Interview: Steve Lindsey
STS-95 Crew Interview with Steve Lindsey, pilot.
This is your second flight in a year; discuss for a moment, if
you would, your thoughts on this very historic mission -- its complexity,
and how your first mission may have better prepared you for this
Well, it is
a very complex mission. At last count I think we had over eighty
experiments on board; life sciences, microgravity sciences, you
name it, we have it on board. So from an individual experiment standpoint,
there's a lot more going on than my last flight. Probably the best
thing that is going to help me on this flight from my last flight
is understanding how to work in the microgravity environment. Just
little things, like knowing where to put things so they don' t float
away; how to design an experiment so you can efficiently get it
done in the time allotted without spending a lot of time searching
for parts and having things float away from you. So from an organizational
standpoint, being able to look at an experiment here on the ground
while we're training it, and knowing whether the procedure will
or will not work in space, is probably one of the bigger benefits.
Also there were a lot of the unknowns, about how I would react to
microgravity as well as how the payloads I was working on would
react that, before my first flight I didn't know. I think I can
project better into the actual "on orbit time" during my training
and prepare better that way.
SPACEHAB module in the cargo bay will be the venue for a lot of
scientific research. Talk a little bit, if you would, about the
multidisciplinary nature of this mission in terms of science and
Well as I mentioned
previously, we have many, many different experiments, a lot of microgravity
experiments, a lot of materials science experiments, as well as
life science experiments. In terms of microgravity and the SPACEHAB
specifically, this is, I believe, the first flight where the SPACEHAB
is flying a full-up scientific mission. They not only have all the
SPACEHAB full of experiments, but also about two-thirds of our middeck
experiments are coming from the SPACEHAB folks as well. Just some
examples; we have a number of crystal growth experiments that are
looking at protein crystal growth for medical applications, a lot
of microencapsulation experiments, which has to do with designing
drugs for cancer, attacking cancer cells and things like that, as
well as some crystal growth, and a lot of space-related applications
in terms of how to best cool spacecraft and cool spacecraft components.
We have a glovebox on board in the SPACEHAB, which is the same glovebox
we had on our last flight, and we also have a number of experiments
going on in that. So, without going into a lot of detail, we have
just about everything you can think of in terms of experiments on
mission is going to have a particularly tight timeline and your
flight is constrained in the number of days you can stay on orbit
because of power requirements; how do you manage a time like this?
How will you and your Commander, Curt Brown, choreograph all the
work that's ongoing?
Well, a lot
of the work is being done right now as we train. What we're doing
is we actually do what are called timeline training exercises, where
we'll take a slice out of the flight plan, a particularly busy slice,
and we'll actually sit down and we'll do each one of the experiments
with the different crewmembers participating as they're required.
We'll look at that and we'll time it, and we'll add a little fudge
factor because we know it takes a little bit longer on orbit; and
by doing that we can get a pretty good handle on how long each experiment's
going to take, and we can make sure we have a realistic timeline
going into it. It's a very success-oriented timeline in that we
need everything to go well. If things don't go well, and we have
a problem -- let's say, with an experiment, what typically happens
is the Flight Activities Officers on the ground, mission control,
will look at that and re-plan the mission and adjust accordingly
to get everything done. However, I am confident that we'll be able
to get everything done within the timeline because we're working
so hard on the timeline right now.
all deference to the science back in the SPACEHAB, the primary objective
of this mission is the deployment and retrieval of the SPARTAN solar
science satellite. You were on board Columbia as its Pilot last
November when the same spacecraft was deployed and it did not quite
go as planned. Recount for us a little bit about what happened back
on STS-87 wit SPARTAN.
The way the
deployment sequence goes is first of all, we send a number of software
commands to the satellite while it's berthed in the payload bay
to activate the satellite for deploy and get all the systems going,
making sure everything's working OK. We then put in what's called
a VGS position, or Video Guidance Sensor position, the Video Guidance
Sensor being an on-board sensor. Then we actually pull the satellite
out with the robot arm, putting the satellite in what's called a
deploy attitude, and that's the attitude we'll be in when we actually
release it from the arm. When deploy time comes, we release it off
the arm and it has to do what's called a pirouette maneuver; a slow
rotation, stops, and rotates back. And by doing that we know that
the satellite is working OK and then we'll separate from it and
the satellite will be in the science mission. On STS-87 what happened
is when we released the robot arm from the satellite, the satellite
did not do that pirouette maneuver, and so it was a dead satellite
sitting there. When we went to retrieve it, it was accidentally
tipped by the robot arm, and because it was a dead satellite with
no control system to keep it there, it started spinning. And it
was spinning at too high a rate for us to retrieve it, and that
forced us to come back a couple days later and actually grab it
through a spacewalk.
measures now have been incorporated since STS-87 to either provide
the crew greater insight into how SPARTAN is, predeploy, or what
then can be done procedure-wise to possibly help facilitate the
regrapple should a similar problem occur?
of course, we did a thorough investigation into all the things that
happened to cause this, to try to prevent it when we fly it again.
Let me start with the software; on STS-87 it did not give us any
feedback. In other words, when we sent a command to activate certain
functions of the satellite, the software would not tell us whether
we'd actually done that, and if you went back and looked at the
screen a little bit later you couldn't even tell if you'd sent the
command. Well, since then the software's been modified, not in how
it operates with the satellite, but the feedback it gives to us.
So now, when we send a command, it tells us that we did send that
command and we can actually go back to the screen later and verify
this. And so these checks are throughout the software, and when
we finally get to the step where we're ready to pull it out and
ready to deploy SPARTAN, we will have something on the screen that
tells us "Yes, this satellite is 'go' for deploy -- all the actions
have been done that need to be done to make this thing go." As far
as crew training, we've changed slightly the roles of the back-up
arm operator, which is what I was last time. Instead of focusing
on a particular display, which I was during the deploy and retrieve,
the back-up arm operator will be looking out the window this time
and helping the primary arm operator watch things; the distances,
and things like that. So that's a little bit of change, I'll be
acting as kind of a second back-up arm operator to check those displays
while Steve and Scott actually do the deploy. As far as the regrapple,
if the satellite fails to pirouette like it did before, the release
position of the arm itself has actually been changed. Whereas before
it was kind of an off-angle such that when you go in to regrapple
it you get a lot of arm dynamics, and the arm bounces it around
quite a bit; now it's in more of an orthogonal or a square position,
so that we go straight in. So a number of things have been looked
at, we've tried to minimize everything we can; obviously we're training
it very hard, and we're confident that it's going to go well this
us a little bird's eye view, if you will: what steps you'll take
following the deployment, at the point where you're ready to separate
from SPARTAN, and how far away do you get from it ultimately?
what happens is once we get a good pirouette at a certain predetermined
time, Curt will go ahead and back the vehicle away -- pulse with
the thrusters and get us some separation. We'll separate out to
about ten to twelve miles initially, and there we're going to kind
of hold in position. We have a new experiment on this as well called
the TEXAS experiment. It's an RF system that allows us and the ground
to communicate with it while it's deployed -- receive telemetry from
it, and command it. This is something new to the SPARTANs, so it's
kind of an increased capability of the SPARTAN. So we'll be testing
that, and we'll probably hold for about six orbits at the predetermined
distance away; eventually we'll back out to about thirty to forty
miles, and we'll stay there for a couple of days until it's time
to retrieve it.
is the point of SPARTAN? What is it designed to do, basically?
Well, the purpose
of SPARTAN is to study the sun's corona, the area around the sun.
And it has a number of different instruments; a white light coronograph
and a UV spectrometer. It's measuring the sun, which is in a twelve-year
solar cycle, and sun spots, basically, are explosions on the sun
that generate energy our way. And why that's important to us, first
of all, is the sun controls all of the chemical reactions here on
Earth; we obviously can't live without the sun so it's real important
to understand it. The other thing that happens with this sun spot
cycle, is when it gets real intense, if those radiation emissions
come and hit the Earth, it will take out satellites, essentially
shutting them down. If you remember a few months ago, we had a communications
satellite go inoperative that shut down everybody's pager. So that's
very, very important; the more we get involved in space, and the
more commercial space applications we have, the more we need to
understand how that cycle works.
a couple of days of its independent science studies it'll be time
for you all to return to SPARTAN; give us a little Pilot's view
here of rendezvous and retrieval, and what do you do with SPARTAN
it comes time to retrieve, and that'll be about forty-two hours
or so after we deploy it, we'll do what's called a posigrade burn.
That takes us higher and slows us down so we can get behind the
satellite. We'll go to a point behind the satellite, where we'll
do another burn, the retrograde burn, which will lower us, causing
us to accelerate ahead of the satellite. Then we come up to a point
right underneath the satellite and drive straight up something called
the R-bar … it's just a location directly above the satellite with
the Earth below us, and us in between. We'll drive straight up and
the next thing we're going to do is test the Video Guidance Sensor,
which I mentioned earlier. That's an automated docking system, where
we fire lasers at some reflectors on the satellite and it provides
us with precise measurements of how far away we are, how fast we're
closing or opening from the satellite, and some other information.
So we'll go to about 300 feet or so underneath the satellite, hold
there, and then we'll do a series of roll maneuvers and yaw maneuvers.
We're going to see how well that sensor can maintain lock as we
roll the orbiter and see how well, how narrow the field of view
is of the sensor. We'll test that for a while, close in to about
200 feet, wait through orbital night, which will be about forty-five
minutes, and then we're going to back out and do a max range test.
We'll back out to about 600 feet and see at what point that sensor
breaks lock. And then once the sensor breaks lock, or we get to
600 feet or so, we'll close in for the final rendezvous. And the
way we'll do that is we'll just close right up this R-bar, like
I mentioned before, until we have the satellite right over the payload
bay and right in the end effector camera of the remote manipulator
system, the robot arm. At that point, Steve Robinson will take over
with the arm; he will fly the arm onto the grapple fixture of the
satellite and grab it with the arm. Once we have grabbed it with
the arm, he'll put it back in the payload bay, latch it back down
and reinitialize it.
major payload out in the cargo bay is a suite of instruments that
are being tested for the next Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission,
called HOST. Give us a little insight into what this is all about,
why test these instruments before they go fly for real.
Well, it has
four experiments on it and it's designed for the Hubble Space Telescope.
The main reason that we're going up to 300 miles, which is pretty
high for a shuttle flight, is that's where the Hubble Space Telescope
is. Out there we are further out of the Earth's atmosphere and the
radiation effects of space are much more strong. If you take a typical
computer up into those kind of altitudes, they don't work very well;
they'll get little radiation hits and the computers will shut down
and things like that. So what we want to do is test the components
that we're actually going to put on the Hubble in that environment
before we go up on the next servicing mission, here in a couple
years. As I mentioned, we have four experiments on the HOST platform.
One of them is a new computer that we're going to install on the
Hubble that will give it a lot more capability; and again we want
to test it in that harsh radiation environment, make sure it works
OK. We also have a fiber optic cable we're going to test, which
will be a data cable. We have a new cooling system; the Hubble has
some infrared sensors it uses for when it does a lot of its astronomy,
and for these infrared sensors to work well, you have to cool them
down. Well, right now it has a cooling system that's going to run
out of gas here pretty soon; the new cooling system doesn't rely
on a cooling gas, and so the tank will never run out.
is the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker experiment all
The IEH is
a suite of payloads, studying the ultraviolet spectrum out in space.
We're going to be looking at some stars, Jupiter, and at the sun
a lot; places like that. And we're studying the spectrum there in
ultraviolet to more characterize the universe. It's also being used
to characterize the sun; it almost ties in with SPARTAN, some of
the same kind of things. It's basically an astronomy science experiment,
trying to understand how our universe is formed; what kind of light
sources are radiating and at what intensity from various places
in our solar system and the galaxy.
was your reaction when you found out that you were going to fly
with John Glenn on this mission?
to be assigned to this flight was a complete surprise to me. I had
no inkling this was going to happen. So I was surprised to be assigned,
and then when I found out I was going to fly with John Glenn … I
feel really honored, that I'm getting the opportunity to do this.
I know this is an opportunity of a lifetime for me; I never thought
I would even meet any of the original seven astronauts let alone
get a chance to fly with one. So I feel very privileged to be a
part of this crew and a part of this flight -- and I certainly feel
privileged to get to know and work with Senator Glenn.
are your thoughts on the reasons, the rationale, behind John Glenn
returning to space?
trained here for a while, and talking about the payloads that we
talked about earlier, the one thing I would say is this is not going
to be a joy ride for Senator Glenn. He is very, very heavily loaded
with lots of experiments; the number of life science experiments
that he's participating in is just unbelievable. He will be participating
every day; you name it, they're going to be doing it. To talk about
the research a little bit, I know there's been some question about
that. They're doing just about everything. They're a lot of things
that happen to us in spaceflight that also happen to people as they
get older … things like bone loss, problems with sleep, calcium
turnover, protein turnover, those kind of things -- osteoporosis;
all those kind of things, in a different way, happen in spaceflight.
We lose bone mass, we lose muscle mass, sometimes people have trouble
sleeping. So we're going to be testing all these things on Senator
Glenn because he's older, as well as on some of us, to get another
data base. A lot has been made about the fact that we only have
one subject: but you know, you have to start somewhere, and I think
there will probably be others that follow in the future. Getting
back to the historical tie, between shuttle and Mercury, and us
flying with the Senator, you know, there's obviously a historical
tie between Mercury and the shuttle. He started the program, he's
one of the pioneers of the program, he's the reason that I'm sitting
here today doing what I'm doing. It is him and others like him that
really went out there and risked it, and started this program, and
started this whole country's space program. So that's the tie to
the past, but he's also a tie to the future because, I know that
sometime in the future, and I don't know when that is, we will fly
in space like we fly on commercial airliners today, and someday
everybody will be going to space. I don't know when that is; a lot
of technology hurdles'll have to be overcome before we can make
it affordable, but that will happen. So in a way, he's not only
a tie to the past but flying with him is a tie to the future, because
he's representative of that -- someday we will be flying everybody
into space. And before we do that we needed to understand, besides
the technology, we also need to understand the physiological effects
of people of all ages, not just young astronauts.
you all feel, as a crew, that your flight represents a stepping-stone
to the International Space Station?
In a way we
are. If you look at all the shuttle flights over the last several
years, they've all been kind of small stepping-stones on our way
to the space station. You know, we started out with Mercury, with
the Cold War origins of that whole thing, we went on to the shuttle,
a Space Transportation System, and now we're taking the next step,
which is to the International Space Station. And if you watch what's
happened on each flight, it has slowly transitioned from the earliest
days. Which was, if you talk to Senator Glenn and were to ask him,
you know … they didn't know things like, would you be able to see
in space, would you be able to eat in space; now we're to the point
where we're getting ready to go to station where we're going to
be doing lots and lots of science. If you look at our manifest and
our payloads, you'll see that we have international payloads from
all over the world; a lot of European and Japanese payloads, collaborators
from universities, as well as commercial companies from all over
Europe and Japan and different parts of the world. And if you look
at our compliment of payloads, they are very diverse, from life
sciences to microgravity; robotics research, studying the sun, a
lot of astronomy and things like that. When we go to space station,
that's what's going to be doing. You're going to have crews, and
they're going to be working on all these different things all at
the same time. So if you take our training template and our flow,
it's a lot shorter than the space station; but in terms of having
to be able to do all these different things, at the same time, our
mission is very much a tiny subset of what's going to be going on
on the space station.
the Senator on your crew, the focus of the world is on your mission;
there's just no question about that. Has that placed pressure on
you and your crewmates in terms of being under the microscope? How
has it effected your training?
been interesting; it's been a little different flow than I've experienced
before because of the media attention … Curt's doing a great job
of managing it. Really, he's had to deal with this probably more
than any of the rest of us because he has to carefully manage that.
But what we've looked carefully at is making sure that we can get
all the training done we need to. And at those times when we need
to really focus on training, and we believe the media or cameras
might be an issue, then we don't have cameras for those. So, let
me reemphasize that the publicity is great, and I firmly believe
that this is great for NASA, this is great for the world to see
what we do in space. But our focus is on our mission, our focus
is on our experiments, our focus is coming back with a hundred percent
successful objectives, and we train that way. When we get in to
train, we forget about the cameras that are watching us: we focus
on the mission, we focus on the crew, and getting everything done
that we're supposed to get done.
Senator Glenn resumed his training, and as the training developed
and matured, was there a feeling that he almost had never left being
an astronaut -- that he just picked up where he left off, three decades
me when I started working with him was that he was coming off the
street, he'd been in the Senate for several years, and he'd been
out of the space program for quite a while … but he walked back
in and, as you mentioned, he just -- he knows the business. He was
here in the beginning, but the business has changed quite a bit,
the technology has advanced. But he's kept up with the technology,
he understands the basics of space, so when he walked back in, it
did feel like he's been here the whole time. You could tell he's
been an astronaut, and you can tell he still is an astronaut. And,
you know, his training has been going great, he's just been doing
a great job. So I was very impressed with that.
you, and Curt in particular, feel a special burden of responsibility
that not only do you have an American legend climbing aboard with
you but a member of the U.S. Senate … a distinguished official?
Well, as you
know, the commander and the pilot, our job really doesn't change.
I feel a responsibility to all my crewmates; our job is to get them
up there safely and get them back home safely, and I wouldn't call
the Senator a burden. I would call him a privilege to fly with,
and I don't think that I will feel any more burdened with him there,
because once we get in there and get strapped in, we pretty much
focus on what we need to do. All those butterflies that you might
feel beforehand pretty much go away once the engines light and you're
working on your job. So I would say that I think about it, but I
think of it as more of a privilege to fly with him than a burden,
does the Senator bring to this mission that will make him a unique
member of this crew?
first thing he brings is historical perspective. He brings the lessons
that he learned in Mercury to the shuttle. He brings a wealth of
experience, in a lot of areas he's very well versed in, like aging.
Actually he bridged a lot of areas for me between what happens in
aging and what happens in spaceflight, areas that I didn't realize
before, maybe had never even thought about. He won't just be doing
the testing we talked about, the medical experiments, he's also
doing a number of other experiments on board. As I mentioned before,
we have so many payloads and our timeline is so packed -- he's doing
a lot of the other experiments too, so he's not just coming on board
to be, as some people say, the guinea pig. He's doing all those
other things too, so he's going to be a very busy member of this
crew during this mission.
first inspired you to become an astronaut, to fly; does it go all
the way back to Mercury, perhaps to Senator Glenn himself?
I was inspired
probably first by the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, because
at the time when that happened I was eight years old; when Senator
Glenn flew I was, I think, one or two years old. Like everybody
at that age, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, I was inspired
by that. But I also knew the history of Mercury, and certainly John
Glenn was one of the big heroes in my mind as well. So I would have
to say probably the two big ones in my mind were, were Neil Armstrong
and John Glenn.
it almost like living out a fantasy on this flight?
Well, if you'd
have told me five years ago, or two years ago, that I'd be flying
with John Glenn, I would've said, "oh, that will never happen!"
Sometimes I look back and think, boy I really wish I was around
during those early days and flying then, but, you know, I'm really
glad to be where I am now because I never thought I'd have the opportunity
to fly with the Senator.
Senator is 77 years old, we've seen him train and he's in great
shape, there's no question about that, but he is 77; any concerns
for him during the mission?
To be honest,
I'm not concerned about anything for him; I think he's going to
do a great job. I'm certainly not concerned with how he'll do on
the experiments and everything, because he's already shown that
he knows that stuff, and I don't think I've ever seen anybody more
motivated when they get here to work on our flight than he is. He's
very, very motivated and working hard; he takes work back to Washington
with him, and we keep kidding him that he needs to get rid of that
Washington job and just hang out with us. I have no concerns with
how he will do up there. Physically, to be honest, I don't have
any concerns either, because he is in just fabulous shape. He's
gone through all the egress drills that we go through, all the emergency
egress type drills that require physical labor. We did some post-insertion,
de-orbit prep classes, where we have to take apart seats and put
seats back and do a lot of hard physical labor, and he does great
at all that. So I think he will do fine during the flight, and I'd
be willing to bet he'll be walking around after landing without
any trouble at all.
a man whose space capsule is in the Smithsonian Institute, in the
Air and Space Museum, and you're getting a chance to fly with him,
etching your name in history. Your own personal feelings on all
I'm just thankful
to be along for the ride, to be a witness to history-making once
again. A few weeks ago we were in the Smithsonian with Senator Glenn,
and we were standing by his Mercury capsule, and I was standing
there next to him. He was pointing out all the controls and the
switches, where he even had tape markings on some of the gauges
where he'd marked certain things, and telling me how each switch
worked … I was just standing there going "I can't believe that I'm
standing here with him doing this, and we're going to go do it again."
So, to me personally, it's just a really neat thing to think about.
you were a journalist or historian, writing the history of your
mission and its significance in the space program, how do you think
you'd portray this mission given its unique qualities?
Well, I know
there's a lot of focus on the historical significance and having
a Senator on board, but I hope some attention gets placed also on
all the things we accomplish. The science that we did, the benefits;
hopefully someday a lot of new medical innovations and things like
that will be traced back to what we did on our mission. How to understand,
and maybe even prevent or slow down the aging process and things
like that, I hope some of that is traced back to our flight. I don't
really want the focus to be on me, I want it to be on what we did
as a crew.