Interview: Tamara Jernigan
STS-96 Crew Interviews with Tamara Jernigan, mission specialist.
You've got a job that
many people in the world could only dream about having. What is
it that drove you to want to become an astronaut? Is that something
that goes back to when you were a child or developed later in your
You're right. Being an
astronaut really is a dream come true. It's a real privilege to
work for the space program and I feel very fortunate. I think my
first memory of aspiring to the astronaut program was when I was
a kid and we put the first man on the moon. I remember going out
the front door and wanting to look at the moon knowing that there
were humans on the moon. I thought that was just a fascinating idea.
I think my more serious interest came when I was a sophomore at
Stanford. I was a physics major. In 1978, they started taking astronauts
from the scientific community in earnest and also taking women.
I think it was in 1978 that I thought I might have a chance to be
Years later, now we're
building a Space Station in orbit and you're assigned to the second
Space Shuttle mission involved in the assembly of that Station.
Can you give us a sense of the complexity of the job that we're
talking about here, of building this immense space station 200-some
I think the building of
the International Space Station is certainly an ambitious project.
It's a very ambitious undertaking. What we try to do is break it
up into small manageable flights. One of the things that makes it
so challenging is that we're constructing the Station hundreds of
miles above the surface of the Earth and we're doing it one piece
at a time. We're doing it in a way that involves many different
countries and so, the international cooperation has to be worked
out. There are language barriers, there are travel barriers and
also each piece has to fit together. For the International Space
Station we do not have the privilege of assuming the Space Station
is on the ground before we take it up one piece at a time. So we
have to be very clever about the testing that we do and the training
that we do to make sure that each mission is successful, and that
each piece and each mission goes just as it's planned.
Your flight, STS-96,
is described as a logistics and resupply mission. You're not bringing
another piece to the Station. What will you and your six crewmates
be doing during your mission?
As you mentioned, we're
called a logistics and supply mission because we're not bringing
up another major module. What we're doing is bringing up a lot of
logistics that we'll carry inside the Space Station. Most of which
will go over to the Space Station side from the Space Shuttle. Also,
some of which will go from the Space Shuttle [to be] externally
mounted on the Space Station. The supplies are for the first crew
onboard and they're also to help with the construction of the Space
Station in the future. We're taking up two cranes in the sense as
you might see a construction worker use a crane to move large pieces
from point A to point B. We have a U.S. crane and we also have a
Russian crane that we're going to take up with us and install externally
during the space walk on the International Space Station. There
are many other tools that we'll also be taking up that will facilitate
that construction in the future.
Let me refer to something
you mentioned a moment ago. With what you just said in mind, how
does this fit in overall? Why is the work that's planned for this
mission need to be done before the next missions can come and before
the first crews can come?
The crews need supplies,
right? They need clothing, they need experiments, so we'll pre-stage
much of that into the FGB, the Russian Functional Cargo Block, and
into the node. They also need the capability to do the next piece
of the construction. For instance, one of the follow-on flights,
2A.2, will carry up more pieces of the Russian crane. We'll bring
up the first pieces and they will bring up the next set of pieces
that will mount externally to the Russian crane. In addition to
that, there are tools that we'll take up that Flight 3A will need
when they go and mount the Z1 truss on top of the node and then
have to do all the connections. Each mission builds upon the other,
and we're one important piece, but a small piece of a very, very
As you've been preparing
for it, there have been changes in the launch schedule for some
Space Station components, and some of the jobs you began training
for have been moved off to later flights. Talk a little bit about
how the change of your planned mission is impacting your training,
and how that makes it different for you to prepare than it has for
you in your previous missions.
Well, you're right. Initially,
we were supposed to fly after the Russian service module, and when
there was a delay in the service module schedule, it was realized
that they could launch our mission prior to the service module and
get some of this equipment on board. The Space Shuttle Program and
the Space Station Program decided to go ahead and launch us prior
to the service module instead of waiting until afterward. Now, of
course, everything that we were supposed to do in conjunction with
the service module then had to be moved to a later flight, 2A.2.
So, the focus of our mission
did change, to some extent. We're not going to do some things we
originally planned to do because of the delay in the service module.
Then there were additional tasks added because we now had some more
room, both inside the Space Station and also, outside the Space
Station, to do some more transfer of tools during the space walk.
I would say much of what we originally planned to do we're still
doing, but having the service module delay allowed us to add some
STS-96 is the first
mission that is flying with the Integrated Cargo Carrier or ICC,
as we'll hear it called. Tell us a little bit about this cargo carrier
and what items you'll be using it for to bring to orbit.
The ICC is a very convenient
carrier from a space walker's point of view because it allows you
to mount externally across the payload bay a number of EVA tools
that are going to be transferred for the Station. There's one central
location you go to pick up those tools and move them from the Shuttle
to the Space Station. On the ICC, we're going to carry the U.S.
crane and also two components of the Russian crane.
We'll also carry a box
of other tools. There's a box called the SHOSS Box, which is just
a very, very large stowage box that mounts externally on the ICC.
We will open it up and pull out a number of bags of tools that we
will stage and mount to the node bag that's on the node so that
those tools can be used for later space walks and later construction
missions. So, it's a very convenient central carrier for the external
Let's start to sort
of walk through your mission. The plan is that Flight Day Three
you and your crewmates will conduct the first-ever rendezvous and
docking with the two-module International Space Station. Would you
describe the operation for us, as well as what you will be doing
as part of that operation?
The rendezvous team is
really a four-person team. Kent Rominger and Rick Husband will be
focused mostly on the flying and the pointing of the Space Shuttle.
Ellen Ochoa and I will be looking at a program called RPOP, which
is a computer program that gives you information about your trajectory.
I will also be running the cameras so that we can aim the camera
at the Space Station. Basically, the goal is to keep the Space Station
pretty much centered in the camera, with no more than 8 degrees
of misalignment when you're further out and then down to 5 degrees
of misalignment close in. Of course, as you approach the docking,
you have to fly dead on, so that the docking corridor narrows, as
you become closer and closer to the Space Station. It's really a
four-person team. Once we get to the docking phase, I run the docking
system. Ellen Ochoa and I actually do that together. We follow the
docking sequence on in and make sure that there are no malfunctions
as we finish the final phases of docking.
Give us a bit more detail
as the Shuttle is approaching and the two craft are nearing each
other. Describe what we'll see on the ground.
What you'll see on the
ground is the Station coming together at about .1 foot per second
with the Space Shuttle. You'll see very good alignment from the
docking mechanism on the Station side and the Shuttle side. Just
before we dock, there are thrusters that are fired called contact
thrusters. When you're about two inches from mating, you fire these
thrusters to facilitate the docking and the catching of the latch
mechanism. Then the Station and the Shuttle are allowed to get rid
of their relative motion, so the relative motion between the two
will damp. Then we will, basically, pull the Station and the Shuttle
together. When they get close enough together, the docking hooks
will close, to hook the two components together.
Are there things that
the STS-88 crew has told you about the Station that you'll be linking
up to — descriptions that are going to assist you folks in doing
Oh, absolutely. It's invaluable
to spend time talking with the 2A crew. From the rendezvous point
of view, it's very helpful for our commander to speak with the commander
of STS-88, Bob Cabana, and discuss all the issues associated with
doing the rendezvous and docking to the Space Station. For Dan Barry
and me, who are doing the space walk, it's very valuable for us
to discuss with Jim Newman and Jerry Ross about their experience
being outside in that environment. How they felt about the orientation
of the vehicle, what the lighting issues are, and what it was like
to translate along the Station. We have many questions for them
that we ask on a weekly basis.
From the point of view
of flying the arm, you know the arm operators are going to talk
to each other and talk about issues specific to having a space shuttle
docked to a station and having your view so obscured. Even more
so than 2A, the Space Station is right up against the windows as
we look out back into the Shuttle's payload bay. So our view is
very much obscured, and it's a mission that depends very much on
camera views. So all those types of issues are common between 2A
The flight day after
you've docked, you are scheduled for a six-hour excursion to the
outside of the International Space Station. Talk us through that
day and what you are going to be doing.
Dan and I are actually
performing the space walk, but we also have an IV crew member, Julie
Payette, who will be helping us conduct the space walk. She's called
our IV crewmember. So that morning she will help us get suited up
and prepared to go out the door, and then we will be speaking to
her during the entire space walk to make sure that we get the choreography
of the space walk down. She will make sure that everything we plan
to do actually gets done because we do not carry a checklist outside
with us. She'll keep us on it, so to speak, while we're outside
performing the space walk.
The first thing that we're
going to do is set up capability on the arm, called a portable foot
restraint and a tool stanchion. After we install the foot restraint
and the tool stanchion on the robot arm, then I'll get on the robot
arm and Dan will spend the space walk doing the translation, and
I'll spend the space walk on the robot arm. The first thing we'll
do is pick up the U.S. EVA crane out of its latches and transport
it from the Space Shuttle to the Space Station and install it on
our work site interface socket. The next thing we'll do is retrieve
the Russian crane, or the two pieces of the Russian crane. The crane
elevates from a horizontal configuration to a vertical configuration.
We'll pull it off its mounting and then mount a grapple fixture
to the bottom of what's called the Russian operator post. Then we
will take that entire component, which weighs several hundred pounds,
and mount that on top of the FGB. We'll go way up to the top of
the stack in order to mount the STRELA, which is the Russian crane,
to the top of the FGB.
The next thing we'll do
is transfer some other tools that are contained in one of the tool
boxes on the Space Shuttle called the TSA. Those are two foot restraints
that we'll mount up on top of the Station, and then we'll transfer
four large bags out of our SHOSS box. Most of the equipment comes
off the ICC so, except for the two foot restraints that come out
of the toolbox, everything else will come off the cargo carrier.
If there's time, there's discussion about us adding a thermal cover
to one of the node trunnion pins. There's a discussion about moving
some cables to clear the path and unobscure the view of one of the
space vision system targets. There are also a couple of other things
that are being discussed right now, so we'll see how that all falls
out. The major tasks are the transfer of the Russian and the U.S.
cranes — the transfer of the tools that will then later be used
in the subsequent construction missions.
You plan to spend most
of the time that you're outside in that foot restraint on the end
of the robot arm. That must require an awful lot of coordination
between you and the arm operator.
It does. I will be very
dependent on my arm operator to put me in the right location. One
of the things that we do here before we fly is we go to the virtual
reality lab and get in the foot restraints and practice all those
maneuvers and all those positions where I guide Ellen so she can
put me in the right location. We cannot fully simulate that in the
water tank, where we do most of our space walk training.
In one of your previous
missions, you were involved in the program of demonstrating and
testing the tools and the techniques that were being developed for
the assembly, the space walks that were necessary for the assembly
of the Space Station. Now you're going to use some of those tools
and some of those techniques. Can you give me a sense of how challenging
this space walk effort is for the assembly of the Station? Is it
work that would be similar to what we may have seen in space walks
on other missions?
I think it is similar to
what we've done on other missions. We did a dress rehearsal, for
instance, for the USA crane on STS-87, so some components of that
mission are similar to what we're doing on this flight. Now, of
course, this is the first time that on an ISS mission, we've worked
with Russian hardware and the transfer of the Russian hardware.
So there's a lot of coordination that has to occur between the U.S.
and Russia to make sure that we've done all the correct testing
and that we understand their hardware very well. I certainly think
there are challenges, but I also think there are similarities from
some of the things that we've done in the past. The difference is
that we're using the arm to transport large pieces of structure
from the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station and, in
some instances, operating at the upper limit of the reach of the
arm. So the arm maneuvering can be a little bit challenging in that
Many people will remember
that on your last mission, STS-80, the space walks that you had
planned were lost when the outer hatch for the airlock jammed and
couldn't be opened up. How frustrating was that for you after all
that training to get there and not be able to go? Do you look at
this space walk as another chance?
It was frustrating to have
done all the preparation for the two space walks on STS-80 and not
be able to execute them in flight. The crew wasn't the only group
of folks who were disappointed because there had been many people,
many engineers and technicians on the ground who had worked very
hard to prepare that hardware for flight, so the whole community
was pretty disappointed. Every once in a while fate deals you a
hand that you have no control over, but we were certainly disappointed.
I look forward to this opportunity to perform a space walk and contribute
to the program in this manner.
The day after you do
your space walk, all seven of you are scheduled to make your first
entrance into the International Space Station. Do you have any sense
now how you expect to feel when you first float inside the Station
that you've been studying for so long?
I think it's going to be
very exciting, our first entry into the International Space Station.
Also, one of the joys of being on orbit is the fact that you can
float, and we've opened up this very large volume in which to do
our work. So I find the microgravity working environment very pleasurable,
and what we've allowed ourselves is much more microgravity working
environment. It will be exciting. We went to Russia before the launch
of the FGB, so we've been in the FGB on the ground, but it will
be a very different experience to enter it once we're in space.
You're scheduled for
several days with the Shuttle docked to the Station to transfer
materials back and forth, mostly forth. Talk about the plans for
the supplies transfers. During those several days, what will you
as a group be doing and what will you, yourself, be doing during
I think during the transfers,
I'm going to have the pleasure of being one of the runners. We're
going to put Ellen Ochoa in the SPACEHAB, which is where much of
the equipment that's going to be transferred as resident is, and
we're going to have Julie Payette at the other end in the FGB. The
rest of us are going to be running and going to SPACEHAB — I should
say floating into SPACEHAB — and removing the equipment. Ellen will
keep track of what has to be removed, where it needs to go, and
going down the corridor to install it in the FGB. There will be
five of us running back and forth, except at times, of course, Kent
will have to be manning the Space Shuttle because it's still attached
to the Space Station. At least four of us will be running back and
forth, and running the equipment back and forth, which is a real
joy to do in microgravity.
Beyond just moving supplies,
are there other tasks that you and your crewmates have to do during
We're responsible for opening
up the International Space Station and doing all of those kinds
of pressure checks and air sampling that need to be done. The majority
of the mission, the bulk of the mission after the EVA, is really
internal transfer of supplies.
With that in mind, as
you and your crewmates have finished that job and are preparing
to say goodbye and close up, which of your activities will you look
at and say, We have to do this in order for our mission to have
been a success? What is the real requirement?
In my view, we have to
successfully rendezvous and dock with the Space Station. We have
to do the majority of the transfers both internal to the Space Station
and also, externally. So we need to get all that hardware transferred.
That's really the major thrust of our mission. Of course, we also
have to have a successful undocking and a safe landing.
Let's talk about the
undocking. After your work is done, the time has come to leave.
As you did before in describing the rendezvous and docking, and
your part in it, talk us through the undocking and the departure.
Tell us what you'll be doing as Discovery leaves the ISS.
I'll be operating the docking
system and Ellen will be backing me up, monitoring the telemetry
that is displayed on one of our CRTs. I'll issue the command for
the undocking, monitor the automatic sequence and make sure everything
goes properly, and take the appropriate action in case we had a
problem opening up the hooks. Then the fly-out, in some senses,
is reverse of the approach, so we'll fly out and then we'll also
do a fly-around. We'll fly around and do some photo documentation
of the vehicle. Rick Husband is the one who'll be doing the fly-around.
We'll have very similar roles for the undocking that we had for
the docking, except that Rick Husband and Kent Rominger will change
roles with respect to who fires the thrusters.
We've seen photographs
of the Station and video of the Station on orbit. Tell us why it's
important to get new photo documentation of it as you folks are
With each Space Shuttle
mission that docks with the Space Station, the configuration changes,
so it is critical for the next crew to know where everything is
located in great detail, so you can choreograph the next mission.
We spent a lot of time choreographing our space walks, finding robot
arm positions, for example, that take us to exactly the right location.
So you have to have very precise information about where all the
externally mounted hardware is, what configuration you left the
module in, and where all the cables are mounted outside of the Space
Station. All these little details are very important, and we spent
a lot of time studying the photographs that were taken on STS-88
in order for us to prepare for STS-96.
And your photographs
will be studied by what?
Our photographs will be
studied by 2A.2, whose will be studied by 3A and so on and so on.
In training for this
mission, I'm sure you have a much better understanding of the goals
of the International Space Station than do most people who are not
involved in the space program. So help us understand, in your mind,
what is the role that ISS is going to play in the future of space
flight and the future of space exploration?
I think the role is multifaceted.
We certainly learn how to put up a large structure in space. In
doing that we gain constant access to microgravity. So we can do
the types of experimentation you need to do with respect to human
physiology; for example, those we have 24-hour access to, 365 days
a year. In terms of building anything, for instance, on the moon
or on Mars, we have the ability to do that construction close by,
so when the inevitable problem arises and we have to go back and
replan, then the Space Station is close with respect to the moon
or with respect to Mars. We need to learn all those lessons close
We also need to understand
how the body adapts to space, and we can do all that experimentation
in flight. We need to learn more about the operation of life support
equipment in a microgravity environment before we can put people
on the moon, or before we can send people on a multi-year journey
to Mars. So this gives us a platform from which to learn all those
lessons. It's a lot closer in.
That's the last question.