Interview: Leroy Chiao
STS-92 Crew Interviews with Leroy Chiao, Mission Specialist.
We're talking with Leroy Chiao of STS-92; Mission Specialist.
First off, if you would, tell me why did you want to be an astronaut?
Was there any particular event or person who inspired you?
this is something I'd wanted to do since I was about 8 years old,
watching the first Apollo moon landing. I remember being in my parents'
home a hot summer day watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touch
down on the moon and then, later that evening, actually take the
first steps on the moon. And to me, that was really a big event.
And you know, most kids, or a lot of kids, come away with the idea
they want to be astronaut. But it's something that stayed in the
back of my mind all the way through college when I was studying
engineering when I realized I really could do this.
give me an overview of your education and career, if you would.
How did you get to be where you are right now?
Well, I studied
chemical engineering. I received my bachelor's degree from the University
of California at Berkeley and then went on to the University of
California at Santa Barbara to receive my master's and doctorate's
degrees, also in chemical engineering. I then started work at Hexcel
Corporation in the Bay Area-in the San Francisco Bay Area-which
is a composite materials supplier and moved on to the Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, where I was doing some research work. And I
applied to NASA, and was invited down to an interview in September
of '89 and was fortunate enough to be selected in the class of '90.
Now, let's get down to this flight. You are beginning a series
of missions that are involving the largest and most critical hardware
for the International Space Station. If you would, discuss this
flight's pivotal role in the assembly sequence and why this flight
is so crucial to enabling the rest of the missions to follow.
the flights are all kind of stacked in sequence. And it's very difficult
to go out of sequence, and we're kind of next in line to bring up
the next two big pieces of the space station. And what we're bringing
is the Z1 Truss, which is going to mount on the Node, and also another
Pressurized Mating Adapter - PMA-3, which is also going to be the
primary docking port for the next flight which will be 4A.
would you say have been the biggest challenges for you and your
crewmates as you train for this flight?
are a lot of different challenges. And you know, we all have our
own kind of our major areas of emphasis. For me, personally, I was
the EVA lead for this flight. And so, for the last 3 years, I've
been involved in the development. Even before the mission was formally
assigned, I was following it. And I was working on the development
of the space walks, the choreography and the tasks and the hardware,
you know, working with the contractors and the engineers here at
JSC to make sure that we came up with hardware and procedures such
that we would be able to perform these activities [during the] EVA.
mentioned the Z1 Truss earlier. And your number 1 priority is
the installation of the Z1 Integrated Truss Segment. If you would,
describe the Z1 Truss in some amount of detail. How big is it?
And what does it do for the ISS now and in the years to come?
Well, the Z1
Truss is basically a big cube. It's approximately 10 to 12 feet
on the side. And what we're doing is, we're taking it up out of
the payload bay and going to put it on the space station. And from
there, the next flight is going to put the first solar array-the
US solar array-on that. And what the Z1 is, it's kind of a foundation
or a conduit which the power is going to flow through…it's
a necessary interface to bring the power from the solar arrays into
the space station.
why is the Z1 Truss the first external framework for the station
and can you compare the Truss to anything that we use here on
Well, as I
said before…you can think of it kind of as a foundation. It
serves a lot of purposes. Number one, it conditions the power that
comes in from the solar arrays for use in the station. It also supplies
ammonia as a cooling fluid to keep the solar arrays cool; you know,
keep them in their operating temperature. And it also has the Control
Moment Gyros on the back that help stabilize the space station.
So, it really is multipurpose and, you know, serves many functions
and is an important piece of the assembly sequence.
me a little more detail on the process of installing the Z1 Truss.
How does that happen?
Wakata's going to use the robot arm from the space shuttle, pick
it up out of the payload bay, bring it over, and berth it…so
it's all done robotically. We are spring-loaded to if we have to
do some kind of contingency operation, to get in our space suits
and go out and assist that operation. But, it's really a delicate
robotic arm operation, and where Koichi's actually going to be flying
the Z1 down into its final place.
sort of additional communications will be possible after the installation
of the Z1 Truss?
on the Z1 Truss…we're bringing up two antennas: the Ku-band
antenna and also an S-band antenna. On the S-band antenna, we're
merely kind of ferrying it up there. We're going to relocate it
out of the way-out of its launch location-and then the next flight's
going to pick it up and put it up on the P6 Truss in its final location.
So, that's not really active during our mission. We're going to
go ahead and deploy a Ku boom antenna and get some power to it to
keep the heaters on it to keep it warm and alive. But that will
eventually be a big broadband antenna to send, you know, TV images
and back and forth to the ground.
you mentioned earlier the Control Moment Gyros. What do they do?
big, spinning gyroscopes. Each one's about this big. There are four
of them mounted on the Z1. And there, they spin at high rates of
speed and they just help stabilize the space station. And it's another
way of controlling the attitude of the space station, you know,
either in addition to or instead of the reaction control jets.
are the DC-to-DC Converter Units, and what do those things do?
Well, the DDCUs
are DC-to-DC power converters. Basically, they condition the power
coming from the solar arrays that are going to be mounted on the
next mission and they're going to condition the power so that we
can use it inside the space station.
How would the Z1 Truss help eliminate static discharges on the
station, and why do you need to do this?
through the Plasma Contactor Units. As you bring up all the little
pieces that the Z1's going to do, and I have a hard time kind of
keeping them all in my head at once, too. But basically, the PCUs,
they create ions. They're passing xenon gas through an electric
field and create a field of ions which help kind of ground the station
with its environment. And that prevents any kind of static electricity
buildup on any part of the station that could possibly discharge
and cause a problem.
on STS-72, you performed two space walks to assess hardware and
assembly techniques for the International Space Station. Now,
on this flight, you're actually going to be working to help assemble
the station. Tell me about your thoughts about the work that has
gone on in preparing for ISS and your feelings about actually
working on the soon-to-be-manned station.
really exciting for me. Because, as you said, I performed some development
work on STS-72; went out and did two space walks testing tools and
construction techniques for the station. So, it's kind of neat to
turn around a few years later and go up and actually put those practices
into work and actually start building the space station. So, it's
a real exciting time for me.
and Bill McArthur will be doing the first and the third space
walks. Tell me about the first space walk. What will you be doing?
Well, the first
space walk is primarily to start the outfitting of the Z1 Truss.
Once it's been berthed on to the International Space Station, Bill
and I will go out the next day and begin hooking up some cables
to maintain some heaters and also some power conduits. We will also
be remounting a toolbox that's going to be one of two that we're
going to put on the Z1 Truss that we're bringing up. We're going
to be deploying the Ku boom antenna, mounting the dish on the end
of the boom and then deploying that boom out. We're going to be
relocating the S-band antenna, which we launch up in place and reposition
for the next flight to bring it up to the P6, to its final location.
then for the third space walk of the flight, you and Bill go back
going to happen then?
complete outfitting the Z1 or, you know, put another big chunk in
there. We bring the DC-to-DC power converters up, and we're going
to mount those on the Z1. We mount the other toolbox that we're
bringing up with us, and kind of perform a lot of little cleanups.
You know, reconfigure some cables and basically get the Z1 ready
to receive the P6 Truss on the next flight.
mentioned earlier in the interview the Pressurized Mating Adapter
you're taking up there. What is PMA-3 and where is it located?
is another Pressurized Mating Adapter. And we're going to be bringing
it up and it's also going to be berthed robotically on the other
side of the Node from where we're mounting Z1. That will serve as
the docking port for the next mission, which is going to come up.
And the orientation is such that they need to dock to that port
to be able to raise P6 up and put it on top of the Z1.
me a little bit more about the process of the installation of
PMA-3. Give me a little more detail.
it's a robotic operation. And Koichi is going to use his skills
at flying the arm to bring it out of the bay and carefully align
it with the Common Berthing Mechanism. And he's going to slowly
bring those two pieces together. And we're going to have two guys-
Bill - I mean, not Bill; I'm sorry - Mike Lopez-Alegria and Jeff
Wisoff-are going to be EVA at the time to help be a set of eyes,
two sets of eyes, to watch him bring that thing together. Kind of
to give him you know, some cues about whether it looks aligned and
everything. But his primary guidance is going to be provided through
different means, through the SVS system. So, he'll have, you know,
precise targeting cues to bring the two pieces together, and then
he'll have a backup set of EVA guys there to make sure that everything
looks, you know, the big picture looks good.
It's a very
precise operation, but I think it's going to go just fine.
me a little bit more about what you'll be doing during that EVA.
the EVAs that I'm not outside, I'm going to be called the IVA, the
Intravehicular Activity person. And basically, I'll be conducting
the space walks, kind of directing traffic out there, keeping track
with the checklist of what they're doing outside-the two guys outside
are doing-and kind of moving and directing them around, and replanning,
as necessary, the task that, you know, that we're going to be performing
what kind of work goes on during the final space walk? And what
are your responsibilities during that one?
the third EVA, Bill and I'll go back outside. And that's basically
EVA 3 that I described, bringing up the DDCUs and mounting them
on the Z1 as well as the…other toolbox that we brought with
us, and then cleaning up a little bit - stowing some tools and rearranging
And what happens during the fourth and final EVA?
Well, the fourth
EVA, Jeff Wisoff and Mike Lopez-Alegria will go back out. And they'll
kind of complete everything on the Z1. They'll deploy the tray that
comes down and get it ready for 5A to berth their lab and mate the
connectors from that. There's a lot of little cleanup, the photo
cleanup. They want to, you know, obviously, we want to document
the station, the condition of the station that we left it in to
make sure that all the cables are hooked up correctly and all the,
you know, all the parts are as they should be. And so, they'll be
doing a lot of photo-documentation. And just really a lot of little
things like that. Relocating the keel. Also, at the end of that
EVA, they are going to be performing a SAFER DTO, which the SAFER
is a rescue device that we use…we're using on the assembly
flights as well as we will use on the space station. Where if…it's
kind of a mini-jet pack from where, if a crewmember becomes detached
from the station, he or she can deploy this jet pack and fly back
to the station. So, what they're going to be doing is performing
a test of this system. And they're going to actually be doing a
little bit of flying, you know, from the station down into the payload
bay of the orbiter.
mentioned earlier the Common Berthing Mechanism. What is that and
is it different in any way from docking mechanisms we're familiar
with from other flights?
is going to be the first use of the Common Berthing Mechanism. Of
course, the pieces that were already launched up there used the
Common Berthing Mechanism, but PMA-1 and -2 were mounted to the
Node on the ground before they went up in space. So, this will be
the first time that we actually use it in space. It's actually a
pretty complex piece of equipment that is used to…mate two
modules together. And so we're pretty excited about being the first
ones to actually, you know, use it. And Pam's going to have the
prime responsibility of operating it from inside through a computer,
sending commands for the latches to engage and for the bolts to
drive to bring the two pieces together.
what are some of the issues you face in using this thing?
a very complex piece of equipment. And Pam's gone through a lot
of training on how to use the interface to troubleshoot problems.
You know, kind of anticipate potential problems and how to work
around them. And it's going to be, you know, it's going to take
some time for all the things to get done.
the flight, you're ingressing into the International Space Station.
are you going to be doing inside the International Space Station
and will you be going into the Zvezda Service Module at all?
be going into the Node and the FGB. That's the current plan. And
we'll be transferring some items, some tools, you know, small things
possibly some water bags. And it's possible that we'll be called
on to go into the Zvezda module. Right now, it's not in the current
plan. But we've received some training so that if during the mission
or even just before the mission, if it becomes part of the plan
to go in there, we'll be ready.
our Russian partners have shown a lot of perseverance in getting
us to this point in the assembly. What do you think of their contributions
so far and what does our partnership entail from this point on
with the future flights?
done a good job in getting the Service Module up there. And we were
all very excited to watch it dock and complete all its checkouts.
So that kind of lets us kick off the rest of the assembly sequence
here, starting with 106 and then our flight. So, in the future,
of course, they're going to be a big part of the station. They,
you know, two of the key modules were designed and built by the
Russians. And they'll be our major operating partner of the space
station throughout its life. So, they're obviously going to play
a key role in the years to come.
me an overview of the role of this flight in preparing the International
Space Station for the arrival of the Expedition-1 crew.
flight, what we're doing is bringing up the Z1 and the PMA-3. And
what we're doing is setting the stage for future Expedition flights.
Now, as the station is now, the Expedition flight could go and stay
on the station. And what we're adding doesn't directly make it more
habitable for them. But what it does is prepare for the next flight,
for P6 to come on and put on the solar arrays, which will give them
a lot more power. And then the flight after that will bring up the
Destiny lab module, which will give them, you know, a large living
area as well as a laboratory. So, what we're doing is kind of setting
the stage for those later flights, which will directly affect the
habitability of the space station.
what is the importance of establishing the space station? What
do you believe it will lead to in the years to come?
Well, I think
a lot of the things that we talk about doing on the space station
are things that you know, people have heard about: the microgravity
science experiments, life science experiments. But I think the really
exciting thing is kind of the unknown. You know, whenever you do
exploration or scientific research you find out that you discover
things that you never anticipated. And I think that's the really
exciting part. You know, back in the early days when Christopher
Columbus was looking for the Northwest Passage, I don't think he
ever dreamed that he'd discover America and end up, you know, us
ending up in just a few hundred years. I mean, look where this has
is the 100th shuttle flight. If you would, discuss the significance
of the space shuttle in human spaceflight history. Just tell me
about its uniqueness, its accomplishments, and then its role in
the future as well.
Well, our being
on the 100th shuttle flight is kind of an interesting thing. I mean,
it's a nice, round number. It's kind of like, you know, turning
25 or turning 40 or something like that. Taken in and of itself,
it doesn't have a lot of, you know, significant meaning to the crew.
But on the other hand, it's kind of a pause point where people-you
know, including the astronauts, or people working at NASA in the
space program-can kind of think about and reflect back on what has
happened over the last several years. You know, it does make us
stop and think about the shuttle program. And it's amazing that
we've flown 100 shuttle flights, and the shuttle is going strong,
and, you know, going to support the International Space Station
in the years to come. And it just, it gives us a lot of pride and
a lot of satisfaction to know that we're part of the team.