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IMAGE: Scott Parazynski
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski's greeting (616 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Scott Parazynski

The STS-95 Crew Interview with Scott Parazynski, mission specialist.

Discuss for a moment the complexity of this flight, and how your first two previous flights may have better prepared you for this one.

Certainly STS-95 is one of the most scientifically-rich and diverse missions that we've flown. It is a mission that encompasses science from the full gamut of space sciences. From solar physics and observational astronomy and support of the Hubble Space Telescope effort, to advanced materials science and the life sciences, including the effects of aging. In addition we're flying a number of experiments in support of the International Space Station; space vision systems and robotics systems that we'll be testing out. There are over eighty payloads on the flight, the majority of which involve considerable crew intervention, so it's a very exciting and challenging mission, and I think it's very fortunate that we have such an experienced crew to tackle all these very exciting payloads.

With such a tightly scheduled mission, how are you and your crewmates going to tackle this type of timeline, which is almost a no fault-tolerant type of timeline?

Well, I think preparation and training are the answers to those challenges. We have spent a great deal of time preparing for all of our payloads, we've reviewed all the procedures in depth, and I think by the time we launch we'll be fully ready to tackle that challenge. Of course if we have any difficulties, if we have any in-flight maintenance issues, of course the timeline may slip a little bit, but I'm still rather confident that we're going to be able to accomplish all of the science objectives on the flight.

Give us a glimpse of where you and your crewmates will be working during the flight, and the varying kinds of science that you hope to accomplish over the course of nine days.

Well the research on this flight will take place throughout the ship. We have a number of experiments out in the payload bay, notably the SPARTAN solar observing spacecraft which will have a two-day free flight to look at the solar corona. It will essentially get a feel for space weather, which effects all of our communications; satellites here on Earth as well as orbiting astronaut crews. So that's a very important focus for our flight. We have the Hubble Orbital Systems Test Platform out in the payload bay as well, and that's going to be testing out a number of "black boxes" that will be used on the next Hubble space servicing mission. We'll be helping test out those systems, which include a new computer for the Hubble as well as a new cooling system. We also have the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker, which is a suite of experiments that will take solar, stellar, and atmospheric observations during the course of our nine-day mission. Back inside the space shuttle we have a number of mid-deck and SPACEHAB payloads. We have a furnace that will look at materials processing on orbit; we have, a number of protein crystal growth experiments, a number of tissue culture experiments, and in addition we have a very exciting experiment that involves microencapsulation of cancer chemotherapeutic agents. This is very promising in the future because typically when we give cancer chemotherapy, of course we kill part of the tumor, but we also effect the rest of the body -- there are terrible side effects. In the future we hope with these microencapsulated, chemotherapuetic agents we can target the tumor directly, say in the liver or the lung, and thereby avoid all the terrible side effects and treat the tumor directly. So that's one of the more exciting payloads we have. And to follow that on in the life sciences area, we have a number of biomedical studies: in particular, the effects of spaceflight on the human physiology. And of course Senator Glenn will be helping us explore the intricacies of the aging process, looking at sleep disturbances, protein and bone turnover, balance disorders and the like. So it's a very, very full flight in the cabin as well. I also mentioned earlier a number of efforts in support of International Space Station. We'll be flying tests on three different vision systems used for mating and berthing objects in space. Steve Robinson and myself will be the prime arm operators on the flight, using the Canadian space vision system, and another system called ACVS and VGS. Basically different techniques to assess attitude errors, and range and range rate as we berth and unberth the SPARTAN.

The SPARTAN deployment operation did not go well in its last flight, on STS-87. How will you and Steve work with each other on deployment day, to get SPARTAN running in the correct fashion, and what's different about this flight that's going to contribute to the crew's ability to have a successful deployment?

Well, every time we have an incident like this it's an opportunity to learn, and we have. We have very carefully gone back and looked at what happened on STS-87 and how we might do things differently in the future. I think we have a very studied, and appropriate approach to the SPARTAN deployment. It's going to be a very busy day on Flight Day 4, when I will activate a number of the SPARTAN systems, update its attitude control system, and set it into a mode of preparation for its deployment. The key here is that Steve Robinson will be backing me up. We'll check and double-check each of the steps as we go through them, and in a similar fashion as we prepare the arm, we'll power up the arm, we'll grapple the SPARTAN satellite from the payload bay, release the latches, and put it up into a poised-for-deploy position. All this will be carefully cross-checked and choreographed. There're a number of internal changes to the SPARTAN as well, as a result of the STS-87 flight. The primary one that effects the deployment, however, is the timer that is set once we actually derigidize, and prepare to let go the SPARTAN satellite. On STS-87, once that initial bit was set, there was only an hour of time between the release and the time that they had to have it re-berthed within the payload bay. Had they not recovered it within that one hour, the, the entire SPARTAN mission was lost for the flight. for STS-95 that duration has now been increased to forty-three hours, so there is no time crunch, there's no time compression; if, SPARTAN does not do its pirouette properly, we have essentially unlimited time to go and regrapple, reberth it, reset, the SPARTAN and, and redeploy it.

Because of the upgraded software there'll be this time, that's a guarantee that no steps will be missed; you guys will have full insight that the satellite's ready for deploy?

We have essentially full insight into all but the attitude control system update. We issue a series of commands to update the attitude control system; that is not seen by the ground, it has to be exactly perfect. That's why we'll have two or even three pairs of eyes looking at those numbers to make sure that they're correct. Beyond that however, we will have direct feedback on our laptop computer indicating that the SPARTAN satellite is ready to go.

Can you give us a little more detail about the kinds of solar phenomena that SPARTAN will be observing?

Certainly. SPARTAN has a couple of solar-observing instruments on board, and their primary focus is to look at the radiation flux that we receive from the sun's atmosphere or corona. And it's a radiation flux that is received here twenty-four hours a day on Earth, but it primarily affects the upper atmosphere and beyond, where Earth-orbiting satellites live -- they're very susceptible to these radiation fluxes. And so the key emphasis is to take measurements in ultraviolet, using the ultraviolet, coronal spectrograph and the White Light Coronagraph to monitor that flux of energy. This will form part of a database throughout the course of an eleven year solar cycle. You may be aware that there's an eleven year solar cycle, and we're coming up towards the Solar Max in the next couple of years here, so this SPARTAN mission is an ongoing effort in solar science.

Give us a kind of bird's eye view of what you and Steve will be doing, as your crewmates close in on SPARTAN during the rendezvous and retrieval.

Well, the rendezvous actually starts the morning of Flight Day 6, when we'll essentially be thirty miles ahead of SPARTAN; we'll set up a burn to do a two-orbit transfer to actually end up eight miles behind the SPARTAN satellite. At that point we'll perform another burn, which we call TI, to initiate the transition to dock with SPARTAN. There will be in addition a number of mid-course correction burns to kind of fine tune our approach. We'll have an optimized, R-bar approach where we come up from underneath the spacecraft using a trajectory that's very propellant efficient. Curt will be at the controls on the aft flight deck for this final phase as we close in, and Steve will be operating the VGS -- vision system, which is a laser tracking device that may be used in future spacecraft for automatic docking. We'll come in to about 220 feet, do some measurements with the VGS, come on back out to about 600 feet, and then re-approach all the way up to grapple range. During the rendezvous phase of the approach, Steve Lindsey will be in the forward cockpit monitoring all the orbiter systems, and I'll be essentially the navigator. I'll be working the laptop displays that we have, taking in all the sensor information -- the range radar and the hand-held laser, sensor information, and making sure that Curt has a good feel for where we are relative to the SPARTAN satellite. I'll also be operating the hand-held laser out the overhead window. As we get in closer to grapple range, Steve and I will transition, and I'll be looking over at our computer displays as well as the aft flight deck, backing him up as we approach for a grapple.

Two years from now four astronauts will conduct six spacewalks on the third servicing trip to the Hubble Space Telescope. Why do we need to put upgraded instruments in Hubble, and why test them on your flight?

Our flight, STS-95, is very, very similar to the environment that the Hubble Space Telescope lives and breathes in. We'll be flying at an inclination of 28-and-a-half degrees, and 300 nautical miles above the Earth's surface, just like Hubble. And so this is a perfect opportunity to test out some of the advanced systems that will be flown on the next servicing mission. The instruments that will be deployed on the next servicing mission include a new, hardened, 486 computer, which they hope will not be susceptible to radiation events at that high altitude. And, perhaps even more challenging is a new cooling system; a cryogenic cooling system for the NICMOS instrument aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. You may be familiar with some of the very beautiful images that NICMOS has acquired in the very far reaches of our universe -- galaxies in evolution, at birth essentially, in places where we once thought was just black sky. So, this instrument requires very, very cold temperatures to operate, and unfortunately the NICMOS, when it was first deployed, relied on cryogenic fluid to cool the instrument, but it wasn't of a sufficient quantity to last forever. On the next servicing mission, a new cooling system will be deployed that entails a radiator and a new plumbing system, if you will, and it seemed very prudent to use this opportunity on STS-95 to test out the hardware.

Give us a feel for the kinds of things that we're looking for that could help aging and senior citizens on the ground; correlations that could be drawn between young astronauts and in this case, with John Glenn, the oldest human ever to fly in space at the age of 77.

The exciting thing about flying John Glenn into space is the ability to study the aging process in an environment that's very similar to the aging process itself. And what I mean by that is when even young astronauts fly into space, the effects of microgravity on their body is very similar to what happens in the normal aging process. Our bones and muscles weaken as a result of inactivity; essentially, we don't have to support our own body weight. Our heart muscle doesn't have to pump uphill, as it does here on Earth, so the heart muscle weakens. Our balance system is effected, obviously, from a lack of gravity, which is a gravity-dependent process. Our sleep patterns are disturbed somewhat because we're going around the Earth every ninety minutes, and you see a sunrise and sunset every forty-five minutes, so the circadian rhythms within the body are obviously effected. Our immune system is suppressed somewhat on orbit just as it seems to be in elderly people. So it's a very interesting parallel, if you will, to the aging process; and by taking John into space we can see if there are notable differences. The research emphasis on STS-95 in the life sciences area will tackle all of these issues. We have studies on sleep disturbances, we have an experiment called Protein Turnover, which will study how muscle is effected by exposure to the zero-G environment; muscle build-up and breakdown, which is a normal process here on Earth. We have studies on balance and bone strength and the immune function as well. So we're going to be able to determine with John which are the most interesting areas for further research. Obviously John is just one subject, but I'm sure there will be more in the future.

Is the Senator going to be poked and prodded and stuck throughout the flight? Talk about the Sleep experiment, because he's going to have a lot of stuff hanging off of his head, isn't he?

Well, Chiaki and John are both subjects for the Sleep experiment, and I believe there are twenty-one different sensors that will be monitoring everything from their EEG data, to electrocardiographic data, to their respiration, to the oxygen level in their blood … a number of very sensitive instruments will be recording their every, every activity. And so we'll really be able to get a feel for how his sleep patterns are effected by being in space, and also the efficacy of a drug that you may be familiar with, melatonin. It's a very efficient drug, here on Earth at least, for helping us sleep-shift, and during the mission we'll be sleep-shifting back forty minutes each day, so that'll be another added topic for the research. In addition you mentioned the fact that John would be poked and prodded a few times during the flight: he and Pedro Duque, our European Space Agency astronaut, will be subjects in the Protein Turnover Experiment, and for a course of six days throughout the flight, they'll have in-dwelling IV catheters that will enable us to draw blood and also give them intravenous infusions of a labeled amino acid called histidine, to study how muscle proteins are built and destroyed in a body. So they will have a bit of blood drawn during the flight, but not as many pokes as you might think.

What was your reaction when you were selected to fly with Senator Glenn, and how has it been to train with somebody who is considered to be a legend?

Well, my initial response was this is too good to be true, this is science fiction. I think to put it in perspective, this would be like a physicist having the opportunity to make a great discovery with Albert Einstein, or a mountaineer to summit a Himalayan mountain with Sir Edmund Hillary, or to play baseball with Babe Ruth, or soccer with Pele: this, for an astronaut, is about as exciting as it gets. And so I'm thrilled to be a part of this flight. I think on a more global scale, certainly John has been a hero and an inspiration to young people, for many, many years, but the exciting part now in history is that he's going to become a role model and hero for senior citizens. I've heard it many, many times; people will say well, if John Glenn can go and fly in space at age 77, I ought to be able to, you know, tackle this project or that. I think that's his continuing legacy.

Is there a historic link here, between the origins of human spaceflight and the future?

I certainly think so. John was a pioneer in an era of Cold War competition, and he opened up the space race, if you will, on this side of the ocean. And now we live in a very different world: the new world order is such that the United States is working with Canada and Japan and Europe, our traditional allies, and also with Russia, the former Soviet Union. And here John is, a part of an international crew on a flight just prior to the first building phases of the International Space Station -- so I think it's a very exciting time, and it shows how the world has changed and grown, since those early days.

Do you feel that you and your crewmates are under a significantly greater microscope because of the presence of John Glenn, and is there a pressure that's associated with that?

I think that the presence of John on board, of course, is a major factor, and I think it's a very exciting time. His presence not only excites other people who might not follow the space program as closely, but people around the world -- to the things that NASA and the international space program is doing now, including the onset of the International Space Station assembly. And I think in just a few months here another very, very exciting flight will occur, and that's the flight of Colonel Eileen Collins, the first female Commander of the space shuttle -- so, I think the media attention is a wonderful thing for the program.

How have you been impressed with Senator Glenn's ability to get right back up on the horse after thirty-six years, so to speak, and pick up basically where he left off?

John really has picked up right where he left off. He's got a keen mind and he's clearly in great physical shape, and it's been remarkable how he's been assimilated in the crew. He's no longer Senator Glenn, he's John Glenn the astronaut, one of the crew. But it's interesting; every once in a while, in a training session or in the middle of a conversation about any topic -- politics, or the space program, or the weather, to look over and think "My God, that's…that's John Glenn!" That's pretty exciting.

You're a medical doctor; you've flown in space twice, you understand the rigors of launch and landing, and sometimes the aftereffects of a sudden adaptation to a weightless environment. Do you have any concerns for Senator Glenn and his health at all during the course of this flight, especially with the level of activity expected from the crew?

I'm just hoping we can keep up with him. You know, he's a United States Senator, they keep a very brisk pace back in Washington, D.C. And as you mentioned, he's very physically fit. I don't have any real concerns about his ability to complete his mission objectives, or his physical condition. I think on his return to Earth, when even young astronauts can have some problems in terms of orthostatic tolerance -- in other words, not getting light-headed and passing out, and some of the balance problems that people occasionally have on return -- he may have some of those problems, but we hope to prevent those things by proper fluid loading, and exercising on orbit. So I'm fairly confident that John's going to sail through this without any difficulties.

The International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker, a whole suite of scientific stuff; give us a little insight into what all of this is about, its diversity in terms of scientific investigation.

Well, as you mentioned, it's a full suite of instruments that among other things will be looking at the ultraviolet radiation of the sun and taking observations of the planet Jupiter, as well as various atmospheric targets, during the course of the mission. In addition, the IEH contains a device that will measure the total solar energy received from the sun, called the solar constant; so this is an experiment, or a suite of experiments, that will tackle a number of astronomic, solar, and atmospheric issues.

What are you looking forward to doing on this flight, that you might not have had an opportunity to do on your first two missions?

I've been very fortunate on my two prior flights to have a bit of window time, in particular my first mission, STS-66; it was an ozone mapping mission essentially, and the majority of my energy was spent up on the flight deck, monitoring equipment out in the payload bay. My second flight, up to Mir, I actually had an opportunity to go outside and walk in space, which is the best view in the house, if you will. This flight I'm not all that certain I'll have much time to look out the window. The time that I will be looking out the window will be the times when I'm actually flying the robotic arm, and that's something that's very new, for me. That'll be a first flight experience and I'm very excited about the opportunity to do some of that.

What first got you interested in the space program -- inspired you to become an astronaut? Was Glenn, specifically, an inspiration for you as you grew up?

John certainly was one of my role models, and one of the inspirations for me being here today. Of course I don't remember his pioneering orbital flight because I was only seven months old at the time, but my father worked on the Apollo program. I've wanted to become an astronaut ever since I was five or six years old; ever since I've dreamt of spaceflight and pursued that dream. I can't pin it to any one particular space achievement; I know that the Apollo missions to the moon rank right up there as, you know, spurring on the dream.

The Mir, the upcoming International Space Station, John Glenn wedged in the middle as part of your crew: what is there to say about our contemporary time in human spaceflight?

Well, I think it's a wonderful time to be alive; we're doing remarkable things in space as well as here on the ground. We're doing things that, I think, were unimaginable even five years ago. If someone would have told me when I became an astronaut, back in 1992, that someday I would fly up to a Russian space station and do a spacewalk with a Russian cosmonaut, or that one day I would fly with my hero, John Glenn into space, that would have certainly been considered science fiction -- impossible. So I think it bodes very well for the future -- international cooperation aboard the International Space Station, and more long-range, towards returning to the moon and Mars exploration as well. I think all of these things are possible, and they will happen.

Perhaps after the flight, if you had to sit down and write what the historic significance of your mission will have been, how do you think you would portray the scope of it all?

Well, I think to wrap up STS-95 we have to say that it was a very ambitious and complex prelude to the International Space Station era. We're doing a phenomenal wealth of science on board, very similar to what will be accomplished on the International Space Station. We have an international crew on board, a Japanese and a European astronaut, so that, of course, is the wave of the future as well. Then, of course, having Senator Glenn on board, astronaut Glenn. Here's a Cold War space pioneer, flying again in a new era of space exploration where the world has joined hands. Together, to go into space for science and not proof of technological superiority. I think that'll be the primary legacy of STS-95.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 01/21/2003
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