This the STS-133 interview with Mission Specialist Alvin Drew. Tell us about the place where you grew up, your home town, and what it was like growing up there and how that place influenced who you’ve become.
Preflight Interview: Alvin Drew, Mission Specialist
Grew up first off in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in a place called Lanham, Maryland, Prince George’s County and then when I was about four we actually moved into the city over in the northeast side of the place in a township called Brooklyn, probably most famous for its proximity to Catholic University and all of the Catholic colleges that are around there. It was a working middle class neighborhood, mix of white collar and blue collar middle class African Americans who were in the place and they all had a strong work ethic. They kind of pulled themselves up from the bootstraps. They’d just gotten through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and opportunities were open out there and there was a strong sense of optimism and ambition out there that they brought across. Two doors up from me was a man that had been an undertaker and he recently retired from having his own funeral home and he had started off, literally was a share cropper in Mississippi and had worked his way up to having a good nest egg. And he was intent on beating into me the fact that I could do anything in the world I wanted to. There was no law, there was no segregation holding me back but I needed to have an education, as if to say nobody can ever take education back from me and hard work ethic and a good education would take me anywhere I wanted to go and that was kind of the mood of the entire neighborhood around me. Everybody out there was living by that ethic, whether they were expressing that verbally or not.
Did you get a chance to see the DC/Maryland area from space on your previous space flight?
Yeah, we got to fly over. I remember having those guys let me know, we’ve got this world map program that has this moving ‘You Are Here’ dot on it to let me know we were coming up on Washington, DC, and I got about five minutes notice and I ran up and took a look out there. You can pick out where the Anacostia River splits off from the Potomac and that’s probably your biggest indication that you’re looking at Washington, DC. There’s no nice diamond shape around the city that lets you know where it is. It’s just a gray smear from all the asphalt and concrete in the middle of downtown that lets you know that you’re looking at a city at all.
What was that moment like when, just kind of recognizing and realizing that I’ve gotten here and come from there and I’m here two hundred miles up and I’m living this accomplishment that I set out to do?
It’s probably the same sensation when you climb a mountain or you climb a cliff face and you look back and you have a sense of the distance that you’ve covered. Up until that point you’re looking at those three feet in front of you and you go there, three feet at a time and you look back and you’ve covered a few miles when it’s all said and done. That same thing, to have gone from there to here.
Every accomplishment begins with some sort of motivation. You just gave us a story about somebody motivating you. You’ve been an astronaut here for about ten years. What set you off on that trek and that road to pursue this line of work?
For me the motivation was just primal. It was like, people get hungry or you get tired and you want to sleep. You want to eat. From the time I was four years old, I needed to fly. I remember going out to what is now Baltimore/Washington International Airport to watch my dad go off on a business trip and just absolutely obsessed with the planes I saw taking off in out of there, knowing then, at four years old, that that’s what I wanted to do. This was September of ’67. October of ’68, a year later I was in first grade watching the Apollo 7 launch on television. Our principal took out our little black and white TV. We watched that launch. I was torn like, “No, I need to do this, too.” And I went home, very troubled, and asked my dad, “What should I do? Can I, should I be an astronaut or should I be a pilot?” And he goes, “You can do both those things. All these astronauts have been pilots” and that just sealed it for me. That was what I was going to go try and do. I didn’t know about the astronaut part. There weren’t too many astronauts there but I was certainly going to go fly an airplane.
Wow. So at five or six years old, that was solidified in your…
It’s scary to think that something in kindergarten made my career choice for me, yes.
Recount for us, if you would, the steps that you’ve taken in your military career to get to the NASA Astronaut Corps.
Military career started with the Air Force Academy back in 1980. I went there because if I wasn’t actually going to fly space craft, I wanted to design them. My hero at the time was Clarence Kelly Johnson, who made the SR-71 and several other planes for Lockheed and, if I couldn’t fly planes, which I, still wanted to do but didn’t think it was necessarily possible this was the place to do it, one of the top aeronautical and astronautical engineering schools in the country. I got out there and I was being recruited by the Physics Department to become a physics major and one of the instructors there mapped it out for me and was just trying to tell me why I should want to be a physics major. He said, “You get a technical degree like physics, get a good, grade point average coming out of the Air Force Academy, go to pilot training. Become a decent pilot and if you’ve got a good grade point average and you’re a decent pilot you can go to Test Pilot School and become a test pilot and, from there, just who knows? All of our current Air Force astronauts are test pilots.” And he just mapped that out with flagstones for me and that’s about what I did. I came out of the Air Force Academy with degrees in physics and astronautical engineering. I went off to become a pilot flying helicopters first in combat rescue and special operations. Eventually I went to jet pilot training and then to the Navy Test Pilot School, served most of the 90s as a test pilot and in coming to the Class of 2000 I applied to become an astronaut.
Tell me about some of the time you spent as a combat helicopter pilot.
They were exciting. I was in at the very inception of what is now the Air Force Special Operations Command. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t know what was coming until they hauled us out one day for a parade and said, “You are now the Air Force Special Operations Command.” “That’s good.” Well, just a few short months later we were going into Panama to go and bring back Manuel Noriega and that was going to be my first new combat mission doing that and things just never quite calmed down after that. We were always somewhere in the world in the middle in the middle of some kind of scrape and Special Operations because they are the ones you send if you’re short of a full war when you’re doing things. But even when there was warfare going on, as there was in the first Gulf War over in by Saudi Arabia, we were in the middle of that as well so a year later I was seeing combat missions over Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
That sounds pretty intense.
It was a good few years but it wasn’t something I’d do, for twenty years. It was a burn out job.
Do you recall the time getting the call of ‘Hey do you want to come down to be an astronaut’? Do you have a story about, what that was like when you got that call?
Yeah, ironically enough that was ten years ago yesterday, a call from our Deputy Center Director, just retired recently as a Kennedy Space Center Director, asking if I was interested in coming up to be an astronaut and I’m trying to contain myself and sound calm so I had to make a joke, “Yeah, I can come to like a job like that. Maybe I’ll sign up and indeed do that.” “Well, come out here; let me know how it grows on you.” And then I hung up the phone, closed the door to my office and then jumped up and down.
Tell us how you would characterize the value of education in your life and what it’s enabled you to do.
Education’s been in my family’s DNA. My family grew up in Washington, DC. My parents met at Dunbar High School which back in the 19-, late 40s, 1950s, was one of the first attempts at a magnet school. The schools were segregated back then and for African-American students who were excelling, that’s where they would send these students. It was also the place for African-Americans who had degrees, PhDs, who were waiting for their opportunity to teach at Howard University to go and make their, make their bones, show their credentials and so my parents were people who were aspiring to become college professors were teaching them, so you’d have a guy who was, with a PhD teaching them freshman chemistry and they had some of the best education they possibly could have and so it was a ticket for them to get out of poverty within the city. And so by the time I came around, we were living a middle class existence based on the, tickets they earned from their education and it was sure that my sisters, my brother and I were all going to get an education so it was expected that we were going to go to college. It was expected that we were going to get good grades or at least give them the best possible effort. We understood that and my mother was a teacher in school. My father, after a career both in government and in private industry, once he retired went and became an history teacher in high school. They held that whole thing in very high regard and they sent us to schools with some of the best teachers in the city and so I got exposed to some of the best teachers and so I had a good appreciation for what good teaching and good education could do.
You’ve flown once before. Tell us about what experiences stand out most in your mind about that whole trip from the launch to being, up on orbit to the return. What sticks out in your mind about that experience?
A few things come to mind. First, was we had a few guest stars on our mission. They were astronauts on our crew but their influence went beyond that. First and foremost among them was Barb Morgan. Barb, as you know, was the first runner up to Christa McAuliffe for Teachers in Space for the flight aboard Challenger back in 1986. I think that, if anything happened to Christa she would have been on that flight and it was clear that, had the program continued, she would have been her successor, would have been the next teacher to go up in space. As it turned out ironically, she would be the next teacher to go up on a space shuttle, twenty-two years later and the inspiring part of that journey obviously had a lot of the media’s attention and it was good to actually work with Barbara and see this media superstar but then there was this very unassuming lady who was just fun to work with on a crew despite the historical burden that was on her shoulders. The other one was Dave Williams, one of our Canadian astronauts, who had done very well here at Johnson Space Center, had ran a large part of the science directorate here and Canada, if nothing else, they’re very enthusiastic about space travel and aeronautics and aerospace and they were enthusiastic about those among them who do extremely well and Dave filled both those squares and so we had lots of attention focused on Dave Williams as well. So that was the part running up to the flight. The actual launch was exciting. It was the very first flight for Endeavor after it had been through an extensive refurbish and it seemed like a brand new spaceship and so we were just making sure that it got a good shakedown on its way to orbit, not literally, and when I got to orbit the part that sticks out most in my mind from that mission was about an hour and a half into the mission, because I had launched from the mid-deck and didn’t get to see the launch, I was taping down a coaxial cable for Internet and it was the first time I actually gotten up to window and, of course, you’re very busy during that time and now if you took, took a few seconds just to go look out the window at what was the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and at that moment a satellite passed between me and the earth and I don’t think very many astronauts get a chance to see any other body besides maybe the Hubble and space station but just some other random satellite and that was when my thought was, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” I’m looking down on top of satellites passing beneath me. It was, it was one of those moments that, just to see the earth, the curvature of the earth, that breathtaking moment and have it punctuated by that conjunction between us and that satellite just stuck with me.
All veteran crew on STS-133, everybody has flown before. You’ve got three crew members who have actually spent time up on station as long duration crew members. How much of a benefit will that be to having that experience help in accomplishing this mission?
Let’s go one step beyond that. There’s going to be six space station crew members up there when we dock to space station. So by the time we get there, Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe and I will be the three members who have had no experience onboard space station, nine other crew members out there who will know where everything is, where being stowed, how everything works and so we’ll see them as kind of our seeing eye crew members to help us around. They’ll be extremely valuable to have. I liken it to, trying to go up Mount Everest without a Sherpa. These guys, the folks know where all the trails are and how to get to places and so I think that that it was just a coup that we decided to start re-flying space station veterans on space shuttle missions because it, just that they’re so much more efficient onboard the space station when they get there.
The content of the mission has changed a lot since you first started training, still changing as we speak. What kind of challenge has that been for the crew to have to deal with that and what kinds of adjustments have you had to make because everything is changing almost constantly?
Hasn’t been that big a challenge. We understood at the beginning of this that our mission was going to be in flux. When we first signed us up, we were the very last shuttle mission and we knew that as things did or did not get done on previous shuttle missions to ours that things would go onto and off of our task list because we were going to be the last chance to get certain things done. Since then we’ve moved into the second last spot and we’ve added two spacewalks and our attitude is like, well, when it comes along we’ll go with the flow. The big picture content really hasn’t changed that much. The main part of our mission to bring up Leonardo, the Pressurized Multipurpose Module, and our Express Logistics Carrier 4, the radiator, has stayed the same so that core. So everything else has been around the periphery of the mission and really haven’t, hasn’t rocked our waters too much even those there’s this continuous churn.
Tell me about how you would characterize the contributions of the thousands of people who work behind the scenes to ensure the success of the mission and the safety of the crew for every mission.
For me, every time I get to work with the whole greater community that’s around STS-133 and Utilization Flight 5 on space station, I’m always a little bit envious. How do they do these things? And almost, worked with Mission Control and these guys are, have been working for years to get themselves to the point where they’re in the front rooms and back rooms and the way they converge on solutions to problems, like you’ve seen in Apollo 13, that we’ve seen many true versions of that every time we do a simulation run and to watch those guys work in such great concert together every time under some pretty strenuous conditions impresses me. The folks at the Cape who put this orbiter together and the thousands and thousands of hours of touch labor to refurbish this shuttle and turn it around for another flight for me has always been a certain fascination with people who make something out of nothing, metal smiths, carpenters, artisans and this is what these guys do and you talk to them and they just, they don’t, they don’t seem to get it. It’s like, “Well, I’m just the guy who, who puts your reaction control system tank back in here where it works on your main engines.” Like, “Yeah, but I can’t do that. I don’t know how you do that.” And these guys come in every day with just a sense of dedication and pride in what they do and we were just down at the cape for our first review of the orbiter and looking at the condition that it’s in and then the pride these people have in their work. It’s really great to see that. It’s also the folks in the Program Office that work budgets and schedules and everything else so watching that whole thing go in concert, it amazed me that it works at all much less how well it works and I think it’s just because that sense of mission and pride that everybody brings to work with them every day.
If your launch schedule holds, you’re scheduled to be onboard space station right around the time of the tenth anniversary of the arrival of Expedition 1. That crew established continuous human presence on the space station. Discuss if you would the significance of that milestone that they accomplished and the future of space station to space exploration.
The milestone, what keeps coming back to my mind when I think about that was Neil Armstrong’s word when he stepped on the moon, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Two hundred and fifty miles in space isn’t very far. I mean, it’s a longer drive to Dallas, but you have to practice in your backyard what you’re going to do on the other side of the world. We learned everything we were going to do on the moon right here in low earth orbit. We practiced it here and then we pushed out. If we’re going to go and live places like the moon and Mars and beyond we need to figure out how we’re going to live off this planet. We’re not that far away from, as John Young described as a can of beans. This was the place that we’re going to do that. We’re going to have this outpost in space, two hundred and fifty miles up, and we’re going to keep it continuously inhabited and, for as long as we possibly can and this coming up on ten years and it’s a small step in terms of distance. It’s a giant leap and it’s been a giant leap since we first started doing this. This was the next giant leap into space after the moon. We are working internationally. We’re working with people who don’t speak our language as their primary language. They don’t even use our same measurement systems. They don’t have the same culture and sometimes the first time we put these components together for the first time on orbit, and it’s working. Now we’ve never brought a piece back from space, knock on wood, because it didn’t work, because it didn’t fit the right way. This has been a major milestone and when I look back, because I was here when that first mission went up, how much we’ve learned, how much smarter we are now ten years later after continuously operating in constructing this vehicle in space than we were then. I would say that we’re much better prepared for pushing out into the solar system and living there for long periods of time than we could have ever dreamed of back in 1998.
Give us, if you would, just a nutshell bullet list of the key objectives of STS-133.
The big thing, in a nutshell, is to outfit and resupply the space station. If this were a home or a structure on the ground, it happens to be in space, the analogy would be we’re putting a new walk-in closet permanently attached to the space station,this permanent multipurpose module and we’re going to put a new either storage platform or deck out there, and outside the Express Logistics Carrier carrying an spare radiator, a spare air conditioner for the place. Those are the big objectives and everything else we’re doing outside for these spacewalks is repair. This is two six and a half hour episodes of “This Old Station”, fixing up things that have gotten old in the ten years they’ve been up there in space and those are the big objectives for this mission.
And tell us, if you would, some of your key responsibilities on the mission as Mission Specialist 1.
As Mission Specialist 1 I will be on the Flight Deck for ascent, a glorified Flight Engineer, helping out the rest of the crew during the eight and a half minute ride to orbit and the subsequent hour of orbital adjustments. After the next couple days I’ll spend with Steve Lindsey and Eric Boe working the space shuttle’s robotic arm to do the inspection of the orbiter to make sure that we are, got a clean bill of health and I’ll do that again once we’ve undocked from space station. And then finally, along with Tim Kopra, I’ll go out and do the two spacewalks that are scheduled.
Give us some background or your best description of the PMM. Kind of tell us what it looks like and maybe how it differs from a regular Multipurpose Logistics Module, how it’s been outfitted differently to allow it to be a permanent part of space station.
Okay. The PMM started off its life as an MPLM, a Multipurpose Logistics Module that we’re simply going to attach permanently to the space station. If people aren’t familiar with the Multipurpose Logistics Module, if you’ve ever seen those pods containers that the people come and drop off in your driveway to give you extra storage, that’s what it is. It’s a big Conex for storing things. So we bring up big loads of transfer and we unload that thing and we load it back up with things that need to come back to earth and we take those things home. Well, this time we’re not bringing it back home. The space station needs some place to store all this stuff. Anybody’s who got a house similar to, the junk piles up and you need some place to store it. Well, we don’t have a closet or a big closet except above the Japanese Experiment Module. There’s a small one up there. We needed something bigger and that’s the point is we’re taking one of these pods containers and we’re permanently attaching it to the space station and there’s a few things that come with that. These MPLMs, we’re only going to be in space for weeks at a time and you won’t worry about things like meteorites or debris hitting it and knocking holes in it and so, in this case, we need to outfit it with micrometeorite debris shielding much like you see on the Columbus laboratory which is about the same dimensions as this, as this PMM that we’re going to dock. People will be in there so you’ll want to have things like communications in there, the ability to have fire alarms ring inside and things of that nature. I mean, it’s a closet but if you’re going to be in there you need to be able to make it a habitable place and so they’ve been doing modifications to it to make it a more permanent structure rather than this temporary addition to the space station that comes up and leaves with the shuttle.
The day after you make it to orbit, you’re scheduled to do a limited inspection of the shuttle’s exterior, on the tiles. Tell us about that procedure and your involvement in it.
Okay. On the second day in flight Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe and I will be one of the three folks who operate the space shuttle’s robotic arm mainly to inspect the leading edges of both wings and the nose cap on the shuttle and a few other places around to see if it suffered any damage from debris coming off the external tank during ascent. As you know from the space shuttle Columbia mishap, that was what caused that mishap was foam hitting the leading edge of one of those wings and knocking a hole in it, so we’ll take a package of sensors on a long boom, the Orbiter Boom Sensing System, and get up close images, some of the 3-D images and scans, of all those vital areas on the outside of the shuttle to make sure our thermal protection is still in place.
And walk us through rendezvous and docking day and being sure to touch on the part post-docking where you actually have to start getting the logistics carrier out of the payload bay and attaching it.
The third day in space starts out with us chasing down the space station. I think it’s several miles away and we’ll get ourselves to a point about six hundred feet below the space station. We’ll do a quick flip beneath there so they can take some of their high powered optics and take pictures of the rest of the shuttle that we couldn’t inspect with the robot arm and then we’ll continue to fly out about four hundred feet in front of the space station. From there we’ll align our docking port with the space station’s docking port and it’s front and back on up to it in a slow waltz with the space station to do that. Once we’ve got a good docking and a good airtight seal between us and the space station, even before we open up the hatches and meet the crew, we’ve got the Express Logistics Carrier which needs to be ready to come out of the payload bay right away and so that’s going to be a choreographed sequence of events between our robot arm and the space station’s robot arm. The logistics carrier sits so far forward in the shuttle’s payload bay that when it’s docked, the front labs on the space station block the arm’s ability to grab it so we cannot grab that logistics carrier with our own robot arm and so what’ll happen is the space station’s robot arm will be mounted forward on the space station. I believe it’s either the Node 2 or the lab. We’ll reach into our payload bay and grab that logistics carrier out. Once it’s there it can’t get to where it needs to put that logistics carrier up on the space station truss so it needs to reposition itself. So once that’s out it will go to position to hand off to us. We’ll take our space station, space shuttle robot arm and grapple that logistics carrier and the space station arm with our two crew members – I believe Nicole Stott and Tim Kopra, they will have now gone through the hatches and gotten aboard the space station, we’ll reposition that arm off of the front of the space station up onto the mobile servicing system which is just a big railcar. On the front face of the truss is a set of railroad tracks and this thing can trundle up and down these tracks to different worksites. They’ll get it on that mobile servicing station, move out to where they can reach both, the pallet, this Express Logistics Carrier, and its installation site onboard the truss. We will move, with the shuttle arm, this carrier to a point out where the space station arm can get it and that’s called the ‘Hand Back’. We’ll hand it back to them. They’ll grab it, move it on top of the space station truss, or the bottom of the space station truss, and get it all plugged in. And then we go pick up with the rest of our day, meeting and greeting with the space station crew.
You and Tim Kopra are scheduled to do two spacewalks on the mission as you mentioned. The first one will also be your first spacewalk of your career. Tell us about the anticipation level from that.
Excited about it and also, just a little bit of apprehension because this is something you want to get exactly right. Spacewalks, as whether they are in the pool or in space are challenging both mentally, physically and emotionally. They work you to some of your limits and so I’m looking forward to that challenge but also I want to make sure I, meet each objective in those, those spacewalks and so I’m looking forward to that.
There are two EVAs on this mission. You and Tim Kopra will, will go outside and do some things. Kind of give us a big picture, overview of what the purposes of the EVAs are.
Okay. For our mission, STS-133, our EVAs are a departure from the standard for the, our typical shuttle missions to the space station over the last ten years. A typical profile is you bring up a big chunk of the space station, some module, some component, and some segment. The robotic operators go out and position it in place using the arm like a big crane and the spacewalkers go out there and bolt it down and like anything like you put on your house, you want plumbing. You want electricity and increasingly in this century you want data connections, so these guys will go out and put those plumbing lines, those electrical lines and the data lines up to that particular new piece of the space station. For ours we’ve got the PMM, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, which is like a closet. Closets don’t require a lot of plumbing, don’t require a lot of data, and don’t require a lot of electricity so we were just going to bolt this thing on. However, somewhere along the line in our training flow, we had a nitrogen tank on board the space station, had a glitch. It wasn’t providing nitrogen and this opened the door for us to have two spacewalks on the mission. They were looking to have us go out and either repair or replace this nitrogen tank. That tank, because of some really smart troubleshooting on the ground, got fixed. The task itself would have been more than enough for one spacewalk but not quite enough for two and so the space station program put out a casting call for any other tasks that could be added on to fill up the time on the second spacewalk since we’re out the door, found out that there was a long list of tasks, more than two spacewalks worth that were out there. So even though the tank problem itself had gone away, these, this long list of tasks, none of which would have been important enough on its own to have merited a spacewalk, the conglomerate of them all kind of went over the threshold where it was worth having two spacewalks to catch up the space station without using space station assets, without taxing the space station crew members extra time. They had their own scheduled spacewalks but we’re up there. We’ve got the assets. We’ve got the people. Let’s go ahead and go out and do these service repairs on the space station so it much more resembles what we would call a stage spacewalk, something where the shuttle wouldn’t be there, where you’re servicing or repairing or outfitting the space station. And those are the two spacewalks that we’re going to do, a bunch, I call them ‘Dogs and Cats but no Elephants’.
Okay. Then go ahead and if you would give us an overview of the tasks you’re going to do on the first spacewalk, EVA 1.
Okay. Our first spacewalk that we’re going to do, it starts off and the bulk of that is going to be cleaning up from the last spacewalk that our space station crew members did. Several months ago we had an ammonia pump for our cooling system fail on board the space station and we needed to go and replace it. That task is very long and involved and they got the new pump in place. They got the space station in a configuration where it could sustain itself, but the old pump needed to be put away and a lot of the tools and things that were out there had to be put away, too, and next opportunity to do that was going to be during our spacewalk. So we will start right off with going out to pick up that failed pump and putting it back in the storage location for the replacement pump. It’s got a big tent that it goes into and we’ll put it in there and bolt it down. Once that’s done, Tim Kopra will go off and we’ll split up and do different separate tasks. I think our next thing we’re going to go do from there is bring in a portable foot restraint. I think of these portable foot restraints as ski bindings to hold us to the space station. There’s time when we have to go, put a lot of torque or force on the space station to turn a wheel, turn a bolt and we need something to take that reaction or otherwise we’ll just simply go the opposite way because we’re, we don’t have any weight in space. We’ve got probably a dozen of these foot restraints in different spots around the space station and we can unplug them and take them to places, but they need to be updated. There’s some new equipment and configurations that need to be done so this one is one of the remaining ones that needs to be brought inside. So we’ll grab that one and bring it inside but first we need to take another foot restraint out there to that spot and plug it in. There’s this huge tool stanchion that’s attached to it and it’s not something you want to lug around so we’ll just simply move it a short distance to the one that’s already fixed and we’ll bring the one that needs updating back into the airlock for repair. Once we’re done with that we’ve got a light and camera assembly out on the starboard truss. It gives us great views of the earth, great views of the stack from out there on the truss and great views of the solar arrays. However, with this new ELC 4 platform that we’re taking out to the space station, lot of that view’s out board are going to be blocked and a lot of the camera’s, it’s views are blocked by this new platform. In order to recover some of that field of view, we’re going to have to take this whole post and cant it in board about thirty degrees and give you some more views, that you have more views, the earth, more views, the space station. So we, when we take out a wedge, a big shim, and put it between that light stanchion and the truss itself to hold this thing in board about thirty degrees and Tim and I will do that task together. Next thing we’re going to do is set up so we can take this mobile service, mobile base system, that arm that sits on a, based on a railcar, let it go out past the end of the starboard truss 1, S1 truss. It’s a, able to go out into the rotating components of the space station on S3 and out board provided there’s a linkage in that rail system that lets it go across. So what we’re going to do is put up this, basically it’s a mini-bridge and they’re, they’re called rail stubs that allow this, the wheels for that rail car to move from the S1 truss out board onto the S3 truss and we’ll go ahead and clamp those two down. There’ll be just two we’ll put up there. We’ve also got some stops out there to physically keep this thing from rolling off the edge of S1 before they had these stubs out there and so and they’re just on hinges. We simply roll those stops down and out of the way and allow that railcar to go in board and out board from there and that’s going to be the big part of our task right there. Let’s see, and finally we have a payload from the Japanese Space Agency that’s called Message in a Bottle. We’re simply going to open this bottle up and get a sample of the vacuum of space. It’s a big thermos bottle and we open it up and allow it to equalize with the vacuum of space out there and then we seal it back up. Oddly enough being out there in space you got a better vacuum there that you get here on earth with any kind of pump so you really have a more perfect vacuum. We’ll get some photographs for the Japanese Space Agency and we’ll bring that in and that would wrap up our first spacewalk.
And for the second EVA, what’s the current plan for that one?
Okay. For the second day’s spacewalk, I’ll start off on my part to go out to that failed pump module and there’s some residual ammonia sitting in that tank. This isn’t kind of, like the bottle of ammonia you have sitting on your sink in the kitchen or your bathroom. This is a hundred percent ammonia. It’s pretty noxious stuff and we don’t really want to carry that back down to earth with us so what we can do is vent that out into space where it’s harmless and we can bring it back in an empty tank, depump module. So what I’ll do is take a vent monitor, I’ve already set up on the first day’s spacewalk when we bring back this failed pump module, I’ll connect that vent line to the module itself and close a belt to let it vent itself out into space. It takes about maybe ninety seconds, two minutes for all the ammonia to vent itself overboard. Once that’s done, I’ll close up and cap that failed module. I’ll close up the tent flap behind it and let it sit until a future mission brings it back to earth and then what I’ll do is take that vent, those vent tools and those bags that were left over from that original spacewalk, put them back in the original bags and put them back on top of the airlock where those bags stay for any future, as we have to change another pump module or any other spacewalk for repair. Once I’m done with that I’ll head out onto what was our normal profile for doing the repairs on the space station. We have the, that platform, that ELC 4 platform that we’re putting out on the S3 truss segment. There’s a computer control box – hard to believe a platform needing computer control but this one does and it has a thermal blanket on it to keep it from getting overly warm and we’ll, it needed that for the launch part but for sitting in space it doesn’t need that blanket. So I’ll go out and grab that blanket and roll it up and put it in a bag and if you’ve ever seen Charlie Brown and Linus’s blanket, that’s the part that worries about me, this blank suddenly turns ugly and attacks me. We had some bags, call them Jettison Stowage Bags. They’re just; they’re laundry bags, just a glorified name for a laundry bag. They’re sitting out on one of CETA carts, one of those hand portable rail carts that sits on the mobile base system. We’ll grab those three bags and put them in the same bag as that blanket and untie them. They were taken out for the pump module repair task by Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell-Dyson earlier and I’ll go and clean those up and bring them back in for this one so we can stage them for the next task, the next time we go outside. Once that’s done, I’ll go over to the port side of the, of the truss segment. There is a working light that we can put inside for people who do work inside the truss because it’s obviously dark even when the sun’s up. It’s called the CETA light and I will take that light out there and install that one and get it plugged in and then they can do a quick power check while I’m out there. It’ll be on S3. I’ll come in board from that task and go up the very roof of that truss segment on S1 where S1 meets the rotating components from S3. There is a, one of the boxes out there has a connector to it, a big data connector and the bale itself needs to be shielded from sunlight so it doesn’t get too hot or too cold. Some of that shielding, that blanket, has peeled away and the program’s concerned that it’s getting sunlight, it’s getting put through, it’s getting too hot. I’ll simply take that blanket, put it back over top of the connector and use a wire tie, it’s a coat hanger from, really that’s all it is, and wrap it around that to hold it down so it doesn’t peel back again, take a quick picture of it so people can see it’s in the proper configuration and then I’ll head down to the underside of that same truss, on the earth side of it, and where we’ve got these, basically receivers for a, these grapple bars that go on the radiators. The radiators themselves, they, they fold out with accordions and if they’re folded up in order to move and install them for replacement, they’ve got this big, like a, it’s like a double Y-shaped beam that allows you to grapple. It, itself ties to the radiators and it has a grapple fixture on it so the robot arm can grapple it. Well, when you’ve got the radiator deployed you need some place to park that grapple beam and so we’ve got these stowage receptacles for it and on a previous spacewalk they went out there and tried to bolt them down and the bolts wouldn’t sit quite, so they’re wobbly. My job is to go out there and take a look at it, do some troubleshooting to see if we can figure out why these things aren’t cinched down as tightly as they’d like them cinched and, if I can, fix it so that they are cinched down where they need to be. I’ll look at both those beams and when I’m done with that task, I’ll head over to Node 3, the newest module on the space station where we have a row of connectors on the very port most side of it, the out board side of that module. There’s a blanket over top of it and we’d like to remove that blanket so we can have access to all the power and data connections out there for future missions and so it’s a, just a strip of cloth, maybe about three or four feet long. I’ll roll that up and put it into the bag and make off with that. I think once that’s done I’ll head back to the airlock and drop that bag off, pick up a lens cover to put on to one of our cameras. The glass itself, we’d like something that we can replace so that if it gets pitted or scratched, you don’t have to bring the whole camera home. This one sits up on top that mobile base system, up on the very front face of the space station. It’s called the POA. Don’t ask me what the POA stands for it’s a fixed receptacle that you can, you can bring modules to, it’ll grapple to them the same way that the robot arm grapples to an object and that’s where we had that failed pump module. It sits there until we do our spacewalk to remove it. I’m going to go out to the camera on that one and simply put a protective lens cover over top of it and then head back down to the, to the airlock with Tim and that should wrap up our second spacewalk.
After your work on station is complete, you will undock and prepare for the trip back to earth. It might be one of the last opportunities for anybody to see space station from the vantage point of inside of a shuttle while backing away. As you sit here today trying to imagine that moment, what goes through your head about the profoundness of that?
Little bit sad, also a little bit happy that, the space shuttle has done such good things, to be able to be one of those lucky people to be able to see that from the shuttle. Uppermost in my mind I know when I’m there doing it because the same thing the last time I backed away from the space station was, “Get the pictures.” You want to have some, just some really good shots to bring back to everybody of that. It’s the only chance you get to see certain parts of the space station, is the camera shots we take while we’re undocking and flying away. It’s also some of the big, photographic moments, things that people really want to see, the really gorgeous shots that you get of the space station and it’s nice to be able to share those views with people on the ground. So I’m going to have a camera handy and all my battery of lenses out there and try and get, get good shots of the space station as we’re getting away. So it’s not just me trying to describe how beautiful it was when I pulled away, people will see it with their own two eyes.
This mission is scheduled to be one of the last space shuttle missions. What does it mean to you to have had a part in the space shuttle program?
I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to be in the space shuttle program when I first got here. I was just happy to be an astronaut and be in the space program and the shuttle was a way to get into space. In our space program, we’ve been in space now for what, since the late fifties, early sixties. We’ve only had one program with a hypersonic reentry vehicle that landed like an airplane and had the capability of the shuttle. No other spacecraft I know of have had robot arms. No other spacecraft out there can come back in the atmosphere and land like an airplane, take off like a rocket and do the things that the space shuttle does. And I don’t know we’re going to get there for a very long time. It was, it was a pretty bold and audacious thing we did back in the sixties and seventies to build such a spacecraft and to have been one of the people who got to be a crew member on board, something with that type of capability, is just, it’s a privilege. I just assumed that once the shuttle was done flying that we would have something bigger and more capable that would take us further, shuttles that might go to the moon or something like that. But we’ve gone the other way. We’re going to capsules and, of course, you don’t necessarily need something as big and complex for what we have envisioned for NASA out in the future and I understand that. But viscerally, you understand that it’s, we’re not going to have something that’s as cool as the shuttle was and it’s more practical.
This is also scheduled to be the last flight of space shuttle Discovery. It’s the most accomplished shuttle in the shuttle fleet. If you had to compile a list of Discovery’s greatest hits, missions, activities, events it’s been involved in, which ones come to mind that you would say would definitely have to be on that list?
Well, understand that I’m, I have the perspective of a test pilot and the Holy Grail if you’re a test pilot is to fly the first mission of anything. Anytime a brand new airplane comes out, you want to go fly that first flight or if you take some new configuration, you want to be the one to take it up for the first time, to go see, will it work? Or discover something new that nobody’s seen before. So given that and Discovery’s past and un-, understand that Columbia was the first shuttle to actually fly, but Discovery was the very first shuttle to fly after we lost Challenger, after we completed reconfigured the solid rocket motors and the configuration of the space shuttle, the first one to go out there and tiptoe back out there was, were the crew aboard Discovery. Likewise, after we lost Columbia several years ago, the first shuttle to fly back in space again was Discovery and we learned a lot from that. And we grounded ourselves again because we discovered a lot of things that were still problems with that, what we were trying to fix and so we had a second, first flight and again, a year later, on STS-121 was again Discovery. It was, this was the one that was out there assuming the risks, the exploring the unknown with these crews aboard and I would say, for me at least, those were the most significant accomplishments aboard Discovery was, as each time this thing flew it was a brand new shuttle and it looks, looked externally like the old shuttles we had before but we had done extensive remodeling and refitting and reconfiguring and every time you do that there’s an opportunity for things to go wrong. We have untested and unproven systems and you got to go shake those out so those are probably some of the most dangerous missions that we flew, clearly some of the most ambitious and daring ones and each one of those times it was Discovery was the one that was making that voyage.
How would you characterize what space shuttle has meant to the advancement of human space exploration?
Space shuttle was again the most ambitious, most complex vehicle we’ve ever built. The Soviet Union tried hard to make their own version of a space shuttle, never got a single person in space aboard that shuttle itself. They flew it unmanned for one orbit around the earth and landed it and then they were done. Tells you how difficult it was to have pulled it off in the first place. By the time we’re done here, we will have had 134 missions aboard this particular shuttle. We’ll have built the largest, most complex structure that’s ever been put up and in orbit ever. We’ll have put up the Hubble telescope. We’ll have done just things that we never would have thought the shuttle is capable of doing even when we designed it back in the 1970s. It’s set the bar. It’s set the expectations of what we can do in space. When we first put the shuttle up or designed this thing, we’d just gone to the moon and that was about it. We had a few capsules gone up in space and splashed back down. We had a few communications satellites up in orbit but routine access to space was something for science fiction writers and now it’s not. You have a whole generation of people and if you were born back when we first started doing the shuttle you, you’d have your own kids and so you and your children would both, would have grown up with the expectation that of course, we routinely go into space and we do things like put up space stations and space telescopes.