We're talking with Frank Culbertson, the Commander of Expedition Three. Tell me, Frank, why did you want to be an astronaut?
Preflight Interview: Frank Culbertson
Well, I wanted to be an astronaut since the time I was around 12 or 13. That was just around the time they were beginning the space program, the human space flight program, both here and in Russia. I was well aware of the Sputnik and well aware of the things that were happening in space, just because we talked about it around my home. And it was a very exciting thing to watch. And so, even when I was in high school, I began watching the early astronauts and reading about how they had gotten to where they were and started trying to go down the same path. And I remember when I was about, oh, 11, 12, somewhere in there, a very good friend of mine who I used to work for on Saturdays gave me a copy of Scott Crossfield's book about the X-15. And that inspired me to want to explore the aerodynamics and the edge of space and the technical side of things and to become a test pilot. And I decided that's really what I wanted to do. And shortly around the same time is when we began flying with the original seven. And I decided, well, that would be the logical place to go beyond that. And I never really thought it would happen; but, you know, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I told them that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Navy pilot, a test pilot, and an astronaut. And most people laughed. But, you know, sometimes you get a lot of good help along the way and some good guidance and some lucky breaks, and you end up in the place you want to be in. I've been very fortunate and very happy doing this. And it's been obviously a lifelong dream. And it's better than I ever thought it would be. And also harder than I ever thought it would be. But I'm very glad that I'm in this business.
Tell me more about the steps of that career path that got you where you are right now, that you were emulating the guys who went up first. Tell me about what you did.
Well, once I knew that I wanted to be a pilot, you know, obviously I had a lot of interest in airplanes and aviation. But I had decided I wanted to do it through the Navy. My dad had been a Navy pilot in World War II, and it just seemed like an exciting thing to do-fly off of ships and land on ships. And so I applied to the Naval Academy and was selected. A number of the early astronauts had been Academy graduates of either West Point or the Naval Academy. And I figured that would be a good way to at least prepare myself. And I majored in aerospace engineering, became a fighter pilot and eventually a test pilot after four attempts at getting into the school. I did learn perseverance along the way. It took a couple of applications to NASA to get an interview also. But I just kept at it and considered [other] things, you know, as I went through my career. But this was always the goal that I really wanted. And if there was any way to stay on track for that, I tried to do it.
So, is perseverance one of your stronger traits?
Maybe stubbornness is the way my family would describe it. But I think it's important for anybody who wants to achieve a goal or to arrive at a certain destination or start a certain journey even, you have to have perseverance to get ready to do that.
You mentioned your friend who gave you the book about the X-15. Any other people along the way that helped guide you to where you are?
Well, my parents were obviously a very strong influence. My dad grew up in…both of them grew up in a rural area in South Carolina. And both of them were college graduates, which was unusual for their families. I think my dad was the first in his family to graduate from college. While he was at college, he left for a while to join the Navy and became a pilot. And then when he came back, he switched from engineering to pre-med and went to medical school. My mom was a teacher. And they believed very strongly in education and that you learn yourself what you need to do to be successful in life. And they tried to help me learn how to do that also. And to lead a good life and to be good to the people around you, and to be a team player basically. And that has, I think, become an important part of what I do and how I got to where I am. They had a large influence on that. And of course, I had other people: teachers, ministers, others who were a strong influence. And then along the way in the Navy, there were a number of people who were, Test Pilot School graduates or other pilots or good officers who taught me things along the way that I tried very hard to listen to. And I think it's important, as you're, maturing, as you're beginning your career, to take time to listen to the people who've been there a while, even if you think you have better ideas. And of course, when we're young, we all think we have better ideas. But, eventually you learn that you've got to listen to the voice of experience if you're going to survive in this kind of business.
You obviously learned a lot, because look where you are here today.
Well, very fortunate.
You served as the Program Manager for the Shuttle-Mir Program.
Give me your assessment of how the partner nations are working together today. You've seen it evolve over the last several years. Tell me about that.
Well, the partnership has had its ups and downs. All partners, I believe, are struggling with a lot of issues, not the least of which, of course, is financing and budget. There are technical issues. There are interface issues; what I would call integration between the various partners, both in a hardware and an operations standpoint. And so those issues will continue to be worked. It's like trying to bring several blended families together and try to work out all your issues very quickly in a very dynamic and risky environment. You have to do it very carefully. But there will always be issues. A lot of things are behind us, and we'll never really have to worry about or deal with [those] again. We've overcome a lot of cultural hurdles, a lot of technical issues have been resolved in how we certify hardware, how we communicate with each other, what forums we use to solve problems. Those were difficult things in the early days of both the ISS partnership and the Phase 1 program. We overcame them, basically through trial-and-error; and through difficult times, we learned how to operate within the framework that we had and with the backgrounds of the people that were involved. We're still learning, however; and I think we always will be. The most important thing we have to do is to continue to communicate with each other; to tell each other our plans; to tell each other what [our] goals are, which is just as important as your plans; and to make sure that we're supporting each other in those goals and plans and not working at odds with each other. And…we've got very good leadership in all the countries involved. And it's important for [them] and their staffs to keep communicating about what's coming down the road, what we're doing currently, and then the lessons we've learned from what we've done in the past.
Tell me about some of those lessons. Can you give me an example of something that you've learned somehow, how the partnerships have gotten closer together?
Well, one of the issues that a lot of people like to bring up is safety certification of hardware. You know, when we originally started, I mean, we've had this trouble in the Shuttle Program where a module in the back of the shuttle payload bay may not have the same safety certification requirements that the shuttle cockpit itself has. And you know, getting the engineers to talk to each other and getting the safety communities to arrive at a common standard of how we clear things for flight and prepare them for flight is a challenge. And it's not [that] people are doing it maliciously or through some type of shortfall on their part, shortcoming on their part. It's just that people come up with different systems, and you have to figure out how to mesh those together. In the international arena, the same thing is true in an even broader scale and even to more depth. And so bringing those standards together was a challenge during Phase 1. But we now have it to the point where most things that we fly, we can take through a common certification process. And if it's certified on one side, it's certified on the other side.
Now you're going to be flying to orbit on STS-105, the shuttle mission. What are the goals of that flight? Is the primary goal just getting you to orbit?
Well, that's what the Commander, Doc Horowitz, tells me…that's their number one goal…to get the crew rotated, get us transferred over, and the other crew back. Obviously, they have a lot of other things they have to do in order to make that be a success. There's a lot of equipment that has to be transferred, both from the mid-deck and from the pressurized Logistics Module - the MPLM. The MPLM needs to be transferred on board the station; that means it needs to be mated to the station Node, physically, so that we can open the hatch and remove everything from it. Otherwise it's sitting in the payload bay, not really connected, through any pressure vessel to the station or the shuttle. So it has to be mated; and that's a significant task, and a major goal of the mission. So transferring all of that equipment is a big deal. And we've got to do that in order to continue with our mission. Of course, the crew coming back has a number of scientific and personal things that they need to get transferred back the other way. So we're…things are going to be moving past each other through the hatches in both the shuttle and the MPLM. And that's going to be a big job. In addition, two of the shuttle crewmembers are doing EVAs to install various equipment on the outside of the station. Transfer things from the payload bay to the exterior of the station in preparation for use later, if necessary. And they've got a pretty big task in that EVA, and with possibly some robotic operations involved. And so that's a big deal, too. And then we have powered payloads that need to be transferred from the shuttle to the station and payloads that need to be returned that have been conducting scientific research and the new ones that will start a new scientific program when we arrive. So that's right. The main objective is to transfer the crew and everything that goes with it. And we have a lot of baggage. But there are other things that they're trying to do in addition.
Will you be assisting with those transfers or even with the space walks or will you be busy talking with the Expedition Two crew?
All of the above. We won't be conducting the space walks; and we'll probably be most heavily involved in the transfers and the handover operations with the Expedition Two crew. But we will be aware of the EVAs. And I'm going to watch them as closely as [I] can, time permitting, because I want to make sure I understand what's on the outside of the station, what's left where, and how their whole operation goes.
What are you expecting to see when you arrive at the space station? I know you've had a chance to talk to your fellow space travelers about their experiences up there. What are you expecting?
I've talked to them, and I've seen videos that they've sent down. And I think I have a pretty good feel for how they have the station organized right now and how they're operating. It looks like a very clean, well-organized station; very shipshape. And I'm expecting it to remain the same when we arrive. So I'm looking forward to a very well-organized laboratory and a nice place to live and stay and a good workplace for continuing the repair and maintenance that we have to do. And it looks like it's well set up for that. And so, and the other thing everybody says about it is: It's very roomy. Particularly in the Lab itself. And a lot of space to roam from one end to the other. And so I'm looking forward to a totally different experience than what I've had on shuttles in the past.
We've got people living up on board the space station for a while now. What have we learned from the first two Expeditions, and how have those lessons been applied to your flight?
Well, we've learned an awful lot. One of our major concerns, of course, is the computer networks and the computers themselves. We've scheduled additional classes on how to make sure that network is operating properly and how to keep the various laptops and station computers operating properly in the network and talking to each other and working as designed. That is basically the backbone of the station. So, we've got to be able to have that operate well. In addition, there are other various areas that each crewmember tends to emphasize when they debrief us. Communications is a big one. Making sure we understand the integration of the Russian and U.S. communication systems and being able to talk to both Mission Control Centers, either separately or simultaneously be able to send the video down, set the panels up correctly, throw the switches. That's a…somewhat of a complicated…actually, it's a very complicated system. We try to keep the procedures as simple as possible and coming up with a simple way of switching from one mode to another is one of the major goals. And they keep reminding us to review that thoroughly before we get on orbit. Managing our inventory of items, whether it's tools or supplies or it's consumables or whatever, is also another item that's emphasized a lot. And we have an inventory management system that includes bar codes and bar codes readers and data files that are transferred up and down between us [and] the ground. And we're getting information from both the first and the second Expeditions on how that went with them, how they operated it, and what we need to do to continue to improve on that process. We get advice on, you know, the management of things like food and menus and living conditions on board, as you would expect from anybody who's getting ready to move into a place that somebody's moving out of. And everybody has their own pet peeves and pet objectives. And it's interesting to hear the different viewpoints.
By the time of your flight, one year will have passed since the launch of the Zvezda Service Module to the station. Tell me your thoughts about how much that station has grown in the past year, the pace of the work that's taken place up there.
Well, this is another period of time in NASA and the world's history that I think is difficult for people to digest. We go through these sprints that are interrupted by lulls, what appear to be lulls, where there's not a lot of dynamic activity occurring. And that's happened over and over in the space program around the world. And we went through somewhat of a lull after the FGB Zvezda was launched. Or Zarya, rather. And people were frustrated, but working very hard to try to get things ready. But we didn't have a very high flight rate. And now for the last year, we have been just racing, to and from orbit. With lots of people, lots of equipment, new computer programs, crew change-outs, you name it. I mean, it's a lot of activity. And the station has changed and grown dramatically during that time. it's amazing, to tell you the truth, that people have accomplished an incredible amount of good work and things have worked remarkably well considering the complexity of what has been happening on orbit and on the ground. And I think people should be very proud of that in all the space agencies involved. And I think they are. Rightfully so. But that said, we need to keep it in perspective. And we need to continue to look at each mission of the shuttle or the Soyuz or the Progress and the ongoing mission of the Expeditions, with a very critical and professional and objective eye to make sure that we are seeing what's going wrong, what's going right, and continue to learn lessons from it. And not let the pace of the activity cloud the details of what's happening on board. I'm hoping that the public and our various governments are able to follow this pace. I know it's difficult for them in some respects to keep up with the magnitude of what's happening. But I think it's important for people who are involved in this to keep talking about it, keep explaining, you know, why this was hard but why it was important, or why we took an apparent risk here in order to achieve this goal that may not be, may not seem significant on the surface but, when you look at it over the entire life of the station, it's very critical. Such as installing the arm from Canada or installing the solar arrays and the Docking Compartment that's coming up from Russia. All of these things are critical components that need to be done, need to be done correctly, but sometimes get lost in the magnitude and number of events that are occurring.
Another big moment will be when you open the hatches and go in and see Yury and Jim and Susan.
What do you expect that moment's going to be like for you?
I think it'll be very exciting. It's like, you know, opening the door to a new home that you're moving into, but it's already furnished and already operating. The lights are already on. And I think it'll be a great day. And a little scary in some ways because we'll be beginning a very long and very busy Expedition of our own. And we also, we're going to be faced with a very short, 5 or 6 days, of handover in which it's going to be important that we transfer a lot of information in addition to the hardware that we have to transfer. So it's going to feel a little daunting at first, more than likely. It's going to take a while to get used to the new place of sleeping and eating and living. And it's like any transition: there's going to be transition-unique elements to it. But I think it's going to be also very exciting. And I'm sure it'll be exciting for them, too. And hopefully they'll be glad to see us. And right now they would not be glad to see us. They're not ready to come home. They have a lot they want to do yet. And every time I talk to them, they say, "Okay, you know, we're working on this and all that. But don't be in a big hurry to get up here. Just be ready to deal with these things." And I think they're enjoying themselves. I think they're having a good time. And all the feedback I get is very, very upbeat, very positive. But it'll be a great day. And I think it'll be something I'll remember my entire life, is opening that hatch. Probably similar to what I'll feel when they open the hatch to come pick us up.
How intense will your handover time be with the Expedition Two crew?
It's hard to know exactly what it'll be like at this point. But I'm guessing it's going to be pretty intense, because I'm sure we'll have questions that'll arise on top of the questions that we'll already have prepared as we get more information. I'm sure they'll have tons of information that they'll want to give us plus make sure that they will move off the station in an orderly fashion. So it's going to be a lot of multitasking as well as somewhat of a distracting time with the robotics and the EVAs going on. The need to move the MPLM over cleanly, activate it, then move it back safely. A lot of activity that could tend to detract from the other task of doing the handover. So I expect that when we get together, specifically for handover, it's going to be a very intense time.
What's the process of formally exchanging you…to being a station crewmember from being a shuttle crewmember? Does that all take place in one day with all three of you?
Well, we will all be transferred, in terms of crew rescue on one day, is the current plan. And I believe that'll work out okay. The actual handover of command of the station will occur more than likely on the last docked day. And we'll make it a formal ceremony so the ground and everybody else in the world knows that we have actually…done a change of command. And similar to what we do with ships and squadrons in the Navy and Air Force and military organizations all over the world. And what they tend to do in government organizations anywhere, or in civilian organizations in some cases, too, I believe. If you don't make it a somewhat formal situation, you have kind of a fuzzy time when you're not sure who's who. And I want to make sure that that's a very clean and well-understood, period of time in the life of the station, that, you know, one moment you have one Commander and his or her crew, the next moment you have another Commander and the crew. And that the ground has no questions about who that is at any given time.
Will that exchange be similar to what we saw as Shep handed over to Yury?
Somewhat, yes. We're trying to establish traditions here. So we're still looking for what those traditions are.
After several days of docked operations, all these space walks and transfers with the MPLM going on, it'll be time to close the hatches, send the Expedition Two crew home. What'll be your thoughts then as you actually are up there by yourself on board the space station?
I'll tell you afterwards. I don't know what my thoughts will be then. It'll be a very serious time. And again, somewhat of a daunting feeling that, "Here we go." Because the character of our mission is totally different than the first two. They had a number of, spacecraft visit them. A lot of assembly activity. A lot of very challenging, transfer operations of big pieces of hardware, adding modules, et cetera. We may or may not have much of that. The current plan is the only module that might arrive during our Expedition would be the Russian Docking Compartment near the very end of the mission. But, again, that schedule's a little uncertain, too. So we'll just have to see how things work out between the shuttle and the Russian elements. But if it goes as planned and we don't have any shuttles visit us during that time, and may have a Soyuz do a vehicle rotation at the end of our mission, we'll be going a long time with very stable ops, without the interruptions of crews visiting us. So that'll be a different flavor on things. And I think a good test of both ourselves and the ground and the way we plan things and the way we keep the interest level of everybody involved up. And also we get down to some very serious science and conducting operations in the Laboratory using it for the purpose it was designed for as well as the Russian experiments in the Service Module.
What's a typical day going to be like for you up there?
Well, I suspect it'll be like being on an outpost or a ship anywhere. We'll get into a fairly predictable routine. We'll be awakened in the morning at a, hopefully, reasonable hour. And you'll have 2 or 3 hours to get yourself ready for the working day. Basically make your bed, have breakfast and brush your teeth, you know. But obviously there's a lot more to it than that in space. But that's basically what we'll be doing in the morning. And then checking the station at the same time to make sure that everything is still operating as it should be. Make sure the ship's still afloat, as it's supposed to be, and that the computers are working. And we'll probably reboot them. And then, after we've done all those morning chores, we'll be ready to go to work for the day. And every one of us will be assigned tasks, either by the ground or by ourselves, depending on the time criticality of the task itself and whether the ground needs to participate in, for example, the activation of an experiment. They need…might want to be looking over our shoulder or watching specific data, so we'd have to do it at a specific time. But if it's just a matter of, for example, going to clean some filters to make sure that the equipment doesn't overheat, you can do that anytime during the day, and we'll parcel those tasks out as necessary. So, it'll be a mixture during the working day of the scientific experiments, upkeep and maintenance of the station, cleaning, and then any other tasks that might come up in the way of testing station capabilities or repairing things that might've broken or unpacking equipment that, you know, has been packed for quite a while but now it's time to deploy it and set it up and put it into operation. So I'm expecting every day to look the same superficially but probably to be very different in the details of what we do. Some things we'll work on as a team. Some things we'll work on individually. It just depends on the criticality of it and what the particular task is. We'll break for lunch during the day, and we'll try to keep that as predictable and routine as possible. I feel very strongly, like the previous two crews, that it's important for the crew, whenever possible, to get together for lunch and eat together so that we have a chance to tag up on what's going on and share our thoughts and feelings and complaints or, you know, whatever's happening. Gripe about the ground or, you know, whatever. But just a time to make sure we're communicating with each other. Because the station's going to be so large at that time with four good-size modules strung together and the airlock off to the side, we could go quite a while without seeing each other. Literally. And maybe hearing our voices on the loops as we talk to the ground. But not actually being in the same place with each other. So it's important to gather periodically to do that. And we'll do the same thing at the end of the day. We'll have a planning session at the end of the day to review the next day's plan; and talk about who's going to be doing what task, review the procedures as necessary. We have some onboard training available to us through CDs or tapes that we might want to look at for something complicated that we want to review. And we'll also look at the long-term plan for the next few days to make sure that something's not coming that's going to catch us by surprise. And then relax in the evening for a while. And people will be free to do whatever they like, watch a movie, read, or look out the window, which is one of my favorite things and I suspect will continue to be on the station, assuming they'll let me open the windows. But, and I don't mean that literally. But I think it'll be like a shipboard routine or like an outpost in Antarctica or any exploration where you're doing research in place, with details that vary from day-to-day but with a routine that's fairly predictable. That will be interrupted occasionally by an EVA, after we get the Docking Compartment. Then we may end up with all those packed together during a very short period of time. And then in addition we will also occasionally have a Progress arrive, so we'll have to set up for the docking of that. And then the Soyuz will arrive in October which will be a big event I'm sure. But that'll be near the end of our mission.
Give me an overview of the science work you guys are going to be doing. Is it similar to what we saw on the Mir space station and onboard the shuttle for the last several years?
A lot of it is similar to what's been done before. But a lot of it is building on that previous experience. Obviously, we have a lot more power and space and time available to us to conduct these experiments. When you do experiments on the shuttle, for example, if it's something that, let's say, they've allotted 6 hours to do this experiment. If the first 2 hours go badly, you're going to cancel it and go on to something else. On the station, if you start an experiment and it goes badly, then we have time to call the ground, let them work on it a couple of days, and then go back to it later on in another planning cycle and try to get it restarted again. So that's one of the unique features that I think we'll, we will continue to build on as the station grows and operates more and more efficiently. The type of science we are doing is similar to what you mentioned we've done in the past; materials science, crystal growth, some life sciences experiments where we're evaluating our own bodies and organisms as to how they change during a long-duration flight. Try to isolate what effects zero-g and the space environment have on the human body; and whether there are ways to counter those effects through exercise or other means. And we have experiments that are looking specifically at those aspects of space flight. We have observation experiments to look at various sites on the ground and see how they change through the course of the seasons and the course of time. And of course, looking for unique opportunities such as if there's a volcanic eruption or an earthquake or something like that or a major storm, we'll try to document that as best we can. Let's see. But that's a very broad summary of what we're doing and obviously you have the list of the details of the various experiments. But a lot of our time will be spent in looking at the effects of the environment we're in on either materials or ourselves.
What will the Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, the Marshall Space Flight Center, be contributing? What kind of interaction will you be having with them?
Oh, that's a major member of our team. Or we are a major member of their team. However you want to look at it. They've got a lot of very good people and a lot of investigators there and engineers who have worked on these payloads and are ready to see them operate on orbit and to, if necessary, tweak them or fix them or whatever. But we'll have continuous interaction with them. Well, not continuous; but every day, we'll have interaction with them, more than likely. Obviously any problems that we encounter, we will discuss with them. And we have the capability to do real-time operations, if necessary. I mean, we can ask them, "Okay. Now, where does that wire go?" Or, "Which button do you want me to push on the computer?" And see if we can get something fixed if we're having serious problems. And in addition, of course, they'll be contributing to the daily plan; and as we do various operations, we will notify them, "Okay, I'm beginning this now." And then they'll follow it from the ground. And they can also send commands from the ground and receive data, as the experiment is operating and basically participate with us in the operation of that experiment. Depending on what the design of it is. So we'll see a mixture of both our hands-on operation and then just monitoring of what they're doing from the ground. There's some things [that] operate on automatic.
A big part of your work will be with the Human Research Facility. What is that and what kind of work will you be doing with it?
The Human Research Facility is a rack in the Laboratory that's designed specifically to interface with the human body basically. It has its own computers. It has its own connectors and leads. You can, we do one experiment where we evaluate the cardiopulmonary capacity of the body during, as it changes in zero-gravity and also the effects of doing an EVA on that capability. So we can attach sensors to it that will evaluate our lung capacity, the amount of oxygen that we absorb during any one breath, CO2 we produce, et cetera. And that can all be evaluated in the HRF equipment and stored on board or sent directly to the ground. We have an experiment where we're evaluating the response of your musculature to various stimulations. That information will also be transferred through the HRF. Let's see. We can analyze gases, both the breath and on orbit. It has the capability to record heart rate and anything you can think of that has to do with the way the human body operates in space. And then it, as I said, it has a great deal of computing power to operate the payloads that are associated with it.
You mentioned earlier the arrival of the Russian Docking Compartment.
What is the Docking Compartment? What does that do?
The Docking Compartment is a specially designed module. Smaller than the other Russian modules, like the Soyuz module or the FGB. That is, it's called the Docking Compartment because it will attach, be attached automatically to the base of the ?xO [pay-ha-oh] one, one of the round nodes at the end of the Service Module. And we'll replace an opening docking port with this module that's about 10, maybe 10 meters long, 8 to 10 meters long, and at the other end of that will be another docking port to which Soyuz and Progress vehicles can routinely dock. So it can be used for receiving some Russian spacecraft that will be coming to the station to visit for either crew exchange or Soyuz rotation or for resupply. But it's also designed to operate as an airlock. It has two hatches that can be opened into space, either of which you can use depending on the task at hand. It has a panel inside for preparing the space suit and the airlock for operation in open space. And of course all the necessary connectors for providing oxygen and communications and power to the space suit itself. And places to store equipment that you might use during a space walk in the Russian Orlan space suit, which is the one they've been using for a number of years. So, it's a, it has two basic purposes. One is to provide an airlock for the EVAs that would occur from the Russian segment, and also to provide a port for Soyuz and Progress vehicles to come to the station and to be, you know, long term, for long-term parking there at the station. Currently it's scheduled to arrive in August. Like everybody, they're struggling with funding and flight preparation issues, so we don't know exactly when it'll arrive. But we're prepared to deal with it when it does. We'll have to activate it, unpack it, and then get ready for a couple of EVAs that are necessary in order to set up the equipment on the outside of the Docking Compartment that will support both the EVA and docking activities and change the configuration of some cables to make sure that we can transfer data and commands from the station through the Docking Compartment to the various antennas and spacecraft that might dock there.
Give me an overview of some of those space walks that'll be taking place while you guys are up there. Who's conducting them and what kind of cross-training have you had and what are you doing out there?
Once the Docking Compartment arrives, there are two activation EVAs that are required. One to remove the manipulator or crane that will be stowed inside there to the outside of the Docking Compartment and set up. And then cables and antennas that need to be set up on the outside. And Mikhail and Vladimir will do that one. And the second EVA will require re-cabling some of the command data cables as well as testing the crane and some other small activities on the outside of the Docking Compartment to finish activating it. And Vladimir and myself will conduct that one. There are one or two other EVAs that are possible during our increment if we have time, which are designed to install experiments that the Russians have contracted with their own research organizations or other countries' research communities to install on the outside of the station. And right now Vladimir and Mikhail are trained as the prime to do that, and I'm their backup to install those.
You mentioned the arrival of a Progress resupply vehicle as well. What do you have to do to the station to get it ready for when Progress shows up?
Well, of course you need to make sure that the equipment at the port where that Progress will arrive is operating to include the docking mechanism itself as well as the Kurs…command control system that is used for the automatic docking of the Progress. So we'll test that. And of course we'll need to make sure that the path from the Progress into the station is clear of stowed hardware so that we can get the hatch open and remove all the equipment. The station has to be in the right attitude, the right command mode, command control mode. And it's basically a straightforward checklist that needs to be followed. Some of the activities will be conducted by the ground, some by the crew on board. But mainly, as the Progress approaches, we need to be in a stable attitude, in a predictable attitude, and we need to have good radio link between the Progress and the station so that the Progress can be guided by its computer into the docking port that's chosen. Frequently, it's on the end of the Service Module; sometimes on the base, on the bottom of the station. And then we'll just monitor, oh, we also need to test out and set up the tele-operated robotics remote control unit which is a unit that's similar to a Soyuz hand-controller set and display but actually is located inside the station in the Service Module which can be used in case the Progress has an automatic docking failure, automatic system failure, to complete a manual docking. And Vladimir and Mikhail are well-trained on that. I've had some training on it, but they're fully qualified to operate that system if necessary to complete a Progress docking all the way to contact and capture, even if the automatic system fails. So we'll set that up and test it before the Progress arrival also.
In case of an emergency, the Russian Soyuz vehicle will be used to help get you guys off the station.
What's the process of getting out of there, if you had to, in a big hurry into a Soyuz?
Well, it's, there's basically two major components of that. One is, clearing the path through the hatches of things like ventilator fans and drying fans, so that you can close the hatches and get yourself in there. And of course, you need to work with whatever problem is driving you to that decision at the same time. But you've got to clear everything out and make sure that you can undock safely without anything interfering with the hatches. Then you've got to get into the Soyuz, close the hatch on the station, close the hatch on the Soyuz, and then, if it's a pressurization problem, make sure your Soyuz is not the problem and that it's fully pressurized and ready to go. And then we have a very well-understood sequence of events that occur, with commands from the Soyuz to completely seal the hatches, check the pressure integrity, and then actually do the undocking and fly away from the station. And then we'd have a few hours to get into our suits and to land the Soyuz if necessary.
After 5 months or so, shuttle mission STS-108 will show up to pick you guys up and bring you home.
What sort of milestones will you have to [have] hit along the way to feel like you've had a successful mission up there?
My number one mission success criteria is safe return of the crew and safe operations on board. Number two is a successful, or a, yes, successful operation of the station so that it is fully functional as possible, when the next crew arrives. And in between, we're going to be doing a lot of other things. There's a lot of details that go along with making those things happen. But if we have operated successfully and safely together as a crew and everybody's healthy, and we're still speaking to each other, then I'll feel like it's been a very good mission from that standpoint. And if the station is in good shape and we've taken good care of it and repaired things, as necessary, then I'll feel like we've done that part of it well and it'll be ready to continue the science. Now, along the way in doing that, we're going to have to work hard on communicating with each other, communicating with the ground. We're going to have to accomplish both the small and the large tasks that are assigned to us to feel good about what we've done and also to make sure the station continues to operate in a healthy, healthy fashion. So those are specific steps that have to occur. Such as the deployment of the various payloads; the successful completion of them. For example, there are a number of things that have to be brought out of a refrigerator or a freezer and put into an experiment drawer where they will crystallize and achieve the experiment goals. If we do that correctly, then the scientists will obtain the data they're looking for. So we have to do all those little steps successfully in order to achieve the big ones. But if we have complied with the tasks that are given to us and operated well as a team, and amongst ourselves and with the ground, then I, and not broken anything, I'll feel like the mission has been a resounding success.
Has your work as a Program Manager helped you prepare as you strap in and become an astronaut again and command the space station? If it has, how has it helped you?
I believe it has helped me. Of course, working in various jobs gives you a broader perspective on things in any organization you're a part of. I feel very fortunate to have had some of the jobs I did in the last few years. Working in the Shuttle Program, for Tommy Holloway and then in the Station Program for Tommy again and for Randy Brinkley were great experiences for me. And then working as the Program Manager for Mr. Abbey and Mr. Goldin were also very good experiences. I learned a lot from all those people. They have a lot of experience of their own, a lot of wisdom, and a lot of understanding of space flight. And I feel like that helped me not only from a management standpoint, but also as a commander of a mission or even just a member of a mission. I now understand better what kind of problems the programs and the NASA organizations are dealing with and also what their goals are and what their constraints are. And so maybe I'm a little more patient with some things than others might be. But by the same token, I probably get a little more frustrated when I know that if somebody really wanted to do this, they could. And I try not to go around the chain of command. But I try to give hints on who to go to when people need to, to keep the ball rolling on important issues. But I do believe that that experience has helped me in many ways. And you know, I'd like to do that again someday. But it happened a little earlier in my career than I had expected it to, and I really had not planned to stop flying, when I ended up in that job. And it was a sequence of events that occurred that made that happen. And I was happy to do that and happy to do my part for the program. But I really wasn't ready to retire from flying. So I feel very fortunate that this opportunity arose and that the management-Jim Wetherbee and Charlie Precourt, Mr. Abbey- saw fit to assign me to this mission and trust me enough to get ready in time to execute it. And I'm very happy to be working with Vladimir and Mikhail. They're terrific guys who have a lot of experience on their own, both on the ground and in flight and are great to work with, I'm sure will be even better to work with in orbit. But space flight, as we mentioned at the beginning, is what I always wanted to do. And even when I have to stop flying someday, I will always miss it I'm sure. Because in my mind, the greatest adventure that I can have, as [an] explorer, as a professional, as an aviator. And there's a lot of things I'd like to do. You can't do them all. And if I have to choose one, this is the one to do. And the perspective it gives you on, on, our world in general and on technological achievement in specific I think is unlike anything else you can experience in the world or out of the world.
From your position on the front lines, how has the U.S. and Russian partnership changed in the last few years? Those 8 years you served between your space flights, you were working right on the front lines of everything. What have you seen?
Well, it has changed for sure. It's like having a family grow up and change and age. Some things happen gracefully; others don't. People change their goals and they change their view of things as they get more information or as their own environment changes. And so it's a constantly changing and dynamic situation. But the main change I've seen is that we're comfortable with each other. We can argue about things. We can solve problems. A lot of the things that seemed really, really big in the early days have become trivial. And…but by the same token, some things that we trivialized early on have become significant because we didn't deal with them adequately. And that's the kind of lesson you can learn in any relationship is that you have to pay attention to all the aspects of it and keep talking, keep communicating, and make sure, as I said earlier, [that] you're understanding each other's goals and each other's fears. I believe that we have a very professional relationship. I believe that the people who are working particularly at the front lines, at the interfaces, in operations and in hardware development, et al., have a very good understanding of each other and how each other does business. And I think they can solve a lot of very difficult problems. It's an amazing team to watch when they've got to go out and get something done. The complicating factor in all of this is that the politics of our countries-and not just Russia and the U.S., but all the countries involved-is also an ever-changing scene. And the politics affect what we do because they affect our budget. They affect the foreign relations aspect of what we do. And that filters down, certainly into the management level, where the major agreements are made. And so that will see changes as we go through the years. And I've seen changes since the early days of Phase 1 in that regard. And again, some for the better; some for the worse. But the main thing is that, at the team level, at the working level, we've got a good, solid team and people can generally overlook the political differences and overlook the financial pressures and the cultural aspects that may still remain and work as a good space team. And we're all working for the same goals. And that is to maintain a human presence in space and learn more about operating for long periods of time in space on a very large vehicle. And start setting other goals of where we can go as a team, and how we can do things together. And I'm hoping that that will move not only into changes that will allow us to operate beyond Earth orbit, but also will affect how we operate on Earth in that people will use us as an example of how very, very large problems can be solved, risk can be dealt with, and cultural and personal interactions can be overcome. Problems in interactions can be overcome. Because it can be. I mean, people can work together if that's their goal, which is, if that's one of their goals, to work together.
You've had some personal experience training in Russia yourself.
What's it been like for you?
Well, that's been interesting also, training in Russia after spending so much time over there as a manager. Sitting in class is obviously a lot different than sitting in a meeting. most of the time; I enjoy it a lot more. But also it has its moments, too, where you're trying to struggle through a system or understand the details of a component or whatever. But, again, it's just a totally changed, different focus. You're trying to gather as much knowledge about something very specific as quickly as you can, and then determine how you're going to use it and operate it, in space. So, sometimes you get really focused and you forget about the big picture around you. And at other times you step back and you think, "Well, I know this is the overall program problem or the overall program goal. How is what I'm doing here going to fit into that?" So again, I've been fortunate that I've got different perspectives than other people might have. And so it keeps me on my toes. But also I think [it] makes it more satisfying to me because I can see how things tend to fit together. And occasionally I can explain it to other people, though not always. There're other aspects of that that I think are important for people to understand too. My job here at Johnson Space Center has always involved a lot of travel and a lot of time spent at work or on the road. And it is true for almost everybody here. In training in Russia, it meant not more frequent trips to Russia, because I was going a lot of times a year already, but longer time away from my family. And throughout it, all of that, they've been one of my best support teams, in doing this job. Whether it was in management or in training. And my wife, Rebecca, and all of my kids have been sensitive to what I've had to do and how much I've been gone and how important communication is to me. They're very aware of it and have let me know that they're still behind me and doing their part of the job back here in the States, wherever I happen to be. And I just want to let folks know that that's a very important aspect of what we all do. And to, not just to have a good family behind you, but to acknowledge that they're there. And that they are just as important as we, the team members, are in accomplishing this mission. And without good family support or support of friends, depending on whatever your situation is, you can't do a job like this, whether it's in training or engineering or operations or whatever. And I just want to encourage everybody to be aware of that. And also to take good care of the friends and family that they have.
You've dedicated much of your life to the International Space Station. What are your thoughts about its importance? Why do we need this thing flying up there?
We need a space station because we need a frontier. We need to keep pushing the human race to expand beyond the current boundaries that we have. Usually our boundaries are, throughout history, I believe, our boundaries have been a combination of physical boundaries, such as oceans or mountains or whatever, and mental boundaries of "Can I really get past that other boundary?" I mean, the mental leap to allow people to think of the Americas as a part of the world and a place where people could emigrate and establish a new civilization, you know, that was a huge mental leap that people had to take, centuries ago. And I believe we still have leaps we need to make over mental boundaries in getting into space. It will come. I am absolutely, 100 percent confident that we will arrive on the other side of that boundary and space will become a more comfortable place to live and work and visit even. We're not at that point right now because it's still a huge challenge just to get humans off the planet, much less a lot of hardware. As routine and frequent as it may seem to the casual observer, it's still extremely complex and takes a lot of attention to detail no matter what spacecraft you're talking about, and it takes a lot of attention to detail to keep something like this space station flying. That experience in itself will be very valuable as we develop other spacecraft and other colonies, if you will, or other places to live. I am hoping that it will inspire, not only generations behind us to continue to want to do this but also our political leaders and the public to continue to push into this frontier. We don't, I mean, I can't tell anybody, if we go and live in space for this many years and then go back to the moon or go to Mars that we'll find all these wonderful things and we'll be better off, be better off as a human race because of it. Because we haven't been there in that way yet. And any more than anybody who was going to the Americas or to Australia or even to Siberia centuries ago, could have told you what they were, life was going to be like in the future or what they were going to find there. You just have to have an open mind, an inquiring mind, and I think a very strong character and ambition, both as an individual and as a country, to keep pressing on beyond those frontiers and to cross those boundaries wherever they occur. And space is a major challenge. To get into space takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of near-perfect hardware. It takes overcoming a lot of risk. We know how to do that now. We know how to manage those things. But it's still a big boundary we have to leap over. It's similar to when people first began flying over broad expanses of ocean in the early aircraft. I mean, they didn't know-a lot of those flights-how far they would get. And when you look at what people did in those days, they took a lot of risks to make that happen. Now people fly back and forth across the Atlantic, almost as easy as driving across the country. In fact, easier than driving across the country. And take it for granted in that regard almost. Maybe centuries from now, space will seem that way to us. But we are at the beginning of that era. It's important for us to keep it going and to learn as much as we can, with as few mistakes as possible, during this period of time so that the ones who follow us can get over those initial risks and fears and challenges and go do greater things in space. Go to other places. Establish laboratories on the moon, observatories, and workplaces. And eventually, living places. And then go to Mars and other moons. And whatever we can find, and whatever propulsion we can manage to scrape together to get us there. But, it's important to continue to have those goals out there and to keep shooting for them. If we think we've done everything, then you might as well sit down and rest for the rest of your days. Because we will never get to the point where we've done everything or learned everything or seen everything. And on a personal note: that's what I like about flying. That's what I like about space flight. That's what I like about traveling, is that I'm always seeing something new. I'm always expanding my own knowledge, even if it's only important to me. It's always a new dawn. And when I fly, the sky I see when I fly has never been seen before by anybody and never will be seen exactly the same by anybody again, nor from the same perspective. And space is a very similar experience. And some people are comfortable with that; some people aren't. But for those who are, we need to encourage them to continue to seek those new vistas, because they'll bring new knowledge. And hopefully, a better life for all people on the world, in the world.