Interview: William McCool
STS-107 Crew Interview with William McCool, pilot.
I want to start off, first of all, asking you to briefly give
an overview of the STS-107 mission. And maybe kind of outline what
the goals of the mission are.
In a nutshell,
we're going to launch, hopefully, on July 19th into an orbit 150
miles above the Earth. We'll configure the Orbiter into a microgravity
science platform and do microgravity science for the next 16 days.
We'll operate 24 hours a day in two shifts: a Red shift and a Blue
shift. Our goal for the mission will be to accomplish, hopefully,
all of the science objectives that each of the principal investigators
have outlined for us for their particular payloads. At the end of
16 days, we'll deorbit. We'll come back and land slowing from 17,000-plus
miles per hour down to 200-plus miles per hour. Rick Husband, our
Commander, will make a smooth landing, and the mission will be over.
there, this is obviously a mission with a multitude of experiments
on it. Can you talk about what disciplines or categories the experiments
fall under? And give some insight into why those areas of research
Yeah, I will.
We have a smorgasbord of experiments. There's no one principal focus
with all of the payloads that we have on board. And folks frequently
ask, "Well, how many payloads do you have?" And officially, if you're
trying to count each one of them, you might come up with a number
in the 30 to 40 range. But, within each payload are multiple investigations.
And if you try to count those up, they go into the hundreds. So,
I'll try to break down by category a little bit about what it is
that we're doing.
We do have
some science technology kind of research looking into ways to do
things better for long-duration spaceflight. An example would be
a payload called Vapor Compression Distillation (VCD). It's just
learning how to convert urine into potable drinking water. Something
you'd want to do on a long-duration space mission. We have payloads
that are geared towards Earth science. Observing the Earth and the
human impacts that we have made on our Earth. An example would be
a payload called SOLSE, measuring the ozone from a different aspect
and to more detail than we currently have with our satellites today.
We're doing a lot of biology and life science type payloads. Those
are looking at, in detail, the impacts on the human physiology,
on animal physiology, on plant physiology, again trying to develop
technology and countermeasures for areas where we have concern with
long-duration spaceflight. We've got a lot of medical-related (and
I'm not talking about keeping folks in space for a long time; I'm
talking about developing medicines). In particular we have a lot
of protein crystal growth experiments. And we can, in zero-g, develop
nice three-dimensional protein crystals that pharmacists use to
develop drugs to counteract diseases and viruses. We're doing a
lot of work with cancer research and osteoporosis. We've got some
basic core physics type experiments. And an example of that would
be one that we call the Mechanics of Granular Materials (MGM); and
that one is looking at studying the g-impact or the g-component
(the gravity-component) in developing models for earthquake analyses.
So, if you're going to build buildings close to areas where there's
sandy, loose soil, understanding the component of g is really important
for folks who develop analytical models because they want to use
these models to construct buildings that are safe in these conditions.
So it's just kind of core physics-type work. I think that's about
there that I discussed.
obviously this research is being conducted in space and some of
it's also being conducted here on Earth. What's the advantage to
taking some of this research up to space? What advantage does microgravity
give in studying space?
I know of
three reasons why. Number one: folks who are developing analytical
models to study systems would like to strip out gravity so they
can understand what it is that gravity does. So, if they do an experiment
here on Earth and they do the same experiment up in space without
gravity, they see the difference and they say, "Well, the difference
must be due to gravity. Then we can model what it is that gravity's
doing. A second reason is: there's things that we just can't do
here on Earth in the presence of gravity. I discussed earlier growing
three-dimensional protein crystals for the development of medicines.
We can't do that here very well. But, in a microgravity environment,
protein crystals grow real nice. They grow big. We bring them back
down to Earth, and then pharmacists use them to develop medicines.
A third reason is: if we're going to go on long-duration spaceflight
in a microgravity environment, we've got to test things out. And
you don't test them by taking a two-year voyage to Mars. You test
them by doing them here, close to Earth, and making sure they work
and making improvements. And once they're ready to go, you go for
the long-duration space mission.
is going to be the first extended-duration mission since STS-90
and it's going to be your first spaceflight, too. First of all,
what thoughts have you had about your first spaceflight being an
extended-duration flight? What's that going to be like?
I feel blessed
to have an extended-duration spaceflight from the standpoint of
just having more opportunities to absorb the whole experience. We'll
be very, very busy. This is a jam-packed 16 days on orbit. And if
it were a jam-packed eight days on orbit, I just wouldn't have any
time probably to look out the window. So, at least this way I get
an opportunity to smell the smells, see the sights, write down some
notes, and bring back some of the experiences to share with people
back here on Earth.
As far as
concerns: I think that the biggest concern I have about the long-duration
mission is not so much the duration but the density of the whole
mission. It's very tightly choreographed. And there's so many payloads.
And each one, in terms of time, has interdependencies on the other
one being done or partially being done. And if there are any hiccups
or delays, it's just going to ripple through the timeline. And the
real test for the team on the ground and for us up on orbit will
be: how do we react and reprioritize to make the experiments go
as planned and achieve the objectives despite the hiccups?
how long have you all been training as a crew for this mission?
I was assigned
October 27, a year and a half ago. And some of the payload crewmembers
were assigned just over two years. It's been quite a while. I think
it's, again, another blessing there. Because there's just so much
to do. We do have a lot of first-time fliers. Four out of the seven
are first-time fliers. Three of the others, out of the seven, have
only flown once. So, combined amongst the seven, we have three flights.
And we joke amongst ourselves that Jerry Ross, who just flew recently,
has, by himself, seven flights. So he's got us beat by a factor
of two! And we're hoping that when we come back from our mission,
we'll be beating him, combined, and we'll have 10 flights amongst
all of us and we'll jump ahead of Jerry!
one way to do it.
what's the training been like? I mean do you think it's given you
a true sense, I guess, [of] the schedule and working with the payloads
and knowing what it's going to be like? Has it given you a true
sense of what to expect?
It really has.
You know, it started out coarse. I think because in many instances
these are new payloads and new folks involved. And we're new! But,
as we reiterate and reiterate and do things over and over again,
the fine-tuned details start to fall in place and really are starting
to come together quite well. As I'm speaking here right now, the
Red Shift, who, as I mentioned, we're working 24 hours, they're
working right now with an on-orbit sim. I'm supposedly asleep right
now. But before I left to go sleep, I mentioned to Rick, our Commander,
just how pleased I was that the pieces and parts are really starting
to fall together. And I think he in turn is also very happy.
talk about the dual-shift thing. Why is it necessary to have a dual-shift
workday on a mission like this?
First of all,
we just don't do a whole lot of science missions. Lately, we've
been dedicated towards constructing space station. So, this is kind
of a once in a long while type of mission. And there's a lot of
folks who want to do microgravity research. And so there is an effort
to pack as much as we can into the 16 days that we're on orbit.
And if we didn't work 24 hours a day, we'd be giving up eight hours
of sleep time that could otherwise be used for science. So, the
intent is to pack each minute of the 24 hours that we're on orbit
with science. And that's what we're doing.
research on this mission comes from various parts of the world.
And you guys as a crew have been to these places to kind of get
familiar with the research and the experiments. What has it been
like for you to go to these places and to know that you're fostering
maybe knowledge of other places, between other places, of other
places? And maybe helping reap some benefits for those places.
To tell you
the truth, it's been transparent to me; the whole mission seems
to be borderless in a way. I'm so used to because of our work with
space station and working with the international partners, dealing
with folks from different countries that this is nothing new.
payloads from around the world, as you mentioned. And the fact that
we're traveling and interfacing with folks from different countries
really doesn't feel any different than it would if all the payloads
were here from the United States. So I really can't say that it's
any different. I'm just pleased that we have the opportunity to
share what we're doing with so many folks around the world.
kind of sense does it give you, does it give you a sense of how
much more it's becoming a global community?
Yeah, I think
it's just a part of, and it's an extension of, the way technology
is driving the world into being one world rather than independent,
isolated countries. And what we're doing here at NASA is just a
manifestation of improved technology and communication and the ability
to travel around the world either electronically or in person in
short periods just makes it very simple to do what we're doing.
And it just seems like the right thing to do. And again like I mentioned
before, it's transparent. Instead of traveling from here to California,
you travel from here to Europe and you deal with the same sort of
people. And let's face it: folks all around the world are the same.
obviously no rendezvous, no docking or undocking on this mission.
Can you talk a little bit about what your duties are and what goes
on in the Orbiter? What the other people are going to be doing on
the way up and to get ready, and on the way down.
Sure. On the
way up and on the way down, we're no different than any other mission,
except we're not going maybe as high in altitude. But what we do
in the cockpit is no different than other missions. I'm sitting
in the right seat as the Pilot. And that's kind of a misnomer. I'm
really the copilot. Rick Husband, who is our Commander, would actually
fly the vehicle. And there's another misnomer. For the most part,
it's automated, hopefully, if everything goes well. Certainly, the
ascent is automated. And our role, as Commander and Pilot, is to
monitor all the systems, monitor the guidance, and make sure everything's
going right, and be prepared to react to any off-nominal situations,
should they manifest themselves. Same sort of scenario during the
deorbit and reentry. The only difference is: Rick Husband, our Commander,
will in fact fly, once we get subsonic, all the way down to landing
and touchdown. On orbit, different story. We're much different than
the typical space station missions that you've seen that involve
docking and rendezvous and working with space station. We're split
into two shifts. We're kicking into gear right from the get-go.
Immediately post-MECO to activate payloads, to configure the Orbiter,
and do a science platform. And that involves opening the tunnel
to get in to access the Spacehab module, where we have most of our
payloads. And we just get up and go. We turn on payloads, and start
working through procedures that are outlined for us in this 24-hour
red shift/blue shift mindset. And that'll go on like busy bees for
the next 16 days.
even before activating, I know other people are going to go and
start activating stuff before you actually get involved. And what
are you doing while they're doing that?
The Blue Shift
goes to sleep four hours after main engines cut off. So, we've sleep
shifted, basically, 180 degrees out of synch with the red shift.
So, for them, it's morning and they have a full day ahead of them.
And they'll have the brunt of the activation-type work once we get
into orbit. For the blue shift (and myself included), we'll be concerned
more with just some Orbiter configuration - computers, for example
- getting a couple of the simple payloads activated, getting ourselves
ready for bed so if things like the galley, the WCS (which is the
toilet), our personal gear, our personal hygiene gear, just kind
of in place so that when we get up six hours later, we're ready
to get up and go and put in a good, hard second day's worth of work.
you think, with this being your first flight and I guess presumably
some adrenalin going on and being excited, how much sleep do you
think you're going to get that first night?
to try to be disciplined and get six hours of sleep. Six hours is
not a lot, especially, just like you said, I'm probably not going
to sleep too well the night prior to launch. There'll be some butterflies
in the stomach, and there'll be a lot of thinking through procedures
and rehearsing like we're doing. Before every sim, I find myself
feeling some of those butterflies, and reenacting, in my mind, the
procedures. So, I suspect that'll happen. But, I know that that
six hours of sleep that first day is very, very important. So, I
intend to be very disciplined and do everything I can to make sure
we get to bed on time or early and get the sleep that we need. So,
we'll see how it turns out.
talk now a little bit about some of the experiments you're personally
going to be working with. Based on the information I have, anyway.
If I'm wrong, please correct me. First of all, SOLSE: the Shuttle
Ozone Limb Sounding Experiment. What is that? And how does it operate?
And what's the objective of it?
is a payload that's mounted on a truss platform in the payload bay
called FREESTAR. It's managed by Goddard Space Center. And it's
a payload that's designed to confirm a new technique for measuring
ozone. And it provides a depth profile of the ozone quantities.
The satellites that we have nowadays look nadir down (straight down)
and measure the ozone. This is something different. It's going to
look across the horizon line, basically at a 90-degree aspect, as
the Sun rises and sets, and it's going to measure the ultraviolet
scatter of light to develop a depth-type profile of the ozone. And
hopefully, if the technique works (and folks think it will), it
will be the next-generation technique that satellites will use for
measuring in detail how our ozone is doing here on Earth.
different angle of looking, will that be used in conjunction with
the satellites that look straight down? Or, is that just to give
This is more
of a technology demonstrator. And we are correlating the data with
satellite and ground stations to validate that the results are indeed
correct. But the ultimate goal is not necessarily to provide immediate
feedback. The ultimate goal is to prove the technology so that folks
who develop satellites designed for measuring ozone can use this
technology in the future.
also an experiment called MEIDEX, which calls for the Orbiter to
be in different attitudes at different times during operation. What
happens from the flight deck during that experiment? What kind of
things will you and--
Well, if you
talk about attitude changes: first of all, I'll touch on that real
briefly. In the 16 days that we're on orbit, we currently have,
I believe the count right now is 342 maneuver changes. So, between
Rick and myself, that equates to about one attitude change per hour.
And a lot of those maneuvers do evolve around MEIDEX, as you mentioned,
and many other payloads. MEIDEX is geared towards looking at aerosols,
dust pollution particles in the atmosphere. Targeting in particular
the Mediterranean basin and the west side of Africa, where you get
Sahara desert sands blowing out over the Atlantic Ocean. So it's
an opportunity to see those aerosols and study them in depth using
fancy cameras and correlating that data with ground-based observations
that are being made by aircraft on the ground. MEIDEX also, by the
way, has something a little bit neat. Neat I should say, and unique.
It's looking at upward-directed lightning. Something I didn't even
know existed until we got assigned to this flight and we started
learning the payloads. But there are lightning phenomena that go
upward. And they have names like elves, blue jets, trolls, and it's
something that only recently folks didn't know existed. And there
are very few images of them. And so, we'll be pointing the MEIDEX
cameras again at the horizon line. Not straight down at the Earth,
but the horizon line, where we think there might be thunderstorms.
And we'll just run the cameras; and hopefully, capture some images
in detail of the upward-shooting lightning.
It's my understanding you're going to [be] working with the, I guess
the backup on--
I'm the Blue
Shift prime. And we have two Red Shift primes.
Tell me about that experiment. What's it about? And what do you
a fun payload for me in particular because it's like being in high
school doing a high school biology experiment. This particular payload
is sponsored by ESA (the European Space Agency), and folks there
have put together eight separate investigations using centrifuges
and incubators and freezers and coolers. But most importantly, we
have a glove box that we hook up, and we do glove box operations
on biological specimens to activate the specimens, to fixate them,
we will be transferring them into the centrifuges and basically
moving them around to the different storage containers. So, it's
operator intensive. To give you an idea of, I won't talk about all
eight of them. It would take too long. But, I'll just give you a
flavor. We've got a couple of them that are looking at bone cells.
And we're just starting to see how the bone cells either deteriorate;
or we're looking at the bone-forming-type cells to see how they
operate in space. It's a real problem that we have with astronauts
who suffer essentially osteoporosis. The same symptoms as folks
here on Earth have. It's bone loss. It's accelerated in space. So,
the space environment is a great opportunity to see in fast motion
how bone-building and bone-unbuilding cells operate. So, we have
two investigations that are looking at that. There are others along
those lines that are looking at cancer, are looking at bacteria.
So it's a fun payload.
a pretty labor-intensive one.
But, again, a fun one.
there's a student experiment, too. Can you give me some idea, and
you don't have to go into detail, about the experiment itself. But,
just why it's important to fly experiments thought up by students
on shuttle missions. What's the benefit?
have four payloads that I know of that are carrying student experiments.
One called S*T*A*R*S Bootes, which is mostly creatures like spiders
and ants and cocoons. One called STARNAV, which is looking at an
algorithm to enable orienting the space vehicle based upon looking
at star patterns but no other information. There's one on the FREESTAR
pallet. I don't know what is in there, but there's 10 containers
that are available for students. And there's another commercially
available student experiment that's part of a CIBX payload. And
there's just great initiatives, you know, to get kids involved and
then motivate and excite them about science, space, and technology.
Let's face it: the things that we're doing now, for the most part,
aren't going to reap benefits tomorrow or next week or next year.
Most of what we're doing is enabling technology for the future.
And the folks who are going to use that technology and then continue
the wheel turning are the children today. And I'll tell you what:
there's just no greater experience, at least in my career thus far,
than to see the excitement and the eyes that light up when you talk
to kids about experiments. And when they really get a chance to
go hands-on with them, boy, yeah, the wheels really starting turning!
The fires get going. And it's just a great opportunity to foster
that experience for them.
Research Double Module. We talked about it a little bit. Maybe just
an overview of what advantage flying this module will have for this
mission. What's it lend to the mission? What's the benefit of it?
Folks who haven't been in the Orbiter probably don't really realize
how cramped it is in the flight deck and the middeck. You see videos
and the videos with their wide-angle cameras give you the perception
that there's more room than there really is. The double SpaceHab
research module is really, as I mentioned, it's a double module.
Two modules put together into one roomy environment with power and
cooling and all the needs that payload customers might have to run
their payloads. And it gives us, the operators, space to operate,
to run the payloads. So that's it in a nutshell. Room, power, cooling.
Everything you need to make the experiments work.
talk a little bit, just about you. Your background…can you think
back about what interest you may have had growing up that kind of
put you on the road to getting here?
prior military, Marine, and Naval aviator, had a big influence,
I think, on me in terms of just the natural progression. You finish
high school, you go to college. I went to the Naval Academy; it
just seemed the natural thing to do. And went on, you know, into
Naval aviation in my father's footsteps. As a child he was a big
advocate of building model airplanes and we flew RSC and control
on aircraft. So, I had this natural inclination for flying. And
I think it's just something that subconsciously just led me into
an aviation career. And as my career progressed, things just worked
out in my benefit to lead me into the astronaut program. So I think
parental influence is probably the biggest motivator behind everything
that's led me to become an astronaut.
do you think that being part of activities, being part of teams
all your life has helped in the transition to NASA? Because NASA
is, in essence, one big team.
Well the military
and NASA are a lot alike when you talk about working together as
a team. In Naval aviation, you work as a squadron. You work with
an air wing. I flew the EA-6B Prowler. We had a crew of four. And
we advocated crew coordination and working together as a crew. And
just as you mentioned all those lessons that I learned in my aviation
career and my Navy career about working together as a team just
seemed to naturally apply and work well with NASA. NASA does the
same exact thing. We operate as a crew in the same way as we did
back in my Navy days in the EA-6B Prowler. The Astronaut Office,
the folks here at JSC, operate in the same fashion that we had learned
to operate as a team within the squadron and within the air wing.
So, I think [they] dovetail quite well.
of your time with NASA, what's been the most enjoyable experience
of your life so far?
My most enjoyable
experience is: I really can't pinpoint one. But I can kind of say
as a category my most enjoyable experiences are going out with my
wife and my boys back country backpacking in the Olympic Mountains
or, you know, the canyon lands in Utah and just enjoying life without
outside distractions. And enjoying each other, and enjoying the
environment. And we love to do that frequently, whenever we can.
Unfortunately, [I] don't get enough of it here, you know, recently
with all the training. But those memories prevail. And they're something
that I look forward to doing in the future when we get done with
have some more stories to tell after this flight.
the Pilot on this mission, you're going to be working closely with
the Commander, Rick Husband. And it's kind of a unique situation.
He is a one-time shuttle Pilot. And that's kind of unique. Can you
talk a little bit about how that has been? And what role that's
played in the relationship you guys have developed?
Rick has only flown once and now he's jumping into the Commander's
seat. I think he's in a similar situation that I am in as a non-flier
getting into the Pilot's seat. I'm trying to figure out the ins
and outs and what my roles are and getting very good at them as
the Pilot. Rick is in the same situation, but on the Commander's
side of the house. So, it's really made for, I think, a close relationship
and bond between he and I because as we sit side-by-side during
ascent and entry SIMs, we're both figuring out our roles and really
developing together. And so, in that development, we kind of see
where each other needs help or needs some prodding. Or, where we're
strong. And we just have, I think because of this relationship,
developed a very close harmony. And almost to the point where I
can feel things on Rick's side without having…him say anything to
me. And he can do the same with me. And I find that frequently he'll
be reaching across to flip a switch because I'm busy over here,
but he just senses that it's time to do it. Or, I'll flip up a display
for him because he's busy. But, we've got that harmony now. And
it's really because we've developed and grown in our roles together.
We have such a new and young crew, and we worked together for so
long, that the relationship is something you don't quite understand
and you never really will understand until you get assigned to a
flight. And we've done so much together and we've been doing it
for a year and a half, and we're all kind of in that same boat.
Either we've only flown once, or we've never flown, and the whole
growth process together as a crew of seven has been something, I
don't know. It's just really difficult to describe. It's just a
facet of flying in space. You don't really talk about it, hear much
about it, because the focus is on doing an EVA or doing a docking
or doing a science. But, there's a personal side that really is
kind of interesting. I think it's the part of the memory that you
keep more than anything else.