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Preflight Interview: Ron Garan
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NASA astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 27/28 Flight Engineer. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?

A: Well, I have wanted to be an astronaut ever since July 20th, 1969.  So I remember this as one of my most vivid childhood memories. I remember it was the 50th wedding anniversary of my great-grandparents, and we had a big family party and at one point during the party we all gathered around this black and white TV and I along with millions and millions of other people around the world watched those first steps on the moon.  And that day I said, this is what I want to be when I grow up.  And that’s motivated me throughout my whole life to pursue a lot of the different educational opportunities that I’ve had, some of the career choices I’ve made, it was all hoping that I could do that because I really felt the calling to that particular profession from that day on.

I want to get you to tell us that story.  Let me get you to start back at the beginning.  Tell me about your hometown, tell me about Yonkers, New York, and what it was like for you growing up there.

Well, Yonkers, New York, was an interesting place to grow up. I think I learned a lot there, I think I learned the value of hard work, I learned that if you work hard enough you can accomplish whatever you set your minds to and, growing up there I never had, anybody, a teacher or anybody else, discourage me from my dreams, and I really felt that anything was possible, and New Yorkers are kind of famous for getting things done and I think that’s part of the reason why is, if you want to get a New Yorker to do something just tell him that it’s impossible to do it, so I think that’s one of the big things I learned. I think it was a fun place to grow up, being so close to Manhattan and everything on the one side, so close to the country and the mountains and everything else on the other side, so it was a really nice place to grow up.

Did you get a chance to, to see it, try to pick it out of the metropolitan…

I did. 


We had a little break in the action on STS-124 and I remember it was Garrett Reisman  and Ken Ham and I, we each got ourselves a window because we knew that there was going to be a clear pass and we plastered our face to the windows and from Houston all the way up past Canada and beyond we saw the entire east coast of the United States and, without seeing a single cloud, and I don’t know how long that took but it wasn’t very long, and I distinctly remember seeing Yonkers and seeing Manhattan, seeing New York, seeing Yankee Stadium, and so that was really a neat experience.

From Yonkers you went on to school and into the Air Force and, and ended up at the Johnson Space Center as an astronaut.  Fill in some of the details in that trip for us, in your education and your professional background.

Yeah, well, let me back up a little bit because I think an important thing to highlight is, when I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I always had this dream of being an astronaut, like I said, but when I was getting ready to graduate from high school, as far as this young kid  from Yonkers, New York was concerned, we didn’t have a space program.  So, it was after Skylab, it was before the first space shuttle mission, and our nation didn’t have a space program, so what was I going to do?  So I went off to college without really knowing what path I wanted to take, but when I was a sophomore STS-1 landed, and I remember the very next day, it was like the wakeup call—hey, we do have a space program—and I went to my academic advisor and I said I want to start taking math and science courses, I want to start pursuing  a degree in engineering.  And so I eventually got a degree in engineering after I joined the Air Force that was something that really changed my educational path.  It really made a big difference in me and from that I went on to the Air Force and became an F-16 pilot; later in my career became a test pilot and was selected out of the test pilot cadre at Eglin Air Force Base.

Did your Air Force career grow out of college, were you in ROTC program or, or did you come into the Air Force through a different door?

No, I went through Officer Training School, actually the college that I went to didn’t offer ROTC, but I think that was a very appropriate path for me to go through the officer training side of it and, quite frankly, I don’t think that at that age I was mature enough to go through the rigors of an ROTC program so, maybe I was a late bloomer.

But all along your, your decisions and, and movement through the Air Force all leading to that path, that, that goal that was set in 1969?


You ended up now with that job, which has some unique dangers to it—I mean, let’s face it, it can be dangerous; other jobs have dangers but this one has some unique dangers to it.


What is it, Ron, what is it that you feel that we get as a result of flying people in space…


…that makes it worth taking those risks?

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NASA astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 27/28 flight engineer, attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Yeah.  Actually I’m not much of a daredevil.  I don’t drive a fast car and I don’t jump out of perfectly good airplanes and I don’t do a lot of high risk things, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but for me personally that’s not something I do for fun. It’s not something I’m interested in.  However, I think that there are certain things that are risky and dangerous that are worth doing, for me, and this certainly falls into that category.  To me it’s kind of a risk/benefit tradeoff.  If I did not truly believe what we’re doing in the space program is making life better on Earth, just changing the way we live and changing our species and changing the way, we look at the universe, I would not be taking the risk.  I wouldn’t be, not, I would not be taking the risk for my family, for myself, but I truly believe that, that this is worth the risk, that this is worth the inherent dangers of launching on a rocket and living and working in space, so that we can further those, further discoveries, further our knowledge, improve our planet and to do all those things that I really truly believe the space program is enabling us to do.

You’re a member of the International Space Station’s Expedition 27 and 28 crews.  Ron, give me a summary of the goals of your six-month flight and, and tell me what some of your major responsibilities are going to be.

Well, this is going to be a very interesting expedition in that we are going to see the end of the space shuttle era during our time frame there, so, we’re pretty much complete with the construction—the big pieces, the major construction work is all behind us now, and now we’re outfitting the space station so that we can make it all the way to 2020 if possible.  So we’re going to see those last two space shuttle missions while we’re there and all that goes on with that, we’ll be bringing up another, module, we’ll be bringing up some big pieces of equipment to put on the outside of the space station. Those will be very busy time frames, but now that we have the major construction done, we are in the utilization phase of the space station.  So we are doing on the space station now what it was designed to do and that’s cutting-edge science, cutting-edge research and opening up, doors to discovery.  And certainly, when that last space shuttle undocks and goes home, we no longer have the ability to bring up those big pieces and pretty much, in some circumstances, what we have up there is what we’re going to have for the duration, and we’re really then full-blown into the utilization, into the on board science mode of the space station.  So our six-month mission, in addition to those two shuttle missions that are up there and all the work that’s going to be involved with that, there’s going to be a great deal of science—there’s a great deal of science on board right now, there has been for a while, but we’re going to really ramp that up even more.

Now you’ve already made one visit to the station during a shuttle mission; what are you looking forward to that’s going to be different about a long-duration stay as opposed to your first encounter?

When I flew my first space mission there was a lot of, firsts for me, obviously: there was a lot of things I had never experienced before, there was a lot of good surprises, but I would say my biggest surprise was how in awe I was of the International Space Station.  I’ve seen the mockups, I’ve trained on it for many years, but when you are on the rendezvous and the docking phase and you see this enormous orbital station, this orbital platform and you see it coming into view and then you dock with it and you come on board and you see the complexity of the space station and how everything works and it was built by 16 different nations and some of the parts had never fit together before, until they got on orbit, and you see how all this miraculously works, in a very effective manner, it’s really awe-inspiring.  And, having the opportunity to go outside and do an EVA and to see this unbelievable accomplishment of humanity against the backdrop of the, indescribably beautiful Earth, was just breathtaking.  So, what’s going to be the difference this time is I just went to this amazing place to visit, to spend a couple of weeks there to a very short amount of time and a very rapid pace and then came right back home; now, as opposed to being a visitor to space, I’m going to be a resident of space, and I’m going to really make the space station my home for half of a year and that experience is going to be, I think, vastly different.  I think it’s going to be deeper, I think I’m going to be able to experience more, I’m going to be able to process more, to take in more and to really have the time to, as it’s happening to think about what I’m experiencing and when I was on one of my spacewalks on my last mission, I remember distinctly looking out there and part of my brain was saying, this is incredibly beautiful, this is amazing, and the other part of my brain was saying, yeah, it’s really beautiful but it’s not real.  So I had no experience base to relate it to.  But now I will.  Now I’ll have, six months of an experience base to relate this all to and I think it’ll be a much deeper, much more memorable in the sense that I’ll remember it, I’ll remember how I felt, experience.

Be less like a dream.

Less like a dream, exactly.

Well, the station itself has changed since you’ve been there, too.  So set the scene for me.  Tell me about the International Space Station and the various laboratories and, and other modules that are up there that you’re going to inhabit for six months.

Yeah, well, let me start by saying what’s new since I was there. We didn’t have Node 3 so we didn’t have the Cupola, so we didn’t have this amazing view. We didn’t have one of the solar arrays, before we get there the PMM [Permanent Multipurpose Module] will have been delivered, so that’ll be new, there’s some new modules on the Russian side, that weren’t there, so it was an enormous structure before I went back in 2008 when I was there on Discovery on STS-124, and it’s an even bigger place now.  There is world-class laboratories in different parts of the space station: we have the Japanese laboratory that also has its own airlock, its own robotic arm, we’ve got the European laboratory, we’ve got the U.S. Lab, we’ve got laboratories, laboratory facilities on the, on the Russian side, and all of these facilities are working around the clock with cutting-edge science, cutting-edge research and that’s one of the other big things that I’m looking forward to is the discoveries that are going come from, from our time on the space station.

Well, now with larger crews on the station, six people, and all these facilities that you’ve described, a lot more attention is being turned to science and a lot of it has to do with how you guys, the crew members, how people can live in this environment for a long period of time.  Give me a sense of the different kinds of work that you’re going to do and the experiments for which you’ll be the subjects as the station is used to, to learn more about how people can live in this environment.

Yeah, that’s a very important aspect of the research that we’re doing on board the space station is basically to learn how we can live for longer and longer periods of time in space, to get farther and farther away from the Earth so that we could reach out and do all the exploration that we want to do in the future.  But, in addition to that, there is a great deal of research that’s directly focused on planet Earth, on improving life on planet Earth, on material science, combustion research, making cars safer, better ways to predict natural disasters.  There’s all kinds of work like that that’s being done on board, probably equally or more than the research that’s being conducted on just the human body for its potential for increased exploration in space.  But even the research that we’re conducting on ourselves to see how the human body can function in extended periods of time in weightlessness and extended period of times in radiation, etc., in a space environment, if you will, even that research helps us on Earth. Whether it’s looking at bone loss and then equating that to osteoporosis, there’s a lot of cardiac studies that we’re going to be doing and that helps with the treatment of heart disease, etc., so there’s a great deal of research.  It’s not how can we go farther into space that’s a very important, a very key part of our research, but the other part of the research, which is equally as important if not more, is how can we make life better on planet Earth.

And we’re going to find out these things by studying the people who are in space because of the, the different conditions there…


…that allow us to see some things.  Give me, give us an example of a couple of the kinds of things that you’re going to be doing that are going to hopefully lead to these discoveries for use up there and down here.

Yeah. We often get asked the question, and it’s a very valid question, why do you have to do this stuff in space, why don’t you just have a laboratory on the ground where you can conduct this or that type of research?  In space, once we take gravity out of the equation and we’re in a weightless environment, in a very sterile environment where we can control many different variables, we can have pure science.  We can have pure answers to some of the questions that we have so, for instance, protein cry, crystal growth, for instance: when you grow those crystals on Earth, you have to combat gravity because the crystals will grow differently, than they will in space.  With the absence of gravity, then they’re going to grow to bigger sizes and what that leads to is proving out mathematical models.  So we have mathematical predictions, if you will, on how certain things like medicines will interact with the body, and how certain crystals will develop, and once we remove gravity, that simplifies those equations, that simplifies that math, so that we can have better math models and, which hopefully will lead to better medicines, better materials, etc.

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NASA astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 27/28 flight engineer, participates in a payload training session on the Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

There are experiments like, like those where the crew members are lab assistants—is that a good way to characterize it?—where you’re working at an apparatus in a laboratory…


…doing some things.  What, what kind of work do you do?  Is it, is it simply monitoring and writing down data, or are you more, not to say directly, but are you more actively involved in the, in the experiment itself?

Well, I’d classify two roles…


…for us.  On one role, we’re lab assistant and the other role we’re a lab rat, so we are what the experiment is being conducted on.  So as the lab assistant, our standard experiment is conducted in what we call a rack.  So it’s a closet-sized structure that has a great deal of equipment inside, maybe there’s a glovebox where we could stick our hands in a sterile environment, sometime, we have temperature controls on it, we have pressure controls, it’s a vacuum, in some cases we can put artificial —gravity—in these systems, so there are a lot of autonomous systems that we just go in there, set it up, flip the switch on, and it, and it runs, and in some cases runs for months at a time.  There are other experiments where we are actually doing the manipulation, in some cases we’ll have, someone on the ground, a scientist on the ground, with a camera over our shoulder and it’s basically, the scientist is standing there, directing us what to do.  In some cases we have procedures that we run, so that’s the lab assistant role, and then the lab rat role, if you will, is, we’ll be ultra sounding each other’s hearts, different organs and seeing how the effects of gravity affects some of the functioning of those, those key organs, obviously we’ll be measuring our bone density, our muscle mass and things like that and see how that affects us.  We have nutrition studies going on board, trying to lead to better diets both in space and on, on earth, so…

And you’re working on experiments that are going to be coming from a lot of different countries…


… in a lot of different scientific disciplines.  You got any that have stood out in your training as, as the ones that you’re really looking forward to playing with?

Well, there’s actually a great deal that I’m really looking forward to. Some of them are just inherently fun to do.  There’s a SPHERES [Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites] experiment where you’re basically allowing these flying robots to fly around and, I mean, that’s fun stuff, but it’s not only fun, there’s a lot of really good science that’s coming out of it.  But what I’m really excited about is some of the, most if not all of the scientific experiments we’re doing, we are doing in space because it’s, we need this unique environment.  We’ve handpicked these experiments to give us the greatest payback, to give us the greatest, hopefully wealth of knowledge from these experiments because we simply can’t conduct them on the ground.  So, like I said there’s combustion research that we’re going to do and if we’re able to, increase the efficiency of a combustion reaction by even one or two percent, you can imagine the effects on, heating fuel or on gas mileage in cars, on air pollution, etc.  So there’s a great deal, I mean, I could spend three hours going through all these experiments that I’m really excited about because they’re all really, really important.

Lots of different kinds of experiments and a lot of different laboratories for you and your crewmates to work in, but another part of your job is to take care of the laboratories and to take care of the station.  Give us a sense of the other kinds of work apart from the science that you and your crewmates will be doing during the time that you’re up there.

Yeah, that is why it’s really important that we have a six-person crew now. As I said this is probably the most complex structure ever built in the history of humanity, and because it’s so complex it requires a lot of work, there’s things that break, there’s things that just need to be maintained, there’s filters that need to be cleaned, and so, even though we’re done with the construction phase, there’s still a pretty significant portion of the day that’s just required to keep the station running, to keep the station in the configuration that we want it to be. For instance, in order to go on to other planets and explore the solar system, we are going to need to be able to live without constant resupply from Earth.  So even though we might have enough water to last, a number of months, we still want to do  the recycling of water.  We still want to use those systems.  So, we want to be in a configuration on the space station that will lead to the greatest ability for us to do further-on exploration.  So those systems, because they’re new and because they’re unproven in this environment, this is the first time they’re being used, that, they require a lot of maintenance and a lot of work to keep them running effectively, there’s a lot of testing that we do to make sure the air has the proper constituents, to make sure that the water that we’re drinking is safe, that the air flow and the ventilation around the station is what it should be.  So there’s a great deal of the, of the day that’s taken up by that as well.

Now you’re got science work to do, you’ve got station maintenance work to do, and you’ve got another special project that you’re going to be working on during your time up there.  It’s called Fragile Oasis. 


Tell me about what’s going to happen with that.

Well, Fragile Oasis is a vehicle, if you will, for us on board to be able to have outreach with all those people that are interested and all those people that are supporting our mission.  And basically what it is, it’s a website where we are trying to use the unique perspective of being in orbit to put a focus on some of the challenges facing our planet and not just, here’s all the problems that we have, I think that everybody knows we’ve got a lot of problems on Earth, but really to look at it, and here’s some amazing people, here’s some amazing organizations that are making life better on planet Earth, and, using that orbital perspective, hopefully inspire people to make a difference.  And so the objectives of the website are one, to use that orbital perspective to inspire people to make the world a better place.  We want to get the word out that we have this amazing global asset called the International Space Station which is really benefiting all of humanity. We want to highlight the scientific advancements on board, we want to inspire students to academic ex, excellence through a lot of the education outreach activities we’re doing, and I think all of us who have the special privilege of flying in space realize that it is a special privilege and it’s something that we have a responsibility to share with other people so, the other aspect of the site is to just allow people to experience this with us vicariously through our videos, through our pictures, through our blogs—we’ve got a number of astronauts that’ll be blogging on the site—and to be able to basically have, have everybody along not as, as spectators but as crewmates, as fellow crewmates on this mission with us.

Give me a sense of what your contribution to this website will be from space.  What will you be doing?

Well, as we don’t have a lot of free time on board because, our time is very valuable, but what little free time I have, I’m going to try and blog as much as I can, I’m going to try and put down in words and pictures and videos as best I can the experience that I have while I’m on board throughout the mission. We are going to have an online community with this website where people will be highlighting projects; this community can vote on these projects and see which ones rise to the top.  I, whenever possible, as a community votes and picks these projects, if we happen to fly over it, we’ll take pictures of it and send those down.  And so there’s a lot of interactive things like that that we’re trying to do,  but I think, and I’m very excited about it, I think that it’s going to be really interesting and hopefully make a difference.

And what’s the website address?

The website address is [www.]

OK.  Good.  Let’s talk about some of the other highlights of your time in space.  One of the first things that’s going to happen is that you’re going to see a visit from a space shuttle crew.  Endeavour’s coming up to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer as well as some other supplies and hardware.  Tell me about what’s in plan, in the plan from your point of view when STS-134 comes.

Yeah, well, I mean, the last two space shuttle missions again are the primary purpose of having them and getting them on board is so that we can, as best we can, guarantee that we can operate the space station at least till 2020.  So there are some big, what we call ORUs, orbital replacement units, that can only be brought up on the shuttle.  So once the shuttle stops flying we don’t have that ability anymore, so all those things that we think might break, all those things that, we really want to have spares on board, those last two shuttle missions are going to be primarily doing that.  In addition, for 134, they’re also bringing up the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer which is, really exciting.  It’s this 15,000 pound equip, piece of equipment that’s going to go on the outside of the space station and hopefully unlock some of the mysteries of the formation of the universe, which is pretty cool so, yeah, that’ll be, it’ll be really neat to be a part of that mission, to be, to help those guys accomplish their mission.  It’ll be really neat for me ’cause two of my STS-124 crewmates will be on that mission so we’ll get to see them.  So basically, our role when they arrive, which is shortly after we arrive, is going to be to facilitate their success, to make sure that we give them everything, every support, as much support as we can, and to basically make it seamless, their time on the space station, just like the guys did when we were there on, on our shuttle mission.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, as you’ve mentioned, is something that goes outside.  It’s not something that a station crew member really is directly involved with in terms of its operation.


But what does it do?  How is it trying to find out about the secrets of the universe?

Well, it’s looking, it’s basically a particle physics experiment, or sensor, if you will, that’s looking for evidence, looking for, for particles that will indicate how the universe was formed.  So, it’s, many order, orders of magnitude more sensitive than anything we’ve ever, put into space to do this so scientists are very excited and we’re all very excited that, we have an opportunity here to really make some amazing discoveries.

There’s a new cargo ship that’s being developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program that has another test flight coming up during Expedition 28.  Tell me about this Dragon spacecraft and about what your crew will do during the expected fly-by of the station this summer.

Yeah.  This is, this is, for me personally very exciting ’cause I was actually on the source selection committee back in 2006 that, it was, it’s called COTS, Commercial Orbital Transportation System, which was the, basically our first, NASA’s first step into the commercialization of space, and so this is really exciting for me to see this playing out and to see how this is, coming to fruition, this, this idea. What exactly we’re going to do I think is still to be determined because, there is talk about, maybe taking a couple steps further than just a fly-by, but, it, it, it basically is a dress rehearsal for the first docking, or mating, I should say, ’cause it, it captured by the robotic arm, and mated to the station, the Dragon capsule.  So this capsule is a cargo ship right now; there’s hopes that it will be modified in future to be able to carry crew, to the space station and to other destinations, so it’s a very exciting project to be a part of. 

It must be exciting in the sense that you know what the plan is now but you’re also aware that the plan may change…

Right, right.

…and what actually happens while you’re there could be even further along in its advancement than what you’re thinking.

Right, right, right.  But we, and we’re trained for that.  We’re trained to take it all the way to docking and undocking, to capture it with the robotic arm so we’re ready if that’s, what is decided to be done with that mission, but we’re  ready to support however it’s, it, it plays out.

And if it comes to that, that grappling with the arm, that’s an operation that’s similar to what’s done with the Japanese cargo vehicle…

That’s correct, yes.

…the HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], right?

Yes, exactly.

Current plan, and yes, we always have to talk about the current plans for things, calls for a couple of different spacewalks during your time on orbit.  One of them is going to be conducted by two of your Russian crewmates, the other one is going to be conducted during the last space shuttle mission this summer.  Now usually when shuttles vision, visit, shuttle crew members do the spacewalk, but in this case it’s going to be you and one of your station crew members who are going to be going outside.  What’s the reasoning behind that?

Well, I think, I think there’s a couple of reasons for that.  I think the main reason is because this is the last shuttle mission, and actually this is the launch on need shuttle that, that we have the opportunity now to fly as a real mission, as a planned mission, and that means that that mission does not have a launch on, on need, it doesn’t have a rescue ship sitting ready to go in case there’s a problem.  So that means if there is a problem on ascent for, for this last shuttle mission that we’re going to have to, those guys are going to have stay on the space station for a while and we’re going to have to bring them back with Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  Because we have to have a smaller crew size, it’s only a crew of four, these four people are doing what seven people normally do so in addition to that, they also have to train for the potential rescue mission that they would be on for 134, so there’s a lot of difficulty fitting all the things that you need to fit in to, for training-wise, for an EVA in that case.  The other reason I think is Mike Fossum and I will go out together, we’ve got hundreds of hours together, in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab practicing spacewalks, we have three spacewalks together, over 20 hours outside, and we are a team that we know how each other  work, we know how each other think, it’ll be a very easy transition for us, since we’ll be up there together, we’ve worked so much together, we’ve done so much together outside to go ahead and fulfill that role.

So in this case, what is it, what is it they have on the plan for you and Mike to do during this EVA?

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Attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit, NASA astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 27/28 flight engineer, participates in a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Well, again the big thing is to bring big, ORUs up and in this case to also bring one down, too, so, we’ve got some ORUs that we’re going to bring up, and place on different parts of the space station, and we also are going to take the failed amm, pump module, that gave us a lot of problems a few months ago, and bring that back to Earth so that we can basically do the analysis to see what happened and to see how we can design them better in the future or to see if there’s anything we could do to help mitigate the possibility that it might happen again.  So there’s a really strong incentive for us to bring this particular equipment back to Earth, and so it’s pretty involved to get this very large object, off the station, into the cargo bay so it’s ready to get back to Earth and then, there’s always maintenance to conduct outside…


…there’s always housekeeping outside that we have to do so there’ll be some other cats and dogs type stuff as well.

Nice to get an opportunity to go crawl around outside again…


…too, I’ll bet.

Yeah, it will be.

STS-135, this mission that we’re talking about, is the last flight of the space shuttle program.  What are your thoughts about the space shuttle’s place in the history of, of not only human spaceflight but in, it’s role in building this space station?

Oh, without the space shuttle we wouldn’t have this space station.  I mean, this, I mean, that’s why the space shuttle was designed, to build space stations in orbit, and I think unfortunately it’ll be many decades before we have the capability that the space shuttle provides us right now.  To have the vehicle that could fly to space, to carry the size, the size and the weight of the payload that it can carry, to have its own robotic arm, its own airlock, and then to come back and land on a runway and bring things back that are the same, the same weight and the same size and to bring those things back to Earth that, that is a pretty tremendous capability.  Unfortunately, we can’t continue to do that and do all the other things that we want to do as well, so we had to make a very difficult decision to end the space pro, the space shuttle program, and sometimes change is hard and in this particular case it is hard, it’s going to be a sad day when those guys land.  It’ll be happy that the mission was successful but then it’ll be a little bittersweet in the fact that this is the last time that we’re going to see this vehicle but, I think, I truly believe that it’s going to lead to bigger and better things and the space shuttle’s place in history I think is fairly secure.  It’s, it was an amazing and is an amazing spacecraft, amazing flying machine, and the many accomplishments that it’s made throughout its history, I think stand for themselves.  Whether it’s deploying the Hubble Space Telescope, repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, building the space station, all the satellites it launched, all the satellites it recovered, all the scientific experiments that were conducted on board, I think it, I am, I am really proud to have flown on the space shuttle and to be a part of the space shuttle program,.

You’re, on this mission, you’re going to get to do something else that’s going to be brand new for you.  You’re going to get to fly on a Soyuz…

Yeah, yeah.

…spacecraft.  Are you looking forward to that…

I am.

…part of the deal?

I am looking forward to that.  A very significant part of what we’re doing here is the international aspect of it, and, if you would have told me 20 years ago that I’d be flying on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the sp, International Space Station, I would have thought you were crazy.  I would never think that that was possible.  So, it’s really a strong testament to the diplomacy that was involved, the political accomplishments that were involved, to get all these nations together to work together to accomplish this tremendous thing and the perfect example of that is, I think, having U.S. astronauts and astronauts of other nations flying on a Soyuz spacecraft.  It’s a very reliable spacecraft, it’s a very well-designed spacecraft, it’s rugged, it’s got a lot of really interesting features in it, and I’m really looking forward to flying on it.

When you fly on it you’re going to be just a couple of weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the very first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, which is also the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight itself.  Give us some insight; what are your thoughts about being in space while we’re paying attention to these milestones of spaceflight?

Well, yeah, it’s almost hard to put into words because it really is just an incredible honor to be a part of this anniversary in that, I truly believe that on April 12th, 1961, humanity became a different species.  I mean, humanity was no longer bounded to the, to the confines of Earth on that day, and in 50 years since then we’ve made some pretty big steps and we’ve, we’ve done some amazing things and I think we’ve pretty much cemented that we’re not a one planet species, if we choose not to be a one planet species, anymore.  And so, to launch so close to the 50th anniversary, from the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from, and then to be able to celebrate that anniversary on orbit and then to be able to celebrate the, in the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle launch, and then the first American in space as well, I think is really going to be amazing.  And it’s such an honor that we, when we designed our, our Expedition 28 patch we included the name Gagarin and [Alan] Shepard on it with the approval of, of their families to honor those two pioneers that basically helped us get us where we are today.

I wanted to ask you about that in particular because you’ll be in space in May, on May 5th, for the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first American spaceflight.  What kind of significance is that day going to hold for you?

Well, I mean, I think it’s a similar significance for me in that was the birth of the American space program.  That’s where we started our sprint to the cosmos, and what we accomplished from that day to the next ten years after that was just absolutely amazing.  I mean, to this day I don’t know how in the world we got from never flying a single person in space to landing on the moon and coming home safely in such a short amount of time.  And, you now, I’m just in awe of the, of the pioneers that led us down that path and when I, when I think of that anniversary, I think of what that led to and where that took us, and where as a nation that took us, and where we are today because of it, and it’s, and it’s really, it’s going to be a great, great thing to celebrate in space.

We’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years since Gagarin and Shepard flew, from then to you look at the International Space Station today.  Where do you think we’re going to be 50 years off into the future and, and how will the International Space Station help get us there?

I, think the proper way to answer that question is from, from two angles.  I think the first way to answer it is I think what we learned by going to space was not so much about space but about ourselves.  I think we learned about our planet, we learned about us as people, as, as humanity, and I think that the contributions of the space program to planet Earth, the contributions of the space program to just all of us living together on this, on this fragile oasis, if you will, I think in the next 50 years, that’s going to become more and more apparent.  That, that first view of Earth on Christmas Eve, first time we saw the whole, Earth rising above the lunar landscape there, I think that changed us as a species as well, it gave us a different sense of who we are and that, no astronaut actually thinks he’s going to look out the window and see borders drawn on the ground, but when you look at the planet from space and you realize, hey, we’re all in this together—I mean, there’s nothing that separates all of us from the harshness of space but this, teeny little thin atmosphere, I think, hopefully, I think what we’re going to see from the space program in the next 50 years is us coming closer and closer together as a species, coming closer together to solve a lot of the challenges and problems that we have on this planet.  And the other angle, the other aspect of the, of the question, I think is, where are we going to be in 50 years, and I truly believe that, we will do whatever we choose to do.  We have the technology, we have the ability, we have the infrastructure to accomplish whatever it is we set our mind to, so hopefully what we’re going to set our mind to is increased human exploration of, of, of the solar system, increased robotic exploration of the solar system, I hope to see more and more people living and working in space. I think hopefully some day, I don’t have to start a website to help people experience what it is to live and work in space.  Hopefully it’ll be commonplace just like it’s commonplace to get an airline right now and fly from one country to the next. Hopefully it will be commonplace to fly into space, and that NASA’s role in this whole thing will be, to be pushing that envelope farther and farther to go back to the moon, to make use of the resources on the moon, to establish a foothold there, to go on to Mars, to go on to the asteroids, go on to the different planets in the solar system, and then eventually to leave our solar system.  And hopefully we’ll have many people living and working in space in the next 50 years.  That would be my hope.