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Preflight Interview: Clay Anderson
Q: There are hundreds of thousands of pilots and scientists out there in the world right now, but there are only about 100 American astronauts, right? What is it that made you want to try to become an astronaut and be one of those people who fly in space? JSC2004-E-48382 --- Clayton Anderson, mission specialist

Image to right: Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson. Image credit: NASA

A: I have a little argument with my mom back in Nebraska. She says I was ready to be an astronaut at age 4 when she dressed me up in tinfoil and I got second place in the local parade during July. She said I was robbed -- I should’ve gotten first. But my first recollection is the Apollo 8 experience when my parents actually got my brother and sister and me up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to watch them go behind the moon for the very first time. And for me, to watch that on black-and-white TV and, you know, all astronauts of, of my age bracket, we pretty much have the same story; it was Apollo or it was, you know, seeing them walk on the moon -- but for me the, the neatest thing was how scared I was when they went behind the moon, and then when they came back around on the other side and I finally heard that Quindar tone, the little beep everybody hears on TV and, and when I heard that tone and I heard them start to talk again, it just gave me this really chilled feeling inside. And I thought, wow, that is the coolest thing! At that time, of course, like everyone else, I wanted to be an astronaut or a professional athlete. And, luckily enough for me, I was able to become an astronaut later on in my life.

Well, let’s start with the place where it happened. Introduce me to Ashland, Nebraska. What’s that town like?

Ashland, Nebraska, is a small town in the eastern end of Nebraska, about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, the two largest cities. Ashland’s population today is about 2,200 people; when I was there it was more like 1,800, so I figured after I left a lot more people wanted to come live there. It’s a very homey town; you know everyone that’s there. There’s a single high school, a single junior high school, and a single elementary school, so you go through the school system with all your friends that are pretty much stable and standard. Not many people in my career moved in or moved out. We were able to do everything. We could play sports, we could do the academics, we could be in music, we could be in theater and band. It didn’t matter -- if you wanted to, you could do it all. And the fact that all my relatives at that time were there in that town and nearby -- it was very family-oriented and it was a great place to grow up. A, a great place to learn and become who I am. I wouldn’t have been who I am without those folks.

In what way? Tell me how the place made you who you are?

My teachers, for example -- you could have a, a one-on-one relationship with your teachers. You'll see them in church, you’ll see them in the grocery store, you’ll see them everywhere you go, even when you’re not in school. During the summertimes we, we played with each other’s kids, and then the fact that my parents were always around and there were lots of outdoor gatherings that people could go to ... We could play baseball together … It just gave me, I think, a, a wholeness and a well-roundedness that has helped me as an astronaut.

Well, tell me how. Let’s go from there, from high school, what was your education and career path that ended up at astronaut?

After high school in Ashland I went to a small school Hastings College, in Hastings, Nebraska. I went there, for the main reason I could do some of the similar things that I did in Ashland: I could participate in athletics as well as get an education, and I could participate in student government, and in addition it had the bonus that my sister was already there so I had a, a way to learn the ropes. After that I went to graduate school in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University in Ames. The main reason I went there was they were one of the few schools that offered to pay me to go there, and they offered me a teaching assistantship. At that point in my career I needed a little help monetarily, so it was a great benefit.

And you ended up coming to work for NASA in Houston immediately, right?

Yes. It’s a long story, but it’s a great NASA story and I’ll try to shorten it up, but it turns out that there was a gentleman at the Johnson Space Center in Building 30, and he was from Nebraska, and every fall he went to Nebraska to pheasant hunt. He was an alumni of Hastings College. My junior year he was in Hastings pheasant-hunting in the fall with the Hastings College guidance counselor. They got to talking: "What do you do?" "I work for NASA." "Oh we have a kid here, a student here at Hastings who’s interested in NASA, Clay Anderson," ya-de-ya-da-ya-da. And then, the next thing you know is he told my guidance counselor, "We have a summer intern program at NASA where he can work in the summer. Well send the applications we’ll see what happens." I was fortunate enough to get selected. I did that two summers in a row as a summer intern, and it turns out, when I was full-time at NASA back in 1983, I worked in Building 30, and on the floor below me, in the office almost directly below me, was a man named Maynard Huntley, a 1961 graduate of Hastings College, who was the guy that was instrumental in letting me know, or, indirectly, that there was a program here that I was selected for. So, it’s kind of a neat story for me.

It is. And in coming here then and working at a variety of jobs, was ultimately becoming an astronaut part of your plan?

Unlike others I didn’t really have the, the big grand plan, but I was very hopeful. I knew that the odds were so tremendously against me becoming an astronaut that my main goal was to come to NASA and work with folks like the astronauts, like the engineers. I was in love with the space program, so I wanted to work for NASA just so I could work for NASA. Being at the Johnson Space Center, where the astronauts happen to live and train, was a bonus, and if I were to be fortunate enough to be selected later, that would be frosting on the cake. But I was where I wanted to be at that time, whether I was to become an astronaut or not.

Now you’re an astronaut, getting ready to fly for the first time; of course the flying in space part of the astronaut job is very dangerous. What do you think that we get, as a result of flying people in space that, in your mind, makes it worth taking that risk?

It’s important; for me it’s important that people understand. My philosophy is we get tremendous payback from, as a result of astronauts going into space. If you look at the Apollo programs, for example, the spinoffs and the things that people have today are direct results of not just the flights themselves but the path to get there, the development, the things we had to learn, the things we had to design, to be able to put men on the moon, do work there, bring them home safely. All of that stuff led to things that everyone has in their homes today: portable drills, cell phones ... the list is long. And that’s what I feel is the most important. The fact that I risk my life is important but, to me, it’s secondary. I do this because I love it, but I know there’s a huge payback down the road for all the people on Earth. If we go and figure out how to take people to Mars and back, the technological developments will be enormous, and it will pay back to everybody on the planet.

You are a flight engineer on Expedition 15 to the International Space Station. Give me a summary of the goals of your flight and your main responsibilities.

Expedition 15 is a, a pretty good expedition in that lots of neat things are going to be happening. I’ll be taken up on STS-117. We’ll also receive the shuttle STS-118, and we’ll receive a third shuttle, STS-120. In between all that time we’ll also have a visit from a couple Progress vehicles from the Russian folks, and we’re going to do two “big ticket” items. We will do a stage EVA, and that stage EVA is primarily concerned with throwing away two pieces of equipment from the station that are no longer needed. One of those weighs about 1,500 pounds and is the size of a refrigerator, the other one weighs considerably less and it’s kind of like throwing away a card table, but both of those are big things because if you get rid of those pieces of equipment that aren’t needed any more, we have a little more room, a little more flexibility, to do other things. The third thing would, that’s very important for this mission is, in order to accommodate STS-120, which is going to bring up the Harmony node 2, which is a really big deal, we’re going to grab the PMA-3 that lives on the side of the current Node 1. We’re going to pluck him off of there and, with the robotic arm, and then I’m going to drive him down to the bottom of the Node and stick him on the Earth-facing port. That leaves that port open; when the 120 crew comes up they will grab Harmony out of the payload bay and they will take Harmony and stick it where we left the opening. And the neat thing about that is we will also get the opportunity to go into Node 2, into Harmony, and see the inside of brand new module for the first time, which I think is pretty cool. And then after I leave, Dan Tani and Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko will do some further work with Node 2 and ultimately it will get moved back to the front of the space station, after which, on future flights, we’re going to be able to plug in the Japanese module Kibo and the European module Columbus. So Expedition 15 has some very high profile things happening that are very important for the future assembly of the station.

What in your mind is the most challenging aspect of all that?

All of it. I think doing a, a stage spacewalk will be challenging in and of itself simply because the three of us on board, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and myself. We won’t have the support of a shuttle crew which, over the past several flights, we’ve seen a lot of a, of footage and things on the shuttle crew doing their EVAs along with the station crew. For the first time, I believe, in space station history, a Russian will operate the robotic arm with his two crewmates, Fyodor and I, outside of the International Space Station. So that is a big milestone for the international operational aspect of the station.

Let’s talk about the challenge of a change in your launch plans. You were switched to STS-117 from STS-118 with just about six weeks left before T-0. What was your reaction to that change?

I had an inkling that it was coming, but at first it was being evaluated and NASA tends to hold their cards close to the chest while they evaluate things to make sure that there were no big showstoppers: "If we decided to put Clay Anderson on 117 and take him up early to replace Sunita Williams, any problems with that? Well, the answer came back essentially, “no,” but then it kind of died down as to, "Well, we don’t know that we really want to do that. We just want to make sure that if we needed to we had it in our hip pocket." Well, a few weeks later I was told that, you know, it’s being readdressed; it’s being evaluated even harder to see if we couldn’t pull it off, and I tell Suni that I’m her knight in shining armor, I’m going to come up there and I’m going to rescue her from her throes of her potential nine-month duration on orbit and I also tell people that it’s a clever plot by Michael Lopez-Alegria to keep Suni from breaking his new long-duration endurance record. But now it’s starting to settle in. It’s a very hectic time for me. We had been scheduled to launch on STS-118 at the end of June this summer, and then that launch, when the hailstorm damage happened to 117’s external tank, STS-118 had moved to August. So in, in a way, we kind of breathed a little sigh of relief and I thought, hey, a little extra time to maybe get all this together and relax a little bit. And at that point they decided to move me to 117 which now launches earlier than my original date on 118, so, from the perspective of my family getting ready, my guests being ready to go to Florida to watch a launch, all that’s a little hectic but it’s going to work out.

Is the change tougher on Clay Anderson the astronaut, or Clay Anderson the husband and father?

Oh, I think it’s way tougher on Clay Anderson the husband and father. I’m definitely a family man and I will miss them. You know, my increment now, at times was to be 2½ to three, maybe four months. Now we’re looking at maybe five to six or potentially even longer, depending on what happens. But it’s going to be awesome because it’s a long-duration mission. That’s what I’m, I’m scheduled to do, that’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I will now do. It will definitely be a true long-duration mission versus a kind of shortened long-duration mission. My family is very strong; we’re all very excited about doing this and, you know, when we overcome the little hiccups and settle into a routine and smooth everything out, it’s going to be fine.

Let’s talk a little bit about hardware. You mentioned there are three shuttle assembly missions during your flight. Tell me about the things that they’re bringing, the S3 and S4 Trusses, the S5 Truss, and the Harmony node. What do all of those things do to improve the station’s capabilities?

Well, the first thing to mention is that they have to happen in sequence. They couldn’t swap STS-117 with 118, for example, because the S3/S4 Truss, the piece that 117 will deliver, has to be there so that STS-118 can then add the S5 Truss onto S3/S4. Then, with all that done, S3/S4 will bring a new set of solar arrays so now we’ll have the, for the first time ever, the station with two sets of solar arrays, one on each side, in all their majesty, generating power for the station.

JSC2006-E-54671  --- Clayton Anderson  participates in a training session Image to left: Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson, Expedition 15 flight engineer, participates in a training session on the Multi-use Remote Manipulator Development Facility in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA
Subsequent to that we add this little spacer, S5, which we call Stubby -- P5 was Puny, so you had Puny on the left and Stubby on the right -- and you add that piece so that when STS-120 comes to bring me home, before we do all that, we’re going to take the P6 module that’s been sitting up on top of the station since its arrival, they’re going to take that off, move it outboard on the P side and stick it on. So now we’ll have three sets of solar arrays, which is very near the complement we’ll have when the assembly is complete, to generate power for all the new modules that are coming up with the Node. So, S3/S4 and the Harmony node are just very critical elements. You need, if you’re going to put Node 2 (Harmony) there, to put on the Japanese and the Columbus modules, you need the ability to provide those modules power, to do their science experiments and to sustain a six-person crew that we’re going to go to in the future. So we need all those solar arrays and we need all this to happen in sequence with, hopefully, minimal problems along the way, and we can get all this reconfigured. Then the very last thing that would happen is for a shuttle crew to bring up the last of the four sets of solar arrays, plug it on the outside, and then we’ll have a station that’s the size of two football fields.

Now the S3/S4 Truss and the third set, of solar array wings comes up with you on STS-117, a flight that you weren’t originally scheduled to even be present for. So are you going to get to spend time getting acclimated to the station or do they throw you into the assembly work?

Well, it’s a little bit of both. STS-117 will do a Flight Day 3 rendezvous. In other words, we’ll dock to the station on the third day that we’re in orbit. I will have some tasks to do to help out the 117 crew. It was a crew of six, like you said, who were all trained to do everything all by themselves. Now they have a seventh person, and I hope to be their utility infielder. I hope to help Commander [Rick] Sturckow anywhere he needs me to help. He will have some specific tasks timelined for me that I will be trained specifically to do, and then I can help the guys. I can take care of getting them some food if they’re in a tough part of the timeline, I can help throw a few switches if they need me to do that. I will be there to help the crew. And once we dock and the hatches are opened, my primary job, will be to haul all my things, including my Sokol [suit] and my seat liner for the Russian Soyuz capsule, I will haul all that across to the station. I will work with Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin to get all that stuff put away and get me ready so that now Suni and I would swap and Suni becomes a member of the 117 crew and I become the full-time Expedition 15 flight engineer. So along the way, once in the docked time frame, I will help a little bit with the robotics operation that actually mates S3/S4 to the station. I really hope to do a little bit of helping within the airlock with the STS-117 crew as they do their spacewalks such that I will have better experience when STS-118 arrives and I will actually do a couple spacewalks. And in the interim, between 117 and 118, Fyodor and I do our stage EVA, so any training or familiarity I can get with the station’s airlock and the EVA process will be beneficial to us when we go out the door on our stage EVA.

You mentioned that you are going to do spacewalks on STS-118, while that shuttle mission is there; what else do you do during that joint operation?

Well, my mission with 118 is essentially unchanged from what it was before. The only thing that’s really different is I don’t spend the first three days, from launch to docking, with the 118 crew -- I do it with 117. I will still be doing robotic operations with Charlie Hobaugh when we install the S5 Truss; I’ll work with Charlie again on the second EVA, when we replace the CMG [Control Moment Gyroscope] that’s failed on the station; and then after that I’ll turn my attention over to the EVA side of things because I’ll be going out the door with Rick Mastracchio and Dafydd Williams to install and set up some equipment on the outside of the station to get it ready for the future flights that are coming up.

Give me a sense of what happens on your two spacewalks. What kind of equipment are you guys working with?

The communication system on the station has transponders and baseband signal processors. Those are essentially technical names for boxes that I’m going to go out and replace. Rick’s going to replace what they call a SASA [S-Band Antenna Support Assembly] antenna, and then we’re going to reconfigure the two CETA [Crew Equipment Translation Aid] carts, they call them, which are the tool box, the moving platforms that ride up and down the railroad track with the, Mobile Base [System], the arm system, and we’ll move those out of the way, to pre-position them, so we can we can do some work on EVA 4. We, we’ll install I call them two hands, two arms, on the top of the station, and those are going to sit there and they’re going to wait for, because eventually a shuttle’s going to come up and we’re not going to use the OBSS anymore, the orbit berthing sensor system, I believe, but it’s the long pole-vaulting stick that attaches to the end of the arm that allows us to reach under the shuttle and analyze parts of the tile that we couldn’t see before. Eventually that’s going to get stuck in these two hands and live there in case we need it. And I don’t know when that happens, but these arms will be placed there for the time that they do and the only uncertain part with our EVA 4 is, given the uncertainty of 117 and 118, the last half of the EVA that Dave Williams and I will do will be made up with what they call get-ahead tasks. We’ll go to a list of job jar tasks, we’ll see what got accomplished by the 117 EVA crew, we’ll look at what Rick and Dave accomplished on their first two and what Clay and Rick accomplished on their third EVA, and then the ground will decide, by priority, what tasks that Dave and I can do, and add in to the end of our EVA.

We’re finding that by its nature the EVA plan changes from day to day, if not just mission to mission. What’s it like to train without being told exactly what it is that you’re going to do?

Well, these days we, we opt for what we call, in the station side, skills-based training [versus] task timeline training. In the old days you knew exactly what your tasks would be, you practiced those on the timeline over and over and over and got really good at those tasks. For a station crew member who could go out the door at any time, if something fails on board and there’s no shuttle crew there, we opted for more skills-based training: teach the crew member the skills that would allow him to do any EVA that’s out there. So, when you go to your garage and you work with your skill saw and your, and your drill and, and all that, you’re basically skills-trained to build or do anything you want because you know how to use the tools, you know how to use the equipment, you know how to move around in your garage safely and effectively. So it’s the same idea. We just go out and apply those generic skills that we have to the different pieces of the station, or the different tasks that the station needs us to accomplish.

You’ve mentioned a lot of different things that are going on during STS-118, but another one that you’re going to have a front row seat for is the flight of the first educator astronaut. Tell me how you expect that Barbara Morgan’s flight to the space station is going to help connect space exploration to a new generation?

I think it’s very important. I know she’s waited a long time for this opportunity and I’m excited that I will be able to be up there and participate in some form or fashion with, with her and the rest of the crew. You know, the youth of America and the youth of the world are the future and, and space is part of our future. I truly believe that, and I think we need to turn on kids to understand what we [are] doing and how important it is that we do it. And if Barbara can go up there and speak to the kids and speak to teachers from outer space and show them that you really can accomplish big things, big dreams, with hard work and effort I think that’s going to be a huge asset for NASA and the space program. It’s a pretty exciting time and I know she’s looking forward to it very much.

Before we forget about it, you mentioned that you are planning to conduct a third spacewalk while you’re there but that’s one where there’s no shuttle around, you and Fyodor Yurchikhin. Talk about that and the whole EVA plan for stage spacewalks while you’re on board.

The Expedition 15 spacewalk plan essentially is comprised of three EVAs, two Russian EVAs that will be performed by Oleg and Fyodor. They’ll go outside to put some micrometeroid shields up to protect the station from meteorite hits. They’ll also do some connectivity with some cables and those cables are important because eventually some crew -- 117, 118, I don’t know which one -- but there’s a long local area network or LAN cable we need to connect between the Node and the FGB, the Russian FGB. And if we connect that cable outside, that will allow us to configure the station inside to have a computer environment very similar to you have, the one you have in your office at work, where if you bring your computer in you can simply plug in to the jack and you’re ready to go, you’re connected, everything’s equal. Today we have that capability but we have to use coaxial cables, we have to drag them all through the station, each computer is connected in serial to those, those cables, and when you drag them through the hatch, if you have an emergency and have to close that hatch, you have to break that cable connection, and on and on. So it’s not the ideal way to operate. So what we want to do is what they call a star topology where you have a central hub and all the computers tie into that same central hub just like we do at JSC in our offices every day, and it will take all those cables away from the hatches and make it a much better environment. And the other part of that that’s very important is when we bring those new modules, from the Europeans, from the Japanese, and Node 2, all we have to do is plug them into the station, hook the cables up that are behind the panels, and they’re also ready to become computer accessible. So those two EVAs they will do. Then Fyodor and I will go outside in American spacesuits. We will throw away the two pieces of equipment, the EAS, the Early Ammonia Servicer, which is the one that’s the size of a refrigerator/freezer, and we’ll throw away a piece of flight support equipment. It’s simply a table tray that held stanchions for other equipment. And stanchions is a fancy way to say we put cameras and lights on top of these poles and we plug the poles into the station. Well, all these poles will have been used, and so now you have a piece of equipment that used to hold this stuff that’s, nothing’s sitting on it any more. If we take that piece off and throw it away, we now have a place to stow useful equipment that we can use for spares in the future. So that’s kind of the big picture of the stage EVA plan for Expedition 15.

And your description about plugging things in also reminds me to go back to something that you mentioned earlier. You are going to be running the robot arm to move Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 in order to free up the spot on the port side of Unity where the Harmony node is going to be installed. Tell me about how that works. Is that, is that as complicated as it looks to those of us who are here on the ground?

Oh, yeah, it’s so complicated, it takes this really brilliant person to move it. Actually, to me it’s a pretty straightforward task and the nice thing is, if anyone’s familiar with our arm, it has that big elbow joint, it connects to the shoulder, it has the elbow and then it has the business end that grabs the things, and the nice thing is our elbow’s way out in free space so even Clay can, can probably not hit anything with the elbow unless he tries extra hard. So we’ll grab the Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 and Fyodor will then, he’ll be commanding the electronic system, the mechanical system that connects the two together. He’s going to unbolt the two pieces that then will allow me to pull it away. And as I pull it away, we’ll check, we’ll look at it with binoculars and things and try to see that everything’s OK, as much as we can. Then I’ll rotate the arm down below the station’s Node 1, and then we’ll bring it up gently and we’ll redock it to that bottom port. So it’s, it’s not a difficult task, it’s pretty straightforward; we know what we need to do, there aren’t a lot of obstacles in the way which is very nice so you don’t have to concern yourself with, with a potential collision anywhere. And then, like you said, when the 120 crew arrives with the Harmony node, they’ll just do the same situation, plug it into the port that we left open, and then we’ll put a PMA, PMA-2 on the end of it and then, eventually that whole stack, the Node and PMA-2, will be removed, brought to the front of the station, plugged back into the Lab. Now we’re ready to dock shuttles and bring up our international partner modules.

Now all that happens after STS-120 and after you’ve gone home. During STS-120, what will your primary jobs be?

Again, I’ll be helping the crew of 120 as an arm operator and in helping them with their EVA prep. Plus, at that point I’ll be the veteran American on the space station so I’m hoping that I will have a really good lay of the land and a really good understanding of how the station works such that I can help them, and I will also be very involved in preparing the airlock for them when they arrive. We want to get the suits prepared that they need, we want to get the tools prepared, we want to have everything organized and ready to go so that they don’t have to waste time doing that sort of thing when they’re getting ready to go out the door. One of the key things for STS-120 is the removal of P6 from the top of the stack of the station and moved outboard on the left side of the station to hook to the other parts of the truss to give us that two sets of solar arrays. So it’s that P6 removal, and then the Node 2 docking to the Node 1.

Is moving the P6 similar, at least in theory, to your moving PMA 3?

It’s a lot more complicated. It’s much bigger, its location on the top of the station dictates that we have to go get it with the robotic arm on the station and lift it off, then we have to hand it off to the robotic arm on the shuttle. Then we have to move the station’s arm on the railroad track, because we’re going to have to be able to get the station’s arm to the point where it can reach to the farthest point on the outside of the station. So once we get it placed, we’ll go back and grab P6 from the shuttle’s arm and then we’ll take it out and put it in its final resting place.

Sort of makes it pretty clear why having a mobile robotics system on the International Space Station is essential to building this ship. What nice things can you say about the people who thought that up?

You know, it’s incredible. This thing is so complex, it, and it can do so many things. The fact that the, the platform can ride up and down the front of the space station to give you reach out to these far points is incredible. Then you have to consider the fact that this thing can walk like an inchworm across the station. It can put, grab on to one point, lift the other point up, swing over the top, grab on to another point, let go of the first one, swing over the top. It can go from this railroad car on the front of the station, it can reach down on the Lab and it can work from down below the Lab; it’s just an incredible piece of engineering and it’s performed at a very high level the entire time the station has been under construction.

JSC2006-E-50943 --- Clayton Anderson in a training version of his spacesuit Image to right: Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson, Expedition 15 NASA space station science officer and flight engineer, puts the final touches on the suit-up process with a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, prior to being submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

Throughout the time that you’re going to be there there’s going to be laboratory science work to be done, and most of that on the International Space Station these days is research into how people can live and work safely in that environment. Tell me about some of those human life sciences experiments and their value to our future exploration.

You know, some of them are quite simple. For example, scientists on the ground want to know what I eat, how much I eat and drink, and how often I eat and drink, and they want to know my vitamin D content. Well, vitamin D is something we get from sunlight on Earth, primarily, but we need it for strong bones and muscles, and so folks, elderly folks that have trouble with bones and osteoporosis and those kind of problems can benefit by the scientists that are doing experiments and gathering data on how a crew member in space that doesn’t get sunlight anymore and has to supplement his vitamin D with either drugs -- or vitamin tablets -- and what he eats and what he drinks, and that’s a key experiment that’s pretty simple. They just have to gather the data. Another experiment that’s quite interesting to me is I’m going to wear a special watch, for the entire increment, and it’s called an actiwatch, and it’s a sleep watch: it knows when you move, it knows when you go to sleep, it knows when the lights go on and when the lights go out, and scientists will gather that data that we’ll downlink periodically through the mission. What they’re trying to do is try to figure out ways to benefit people on Earth that do shift work or that have trouble sleeping or that sleep too much, and ways to work with your circadian rhythm and your body and try to help you not go through these periods when you can’t stay awake or when you can’t go to sleep. So that’s quite neat. And those are simple experiments. The more complex experiments include things, we’re going to look at combustion on the station through an experiment that has, it’s quite complex to set up but once you set it up it just has several samples that just rotate through a chamber and they look at the flammability and take the data and then they’ll evaluate it on the ground. We'll grow some plants, we’ll grow some worms, and the key there, of course, is when you go on long duration, can you grow plants, can you eat those plants, how do physical things like worms adapt to zero g in a long-duration mission, such that we can apply that to humans.

Apart from specific tasks that you’ve been assigned, apart from being a test subject in human life sciences experiments, is there something that you hope to accomplish, something that you want to do, before you come back to Earth?

From a personal standpoint, I like to write music and I’m going to try to write a song when I’m in space. Now I don’t know how much time I’ll have, I don’t know how successful I will be. The other thing I’d like to do is there’s a guitar on board and I’ve always wanted to learn to play guitar and hopefully I’ll have enough time and there’s some software on our computers that will try to guide me through the learning process to learn how to play the guitar. I think what I want to do the most, though, is I want to try to absorb as much as I can, all that I experience and see while I’m there, and try to take as much of that with me as a memory either through video media or computer e-mails or what have you, but I want to try to take as much of that away as possible so I can relate it to people back here on Earth.

The nations that are building and operating the International Space Station have plans that go way beyond the vehicle you’re getting ready to fly to. Clay, what’s your philosophy about future human exploration of space and the contribution that ISS is making to that future?

I heard Mike L-A [Lopez-Alegria] when he landed in Kazakhstan. He did an interview and I liked what he said and the way he said it. If you were a country and you had unlimited money, you would probably do these things yourself. You would probably try to figure out ways to do it such that you could benefit your country. But, you know, I don’t think we can do that any more. I think that the way the world is today, we need to work together in a similar vein as we’re doing on the International Space Station in order to do that goal, and then to go back to the moon and on to Mars. But just like L-A said when he did this interview, that’s really hard: it’s hard to take Russians and Americans and Canadians and Japanese and Europeans, spread around the world, who have control centers in different countries, who are building different pieces -- all that has to come together, not to mention the fact that you have to take all these individuals and train them in different languages, in different skills, and then bring all that together to be successful. But the one thing that is so important in all this is the international cooperation aspect of this. We’re working together. We’re taking all these 16 countries on the station program and we’re working together, and we need more of that in the world today. And if the only thing this accomplishes is to help countries work together and be successful together and be teammates instead of enemies, then we’re on the right track. China has a space program; I would imagine one day we’ll be working with them as partners. I don’t know how long that will take, but I would like to believe that some day we will. That’s a good thing.