Interview: Koichi Wakata
STS-92 Crew Interviews with Koichi Wakata, Mission Specialist.
We are talking with Koichi Wakata, Mission Specialist for STS-92.
First off, if you would, tell me why did you want to be an astronaut?
Was there any particular event or person that inspired you?
A: I remember
that I started to have a strong longing for going to space when
I saw the Apollo lunar landing when I was at 5 years old. And although
at the time it seemed to me that only the people in the US and also
former Soviet Union could work in space. And it seemed to me that
to go into space was something like beyond reach for me as a Japanese,
since we did not have human space program at the time. So for me,
being Japanese going to space was something like an impossible dream
to achieve. And now 30 years later I'm very happy. I'm very fortunate
to be a part of the team here, to participate in the human space
if you would, give me an overview of your career that led you to
this point. Tell me how you got here.
I was very
much interested in aircraft since my childhood. I really enjoyed
making engine-powered model planes and flying them. I also was in
a team of…at the college participating in competitions of building
and flying human or piloted gliders. And that's why I wanted to
study aeronautical engineering. And I study that subject as an undergraduate
and a graduate in Japan. After graduation, I worked for Japan Airlines
as [an] aeronautical structural engineer before I became an astronaut.
And in 1991, the Japanese space agency- National Space Development
Agency of Japan-announced that they, that they will select a couple
of astronauts to participate in the NASA astronaut training here
at Johnson Space Center and also to eventually fly in the assembly flights for the Japanese module on the International Space Station.
And fortunately, I was selected. I applied for the selection, and
fortunately I was selected in 1992. And I came here, to Houston,
to join the NASA astronaut class of 1992. And my first space flight
was in 1996 on STS-72. And I had the opportunity to be part of the
team and operate the space shuttle's robotic arm to retrieve the
Japanese satellite launched by a Japanese rocket. And also I had
an opportunity to operate the robotic arm for a NASA satellite called
OAST-flyer satellite. And I have been working on this flight-STS-92-since
the summer of '97.
let's talk about this flight a little bit. It begins a series of
missions involving some of the largest and most critical hardware
for the International Space Station. Tell me about the pivotal role
of this flight in the whole assembly sequence and what goes on just
after you guys are up there.
Okay. Our flight
will assemble two big components to the International Space Station.
The first one is the Z1 Truss, and the other one is the Pressurized
Mating Adapter-3 or PMA-3. First the Z1 Truss: that truss structure
is going to be attached to the Unity module on our flight. And that
Z1 Truss will house solar arrays which will be assembled on the
following flight right after [our] flight. And Z1 Truss has [an]
attitude control system-what is called a Control Moment Gyro-and
S-band and Ku-band communication systems as well as thermal control
system and Plasma Contactor Unit that controls a voltage between
the space plasma and the ISS structure. So the Z1 has a lot of equipment
on board. That's the first module that we put together on our flight
after we dock to the space station. And following that we have Pressurized
Mating 3, Mating Adapter-3 installation to the nadir side of the
International Space Station's Unity module. And PMA-3 is a docking
port for the space shuttle to dock to the International Space Station.
And we need that PMA-3 docking port on the Unity module so that
the following flights-STS-97 and -98- can dock to the PMA-3 to continue
the assembly of International Space Station. So to continue the
assembly flight Z1 installation and PMA-3 are essential.
what would you say have been the biggest challenges for you and
your crewmates so far in getting ready for this flight?
flight is a very challenging flight. And for example we have 4 days
of back-to-back space walks, which will be the first time as a space
station assembly flight. That will represent the challenge that
our crew [will] face. And also for Z1 Truss and also PMA-3 those
components are attached to the International Space Station by a
mechanism called Common Berthing Mechanism. Our flight will be the
first time to use the Common Berthing Mechanism to actually install
components to the space station. So whenever we operate a certain
system in space for the first time, we usually find something new.
And sometimes it's, it could be a surprise. So we have been putting
a lot of thoughts to make sure that this first operation of the
Common Berthing Mechanism will be successful. So to prepare for
this first-time event we have been spending a lot of time in going
through a thorough training and testing.
what is the Common Berthing Mechanism? How does it work?
Mechanism is a mechanism that will be used in many places on the
International Space Station. For example, the Japanese Experiment
Module, called Kibo, will be attached to Node 2 in the future in
the space station. And it has, we have various attachment system
or docking system on the space station. For example when the shuttle
docks to the space station we are using, we will be using a mechanism
called APAS -Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System. And we have
several other attachment [systems]. But the CBM provides us a big
area-pressurized area-as a connecting mechanism so that we can transfer
large payloads such as International Space Station standard payload
racks and et cetera. So for this flight we will be connecting the
Z1 Truss and the PMA-3 to both the zenith and the nadir side of
the Unity module on the CBM, on the CBM mechanism.
why is the Z1 Truss the first external framework for the station?
Can you compare the truss to anything that we have here on Earth?
Z1 Truss houses
a lot of very important equipment for the space station. For example,
attitude control system; communication for commanding and data and
voice data as well; thermal control; and controlling the voltage.
So I think a good analogy for the Z1 may be the entertainment, an
entertainment center in the home that houses a lot of audio and
video equipment such as TV, VCR, DVD, and radios and a CD player.
And of course, the Z1 is there for the space station not so much
for entertainment. But since Z1 houses so many important equipment
for the space station, you can consider [it] as [an] entertainment
center for a house.
what exactly is the process of installing the Z1 Truss? How does
it will happen after we dock on the Flight Day 3. And the current
plan for us is to do the Z1 installation on Flight Day 4. First
I will operate a robotic arm to grapple the Z1 which will be at
the aft end of the cargo bay. And I will unberth or take out the
Z1 from the cargo bay. First thing that I will do is to turn the
Z1 Truss for about 25, 30 degrees so that the seal or the surface
that will be attached to the Unity module will be seen from the
camera that is located at the end of the cargo bay. This is so we
can check the condition of the seal before we install Common Berthing
Mechanism or the Z1 to the Unity module. After the inspection is
complete, I will continue to move the Z1 to a position called a
high hover position, which is over the left wing of the space shuttle.
And at the point, our Mission Specialist Bill McArthur will operate
the Space Vision System. Space Vision System is a system to provide
the arm, RMS operators with very precise positioning cue of the
payload. And he will operate a Space Vision System to calculate
the vectors from the cameras on the aft end of the cargo bay to
the Unity module. And after he operated the Space Vision System
to get those vectors, those vectors will be stored in its memory
of the Space Vision System. And after that, I will move the Z1 Truss
very close to the Unity module, which is about 2 feet away from
the connecting points. And at the point from the camera located
at the end of the cargo bay, Bill McArthur will again use the Space
Vision System to calculate the vectors from the camera to the Z1
this time. Now, we have vectors from the camera to the Node and
also from the camera to the Z1. By using those two vectors, now
the Space Vision System will calculate the relative position between
the Z1 and the Unity module. That's the information that I use to
operate the robotic arm. Because we do not have a very good direct
view through the window or from any camera views, I cannot see the
connecting point of the Z1 and the Unity module very well. So I
have to depend on the precision, precise data of the position provided
by the Space Vision System. So, using that relative factor, I use,
I move the robotic arm to install the Z1 to the Unity module. And
at about the 4 inches out between the connecting points Pilot Pamela
Melroy will operate the Common Berthing Mechanism. And she send,
she will send a command to…capture the Z1 using the latches
of the Common Berthing Mechanism. And then I will put the robotic
arm to link mode so that the second-stage capture of the latches
will not be intervened by the force exerted by the robot arm. So,
after the latch operations are complete, Pam will continue to send
a series of commands to the 16 bolts of the Common Berthing Mechanism
so that the Z1 will be securely fastened to the Unity module for
pressurization. And that's the end of the Z1 install.
once the Z1 is in there, what kind of additional communications
are going to be possible with the International Space Station?
Okay. On the
Z1 Truss there are elements of communication systems - some elements
of the S-band communication system and also a Ku-band communication
systems. And those systems will be enabled when the computer to
control the systems will be available on the following flight. So
we will bring up some components and also the antennas for the communication
systems, but those communication systems themselves will not be
available until later.
also mentioned earlier the Control Moment Gyros. What are they,
and what do they do?
Gyros [are] used to control the attitude of the space station by
using the principle of a gyroscope effect. There are four Control…Moment
Gyros on the Z1 Truss. And that will enable the space station to
precisely control the attitude of the space station without using
the reaction control jets.
tell me - what are your responsibilities during the first space
the Z1 Truss was installed, the next day we have the first day of
the 4 days of space walks. And that day Leroy Chiao and Bill McArthur
will be performing EVA tasks. And I will be operating the shuttle's
robotic arm with Bill McArthur at the tip of the robot arm to support
his activities. On that day Bill McArthur and Leroy will connect
the umbilicals between the Node and the Z1 Truss. And also they
will be installing the Ku-band antenna and deploying that antenna
boom using EVA and the robotic arm. So to support those activities,
I will move Bill McArthur to the various convenient locations for
him to perform their EVA tasks.
mentioned Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 a little bit. Tell me what
that is. What does it do?
Mating Adapter-3 is a docking port for the orbiter to dock with
International Space Station. Very similar components are already
on the International Space Station: PMA-1, which connects the Unity
module and the Zarya module; and also PMA-2, which is now located
on the forward end of the Unity module. Actually, we will dock to
the PMA-2 on our flight. And on STS-92, we will be installing the
PMA-3 to the nadir side of the Unity module so that the follow-on
flights-STS-97 and -98- can dock to the PMA-3 to assemble the components
to the International Space Station. PMA-3 has a weight of approximately
2,600 pounds and it has a canted cone-like shape. And the diameter
of, on the larger side is approximately 9 feet. And that will be
when we launch the PMA-3, it will be installed on the cargo bay
on the SPACEHAB pallet with 16 bolts.
what happens to PMA-2?
our flight will be relocated. The PMA-2 will be relocated temporarily
to Z1 on flight STS-98. STS-98 will install the US Laboratory module
to the forward end of the Unity module. Currently, the PMA-2 is
located on the forward end of the Unity module. So, to install the
US Laboratory module, PMA-2 needs to be relocated. So, on the flight
STS-98, PMA-2 will be temporarily located on, relocated on the Z1;
and after the US Lab module is installed on the forward side of
the Unity module, PMA-2 will be again relocated to the forward side
of the US Laboratory module. So PMA-2 and -3 will be relocated as
we put, or as we add more modules to the International Space Station.
What will you be doing during the second EVA?
the second EVA first task for me on that day, using the shuttle's
robotic arm, is to install the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3. That
will be launched in the middle section of the cargo bay. And that
will be attached to the structure with 16 bolts and 4 latches. And…two
EVA crewmembers- Jeff Wisoff and Mike Lopez-Alegria-they will manually
unlatch and unbolt all of the 16 bolts and I will take the PMA-3
out of the cargo bay and maneuver it all the way to the nadir side
of the Unity module. And at that time, again in a very similar manner
as we did for the Z1 we need to use the Space Vision System as a
very precise positioning aid for the RMS operator. Bill McArthur
will be again operating the Space Vision System to calculate the
relative position between the Unity module and the incoming PMA-3.
And using that information, I install the PMA-3 to the Unity module.
And at this time different from Z1 installation, we have two EVA
crewmembers- Jeff and Mike- monitoring the installation of the PMA-3
just sitting right next to the Common Berthing Mechanism on the
Unity module. So I have a Space Vision System to provide me with
a very accurate positioning, and also we have very good four eyes
of the space walkers to tell me exactly where the PMA-3 is with
respect to the Unity module. So that installation will be a little
bit easier in terms of finding a good position for installation.
And after that PMA-3 installation is complete, then we will connect,
the two EVA crewmembers will connect the umbilicals between the
Node and PMA-3. So, again, I will this time put Jeff Wisoff at the
tip of the robot arm to position him in a very convenient position
for him to install the umbilicals for the PMA-3. And I will spend
probably 3 hours supporting the space walk on that day on the EVA
Now, tell me about the work you'll be doing during the third space
walk. How will you be supporting that?
EVA again Leroy Chiao and Bill McArthur will be performing the EVA
task. And in a very similar manner as I did on EVA 1 and 2, I will
be operating the shuttle's robot arm to support their EVA tasks.
Examples of the EVA tasks on that day is to install DC-to-DC Converter
Units and also the space station toolbox for EVA. They will be relocating
the toolbox, toolboxes from the shuttle's cargo bay to the International
Space Station side. So, I will be moving the robot arm between the
cargo bay and the International Space Station to help Leroy to conduct
his space walk.
is the DC-to-DC Converter Unit you mentioned? What does it do?
Unit is used to…convert voltage of the electrical system on
the space station. The DC-to-DC Converter Unit converts voltage
from what we call primary power, which is between a voltage of 115
to 170 volts, to the secondary power level, which is one [between]…123
to 126 volts. And that will be used after the solar array panel
launched on the following flight, STS-97, comes on line. We need
the P6 Truss, which houses that solar array. And after that solar
array's launched, DDCU will function to convert the voltage for
the space station.
a fourth space walk.
once again you're supporting that. What work do you do to support
Okay. On the
fourth day of EVA, I will also be operating the shuttle's robotic
arm together with Bill McArthur. Bill McArthur and I will be operating
the space shuttle's robotic arm to help the space walkers Jeff and
Mike. First part of EVA 4 Bill will be controlling the robotic arm
and I will be operating the robotic arm in the latter half of the
day. And that day Mike Lopez-Alegria will be at the tip of the robot
arm to perform several tasks such as relocating grapple fixture
of the Z1. I use the grapple fixture to grapple the Z1 when we move
the Z1 out of the cargo bay and install to the Unity module. And
for following flights that grapple fixture needs to be relocated.
So, Mike will move the grapple fixture and stow it inside Z1 Truss.
And he will also be moving the foot restraints for following flights
for space walkers. And after these tasks are complete, Jeff and
Mike will start Detailed Test Objectives of space walk. And they
will be doing two kinds of tests during this last day of EVA. One
is a test of SAFER - Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue. That is the
backpack that has nitrogen gas jets. In case EVA crewmembers are
separated from the International Space Station they have a capability
to come back on their own to the space station. And the test that
they are doing is they will evaluate the performance and the handling
quality of the SAFER. Both Jeff and Mike will be doing a series
of tests. And one of the most spectacular [views] that I can imagine
during the test is that both Jeff and Mike will take [turns] and
they will fly from about the Z1 area, nearby the Zarya module. And
I will be putting first Mike at the tip of the robot arm with Jeff
about 5 feet out. Jeff will fly towards the camera on the backside
of the cargo bay. So, it will be a pretty long free flight. And
during that free-flight testing, I will be chasing Jeff using the
robot arm, with Mike at the tip of the robot arm. And they take
[turns]. And this time Mike will be performing the free-flight testing
while Jeff is going to be on the arm while I maneuver to chase Mike
as he approaches all the way to the aft end of the space shuttle
cargo bay. So, after that both of the crewmembers will be doing
the tests for a simulated incapacitated crewmembers in EVA. That's
a rescue operation-type testing for space walkers. And I will put
the arm to a place between the Z1 and the cargo bay's space pallet
area just to monitor the activities of space walks. And those are
my tasks on that EVA day.
on STS-72, you used the RMS to retrieve the Japanese Space Flyer
Unit, and you supported two space walks there. If you would, compare
and contrast your work on that flight with this mission.
It was a very
exciting flight for me operating the shuttle's robotic arm to capture
the free-flier satellite and also deploying another satellite and
capturing that satellite 2 days later. So what is quite different
on this flight compared to the free-flier capture is that, of course
when you capture a satellite you have a limited time to perform
the task after …after the space shuttle's attitude control
is put into free drift. We have to slowly, but we have to capture
the satellite within a certain timeframe. However, when I operate
the shuttle's robot arm to capture the satellite, I had a very good
direct view through the cockpit window and also I had a very good
camera view that is located on the robot arm's end-effector. So,
I can see the relative position between the robot arm to the satellite
through the direct…direct view window and also from the camera
view. But on this flight, for both PMA-3 and the Z1 installation
to the Unity module because of the very small corridor that I have
to stay within during the final approach of installation of those
modules, I need to use a system called Space Vision System, which
provides the RMS operator with a very precise positioning cues.
So that is the most…different part of the robotic arm operation
on this flight compared to my previous experience of retrieving
you would, what are your thoughts about being the first Japanese
astronaut to reach the International Space Station?
I feel very
fortunate to be a part of this wonderful crew. But much more than
being considered as a first Japanese to reach the International
Space Station, I would like to emphasize that I am only one team
member of the many international partners working on the International
Space Station. So being the first means there will be more to come.
And I really look forward to seeing my fellow Japanese astronauts
work on International Space Station in the near future.
given the recent changes at NASDA and Japan's problems with expendable
rockets recently, what do you think is the significance of the International
Space Station to the people of Japan?
What is most
significant for Japan is that the Japanese Experimental Module for
the space, International Space Station called the Kibo module, it
will be the first human space facility for Japan. And human space
flight and International Space Station project have been well supported
by the public thanks to the very successful US-Japan cooperative
missions in human space flight in the past. And Japan will be participating
in International Space Station in various areas such as developing
the Kibo module and also Japan will be launching logistics carrier
called the HTV - H-II transfer vehicle - that will be used as a
logistics carrier between the ground and International Space Station.
That carrier will be launched by a Japanese H-IIA rocket that launched
from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. And also in return for the
launching cost of the Japanese modules Japan is developing a Centrifuge
Accommodation Module for the US. And so with JEM Kibo module, HTV
logistics carrier, and a development of the Centrifuge Accommodation
Module, Japan is participating in various areas of the International
Space Station. And I'm very happy to see that everything is going
very smoothly in development and the preparation for launch. And
after this flight, I'll be looking forward to working with more
with the Japanese side to help them develop the assembly and operational
procedures and et cetera.
me a little bit more about the Kibo Experiment Module. What kind
of work is going to be onboard the Kibo?
has some parts in it, and it has a pressurized module and also it
has [an] exposed facility on which we can perform experiments utilizing
not only the microgravity environment in space but also a high-quality
level of vacuum for various experiments. In addition to those experimental
modules, Kibo has two different kinds of logistics carriers. One
is a pressurized one; the other one is exposed one. And also to
handle the experiments on the exposed facility and also move around
the Orbital Replacement Unit, there will be two different kind of
robot arm that will be installed on the Kibo module. So it has many
interesting parts in it.
During the flight, you're going to be ingressing into the International
Space Station. What are you going to be doing inside there?
Okay. We will
be going into the space station after the Z1 installation is complete
on Flight Day 4. And also, on Flight Day 9 we will be going inside
the space station. And the tasks that we will do inside of the space
station will be transfer, transferring various items for the first
International Space Station…Expedition crewmembers and also
removing the Common Berthing Mechanism components on the zenith
side of the Unity module. We used a Common Berthing Mechanism to
install the Z1 Truss to the Unity module, and we will be removing
and bringing them back to Earth for future use. And our crew will
be performing leak checks of the Z1 vestibules inside of the Unity
module. And also we will be preparing the space station for the
Expedition crewmembers' arrival. For example, we will be exchanging
or replacing the filters for cabin air conditioning on the Zarya
module. We need to bring various items such as batteries and a computer…computer
hard drives and also procedures for the upcoming crewmembers.
tell me: what do you think is the importance of establishing this
space station, and what do you believe it will lead to in the years
from the various experiments or observations on the International
Space Station will create various fields of new technologies that
will benefit us all on Earth. And I think it'll also expand our
knowledge in various fields of science. And at the same time space
station-the experience that we gain on the space station-will serve
as a stepping-stone for us to build a lunar base and also going
flight is also the 100th flight of the space shuttle. If you would,
tell me what you think about the uniqueness of the space shuttle
and what its role is going to be in the future.
I think the
space shuttle is the most versatile space vehicle ever designed
and operational. And it has flown very many payloads such as on
the experiments, such as the experiments on the Spacelab modules
or on various satellites that was deployed and retrieved by the
space shuttle. And space shuttle also has been providing vast opportunities
for access to and from space-and not only for the US, but also for
many countries which do not have access to space because of not
having a space transportation system. And one good example is the
Space Flyer Unit retrieval, which was launched by the Japanese H-II
rocket. And I think the space shuttle will continue to fly more
than a decade or two. And now the space shuttle is playing a key
role in the assembly and also the utilization of the space station.