Preflight Interview: Peggy Whitson
Peggy, you're getting set to begin a four-month-long mission in space. Tell us, in summary, what are the goals of this expedition to the International Space Station?
Well, Expedition Five's going to be continuing our assembly of the International Space Station. We're going to, first, with the launch of UF-2, be adding on the Mobile Base System, and later, with 9A the first or the second large piece of truss called S1 for starboard 1, and then 11A will be bringing up P1, which is port 1. And so we'll be continuing that assembly, as well as, inside, we'll be conducting all the scientific research and in addition to continuation of experiments that have been conducted starting as early as Expedition Three, we'll be adding on and doing some new investigations during Expedition Five.
So do you look at yourself as a scientist, or a builder, or an explorer or what?
It's kind of a mix. You know, my training is in science, although since being selected as an astronaut I've learned a lot about a lot of different things, which actually is probably the most fun part about the job... learning new things… everything from comm systems, life support systems, guidance and navigation, things that I knew absolutely nothing about. And so it's kind of melding of all those things.
Let me stop and go in that direction for a minute then. Tell me why you wanted to be an astronaut.
Well, when I was nine years old, I watched the first men walk on the Moon, and that was a very... key time, I guess, for me. But ... at nine you think you're going to be... a pilot, whatever -- lots of different things, when you're nine; but when I graduated from high school, [that was] the year that they selected the first female astronauts, and I think at that point I thought: this is going to be something I'm going to try and do.
So you've had your eye on it since then?
Talk about how you got there, then. What was the course of your education and your career that led you to become an astronaut?
Well, from high school I went to a small undergraduate school -- Iowa Wesleyan in southeastern Iowa. It was very rural, a very small school, and I got a double major in biology and chemistry, and from there went to Rice University. [It] was a huge culture shock to move to Houston for me! But then I got a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Rice University. And immediately after that started working for NASA, so I've never had a real job, in my mind, because I've always done what I wanted to do.
Talk about the kinds of work you did at NASA before becoming an astronaut.
I've had a lot of different jobs. I started out initially as research biochemist and continuing research in biochemistry there. But I was very quickly included into the joint negotiations and joint scientific investigations we were doing with the Russians. At that time, in 1989, my first trip to Russia we were conducting joint biomedical research with the Russians. And then later I was, because of my experience with the Russians, I was asked to be the project scientist -- the lead scientist -- for our investigations during the first flight of an astronaut on board the Mir station and then, later, as part of that NASA/Mir Program as well.
All this time, you had your eye on becoming an astronaut.
Yes, all the time.
Over all of that time then, as you look back at it now, who do you think are the people who may have had some of the biggest influences on you getting to where you've gotten?
Well, I think my parents probably are the biggest influences. I was raised [on] a farm; the two hardest-working people I know are my parents. And I think they always encouraged me, always told me, you know, you can do whatever you set your mind to. And…I think I even surprised them.
You've mentioned that you were working in the American space program as it was first starting to work with the Russians. From your perspective, can you tell me how you've seen the partner nations in this space station project improve their abilities to work together, or the relationship mature, over those years?
Well, since 1989 I've seen a lot of changes in the way we do business with the Russians and vice versa, and it's pleasing to me that there are some steps forward. Sometimes it's very frustrating in the day-to-day work level, you know, it's very frustrating dealing with the differences in the cultures. But overall we are definitely coming together and I think International Space Station is demonstrating that.
You're about to go there as a crewmember, and it's going to be your first time to fly in space. What was it like to be told that you were going to, you were assigned to this crew and that you were going to make this trip?
Well, obviously, very exciting…I think, based on everything I've heard from other crewmembers coming down…flying in space is a phenomenal event, but living in space has been even more special for all the crewmembers who've talked about it after returning, and so I'm looking forward to that.
Members of any crew, a group of folks, have to have a range of talents in order to do all the jobs that are going to be done. Tell me, what are your top jobs on Expedition 5?
Well, Expedition 5…I'm one of the robotics operators, Valery and I are both robotics operators. And in addition to that I'm the U.S. systems expert on every system, so every U.S. system I've had to become expert level, get additional training in case of failures or need to repair things. And so, all U.S. systems -- comm, life support, guidance and navigation, everything -- I'm the expert on.
And you've spent now a couple of years, I guess, traveling around the world, training to learn not only the American systems…
…but the other systems as well. What's that experience been like?
Well, I've been traveling to Russia since '89 and even after I was selected as an astronaut one of my technical jobs was what we called the "Russian crusader" -- it was a job in Russia, trying to help develop the dual-language Flight Data File and doing anything relative to the hardware that involved the crewmembers, like fit-checking treadmills into the Russian segment, into the Service Module, things like that. So I've had a lot of experience being away and traveling. And I don't think going into space is going to be all that much different: we still have access to e-mail and even a phone, so I think it's not going to be that much different than being away on travel. I have enjoyed it…traveling to Russia has been very gratifying in the sense that I'm learning new things; as I said, I really enjoy learning new things, and learning about the Russian segment, the Russian systems, the Russian EVA suit, the Orlan, and, has been very interesting to me. And so it's very complementary with the things that I've learned on the U.S. segment as well.
Let's fly your mission here in the next fifteen or twenty minutes. You go to space when Ken Cockrell and his shuttle crew deliver you, Valery, and Sergei to the station. Once you get over there, you, along with other things, are going to spend four or five days helping the shuttle crewmembers unload the items that are coming up in your moving van, in your Multipurpose Logistics Module. What kind of supplies and equipment and whatnot is coming up for you in, on this mission?
Well, there's real basic things, like clothing and food. Not only do we have food for Expedition 5, but we have food for Expedition 6 as well, because the MPLM on UF-2 is the last one that will be going to station for about a year, so in the meantime we have to pre-position food for later expeditions as well. So we have a lot of supplies, generic supplies, just to live on station. But in addition to that, we've got one rack facility called the Microgravity Science Glovebox, which is going to enhance our capability to do materials science experiments inside the station. So we'll be moving that whole rack -- it's between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds and huge -- person-size, bigger size rack -- that we'll be moving into the station. Carl and Dan and Yury will have prepared a spot on board the Lab; they will have emptied out a slot, and we'll slide that into a slot on the station, and it'll stay there. Then we'll change out the different types of experiments that go on in there throughout the course of our expedition, and then later expeditions as well. We're also taking up an EXPRESS rack. And these are very useful racks for investigators on the ground because they provide power and data and video capabilities, cooling capabilities that their experiments might need, and it provides a platform which investigators can use to get science into space quickly, and that's why they call it the EXPRESS rack -- expedited processing. So we hope that, to get various different types of things to fill it. And this is a special rack also because it's an ARIS rack, which is an Active Rack Isolation System, so during our expedition we'll be setting up that active rack isolation and it will minimize the effects... even in microgravity we do have some acceleration effects and vibration effects on board the station, and so this active isolation system uses…accelerometers to dampen the energies and the forces that are just inherent in being in the station. And so that the science is cleaner, it allows [a] better platform for microgravity science on board the station.
Now there's one of those racks on board already, right?
That's correct, and it's active and running and has several experiments going. And we'll set this one up, and later experiments will be added to it.
During the time the two crews are on board, there's also time scheduled for what's called the "handover" between you and the Expedition 4 crew. Give me a sense of what it is that you folks do and talk about during this period and how it helps you and your crewmates get off to a better start.
Well, actually our handover has already started. Carl and Dan have been sending me notes -- remember to do this, keep in mind that you'll need to change your computers, turn your computer system on every morning and reboot the VT machine -- so they've been already sending me hints and reminders of things I should put in my crew notebook. But when I get on orbit, I anticipate that they'll be showing me: "Well, here's what they didn't show you in training -- you need to know how to get to this one valve that is hard to access on orbit, much harder than they showed us on the ground," or whatever. And so they're going to show us the real-life nuts and bolts of... "you're going to have to interact here, you need to know where this valve is," and kind of give you a three-dimensional orientation inside the station of, "this works well, this you need to bang on a little bit to get it running." And so, I think that they'll be sharing that information.
Is four or five days enough for that?
I think it probably will be. Never having done it before, I don't know for sure, but -- especially because in addition to the e-mails they've been sending me, we will have scheduled in a month preceding our flight, we will have weekly conferences with them to discuss details of stowage and transfer items, where we're going to put things, where we're going to temp stow things while we're moving things in and out of locations. The whole transfer process, the stowage and transfer process, is this logistical nightmare that somebody has to choreograph how we're moving all these thousands of pounds of payload out of the MPLM and onto the station, and get all the other stuff back onto the MPLM to take home. So it's a big choreography that goes on and we have to figure that out and discuss it in advance; get a plan.
There's all of that going on, and there's this handover, and during the docked operations there's also scheduled to be three spacewalks by shuttle astronauts to complete the delivery of the Mobile Base System, primarily. Tell me, first of all, what, about the Mobile Base System: what it is, where it goes on the station, and how it contributes to the assembly and to the improved functionality of the station.
Well, 8A is taking up the S0 truss, and on the S0 truss is what's called the Mobile Transporter, and it's got all the device and mechanisms to actually move along this truss that we're going to be assembling, at the end of which will be the solar arrays. So the Mobile Transporter is sitting up there. We're going to take the Mobile Base [System] and attach it to the Mobile Transporter, and then it has the capability for the arm to attach to it. So currently, our arm is sitting on the Laboratory module. The shoulder is sitting on the Laboratory module, and we'll use the arm off the Laboratory, grab the Mobile Base System out of the payload bay, and attach it to the Mobile Transporter. And then once the shuttle's gone and left, one of the things we'll do is we'll check out the Mobile Base, make sure it's working correctly, and then we're going to do the step-off procedure, which means we'll grab one of the Payload and Data Grapple Fixtures with the arm and then release from the Laboratory, so our new shoulder becomes on this Mobile Base System. And that allows us the capability of moving the arm along the truss. And that's important for the next phase, when 9A arrives with the next piece of truss, because from that Mobile Base on the end of the truss of S0, we will reach down into the payload bay and grab the S1 truss and pick it up and attach it to S0. And then during 11A we'll do the same from the other side, except because of the configuration we'll actually have to, the shuttle arm will pick it up out of the payload bay and then we'll grab it from the shuttle and attach it to the station. So it's going to be an interesting assembly complex, and the Mobile Base is key in positioning the arm in the appropriate place and it is a platform for the arm from which to work.
During the spacewalks to install the Mobile Base System, you'll be present, although inside the station. Tell me what you're going to do, and where people are going to be during those spacewalks.
...Valery and Carl [who is] from Expedition 4, will be running the arm during the EVA and providing EVA support. And then Carl and I will take the Mobile Base System from the payload bay and attach it, using the robotic arm, to the Mobile Transporter. And then the EVA crewmembers will do the final bolting attachment required to hold it in place. But we'll attach it with a mechanical claw that will grab the base and hold it until the EVA crewmembers get out there to bolt it in place, and then do the electrical connections that go along with that.
Which is accomplished then over that and a subsequent spacewalk…
As a subsequent…
By the time that shuttle crew heads home, along with Yury, Carl, and Dan leaving you folks to get settled in to your routine, I wonder if there's, if it's possible to have a "routine" day 240 miles up: what is daily life for a space station crewmember going to be like?
Well, obviously, I don't know for sure.
But, you know better than the rest of us!
But we've been training, and we have daily, routine "day-in-the-life" sims. And I think it's really interesting because, you know, you have to power down computers, set things up, re-power computers, upload the latest inventory management files, and look at the execute packages to determine what notes from the ground you've gotten, information about the tasks you're going to do today, tool lists, where to find the tools, and all this information. And then you get to start your day, after you do all this stuff. You start your day, which will include either maintenance or scientific payload experiments repairs, whatever's needed in order to sustain the station and to conduct the investigations. And at the end of the day, it's kind of a repeat of the beginning, where you plan for the next day. So again, a lot of choreography is involved in conducting the investigations and making sure that we do all the prop, maintenance at the proper times, and so there's [a] huge group of people on the ground that help give us all the information we need to be able to just live through one day, and I really appreciate all the efforts they have to put in to make that possible.
I'd like to talk for a few minutes about the science that'll be done during your increment. Can you tell us, is there a way to say how the space station's scientific mission will be advanced during the period of Expedition 5?
Well, I think science advances a lot slower than any of us would like it to; but specifically during Expedition 5 we're getting the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox up, which I mentioned, and this is a facility payload that is going to allow various different investigators to do materials science inside of a confined environment. In environment of the space station, if we do things that involve toxic materials, we need to have several layers of containment, because obviously we can't just open the window if we have a little toxic fluid escape. So, the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox provides us a level of containment. It allows us to work inside with the rubber gloves up on our arms, and we can manipulate and set up experiments inside a contained environment. And it would be experiments that we couldn't possibly do without that additional level of containment. And so it's an important tool to allow us to do different types of experiments. We've had other smaller gloveboxes flying, which have flown before either on the shuttle, in Spacelabs, and even one on Mir, that we had flown on Mir. So there have been previous ones; this is a, kind of a facility-class payload, very large, and I think it's going to really enhance our capabilities in the materials science world.
The materials sciences is one of the broad areas of science that goes on; talk about what the others are.
Well, another big area, one that I am a little bit biased toward, is the human research. That's where my background is. We're doing a number of different types of experiments using what we call the Human Research Facility. This facility went up during Expedition 2 and has been used periodically throughout the other expeditions. And one of the experiments we're doing is called PuFF: it's a pulmonary function experiment where we look at how changes in lung function are occurring as a function of duration of spaceflight. And in addition to that we're also looking, immediately after EVA, to see if there're any changes with the pressure, reduced pressure, that the EVA crewmembers experience, and so after, immediately after EVAs we also do this pulmonary function test. So that's one example, and we're doing numerous types of experiments in human research. Some are only pre- and postflight, looking at, for instance, like bone density, and viral reactivation to look at immune function. So there's a wide variety of different types of things that are going on in human research.
But the research into how people respond to living in space is one of the primary goals of the station.
That's true. That's, I think personally, I think the, one of the most important goals of station is to figure out how to live in space longer and reduce the risk to the crewmembers while they're doing it. And I guess that's why I may be additional bias for human research is because not only do we need to understand more of what happens in space, but we need to be, figure out how to minimize the detrimental effects that occur during spaceflight.
And, well, one of those Human Life Sciences experiments is designed to learn about the risk of renal stone formation in microgravity, and you've managed to neglect to mention the fact that you're the primary investigator on that experiment. Tell me what's involved in what they, what's called Renal Stone.
Our experiment is based on some previous data that we've collected on the shuttle and on, in the NASA/Mir science program, and there we found that crewmembers are at a greater risk of forming renal or kidney stones-you've probably heard [them] referred to as kidney stones. And that's a big deal in spaceflight because, if you've ever known anybody who's formed a kidney stone, it is excruciatingly painful if that stone begins to move, and in essence it will incapacitate a crewmember, and you would probably have to abort the entire mission. So we are interested in trying to reduce that risk of stone formation. We've had crewmembers form stones after flight, and there's one case where they aborted a Russian mission because of a crewmember who formed a stone during flight…that moved. And so our research is in, specifically, we're looking at a countermeasure to try and alleviate some of those effects. We're using a drug that's commonly used on the ground for cal, to inhibit calcium-containing stones, and based on the results of our previous research we're going to be using potassium citrate in the crewmembers on a daily basis to see if that actually reduces the risk of forming renal stones, and collecting the same data that we collected during the shuttle and the NASA/Mir programs before, so to compare to our previous data, and see if the risk is actually decreased.
Is there an assumption that there's a higher risk in microgravity than elsewhere?
Yes, there is; and our research shows that there really is a higher risk, and it has to do with the fact that the crewmembers tend to be somewhat more dehydrated, as well as the fact that their bones are demineralizing, so there's a greater level of calcium and phosphate in the urine, which can form crystals and form the, be the nucleus of the stone formation that could occur.
There are a handful of investigations in your expedition under the category Space Product Development. In these cases, what kind of products are you folks researching, and presumably there's some advantage to trying to do it there as opposed to here?
Well, one of the commercial products is the, it's a, we use the commercial…it's a commercial bioprocessing facility…and we're going to grow plants. And, this case, they're interested in seeing how plant formation is changed during spaceflight, and in particular one of the things they're looking at is lignin production in pine seedlings. And it's, could be of benefit on the ground because if you can regulate lignin production on the ground you can change the structure of the wood that you would be harvesting, and things like that. So, they're interested at a very basic science level of understanding how microgravity affects it, but using more microgravity as a tool to see how things are regulated. And with that understanding of how things are regulated, they may be able to change it here on Earth as well. Another one of the more commercially related projects is one where we're doing micro-encapsulation of drugs. And this, and these can be used in various pharmaceutical drug treatments, and the, changing how we form those micro, how well it, the microcapsules form, can be a benefit to understanding here on Earth how, for drug delivery systems, I guess.
Day-to-day, realistically, what is it that you and your crewmates do to help the, all of these investigations along? Are you checking up on them, are you participating in them, how does it vary from one to another?
Well, it does vary a lot. For instance, things like protein crystal growth is another area where we bring up the samples, we activate them, and, after that, we just make sure we don't kick them-that's the primary goal. And others are very interactive, like the pulmonary function or the renal stone-you actually have to collect samples, urine samples, or pulmonary function you're actually blowing into a tube at predetermined, you know, protocols for breathing and then assessing your inspired and expired gases, and we'll use the GASMAP in the HRF facility to quantitate all the changes that are occurring as a function of spaceflight. And so some are extremely interactive, and others are more, "black box" things where you turn it on and don't kick.
You mentioned, in talking about the new glovebox a few minutes ago, that there had been one on Mir, and we also pointed out that you were a project scientist for the Shuttle/Mir Program some years ago. Is there comparison to how the body of research that's being done on ISS is building on what was done on, on Mir and during Shuttle/Mir?
Well, I definitely think so. My experiment and the description I gave you of how we took the information we learned in those programs, and now we're trying to develop a countermeasure to minimize the risks that we quantitated initially. And so I think every scientific investigation is learning from their previous the things that worked, the things that didn't work, and how to improve on everything, from crystal growth to kidney stones.
There is a shuttle mission that will visit the station during your increment; it's called 9A, and will deliver the S1 truss segment and what's called a CETA cart. Can you give us the thumbnail sketch of what the new hardware on that mission is about?
Well, the S1 truss is a continuation of the truss that's required…eventually at the ends of this truss, we'll have, we'll place the solar arrays, four panels of solar arrays, and that's going to provide a phenomenal amount of power for our station. Right now we have one temporarily-stowed set of solar arrays and they're providing all the power for, most of the power, for the station; the Russian solar arrays are also collecting some power, some solar energy as well but because of the attitude of the station a lot of times they don't collect nearly as much as the U.S. solar arrays. But this truss is going to get those solar arrays out and away from station and so they'll put them in the optimal arrangement to collect solar energy and allow the gimbals to work in the correct way to move and point directly at the sun at all times. So…9A is actually bringing up just one portion of that truss. It fills the entire payload bay, it weighs almost thirty-thousand pounds, but it's going to be like watching grass grow to watch us pull this out of the payload bay and move it over there, because the mass of the object is so large that we can't move it very fast at all. And so, but it's going to be very exciting… I'll be working with one of the shuttle crewmembers to do the installation, and then I'll be helping her with the EVA support, because she will have trained with the EVA crewmembers most recently, so-excuse me-so, we'll be attaching the truss and then there are very critical launch-to-activation times so the EVA crewmember, while we're moving the truss and setting it up for installation, the EVA crewmembers will actually be in the Airlock, prepping to go out the door; as soon as we get to a certain point in our procedure for the installation they'll be going out the door so that, as soon as we get it installed they'll be connecting the electrical and thermal connections.
And that installation all takes place over two, three spacewalks.
Three spacewalks. The first, the most critical one is the first one in terms of timing, and the others after that include some other activities. For instance, we're installing cameras, which [are] really going to help us dramatically with our camera views. That's one of the most limiting things with moving the robotic arm is actually having enough camera views to see where everything is all at one time. And while we have a shuttle there we have a pretty good view in most areas but once we get the arm onto the truss we can move it behind the Laboratory so that even those cameras don't provide good views. So we need to have arm cameras out on the truss so that we can look down the truss and see and make sure we have clearance with the arm, because it's a very large arm-it's amazing…that's one of the really interesting things about the training, you know, we do a lot of the, especially the robotics training, we do a lot of computer simulations. And after a while you get to thinking, oh, that's like a computer game, you know, moving the arm around. And then we'll go and do a training session in Building 9 [at the Johnson Space Center] and they'll have full-size mock-ups of the arm, full-size mock-ups of the truss segment. The truss is huge, and moving it around we had to change trajectories so we wouldn't hit the ceiling inside the high bay of Building 9, and it's huge. So it really gives you a feel for the size of the objects you're moving around and how close you are to everything, you know, especially during initial phases when we're pulling it out of the payload bay of the shuttle, our clearances are very close to the tail of the orbiter and to the Laboratory module. So it's a very delicate process of pulling it out, pivoting it, sliding it back, sliding it out over the, away from the shuttle, and then moving it around. So that first, initial step is very tedious because we're working within a foot or two clearance at times, and so we have to be very slow and meticulous about how we're doing things…don't want to break things.
You talked about two shuttle missions that you've been involved with so far and spacewalks on both of them, and you've been inside. Your crew does have a couple of spacewalks that are planned during your tour when there's no shuttle crew around. Tell me about those: who's doing what, and what are you going to do when you're out there?
Well, we'll have two spacewalks. Valery and I'll do the first one. These'll both be in the Russian EVA suit, the Orlan, and going out of the Russian Docking Compartment, which is kind of like our airlock. And so we'll be doing a spacewalk from there. One of the items that we brought up on, that we will have brought up on UF-2 is the MMOD shields: these are the micrometeoroid shields that will be placed on the Service Module. During UF-2 they will be temporarily stowed on the PMA near the Russian segment. And during our EVA Valery and I will use the, it's kind of a manual crane that Valery will actually crank and take me out to where the PMA, where the shields are; we'll attach the shields, he'll crank it back in and we'll go to the Service Module and there we will install the six of, I think there's twenty-four, eventually, panels that will be additionally added as additional micrometeoroid protection to the Service Module. After that we'll also install two ham radio antennas, and bring in and replace new experiment called Kromka. It's a, we call them a witness plate: it's an experiment that collects data relative to the materials that are being off-gassed as a result of the maneuvering engines firing on the Russian segment. So we'll be taking one of those off and putting a new one, installing a new one. So that's the first EVA; and then Valery and Sergei are going to do another EVA which involves replacing one of the pumps on the FGB thermal control system. And I think they're also planning to do some Japanese experiments. NASDA has some experiments, one of them is called SEEDS, and they'll be placing those out. Again, these are passive payloads that collect data on atmospheric oxygen, or cosmic oxygen levels and things like that…monitor those types of things.
So it sounds like during the spacewalk that you will make, you're also going to go for a ride on the arm?
Well, on the, it's the…
…it's the Strela. Yes, the Strela arm. So, yes, I will get to ride around on that; Valery will be cranking.
How do you simulate that for training?
Actually…they have [the] Strela crane mocked up and we actually trained on that when we were in Russia this last time; it's in their Hydrolab; it's basically a large swimming pool that's got a portion of the Service Module and the FGB in there and the Docking Compartment and a Strela crane, and in the water we can simulate doing, going through that whole process of moving around on the arm, on the crane.
Although it's not like looking down on the Earth while you're doing it…
Now, I imagine the view's going to be pretty good!
By the time the next shuttle crew arrives, your ride home and your replacements get there, you'll have been working with your third shuttle crew and your second other station crew. Is it hard to keep straight of who's doing what over all that time?
Not really. I mean, we get a lot of training; I've had less training with the Expedition 6 and the 11A crew, but they're going to try and get as much of that in in the next few weeks as we possibly can. I kind of relate it to building a porch on the front of your house, and the people that are going to help you build your porch are going to be coming in at intervals; they live out of town, and they're coming in at intervals to help you get this structure in place. And so it requires a lot of coordination ahead of time, either in training here or, you know, we'll be doing e-mail and telecons with each other to discuss plans of changes, things that, you know, invariably in this program things change, things break, we need to repair something, and so we've got to be prepared to be flexible enough to adapt to those and keep going.
In your opinion then, by the time that you and Valery and Sergei are ready to leave, what will had to have occurred for you to think of Expedition 5 as a success?
Hmm…I guess it, you know, the successful completion of any assembly is going to be a success, but in my mind partly because I'm a scientist, I guess I will have, want to have completed all if not most of the scientific investigations that were planned during that time period. And I'm looking forward to that.
In the last half an hour or so we've talked about ISS as a science laboratory, as a place to learn how people can live in space, a place to develop technologies; it's all of those things and others as well. I'm interested in your opinion: what is the most valuable aspect of the International Space Station?
Well, I do think it's an important orbiting laboratory. But I think probably the most valuable aspect is the international cooperation. I think the things that we learn now will contribute to our further exploration, which I imagine that our exploration of space will continue as a global event, as opposed to a country or one or two countries continuing on. And I think the international cooperation is probably the most valuable.
That in mind, how do you feel about the idea that you get to play this important and visible role in the project?
Well, excited, thrilled…privileged, and ready to go.