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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Michael Anderson
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Michael Anderson's greeting (143 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Michael Anderson

The STS-107 Crew Interview with Michael Anderson, mission specialist.

Mike, I want to start off [by] asking you to give us a brief overview of the mission. And the goals of the mission, if they can be encapsulated into a short synopsis.

Well, STS-107 is one of the first research flights in the shuttle program in quite some time. As you know, the last few years, we've been spending most of our shuttle resources building International Space Station, and science has sort of taken a backseat. Well, now it's time to get back to doing science on the space shuttle, and that's what we're going to do on STS-107. We're a 16-day, pure research flight. And we spent the last two years preparing for this flight, and we're really looking forward to getting on orbit and getting some really good research done. You can divide the science up on this flight into a couple of different categories. We have Earth science. That's where we're going to take the shuttle and use it as a great platform to look back at the Earth and study the Earth and the environment. We're also going to conduct a lot of life science research on this flight. We have a whole suite of life science experiments in which we're going to study ourselves and the human body, and really try to get a good idea for what happens to the human body in space and how we can use that information down here on Earth. And of course, we're also going to conduct some pure physical science research up there. The microgravity environment is a great place to conduct physical science research. And, we hope to do some great research during the 16 days we're on orbit.

Okay. Let's expand a little bit on that - microgravity. The notion of, or the idea of, doing research in microgravity. Why is it important to do some of the same research in microgravity that you do on Earth? And, what advantages do you gain by doing it in microgravity?

Well, by going to space, we get three things out of going to space. First of all, we get a unique platform. A unique place in which to look back at the planet and study the planet, or to look out into space and study the stars and the solar system. We also get, in space, what we call microgravity, or a reduced-gravity environment. You know, when we're down here on Earth, we're always affected by gravity. And, everything we do is affected by gravity. Once we get into space, in this microgravity environment, we take away that constant of gravity. We're often really amazed at how things change when you take away gravity. So, being able to take advantage of that microgravity environment has really proven to be a great benefit. You know, we can just simply do some things in space that we simply can't do down here on Earth. The other thing you can get in space is: You can take advantage of the space environment. You can take advantage of the great vacuum that we have there in space. And, that can be very beneficial for trying to develop certain materials. You can also take advantage of the solar radiation and some of the other aspects of the solar environment to study them and to understand the universe and the environment of space much better.

Okay. Some people may be expecting the research on this mission to yield immediate results. But, that's not necessarily the process of scientific research. Can you kind of explain for somebody who's not familiar with the process, what the goal of scientific research is? And, where it fits into the problem-solving process or the theory-proving process.

When I think of scientific research, I like to try to divide it up into three different categories. You have developmental research. This is where you're really demonstrating a new technology. Something that you already understand. Something that you know that it works. But, you're just trying to improve it to make it practical. An example of this is the VCD experiment that we have on STS-107. This Vapor Compression Distillation process is a process that we're hoping to use on International Space Station where we can take wastewater, purify it, and then perhaps use it for drinking water. So, we're developing new technologies like that on board this flight. You also have research that falls in the category of investigative research, where you're trying to answer fundamental questions. We're doing a lot of that on this flight with experiments such as PhAB4, which stands for physiology and biochemistry. It's experiments where we're looking at the human body. We're trying to understand more about the human body, how it works, and how it reacts to the microgravity environment. And, hopefully, taking some of the lessons we learn and applying them to down here on Earth. Then, you have the final category of research, which I like to think of as just pure science or satisfying our curiosity. It's really just building on man's knowledge base of information. Research like this may not yield any practical results right away, but it does just add to our knowledge and understanding of the universe. On this flight, we have an experiment CVX, which is a very interesting experiment. It's the Critical Viscosity of Xenon. And, it's probably not going to yield any practical result. But, basically we're going to take the element xenon. We're going to take it to its critical point, and that's a point where it's in a fine balance between its vapor state and its liquid state. And then, we're going to study the viscosity of it. And that's something that's really interesting to the National Bureau of Standards, but perhaps to the common person it really doesn't have any true interest or any value. But really, you know, you'd be surprised with all this research that we do, some of the results that we gain may not mean anything to us right here today, but in the future they could be very valuable. And, we've seen that time and time again.

I'm going to throw one at you that's kind of not in here. What surprises you or amazes you about the scope of experiments on this mission? It's, I mean, what are your thoughts about how vast an amount of experiments are on this mission?

When we first started training for this flight and we got our first briefings about the number of payloads and experiments that were going to be on this flight, I was really amazed. I was impressed. It was certainly evident that the scientific community had been waiting a long time for this flight, and they'd saved up a number of really good experiments. And, they've done an excellent job in patching all these experiments and integrating them into the 16-day mission. And, it's been one of the hardest parts of preparing for this flight is really trying to get a handle on the variety of payloads and experiments. But we're just excited to be able to take them up there and, hopefully, bring back some of the best science we've had in years.

As part of being assigned to this mission you and some of your crewmates have agreed to be science experiments yourselves, subjects. What are your thoughts about that? What's that going to be like? Or what's it been like training for that?

You know, the first thing they did when they were going to pick a crew for this flight was they sat us down and explained to us what our role would be, not only as the scientist doing the experiments, but also as subjects of the experiments. And, they outlined, in great detail, what would be expected of us in that role. And of course, you know, when you're talking about getting on a space shuttle mission, you'll do anything. So, of course, you sign up for anything that they ask you to do. But, when reality actually hits and you actually start becoming that subject, and they actually start poking and prodding you a little bit, then you start to realize, you know, what you've actually signed up for. But, I think we all know, in reality, that it's for an extremely good cause. A lot of hard work has gone into preparing these experiments. People have taken great pains to make sure that this science is valuable and worthwhile, and that everything we do is extremely safe. So, I feel, you know, very comfortable about doing what we're doing. And, I know that the small pains that we go through are going to have great benefits and rewards in the end.

It's my understanding that some of the experiments call for you guys to take part in preflight and postflight activities as far as being subjects yourself. Can you talk about just a couple of those? And tell me what they are. And what will go on.

Yeah. A lot of what goes on with space research is really looking at how things change when you go into space. And then, how they change again when you come back. So, in order to conduct those experiments, we go to great pains to gather what we call baseline data. We want to look at ourselves before we fly. And, we'll take measurements of our body, how it reacts to various stresses; and then we get into space, we'll repeat those experiments to see how things have changed. Then, we come back from the mission, again, we'll go through a whole repetition of those experiments and see how our body has readapted to coming back to Earth. One of the primary experiments we have on this flight is a European experiment called ARMS; that's Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System. And, you know, the human body is a wonderful creation. And, it has a variety of different control loops built within it. These control loops just, all on their own, just do a great job of controlling things such as our blood pressure, our heart rate, our respiratory system. And what's interesting is we try to study how these control loops affect each other and how they respond to various different stimulus. So, in this experiment we're trying to measure as many of these control loops as we can. We're measuring our respiration, we're measuring our heart rate, we're measuring our blood pressure, our temperature, and even on our ground studies we're measuring our actual velocity of blood flow, both to our brain and through our hearts. As we're measuring these control loops and how they're working, we're going to then take our bodies into space. We're going to stimulate them by taking away gravity. And then, we're going to see how all of these control loops respond to that stimulus. So, we're going to go through a variety of experiments on orbit to measure what's going on with our body. After the flight, we're going to come back to Earth. Again, we're stimulated again by bringing our body back into an environment where we have gravity. And, we're going to repeat those experiments to see how the body's adapting. So hopefully, with the information gained before flight, on orbit, and after the flight, we'll be able to come up with some great correlations and some great understandings about how the body really regulates and controls itself.

Okay, it's going to be the first extended-duration mission since STS-90. And it's going to be the first of your career. What are your thoughts about being on a mission for so long with so much going on? What's that going to be like?

You know, in the era of the International Space Station, a 16-day flight doesn't really seem long anymore. Especially when we have people on orbit for three, perhaps six months at a time on board the space station. But, for a shuttle flight, 16 days is a long time. My first flight was eight to nine days long. And this flight's going to be twice that length. So, I'm really looking forward to seeing what's going to be different. One thing that I'm really interested in finding out is what I understand and what I hear from people who have flown long-duration flights, is that the body tends to adapt over time. And, you get better and better with each day. And after a week on orbit, you start to feel pretty good. After two weeks, you feel even better. And from what I understand, after a month or two months, you feel even better. And, you simply adapt to the environment. So, I'm interested to see how that's going to happen with me. How after the first week, how my body will adapt. And, will I be more efficient the second week on orbit than I was on the first week? So, it's going to be an exciting opportunity to see how myself, personally, responds to a relatively long-duration flight. It's also a good prep for future space station flights. You know, I think that's the future of the space program. And, everyone wants an opportunity to fly a long-duration flight. So, this'll be a good chance for me to see what it's like to be in space for a relatively long period of time.

The crew's daily work schedule is going to be split up into dual shifts. Why is it necessary to have dual shifts on a mission like this?

Yeah. We split the crew up into two shifts, we call it a Red shift and a Blue shift. And, we're basically going to work 24 hours a day. And, the reason we've split the crew up like that is to take advantage of both crew time and the limited space that we have on board the Orbiter. By splitting the crew up, we can keep our experiments active 24 hours a day. We don't have to go through the difficulty of shutting everything down at night and then bringing everything back up in the morning. We can run experiments 24 hours a day. You also have to realize that even though we're flying this brand new Research Double Module, which gives us a fairly good size space laboratory that takes up the payload bay of the Orbiter, it's still a relatively small volume. So, by having half the crew asleep at a time, it gives the waking crewmembers a little bit more space to work. A little bit more elbow room to do their job. So it's the best way to take advantage of the limited time that we're going to have on orbit.

It's the most efficient [way of] handling things.

Definitely.

The research on the mission originates from various parts of the world, some of which you guys as a crew have gone to, to get familiar with the experiments and the hardware. What's it been like going to those places; and also, what's it like knowing that you're part of something, that you're not only fostering an understanding of cultures between other cultures, but also maybe helping these places reap some benefits from these experiments?

I think in the future when we look back at the shuttle program, when we open our history books and we turn back to the shuttle program, I think one thing that we'll certainly find great satisfaction in it and get a lot of credit for it is: The shuttle program has gone to great lengths to bring the international community into the space program. You know, if you look at the early programs (such as Mercury, Gemini, Apollo) with the exception of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, they were pretty much all-American programs. But, with the space shuttle, we've been able to bring international partners and participants into the space program, both as providers of experiments and also as astronauts and payload specialists. And so, it's really opened up space and space exploration and space science to the entire world. And of course, we've taken it a step further with the International Space Station. Not only do we have international participants, but we actually have international partners actually building and working on this space station. So, one good thing about the shuttle is that it's really a world-wide program that everyone can certainly benefit from.

You guys seem to be a close crew, too. And does that have anything to do with the amount of experience between all of you? And, if so, how has that helped bring you all together?

Yeah, we're a very rookie crew. A very young crew. We have four rookies- first-time fliers- and three one-time fliers. So, as you can see, compared to the average shuttle crew today, we're a very inexperienced crew. So knowing that, we've gone to great lengths to make sure that our inexperience isn't something that's going to hamper us. We've worked very closely, worked hard together over the last two years to make this mission a success. So, knowing that we don't have the most experienced people on this crew, it's really been important that we work together as a crew and as a team in order to pull things off. Where I may not know something, I can look to my partners and perhaps they know the answer. So, we've all worked very closely together to try to make this a successful flight. It's been a lot of fun. I think when you get back from a spaceflight, you of course remember all the great things you did on orbit. But, I think the thing that really sticks with you is the time that you spent with your crewmates. We've had a great time together training and traveling around the world as we prepare for this flight. And, I think when I look back on this flight years from now, the one thing that I'll really remember and appreciate is the friendships that I've made with my crewmates.

Can you give me an example or two [of] some of the research, if any, that's on this mission that's also being conducted on the International Space Station? And give me some idea of why it's necessary to conduct the same research on two different spacecraft at the same time.

Well, the space shuttle and International Space Station sort of complement each other when it comes to space research. You know, space shuttle gives us a quick return. In other words, we're able to fly a mission, get some science done, and bring it back to the Earth to the scientists in a relatively quick fashion. I think that's an advantage for a couple of different things. First of all, it allows the scientist to develop his theories, his ideas, and to test out his hardware. He can come up with an idea, design a piece of hardware, fly it on the shuttle, and see if it works. If it doesn't work, he can tweak his techniques, he can improve his hardware, then he can fly it again and see whether or not he's made some gains in his progress on his research there. Once we've done that on the space shuttle, and once we've proven the hardware and proven the theories and technology, we can then take that experiment, move it to the International Space Station where now we conduct research full time for perhaps six months or a year. A good example of that is the Combustion Module. We're flying Combustion Module-2. It's the second flight of the Combustion Module. And it's improved over the first flight on board the space shuttle. And after we fly it on this mission, I'm sure there'll be more improvements made. And, right now there're plans to fly a full-scale Combustion Facility on board the International Space Station.

There's obviously no rendezvous or docking or undocking on this mission. You guys go up and you do your thing, and you come back. But, you still have to get there, and you have to get back. Can you talk me through what happens duty-wise, responsibility-wise, and who's going to be doing what on the way up, and for coming back to Earth basically.

Well, for me, this flight's going to be a lot different than the first flight, especially when it comes to the launch and entry portions. On my first flight, I was on the flight deck, very much involved with the ascent and entry phases of the flight. But in this flight my duties start when we get on orbit. I'm going to be on the middeck, so basically during launch I'm just going to sit there and enjoy the ride. Or, try to enjoy the ride. I'm probably different than most astronauts. I really don't enjoy launches.

Really?

You know, I think a launch is a terrible way to get to space. But right now, it's the best way to get to space we have. Actually, the only way. And so I'll take that ride. But once we get on orbit and once we get to space, that's when I get down to work and start turning that rocket ship into [an] orbiting laboratory. And our mission really is about what we're going to do on orbit. Unfortunately, we have to go through that terrible launch to get there. But once we get there, we're going to enjoy 16 days on orbit of doing some great research.

Basically the same on the way down? But, how do you feel about reentry?

Well, entries are a little bit better than launch. You know, it's a little quieter. It's, not quite as violent. And you can enjoy it a little bit. But still for me on this flight entry, I'm just going to sit down in my seat and hopefully, reflect on the 16 days on orbit that we've had. And, just anxious to get back to Earth and give the scientists all their research results. And you know, I'll be happy to have the flight behind us.

Can you talk about how the activities start for you once you get to orbit? What, as far as the process of what you're going to be activating and when, and what you're going to do to actually get things under way.

This is a very busy flight. And we've gone to great pains to try [to] ensure that we get off to a good start. And, that's going to mean: As soon as we get to orbit getting down to work and getting things done. So, we've tried to choreograph that first day down to the very, every minute we've tried to choreograph it in great detail. As soon as we get to orbit, we're going to get out of seats and start opening up the payload bay doors. And, within three hours, we hope to start activating the Research Double Module, turning on experiments, and getting down to doing some research on orbit. It's going to be very busy. We don't know how some of the new fliers are going to react to being in space for the first time. So, we have to take that into account. But, we know if we can get that first day off to a good start it's going to go a long way to helping us have a very successful flight.

We've touched on some of the experiments that you personally are going to be working with. I'd like to [talk] about a few more. CM-2 (Combustion Module-2), can you kind of explain what that is, and what the trio of experiments that are going to be conducted in that are?

Well, CM-2 (or the Combustion Module) is one of the more interesting experiments that we have on this flight. You know, when you think about combustion, you think about burning things. You probably wonder, "Well, why do you need to go into space to burn something?" You know, "We can burn things down here on Earth just fine." Well, if you think about it and if you look at a flame or a candle flame, or something burning down here on Earth, you see this nice teardrop-shaped flame. And, you realize that as the flame creates hot air, the hot air rises and cold air comes in to replace the hot air. And, you have this nice flow. Well, it's really nice and it's very pretty. But, it makes it very difficult for scientists and engineers to really understand the combustion process, to really be able to look inside that flame and see really what's happening with that combustion process. When we take that flame into space and we get rid of that buoyancy, we no longer have that nice, smooth flow, we get a very different-looking flame. It's a flame that's much easier to study. The combustion process is, well, somewhat slowed down, and we can actually look at it and study it in much greater detail. So, that's one reason we like to burn things in space. It gives us a much better picture of what's happening in the combustion process. On CM-2 we're going to be having basically three different experiments. One experiment is going to look at the soot process. You know, soot is an unfortunate product of combustion. You know, when we look at our sky, we can see soot in the form of smog. And, of course, we've all breathed it in, and we realize how unpleasant that can be. Well, if we can really study the combustion process and understand what causes soot, then perhaps we can design more efficient flames to eliminate soot, or to reduce the soot that we get. If we can do that, that can, of course, be a great benefit to us down here on Earth. Another thing that we realize about fire is: Fire can be very destructive. Of course, one way we can put fires out, of course, is to pour water on them. And, if you've ever been to [an] apartment complex or a house that's had a small fire, and then you look at the amount of damage that's done by the water that put the fire out, you realize that, you know, well, water stops the flame but it also creates an awful lot of damage.

Sure.

And, you've got to realize a lot of the newer fire retardants that we use or chemical-based fire suppressants really are somewhat toxic and really have some pretty bad results when you breathe them in. So, we try to find something that is not toxic. Something that is not as damaging as water. And one thing we found is mist. Water in the form of a very fine mist, or a very fine fog. Well, down here on Earth when you create a fine fog like that, you really try to study how that interacts with flame and how it can suppress flame. It's very difficult to do. Because once you create that mist, gravity causes that mist simply to fall down. And, you really can't sustain it to really get a good look at the interaction that the water droplets have with flame. But in space, we're going to try to do that. We're going to create a very fine water mist, and we're going to introduce a flame into that mist. So, we're going to try to study the interaction that those small water droplets have with the actual flame front. And by doing so, hopefully, we can develop a better understanding of what water does when it actually puts out a flame, and perhaps then we can find a better way to design water-based fire suppressions that will still put out the flame but won't cause the damage that we normally get--

Sure.

--from using water today.

There's a suite of experiments called PhAB4. It stands for physiology and biochemistry. And it's "4" because of the suite of four experiments. Can you talk about a couple of those? Explain what they are and what the benefit[s] of them are.

Yeah. PhAB4 is going to be an exciting group of experiments on this flight. You know, if you grew up in the Sixties and you heard the term "Fab Four," you probably thought of the Beatles.

Right.

Well, this is quite different but just as exciting. It's four experiments that are really going to take a close look at some of the aspects of the human body and how it responds to spaceflight and going into space and coming back to Earth. And, some of them have some real direct correlations to things down here on Earth. And, I think if we investigate them well in space, we'll find some great benefit to the science and be able to use it down here on Earth. One good example is the study of calcium kinetics. In other words, what happens to calcium in the body. We've found out that once you're in space your body tends to lose a lot of its calcium. For long-duration spaceflight members, that's a big problem. You know, they come back and they suffer a great amount of bone loss. And, what we're really looking at here is a rapid onset of osteoporosis. You know, a disease that's quite prevalent down here on Earth and affects a lot of people. And, it can really affect the quality of life. So as we try to study calcium kinetics in space and try to see what happens, you know. Why does the body lose its calcium in the space environment? And, what can we do to combat that? If we can find some way of combating it in space, then perhaps we can use that same tool to combat the problem that we'd have down here on Earth. Another thing that we see when we go into space is: We see our protein production change. And so, we have an experiment in which we're going to look at protein turnover. In others, we're going to look at how the body creates proteins and how it loses proteins. And, when we go into space, we tend to find that our protein production is somewhat depressed. And, that we tend to lose our bone mass and not our bone mass, but our muscle density. And that's a problem. And, we also see that down here on Earth, where patients that are in the bed for a long period of time, their protein production also changes. So, we're going to study that on this flight and try to get some idea as to what we can do again to combat this loss of protein production and then bring those results back down here on Earth.

Can you give us a brief idea of the operation of these two particular experiments? What are you going to do?

Well, the PhAB4 experiments really involve a lot of sample taking.

Okay.

We spend a lot of time becoming very good at drawing each other's blood. So, we're going to do a lot of that on orbit. And, we'll also be taking saliva samples. And basically taking those samples, analyzing them on orbit, freezing them, and bringing them back here on Earth for further "analyzation" so that the scientists and engineers can get a good idea of actually what's happening within our bodies--

Okay.

--during the flight.

All right. Another experiment is MGM-Mechanics of Granular Materials. What's that experiment about? And what's the process of conducting that?

Well, MGM, or the Mechanics of Granular Material, is one experiment that could have really important benefits down here on Earth. Basically what we're looking at in MGM is: We're looking at soils. Wet soils or sandy soils. We're trying to understand what happens to these soils under various seismic conditions. For example, let's say you've built a structure along the coastline, or perhaps you've built a structure out at sea, such as an oil platform. You've built some structure on a sandy, wet soil. When a seismic activity comes along, perhaps a small earthquake or something, and it causes the air and the water to sort of move in and out of that soil. You know, if it moves in and out at just the right rate, that soil will sort of lose its sheer resistance, and it will begin to shift or slide. And, we call that a soil failure or liquefaction. And of course, any structure that's built on that soil is going to probably collapse when that happens. So, what we're trying to do in this experiment is we're really trying to understanding what's actually happening between those individual grains of sand. And, the way we're going to do that is we're going to take this wet soil, we're going to take it into space where we can get rid of this gravity vector. See, down here on Earth with gravity, it's very difficult to look at the individual grains of sand and see exactly what's happening with them because you have this huge gravity vector that sort of interferes with everything that we're trying to do. But in space, where basically we have this great microgravity environment, we can actually have a very low-pressure, low-density environment in which we can look at the individual interactions between the individual grains of sand and see exactly what happens. And hopefully, by understanding the mechanics of what's actually going on inside of our vessels, our containment vessels, we'll get a better understanding of what's happening down here on Earth when we have these soil failures and this liquefaction. And if we can understand that process better, then maybe we'll be better able to identify which soils are most prone to the problem of liquefaction and, hopefully, avoid building structures on those [soils]. Or find some way to strengthen those soils so that that won't be a problem.

It just occurred to me that a lot of what scientific research is about, a lot of the experiments, sound incredibly detailed. I mean looking at, you know, minute grains of sand and everything. I mean, is that basically par for the course?

Yeah, that's true. I think, with most of the research we do, it's looking at the fine aspects of what's going on. And, I think that's where space research really has its strong point in the fact that, once you take away gravity you're able to see things that you normally can't see. You know, gravity influences everything. It's around us every day. And, we just sort of take it for granted. And so, when you take scientific measurements down here on Earth, they're all affected by gravity. But once you get into space, and you get into that microgravity environment, you're amazed at what you see. You know, you take away this huge vector of gravity and things change. Processes change in the way they react. Chemicals react differently. Mechanical situations change. And we learn things that we, you know, never thought about before. We begin to see things in a different way. So, looking at those fine details, and looking at things very closely, in the space microgravity environment is a really great benefit for space science.

There [are] also several student experiments. One of which is the S*T*A*R*S experiment. Can you give us a brief overview of what that experiment is? And what the benefit of actually flying student experiments is on a space shuttle.

You know, the shuttle program has always flown student experiments. And you know, you can't really say that the student experiments are important science, because we're not expecting to have any, you know, great breakthroughs with these student experiments. But, what the student experiments do is they give students an opportunity -an opportunity to work with scientists and engineers and to actually do some real hands-on research. And, maybe they'll find a field of research that they're interested in, that they would like to pursue for their own careers. So, it's an opportunity. And the shuttle program has gone to great lengths to open up the doors to students to allow them to fly various experiments on board the space shuttle. S*T*A*R*S program is actually a commercially based student experiment project, which allows schools around the world to basically purchase a small bit of space within one of our lockers on board the space shuttle in which they can conduct a variety of different experiments. On this flight, we have, I think, six different student experiments in the S*T*A*R*S locker. And, it's everything from spiders and ants to silkworms and very small fish. And so, the students are going to have a marvelous time, I think, looking at their experiments and observing them on space. And hopefully, you know, when they get back, they'll really have an appreciation for what space research is about and maybe choose it as a career for themselves in the future.

Let's see here. We talked briefly, or you talked briefly, about safety earlier. And frankly, you guys will be working with some materials that are potentially dangerous and are hazardous in some situations. Can you talk a little bit about the safety issue and what NASA has done to basically assure the crew's safety? What precautions are in place, I guess?

You know, when I first started working here at NASA, one of the first things I realized was that safety was top priority. And so [as] we began to train and prepare for this flight I was assured that all the experiments that we were going to conduct and all the equipment that we were going to work with had gone through various safety reviews and safety panels, and safety had been engineered into everything that we're touching and everything that we're involved with. So basically, by the time we start training on a payload we're pretty certain that all the aspects of safety have been taken care of and that it's safe to work with and we can concentrate simply on doing the job and doing it well. And, we don't have to worry about it being a hazard. Certainly on this flight, we have a lot of different payloads. We're going to be burning things on orbit. We're going to be crushing things on orbit. We're going to be expanding things on orbit. We're going to do quite a few different things. But, everything's been designed with safety in mind. And nothing we're going to do really is going to be a hazard to the crew or to the space shuttle. We've gone to great pains to ensure that. And we're just going to concentrate on doing the science and make sure that we can get some good results.

The Spacehab Research Double Module, we've talked about that briefly. Maybe, can you talk a little bit more about what exactly it is, and what benefit it brings to this mission? What being able to use it does for this mission.

Yeah, we're the first flight of the Spacehab Research Double Module (RDM, that's what you call it). And basically, the RDM is replacing the space laboratory. If you remember in the early shuttle days, we had a space laboratory that we flew. Well, this is replacing the space laboratory. If you look at the RDM, it looks very much like the Logistics Double Module that we've been flying for years. And, we've used the Logistics Double Module basically as a cargo carrier, to carry things up to either the Mir space station, like I did on my first flight, or to the International Space Station, like we're doing, you know, several times a year with the shuttle today. But, the Research Double Module may look like the logistics double module; but if you get inside and you really take a close look, you can see that it's really been enhanced. It's been enhanced and made into a very fine scientific research laboratory. We've added in a lot of systems such as data handling systems, to handle the computer systems for various experiments. We've added electrical systems into the Research Double Module to give us outlets in which to plug in our various payloads. We've added in some environmental control systems to control the temperature of the module, to cool our experiments, and also to take care of the crewmembers that are going to be working back there, you know, for a long time on the various experiments. So, basically we've taken this logistics double module and we've added in some very nice subsystems to make it into a space laboratory. It's a very large module. It's got a lot of space. We've packed it with a ton of experiments. And we're really looking forward to getting up there and opening up the hatch and getting into that module for the first time and activating those experiments and getting down to work.

Maybe a little bit more about what training for this mission has been like. I'm sure it's all been challenging. But what are your thoughts about, you know, what it's been like? What's been the most [challenging], if you can narrow it down?

Yeah, we've been training for this flight for over two years now. And, that's a long time to do anything. But preparing for a spaceflight is very important and you want to have enough time to make sure that you are well trained and that you can do everything just right once you get on orbit. One of the most challenging aspects of training for this flight has been trying to pull together all the different payloads. We have so many different payloads, it's really difficult to count them all. You know, the shuttle program has gotten really smart in learning how to package a large number of payloads and experiments into a very small volume. I think with this flight, they've outdone themselves. We have so many experiments on this flight; like I said, it's, really hard to count them all. And, trying to prepare for all those experiments and trying to really make sure that you know all the details for each experiment, and that you've done a great job in integrating them all into the flight plan, and that you've choreographed each day as to what experiments are going to be done at what time, and what's the most efficient way to accomplish that, that's all really been a big challenge for this crew. I think over the last two years, we've done a great job in training and preparing for this flight. And if I look back on it, I can't think about anything that I would change. I think we've you know, covered all the bases. And, I think we're going to have a really good, successful flight.

What about FREESTAR? Can you talk a little bit about what FREESTAR is? And how it's going to be utilized on this mission. What's it going to do for the mission?

Well, in addition to the Research Double Module, which is, of course, a nice pressurized environment where we'll be in there doing a lot of great science, we're also going to do some science outside of the space shuttle. And, FREESTAR is a carrier. It's basically a platform that's mounted inside the payload bay in which we've attached a number of experiments. And, these experiments are going to do two things: they're going to look back at the planet Earth, and they're going to look out into space. We have one really interesting experiment called MEIDEX, which is going to look back at the planet Earth and it's going to study dust storms. We're going to try to measure these dust storms, and try to understand these dust storms. And, you're probably thinking to yourself: "Well, what's so important about a dust storm?" Well, as it turns out, dust storms affect the hydrology of the planet. They really have a lot of influence on rainfall. And so if we can look at these dust storms and understand these dust storms a little bit better, then maybe we can better model our weather climates down here on Earth and get a better understanding of what some of the problems are in areas of the Earth where we have drought, in areas where we have flooding. So, we're going to take this experiment. We're going to point it back down at the planet Earth, and we're going to study these dust storms. We also have experiments that are going to look out into space. We have an experiment called SOLCON, which is going to study the solar constant. It's going to look at the Sun, try to get a better measurement of the amount of energy that's coming out of the Sun. As the Sun goes through its various cycles, every seven years or so these cycles change. And, it influences the climate down here on the planet Earth. So, we're going to look at that, and we're going to study that and, hopefully, get a better understanding of how the Sun affects the Earth and the climate.

Let's talk a little bit about your background and about yourself. Can you, if you think back, can you pinpoint some of the interests that you had growing up or in school that kind of put you on the road to NASA? What was it about Mike Anderson that, you know, made him astronaut material?

That's a good question. Yeah, I think, like most kids growing up, I had a very wide interest. I was interested in everything, you know, and I tried to, you know, take advantage of everything. And, everything from the sciences to music to writing to literature. I just, you know, was very interested in a number of different things. But as I got older my interests tended to become a little bit more narrow. And, I found that science was something that really caught my attention. It was something I really could sink my teeth into. My dad was in the Air Force. And you know, being an Air Force brat and living on Air Force bases, I was always around airplanes. And, that was something else that really captured my imagination, just seeing airplanes, you know taking off and landing every day, and flying over the house, and making all of this noise just was a fascinating thing to me as a kid. So, my interest in aviation and my interest in science were, I guess, two of the things I really latched on to, and two things that I just couldn't shake as I grew older. So one day, just sitting down and thinking about it, you know, "How can I combine my two strongest interests? My interest in science and my interest in aviation." And, you know, at that time, we were going to the Moon and doing some really fantastic things with the space program. And, to me that was just the best combination of the two. You know, here you have these men that are scientists engineers, and they're also flying these wonderful airplanes and these great spaceships, and they're going places. And to me, that just seemed like the perfect mix and the perfect job. So, very early on, I just thought being an astronaut would be a fantastic thing to do. Of course, you don't know how to go about something like that. You know, you just sort of pursue your interests, and you pray about it, and hopefully one day all things will kind of fall into place and you'll have a chance to make those dreams come true. And fortunately for me it did happen that way. You know, one day I said, "Well, you know, I've been flying airplanes here in the Air Force for quite some time now, and I have a record there. And, I studied science in school. And I'm really ready to put together a package and send it off to NASA and see what they think." And fortunately, I got called down for an interview. And one thing led to the next, and one day I got that call. And, I've been here about seven years now and really enjoying it.

Let's follow up a little bit on your road to NASA. You mentioned some things. Can you outline the specific academic and professional steps you took to get here?

Well, when I was in high school, I knew that if I was going to become an astronaut, I was definitely going to have to go to college. So, I began looking at different colleges and thinking about what it was I wanted to major in. I was really interested in science. I mean, I'd been a science fan since I was a young kid. And so, I thought you know, why narrow myself? I would pick a field of science that was very broad, that would allow me to study a variety of different things. So, I picked physics because out of all the different scientific fields, I think physics is probably the broadest. It covers basically everything. It allows you to really, you know, take your interest and point it in any direction you'd like to point [it] in. So, I went to the University of Washington as a physics and astronomy major there. And just had a marvelous time. I found it very challenge, very rewarding. My other interest, of course, was aviation. I always wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to fly airplanes. And, if you're going to fly airplanes, the best place to be is the Air Force. So, I went through the ROTC program there, and they provided me with a scholarship to help me pay for college. And after I graduated from college, I took a commission as a Second Lieutenant and came in the Air Force through my first four years, actually, in the field of communications-communications and computers. So, I got a chance to learn a little bit about electronics and apply some of my knowledge of physics to you know, improve the communications systems in the Air Force, and working on computers and things like that. But my real interest was flying airplanes. So, after four years of doing that, I put in my application for Flight School and got selected for Flight School, and off I went. After Flight School, I was flying in the Air Force and enjoying that a great deal. But, I realized I really needed to improve myself a little bit more academically. So, I went back to college, picked up a masters degree in physics from Creighton University in Nebraska, and at that point, after having a masters degree and a couple of thousand hours flying aircraft, I thought, "Well, if I'm ever going to make my move towards NASA, I'd better do it now." So one afternoon I sat down and filled out the application and sent it in. And, just kind of sat back and waited. And, fortunately I got a call, an opportunity to come down and interview for the job. And one thing led to another, and I was selected in '95. And it's been a marvelous adventure. I've enjoyed every bit of it. This will be my second spaceflight. And if it's anything like my first flight, it's really going to be exciting.

Another thing just occurred to me. The irony of ironies is that you love flying but not launch. Why?

Well, you know, when you launch in a rocket, you're not really flying that rocket. You're just sort of hanging on. And you know, I really shouldn't say that I don't like launches. I guess I should say, "I understand the serious nature behind a rocket launch." I mean, you're really taking an explosion and you're trying to control it. You're trying to harness that energy in a way that will propel you into space. And we're very successful in doing that. But, there are a million things that can go wrong. And, I think, when you really sit down and you study the space shuttle and you really get to know its systems, you realize that this is a very complex vehicle. And even though we've gone to great pains to make it as safe as we can, there's always the potential for something going wrong. You know, so we try not to think about those things. We train and try to prepare for the things that may go wrong to do the best we can. But, there's always that unknown. And I guess it's that unknown that I don't like. But like I said, the benefits for what we can do on orbit, the science that we do and the benefits we gain from exploring space are well worth the risk. So I don't like launches. But it's worth the effort. It really is.

Outside of your time at NASA, what's been the most enjoyable time of your life?

Well, I guess I'd have to say my career in the Air Force has been really exciting. You know, if you want something that's going to provide you with a lot of challenges and a variety of different things to do, then you really can't beat a place like the Air Force. I don't mean this to sound like a recruiting pitch. But it's been a lot of fun, you know, since the day I first joined in ROTC as a young 17-year-old freshman at the University of Washington to today as an astronaut with NASA, it's just been one challenge after another, one great adventure. And yeah, I've enjoyed it tremendously. So my early years in the Air Force as a young pilot just kind of flying around the world having, you know, fun with my crewmates and doing what I knew was a very important job. Those are highlights that I'll never forget. Just like the things I've had a chance to do here at NASA. They're very important to me.

Can you talk briefly about some of the things or people that have, when you look back, have really inspired you to do what you're doing now? And just maybe how have those things or people inspired you?

Yeah, I think if I look back at my life there are just hundreds of people that have inspired and influenced me in a number of different ways. You know, first of all, you can't forget your parents. You know, and all they've done to help you to get here. But it's really the people that you don't think about every day that influence you. The people, your teachers, you know, the ministers that you worshiped under. The people that you just came into contact with at the right time that just may have said something that turned a light on in your head and led you down a certain path. You know, those people you really just can't thank enough. And as you look back at your life, there are just a million different things that have happened, just in the right way, to allow you to make your dreams come true. And you know, someone has all that under control.

Yeah. Yeah, we don't get there by ourselves,--

That's right.

--that's for sure.

Your first spaceflight was STS-89 to the space station Mir in 1998. As someone interested in space exploration and helping to ensure a permanent human presence in space, can you give me an idea of what it means to you personally to have had that experience of going to the space station Mir?

It was certainly a privilege to have had an opportunity to have gone to the Mir space station. You know, I think history will prove Mir to have been just really a huge steppingstone for man's permanent presence in space. It was really one of the first space stations that we were able to occupy for a long period of time. I think Mir was on orbit for, what? Thirteen years.

Something like that, yeah.

You know, permanently occupied for most of that time. It was the first opportunity for American astronauts to have an opportunity to experience long-duration spaceflight. And, it really fostered a cooperation between the American space program and the Russian space program. I think a cooperation that's really going to be the key to future space exploration. So, just having had an opportunity to have gone to the Mir space station, to have a chance to participate in the Shuttle-Mir Program is something that yeah, I feel really privileged for that opportunity to do.

Can you think back to rendezvous, I guess, and docking, and kind of tell me what was going on inside you? I mean, when you saw it. Or, if you did see it. You know, approaching. What were you thinking? What was going on inside you?

Yeah, that was a very busy flight. I think all flights that involve a rendezvous and a docking are very busy flights. You know, as a first-time space flier, everything you do on a flight is just miraculous. You just can't believe it's actually happening. And, for me, still to this day, when I think back to that flight, it's sort of like a dream. You just can't believe that actually happened. You know, when we first saw the Mir space station, it looked like a star out there in the sky. But, as we continued to do our burns and we continued to get closer to the space station, it started to get bigger and bigger. And, it wasn't long before you had this huge, massive complex, this huge space station just kind of taking up the entire window of the space shuttle. And, as you've looked out there, you've kind of marveled at it. You were just in awe as to what was out there. And, your first thought was, "You know, this isn't a simulation any more. I, you know, I'm not in the domed simulator at the Johnson Space Center practicing this rendezvous like we did a million times before the flight. No, this is real. This is reality. And, that's actually the Mir space station. And in a matter of moments, we're actually going to dock with it." It was just a tremendous experience to have a chance to do something like that. I think as long as I live, I'll never forget those moments. And, it was a truly miraculous time, and just a wonderful flight.

And, having had that experience did it give you fuel or some anticipation of maybe the possibility of going up to the International Space Station some day?

Oh, absolutely. I think the International Space Station is certainly the future of our space program. And, I think as I watch each stage of the space station, as you watch it grow and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, you realize just how fantastic of a complex it's going to be. You know, on this flight, STS-107, and we're not going to the space station. We're going to be up there on our own, autonomously, doing our science for 16 days. But, we're going to be thinking about the guys on the space station as they're orbiting the Earth also, conducting their science and their research. And, our results are going to complement each other. And hopefully, in my next flight we'll have a chance to go to the space station and see how they're conducting research up there.

You, in addition to being a Mission Specialist on this flight, you're the Payload Commander. Can you give us an idea of what that encompasses? And what the difference between Mission Specialist, Payload Commander, or Payload Specialist is? What do the titles entail?

Well, the Payload Commander job is really kind of a hard job to define. And, you know, when I was first assigned to this flight as one of the Mission Specialists, I was given the additional duty of being a Payload Commander. And so, I had to find out, "Well, exactly what does that mean?" Well, it didn't take long for me to find out. You know, when you have a complex mission like this, you need a point of contact for answering all the crew questions. A person to go to, to help make the decisions about things and try to find the best way to make this mission a success. And, a lot goes in to integrating this mission. You know, who do you train for which payload? You know, how do you take advantage of each crewmember's strengths to, you know, assign them to the payload that's most appropriate for them? You know, how do you choreograph the operations on orbit? You know, we have just this limited amount of time up there, and we want to make sure that we get the best use of that time. You know, so my job, basically, was to try [to] pull this mission together. Try to make sure that the crew was well trained. Try to make sure that payloads were well integrated into the space shuttle. That all the requirements were taken care of. And that we were going to get the best science we could get out of this 16-day flight. So, it's been a very busy job. And I really try to think of my role as one of helping the rest of the crew do their job. Trying to make their jobs easier. And, if I do my job well, then their job should be just that much easier and we should have a better time on orbit and have a much more successful mission.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 12/11/2002
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