Interview: Kalpana Chawla
STS-107 Crew Interview with Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist.
For starters, can you please give me a brief overview of what
the crew is going to do on the mission? What's it all about? And,
explain the goals of the mission.
As you know,
ours is a research science mission. And, it's dual shift to top
that. It's the first flight of the Research Double Module from Spacehab.
We'll be conducting basically 16 days' worth of microgravity research
in two shifts a day. So, that's 16 hours plus of work every day.
We have experiments from lots of different areas. There are experiments
from Earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences. And,
in all these three areas, there are a number of very interesting
experiments. For example in Earth sciences, we have a payload from
Israel, which is the MEIDEX (Mediterranean Dust Experiment from
Israel) where we are going to be studying aerosols and dust particles
over Earth. Mostly over the Mediterranean, so that there can be
some validation done of ground-based studies at the same times.
But, if there's a dust storm during our flight, any place on Earth,
then there would be a request made to do MEIDEX experiments on orbit.
And, the purpose is so that we can do climactic studies better than
we can right now. So, in the Earth sciences area, there's also another
experiment called SOLSE. SOLSE is going to study the ozone distribution
in the vertical over the Earth's atmosphere. As you know, the ozone
distribution is very closely tied to the health of our planet, so
it's very crucial to understand if it changes over time, and how
much it changes, and what the causes are. Along with this, there
is another experiment, which is in our payload bay, which is going
to measure the solar constant. And, again, the idea is to relate
that to the study of climate in Earth. That's probably [the] bulk
of the experiments which are tied to Earth sciences or climactic
studies. The second area, which is very exciting to me personally
(because it ties to some of my background), is physical sciences.
In there, we have studies from a wide area of research in materials.
For example, crystal growth under the umbrella of Zeolite Crystal
Growth Experiment. There's another one called Mechanics of Granular
Materials, where we're trying to study how liquefaction of sands
in coastal areas can have an impact on buildings and structures,
especially during earthquakes. In the same area, we have [a] combustion
module that we are carrying on board. It's a very large facility.
And, in this particular module, we're going to carry out three different
experiments to study flames of different varieties. And, we can
talk about that at length a bit later. So this is the physical sciences
area. And, there's tons more experiments. Finally, a lot of study's
being done in the third area, the life sciences area. There are
experiments from Johnson Space Center, from the European Space Agency and literally from tens of thousands of researchers and students
across the world. In this latter category, we have experiments in
protein crystal growth. In protein crystal growth, all these different
researchers, they are trying to aim at growing bigger protein crystals
so that you can characterize what a particular protein looks like.
And, once you know that, you can have better ways of coming up with
countermeasures for the bad proteins they are tied to, for example,
some disease. We have four different lockers in which we have anywhere
from 200 to a thousand experiments within each locker. And, within
each locker, for example, 10 of the experiments might be sponsored
by one pharmaceutical company. Another 10 might be sponsored by
another research organization. And, so on. So, it's really totally
incredible the amount of participation that's there in the protein
crystal growth experiments in the life sciences area. The other
experiments are trying to get a better handle of human physiology
in space by studying either humans (four of our crewmembers are
actually going to be participating in detailed measurements of certain
aspects of human biology) or, in some cases, we are studying some
other life forms to understand [the] effect of microgravity on those
life forms. And, then later try to determine how these are tied
to human physiology. Besides these three very wide areas, there
are a lot of experiments which are in the education area. Students
are flying these experiments. And, finally, I'd just like to add,
there are a few experiments which are tied to Space Station so that
these technologies can be used on Space Station. We are going to
fly them on our flight, and later they can be used on the Space
there are a multitude of experiments. And, you've touched on some
of them. And most of these experiments have goals or purposes. But,
is there, in a nutshell, an overall goal of the mission for NASA?
Why is NASA flying the mission? Is there an overall goal?
objective of flying all of these experiments is basically to, in
some cases, simply to understand. In some cases, to better understand
processes. Be it physical processes; be it processes in the area
of Earth sciences (how climate works). Be it life sciences, where
we are trying to figure out proteins, for example which are tied
to human life so closely - what their structure is - so we can come
up with a better idea of how the proteins work, period. And then,
figure out how they interact. So, the overall objective, in a nutshell,
it would be fair to say is: to try to understand or better understand
physical processes on Earth, be they in the area of life sciences
or materials or climate.
you give some insight into why we need to go to space to conduct
some of the same research that's being conducted on Earth? Basically,
what importance does microgravity have on these experiments, and
what advantages does microgravity offer for them?
we go to space for two reasons. Sometimes we get [a] better advantage
because there's [a] microgravity environment. In that case, we are
basically trying to do a few things. For example there are certain
things on Earth which are very complex, very closely tied processes.
For example turbulence on Earth is very closely tied to soot formation
in flames. Since these two things are so closely tied and they are
both very complex things, it's very hard on Earth to decouple them
to understand why is this thing happening? Is this because of turbulence?
Is this because of soot formation? So, we try to go to space so
we can decouple the effect of gravity out of some of the equations.
So the equation set or the governing principles for a process can
be made simpler. So, we can say: This will process. In the absence
of gravity, this is how it works. And then, we can try to understand:
Okay, if we add gravity to it, that's when these other things happen.
A simple example: there might be, for example, on Earth when you
are mixing two things (like oil and vinegar) and they separate.
So, if you're trying to make a material out of these two things,
you are forever having to indulge in a very active process of mixing
these together. And, it causes a new physics to happen because you
are mixing these two things. So, there's a swirling motion involved
now. How does that impact the upcoming material? You go to space,
and the two things are just dispersed into each other. And so, the
effect of gravity or the absence of gravity then helps to make the
process simpler and, therefore, helps us understand the physics
better. In the same vein, the second thing is that crystals, which
is a very important field that we have carried into microgravity,
in the absence of gravity, you can grow bigger crystals. It does
not matter what kind of crystals they are; you can simply grow them
bigger. If you can grow them bigger, it helps you characterize the
behavior. Not really the behavior. The structure of these crystals.
In materials, it's very important to know what the structure of
this crystal is so you can figure out when it mixes with something
else what's going to happen. In life sciences, in protein crystals,
if you can understand what the structure of this crystal is, that
leads you to forming the key on how to make this particular protein
mate with another protein. So those are the areas where you can
help remove gravity and then do better in microgravity. The second
reason, which is really totally different, is that in space, you
are going to go study, for example, the one experiment I mentioned,
the ozone distribution. This is just a better vantage point. You
are above the Earth's atmosphere. You are trying to look at the
limb, and so you can see what's going on in ozone distribution in
the vertical layer of our atmosphere. We are not doing astronomy
experiments. But, you've heard, there are lots of space shuttle
missions dedicated to doing astronomy experiments. And, once again,
you are going to space not necessarily for microgravity but it gives
you a better vantage point, better seeing, for example.
people may be expecting the research on this mission to yield immediate
solutions to problems or to theories or whatever. But that's not
necessarily [the] case. Can you explain and describe, for someone
who's not a scientist and not involved in scientific research, what
the place of research is and the scientific problem-solving process
or theory-proving process?
quite surprising that generally, when we are carrying out research,
how we do it in a very formed manner where we know in stage one
we are going to study certain parameters and their effect on certain
processes. In doing so, sometimes we validate our assumptions, and
sometimes we learn new lessons. And, our assumptions, we find out,
were not correct. So, we go on to the next step and so on. In microgravity
research, [a] lot of times in the early Eighties, for example, the
assumptions we had made were not all true. Sometimes we thought
simply going to microgravity would allow us to make better materials
because of the absence of buoyancy-driven connection. But, we found
in space, there is another type of connection, which starts to play
a more dominant role. So, we are learning. It does not mean that
we don't go to the third step, which is, "Okay, now. We know this
is the reason this thing is not working in space. How do we overcome
that?" Then, we try to find out how to overcome that. And, so the
real process happens in stages. You go through the first stage,
and the second stage, and so on. It's not really true that all of
the experiments have this tough path at this stage in the ballgame
of spaceflight research because as you know, this particular mission
is the first commercial flight of Double Research Module. So, there
are a lot of experiments which are actually sponsored by commercial
companies which, given the benefit of past research, are now looking
for quicker return on what they are doing. Some areas that I could
mention along these lines are, for example, the Zeolite Crystal
Growth payload, where the investigators and the researchers are
trying to come up with materials, these are advanced materials which
can be used to, for example, store hydrogen at room temperature.
Why would you want to do that? So that you can use hydrogen as a
fuel as opposed to using things that we use as fuel today for street
vehicles. It's very hard to store hydrogen at room temperatures.
But, these advanced materials have these capabilities that hydrogen
just stays mated to the material. There are a number of materials
in this category. For example, better dye retention on pictures
- as in photography or newspapers. The print being held to the paper
with the dye better than it does today, so that it stays there over
a longer period of time. All of these experiments in the zeolite
area are actually sponsored by commercial partners. And, they are
actually looking for a quick return so that, when these materials
are made they bring them back, look at the crystals and then try
to figure out which particular material could have been added in
the higher proportion to get the effect that they were really seeking.
Likewise in the protein crystal area, the pharmaceutical companies
that are participating are looking for quicker returns than the
conventional way we look at science, which is sometimes just thinking
it's for better understanding. So I would say we have experiments
in both varieties at this stage in spaceflight research due to the
past benefits of all the research that has been done. Be it, for
example, the Zeolite crystals or the protein crystals for pharmaceutical
mentioned the dual work shift. Can you talk a little bit about what
that is? And, why it's necessary on this mission?
We are a dual-shift
mission because the extent of science, the experiments we are carrying,
is just very, very large. There is simply no way to carry out that
kind of science with just one shift. You might say, if we have seven
people on one shift, they could just divvy up the experiments and,
hence, you should be able to do the same number of things. The issue
is that on our Orbiter, there are lots of attitude requirements.
The Orbiter should be in a certain attitude to do, for example,
the ozone measurements. In a different attitude to do, for example,
the dust measurements. In a free-drift attitude, meaning that no
jets should be firing and it's just drifting (hence the word free
drift) to do some of our very microgravity-sensitive experiments.
For example, one of the combustion module experiments needs a very
quiescent environment. So, because of these very extensive requirements
on what sort of attitude the Orbiter should be in, and what kind
of microgravity environment is required, you sort of need to take
advantage of the whole day. And it really helps to use the crew
much more efficiently by doing that.
research on this mission spans a wide range of origins. It originates
from various parts of the world. Some of those places the crew has
visited to familiarize yourselves with the experiments. Can you
give us some insight into your thoughts about what it's like to
be on a mission like this, that's not only fostering a continued
awareness of other parts of the world, but helping those parts of
the world maybe solve some of the problems that they may be encountering
and the benefits they maybe could reap from this mission?
indeed true that on our mission there are experiments from all over.
It really surprises me even now that when we look at for a particular
experiment or payload on our flight, how many different researchers
are participating to get things done. I think it's the nature of
world economics at present where there are extensive collaborations
amongst partner countries to come up with better technologies. And
they do share these technologies with each other. For example in
the protein crystal growth experiment the number of researchers
is literally in thousands. And, they are collaborating with each
other, with their ideas on how better to do these experiments. And
the benefits in an area like this are really to all of the humanity.
Because if you find out something better in that area, that's obviously
going to benefit us all. Another area which really stands out, we
have some experiments which sit in the payload bay which are looking
at technologies for heat rejection for spacecraft. You know we fly
satellites in space vehicles, and they produce heat. And, one of
the big technical impediments out there is how to reject heat and
stay healthy in space. So there are three different ideas on technologies
on how best to reject heat from three different countries in Europe.
The really good thing is: when the results come back, you can really
say how these technologies work, which one is better for certain
areas or certain environments in space. For example, you are always
looking at the Sun versus always looking at Earth. But in the end,
the benefits are really had by all.
personally, how does it make you feel to have a part in something
that is, in a way, advancing or bringing the global community even
closer? I mean, it was this far away--
now it's still coming closer together. Personally, how do you feel
It is very
gratifying and humbling. And, it really is incredible to see that
there are all these countries that are participating in this research.
And, basically, they have one goal, which is to better understand
these processes and then be able to use the benefits that come out
of them. What's really interesting in a scientific community is
when you go to one place and you know about some of the rifts some
of these people might be having. But in this room, these six scientists
from six different countries are together. And, they are trying
to do something which is totally mind-boggling. And, to sit with
them and talk to them and understand, you know, their fears and
concerns on if their assumptions are wrong; but if everything that
they've done is right and some big benefit can come out of it, it's
just tremendously gratifying to have been there and be a part of
that process and to help them carry out their experiments in space.
obviously no rendezvous and no docking in this mission or undocking.
But you still have to get to space and then return to Earth. And,
there are processes for doing that. Can you explain what's going
to go on on the way up? What are the duties? What will you be doing?
What's the process? And, also, for the return trip to Earth. If
you can just kind of nutshell those two processes.
I am very
excited to serve as the Flight Engineer on the flight. On ascent
the flight deck crew is basically monitoring the systems. Flight
Engineer's job is to make sure all systems are working nominally
by glancing at the different meters and displays in an organized
fashion and to diagnose malfunctions, if any, respond to those malfunctions,
and help the Commander and Pilot execute their procedures if there
is a malfunction. And then, to sort of have a big picture: If there's
a malfunction, how does it impact us? A minute from now? Five minutes
from now? And, so on. Before we have main engine cutoff versus after
we have main engine cutoff. So for ascent and entry, basically that's
the role I serve in. On orbit as Flight Engineer we get daily uplinks,
in case of systems not working nominally if we have to deorbit then
what particular information bits and pieces we can use to determine
at what time we should do the deorbit burn, which landing sites
are available to us, etc. We get this information every day. So,
we process it on board so we know, at all times, that these are
the paths we have open to us. As a crew, we spend a fair amount
of time in our ascent and entry simulators training for these sort
of tasks. Besides the Flight Engineer duties as you know, this mission
is dedicated to research science. And, all of us - all seven of
us - basically are very busy and timelined to the full extent to
carry out research every day. So basically during our wake-up hours,
we are busy doing the experiments that we are timelined to do. So
day after day, different experiments; that's what we do.
that starts shortly after you guys reach orbit. Can you tell us
what the process of activating experiments, when that starts? Activating
the modules, when that starts? And explain what you and your crewmates
will be doing at that point in the flight.
The main engines
shut off just 8½ minutes after launch. And after that, basically
the whole crew is working to get the Orbiter ready for orbit. The
flight deck crew is busy working to target the OMS burn we do to
get to orbit. And the middeck crew is busy trying to get switches
and systems in [the] right order so that in that upcoming phase
of flight, everything is [as] it's supposed to be. About two hours
into our mission, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, my crewmates, are
ready to open the hatch to Spacehab and start activating the Spacehab
systems. Both of those crewmembers - Ilan and Laurel - are from
the Red Shift. Red shift is the same shift I am on and Commander
Rick Husband is on. Four of us will work the longer day when we
get on orbit. We are the wake-up crew, you might say. The other
shift, the Blue Shift - which is our Pilot Willie McCool, David
Brown, Mission Specialist, and Mike Anderson, who's our Payload
Commander - three of them basically, after helping out with trying
to get the Orbiter in [the] right configuration for the early period
of the mission, we have to make sure they can go to sleep so that
when we go to sleep, it's time for them to wake up. We basically
share the same sleep stations, so we have to get them up so we can
go to sleep. And then they can take the helm of the ship and start
working the science experiments, etc. So after two hours, we basically
start to think that four of us, on the Red Shift, really need to
get Spacehab and the Orbiter working for rest of the mission. Willie
McCool from the Blue Shift would help set up our laptop network
in that early period. Dave Brown would help activate the FREESTAR
experiment, which is back in the payload bay. Ilan and Laurel, as
I mentioned, activate Spacehab. I work with the Commander for the
first half-hour or so of that later period to get our computers
(the Orbiter computers) in the right configuration for on-orbit
operations. And then shortly thereafter I work with Laurel and Ilan.
And, my job is to activate a number of experiments, which are in
the Research Double Module. Shortly thereafter, three of us (Ilan,
myself, and Laurel), we are working on different parts of Spacehab,
setting up equipment for experiments that we're going to be doing.
I'm doing the video setup with a number of boxes, so we can give
video downlink to ground for the experiments that do need to send
video downlink. We start to deploy equipment in Spacehab. Our computers,
cameras, equipment that we need for housekeeping, our Flight Data
File (the procedure books that we need to use to carry out any of
the procedures). So, the first day is very busy, basically, in getting
experiments started which are mostly passive. Where we just have
to turn them on, or some experiments where we need to do a setup
so we can perform them in the upcoming hours. And then, all of the
housekeeping tasks- be it deploying the laptops, the network of
laptops, the video equipment, and so on.
a little bit about some of the operation and the purpose of some
of the specific experiments that you're going to be working with.
We touched a little bit on MEIDEX before (the Mediterranean Israeli
Test Experiment). Can you give us a little bit of insight into the
operation of the process? How it operates and a little bit more
about what it's for and what it does.
experiment is sponsored by Israel, as you know, is basically looking
at aerosols and dust particles in Earth's atmosphere. It does that
by using special cameras, which are mounted in the payload bay.
For part of the mission, our goal is to look at these aerosols and
dust particles in conjunction with ground. So, people on ground
can also look at [the] same dust particles and aerosols so we can
validate the information from space with information from ground.
We would also be looking at dust particles and aerosols during [the]
rest of our mission when ground cannot necessarily look at these
particles. And at that time, we can use the knowledge that we would
have gained by having done the validation for simultaneous studies.
The main purpose for studying aerosols and dust particles is because
they play a big role in how climate works. And climate is a very
global topic. It's not: if climate in U.S. is bad, it doesn't really
matter because it just affects us and nobody else. Bad climate or
bad emissions of particles anywhere on Earth would ultimately impact
us all. And in fact the impact happens in a very short duration
of time. It's not something we can ignore by saying, "Oh, this is
a problem that's not worthy of our immediate attention." Within
the MEIDEX experiment, perhaps one of the intriguing and very captivating
studies is study of sprites. Which is, when there are lightning
storms we've observed with certain aircraft that there's upward
emitting lightning. Long time ago, if people were flying an aircraft
and they observed this, nobody would want to believe. It's, you
know, you are [imagining] these things. But, over time, people have
come to understand that this is real. Though we don't really understand
how it works, the physics behind it. This particular experiment,
study of sprites, when there are lightning storms, has captivated
the imagination of tens of researchers on ground. So, even though
it's a secondary experiment on MEIDEX a lot of researchers on ground
have found out about it and now they are participating with ground
studies simultaneous with the space shuttle studies. Again to correlate
data. So, if you see it from above, what information [do] you get?
And, the same information and looked from below means what? For
better understanding of how it might work. Tied with sprites [are]
blue jets, a similar phenomenon related to lightning. So, there
are all these very neat, interesting concepts in climate which are
secondary objectives which a lot of researchers are now participating
in. Our on-orbit operations basically mean that we give commands
to the cameras, which are in the payload bay. Using computers, we
type out the commands and direct these cameras to look in the right
region. The space shuttle, by that time, is already in [the] correct
attitude. It's looking at Earth at places where it ought to be looking
at for studying dust particles, aerosols, or sprites, which would
mean a slightly different attitude. And we would collect video data
from the cameras and send it to ground for analysis, real time.
Which is delayed by about a day. And, also later after the mission.
In the MEIDEX experiment, there are ground studies planned where
the Tel Aviv University in conjunction with a number of other research
organizations is planning to fly small aircraft, which are fully
instrumented; and they will fly these pre-designed trajectories
through the region where there is dust and aerosols. For example,
going in one direction and then the other direction for specified
durations of time with the specified increments in altitude so that
they have a very good idea of how these things are distributed.
Of course, something like that on Earth, they are unable to do everywhere
on Earth. So, the region where this is to be done is very limited.
The space shuttle-based studies will definitely include the regions
where ground studies are being done so we can have a good correlation.
But, the space shuttle will also study other regions on Earth where
there is dust. For example, if there's a big dust storm during our
mission, then more than likely we would be asked to do MEIDEX studies
for that. It's quite probable that the dust storm is over a region
where the aircraft studies cannot be done, because it's very remote.
For that particular case, the idea is to use the knowledge gained
from the region where we have the ability to validate space-based
study with Earth-based aircraft study. So, both of these aspects
are going to be carried out.
experiment is the CM-2, the Combustion Module-2. Can you explain
just what it is? Not so much about the experiments just yet. What
is the CM-2?
CM-2 is Combustion
Module. It's basically two very big facilities. You might say they
are [the] size of a very large family-size refrigerator. And we
are going to carry three different experiments. They are all flames-related
experiments. One of these is to understand how soot forms. Soot
is a bad thing on Earth. A lot of people die from soot inhalation.
The second one is to understand the leanest mixture settings at
which we can burn a fuel, and this is to understand fuel efficiency
better. And, [the] third one is how to extinguish fires using nontoxic
materials. Because right now, most of our fire suppression technologies
use materials which are not very good for us. So, we get rid of
the fire, then we are unable to enter the same area for a while.
So, this third experiment actually uses water droplets to extinguish
fires. And, it could have potential uses later on - on Earth, of
course, and also in space; for example, the space station to take
care of any problems that might arise.
talk a little bit about the operation of those experiments. Earlier
you were talking about the mist experiment. How does that operate?
What will the crew be doing during that experiment?
combustion module experiments are very hands-on and obviously a
lot of fun for [the] operator to work with. Let's use, for example,
the MIST experiment. What we do in this telephone booth-size or
family refrigerator-size module that we have: we can insert the
experiment, which is sort of like the size of a big microwave oven,
inside this module. The experiment itself has hardware where there
is a little camera to monitor what's going on; a little capacitor,
which is charged with water so it can spray water droplets; it can
inject them at different sizes; we can control, to a degree, the
speed at which the droplets are injected. So, the experiment itself
is a self-contained unit. We take it out from the storage location,
insert it inside the big module. There are some large cables that
we hook up. A big cable to supply power to the experiment, a cable
for data so that data that is being collected can be brought out
via a laptop and then sent to ground for real-time analysis (in
this case), and also video information is coming out from the experiment
which is again rerouted to us and to ground for real-time recording
and real-time downlink. We do the experiment setup a few times.
We insert it in the module. We might have to do it again to, for
example, change the little unit which controls the size of droplets.
But once it's inside, we can carry on, for example, 12 different
studies where we are looking at the effect of different parameters
on the flame. So, part of the experiment will help generate a flame.
We have a little laptop, using which we control when things happen.
The flame gets generated, and then the water particles or the water
mist gets injected onto the flame. All of this is captured on video
and data, which is recorded and seen real time and downlinked real
time. After the experiment is done, a little later we'll start with
the second parametric study where we are varying something else
and carry on the same test run yet again. So, to give you a certain
idea: In MIST, for example, we do 36 different parametric studies,
which basically are done one after another. Some of these are, actually
a large number of these are, commanded by ground. After we get the
setup done [the] first time and make sure that the first study is
correct and things are now going smoothly, then ground can take
over and do rest of the studies.
another experiment to be conducted within that module is SOFBALL
or Structures of Flame Balls at Low Lewis Numbers. Can you tell
us a little bit about the operation of that?
actually a very exciting study. And, it perhaps is one which has
its basis more in theory than the other experiments. So, those people
who are into theoretical chemistry would love the genesis of this
particular experiment. Long time ago, there's this Russian scientist,
Zeldovich and he figured out, just by looking at the equations,
[that] if you did not have gravity, then you should be able to get
flame balls rather than regular flames. And, this would happen if
you are burning a mixture at its leanest setting. Meaning the fuel
composition is very, very low. When we say a mixture is rich, we
mean there's lot of fuel. Leaner setting meaning: the smallest amount
of fuel that will support combustion. So, he predicted that, and
that was the end of story. It's just written in books. And then,
lo and behold, there's this professor at University of California,
Dr. Ronney, and he has been involved with combustion studies for
a while and does drop tower tests. Where you come up with little
combustion experiments which are dropped in these big towers that
you might have heard of and then you get less than a second worth
of science study out of these. And, it's all videotaped. And, you
break it, frame by frame, and see what happened. And in one of these
studies, he discovered there were flame balls. And, he was just
totally amazed that much has happened in other areas where Einstein,
for example, predicted bending of light and much, much later it
was validated. Similarly this was predicted lots of years before
[it was] seen by Ronney, and then he came up with the idea of validating
it in space. With the potential benefit, again, you should always
be tied to something in real life, that if we can understand that
flame balls really work, then this can help us better understand
combustion modeling. Combustion modeling is one of the toughest
fields out there where we are still trying to figure out, based
on just theory and equations, that: If I solve this problem on computer,
can I get the real result? And, of course, any time we can do that,
we save a lot of resources, as has been shown, for example, in the
area of aircraft design. You know, commercial companies routinely
now use aerodynamics modeling to come up with aircraft design. In
the case of combustion modeling, we have been really lacking because
it's a very complex field, and we are unable to tie all the things
together. So, if we can understand this yet one simple component
of this whole equation and see how it works, it helps us get one
step further. So, as I mentioned, this experiment has flown once
before. A lot of very interesting parametric studies are planned
for our flight because Professor Ronney's better able to predict
that these flame balls should be able to last for a matter of hours.
And, the Orbiter will be in free drift during those times to minimize
any disturbances from jet firings, for example. And then, collect
video data, temperature data, and tie it to the modeling equations.
I think this should prove to be very interesting.
third experiment within that module that you've touched on already:
LSP Laminar Soot Process. Can you briefly explain the operation
of that experiment?
experiment, much like the MIST and SOFBALL experiment, has its own
experiment module that, as far as we are concerned, will integrate
it- the microwave oven-size module- inside the bigger refrigerator-size
module, connect the cables so that commands can flow in, data can
come out, power can go in, etc. Once we've done that, the experiment
is basically looking at flames and looking at the limit of flame
where soot is formed. Soot is collected in these collection banks,
they call, and temperature data is collected real time. All of this
is to be looked at later on based on the assumptions the scientists
have. By having these 12 parameters, we'll be able to tell how this
thing works. Why are we studying soot in space? Or what's the benefit?
Or, why is there a need to do this in space? It's because, on Earth,
soot is generally produced by turbulent flames. Turbulence and soot,
which is combustion chemistry, are two of the most complicated fields.
It's almost impossible to solve the equations or model them so that
you have both of these players in. It would be really very nice
if one of these can be chucked out. Well, if you throw away soot,
then you cannot study soot. If you throw away turbulence, then how
do you study soot? Because turbulence is the process behind it.
We do know, though, that laminar diffusion flames, which are very
similar to turbulent flames (they mimic all of their characteristics),
also cause soot. But, where do we generate laminar diffusion place,
flames? Only place to do that is in microgravity. Hence, going to
space. So, you go to space, use microgravity to dissociate turbulence
from the equation so that you just have laminar diffusion flames,
which mimic everything that the turbulent flame was doing yet does
not have the complicated math behind it, yet generates soot. So,
that's the reason of going to space with this experiment. So, like
I said before, the potential is twofold. One, of course, soot is
bad. It would really help to figure out what generates it and how
to eliminate. And second, besides that, any time we can model the
governing processes better than we can do today, we are better off.
Because now we know how this works. And, we can know the answer
in advance rather than doing the experiment and then figuring out,
"Oh, this is what happened."
touched on the MGM experiment before, the Mechanics of Granular
Materials. Can you briefly explain how that experiment will be operated?
What's the operation procedure?
of Granular experiment is housed in the Spacehab Double Research
module. It sits kind of at the aft wall, has one big double locker
- a locker is size of a microwave, you might say - has big double
locker associated with it. What we have there is a test cell. The
test cell is about 18 inches long. It's triangular in its cross-section.
You can see through it. And, inside it, it has sand. When the test
cell is placed where it's supposed to be located inside the double
locker, there are three cameras, which can look at this test cell
from every direction. So, that allows you to see what's happening
to the sand inside the test cell. In addition, the sand in the test
cell is being pressurized by water. So, there's an accumulator.
It's filled with water. There's hardware out there to supply water
pressure onto the sand. So, what are we trying to do with it? The
objective is to understand the process behind liquefaction of sand
in coastal areas during, for example, earthquake. We want to study
this because we still do not understand what happens during earthquakes
when there are big buildings, which are sitting close to sandy areas.
And, we used to think that when well-packed, these materials, like
sand, should hold their structure and should be able to support
buildings and other structures (human-made structures). But, that's
not the case, as we've learned over time. And, it happens because
sand liquefies with water in there. And it starts to flow much like
a fluid, much like as if you did not even have a structure there
to support this building or bridge that you had put up. So, the
objective is to understand how does this liquefaction happen? What
sort of water pressures are you dealing with when liquefaction becomes
an issue? So you can know what is a good basis to go with, and where
is the threshold after which it's a bad idea? And, further, if you
were going to do reinforcements how should the sandy areas then
be contained by these reinforcements?
Bioreactor Demonstration System. What is it? How does it work? And,
what's the process?
experiment that we are working on is again housed in the Spacehab
module. It's at the aft wall. It has two active lockers associated
with it. And, [each] locker, as I mentioned, is size of a small
microwave oven, if you will. What we are doing in there is basically
growing cell tissue. On this particular flight, we are growing cell
tissue to better understand prostate cancer. The cell tissue is
inside a circular chamber. There is media, which is being used to
help feed this cell tissue, so this tissue can grow bigger. And
as a result, we have supply of media, nutrients, which the cell
tissue can consume. So on orbit, we are doing operations where we
are making sure that new media bags (bags filled with nutrient)
are being fed to the cell tissue so it can grow. In addition, we
are looking at the chamber on a regular basis to make sure everything
is fine. The cells are growing bigger. The pH level, a litmus test
basically; the level of how acid the medium is - is correct, is
not too high, not too low. We do these checks on a daily basis.
In addition we take out some of the cell sample and some of the
media, using injections; and we analyze that, using chemical cartridges,
to see what the constituents of interest are and their proportions
are correct and are as expected. And if not, then we'll have to
do some changes that we are trained to do. So, it's lots of care
and feeding, basically, every day.
you talk a little bit about the interest you had growing up and
maybe some of the things that may have put you on the road to NASA?
How did you get here? What was it about science that intrigued you?
That helped you?
When I was
going to high school back in India, growing up, I think I was very
lucky that we lived in a town which is a very small town and one
of a handful of towns at that time which had flying clubs. And,
we would see these small Pushpak airplanes, which are not much different
from Piper J3 Cubs that you see in the U.S. that students were flying
as part of their training programs. Me and my brother, sometimes
we would be on bikes looking up, which you shouldn't be doing, trying
to see where these airplanes were headed. Every once in a while,
we'd ask my dad if we could get a ride in one of these planes. And,
he did take us to the flying club and get us a ride in the Pushpak
and a glider that the flying club had. I think that's really my
closest link to aerospace engineering that I can dig deep down and
find out, out there. Also growing up, we knew of this person, J.
R. D. Tata in India, who had done some of the first mail flights
in India. And also the airplane that he flew for the mail flights
now hangs in one of the aerodromes out there that I had had a chance
to see. Seeing this airplane and just knowing what this person had
done during those years was very intriguing. Definitely captivated
my imagination. And, even when I was in high school if people asked
me what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer.
In hindsight, it's quite interesting to me that just some of those
very simple things helped me make up my mind that that's the area
I wanted to pursue. During our school year in India, we have to
figure out kind of early what particular subjects you want to pursue.
Basically when you are in eighth grade, around 12 years of age,
you have to pick up a track - whether you're going science (as in
engineering) or science (as in medical). And, that probably is the
earliest decision point when I said, "Since I'm going to do aerospace
engineering, I'm going to study physics, chemistry, and math." And
from then on, pretty much you are on a set track. And hoping, if,
you know, this is what you want to do, and if it doesn't come out
true that there are some other options that you have (which I did).
And after pre-engineering, which is equivalent of 12th grade in
US - by which time now you've been specializing in basically physics,
chemistry, and math and some language - you are ready to go to an
engineering college or another profession of your choice by taking
part in exams or simply answering questionnaires and based on merit
of your results. I was lucky to get into aerospace engineering at
Punjab Engineering College. And really in my case the goal was,
at that stage anyway, to be an aerospace engineer. The astronaut
business is really, really farfetched for me to say, "Oh, at that
time I even had an inkling of it." Aircraft design was really the
thing I wanted to pursue. If people asked me what I wanted to do,
I remember in the first year I would say, "I want to be a flight
engineer." But, I am quite sure at that time, I didn't really have
a good idea of what a flight engineer did. Because flight engineers
do not do aircraft design, which was an area I wanted to pursue
and did pursue in my career. And, it's sort of a nice coincident
that that's what I am doing on this flight.
can you tell us about some of the people in your life that inspired
you, or maybe still inspire you, to do what you're doing now?
I think inspiration
and tied with it is motivation. For me, definitely, it comes every
day from people in all walks of life. It's easy for me to be motivated
and inspired by seeing somebody who just goes all out to do something.
For example, some of the teachers in high school. The amount of
effort they put in to carry out their courses. The extra time they
took to do experiments with us. And then, just the compliments they
gave students for coming up with ideas - new ideas - [that], in
hindsight, I wonder how they even had the patience to look at these.
In general during my life, I would say I've been inspired by explorers.
Different times during my life I've read books. More recently, say
about Shackleton, the four or five books written by people in more
recent times, and then during the expedition. And then some of the
incredible feats these people carried out; like making [it] to the
Pole almost, but making the wise decision to stop a hundred miles
short and return. Lewis and Clark's incredible journey across America
to find a route to water, if one existed. And, the perseverance
and incredible courage with which they carried it out. Patty Wagstaff.
You know, she started out kind of late flying aerobatic airplanes.
And then had the where-with-all to say that she was going to take
part in the championships. And then, became an unlimited U.S. champion
three times in a row. And, that's not men's or women's; that's The
Champion. There are so many people out there that just how they
have done some incredible things. And how they inspire. You know,
in explorers, Peter Matthiessen and how he has explored the whole
world and chronicled life, animals and birds as they exist. And,
he's done it by simply walking on his feet. You know, across [the]
Himalayas. Across Africa. When I read about these people, I think
the one thing that just stands out is their perseverance in how
they carried out what they wished to carry out.