to apply to become an astronaut and that was last I thought about it until 1996. I was on deployment and, actually I came back from deployment and they, on the submarine, they collect all our messages that we can’t see. We don’t have time to see all the messages and in there was this, “Hey, hey, if you want to be an astronaut, you have to apply through the Navy. This is program, blah, blah.” The date had already passed because I was under water at the time, but the next time around I was on shore duty at Special Operations Command and that’s when the message came out again. I applied from there. But I had never set that out as a career goal or as a focus or done anything. As I said earlier, you look at the opportunities presented to you and try and make the best ones along the way. It keeps coming back to education. The better education you get the more choices you have.
So from the point of being selected to your being assigned for your first flight, tell us about some of the things you’ve done here at NASA.
Here at NASA, let’s see. Well, other than the fact the training is always fun and interesting because you never know what you’re going to do from one day to another, I had some pretty interesting jobs along the way. I had space station training. It was sort of one of those jobs that “post-after you get done with your ASCAN years”, I kind of volunteered myself into the space station training side of the house because that’s what I did. I mean, as an engineer, actually as being a victim of Navy training for a number of years and having to inflict it on others, I was an engineer of submarine trying to train people how to run a submarine and operate a nuclear reactor. That technological training, I think that with my background I had a pretty good understanding of it and so I spent some time working on that for space station and space station branch of our office and I think we have made some efforts that worked out pretty well. I’ve also have the opportunity to work in Japan with a lot of Japanese hardware before we brought it over and it launched into space. That was really exciting to see actual hardware that was going to be going into space but it allowed me also to see the technical details and design and engineering that goes into flying something into space. I had the opportunity to be CapCom for a few years for space station. I was the crew support astronaut for Expedition 13, which was Jeff Williams. I was Ground IV for a couple EVAs. I think I may have been the first non-EVA-experienced EVA Ground IV because once we went down to two people in space station, there were times you had to send people out EVA and we obviously didn’t have anybody that could run people through the procedures. So we had done several of them and that opportunity came up on Expedition 13 and they allowed me to be the person on the ground to lead them through their spacewalks. That was very interesting, very educational, and gave you a lot of insight in how the EVA process worked. Then I worked in robotics branch for a little while including STS-120 which was when Scott (Parazynski) had to go out and repair the solar array. You know, there are a lot of interesting jobs you get to do around here and you never know what you’re going to do from one week to another. But you get to work with a lot of great people around here, too. And that’s in some ways a lot like submarine, just fantastic people to work with.
Tell us what it’s been like training with the particular group of crewmates.
Oh, entertaining, how’s that? You’ve met some of them already. You’ll meet more of them later. You’ll find them entertaining, because everybody’s flown before. This is the first mission, I think we figured out since, is it 112 or something like that, one of those; it’s been a while since we’ve flown a crew of all veterans. Everybody brings their understanding, their own piece of the puzzle to it and everybody is slightly different so, what I may think is the way to do something it isn’t the only way to do something. So we’re kind of trying to get an amalgamation of the best ideas and bring them together. Fortunately we got such a great crew that everybody’s open to everybody else’s ideas and we hopefully will have a very successful mission because of that. There are only a few missions left but it’ll be interesting to see how other groups that are similar to ours where everybody’s flown before, how they develop and how they do things different than us. Everybody has their own way after one mission. You spent a year or longer learning a path, a means, and everybody had a different way of getting there. So it’s been a great opportunity to train with these guys and everybody’s open to everybody else’s ideas. We probably talk way too much and have way too much fun but it’s a real opportunity to see how the processes work and how you can get into the details and different ways of solving the same problem.
How would you characterize the contributions of the thousands of people that work behind the scenes to ensure the success and safety of every crew and every mission?
I can’t quantify something like that. It’s incredible. You have to get out of Houston every so often to appreciate it and around here people tend to take their jobs here at NASA for granted. I’ll go back and tell another submarine story. On USS Virginia when we first stood up the crew, we took the engineering department to the two companies that build the nuclear reactors and this was the first opportunity for the engineering department, for a lot of these guys, to get out and meet the engineers and the technicians that were designing and building their hardware. And it was an eye-opening experience. There were people who spent years and years and years of their life designing and building and verifying and checking this panel that my operators were going to operate and for those operators [to] understand that people have poured their life’s work into that panel to make sure it works the way it’s supposed to work, that gives you an appreciation. Around here it’s the same thing. You work with people every single day and you get out to the contractors and you get to meet the people that have poured their life’s work into making something function the way it’s supposed to function and keeping you safe, and it’s eye opening. You really get a sense of how big this team is and what it can accomplish. And we often take that for granted. I don’t think we do a really good job of telling that part of the story where the people that allow us to do our part of the mission. We’re just a small part of this. There’s a much larger group that puts it all together, that makes it happen. More submarine stories: When I would get people on board the boat, guests or visitors, I often would tell them to go back and talk to anybody you want in the engine room, even if he seemed disgruntled. If he’s disgruntled, he’s a good sailor probably, but if you talk to somebody about something they do well, you’re probably not going to get a better understanding of it from anybody else and I’ve sort of passed this on to PAO [NASA Public Affairs Office] a few times through the years here. You got to get the people out there that do all the work, that are not the visible portion of this because they have very interesting and very good stories to tell, and they can better explain how things function and how things operate than those of us that are a step or two removed from it can. A knowledgeable person … there’s nobody better to ask. And there’s the old thing, if somebody can’t explain to you what they do in a few sentences, they don’t know what they do. People here know what they’re doing and they can explain it to you very clearly in a very short period of time.
Tell us about the key objectives of this mission. What are you going to do up there?
We’re bringing up the MRM1, Russian Module. It’s going to be attached to the space station and we had the opportunity to see that in Russia. It’s one more module which was kind of neat. And the space station, I know they’re saying 98 percent complete. Well, here’s two more percent I think. It’s probably a little bit bigger than two percent but it’s another additive to the space station as a whole. Additionally we’re bringing up another large antenna, another KU antenna that we’ll be attaching to the top of Z1, EVA, and changing out six batteries as well. So it’s both a construction mission in a lot of ways and a refurbishing mission in other ways. Not a whole lot of supplies transferred because there isn’t room in the payload bay for much more except MRM1. It’s being packed right now and it’s like a puzzle. They’ve got layers and layers of all these things woven together, a lot of supplies that will keep the station operating for a while despite the fact we’re not a large logistics flight in a lot of ways, even though ULF implies logistics. We’re not going to interface with it but we are bringing a lot of stuff that we will leave behind. So those are the major objectives.
You are Mission Specialist 3 on this flight. Tell us about what your key responsibilities are in that capacity.
Well, as Mission Specialist 3 mostly the mid-deck. I’m flying up and down on the mid-deck and so initially when we get to orbit, Piers and I will set up the mid-deck and get everybody out of their launch and entry suits and back and functioning. Coming back home, Garrett and I are on the mid-deck and we’ll get everybody dressed up again and turn the mid-deck back into a landing vehicle. So those are the primary portions of that aspect of the mission for me.
If you would, give us your best description of the major pieces of hardware that are going to be in Atlantis’ bay, the MRM1, the ICC. Kind of tell us for instance what the MRM1 is going to be used for, where it’s going to eventually go, just as best you can.
Let’s see, what is MRM1 going to be used for? It’s a Russian module. It’s going to have a docking port mostly. That’s really what it’s going to be used for but it’s got storage capabilities. It’s got some other options that they’ll take advantage of, over time as to what you can use that module for. It’s really a logistics carrier for the U.S. We packed it full of stuff and they’ll unload that after we leave. The ICC-VLD [Integrated Cargo Carrier-Vertical Light Deployable] is carrying the batteries, the antenna and the ETOP which goes on the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM or Dextre). That carrier will come out of [the] payload bay, go up on top to the MBS [Mobile Base System] and then we’ll operate for three spacewalks to basically to get everything off the carrier and in its place. We’ll swap out the batteries, change out the antenna, and install the ETOP. This is actually a PDGF [Power and Data Grapple Fixture] that’s stowed on the side wall of the payload bay. We also have to get [that] off at some point. So our jobs on the EVAs are mostly just to take everything out of [the] payload bay and not let it come home with us.
There are three scheduled spacewalks on the mission. You and Garrett Reisman are scheduled to perform the first one. Tell us about the worksites that you’ll visit during EVA 1 and the work that you will do there.
Well, EVA1 is interesting mostly because we can’t train it. At that point the ICC-VLD will be up on the MBS and I’m speaking in acronyms that no one will understand, so get out your dictionary and start flipping through. And our first task really is to take the antenna off of the ICC and install it on top of Z1. So if you look at space station and you’ve got the whole truss area and you’ve got the MBS sort of in the center of the truss and the arm is going to be on there and it’s going to grab Garrett and Garrett’s going to grab part of the arm and swing it all over and put it on Z1 on top of the space station. We can’t do that directly in the NBL, in the pool, so we end up doing it in sections in the pool. I go right up to the MBS, get up on the ICC and I basically get the boom ready to remove and Garrett goes and sets up the arm, gets in the arm, comes over. I hand him the boom. We can do that part in the NBL and then they have to reposition all that onto the floor of the NBL because you can’t stick it on top of Z1 because the pool’s not 60 feet deep. It’s only 40 feet deep. Who ever thought that that wouldn’t be deep enough? So I will translate back up onto the top of Z1. Last time I was on Z1, I guess that was EVA 1 on 126, I got lost up there in a sense. I got up there to go to a tool box and I’d 0gone over the top and they say, “Oh, you can go this way back” and I look and I say, “Nope, I’m going to follow my tether back because I know where that goes.” It’s on the top of the space station, sort of a flat area. I’ll get up there and then Garrett should come down with the antenna and we’ll install it. And then he’s going to go back and pick up the dish and I’m going to set up the boom which we can’t do in the pool directly either because the robotic arm doesn’t travel the same way. He’ll go get the dish. I’ll come, he’ll come back. I will have done some work on Z1 to set up the boom which in the pool I can do a little bit on the floor and then the other part I have to go up to Z1, so the divers have to swim me. The poor divers in this, when we practice this EVA are exhausted because they’re moving us back and forth and all over the place and it’s hard for someone watching this to visualize how does this all fit together. The complications with this EVA are just huge as far ashow do you train this and even the next task. Once we get that off, we’ll go back and we’ll get the ETOP which we said goes on Dextre … . We can’t train it that way in the pool because you can’t put that much weight on the front of the truss at the NBL so we’ve got two pallets on the floor that are set up to accommodate this and so it makes the task that much more complicated because once again they have to move us around and you have to sort of visualize the piecemeal aspect of what we’re doing. And that task is going to be interesting as well, just to get this large platform attached to Dextre so that it can do its function of changing out ORUs on the space station and it’s a complicated task to train. I think it’s going to come up beautifully in orbit. It’s just hard to watch what we do in the NBL and get a sense of ‘What are they doing? That really what they think they’re doing.’
On the second spacewalk of the mission, you’re scheduled to be back outside, this time with Mike Good. Give us an overview of what you and Mike will do on EVA 2.
Now EVA 2 really is dedicated to one thing and that’s changing out six batteries at the end of the port truss. We hope to get four of them done. That would be a very successful EVA. But really it’s just that one task over and over again. We take a battery out of the truss and stow it so that there’s a hole, you know. It’s like that game when you’re moving things around and you want to move things around and make a nice pattern, you need a hole to start with. So then we’ll take one off the pallet which the arm will be holding out there and we’ll put that in the hole in the truss and we’ll take out the next one. Just do that so that hopefully we’ll get four batteries done on EVA 2. There’s another case where you can’t do that in the NBL. You can’t train that the way you’re going to do it in the NBL because the robotic arm in the NBL can’t support the pallet with the mass of the batteries and even simulated mass of the batteries. It’d be a very heavy load. So instead we do the whole removal of the battery, get it set up on the truss. When it comes time for me to reach and give the direction to Piers to bring in the pallet so we can remove the battery, they put me on the robotic arm in the NBL and then I basically fly down to a pallet on the floor that has the batteries and Mike has to hold on to the base of the arm. We go down and do our tasks on the pallet to remove the battery and we come back up. We get away from the pallet on the floor which in reality would be me sending the pallet away from us on the truss and then they move us back up onto the truss and we simulate putting the battery back in place on the truss. When this is all said and done, we want to make sure that there’s no empty hole so we take that battery we took out at the beginning, put that in the hole that is now on the pallet and we’ll have four batteries done and they’ll be set up. We also want to make sure we’re set up for EVA 3 at the conclusion of EVA 2. So we’ll head back inside so that Mike and Garrett can come out a couple days later and finish up the battery task.
And let’s talk about EVA 3, Mike and Garrett are, what they’ll do and what you’ll be doing?
I’ll be inside and helping Tony direct what’s going on, probably changing tapes and taking pictures for Tony as he directs them outside and they’ll be changing out the last two batteries. We hope there’s just two left. In addition they’ll have to clean up the work site. There are actually items that will be left out there before we get there that’ll be set up for us and they’ve got to take those items back. Once they get back, they’ll go and grab the PDGF which was in the payload bay that we need to bring over to the station. They have to head out there and pull it off the side wall of the space shuttle and bring it all the way back to the airlock. There are a couple other get-aheads along the way but we’ll see. If we get those things done, that’ll be a very successful EVA.
STS-132 is currently the last scheduled flight of space shuttle Atlantis. It’s a shuttle whose legacy includes the first docking to the MIR space station, delivery of the Destiny Lab to the International Space Station and the last scheduled visit to the Hubble Space Telescope. What are your thoughts about being part of that legacy as a crew member of Atlantis and about this possibly being the last flight of Atlantis?
Well, the space shuttle in general, the whole program is just amazing. You think about what that vehicle does and what it’s been designed to do in Atlantis’s case and how many times it has it done it. It’s amazing. It truly is an amazing part of our space history. It’s a shame to be seeing it going away but after 30 years it’s probably time to move on. Atlantis itself, because it has that history to it; every vehicle has its own piece of history. It’s good to have the opportunity to fly on her and it’s good to be able to look back and see the other missions that the vehicle accomplished along the way. It’s always bittersweet to be the last of anything, so we’ll see. It’s part of our [crew] patch design. Who knows, it could be seen as Atlantis flying off into the sunset. She’s had a great career.
Any space shuttle memories that stick out in your mind that you could share with us and tell us why those memories impact you?
It was when they were doing the first landing tests way back in the beginning of time. I was riding my bicycle hurriedly back from the pool -- I was on the swim team -- getting from one side of town to the other side of town just so I could get back to my house so I could watch the landing test of the space shuttle. I think I may have been the only person on my swim team in such a hurry to get out of practice that day just to go and watch TV. That always struck me that it was just an amazing thing to watch this enormous glider coming in to land out at Edwards and then just to be a part of it so many years later, it’s pretty amazing. The early space shuttle flights you distinctly remember and it seems strange looking back because it seemed so advanced at the time, the opportunity to see the video of them opening the payload bays. Technology has progressed so far that you can see these things, it almost seems commonplace. The legacy of the space shuttle, despite what people said, “Oh, it cost too much” and “It never lived up to what it was sold as.” No, it never did but truly, because it’s not on the front page every single day, it has made space travel commonplace. It served the purpose that in our minds now; there are children today, they think that’s normal. They think flying in space is what we do. You know, it’s been 10 years now. When I go and talk to fourth graders and third graders, there have been people permanently living on orbit as long as they’ve been alive. That whole legacy, that whole transition we cannot even understand what that means to us as a civilization, as a culture, as a planet really, that we have a whole generation of kids now who see flying in space common, normal, not front page news, not even news in many days. But we’ve had people permanently living on orbit as long as they’ve been alive. That little bit of change in mankind, we can’t register. I don’t think a lot of people understand or even see it because they don’t pay attention to that sort of thing.
How do you think space shuttle will be remembered in history, just based on what it’s been involved with, what it has allowed us to accomplish?
Oh, it’ll be remembered in a couple ways. Obviously it didn’t live up to the expectations as how it was sold, but as I said earlier, it made space flight commonplace. It made it so that it isn’t front page news when somebody launches into orbit. That transition, the capabilities we’ve demonstrated with this vehicle will be sort of a high point, I think, of the early space program, potentially more so than a lot of things that we sort of give as high points along the way. Apollo was an absolute; it was a pinnacle, but nothing followed from that. The pinnacle of Apollo … we then stepped back away from that and we went to the shuttle era. Well, the things that we’ve learned on shuttle, we’re kind of stepping away from that as well. But I think down the road, the access to lower Earth orbit, the shuttle program makes sense and I think, in a larger context over whether it be decades or centuries, people are going to look at this program as, “Hey, they really were on to something” and then it may not have been cost effective or the point in time when it was the best time to make that commitment [but] they did it. The accomplishments of the space shuttle will live on. I think people will look back in history and think, “Wow, that was really an amazing program.”