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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Laurel Clark
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Laurel Clark's greeting (136 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Laurel Clark

The 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 are.

Well, STS-107 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.

You 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.

Well, some 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.

With 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?

Well, this 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.

Can 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?

Well, there's 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.

Some 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 happen.

So, it's a long-term situation. Nothing's going to get solved right away basically.

Yeah, that's 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 to.

As 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 that?

Well, I'm 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.

Right.

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.

It's got to bring you a little bit closer as a crew, too, I'd imagine, because the trust factor has to be there.

Yeah.

Are 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.

I 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.

You 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?

Well, I'm 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.

Right.

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.

The 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.

Has 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 gap.

Can 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.

Well, there's 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.

Great…on 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.

Right.

What's going to happen with you guys?

Well, rendezvous 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 doing.

And for your duties as a Flight Engineer for coming back to Earth, calls for what?

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.

You 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 mission.

I'd 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.

Well, ARMS 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.

So, 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 day.

Wow. 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 of it.

Well, the 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 laboratory.

And 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.

PhAB4: 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]?

Well, they're 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.

Now, 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.

It's 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?

Shed some light?

Yeah. 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.

And did you touch on ops for PhaB4, for both of them, the protein and the calcium kinetics?

It's the same thing.

Just kind of the same.

Yeah. The 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.

Biopack. What's it for? How does it work? And why is it important for this mission?

Biopack's a 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 on orbit.

And 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?

Yeah. And 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.

OSTEO: 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.

And that experiment is, the goal of it, I guess.

Well again 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 day!

Wow.

So, anything 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 do.

And there is ERISTO. Is that in conjunction with OSTEO?

Yeah, ERISTO 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.

Wow.

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.

That's 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 important.

What's 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?

Well, it's 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.

With 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 you expecting?

Well, I'm 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.

Do you expect you'll be able to sleep the first night that you're scheduled to sleep?

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.

I'd 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 that?

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.

I 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.

So 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--

Right.

--You're doing all of this in a different country, with a different medical system. So, it was very interesting. It was very rewarding, though.

Outside of your time with NASA, can you fill us in on maybe what's been the most enjoyable period of time in your life?

Well other 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--

Experience.

--Experience.

Sure.

You know, experience.

We're 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?

Well, again, 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.

Not 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.


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