Text Size

Preflight Interview: Michael Barratt
JSC2008-E-117653 -- Flight Engineer Michael Barratt

Expedition 19/20 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt, attired in a Russian Sokol launch and entry suit, takes a break from training in Star City, Russia to pose for a portrait. Photo credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

Q: Of all the careers in all the world that a person could aspire to, you ended up a professional space traveler.  What motivated you or inspired you to become an astronaut?

A: Well, that’s a good question.  I, I think it’s well said that I “ended up” as a professional space traveler, because I didn’t start out with that aspiration.  I would say that one common denominator among the astronauts and the cosmonauts and those space travelers from every nation is that they have a wide area of interest.  For myself, I was very interested in astronomy and marine science, all through high school.  I spent a lot of time with my telescope or sometimes just, swimming around the local lake to see what was alive in there.   I really enjoyed life sciences in college; I majored in zoology at the University of Washington and continued to nur, nurture a, an interest in marine science.  Medicine, human physiology, has been just a, a major point of fascination for me,  and I enjoyed medical school very much and started nurturing this interest in space medicine there.  And along the way I, I developed a love of flying small aircraft as well.  So when you think how on Earth could you merge all those interests together, which is marine science and medicine and flying, there’s nothing better than being an astronaut to put all that together.

As a boy did you want to be a doctor?

As a boy I, probably it depended on when you asked me.  At one time I wanted to be a paleontologist; at one time I wanted to be an astronomer, a marine biologist.  It depended on when you asked, but I think, again, it was just, I had so many things that were interesting to me and, being in a field like this, where you’re constantly learning, it’s part of your job to constantly learn and to be involved in new discoveries, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Let’s go back to the beginning.  Tell me about your hometown; tell me about where you grew up in Washington state.

Well, I grew up in Camas, Washington.  It’s a fairly small town on the Columbia River in the southwest.  It’s a beautiful part of the country.  There’s hills, mountains, forests and it’s not that far from the ocean.  I grew up on a farm;  I grew up riding horses and breaking bones and doing all sorts of things that boys did during that time.  It was a, a great place to grow up.  I would say that I had a couple of teachers that were very influential though, people who were almost one-man science departments in our fairly small school system, and, they were extremely influential, not just because they taught what they taught but they taught how to do experiments and, and how to be curious, essentially, why it’s good to be curious.  So,  I would say with that background of where I was living and that impetus to go find out about things,  it was a good match.

Take us from there with you the rest of the way.  Give me a, the thumbnail sketch of your, your educational and your professional career.

OK.  Well, after I graduated from Camas High School,  I then went to the University of Washington in Seattle, which for me was a great place.  Being a large university, there were lots of opportunities and anything I had an interest in I could go develop, so it was a wonderful place.   Seattle’s a beautiful city; Puget Sound and, and the Northwest are just wonderful places to be.  Developed my interest in sailing there and spent a lot of time out on the water there whenever I could;  the mountains are close, I mean, it was great.   From there I, would have to say that I met and married my wife as a, as a senior there and we both went off to medical school together, in Chicago at Northwestern University, spent four fabulous years in the medical school there and, we actually stayed there for an additional four years — I did an internal medicine residency, and I, I, as I started to nurture an interest in space medicine I, I chose a specialty which essentially helped me learn pathophysiology well, and that, that actually served me very well.  I also spent an extra year as a chief resident in the Northwestern system.  And after that, because I didn’t feel like I had enough training I, I,  went to the aerospace medicine program in Dayton, Ohio, and this is jointly run by Wright State University as well as NASA and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so it brings a lot of expertise together in a lot of broad areas in aerospace life sciences.  And I spent two years there completing that residency and a master’s thesis, and, then came down to the Johnson Space Center in 1991, and I spent nine years or so working as a medical officer and flight surgeon at JSC before coming to the Astronaut Corps in the year 2000.  But I, I would say that those were amongst the best years of my life.  There’s only one job that could possibly be better than being a flight surgeon at NASA and that’s the one I have now,  but working directly with the crews and, and the investigators, going to launches and landings, I was very involved in the Russian program when we first started flying U.S. crew members on the Mir.  It was just a fabulous, fabulous career.

Do you have a sense of what it was that got you interested in space medicine?

I think that human physiology is fascinating enough when, when you look at it, but when you combine all the other things that I was already interested in — I, I was a mountaineer in days gone by, so high altitude; I’m a diver underwater, pressure excursions; and I’m a flyer, aerospace environment—and again, when you put all those together and you look at how the human body reacts in all of those venues, and when you consider that we expect the human body to perform and do useful work and have some fun in all of those venues,  you really have to look at ways to better protect the human body and understand what the changes are, and again, nothing puts that together better than space medicine.

Did you come to NASA as a doctor planning to become an astronaut, or did that happen later?

I would have to say that happened later.  I don’t think anybody would say “no” if they were offered to be an astronaut, and frankly I considered it kind of out of my reach.  I, I just never expected,  that, that I would have been accepted anyway.  But truthfully, it was working with the long-duration program, when we started working with the Russians, who had been flying long-duration on the Mir and the Salyut stations for years, I realized that there was, there’s a lot more to human adaptation to weightlessness, than what we see in our shuttle missions, which were extremely productive, sciencewise,  but when you consider our eventual goal, which is to move further outward from Earth and eventually multi-month missions, for instance, to Mars, long-duration flight is how we’re going to get there, and anything that we do of those bigger projects that we were mentioning before will require humans to be in space for long periods of time, and it really raises the bar on how important long-duration flight truly is.  So that’s what got me interested and, the more I worked directly with crews, the more I realized I would so love to experience that myself, and to really get a better idea of what it’s like.  I, I think I can perhaps do a little bit more good for my field of space medicine by experiencing it myself.

Think it will help in your research?

I, I think it will help in my research but, at the same time, I, I, I just think that experiencing it, for so many reasons, will be a, a great experience.

Well, now you have a career as a space flyer that can be dangerous.  Mike, what is it that you think that we’re going to get as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?

Well, we are not the only ones who have dangerous professions.  There are many other people out there who work in high-risk environments—firemen, law enforcement, soldiers—and they do it because the benefits to the rest of us are worth the risks.  And I think for us it’s very much the same.  We may be a little more high profile,  but it’s pretty much the same equation.  We do this because what we can do to help the world’s population is worth that risk that we take, and the more experience we gain, the lower we expect that risk to become.  We want to see new technologies and spacecraft design and medical support and countermeasures,  life support systems, that will make that safer and safer as we go along.  And the eventual goals, you know, are twofold, one of which is to get us expanded further away from the planet, and the other one is to open it up to larger populations of people and, and that is happening.  We can definitely see that.

You’re a Flight Engineer on the next expedition to the International Space Station.  Mike, summarize the goals of the flight and what your main responsibilities are going to be when you’re in orbit.

OK.  Well, that’s a, a very broad question, actually, because, my goals are fairly wide,  the flight goals are fairly wide, and the duration is quite long.  We’ll be flying for 200 days, myself and Gennady Padalka, and,  I’ll be his flight engineer on the Soyuz so, first and foremost, I’m going to help Gennady pilot the Soyuz up to the station over a period of two days, and then for the next 198 days we’ll be busy with a lot of milestones on station.  That will include two shuttle dockings, the transferring of equipment, continuing the build of the International Space Station,  we’ll also include two Progress freighters,  the first of the Japanese freighters coming up, and one of our biggest milestones is increasing to a six-person crew, so there will be a lot going on and all the attendant activities that go with that, including robotics and EVA, experiments and everything that makes ISS what it is.

And this is your first trip to space.

That’s right.

What are you looking forward to about spending 200 days off of the planet?

Well, I, I would have to say that the first thing that comes to mind is seeing our home planet from space, and I would have to reserve any eloquent words for after that moment, but I, I can’t imagine how beautiful it’s going to be and that’s probably the biggest thing I’m looking forward to.  Beyond that I think, adapting to weightlessness:  I’m a space medicine specialist by training and I’ve enjoyed a, a previous career, actually, at NASA as a flight surgeon, and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing firsthand what the body does in weightlessness.  With six months up there we’ll probably get full adaptation, and many people have done it before and I’ve actually had the privilege of instructing them before they go and debriefing them when they get back,  but being able to experience that firsthand I think will be tremendous, so…

Well, let’s, let’s talk about that subject; it’s one that, that you’re, shall we say, you’re an expert in.  Talk about some of the experiments that you do, beyond just being there, that you guys are, are gathering data for to try to find out how the body responds to long periods in, in microgravity.

Well, I would first say that we’ve been, working in low Earth orbit for quite a long time now, actually since the early 60s, of course, and, we know a tremendous amount, and it’s safe to say that we know enough to fly with a certain confidence that people can work productively and, and safely, certainly up to the six-month periods that we fly people for the standard duty tour, but there’s a lot we don’t know.  And even though we’re in an acceptably safe zone, we’d sure like to make it a lot safer and open it up to the general population, and, of course, learn enough to go further, to stay longer as we need to, such as for trips to Mars.  So because of that we have a lot of research on the space station that’s oriented towards helping the human body adapt better so that they’re even more productive, and making sure that some of the adverse affects don’t hurt us healthwise down the line.  The big health problems are radiation, which gives you a, a cancer risk later in life, and loss of bone and muscle, and then there’s a smattering of, of many others because almost every physiologic system changes—you’re almost like an extraterrestrial after a few weeks in space—everything’s a little bit different.  So the more we can characterize that, the better we can figure out ways to protect,  the systems that change,  adversely, and, and I should say that those systems that do change, they’re not so much a problem when you’re in space—losing some bone and losing some muscle up there is your way of adapting to a new environment—but it becomes maladaptive when you want to come home.  So mainly we want to protect people to come back to Earth and, and be productive on the ground again.

Or land on some other body…

…or to go further, absolutely.  If you consider a multi-month trip to Mars, and the people land, and then they have to go out and explore and, get out of their ship relatively quickly after they land, we need to know a lot more about performance in that post-landing period to protect them.  So we have a big array of experiments on the International Space Station which are oriented towards those systems I mentioned, radiation, bone, muscle, but also neurovestibular problems that—your sense of balance, essentially—how does that change in zero gravity and how does it change when you readapt to one, one g, as we call it.  The cardiovascular system changes quite a bit; your blood volume changes, your heart-pumping activity and what regulates it changes, your immune system changes.  Name a system and it’s a little bit different.  It, your body is very smart.  It adapts to a new circumstance extremely well,  but we don’t understand everything it does. 

Short of artificial gravity, what’s the best thing that we know to do to help the people be healthy in space and when they return?

Well, every system would have a different countermeasure to try to keep it in shape.  But certainly that those that are, dependent on loads, those that depend on working against gravity to maintain their structure and their function, bone and muscle in particular,  we can try to put back some of those loads and,  we have bicycles on board, we have treadmill, up there now and we’re getting a second one during our mission, actually.  We have a small resistive exercise device which currently is being replaced, we hope, with the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device—Mike Fincke and Sandy [Magnus] are being, are in the process of putting that together now—and that will give us the large loads that we’ve always wanted to do, heavy resistive exercise in zero gravity, and we have some hopes that that will work better towards preserving bone and muscle.  And in addition to that there’s some pharmacological means, some drugs, essentially, that can be taken that, hopefully, will prevent some of the bone loss, and we’re just starting to study those now.  They’re used widely on the ground and whether they work in zero gravity for the same purpose to maintain bone density as they would for osteoporosis, we don’t know,  but it’s certainly something that we want to find out.

That’s why we go and do the experiment.


We may talk about that more in a second.  I want to talk about some of the landmarks that’ll happen in the flight, and we’ll acknowledge that the order in which they occur may be different than the way we’re talking about them right now, but after you and, and Gennady Padalka arrive you spend the first period of some weeks at least with, Koichi Wakata, who will have been on board the station when you arrive.  What’s, what’s on your agenda for those first few weeks or month?

Well, actually, flexibility is the name of the game, the game in long-duration flight anyway, and we understand that in such a long slice of time there’s going to be some changes, but the first part of the mission is probably going to be one of the busiest parts of the mission.  We will take a handover from the off-going shift, essentially, from Mike Fincke and Yury Lonchakov.   Koichi remains as our continuity link, so we’re going to be depending on Koichi a lot.  The station’s awfully big: certainly my first time to see it and Gennady hasn’t seen it for quite a while, so Koichi will help us to, to keep oriented as we go about our work.  But we’ll start off with undocking the Soyuz and redocking it at another docking point, and, we’ll spend a lot of time prepping for some of the, the new milestones.  Imagine that you’ve invited a lot of people to your house and that some of those houseguests are coming to stay; so you’re going to spend a lot of time cleaning closets and making sure your, your kitchen is ready.  Well, we’ll have two, ships coming, fairly short order after we get there.  After we do our undock and redock, we’ll anticipate moving to six-person crew, so that will be the next Soyuz mission,  with Roman Romanenko and Bob Thirsk and Frank De Winne,  and in addition we’ll have the 2J/A mission, the shuttle mission coming up, on or about the, the same one-month period, and that will bring seven souls, one of which will swap out with Koichi Wakata and that will be Tim Kopra, and, that will be a very busy, mission which will involve, continuing to build the ISS, five spacewalks, a lot of equipment transfer.  So, frankly, getting ready for those two events, making everything as smooth as possible, will take up a tremendous amount of our time.

JSC2008-E-141513 -- Flight Engineer Michael Barratt

Attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit, Expedition 19/20 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

And in the process, you and your crewmates will be preparing for a pair of spacewalks in Russian spacesuits that are now set for before the first of those vehicles arrives.  Describe the work that’s planned during those two EVAs.

Well, I am fortunate enough to be in, both of those Russian spacewalks.  Those will be in the Russian Orlan suit with Gennady Padalka, who’s a six-time spacewalk veteran,  and so I really couldn’t be with a, a better commander and mentor in that regard.  Those will be oriented towards preparing for the arrival of a new Russian docking compartment, and, that will go opposite the current Russian docking compartment, and although we don’t anticipate having that arrive in our increment, we will be doing the forward work so that they’ll be able to bring that seamlessly, a few months after we leave.  What we’ll need to do is reposition a couple of antennas, which will allow that docking compartment itself to dock with the station automatically—it will come up unmanned—and once that done, is done, we’ll have to go inside one of the modules and take all the air out of that, so we have an internal EVA, if you will, and, reposition a docking cone, from one side to the other of one of the structural nodes on the Russian side.  So, that and some smattering of other activities which are, sort of get-ahead activities, we’ll anticipate a couple of good EVAs out of that.

What’s, what’s the, the anticipation like for, I mean, on the one hand you’re anticipating being in space, period; now, anticipating being your own spacecraft.

Well, I think, again, that looking at the Earth, your home planet from space, must be just breathtaking.  Several hundred people have done it, everybody has the same impression.  But looking at it from the confines of a spacesuit, where you’re really out there, there’s very little margin between you and the space environment, the, the view must be fantastic and, so I would have to say that again, what I’m looking forward to most is just looking down on the Earth, floating freely above it.  I just can’t imagine the, a better feeling of freedom, than that.

Let’s first talk about the first shuttle mission that’s going to visit the station.  Tell me about the, the goals of the joint mission with STS-127.

OK.  STS-127, which is also known to us as 2J/A, will be the third mission completing the Japanese Experiment Module, and it will essentially bring a large structure, an Exposed Facility, something like a front porch,  which we will attach permanently to the, the JEM, the Japanese Experiment Module, so this will be handed off from the shuttle payload bay to the station arm and attached, and it’s a platform where we can place science experiments, payloads if you will, where we can leave them for a time, collect data and, interchange them or service them.  There is an airlock in the JEM where we can actually take some of these payloads and bring them inside and then put them back outside, or we can take payloads, from the shuttle or from the new Japanese, transfer vehicle and plop them on there as well.  We’ll have three payloads coming up on 2J/A, one of those oriented toward X-ray astronomy, one towards stratospheric gases, which is important in our growing understanding of environmental chemistry, and the other one looking at, the exposure of the space environment to various materials.  So not only do we complete the build, we start doing cutting-edge science immediately with this mission.  In addition we’re bringing several batteries and, doing some other servicing tasks with the ISS, and this will comprise five spacewalks, so it will be a very busy time period.

During that time, the five spacewalks will be done by the shuttle crew members.

That’s correct.

What, what will you and your station crewmates be doing during that time?

Well, we’re, we’re going to be supporting our shuttle crew as much as possible to make them as efficient as possible, but obviously we’ll be spending a lot of time helping with transfer operations.  It’s a tremendous logistics task to have everything ready, have places to put the items that they bring, and places to temp[orarily] stow those and eventually we’ll be putting those where they go permanently after they leave.  And then, of course, we’ll have a lot of things prepacked for them to take home as well.  But we’ll be helping quite a bit with the robotics operations, which will take the external facility and, permanently mount it, and, we’ll be helping with, logistically, everything, every aspect that, is involved with rendezvous and docking and orbiter maintenance and orbiter inspection.

And after eight weeks or so it will be nice to have new, some new faces.

Well, we’re hoping to get some fresh mail and some fresh fruit and, and it’s a, it’s a great crew that’s coming up and we’re really looking forward to working with them.

Now the way that the, the schedule is laid out, that mission, which delivers Tim Kopra, should happen just a few days before the arrival of three new crewmates in the Soyuz spacecraft.  You must be excited about achieving this milestone of expanding the size of the International Space Station’s crew.

Well, I would say for, for us, going to six-person crew is, is probably the biggest milestone we have of our mission.  It’s a very large station right now, and it’s a very capable station,  and getting the six-person crew will essentially match the manpower to the complexity and size of the station, will help us to get as much science as we can out of it, and I think that, for us, one of the, the greatest things we’re looking forward to, is having multiple agencies represented, multiple partner agencies, at least four and possibly, depending how the missions go, possibly all five of our partner agencies will, will be represented during this time period.  So we’re excited about that.  We, we look at each other as much more as colleagues than ambassadors but at the same time we’re well aware that we represent nations and agencies and, we want to serve the best interests of all of those as well.

Talk about the historic nature of having people from that many different parts of the world all in space on the same vehicle.

Well, historically it’s one of the reasons that we built the International Space Station in the first place.  It’s a, a platform of very positive work amongst many different nations with technical expertise.  It’s a place where people with common mindsets, albeit somewhat different languages and different cultures, can come together and, work towards a common goal, and of course, advance those goals and advance the science base that, that everybody’s involved in.  So from that standpoint it ends up being a very productive, endeavor.  But at the same time, and as we talk about spinoffs and the space program, there is a cultural and sociopolitical spinoff involved here that a lot of people don’t realize, and I think that, maintaining this program with, with a, an only positive agenda for science and technology is, is only good for everybody.   The flip side of that is that we also enjoy one another’s food and company and, and we just have a great time together, so…

There have been more than six people on the station a lot during, during shuttle missions; what’s different in your mind about having these six people there, a permanent crew of six?

Well, one thing is you’re talking numbers.  It, it’s true that there have been more than six but if you consider that the permanent crew will be six, a visiting shuttle will be seven, now we’ll have up to 13 on the, the space station.  As far as I know, that’s the most we’ve ever had on a single platform in space in history, so we’ll look forward to seeing how all that works.  Otherwise if you can, again, can imagine having a number of houseguests and limited numbers of, resources such as galley space, bathrooms and whatnot, there will be some, some logistics.  They, they train us well for things like this.  We spend time, in survival training, we spend time, in outdoors training, living in small areas with lots of people, and I think most of us come from backgrounds that equip us for that as well.  But we’ll have to be a little more patient, we’ll have to be a little better in our planning for mealtime, and, but at the same time having all those people means that, you can do a lot more and, as on the old sailing ships, for instance, there’s more people to gather around the windlass and, and haul the anchor up; when the need is, you’ve got lots of hands there to, to help out.

From the perspective of day-to-day operations, having six people on board probably means there’s new issues to work through for, like communications and, amongst yourselves as well as all the different places to talk to on the ground or…


…work schedules, exercise schedules, whatnot.

Right.  Well, I would say, first of all, we all speak English and Russian.  There’s other languages represented there but those are our common languages, and I find that when we gather around the table informally, we speak kind of a, a jargon, whatever most efficiently expresses the thought we want, and after a few months in space together I’m very much looking forward to see what that jargon is like.  It’ll probably be more of an ISS-unique jargon.  But we communicate in whatever ways is best for us, most efficient and most candid.  We do have a limited number of exercise items and exercise on a daily basis is very important for us and, getting through our daily exercise in a, kind of a logical manner, will be a challenge, no question about it, especially with new devices coming on line, the new resistive device and the new treadmill that we’ll take custody of during our flight.  But we’ll learn to do it just, just like, you will have to with a lot of houseguests with any resource, and I don’t anticipate that being a problem,  but we’re not entirely sure how we’re going to go about it as yet.

Well, planners had to figure it out from scratch when the station started and had three crew members.

Right.  The other thing I think we’ve found that’s important to us, and during training and, and again we’ve all been shipmates for quite a while now in the training circuit, is that, daily mealtime is quite important and, although we have two different galleys in two different locales, we all feel that it’s important to come together at least once a day for mealtime, and this is our wardroom experience, essentially, our, our time to swap stories and, maybe swap food like the elementary kids do in their lunch boxes, but mostly coordinate what our days have been like, how we’re going to plan the next day, and how we can best work together.  So I also look forward to that daily mealtime together. 

A lot of the work that is going to be done throughout your time there is, is science research with now several laboratory modules to take advantage of.  We talked about, some about research on, human physiology and how people adapt; talk about some of the other disciplines and some of the other, research work that you’ll be involved with.

Well, we’ll be covering a lot of ground, actually.  Human physiology aside, there’s cell biology experiments, which will be looking at the influence of zero gravity and, and the radiation that’s up there, on cellular growth.  We’ll also be doing some plant growth experiments, looking at the effects of, zero gravity on root growth and the direction roots take.  Plants are important to us because the same things they do on the ground in,  providing oxygen and, absorbing carbon dioxide, they’ll do for us in space eventually, so we really want to understand how best to grow plants and which ones grow best.  We'll also be doing some fluid physics experiments, some combustion science experiments,  colloidal suspension, essentially particles suspended in fluid mediums, and looking at what forces are, are acting on those, when you take gravity out of the equation.  So we’ll be doing a lot of cutting edge physics and, non- life sciences experiments.

You also mentioned early on that you’ve got two shuttle missions that you’re expecting to visit.  What are the goals of the, the operations with STS-128?

Well, 128, like 127 before, we’ll swap out a crew member.  That will take Tim Kopra home and bring Nicole Stott to us, so that’ll be one thing.  We’ll hopefully still be six-person crew and she’ll be the sixth crew member up there with us.  But that’s a MPLM [multipurpose logistics module] flight, one of the mini pressurized logistics module will be coming—Leonardo, I believe.  And, that always brings a lot of stuff to us: 16 racks of equipment, six of which will be transferred permanently to the station, and three of those are actually new research racks.  So with the, with that MPLM flight we will expand our regenerative life support capability and get ready for another U.S. module, which is Node 3.  We will get those experiment racks on line and there’ll be a tremendous resupply to the station of, consumables for —“consumables” meaning items that we need to use for payload experiments or running our systems — as well as some of the new science racks that we were talking about.

So that’s another, is it spacewalks involved in…


…in that mission as well?

…there will be two spacewalks involved in that mission.

OK.  After that mission and, as you say, you now have Nicole Stott as a crewmate,  that’s when you’re due to see a new vehicle arrive.

That’s right.

Talk about the, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle and what it will add to station.

The Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, also known as the HTV, is scheduled to arrive in September to us, and, this will be a first for many reasons.  It will be the first Japanese transfer vehicle, it will be on a new booster,  the new modified H-II, and, to save weight on the vehicle itself it will not be equipped with its own docking system, so it becomes a free flyer which will, fly close to the station, as we say, stationkeep—it will hover several meters away—and we’ll have to literally reach out and capture it with the station arm.  And once we’ve done that we’ll be able to dock it to one of the station nodes and, get all the cargo out of it.  It’s never been done before, but it is probably how we’re going to be doing business with other new transfer vehicles in the future.  Again, it’s a very efficient way to bring a vehicle on to avoid the weight of its own docking system.  It carries both pressurized and unpressurized cargo, so we’ll be able to go inside of it and get,  logistics for station—food, water,  hopefully letters from home, but definitely things that the station needs to run.  At the same time there’s a large unpressurized bay where we can take a platform out of this and exchange payloads with the external facility on the JEM.  So it’s a very capable transfer vehicle which will be coming to us for the first time.

How does it compare in overall transfer weight to the Progress or to the ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle]?

It’s a little smaller than the ATV.  The HTV itself is, 16 tons and will bring us about six tons of, of cargo.  It ends up bringing us about two and a half times what the Progress would bring, so it’s a very large vehicle, and again a very capable vehicle, but it’ll certainly be the largest free-flying vehicle that’s ever been captured by a robotic arm in flight. 

That’s got to be kind of unusual, operation, and as you say, something that hasn’t been done before.  Talk about how you, you go about that.

Well, I would first say that a, a lot of smart people have worked out, everything we need to know to make this happen successfully.  There’s a guidance system on the HTV itself and, there’s a GPS system on the station, as well as some optical devices, which will allow the HTV to approach the station along a corridor that’s very predefined with lots of safety margins, and, we’ll be doing a lot of test approaches and back offs for this first flight to make sure that everything is working as, as advertised, and, as it gets closer and closer, and we get more and more confident, we’ll expect a go-ahead and we’ve worked out all the, the issues with the robotic arm and, we know pretty much exactly where to position the robotic arm, where we expect the HTV to be, we know where to point the cameras and, we’ve, I think, done a lot of forward work that gives us the confidence that the relative positions are going to be exactly right.  We actually are on a clock: when it comes time to capture the vehicle, we throw it into free drift, as we say; it, it stops controlling and just drifts there, and we have 99 seconds to go in this five meters or so with the robotic arm and grab it.  So it sounds like a short time but it’s been worked out very well; can’t say enough good stuff about the Canadian arm—it, it behaves as advertised and, it’s a wonderful piece of robotic, equipment and we fully expect we’ll be able to grapple this thing well within that time envelope.

JSC2008-E-125960 -- Flight Engineer Michael Barratt

Expedition 19/20 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt uses a communication system during a training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

You’re going to be part of a major milestone in human space exploration in getting the planet’s space station up to a more-multinational crew than it’s ever had before.  Mike, tell me how you see human space exploration proceeding in the years to come, and how this project and these nations are contributing to that future.

Well, I would start by saying that we’ve learned a couple of things with the International Space Station program over these last many years, one of which is that it is possible to bring many different countries together to do something technically difficult.  I think that the International Space Station is arguably the, the largest, most complex engineering feat in human history, and the fact that we were able to bring this many countries together to make it work, with different languages, different culture bases, and succeed at it,  I think was, was significant.  The other thing is that, to do something this big really does take more than one country.  When you’re looking at resources and distribution of science and capital, this has to be a multinational effort to do something this big.  And again, we’ve done it and we’ve done it successfully, and we expect to get a lot of science and a lot of practical experience yet out of the International Space Station program.  So when you look at things to come, most of the projects that, that we see as follow-ons, are big projects; in fact, potentially bigger: permanent colonies on the moon, for instance, or manned missions to Mars, and hopefully with the idea of sustaining a presence there for human colonization or science over the long term.  Those must be multinational projects.  So we have proven that you can do that; we know how to do it.  We know who to call if we, if I wanted to call my Russian counterpart and ask a medical question or a ECLSS, an environmental control system, engineering question, I know exactly who to call in any of those five countries.  So I think that the ISS becomes a major stepping-stone, not just as a, a point on a map but we have proven how, that we can do these things and we know how to do these things multinationally, and that’s been extremely important to us.  The day-to-day, products of working on the International Space Station are not limited just to the science results that we get or the,  the educational videos that we make, but the practical aspects of, learning to fix things, learning to fabricate parts, learning to do everything that a crew might have to do when it’s on its own in a much more remote setting, and learning to work together with,  with all those different mind sets, I mean, that’s, that’s what’s going to get us further.