From Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars, explore the world of human spaceflight with NASA each week on the official podcast of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Listen to in-depth conversations with the astronauts, scientists and engineers who make it possible.
On Episode 239, the astronauts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission describe their anticipation for the upcoming crew rotation mission to the International Space Station. These interviews were recorded throughout January and February of 2022.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 239, “The Crew-4 Astronauts.” I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. On this podcast we bring in the experts, scientists, engineers, and astronauts all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues, launching a crew of four astronauts from NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency, on a U.S. commercial spacecraft on the fourth crew rotation mission to the International Space Station. Each of these four crew members are incredible, high-achieving individuals. And I was fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with each of them before their launch. These interviews were recorded throughout January and February of 2022. On this episode, we will hear from each individual astronaut: Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti, and hear them reflect on their lives, training and anticipation of their upcoming long-duration mission to space. Let’s get right into it: enjoy.
Host: First up is NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, commander of Crew-4. Lindgren is responsible for all phases of flight from launch to re-entry. Once on board station, he’ll serve as an Expedition 67 flight engineer. He was born in Taipei, Taiwan, lived in the midwestern U.S. but spent most of his childhood in England. Kjell is a medical doctor and first joined NASA in 2007 as a flight surgeon, before being selected as an astronaut in 2009. He flew to the station on a Russian Soyuz in 2015 for Expeditions 44 and 45. Really enjoyed this conversation. Here’s a little about Kjell Lindgren.
Host: Kjell Lindgren thanks for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast today.
Kjell Lindgren: Oh, thank you for having me. This is awesome.
Host: You’re very close to launch, right in the middle of training. Tell me about where you are right now in terms of what you’re feeling and what your expectations are?
Kjell Lindgren: Well, you kind of feel like you’re on a slide, about halfway down a slide. Like, you’re starting to accelerate; you know, we’re under three months to flight and there’s still a lot to do from a training and even from a personal perspective — just kind of getting everything in order so that your family is in good shape while you’re gone for, for several months. And so there’s definitely a, a persistent, underlying sense of exhilaration, but it’s a little bit clouded by all the things that need to be accomplished before you get there.
Host: You’ve done this once before, but it was a little different, this, by meaning a long-term expedition on the station. It was just a little different from a launch perspective because you did it in Baikonur. Now you’re going to be doing it from the United States. What’s going to be different this time around?
Kjell Lindgren: Well, I am just so excited to, to get to launch from Kennedy’s Space Center. Just the, the heritage and history of that launch site and, and now getting to not only launch from there but getting to have family and friends be able to participate in that. It was extraordinary, such an extraordinary experience to train, to live in Russia, and to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. But you’re right, you know, this is, this is different. I got to have 15 guests and my family come out last time; now, you know, friends and family can come, come down to Florida and be a part of this journey. It’s also meant that, that training has been a little bit different. We don’t spend quite as much time overseas. We certainly do continue to, to spend time in our, in our instance out in, in California working with our SpaceX partners, training on the Crew Dragon vehicle. But, but getting to be here in the U.S. for the most part and getting to launch from Kennedy, Kennedy Space Center is, is really exciting.
Host: That’s nice. You get to be an around them a little bit more during training. And then, and then when you walk out and see, see your family, you’re going to do so with three others who are, who you are spending an incredible amount of time with. That’s your crew, Crew-4. Tell me a little bit about them?
Kjell Lindgren: You bet. So our pilot is Bob Hines, or he goes by Farmer, and, he is a, an Air Force officer, test pilot, a F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, and, and was one of our, aircraft, aircraft operations pilots here at NASA for a while, an IP for the, instructor pilot for the T-38 and, and flew some of our other aircraft. And just so grateful to have his experience, and, and background, test background, as we’ve been preparing to, to fly this vehicle. Farmer is a, is a Turtle, he’s a member of the 2017 class, and joining him on our crew is another Turtle, Jessica Watkins. She is a geologist by training and just really an extraordinary astronaut. She stepped in, you know, Farmer and I had been training for a while — and Samantha too, for that, for that matter — had been training for several months together; Jessica or, or Watty, she goes by, joined us a little bit late, but in our first sim[ulation] she stepped in like she had been doing it for years. And just really excited to, to have her on the crew and to get to share the, the spaceflight experience with her. And then, rounding out the crew, Samantha Cristoforetti. And Samantha joined ESA the same time my class joined NASA back in 2009, so we’ve known each other for many years. I, my crew was actually the backup to her crew, Soyuz crew, back in 2014 and 2015, and so I got to, to train with her out in Star City and it has been really incredible getting to, to train with her. This time around she brings a lot of experience and, and, and really great intuition to our team. And I am just excited about the spaceflight, but even more so excited about the people that I get to share this experience with. We’ve got an amazing crew, and we are rounded out by three extraordinary cosmonauts on the Expedition 67 crew. So when we arrive at the space station and they will have already been there for several weeks, and it’s going to be, I think we’re going to have a great time.
Host: That’s so important too, because you’re spending so much time together to, to get along with one another. And, and of course, you know, we’ve been interviewing a lot of you guys and you’re all saying the same thing, and it’s so important. I wonder, in your particular role, Kjell, just, in the commander role, as you look, as you’re in training and you look at the, the crewmates and you internalize and understand the responsibility of what it is to be commander on the, on, on the mission and the decisions that you are responsible for, I wonder, I wonder what that feeling is like, now, now that you’re taking on this position as commander.
Kjell Lindgren: Well, it, it’s an incredible privilege to, to get to command this Crew-4 mission. I really see that role as of one of serving the crew and making sure that they have all of the training and tools and experience that are necessary to be successful. I feel responsibility for, for their safety and for the success of our crew. And so that is just, as we have kind of progressed through training and as we prepare for our launch and for our mission, has just really meant spending a little bit of extra time, making sure that I’m bringing my best game to our training and that I’m prepared, you know, when the time comes for our launch. I, I’ve got an amazing crew, in, in Samantha and Watty and Farmer. And, so it’s, it’s just really a privilege to, to be a part of that team.
Host: You got a lot of work to do when you’re on station, of course, lots of science, maintenance, you might have some spacewalks that you’ll have to take part of, and that’s all for the maintenance continuing the research on board. Lots, lots of goals that are part of that long-term expedition. But I wonder if you’re also approaching this with any personal goals, anything that you’d like to achieve, whether taking more time in the Cupola or bonding this way or the other thing, I wonder if you have any personal goals for your six months?
Kjell Lindgren: You know, I flew my last mission as if it were going to be my only mission. I, I tried to approach it as really what it is, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And, and so to have a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is, is really an extraordinary privilege. And I am looking to, I think, be a little more introspective in this, in this mission and to just kind of truly, I don’t know, understand, and reflect on, on what a privilege it is to, to live and work in that environment, and to be a part of this larger team that is seeking to challenge itself with continued operation of the space station, as we continue to seek out ways to improve life on Earth, and then also, to conduct our lunar and future Martian missions with success.
Host: And, and sort of building off of that as, as a way to, to wrap up, Kjell, you know, thinking about just this, this mission that you’re on and, and what it contributes to, and to the overall value of human spaceflight and what we’re trying to accomplish, pull, pulling from your expeditions, pulling from your expertise in, in medicine and just a good understanding science and why we do it, from your perspective, why is it important that we continue to do microgravity research and, and continue to explore?
Kjell Lindgren: There, there are so many reasons to, to continue on this path. You know, one, we are conducting science and research to improve life here on Earth. That orbital perspective gives us a view, a very special view and perspective, of our home planet, the Earth. And, you know, as we think about pushing outwards, as we think about the Moon and Mars and, and venturing out into our solar system, I think just as you know the, the Apollo astronauts as they arrived at the Moon and looked back at the Earth, I think, it great, gives us such an important understanding of how, how unique and special our home planet is. And so, just continuing to reinforce that message to our international partners and to our fellow, fellow citizens of, of, of spaceship Earth, that we need to take, take care of our planet and take care of our home. We, we do research on the space station to, and, and, and act as test subjects, to better understand how the, the human body reacts in that weightless environment. It’s given us some, given us some insights into very basic and fundamental processes that, that we would not have achieved without weightlessness. Insights into crystal growth and pharmaceutical production, immune system function and, and bone loss. It mimics some of the disease processes that we see on the Earth and, and helps us develop new strategies for, for care. And then, and then exploration; you know, we don’t get better in anything unless we challenge ourselves, whether it’s exercise or, or technology, unless we push the edge of the envelope, unless we extend and reach for things that are outside of our grasp. We are not, we’re not improving, we’re not getting better. And so, by setting these challenges in front of us of living and working in low-Earth orbit, of, of, returning to the Moon and of reaching for Mars, if we don’t do those things, we as a species, we as a nation, are not growing. And, and certainly, there are so many things that, that require our attention here on Earth: so many challenges, so many obstacles, but as a country, as, as an international partnership, we do, we absolutely need to dedicate some portion of our focus and energies on, on reaching for goals that are going to, to improve us.
Host: Kjell, such a thoughtful response. I can only imagine your response after all your time reflecting on orbit and taking that, taking that time. Looking forward to hear what you have to say after your mission, but, Kjell, really appreciate the time, that you took with me to, to have this chat. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Kjell Lindgren: Thank you.
Host: Next is NASA astronaut Bob Hines, pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and second in command for the mission. He’s responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. Once on board station, he will also serve as an Expedition 67 flight engineer. Bob spent most of his childhood moving around Pennsylvania. After earning a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from Boston University, Bob was soon accepted to the U.S. Air Force for Officer Training School, ultimately becoming a pilot, serving in various roles, and eventually ending up as a test pilot and earning two masters degrees, one with the Air Force and another from the University of Alabama. Like Kjell, Bob also joined NASA before becoming an astronaut, first serving as a research pilot at the Johnson Space Center in 2012 before his selection as an astronaut in 2017. Really great guy to talk to; here is Bob Hines.
Host: Bob Hines, thanks so much for coming on Houston We Have A Podcast today.
Bob Hines: Oh, thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.
Host: You are, we’ve gotten the pleasure to do a couple of interviews with you so far, just in a short amount of time you have between training. You’re right in the middle of it, you got a lot to do, but, but your launch is right around the corner. In this moment, in, with all the training and with your launch so close, how are you feeling?
Bob Hines: Really excited, obviously. Although I’ll say, there’s still so much to do that sometimes it’s hard to, to get really excited about it. It hasn’t really hit us. And then there are moments of, of things that’ll happen that’ll really snap us back to, you know, wow, this is really getting close. For example, I had my last run in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab for spacewalk training just on Tuesday, and when we got out of the water and Kjell, who’s our commander, he pointed out, he said, hey, the next time you get in the suit you might be going out the door for real. And that really hit me as, wow, it’s, it’s starting to get really close. So, really starting to get excited.
Host: So then did you, do you feel ready then knowing that that was your last Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, you know, the next time you do it, you got to do it for real. So, so how has the, has the training prepared you well enough? Do you feel like you’ve, you’ve done enough?
Bob Hines: It absolutely has. That’s one thing that is really amazing about the process is that, you know, when you’re starting out you’re not so sure, you know, you know you can do these things, but you know, confidence may not be, you know, hey, am I actually, good enough to be able to do this thing? But by the time you’re done with training, the, the teams that put our training programs together are just absolutely incredible and they know what you need to know and, and have done just an amazing job. And so, we 100% feel like, you know, feel like we’re ready and whatever the program throws at us or whatever they need us to do, that we’re ready to go out there and we can do, and, you know, do what we need to: fix station, install new things, whatever they need, we can get it done.
Host: That’s right. There’s a lot of space station training. Of course, you got to train to be a pilot for the SpaceX Crew Dragon, but, but even the training you’ve had for all of that, you’ve had training even before that. You’ve had, you’ve had a lots of experience as a, as a test pilot, flying aircraft, that helps you to prepare for this moment. And I just wonder, what that was like as a, as a, as a pilot and, and where that, passion for flying began?
Bob Hines: Yeah, you’re, you’re absolutely right. I mean, training is nonstop and I think for anybody who, who wants to excel in whatever their career field is, there’s someone who is constantly seeking further knowledge and, and always striving to get better. And so that’s certainly the case with us as test pilots, with me as a test pilot, and, you know, and now as an astronaut, that I’m never really satisfied with where I’m at, always trying to get better. But you know, I joked around with someone late in my Air Force career, because it dawned on me that there’s the normal assignment cycle process that people go through whenever they want to move, and I realized that I had never really done one because every assignment that I was going on was some new form of training. And so, every time I went it was going to a new school. So it was just a little bit different.
Host: Yeah. You moved around a lot as a kid, right, and, and, you had to make friends constantly. I wonder…I mean, I, I was sort of the same way. I moved around a lot in Pennsylvania, I was always in a new town; I think the longest I lived in a place was four years for a lot of my early, early childhood. And, you know, its, its, I, I found personally in my life that it was a, it was a skill to develop to make new friends and enter into friend, new friend circles all the time. Sounds like you had a similar experience.
Bob Hines: Yeah, absolutely. My dad was in the Army early on, and so we moved a lot for that. And then, you know, when he got out of the Army and, and got his job, we continued moving quite a bit. And then I joined the Air Force and kept moving. So, you, you’re a hundred percent right: you know, the, the, much like being a test pilot, one of the things they teach us is that you get comfortable being uncomfortable. And I think that that was the same thing, you know, constantly moving, you get comfortable being the new kid, you get comfortable being uncomfortable. And, you know, it definitely makes it, makes it easier, but you also really get an appreciation for all the different people that you meet and the different cultures and the different areas that people live in and come from and the different backgrounds. And so you just start to understand, you know, as you look back and reflect the, the values that, that diversity brings. And so, it’s really special.
Host: I wonder how you’ve bonded with your crewmates, because you’re definitely spending a lot of time with them in training, but, and being a cohesive team is, is very important because you’re going to be with each other in, in a — tin can, a much larger tin can, but essentially a confined space for a long period of time. So, so how are you, how do you, getting along with your crewmates?
Bob Hines: We’ve been getting along great, in, in my opinion, I’m not sure what their opinion is, but no, we get along great. I think we all have really compatible personalities. We all have a really good sense of humor, and we joke around, we tease each other, and, and we all have, you know, pretty thick skin as well. So, I, I’m really excited for it, I think it’s going to be just an amazing time. And then our Russian colleagues as well: I don’t know them quite as well as our Crew-4 crew, but when we get up there on space, on station, we’ll be a seven-person crew and, and we’ve had dinner with them and we’ve met them several times and, and they seem like they’re, they’re going to fit in perfectly with us as well. So I’m just really excited to, you know, see how we all jell as a team once we get up there.
Host: Yeah. A lot of people up there and, and it’s going to be, it’s funny because when, by the time you arrive at the space station there’s, there might be a moment where you are on the station with four Turtles, like the Ninja Turtles, right? I don’t know if you’re Leonardo or Donatello —
Bob Hines: Blast from the past there.
Host: — [Laughter] but that’s a special moment. I mean, 2017 class, you guys are part of the, part of the mix, part of the rotation.
Bob Hines: It, it absolutely is. And yeah, I’m not sure it’s something that any of us really dreamed would happen, especially with four of us up there, at the same time. So it’s going to be really special. Kayla [Barron] and I actually, did our astronaut interview together, so we were in the same group. And so, being able to see her in space and cross paths in space station for a few days is going to be really special. And then Raja [Chari] and I have known each other since our Air Force days. And we’ve been assigned in the same place two or three times. So, our families have known each other for a long time as well. And so, for us to cross paths one more time in space is going to be just awesome.
Host: And then of course, when, when, after you arrive you got to kick right into gear and there’s a lot of work to do. You’re there to do science…
Bob Hines: Absolutely.
Host:…you’re there to do maintenance, you might do some spacewalks and, and you got to really kick into gear. But I wonder, if in your six months that you’re there, of, of course, you are going to have some free time, if you have some personal goals, things that you want to do in the, in the few moments you have to just take it all in, if there’s something that you’re looking forward to doing?
Bob Hines: Yeah. I absolutely want to make sure that, you know, I take time to look out the window, but I really want to capture it, as well; capture the experience. And so, I am not a journaler, but that is something that I would like to start doing is, you know, writing down and recording my thoughts and my observations, at the end of the day. And, and so, that’s a habit that I’ve, I’ve tried to start over the, the previous months of training so that I can carry that on board with me. So not only the writing, journaling, but also photo-documenting, which obviously is a, is a very popular hobby up there. So I’m really looking forward to that. I am a, a budding photographer, to, to put it mildly. So I, I’m hoping that my skills get better and can really capture the beauty of what I expect to see up there.
Host: And of course, you, while you’re doing all that work and you’re going to be away from home, and I know you’re very close with your family, that’s something that’s very important to you. And so how are you preparing them for the long journey?
Bob Hines: So we’ve been talking about it for a long time. We have, I’ve been trying to share the training process with them and, and constantly just talking about what the expectations are for, you know, how often we’ll be able to talk. You know, we have video conferences periodically as well, and so just kind of setting those expectations. But I do think one of the things that, that helps, like you mentioned earlier, is the fact that some of our turtle classmates are up there right now. The, the, the spouses and the families of the other astronauts are all fairly close, and so, they get to share those experiences from their perspective as well. And, and I think that that really helps, to prepare them.
Host: Absolutely. Bob Hines, thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me today.
Bob Hines: Thanks so much. It was my pleasure. Take care.
Host: Next, we have NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, a mission specialist for Crew-4. As a mission specialist, she’ll work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once on board the station, she too will become a flight engineer for Expedition 67 on her first trip to space. Watkins was born in Maryland but considers Lafayette, Colorado, her hometown. She earned a Bachelor of Science in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University, and a doctorate in geology from the University of California Los Angeles, or UCLA. As it seems to be a theme with this crew, Jessica, like Kjell and Bob, joined NASA prior to being selected as an astronaut, participating in several internships at Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Prior to her selection as a NASA astronaut in 2017, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the division of geological and planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology, where she collaborated as a member of the science team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. What an incredible person to talk to; here is Jessica Watkins.
Host: Jessica Watkins, thanks so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast today.
Jessica Watkins: Thanks so much for having me.
Host: Hey, just really close to your launch. In this moment you’ve been going through a lot of training; you still are. You have, just before this you were saying you have a back-to-back schedule, it’s still very, very busy, but it’s right around the corner. How are you feeling with launch coming up so soon?
Jessica Watkins: Oh yeah, it’s super exciting. It’s, it’s crazy how quickly it’s come up, but we are feeling well prepared and, and ready for this next adventure.
Host: Did you always know that you were going to be an astronaut or, or, or at least aspire to be one? Was that something that was, you know, when, when you were a kid, something that you aspired to be?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah. You know, certainly something that I aspired to for, have aspired to for a long time, since I was, I was pretty young. I never thought it would become a reality, but it was something that I kind of a, distant dream in the back of my head, since a pretty young age.
Host: But then you eventually pursued STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). You had some sort of interest in that and, and you decided on geology. Why geology?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah. You know, my, my journey to geology was, was not, exactly a, a straight path. I kind of came into school, into undergrad, thinking that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. And after taking a few classes and really kind of getting settled in there, I decided that engineering, mechanical engineering really wasn’t for me. It just wasn’t something that I enjoyed. And so, I kind of found my way, kind of stumbled onto geology, once I discovered that you could study the geology of other planets, which was very exciting to me, and just kind of fell in love.
Host: So, and, and you got a chance to do that, right? I mean, you worked on, Curiosity rover and, and things like that. How was, and, and you did that so as an intern for NASA, right? How was that experience?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah, absolutely. I am so grateful for the opportunities I had to be a NASA intern. That really kind of opened the door for me and really allowed me to have different experiences that helped point me towards where I wanted to go in my career. Really helped me, allowed me to have hands-on experience, like working on the rover, that really just kind of fueled my passion.
Host: So I mean that, that, that goal, that, that aspiration to be an astronaut, must have stuck with you because then you ultimately applied and then got that call that you were going to be a NASA astronaut. What, tell me about that moment when you actually got the call?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly very surreal when you receive that phone call, you, you’re expecting a phone call one way or the other. But for me, certainly, when I look back now, I kind of, I had notes prepared in terms of what to say if it was a “no” phone call, but what, didn’t even have anything prepared for the “yes” phone call. So it was, it was definitely super exciting.
Host: Well, you’ve been training a lot to get, to get prepared for this moment, basic, you know, ASCAN training, right, so you got the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, you got, you know, T-38, that kind of thing. And then you’ve ultimately been training for this mission. So you got your space station training, you got Dragon training, and you’re doing so with a crew of three others, who, who we’re all talking to on, on this podcast as well. And I just wonder from, from your perspective, you know, as you’re training, as you’re going through this, learning more about the, the systems and everything, what it’s like being with this crew; tell me about Crew-4?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah. It’s truly a privilege to be able to train and, and soon fly with the Crew-4, with my, my other crewmates. They are each individually awesome in their own ways, they each have their expertise and, they, we each kind of bring something different to the table. So I’m, I’m really excited for us to kind of, bring all of that together. We really complement each other well, and I’m excited about what we are going to be able to accomplish.
Host: And what is it exactly you’re going to accomplish? I mean, you’re going on a, on a SpaceX Dragon, right, and so that, so that’s pretty cool, you got to learn what that system is, but ultimately you’re going to be on the space station for a long time. What are you doing on board?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah, the, the two main things that we focus on while we’re on board the ISS are science and maintenance. So on the science side, we do lots of different kinds of science: physical science, material science, fluid dynamics, we study biology, looking at cell and tissue growth, we also do Earth and space sciences, which is near and dear to my heart, as well as doing tech demos and studying ourselves, we become the experiment and we focus on human physiology and the cognitive effects of long-distance, long-term spaceflight, long-duration spaceflight.
Host: Yeah. I mean, when, when you’re up there, you’re going to, you’re going to do all of that stuff, right, you got that science and maintenance, and I think one of the beautiful things about working, you know, as an, as a NASA astronaut is the opportunity to, to connect with others on the ground. And I certainly, I mean, I know you’re experiencing now, you got a lot of people reaching out to you because you’re going to be the first African American woman on the space station to do a long-duration mission, and people who look like you are looking up to you and saying, I want to be, I want to be like you. So how do, how do you take on that role and start connecting and sharing your experience and that, and that position to try to inspire others?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah. I know, certainly an honor to be a, a small part of the legacy of, black female astronauts who came before me, and, you know, I think we are seeing an exciting future ahead of us as well. So it’s exciting to be a part of that. And, you know, it certainly mattered to me when I was growing up to have people that looked like me participating in the roles I wanted to participate in and contributing in ways I wanted to contribute. And so, to the extent that I’m able to do that, I’m, I’m grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.
Host: You’re, you’re going to spend a lot, a lot of time on there, you know, lots of science, maintenance, connecting with others, but of course you’re going to have some, some time to yourself and I wonder, if you’ve put some thought into just your own personal goals during the mission? Some of the things that you want to make sure that you set a time to truly experience or share or whatever you want to do while on board. Do you have personal things you want to do?
Jessica Watkins: Yeah. You know, I think first and foremost, the focus is on, you know, being a good crewmate and, all of the, all of the different aspects that that includes, including, you know, professional work life being, a, a, you know, helpful and productive crewmate, and then, as well on the more personal, emotional side as well. And then there’s the, the other part of being up there, which I think is being a good steward of the opportunity, kind of, as you were mentioning before, but bringing, bringing others with us. You know, we are lucky that we are the ones that get to go, but it’s important that we bring others with us. And so, doing that to the best of my ability.
Host: Very good. Well, well, Jessica Watkins, appreciate you taking the time to, to, to chat with me today, and I know you got a lot going on, so, so best of luck, on your upcoming launch, appreciate you, you chatting with me today.
Jessica Watkins: Thanks so much, Gary,
Host: Last but not least, we have ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, also a mission specialist for Crew-4, working with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft through the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. She will also become a long-duration crew member aboard the International Space Station. Born in Milan, Italy, the multilingual astronaut earned degrees in Italy and Germany, while studying in the U.S., France, and Russia all along the way. In 2001 she joined the Italian air force, eventually becoming a pilot. She was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009 and flew to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz in 2014 for a long-duration mission during Expeditions 42 and 43 until returning in June 2015. Overall, a very interesting person and inspiring person to talk to; here is Samantha Cristoforetti.
Host: Samantha Cristoforetti, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast.
Samantha Cristoforetti: Hello. Thanks for having me; excited.
Host: Very close to your launch, Samantha. And they are, they are training you like crazy, if I’m not mistaken: you are going all over, traveling around the world, getting ready for this mission. In this moment, how are you feeling?
Samantha Cristoforetti: Very excited. I mean, we’re just, couple of months out from launch; very busy time, trying, of course, to keep my head above the water in terms of, you know, deadlines that we have to meet and, all the last training events, lots of BDCs, like baseline data collections for all the experiments that I would be a subject for going on these days. We get some really good quality time with the crew when we fly out to, to Hawthorne in California for the vehicle training at the SpaceX facilities. So an exciting time.
Host: Very much so. And you’re, you’re doing it with, with a very special crew. Just talking with a couple of you guys, it seems like you, you’ve been, you’ve been bonding pretty nicely. And, and well, just, just tell me about that, about, about the crew that you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time with.
Samantha Cristoforetti: So I don’t think I could have dreamt of a better crew. And, and, and I know that this is something that maybe people say a lot, but, it — it’s really true. Some people I already knew quite well. Kjell Lindgren, our commander, is from our sister class, was selected in 2009 like I was. Known him for many years. He was my backup when I flew the first time, so we spent time together in Baikonur before launch, a lot of time together in Star City as we were training to fly on Soyuz back in, you know, 2012, 2013, 2014, he’s just the kindest human being you can possibly imagine. Jessica Watkins, Watty, I also knew very well because back in 2019 we did a NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) mission together, so we spent ten days as part of this six-person crew in Aquarius, this underwater habitat on the, on the ocean floor off the coast of Florida, you know, doing simulated spacewalks for multiple hours with, with a diving hard hat. And she just impressed me back then already, you know, she’s super-young, but, you know, so driven and smart and kind and fun and, you know, full of energy and strength. I mean, she’s just amazing. And Farmer (Bob Hines) I, I got to know after we, we got assigned together to, to this crew and, again, you know, the super-kind person and, incredible, very specific — but I, I super-like it — sense of humor. So, it, it’s just an amazing crew. And, and I know for a fact that we will have an amazing time on orbit together.
Host: It is not too much longer until all four of you are going to be walking out of crew quarters together after spending so much time, and it’s good that you guys are getting along because you’re going to spend a lot of time but when you walk out it’s, it’s going to be a new experience for you because when you launched previously, you launched from Baikonur; this time it’s just going to be a little bit different. And I know you’re excited to have more family and friends there as well.
Samantha Cristoforetti: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s going to be all new, new rocket, new vehicle, new launch pad, new launch place, you know, new, different country. And yeah, definitely one big difference will be that, you know, back on my first flight, because we launched out of Baikonur and the logistics and the costs there make it very difficult for people to come, we only had a very small amount of guests. And this time I’m really excited that we will have many more of my family and friends, who are going to be able to come out and, and wave goodbye, in Florida. So that’s cool.
Host: Well, of course, after launching, most of the, the, the really, the primary purpose of your mission is to spend a significant amount of time in space doing science and doing technology demonstrations. There’s a lot to do. Can you give me a feel for, for exactly, what it is you, you hope to accomplish, what it is that you’re looking forward to for the work that you’re going to do in space?
Samantha Cristoforetti: You know, we as astronauts, we, we show up on space station and, and what we hope to do is to contribute, right? So there’s, there’s, you know, and over this last few years I’ve gained even more an appreciation of the amount of work that many, many people put into planning the science that happens on space station, planning all, you know, the, the, the, the procedures, the hardware, the time on orbit, you know, deconflicting it from other things so making sure that all the requirements are, are met. And so what I hope that we accomplish, you know, myself and overall as a crew, is that, you know, everything is just uneventful, that we are able to do our job in as smooth a way as possible so that, you know, all this work that all those people have put in actually comes to fruition.
Host: When you spent, almost, you know, 200 days on space station during your previous Expedition, after flying up on Soyuz, you had limited free time but you decided to spend it sharing your experience with the world. You, you made some videos and, and they were very, very engaging. I wonder what you want to do this time around, in the limited free time that you have?
Samantha Cristoforetti: Yeah. I, I definitely look forward to, to do that again, to try and share the experience as much as, as possible. It’s been a few years, I think, also the, the way people communicate has maybe evolved, and, you know, I, I think it’s, it’s especially challenging as for a person like me, who’s not the youngest anymore, to try and find the right ways of communicating to the, the youngest, right? The, the kids, the, the young adults. And so, yeah, I’m looking forward to, to that challenge, see if we can engage these young folks.
Host: Just taking a moment to reflect on this mission that you’re a part of and the time that we’re going up, you’re, you’re going to be up there at a time where we’re working on the commercialization of low-Earth orbit, private astronaut missions are, you know, in full swing, we have, you know, spaceflight participants, commercial research, we’re, we’re trying to go to the Moon as well. It’s, it’s a very exciting time. Just reflecting on that and what it’s taken to get to this moment with, with international partnerships as well, really, really taking a perspective of all that’s going on and all that contributed to get us to this moment, which is going to be, you know, this year, 2022 during your spaceflight.
Samantha Cristoforetti: Yeah. It’s, it’s amazing to me how things have evolved so fast. You know, when, when I flew the first time, you know, human spaceflight was this thing that was limited to sovereign agencies and, and very few of them, right? You know, the United States, Russia and, and China. And, and now, there is such a…such an amount of new actors and, and activities, that, you know, the, the context has completely changed. And, and I think we are at, at, at the point where we can really look forward to, at least in low-Earth orbit, having a, a really orders of magnitude increase in terms of activities and actors present. And I think the natural consequence of that is that things will become safer, more reliable, cheaper, more efficient, through that, and, and I think hopefully, or actually I’m pretty confident, the benefits of that will trickle down, to the, you know, the entire industry and community, and not only in low-Earth orbit but also beyond that.
Host: Wonderful. Samantha Cristoforetti, thank you for taking this moment to chat with me today. Appreciate it.
Samantha Cristoforetti: Yeah. Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. That is all four of the Crew-4 astronauts. I hope you learned a little something about each of them today. Check out NASA’s website for the latest schedule and how you can find out how to watch the launch of these four astronauts live on NASA TV and on different streaming services. We have a lot of different podcasts episodes here on Houston We Have a Podcast, you can check them out in no particular order, go to NASA.gov/podcasts to find them as well as other shows that we have at NASA, the whole collection is there. If you want to talk to us, Houston We Have a Podcast, we’re on the NASA Johnson Space Center pages of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just use the hashtag #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show; make sure to mention it’s for us at Houston We Have a Podcast. These interviews were recorded throughout January and February of 2022. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Heidi Lavelle and Belinda Pulido for their work on the podcast as always, and to the astronaut schedulers for helping us to secure these chats. And of course, thanks to the Crew-4 astronauts, Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins, and Samantha Cristoforetti for their time. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you’re listening to us on and tell us what you think of our podcast. We’ll be back next week.