Interview: James Voss
The STS-101 Crew Interviews with Mission Specialist 3
before we talk about the details of your mission, talk a bit
about the details about you. Tell me why it is that you wanted to
become an astronaut.
I'm not really
sure exactly when it happened, but I think it has something to
do with when I was a child. I read a lot, and my favorite subject
was science fiction, and I always thought, when I read these tales
what a great job that would be, how wonderful it would be to be
able to fly in space, go to different places, different parts
of our solar system. And so, I think it captured my imagination
when I was a child, but of course, we didn't have astronauts then.
And so, when we started having them I thought about it again,
though I wasn't really qualified in the early days because they
only took military test pilots. And though I was in the military,
I was an engineer and I didn't have vision that was good enough
to be in the program then. And when they started with the mission
specialist program -- the Shuttle Program in 1978 -- I saw a notice
about it, and I said, "They've created this program just
for me so I can go become an astronaut!" So, I started applying
then, and over a period of nine years I applied six times, and
finally I was selected.
there certain steps in your Army career, certain things that
you did that you did with an eye toward becoming more qualified?
No. The things
that I did in my military career, I did because they were things
I wanted to do … like I have with everything I've ever done.
They're just things that I thought that I would enjoy doing and
work that I would like to do. I think there's some things that
helped me. I got to go. I had the opportunity to go to the Navy
Test Pilot School as an engineer and I think that definitely helped
with my application. But I did that because I love flying and
I enjoy aviation, and I thought that would be a wonderful use
of my education. I'm an aerospace engineer.
mentioned, as a child reading science fiction and being interested
in the stories that were being told there; were there individuals,
were there people that you, in your life, as you think back,
that you can see now were instrumental or influential in your
becoming the man you did?
Buck Rogers, who I watched in the movie theater as a child. Real
people, though, I think that some of the people that influenced
me most were those who influenced my military career, who kind
of shaped me as a person once I started along that track. Maj.
Jack Damewood, who was my ROTC instructor at Auburn University,
he was a real influence on my life in general. He was such an
enthusiastic, highly motivated person. I decided then that I wanted
to be that kind of a soldier and officer, and I tried to do that.
Other people that influenced me were my grandparents, who raised
me, and I think they just made me the kind of person overall that
I am even to this day.
in your astronaut career, in your capacity as a backup for two
of the missions of the American astronauts to the Russian Mir
space station, you lived and worked in Russia for a year-and-a-half
or more and got a firsthand look at how the Russians and the
Americans began learning to work together. From your point of
view, how has the experience of the Phase 1 part of the International
Space Station Program contributed to the success of the current
it's been such a tremendously interesting experience for me. I
just really enjoyed going to Russia, learning about their culture,
seeing our space program interacting with the Russians the way
that we have, and learning and growing together. When we started
out we didn't know how to work together with the Russians at all,
and I think the biggest contribution of the Phase 1 program was
for the Russians to learn how to work with us and for us to learn
how to work with them. And we're seeing the benefit of that as
we go into the International Space Station, or Phase 2 part of
this, because we do know how to work together, we've established
working relationships between our specialists here and there,
and the people have learned how to get things done working together.
And I think that's gonna eventually contribute to our success
with the International Space Station.
to that, you were named to be a crewmember on the second long-duration
expedition to the space station and have been training to do
that for a couple of years now. But you and your two expedition
crewmates were only recently added to STS-101 - just a couple
of months to train for the details of what's going on here.
What's it been like to shift gears from training from that one
kind of mission to this?
also interesting. I had actually been training for four years,
including the Mir time plus the time I've been training specifically
for the International Space Station flight; and that's a very
long time to train for a flight. Though there's a great deal to
learn for the ISS, it still was dragging out and the flight was
going to be much later than we originally thought because of delays
in the program. We have been at actually, a lull in our training
now while the training facilities catch up with us, and so this
was an excellent opportunity for us to take a break from that
long training flow and do something a little bit different. It
also allows us to go and train on the real thing: When our simulators
are not ready for us, we can go train on the actual hardware by
going up there and working on board the space station. And this
will be the best training that we could ever possibly do.
exactly the next thing I wanted to get you to talk about in
a sense, is your expertise on the systems of this station, by
virtue of the fact that you've been studying it for some time,
is that helping ease the transition for you and Susan and Yuri
to work with this other group of astronauts?
it is. And that's one of the reasons that we were assigned to
this flight was because we do already have the training required
to go up and operate and repair and work on the part of the space
station that is up there. And because of that we don't really
need to train on that, in fact, Susan went to Russia and joined
Yuri over there for some training, and the Russians certified
them, that they were ready to do the repair work on the FGB. Well,
they also included in their certification letter that I was also
prepared because of my Mir and the ISS training that I've done
over there, so without doing another day's worth of training they
certified I was OK to go and do the repair work. And I think that's
the case with much of what we're going to be doing. It's things
that we've already learned the skills for, and we've prepared
a long time for, and we're just going to go and apply that knowledge
that we've gained over a period of several years.
begin to talk about some of this in more specific terms. Why
is NASA flying this shuttle mission at this time? What are the
major goals of STS-101?
you know, the Service Module - the habitation and the control
part of the International Space Station - has been delayed because
of problems with the launch rocket in Russia. Because of that
delay, the flight 2A.2, which was going up to outfit the space
station, wasn't properly phased in with the timing; it would have
to be after the Service Module launch. Well, there are also problems
with the part of the station that's up there right now. Specifically,
the main problem is with batteries that we use for electrical
power. They've been failing and they need to be repaired, and
we can't wait until the Service Module is up there to go up and
repair them, so we had to have another flight that goes before
July, when the Service Module is launching. So, they decided to
create a new flight to go up and specifically to repair the FGB
and to do some outfitting while we're up there, but the main thing
is to get it back a hundred percent before we launch the Service
Module up there. And then, the flight after that will continue
to outfit it and prepare it for the first crew to come on board.
this is quite different: NASA has planned out shuttle missions
for years in advance before sending them up, rather than months,
and astronauts and ground crews have spent much longer training
for the specific details of what was to be done. But all of
that was before there was always a space station on orbit -
is this a sign of what it's going to be like from now on?
Well, I think
it's a sign of great thinking on the part of NASA management.
Now, actually, we were sort of forced into doing this. We had
to have a flight pretty quick, and the crew that was already in
training for a flight, we needed some of them for the later flight,
and they needed to be in training continuously. They couldn't
go off and do a flight and come back and then prepare for the
other one in time. So, they had to add some people very quickly,
and they looked around and they saw that the space station crews
are the ones that are fully trained already to do the space station
repair work. We have the skills and the knowledge to do the things,
and so they decided that the right thing to do is to send us up
there. A lot of things came together to make that happen at this
time, and I really believe it's the right thing to do for repairing
the space station with a crew that you have to put together very
quickly. And you're right: This is very unusual for NASA. I think
the crew will be ready, it's just a question of whether or not
the rest of the program is going to be able to pull everything
together and have the shuttle ready, all the products that we
need to have on board, if everything will be prepared for the
flight. But I think we're going to do it.
couple of days after the seven of you launch on board Atlantis
and are to rendezvous with the space station, you will do so
in a way that's very similar to what STS-96 did on the last
station assembly mission last year. Tell us what you're going
to do and talk us through the events of rendezvous day.
day for me is going to be a pretty easy one. I'm going to be doing
other things most of the day. Fortunately, the core crew -- the
commander, pilot, and the other two MSs, who have been training
for 18 months for this flight - are prepared to do the rendezvous.
My station crewmate Susan Helms is going to assist them by operating
the computers that help us in understanding what we're doing during
the rendezvous. But, she was previously trained on rendezvous,
and so it's very easy for her to step in and do that. I'm also
rendezvous trained, but we don't need another person so I'm going
to be preparing some of our extravehicular activity tools and
equipment to get ready for the EVA that's coming up soon after
we dock. And so I'll be doing that during a lot of the rendezvous,
and then as we get closer I'll do Photo/TV operations. I'll take
pictures and set up cameras and do things like that, just to assist
the crew, and I'll be a general helper doing anything that's necessary
to assist the rest of the crew while they do their part of the
you give us a brief word picture of the major steps that are
involved in trying to bring these two massive ships together?
catching up with the station as we fly, and as we get close that
day, we come in sort of underneath the space station. And then
we fly up around it, and then we move in to dock. We get within
just a couple of hundred feet, do this flyaround, then we actually
rotate the shuttle 90 degrees to get the lighting all set up just
right for it. A great deal of planning has gone into getting everything
right and to have us to know exactly what we have to do - even
down to the point of where the sun is going to be and the correct
lighting for the docking. And then, Jim Halsell, who's the commander
on the flight, will fly the space shuttle in closer and closer
as we go. And during this time that Jim will be flying, Scott
Horowitz will be controlling the operation by reading the checklist
and keeping Jim straight on how fast he's supposed to be going
at particular times so Jim only has to focus on the flying. Jeff
Williams, who is our mission specialist 2, the flight engineer,
will be keeping track of the space shuttle systems and making
sure everything is OK there and taking care of any problems that
come up. Mary Ellen Weber will be assisting Jim with the cameras
that we use for our docking and assisting him with displays and
things like that, and Susan Helms will be operating the computer.
Yuri Usachev will be operating a handheld laser to provide range
and our closing speed with the station as we go, as a kind of
a backup. And when we get within about 30 feet, Jim will just
go straight in at a very slow rate … We have a docking ring
that we have on the shuttle and one on the space station. Those
will come together at a relatively slow rate, and Jim will put
it right in the place it needs to be using a target by looking
out the window at the station, and then we'll dock. And then,
Mary Ellen will actually do the steps necessary to make the docking
secure and for us to be firmly attached to the space station.
day after all of that is successfully concluded is the day that
you all are to begin your work -- the work of bringing new things
to the space station, starting with the things that need to
go on the outside of the station.
have gotten the spacewalking assignment, along with Jeff Williams,
on this mission.
through the schedule, as you know it at this time, of what you
and Jeff Williams are going to be doing on the outside of the
International Space Station.
OK. Of course
the spacewalk is probably my main job up to this point on the
shuttle flight. And the reason I was assigned this is because
of my previous experience with an EVA on STS-69, and I've been
preparing for EVAs on space station for the last four years. When
Jeff and I go outside, we will be transferring over some things
from the space shuttle onto the station. One of the things is
a crane - it's called the Strela, it's a Russian piece of hardware,
it has an extendable boom that you can use for moving people or
equipment around on the space station. A piece of it is already
up there; we're bringing up the boom itself and an extension to
the boom. We'll assemble pieces of it in the payload bay of the
space shuttle, and then we will move it up to the space station,
assemble it there, and then we'll move the entire thing over to
a new location where it's kind of out of the way for future construction
that's going to happen. After we've moved the Strela, then we
have some other tasks that we have to complete. There are some
handrails we're going to install, a cable for a centerline camera
for future docking flight, and we've got something that's been
added fairly recently, and that's a repair or, a look at possibly
repairing a U.S. crane that we put up there on the last flight.
There is something that is not working quite right on it; it's
rotating freely - and we're going to look at the interface where
this crane plugs into a socket on the space station and see if
we can fix it. Now, we have several different things we might
try: hopefully the easiest thing is just take it out, put it back
in again and it'll lock in place this time. And if it doesn't,
then we have other contingencies of trying other places or perhaps
even bringing it into the station so that we can look at the mechanism
and see what's wrong with it.
at some point, I think there was also a plan to change out an
antenna to a communications system.
We have a communications antenna on the space station that's called
the Early Comm or Early Communications System, and one of those
antennas -- one of the two -- has had part of it that's failed.
They're still able to use a piece of it, but it's not fully functional.
So, we're going to change out one of those. Luckily, it's one
of the tasks that I was already doing part of for our space station
flight that we were scheduled for, so this was a relatively easy
one for me to train for. And we will change out that antenna,
just replace it with an identical one, and bring back the old
one for repair.
most of the time of this six-hour-and-something-minute spacewalk,
you're going to be riding on the end of the mechanical arm.
that mean that you have the easy job?
I think it
probably is pretty easy to do. Neither of them is particularly
easy, but neither is particularly difficult. None of the things
that we're doing are particularly out of our normal box for extravehicular
activity. We do a lot of bolt turning and moving things around
and installing things, and this is the same sort of activity.
That's why it's relatively easy for me to train for this. Because
of my previous experience, the training that I've been doing and
doing a few practice runs now to prepare for it will be adequate
to have me ready to do my part. And, yes, I will be riding on
the arm for a good bit of the EVA. It will be there to give me
a foot restraint so that I'm fixed in place. I will be able to
use both of my hands to do operations and then I'll be able to
hold on to things to move them to the new locations where we're
going to install them. And Jeff will be scurrying around the space
station - moving from one place to another, doing things - and
then meeting me at the new locations to help install the new equipment
where it goes.
any of the folks who have already done spacewalks outside this
station given you guys any tips or warnings about what it's
like and what to look out for?
course, we've talked with people and gotten some advice on some
of the things, like the … crane, the U.S. crane that we're
operating. …I guess they're calling it now the OTD, the Orbiter
Transfer Device, on orbit, or ORU transfer device - it's an acronym
within an acronym - Orbital Replacement Unit transfer device.
I've talked with the people who installed it before to ask some
things about the handling of it and what they thought might possibly
be the problem with the socket that it's placed in. And I've discussed
just generally the EVA with a couple of people that were up there
earlier in the program to see what they thought about it. There,
the space station has a lot of things sticking out of it: antennas,
cables, all sorts of things that make the translation there a
little bit more difficult, and you have to be a little more careful
than you normally would be, just so that you don't damage equipment
on the outside of the space station.
this point in its life, when a shuttle docks to the space station
the end of the Unity Node pretty much covers up the windows
on the back of the flight deck. How intricate is the kind of
cooperation or the code that you have to learn to work out with,
in this case, Mary Ellen Weber, who's operating the arm you're
we depend on Mary Ellen to get us where we need to go and to operate
the arm and not run us into structure. And we do have to work
out a special communication and a system for telling her which
way we want her to go, because her view is very severely limited.
She'll be using cameras to see where we are, and that adds further
complexity because the camera view is different from her view,
which is different from my view. So we've worked out a system
to use. At first, it was a little bit difficult for me because
we're using orbiter coordinate systems instead of the station,
and I was used to working with a station coordinate system after
all this time. But it was very quick to go back to the orbiter
system, and, usually, we tell her to move us to either the port
or starboard side of the space shuttle, or up and down within
the bay, or we can tell her "closer to structure" or
"further away from structure," and she can take any
of those inputs and move us in the correct direction. And we constantly
communicate so that she knows how close we are, how far we need
to move. And she's trained a lot on this and done a lot of development
work so she knows where the arm is supposed to be going anyway
for different positions and for different operations, and so she
already knows kind of where we're going to tell her to go, and
she just listens to us as we get closer in to structure.
day following this spacewalk is the day that the work inside
the International Space Station is to begin. After these years
of preparation, do you have any sense at this point of what
you're going to feel, the first time you float inside this space
I think I'm
going to be really excited. I have been training a long, long
time. When I started this four years ago, I thought I was going
to spend a year in Russia, then a year back here training for
my flight and then fly to the International Space Station. So,
it's been a long time and I am really excited about going up there
to see my future home. We'll only be there about 10 days this
time, but it'll allow me time to get really familiar with the
Node and the FGB, the functional cargo block, that we're going
to be living in while we're up there. And we're going to transfer
a lot of equipment over there, so I'll see a lot of the things
that we'll be living with while I'm up there for my long-term
stay. So, I think I'll be pretty excited when we open up that
top-priority tasks for this mission have been characterized
as the repair of equipment in Zarya, the first element of the
station, which has been on orbit since late 1998. Talk about
some of the equipment in Zarya that is targeted for this repair
or replacement, and what's involved for you and for all your
crewmates to carry out this on-orbit work.
OK. As I
mentioned before, there are batteries on board. We take energy
from the sun through solar arrays, and we bring it in and store
it in batteries while we're in the sunshine. The other half of
our orbit, when we're in darkness, we use that energy from the
batteries to run all the systems on board the space station. That's
how we do our power - we bring in some, and then we use it. The
batteries are starting to fail; they're having some problems.
They've been up for a good while now, and traditionally, these
batteries have lasted about a year to 18 months and then they've
started experiencing problems and needed to be replaced on the
space station Mir, and these are the same kind of batteries. So,
some of them are already not operational. Others are starting
to indicate that they may be starting to fail, and we're concerned
about them. And so, because of this degraded performance, we have
to replace the batteries with new ones. They also have electronic
components that are failing or suspect, and we're going to replace
those, also. Sometimes we think that the early failure is due
to the electronics that control the flow of electricity into them
and out of them again. It's sort of like rechargeable batteries
that you use: Sometimes those last for years, and sometimes, after
just a few months, you can't keep a charge on them. Well, it's
the same thing with these batteries, and it oftentimes is the
electronics that controls the energy going in and out of them,
so we're going to change out some of those components as well.
A few other things that have failed are smoke detectors - that's
very important to us, should there be a fire we need to know about
it immediately - so we're going to replace smoke detectors. And
we're replacing some of the ventilation fans that are on board,
and just installing some other new ones while we're there. So,
there's a lot of that work. Now, Yuri and Susan are prime for
doing those things and I'm going to help with them, because they've
had the most recent experience, though I am trained on it, so
I'm going to be assisting them. And I'll be bringing a lot of
equipment to them, and I'll be changing out things as necessary.
It's a juggling act while we're doing all of this, because there's
a lot of equipment stored on board the space station, and we have
to move things around, and there's not much space right now because
of all the things stowed there. So, you can't be working on all
the things at one time. You have to pick a spot, work there, and
then go to another spot and work. So, we'll all be helping each
other to move things around, get access, change out the equipment
that needs to be changed out, and then move things back in place
I think, have already referred to some of the items in Zarya
that may simply be, were scheduled to be replaced after this
much time on orbit. The module's been up there and was supposed
to provide electrical power and motion control only until the
Service Module arrived, and it, according to that schedule,
should have been there already. Hence, another portion of the
tasks on this mission are tasks that are designed to extend
the life of Zarya until past the Service Module's arrival. Talk
about what some of those different tasks are.
Well, I think
that's some of the smoke detector, the fan change outs. There's
also some electronic equipment that is being installed now that
we'll use later on for the docking of the Service Module, and
that's about all I can think of offhand. But most of it is associated
with the batteries and the electronics that are associated with
along with the tasks that you have talked about, then there
are a lot of things stowed in the SPACEHAB module that have
to be moved from one place on to another, logistics that have
to be transferred and work on other systems inside. Try to fill
out the rest of the timeline for the docked days of this mission.
What jobs will you all be doing?
a great deal of transfer operations that have to happen. We are
outfitting the space station in bits and pieces because we can
only carry so much up there at one time. So, we're bringing up
a lot of things that will be installed later or will be used at
a later time. Even things like clothing, food, water, a lot of
things that we will need once we have a crew living on board.
So, these things will come up in bags, we'll strap the bags down
somewhere - on a floor, or a wall, or a ceiling - and we will
leave them there to be used on a later flight. We're even bringing
up some printers for the computers for us to print out things
when we need printed information, so there's a lot of equipment
- just box after box after box of equipment that we have to haul
over there, find the right place, install it, strap it down and
then leave it for later on. And we're bringing over water, also
- we make water on the space shuttle when we generate our electricity
- well, that's good water, we don't want to waste it. And water
is something that we need on board the space station, so we're
putting that in bags, taking it over also, and storing it on board,
getting it ready for Bill Shepherd and his crew to come up and
you're well aware, the last crew to visit the space station
encountered a degradation in the air quality on the inside;
first, can you tell us at this point what it is that's believed
to be the cause of that, and, secondly, perhaps more importantly,
what's being done to make sure that you and your 101 crewmates
aren't going to run into the same problem?
control specialists believe that that was because of a buildup
of carbon dioxide. You know, when you breathe in space, if you
don't have air flow to move things around, the air that you breathe
out will just stay right by you. And if you stay in the same place
for a long time without good air flow, you can have carbon dioxide
build up around your face, and then you can be breathing that
and you can start to feel the effects of that - it's like putting
your head in a bag and breathing for a long time. So, they think
that's what happened, they just didn't have good airflow where
they were working. And what they have done to fix that is they've
reevaluated the entire air flow in the station, and they're having
us reconfigure some of the ducting and cover up some outlets,
open other valves, so that we will have a different type of an
air flow, to get more air flowing into the back of the FGB and
then flowing out to keep it cleared out. They also are flying
some personal fans. They're small boxes with a fan, battery powered,
and we have one of those for each crewmember, and they would like
for us to set those up anywhere that we're working to make sure
that we've got fresh air blowing by us and not allow that buildup
of carbon dioxide this time. So, we think that they've taken the
steps appropriate to resolve this problem, and we don't expect
to have the problem on our flight.
mentioned earlier that your opportunity to fly on this mission
and get an early look at your future home on orbit came up only
a short time ago. With an eye toward Expedition 2, talk a little
bit more about how you think this firsthand look at the station,
ahead of schedule, is going to help you and Yuri and Susan,
whether it's with your continued training or the mission when
you do fly it.
had seen the FGB and the Node before they launched, but they're
in a different configuration now on orbit, and there's a lot of
things that are different. And this is going to give us the opportunity
to go up and see it in the actual configuration, to work with
the hardware on board and to prepare us for something that we
can't prepare for down here on the ground. We have mock-ups, but
we don't have fully functional everything, because it's just different
in space. This will give us the chance to be there, work with
the actual hardware. It's the best possible training that we could
ever do, and I think it will really help us when we go up there.
It gives us an opportunity to go up and work with the systems
behind the panels as well. Now, Yuri's very experienced - he spent
over a year on board the Mir, and I asked him how many batteries
he changed out, and he said, "Too many to remember."
So, he's done a lot of this, and he'll be able to share his experiences
with us on this early flight, and it'll help us to work better
together as a crew once we're on board for the long stay.
know, recently, as the 1900s came to a close, people compiled
lots of lists. Human space flight, from Gagarin to the Moon
landings, was among the top five news stories of the century,
so the folks say. Well, you are part of a crew now that's kicking
off the 21st century with a mission that's designed to help
extend the human presence in space. In your mind, why is that
important? What's the value of establishing a permanent foothold
off of this planet?
I think there's
a couple of reasons. One that we talk about a lot is the research
that we do there, the experiments that we do, the things that
we learn from space that we can only learn there because it gives
us a very special kind of a laboratory where we have very low
gravity and we can do things there that we can't do on the Earth,
or we can do them better in the way of research. We can separate
out some of the things that are oftentimes confusing with research:
Gravitational effects really affect a lot of the factors that
are involved with research of materials and pharmaceuticals and
things like that -- growth of plants and animals. And by doing
research in space, we sometimes can do it better than we can down
here. I think there's another purpose for human exploration of
space that is on a little bit higher level. I think human beings
are destined to explore. Throughout history, we have been explorers.
Human beings want to see what's on the other side of the fence.
We want to learn and to grow, and we can do that by reaching out
to space, to the rest of our solar system, and we can learn what's
on the other side, what's there, and we learn things that you
can only learn through human eyes sometimes, too. By going there
with people, we can learn, I think, far more than we do with our
preliminary probes through cameras and other means we gather some
information. The human mind is just so much better at understanding
and seeing that we can learn far more by sending a person there
to explore and to learn.