Interview: Laurel Clark
STS-107 Crew Interview with Laurel Clark, mission specialist.
Laurel, I want to start off by asking you to, if you could, briefly
explain what the mission is about. What the goals of the mission
is very exciting. It's the first multidisciplinary science mission
we've done since STS-95, and the longest mission that we've done
since STS-90. And we're doing a multitude of different scientific
experiments on orbit on things that are either only possible to
be done in the space environment or are affected significantly by
the space environment.
touched on the range of experiments. Can you talk briefly about
which areas or disciplines the research encompasses? And why these
particular areas are important.
of the different areas, it's hard to cover them all. We're looking
at Earth science, observing our planet. Also some space science,
looking at the ozone in the atmosphere around our Earth. Also looking
at life science. And on a human level, using ourselves as test subjects.
And also, biology at a cellular level and tissue level, understanding
what happens to cells and some of their processes, gene expression,
a lot of other different parameters in the space environment. We're
also going to be doing some basic physics, and some chemistry as
well on board.
your medical background, you have to be kind of like a kid in the
candy store. With just so much you're going to be [doing] up there,
and [to] have all these different areas of research and just to
see what happens. What's that like?
mission is just extremely exciting. And I still feel very fortunate
to be assigned to the mission. Not only because it's such a long
mission and we get to spend so much time in space, but because we're
doing such exciting research. And certainly, I don't want to overemphasize
the life science research, since we're doing so many different things
on board, but as a physician the life science research that we're
doing is extremely exciting. It's just a great feeling to be part
of the team of researchers and investigators that have been working
for years to bring this all to fruition.
you give us some insight into why we need to go to space to conduct
some of the same research that we're conducting on Earth? What importance
or what relevance does microgravity have in this research?
probably a lot of ways to answer that. But, I guess the three major
things that I think of are: some things are only capable of being
done in space. Examples of that are looking at our Earth from that
far away, and understanding the entire processes of storms and weather
patterns, and oceans, and coastlines- the best way to understand
that all is from that vantage point. Another area is in scientific
research of almost any kind, there are multiple things that affect
outcomes. And scientists call them "variables." But the same thing
happens in your kitchen at home if you're baking a cake. The variables
can be the oven temperature, the humidity, and what kind of recipe
ingredients you decided to choose. And gravity is one variable in
a lot of scientific processes. If you can remove gravity or minimize
its effect, then you can understand the other processes that are
going on. And that's especially applicable to a lot of the flame
experiments. The third thing is that microgravity or the very, very
low amount of gravity that we have up in space allows, forces some
changes in different processes. It forces changes in us as human
beings. There are some very significant changes in the way the fluids
are distributed in our body, the way our heart functions initially,
and as well as our bone and muscle. So, that environment itself
allows us to study what those changes are and why those changes
are going on. Additionally, there's some things that occur in life
science research, crystals that we grow and some other processes,
that really can only happen again in the space environment, kind
of like the first category I talked about.
people may think that the research on this mission is supposed to
yield immediate results or solve immediate problems or prove theories
right away. But, that's not necessarily the case. Can you kind of
give some insight into scientific research, how it's conducted and
where it fits into the problem-solving or theory-proving process?
Well, I know
we all would like immediate gratification. So, we'd like to have
immediate answers to all of our questions. I think medicine in particular.
I found it frustrating as a physician sometimes to not be able to
tell someone exactly why something was happening to them, or exactly
why the disease process in them was occurring the way that it was.
There are still so many mysteries in medicine and any other number
of scientific areas you chose to speak about. But so we won't come
home with all the answers to all the questions that people have
asked. On the other hand they're very complicated questions. And
so, you have to attack them, you know, one at a time. I take the
example of osteoporosis. And we know for sure that people up in
space lose bone mass. That's a given. We've observed that, and that's
an observation. The next question is: Why do people lose that bone
mass? And it may be a simple question to ask. But, there are many
different things that may be going on. Whether or not you're absorbing
the calcium. Whether or not you're getting rid of more calcium.
Whether or not there are receptors at the bone that don't understand
that are changed because of the environment so that they don't react
to the calcium that they see. Whether there's less bone buildup
or more bone breakdown. It's a very complicated chain of events.
Across the whole metabolism of bone and calcium as it moves in and
out of the living and changing tissue of bone. So, we're just trying
to look at that different process, look at the different hormonal
levels in our blood and different byproducts in our different bodily
fluids, and understand that process. And as you begin to understand
part of the process, then you work your way toward the answers and
coming up with ways to prevent the processes that you don't want
to happen from happening, or enhance the ones that you do want to
it's a long-term situation. Nothing's going to get solved right
partly true. Athough sometimes we come up with "Eurekas," just like
people work in laboratories for their entire career for 40 years.
But it may be that they come in one day on a Friday and something
has happened, and they have an answer that they never expected to
have or didn't anticipate having it at that point in time. So, we
do have things, we do come up with some answers. But, there are
things that take many years to understand and figure out the answers
part of being assigned to this mission, you and some of your crewmates
have agreed to be experiment subjects yourselves. What are [your]
thoughts about that? And what's it been like so far training for
excited to be a test subject because I think that's how we get answers
is by studying people. And as a physician, I understand how important
it is to collect data on people and so that we can understand what's
happening with them. And I will be someone that's in the position
to help enable that knowledge by giving some information. So, I'm
actually excited to be part of that process. Actually, we've been
training for two years. But, we've been training, practicing mostly
on other people.
We have wonderful
people who've agreed to volunteer to let us practice on them. Not
unlike people that we practice on early in our medical careers as
well. But just recently, we've started being subjects ourselves
and drawing blood on each other, and so that's been a little bit
different. But, it's gone very smoothly. And it's a great way to
feel better about how things are going to go on the mission.
got to bring you a little bit closer as a crew, too, I'd imagine,
because the trust factor has to be there.
there parts of the experiments that require you and your crewmates
to take part in preflight and postflight portions of the experiment?
And if so, can you kind of give us an idea of a couple of those?
And what they are.
The two big
experiments that require us to do much work and actually to be involved
ourselves as subjects are PhAB4, the physiological and biological
experiments, and then the ARMS (or Advanced Respiratory Monitoring
System) that's being sponsored by the European Space Agency. PhAB4
is looking at changes in metabolism, hormone levels, and different
ways our bodies are reacting in the microgravity experiment. So
that requires us to be studied, both before the mission, during
the mission, and after the mission. We're looking at changes in
physiology. That's how you can track those things. The Advanced
Respiratory Monitoring System in a very similar way is looking at
changes. They're studying the cardiovascular system or your heart
and lungs, and specifically the fluid shifts. Gravity pulls our
bodily fluids down toward the ground, just like water in a glass
goes to the bottom part of a glass. In space, the water doesn't
stay in the bottom of the glass. It distributes itself evenly over
time throughout the entire volume of the glass. So, our blood volume
isn't just pulled down toward our feet. It shifts upward. So, people's
faces in space tend to look puffy. Especially initially in the mission.
Because those changes in hemodynamics or the pressures of the fluids
and the way that your body reacts to those, are very similar to
people who have to lie down for a long period of time. People who
are in intensive care units. Or, who are injured and are hospitalized
or bedridden for long periods of time. And they're looking at the
ways that our pulmonary blood flow changes when we are laying down.
saw some video of you on, I guess it's called a tilt table. Can
you talk a little bit about what that does and how it relates to
what you were talking about with the PhAB4 or any of the experiments?
The tilt table
is actually part of the ARMS experiment. Again, looking at the heart
and the lungs, the blood flow through your lungs, and how the air
exchange occurs in your lungs with that change in the blood flow.
And it has to do with the fact that when we're up in space, fluids
are not distributed the same way they are down here on Earth, where
the fluid is pulled down to your feet and pooled in your feet. The
same way it is in a glass here on Earth. Up in space, the fluids
tend to shift upward. It's called an upward fluid shift. People's
faces look puffy. It also changes the way the blood flow in our
lungs and the way that the air exchange is accomplished in the lungs.
And they're particularly interested in patients who are required
to be bedridden or laying flat for long periods of time. Patients
who are in intensive care units; patients who have had surgery;
patients who have been in accidents and are laying down for long
periods of time. The way that the oxygen and other gases are exchanged
in their lungs is dependent upon the blood flow. And that's changed
when you're laying. So, they're looking at those changes. And they're
doing experiments on us before the flight, during the flight, and
after the flight.
mentioned about this being the first extended-duration mission since
STS-90. And it's the first of your career. It's the first spaceflight.
Having said that all, and with all that to think about, what are
your thoughts about being on such a long mission on your first spaceflight?
just thrilled. I was thrilled to be assigned to any mission. But,
I was especially excited to be assigned to this one for the two
reasons I talked about earlier. Everyone that I've talked to who's
been to space has thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and what you
often hear them say is: "It was great, but we just had to come home."
And if you talk to crews, especially when you talk to crews that
went to Mir or have gone up to International Space Station, they
say that you go through different phases of adaptation or getting
used to the space environment. Not only physiologically but mentally,
you learn how to move around in the space environment. It's very
different than walking around here on Earth. And that each week
you're up there, you become more adapted and comfortable to that
environment. So, after a week you think, "Oh, gosh, this is getting
really easy." And after the second week, you think, "Oh my gosh,
this is great! I feel so much better now." And that's about as far
as we've gone in the shuttle program.
Then you talk
to them, the long-duration folks, and they say that that experience
continues. But, I'm just really looking forward to being able to
spend that much time up in space and experiencing all the unique
things that it has to offer.
research on the mission comes from various parts of the world. And
you guys have gone to a lot of these places to kind of get familiar
with it and talk to the principal investigators and whatnot. What's
it mean to you to be on a mission that is in a way fostering an
understanding of places amongst other places and also helping to
maybe bring benefits through this research to various places? What's
that mean to you?
Well, I think
it's a very positive aspect of our mission. I've always enjoyed
traveling and having experience with different cultures and different
people. So, that part of it's just been thoroughly enjoyable on
a personal level. But it's also a wonderful thing to be able to
benefit and enable research, not only in our country but around
the world. And to share some of that information and learn from
each other, and know that the scientists are talking to each other.
Some of the investigations that we're doing from other countries
have investigators or scientists that are working on the same project
for more than one country. Some of them are scientists working together
from Europe and the United States on the same experiment. And I
think that goes a long way toward us all learning more and being
able to solve the problems we want to solve.
science…in your opinion…played a big part in bridging the gap and
making the world more of a global community?
I think that's
really multi-factorial. I don't think it would be fair to say that,
I think science has played a major role. But, of course, economics
and supply-and-demand and politics [have also]. There's so many
different things that have played roles in us becoming a more global
community. But, science for hundreds of years has spanned the differences
between cultures and between countries. And humans as a whole have
had a lot of the same questions and tried to find answers to those
questions. So, I think [in a] way that it has helped bridge that
you give some examples of research, if any, that's on this mission,
that's also being flown currently on the International Space Station?
And kind of give some idea, insight into why it's necessary to conduct
the same research on two different spacecraft at the same time.
several different ones. Life science research can be done on multiple
different platforms. And the more people or test subjects that you
have to get data from, the more that you can learn. Since we have
a very small number of people flying into space, the more people
you have, the better. We're also doing some of the same plant experiments.
Looking at gene transfer. And I guess the big benefit is that we
can do some of the experiments and understand what works and what
doesn't work from an operations standpoint and from a hardware standpoint.
What equipment is going, what small changes there are in microgravity
that we didn't anticipate. And then, design those so that they are
optimal when they go up to space station and have to stay for longer
periods of time.
the way up and for landing, aside from operations on orbit, you're
going to be on the middeck. You and Ilan and Mike. Can you tell
me what you guys are going to be doing on the way up? Do you have
many duties on the way up and for landing? There's no rendezvous
or docking or anything like that. But you've got to get there, and
you've got to get home.
going to happen with you guys?
and docking are way past ascent and entry anyway. Actually I'm going
to be on the middeck for ascent, for going uphill. When we come
home for entry, I'll be up on the flight deck, and I will be an
Assistant Flight Engineer. Dave and I are switching places, so he'll
be flying down on the middeck for the way home. But, during ascent,
we pretty much just hang on and wait till we get up to MECO, which
is main engine cutoff. At main engine cutoff, and so that's about
close to eight minutes. It's over 7˝ minutes where we really don't
have very many duties at all. The only thing that I have to do is
turn on and manage a mini-cam that we're going to have on the middeck
in order to film those of us down here since we don't often get
a view of that. We thought that would be a neat thing to do. Some
insight to give people. As soon as we hit main engine cutoff when
the engines turn off and we are where we need to be up in orbit,
we immediately start unstrapping and get to work. Two of the busiest
periods of the mission, the whole mission will be busy. But, two
of the very busiest periods are what we call post insertion, which
is right after you've been inserted or entered into the orbit around
the Earth, and deorbit prep, which is all the things you have to
do to get ready to come home. You've just ridden a rocket ship up
into space, and we have to reconfigure the whole thing to be an
orbiting science laboratory. So, we get to work, after that first
eight minutes, our vacation is over and we get right to work. And
work hard. Getting people out of their space suits, changing power
configurations. Very soon after we get on to orbit, Ilan and I will
activate the Spacehab, which is the laboratory back in our payload
bay where we'll be doing most of the different science that we're
for your duties as a Flight Engineer for coming back to Earth, calls
Well the Pilot
and the Commander sit up in the front seats and control the vehicle.
Then we have a Flight Engineer, the main Flight Engineer, MS-2,
sit in between their seats. And then, we have an Assistant Flight
Engineer. And actually it's not even as clear as that. Often one
Flight Engineer helps the Commander back up their systems if anything
is unusual with their systems, and the other Flight Engineer, which
would be myself, backs up the Pilot. So, I work very closely with
Willie, monitoring the electrical power systems and the hydraulic
systems primarily. And I actually have a computer screen back near
my seat where I can monitor the overall health of the vehicle and
pick up any problems that might be occurring early on or once we
see any kind of a malfunction or anything unusual that's happening,
we can look at the data and figure out what that is. Of course,
we trained for a lot more malfunctions than any ever happen. So,
most of the time you don't have to do much, other than monitor the
normal entry profile.
mentioned activating Spacehab and are there more details about exactly
what you're going to be doing and how you're going to do it basically?
Well, we start
activating Spacehab, as I said, shortly after we get on orbit. We
have a lot of things to do just configuring the vehicle. But, once
we get into Spacehab, there are several things we need to do to
get it ready to do the science that we need to do back there. We're
actually doing some early science on that very first day, and we
can't do any of that until Spacehab is activated. But, we do fairly
simple things like turning on the lights and converting the power
source from a source that's from the Orbiter to converters that
are active within the laboratory itself. And we power up payloads,
and start checking things out so that we can do the early science
we need to do. And then, continue the science for the rest of the
like to talk now about some of the experiments that you're slated
to personally work with. And we've touched on a few of them already.
But, I'd like to go back and maybe kind of redo that, and get some
more details. ARMS. What is the goal of that experiment? And maybe
a little bit more about the operation. I know there are various
functions, various things that you're going to be doing. But, maybe
pick a couple and explain the operation of the experiment and the
goal of it.
is an acronym for Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System, which
is actually a multitude of different investigators from across Europe
that were chosen. And then, after those investigators were chosen,
they tried to find a way to bring the science all together so that
with several different breathing maneuvers that all, many of them
(there're about 15 different investigators or more), that they'd
be able to get the information that they need for their individual
studies, which are all very different. The thing that they have
in common is that they're looking at blood flow and gas perfusion
within the lungs. And looking at the relationship between the heart
and the lungs, and understanding that. The hemodynamics or the way
that your blood flows, your heart reacts to the blood flow and the
way the blood is distributed within your lungs changes in space.
Because the fluid shifts upward, and it's much more similar to the
way the blood, the heart and the lungs and the blood volume react
when people are laying down flat. This is very beneficial to people
understanding how to best treat people who are laying on their back
in bed for long periods of time. One question has been: How best
to treat patients who are on respirators in the intensive care unit?
Whether it's because they had surgery or they were in an accident
or they're post-anesthesia after surgery, trying to make sure that
they're getting the best gas exchange. We all need oxygen to live,
and we all know that. We learned that in basic science class. But,
the way we get oxygen is to breathe that oxygen in and for it to
be exchanged with the blood in the lungs. And where the blood flows
and how that blood is distributed within the lungs affects your
ability to absorb the oxygen. And they're trying to use the space
model to better understand that for patients in hospitals.
for instance the ergometer and there's a big pump-looking thing.
Well, what are those things? How do they play into the experiment?
Well I don't
want to say it's a simple experiment. But, the operations are fairly
straightforward. We ride on an ergometer which provides, actually
we don't, we're on the ergometer for some of the experiment. Some
of the experiments are purely resting, and we use the ergometer
as a place to maintain stability. But, we are breathing into a mouthpiece
that's connected to a tube, and it measures several different things,
including the velocity of the airflow, and we're breathing specific
gases in. And it's looking at…[the] percentages of gases we've breathed
in. And then, it looks at the exhaled gas. So, how much is absorbed,
and that is a factor of how much gas diffusion is going on with
the blood in your lungs. So, they use the bicycle to allow some
different workloads. So, they're looking at the way that's affected
by workloads. How hard you're working. How hard your heart is beating.
They're measuring not only our heart rate, but the volume of our
respirations And again, the inhaled and exhaled gases. We're also
using that large syringe to calibrate the equipment so that we make
sure that when we get ready to do a data take or an experiment on
ourselves that the equipment is calibrated to the right levels.
The individual breathing maneuvers themselves are much more complicated
than I ever imagined when we first signed up for the flight. I find
that they require a great amount of concentration. And you have
to control your breathing, not only the number of times you're breathing
sometimes but the rate with which you're breathing. And we take
for granted so much about just breathing. Something we do every
And in this it's like walking and chewing gum at the same time.
You don't even think about it. BDS-05 or Bioreactor Demonstration
System, what is that about? And can you briefly explain the operation
bioreactor was developed to be a rotating tissue cell culture chamber.
They're growing cells. And there are ways that they can grow the
cells here on Earth, but they still are able to grow much better
cell cultures or tissues in microgravity than they can on Earth.
The cells grow in a three-dimensional manner. If you can imagine,
if you had some cells in a flat dish or even in a vial, with fluid,
and you're trying to grow them, they fall to the bottom and they
tend to grow two-dimensionally, or flat. If you took someone's liver
out of their body, or you imagine any organ, you know, and it's
a three-dimensional thing. And the cells that grow in space, that
grow three-dimensionally, are much more like the real cells in the
human body. Or, any analog that you're using for your scientific
experiment. By growing those cells three-dimensionally, then they
differentiate and they act, again, like the cells that you're interested
in studying. In our flight, we're flying prostate cancer cells and
bone cells together. And the scientists are looking at the interaction
between those two cells. Prostate cancer in and of itself is not
an extremely bad disease. The prostate, you can, men can live without
their prostate. You can remove the cancer, and it isn't very problematic.
The bad thing about prostate cancer is that [it] metastasizes or
spreads very aggressively, and early in the disease process, to
the bone. Often prostate cancer is diagnosed after it's already
spread to the bone. And then, it's much more difficult to treat.
You're not only treating prostate cancer, but bone cancer. And this
particular investigation is looking at understanding the hormonal
biochemical signals, the changes in gene expression that go on between
prostate cancer cells and the bone cells. And again, trying to understand
that very complicated process. And if you can understand the process,
then you can start to develop strategies or countermeasures, ways
to stop the spread, ways to stop the signals that the bone cells
are sending to the prostate cancer-or the other way around. On orbit,
we'll be growing those tissue cultures in this reactor, this chamber.
We'll be drawing off some of the fluid that they're growing in to
understand [and] make sure that they're still healthy. And if they're
not, be able to intervene and make sure that they're healthy. We'll
also be able to draw off the cells each day and fix those for study
later on the ground. The plan is for them to get back and very soon
after we land and get off the vehicle, there'll be people who get
on and unload these cells and other ones that need to be looked
at. The scientists will continue to grow these cells in their laboratory,
and continue to study them and look at the differentiation, the
changes over time. But, we will have fixed some so that if anything
occurs in the interim or there's some kind of a problem, then they'll
at least have the data that they have from those days. We'll also
be able to compare the cells that we collect on days 1 and 2, etc.,
throughout the mission to the cells that are growing later on in
the cells will grow continuously throughout the mission? Or just
on various, we grow them on various days, I guess.
No, the cells
will grow continually from the time that they'll be put into the
reactor a couple of days before we fly. They're late load items;
I believe less than 48 hours before we get on the vehicle ourselves.
And they'll grow continuously from that time until the time that
we get back.
physiology and biochemistry and the "4" for a suite of four experiments.
Can you pick a couple of those experiments and kind of give me an
overview of what they are and what the goal [is]?
all very exciting experiments. The two that I like to talk about
a lot are the protein turnover and the calcium kinetics. They're
looking at protein changes or changes in muscle mass, and also the
changes in your bone mass that occur when you're up in space. I
have a family history of osteoporosis that goes back several different
generations. And I like to think that we'll be learning some things
that will help not only my family but the other millions of Americans
that are affected by osteoporosis. In our country, about one in
four people will have osteoporosis at some point in their lifetime.
And one-half of all women in our country will suffer an osteoporosis-related
fracture in their lifetime. So, it's a really major medical disease
that we can deal with and learn a lot about from up in the space
environment. Osteoporosis on the ground is not exactly the same
process as osteoporosis in space. But, the end result, the loss
of bone, is the same. And in space, it's a very accelerated process.
In the 16 days that we're on orbit, we will have some changes in
our bone metabolism, in only 16 days. Whereas on Earth, I could
have the scientist studying me for 16 years and they may not see
any changes at all. And scientists are currently trying to understand
and come up with therapies for osteoporosis, and they may do that.
Again, they may treat someone for decades and not know whether or
not their therapy is working. So by looking at that process, we're
going to be drawing our blood. They'll be monitoring the food that
we're eating. We'll be collecting our urine and some of our saliva.
And that's all important because they know exactly what's going
in (based on the food that we're eating and what we're drinking),
then we'll be drawing the blood and looking at that, and we'll also
be injecting each other with some tracers, which are things that
can be used to track how the calcium is being utilized in our body,
and the protein products as well. So, at different points in the
mission, we'll actually inject some things into each other, these
different tracers, and then do timed blood draws and urine collections
afterwards. And again, the whole goal is to understand what's happening
to the entire process of both your protein or the muscle mass in
your body as well as the bone mass. And why it's decreasing.
these tracers- are these materials or what are they exactly?
It's a liquid.
It's an intravenous infusion. We just put a very small needle in
our arm and make sure that it's well into the vein. And then, we
inject a small amount of fluid. It's almost painless. It's very,
very noninvasive actually.
my understanding that you'll have to draw blood in some rather low-light
situations. But, how, can you shed some light onto how you guys
trained for that?
No pun intended. I've seen some video. Can you tell me about that?
Well, it is
true that the Spacehab lighting is not as bright as some of the
lighting you'd have in a room here working in a clinic or even in
your office. And because of that, some of our trainers decided to
train us with sunglasses and make us get used to not being able
to see as well. A big part of, for Dave and I, we're both physicians.
And we have been starting IVs on people and drawing blood from people
for a much longer time than the other four people who've been trained
to draw blood on the flight. And you learn over time that it's not
just seeing, but it's also feeling and a lot of other things. And
I think that helped the other people to recognize the other ways
of finding the veins and working in the low-light situations. But,
we all did very well. And I don't think there [were] any changes
in what we did based on that. We, again, like a lot of the things
we do, it was more of a confidence builder to know that you can
do it and it doesn't cause any major differences to the way you're
planning on operating.
did you touch on ops for PhaB4, for both of them, the protein and
the calcium kinetics?
It's the same
kind of the same.
blood draws and they're sharing. That's the beauty, the PhAB4 were
all manifested together so that they could take advantage of the
fact if you're going to be drawing blood, it'd be really nice to
be able to share that information and the data, not only with people
who are interested in bone but also people who are interested in
muscle. People who are interested in the changes in your viral and
immune system, in your immune system and the way you react to viruses.
And people who are interested in kidney stones and why they form.
So, those four experiments were put together so that they could
take advantage of and maximize the scientific data results from
doing the things that we're doing.
What's it for? How does it work? And why is it important for this
very interesting payload. Again, this is sponsored by the European
Space Agency. And it's a multitude of different investigators. They're
taking advantage of this double rack double locker payload. It has
three different centrifuges as well as an incubator and a cooler/freezer.
So, they can take the samples (some of them are yeasts, some of
them are bone cells, there's a whole different number of things
that they're studying), but they can study them in microgravity,
which is, you know, minimal amount of gravity that we have up in
space. Or, they can put them in the centrifuge and study them under
controlled gravity situations. So, they have many different controls
built into their experiment. They can have bone cells that are under
microgravity, one-half of g, one-g, and two-g. ("g's" being gravity
measures.) And understand where the changes are. How much of a g
is necessary to see the changes in the cells that they're looking
at. So, it uses those different centrifuges to be able to change,
again, the scientific variables and then understand where that fits
into the process and how that creates the changes that we see up
what's the extent of crew interaction with, I've seen training video
where you're actually in a glovebox and doing, what are you doing
when you're in there?
I didn't mention the glovebox. There's a glovebox involved, because
we have different samples that are not so much dangerous, but they
could harm someone if they got lose in the atmosphere. Most of them
would be harmful if they got in your eye. And up in space, things
don't fall to the ground so you can easily wipe them up. They disperse
throughout the air, and it takes a very, very small drop of something
that could much later get into someone's eye and cause some problems.
So because safety is so important, we go to extreme measures to
make sure that that won't happen. The samples are contained. There
are times when we have to do things with the samples; say, to activate
them if they're cells that have been growing, we'll cause fixative
to be exposed to the cells, which stops them in their growth process
but allows the scientists to study them after they get home. And
there are other things that we'll do to change the rates of flow
to some of the cells. And we do those operations inside the glovebox
so that if there was a leak in any of the equipment, it wouldn't
go into the environment in general.
the Osteoporosis Experiment in Orbit- obviously about osteoporosis.
What's the operational procedure for that?
Well the OSTEO
experiment's very important, because they're looking at bone cells
at a cellular level. And again, understanding that piece of the
puzzle and the hormonal changes, and they'll have a huge number
of different cells exposed to slightly different conditions and
be able to understand those. We don't actually ever see the bone
cells. We just see the front of the payload, which is a middeck
locker-sized payload with different-colored dials. And we actually
inject different amounts of fluid and media to the cells at different
points in time in the mission to activate them, and then allow them
to grow, and then often, in the end, to fix them. So, our interaction
with them isn't nearly as visible as it is with, for example, PhAB4,
where we are actually drawing blood on each other. So, you're not
interacting nearly as much. But, the science that they're doing
is just as exciting.
that experiment is, the goal of it, I guess.
it's looking at osteoporosis, the changes in bone cells up in microgravity.
So, they're looking at the changes, both functionally and hormonally.
The different substances that these cells either take up or put
out when they're exposed to this different environment. Again, we
talked about osteoporosis earlier. But, osteoporosis is a very significant
disease in our country. In 1995 alone, we spent $14B on hospital
costs for osteoporosis-related fractures, which is about $38M a
that we can learn about that disease and further the research that
the people are doing here on the ground to help understand that
process and prevent it is just really a great thing to be able to
there is ERISTO. Is that in conjunction with OSTEO?
is really a sister experiment. They're doing similar, different
experiments, different investigators with almost identical hardware.
So, they are again looking mostly at bone cells and changes in bone
cells. Bone is a very fluid organ. Most people don't think of it,
because you see a bone that's outside of someone's body and it looks
hard and fixed and non-changing. But, bone tissue in the body, it's
a very often-changing and fluid-type organ with the cells adding
and being taken away on a daily basis. Children have incredible
fractures. When I was a pediatrician at Bethesda Naval Hospital,
I saw a child from another country who ended up being adopted by
a family, was an ambassador, came to our hospital a couple of years
after having had a severe fracture that was never set. And you could
almost not tell he'd ever had a break there, because the bone that
initially had been at a huge angle and had not been reduced or straightened
and then casted, had eventually carved away the bone from the side
where it shouldn't be and added to the bone to the side where it
should be. Then, it was almost straight, with just a little tiny
bump on that side.
And as we
get older, our bones have less ability to heal themselves. But,
they're still an extremely fluid organ, changing constantly. And
again, trying to understand that process and be able to apply anything
that we can learn to preventing any disease is a admirable goal.
interesting. I did not know that. But, there's a lot about medicine
I do not know. Why is it, in your opinion, important to take student
experiments on a mission like this? What benefit comes from that?
Well, I think
that any time we interact with students, it's extremely important.
Not just our mission and not just NASA. And there are any number
of people who volunteer helping our young people to further their
education. And let's face it- they're the future of our country,
the future of our world. They're the people that are going to solve
the problems that we don't solve today. And I think anything we
can do to help them, to foster an interest in science and make them
excited about what they're doing; the really wonderful thing about
NASA and spaceflight is that it is exciting. At least, especially
to outsiders, it's exciting. A lot of what we do, while being exciting,
is also a lot of work and requires time and attention. But, students
who are selected to fly experiments on the shuttle remember that
for the rest of their lives as something that they were able to
participate in and be involved in. And I think that's extremely
it been like training for this mission? You've had so much to do,
so much to think about, including thinking about your first spaceflight,
and what's all that been like?
been a wonderful experience. In some ways, part[s] of it have been
a little bit of a whirlwind. And it's getting busier as we get closer
to flight. But, it's been exciting to learn more about the science
that we're working on. It's been fulfilling to be part of that process.
While the investigators and the scientists certainly do the bulk
of the work and should be given the bulk of the credit for the science
that we do accomplish, it's still exciting to be part of that process.
And once we start to be trained, we are the people who understand
the shuttle environment and the operations; the way things will
really work. These scientists are used to their laboratories, which
are not just a little different than the laboratory we'll be working
in. So, being able to take their vision of what they wanted to do
and then find a way that we could do it on the shuttle, to me has
been very fulfilling. I've enjoyed that. Also, working with the
other six crewmembers for the last two years has been great. I've
learned so much from the three crewmembers who have flown before.
And although four of us are flying for the first time and that could
be seen as a disadvantage, in some ways it's an incredible advantage
because we have a wealth of enthusiasm and excitement that other
more-seasoned crews may not have.
this being your first spaceflight, you've no doubt consulted some
people who have been to space before- spaceflight veterans on the
crew and maybe not even on the crew. What kind of sense have you
gotten from them about what it's like? And based on that, what are
expecting for it to be extremely busy. You talk to anybody who's
flown in space on a shuttle mission, and they'll tell you that there's
really never a minute to spare. But, they'll give you some advice
about things to do. One of which is: Any moment you get a chance,
you're not absolutely too busy, grab the camera and go take some
pictures out the window. We're incredibly lucky to be able to be
working where we are up above the Earth and being able to see our
planet from that vantage point. We also have a huge stockpile of
photographs and images that NASA has taken over the years, and there're
an incredible number of scientists that do research just looking
at the pictures that we take from the shuttle. And it's really not
a specific part of our mission per se. But, it's a part of every
shuttle mission to take those pictures and learn from it. We do
get some amount of training on how to take pictures the best way,
to observe changes in, say, the ocean or changes in coastlines,
changes in rivers, and that sort of thing. So, I'm expecting to
have a lot of fun. I'm expecting to be tired at the end. But I'm
expecting it to be the experience of my lifetime so far.
you expect you'll be able to sleep the first night that you're scheduled
I think I
will be able to. Because I'm on the shift: We launch. We get up
early in the morning to get ready (our morning at the time), to
get dressed and get out to the shuttle. We have the whole launch
thing. We reconfigure the vehicle from a rocket to an orbiting laboratory.
Then, we have to do our first day mission-critical science. And
so we have worked a long day by the time it's time for us to go
to bed. So, I think I'll be ready to take a rest and be well rested
for the next day, and 15 more days on orbit.
like to talk a little about you. Kind of get some idea about your
background. And if you were to think about coming up, growing up,
what it was about your interests or your surroundings or whatever
that put you on the road to NASA? Can you tell us a little bit about
I can't think
of anything specific growing up that pointed me toward NASA at all.
I was interested in the Moon landings just about the same as everyone
else of my generation. But, I never really thought about being an
astronaut or working in space myself. I was very interested in environment
and ecosystems and animals. And that eventually shone through in
my interests in zoology as an undergraduate. And then [I] decided
to pursue medicine. I joined the Navy and was exposed to a lot of
different operational environments, working on submarines and working
in tight quarters on ships, and learning about radiation medicine.
And it was really just sort of a natural progression when I learned
about NASA and what astronauts do, and the type of things that they
are expected to do, that I thought about the things I had done so
far and became more interested in that as a career.
understand you…as part of your duties as a flight surgeon, you've
done some submarine rescues, or what was that all about?
Well, as part
of the Navy, you're expected after you do your initial training,
to do operational medicine. The Navy's paid for you to [go] through
school, and then they need doctors to go out and take care of people
who are in various different parts of the world working. I decided
to pay back my time first as an undersea medical officer. And that's
where I was involved with submarines and with divers. And the submarines
that we serviced were out of Holy Loch, Scotland. I was stationed
in Scotland myself. And while submarine crews, like astronauts,
are selected from a pool of people who turn out to be very healthy,
in the end, they select people. If you have medical problems, then
you're not allowed to continue in the submarine service because
you're out at sea for long periods of time. Even still, things happen.
People get appendicitis and can get infections. And there were certain
times when I had to be involved in getting people off the submarine
and getting them to hospitals for further medical care.
that must have been pretty interesting, I guess.
It was very
interesting. It was usually, well, every case was different. But,
certainly there's so many different factors involved that you don't
think about until you're there. But, there can be weather. If you're
trying to get someone who's sick with a fever off of a submarine
and it's cold and raining outside, and then you've got to get them
off of the submarine (they're not able to walk), and the only way
in and out of a submarine, generally, is through a fairly narrow
hatch. So, you have to be able to transport them without hurting
them or anyone else who's trying to move them off of the submarine.
And then, once you get them off the submarine, you still have to
get them onto another ship, then to land--
all of this in a different country, with a different medical system.
So, it was very interesting. It was very rewarding, though.
of your time with NASA, can you fill us in on maybe what's been
the most enjoyable period of time in your life?
than motherhood (motherhood's been incredible, and I tell my son
all the time that my most important job is being his mother), but
other than that, the eight years that I spent at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison, I have incredibly fond memories of. I did
my undergraduate work there in zoology. And then followed it up
with the four years in medical school. And it's a beautiful place,
with four seasons up in Wisconsin. And really wonderful people.
And although the undergraduate university in particular is a fairly
large school, each of the teachers took an inordinate amount of
time and interest in their students. And provided a quality education.
And it was the first time away from home for me. So, it was learning
who I am and kind of fostering your independence. And at the same
time, having an incredible academic and intellectual you know--
all inspired at some point by someone or something. Can you give
us an idea of what or who has inspired you? Or still does?
I can't think of any one person or any one particular event. But
certainly my parents were a huge influence. They always expected
the most out of all of us. And expected us to do our very best.
And yet, never told us what we had to do or even really told us
what they expected [of] us, other than to be good people in general.
But they were very content to let us pursue the path we wanted to
pursue as long as we were doing the best job that we were capable
of doing. And I think they did that without ever saying it. Because
they never sat me down and said those words. But, it was conveyed
in a very clear way. So, I'm thankful to them for allowing me to
do what I wanted to do. And yet, pushing me to be the best person
that I could be.
having flown on a spaceflight, can you think of anything that you've
done in your life that may be even close to what you imagine spaceflight
to be like?
Well, I can't
think of anything that's as exciting as I'm sure this mission will
be, and actually being in space. But, we did some training as a
crew together with the National Outdoor Leadership School. And although
we thought it would be a great opportunity to learn some things,
I don't think any of us had any idea how many similarities there
would be to the spaceflight. We were out in the wilderness for about
10 days. And we spent a whole lot of time together as a team solving
problems. And without any other outside influences, which is similar
to the way it'll be in space. So, there was some relative isolation.
We didn't have cell phones or any other way to talk to anyone other
than the crew. Obviously, because we're camping in a back wood primitive
area, you have to carry everything that you need on your back. You
have to manage the stuff that you've got. You're constantly packing
and unpacking, and making sure that you know where everything is.
Up in space, everything floats. And if you aren't really careful
about where you put things, before you know it, you won't know where
your favorite pen is or where your toothbrush is. So, you have to
really take care of yourself and all of your things. You're on a
specific diet, because obviously you're eating the food that you
brought with you. And also there's some different hygiene issues.
You're not able to just jump in the shower the same way you do at
home. So there were just a whole lot of things that were similar.
And it was a very positive experience to work together and work
through learning more about each other and our different strengths
and weaknesses, and covering those for each other. And as a team,
really performing well and getting to know each other more. And
I think that, although it wasn't the same as a spaceflight, it was
certainly a great learning opportunity, and made me feel even better
about going ahead and doing this.