Interview: Pamela Melroy
STS-92 Crew Interviews with Pamela Melroy, Pilot.
Speaking with Pam Melroy, the Pilot for STS-92. First off just tell
me why you wanted to be an astronaut and was there any particular
event or any person that really inspired you to become one - an
A. Yes. I was
definitely very inspired by the Apollo program, especially Apollo
11, the first landing on the moon. I really remember that. I mean,
that was a big event in my family. We were on vacation. And I remember
us all crowded around the television set, watching it. My father
was actually taping it, which was a pretty big deal at the time,
and we kept the tape. And it really had a big impact on me. I was
a pretty serious little kid, you know. And I just felt like I wanted
to do something important with my life. And this seemed like the
most important thing anybody could do. Something that was for the
good of everyone. And it was just very inspiring to me. And ever
since then, I've always wanted to be an astronaut.
give me an overview of your education and career. How did you get
to be where you are right now?
I decided I wanted to be an astronaut the only astronauts that I
knew about at the time were military test pilots. So, I decided
I had to be a military test pilot, too, although, of course, that's
obviously not true now. But at the time, that's what I thought.
And so, I actually planned my whole life around that. I studied
physics and astronomy at Wellesley College. I went into ROTC. I
was very fortunate. At the time that I had decided I wanted to be
an astronaut, women were not even allowed to be military pilots.
But I was born at the right time, and the doors just opened a few
years ahead of every step that I made. And so, I was really lucky.
When I was in high school, they started letting women fly in the
military. And so, after I graduated from college I got a master's
degree from MIT and then I went to pilot training. And I flew the
KC-10- the military version of the DC-10-for several years, and
then was selected for the Air Force Test Pilot School and became
a test pilot. And that was the steps that it took. And it's prepared
me very well, I think, to be a pilot astronaut.
right. Now getting down to this flight. This flight starts a series
of missions that involve some of the largest and most critical hardware
for the International Space Station. Just discuss this flight's
pivotal role in the assembly sequence and why this flight is so
crucial to enabling the success of the missions to follow.
It's very exciting
to be a part of an assembly mission for the station. It's pretty
exciting. It's been a while since we brought a piece of hardware
up to the station, so we're very excited about being the next crew
that will do that. But the pieces that we're taking up are, in fact,
extremely important. The Z1 Truss is going to be critical because,
until it's up there the solar arrays can't be attached, which means
the crew can't live aboard because there's not enough power to sustain
them. We're also bringing up what I like to call "the side
door" to the station. Because of the assembly sequence, it's
not always possible to dock the shuttle to the same location and
actually successfully attach pieces. You have to have some flexibility.
And so, we're bringing up that extra flexibility.
what have been some of the biggest challenges for you and your crewmates
in getting ready for the shuttle flight?
biggest challenge for this mission is the complexity. You know,
I think people understand that, on shuttle missions, sometimes we
do maybe three or four EVAs. On some of them, we'll actually do
a rendezvous and a docking. In some cases, we might be attaching
big pieces of hardware or doing multiple ingresses. Well, on our
flight, we're doing all of those things. So, we're going to be extremely
busy. So, the hardest thing has been to try to juggle the timeline
and figure out what needs to happen first. How are we going to do
things? We've had a few surprises where we've realized that there
were certain critical paths. We had to do some things before others,
and it wasn't the way we were expecting. And so, I think juggling
the timeline, because of the complexity of the mission, has definitely
been the hardest part.
after you rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station,
your number 1 priority is the installation of the Z1 Truss that
you mentioned earlier. Describe the Z1 Truss in some amount of detail.
How big is it, and what does it do for the International Space Station?
Well, I have
to tell you: the Z1 Truss is probably not the prettiest segment
of the International Space Station. We actually kind of made a little
bit of fun of it the first time we saw it, because when we went
down to the Kennedy Space Center a couple of years ago, when we
just saw the bare bones, and they were still, you know, attaching
pieces to it, it looked sort of like one of those old-fashioned
milk crates on steroids. It's, you know, quite, quite large. But
it was sort of this boxy shaped thing with, you know, just sort
of structural pieces. Now, of course, they've attached a lot of
equipment to it, and they've closed it out with blankets so that
it looks like a large white cube now. So it's a little slicker looking.
But I think that I'd stake that it's the strongest piece. If it's
not the most beautiful, it's definitely the strongest piece because
it was designed as a structural truss.
right. What is the process of installing the Z1 Truss?
going to be very interesting. We're going to be using the Common
Berthing Mechanism for the very first time on our mission in space.
And it's a special mechanism that has four latches that you know,
you put the piece of the station and the new element that you're
going to attach; you get them really close together using the robotic
arm, and then these latches will reach out and, actually from the
inside, and grab the pieces and cinch them down. And then we have
16 bolts that will drive to hold them together strongly enough so
that it can hold pressure. So, it's a kind of an interesting little
ballet between the robotic arm operator, who has to get these two
pieces close together, and then we have the Berthing Mechanism operator-which,
for my flight, will be me-on a laptop computer driving these latches
and bolts. And so, there's sort of a little ballet that goes back
and forth to make sure that we do that all in the right order.
Now, how would you compare the Common Berthing Mechanism to other
docking mechanisms we're more familiar with? Is it similar or different?
Berthing Mechanism is probably, well, you can tell by the name that
it's one of the ones that we're going to use most often on the station.
We have several other berthing mechanisms. Some of them are based
on the Common Berthing Mechanism. It's probably the most universal.
And it's also one of the more complicated ones. Most of the other
berthing mechanisms tend to be subsets, you know, just latches kind
of, kind of that sort of thing. Just, you know, very similar to
the Common Berthing Mechanism, except smaller pieces.
what are some of the issues you face in using the Common Berthing
the issues that you face any time you use a new piece of hardware.
I think this is where being a test pilot has been very helpful for
me, because I have approached it the same way I would approach the
first flight of a new airplane, where you really try to understand
the engineering issues. In that, there's been a lot of engineering
and analysis done. We've had a lot of help from the folks down at
the Marshall Space Center and Boeing [who] have worked very hard
to come up with all the best engineering analyses that they can.
And we've done some testing. But of course, it's always, you know,
here in one-g and it's not in the environment of space. And so,
basically, we've just tried to study as hard as we can, look at
every possible thing that might not go perfectly, and come up with
a plan for it.
right. Now, on the Z1 Truss, what kind of additional communications
are going to be possible after it's up there?
This is an
extremely important part of the Z1 Truss. We will have the Ku-band
antenna and also the SGANT antenna that we're installing. Essentially,
right now there isn't a permanent - we have an Early Communication
System that the ground can use to control the station while there's
no one living aboard. But, you would not want to have people living
aboard without having pretty much constant voice communications
and, hopefully, video as well. And so, these antennas will be preparing
the station for the crew that will come and live aboard. They will
provide all that communications.
what are the Control Moment Gyros and what do they do?
Moment Gyros are actually a pretty elegant little system that will
help us control the attitude of the station without having to use
propellant from the thrusters. The gyros will actually help...it's
a very simple sort of flywheel kind of concept that, you know, will
control the attitude of the station.
what are the DC-to-DC Converter Units and what do they do?
Converter Units are a very actually simple system. They're used
to step down the voltage that you get from the solar arrays. So
you get this, you know, power coming in from the sun to the solar
arrays. It becomes a DC electrical signal; but you need to step
it down because it's pretty strong so that it, you know, can be
the same kind of DC voltage that you, you know, would use to operate
equipment here on Earth. Because we want the inside of the station
to be, you know, you'd be able to use commercial equipment and other
kind of things. And so, it's just stepping it down so that we can
use equipment like that.
you mentioned earlier that you're adding another Pressurized Mating
Adapter to the International Space Station. That'll happen during
the second EVA. What does the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 do, and
where is it going to be located?
Mating Adapter-3 will be on the opposite side of the Node from the
Z1 Truss. We're installing the Z1 Truss on the zenith of the Node;
hence the name Z1. We'll be attaching PMA-3 to the nadir, or the
bottom, of the Node. And as I mentioned before, I sort of have been
calling it "the side door" of the station. It turns out
that it's very critical for the flight after us that will be attaching
the solar arrays. They can't dock to the same port that we're docking
to on the station and attach the solar arrays. The solar arrays
would hit the shuttle if we did that. And so, they'll be able to
dock to PMA-3 instead, and that will give them the flexibility to
attach the solar arrays.
good. Could you tell me a little bit about the process of PMA-3's
installation? How does it happen?
is going to be a very challenging day for us. We're actually going
to be doing it while we have an EVA going on. So that's a big deal.
That means that we have commanding of the station going on. We have
robotic operations, as Koichi Wakata, our arm operator, will be
physically picking up the PMA out of the payload bay and moving
it into position. The EVA crewmembers will actually have to unbolt
it before he can do that. So, they'll unbolt it. He'll lift it up.
He'll bring it all the way around. It's in a very awkward position
for the robotic arm; it's almost over the nose of the shuttle. So,
he's using the arm to put it in a place where there are no cameras
and he really can't see. We'll literally be looking out the overhead
window at it. And so, then he'll get it close into position. We're
going to send the two EVA crewmembers up there. They're going to
be sitting on either side, and we have been jokingly calling them
"Mombacks" because they're going to say to Koichi, "Com'on
back, com'on back, com'on back" until he gets it close enough.
And then it'll be my turn to throw the latches and to cinch it down,
and then to drive the bolts. So, we have this very complex ballet
that's going on for the PMA-3 installation. It will be a real challenge.
talked a little bit about your responsibilities there during one
of the EVAs. In general, what do you do while the EVAs are going
on? There are four of them on this flight.
Well, as the
Pilot, my primary responsibility is always going to be shuttle systems.
And so, I will be doing a lot of the routine maintenance and the
things that have to be done to keep the shuttle running so that
everybody else can focus on the EVAs. And I think that's a really
important function, and that's my primary function. But I'm also
responsible for commanding station systems. And in some cases particularly
when the EVA crewmembers are attaching power umbilicals and cords…together
what you want is you don't want any power running through them because
it's an electrical hazard. And so, in some cases, I'll actually
be responsible for make…configuring station systems to make
sure that they're ready for those EVA tasks. And so, it's kind of,
I'm sort of responsible for the shuttle and the station systems,
to make sure everything is the way it needs to be to support the
during the flight, you're ingressing into the International Space
Station. What are you going to be doing inside there? And also,
will you be entering the Zvezda Service Module? And if you're not,
why aren't you going to be going there?
we're not planning on going in Zvezda. And that's simply because
our timeline is, as I already mentioned, pretty full. We have two
ingresses, and we're very busy right now during both of them. So
right now, we don't have any tasks that are planned for it. But
it is possible-it's always possible-you know, with any kind of a
system, that if something comes up and particularly if the Russians
ask us to do a task, we're prepared and we are trained to go inside
the Zvezda to do whatever tasks they ask us to. But right now, all
of our tasks are in the Node and in the FGB - Zarya. My tasks will
be…will involve outfitting the Z1, which is kind of fun for
me. Because I'll, of course, be operating the Common Berthing Mechanism
to attach it, and then I get to go inside. We actually get to ingress.
There's a small pressurized area, very small but we'll actually
get to go inside. It'll be fun for me because I'll get to see all
the equipment that I just operated to latch it and cinch it down.
And we'll be hooking up heaters in there. We'll attach a grounding
strap across the, you know, the element to make sure, again, no
electrical shock hazard. And we'll actually be taking some of the
equipment out of it to use again on a different Common Berthing
you're going to be docking with two Russian Progresses attached.
If you would, describe the processes and challenges of a rendezvous
and docking with the ISS on this mission.
Well, I think
that our mission is like, you know, most of the station missions
in that we have done this before. We have docked with the station.
This will, you know, it's only a few times, but I think we feel
very comfortable from our experience with Mir and with our experience
so far with ISS. So it is a well-understood plan. I think the most
interesting part about it is the way that we approach the station.
We actually come at it from underneath. And then we will fly all
the way around it until we're on top of it. And that'll be wonderful!
To look down at the station, with the Earth behind it! Oh! I mean,
wonderful pictures. I just can't wait to see it! I think it'll be
really fantastic! The shuttle is actually a wonderful vehicle to
fly in space. It is very easy to control extremely precisely. When
I tell you that these two enormous space vehicles, we can control
the shuttle to move closer and closer to the station at the rate
of a tenth of a foot per second! So, I mean, pretty slowly. Very,
very slowly. You get these, you know, these enormous vehicles just
very gracefully and slowly moving towards each other. And that's
one of the wonderful things about the shuttle is that it has that
capability for really fine control. So, it's a great Pilot task.
right. Now tell me about the process of undocking on this flight.
is obviously a little bit less nerve-wracking. And so I think it's,
you know, it's a sad moment, I'm sure, for everyone when you undock
from the station. For us, it'll just be a matter of keeping to a
good corridor so that we don't plume the station solar arrays right
now with our jets. You know, we have these reaction, these control
thrusters that fire. And so we don't want to plume them. And so,
we'll just keep to a very specific corridor as we back out. Once
again, we'll be going away from the station, up above it. And then
once we get to a certain distance, we'll take our last pictures
and we'll say our farewells. And then we'll fire our thrusters and
start to move away from it in a large, graceful arc. And it's very
simple to let orbital mechanics take over once you've made the final
after years of astronaut training and assignments in the astronaut
office, this is your first space flight. What are you looking forward
to and what advice have your fellow astronauts given you?
given me a lot of advice because I'm always asking them! Obviously,
there is nothing like actually being there. And I've trained a lot.
And I feel like I'll be prepared for the tasks that I'm going to
do. But I think, actually being in the physical environment of zero-gravity,
I mean, definitely, without a doubt, that is the thing I'm looking
forward to the most. In the training that I've had, I had, you know,
20 seconds at a time of zero-gravity on the zero-gravity trainer
airplane that we have. And the first time I experienced that, I
just got a huge grin on my face and I started to laugh! And I can't
even imagine how much fun it's going to be, 24-hours-a-day for,
you know, 11 days on end. For sure, that's going to be the most,
most fun part of it. And that's what a lot of people say. So I've
gotten a lot of advice about, you know, sort of all those little
details that you don't think about. You know, how food can get away
from you if you're not careful. And a lot of little things that
the crew has been very helpful. They're going to take care of me.
I know they're going to take really good care of me.
you are the third woman to serve as Pilot on a space shuttle mission.
Do you see yourself as a role model for women and girls?
You know, it's
hard to see yourself as a role model. It really is. I mean, I'm
just an ordinary person with a very unusual job. But I'd like to
think that, if nothing else, people could look at me and say, "Hey,
she's an ordinary person. And she can do this extraordinary job.
Maybe I could, too." And if I could possibly inspire girls
to think that, that would make me really happy.
right. Now give me a big picture here. Give me an overview of the
role of this flight in preparing the ISS for the arrival of the
Expedition 1 crew, which is really what it's all about.
excited that we're going to be the last crew to visit the station
before Shep and his crewmates get up there. And we're pretty excited
about being the last ones. We plan on, you know, hopefully leaving
it a tidy and comfortable home for them. It's sort of like being
the last people there before, you know, someone moves into a new
house. So we take that responsibility really seriously. Obviously,
without the…Z1 structural Truss you know, you can't add the
solar arrays and there won't be power to live aboard. But I think,
you know, from our standpoint, we look at that as our friends and
our comrades, and we would like to make sure the inside is looking
just as good as the outside.
our Russian partners have shown a lot of perseverance in getting
us to this point in the assembly. What do you think of the contribution
so far? And what does our partnership entail from this point on
with the future flights?
I have been
very impressed with their contribution so far. Our crew went to
Russia for some training last year. And I think one of the things
that came across very, very strongly to all of us was how robust
their hardware is. It's very, you know, different design philosophy
than American hardware, which tends to be, you know, pretty complex
and sort of high-tech. And they tend to take a very robust approach
to things. They use things that have worked before and are very
trustworthy. And so, I think that they bring that element of confidence
from all their experience on Mir and their hardware that they build,
and so I think that that is an extremely important contribution
to the International Space Station. And I think that all their years
of experience in space will be very important to us in dealing with
any issues that come up in the future.
what is the importance of establishing the space station you're
going up there to work on? What do you believe it will lead to in
the years to come?
You know, I
think 10 years from now, people are not going to remember a world
without the International Space Station. I really think that it's
just going to be an absolute part of our culture and society in
ways that are impossible to predict right now. But for me, as someone
who was trained in astronomy I think that the biggest contribution
is the 24-hour-a-day science. I mean right now on the shuttle, we
go up maybe 7 or 8 times a year for maybe 10 days. We spend a day
or two on either end reconfiguring the shuttle from a rocket ship
to an orbiting space laboratory spacecraft. And then we have to
reconfigure it into an airplane to come home. And that's been very
good. I mean, it's been a really good place for us to start. But
if you look at a huge national laboratory like, say, Lawrence Livermore
labs, what if you only ran that lab around 50 days a year? I mean,
that's, you know, you really can't get as much done as if you had
it running full-time. And that's what we're finally doing. We're
building an international laboratory that will be doing science
24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year. And as a scientist, that's what
really excites me.
yours is also the 100th shuttle flight. If you would, discuss the
significance of the space shuttle in human space flight history-its
uniqueness and accomplishments and what it's going to be doing in
The space shuttle,
it sure is unique! You know, as a Pilot, it's really a fascinating
system. I mean, it's amazing! We're the only vehicle in the world
that can actually bring this huge payload up to space and come home.
Or bring a payload home if you needed to, to be fixed. A really
unique vehicle. Obviously, in a lot of ways an experimental vehicle.
I don't think that you will see a fleet of space shuttles as an
airline industry. I think you'll see something a little different.
But the shuttle will have been the important step in transitioning
from going to space being a very unusual event; it will be the step
between that and it becoming a routine event. We're not there yet.
But the shuttle is the link in between.