Interview: Andy Thomas
STS-114 Crew Interview with Andy Thomas, mission specialist
have a job that a lot of kids dream about having. Is being an astronaut
what you always wanted to do?
much, I think. You know, I grew up in the ’60s, and like many
people of that age and generation I watched with avid interest the
earliest human spaceflights -- Mercury, Gemini, then, of course,
the Apollo landings were just absolutely mesmerizing for a young
teenager. I think it was at that time that I got this passion of
the idea of spaceflight, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it
be wonderful to be an astronaut?” Of course, it wasn’t
a very high probability that I’d ever get to achieve it, but
with the right kind of education and focus, you can. And I’m
living testimony to that.
I’ve heard you say before that you figure part of
the impracticality of it was the fact that you were a young Australian
I think for
a young kid growing up in Australia at that time, the prospects
of becoming an astronaut were remote, to say the least. But I’ve
always believed that the pathway to many interesting experiences
can be opened if you have the right kind of education, and certainly
that’s true in my case. I think education, in fact, can open
doors that you can’t even imagine and that would forever remain
closed if you did not seek good education. And that’s been
true in my case.
example, what was your path in, in education and then your career?
I started with
an engineering degree, a mechanical engineering degree in my hometown
of Adelaide in South Australia. I followed that with a doctorate,
doing some research in some aerodynamics-related problems, and that
led to me acquiring certain skills that were fairly unique, and
I was offered a position after that to come to the United States
and work for one of the large aircraft companies, Lockheed, using
those skills. I developed my professional credentials and my professional
standing during a number of years with Lockheed. Because my interest
was in the space program I eventually left that position and moved
to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a big NASA center out in California,
the center that does most of the robotic exploration of the solar
system. I worked there for a number of years in some of their space-based
research, and it was from there that I was selected to become an
astronaut 12 years ago.
you look back over those times, do you see a person or persons that
were most important in you achieving that goal? An inspiration,
if you will?
You know, I’m
asked that question a lot and I actually can’t point to anyone
and say this was a definite role model or some figure that stood
out. I know I looked very closely at the people that were being
selected to become astronauts. I looked at the kind of credentials
they had because I knew that I had to compete on that arena. I also,
of course, looked very closely at what the Shuttle program was doing
at the time and what kind of expertise that I thought NASA would
be looking for for its future astronauts. And that helped. But I
can’t point to any one person and say this individual inspired
me. What I can say is that the individuals who were in the space
program in the ’60s and ’70s, beginning with the first
seven astronauts, in fact, were very inspirational people. I was
really just absolutely captivated by what I saw them doing on TV
and in magazines and so on.
are your other interests or hobbies? I mean, when you’re not
busy being an astronaut.
I spend a lot
of time, I like to tinker in the garage, build things, build furniture,
repair things, do car repairs and things like that. Most recently,
I’ve acquired a small piece of land out in the [Texas] Hill
Country with my girlfriend, and we’re eventually going to
build there. Right now it’s just land, and it’s really
kind of fun to plan out how to use the land and how to maintain
its ecology and where we’re going to think about putting a
house and putting in some ponds and things like that. We’re
having a lot of fun with that.
know, Andy, we all assume that, particularly since the loss of Columbia
and its crew, that astronauts understand the risks of spaceflight
and accept them. Tell me why, for you, you feel the job is worth
always been very interested in the idea of human spaceflight, the
idea that we as a species should leave the planet and go out into
the solar system, I find just fascinating; it’s a very engaging
concept. And I, I see that as a very logical progression in the
idea of human exploration, of going out initially in ships from
the civilization centers to the uncharted parts of the world, and
I see the next step as going beyond the world, of course, out into
the solar system. I would like to be part of that, and I’d
like to help that process to happen because I think it’s an
inevitable future that we do have to embrace. And that’s what
motivates me to fly these missions and pursue this career.
know, of course, it’s one thing to accept that risk for yourself;
how does your family deal with the risks of your daily job?
I think they’re
accepting. I suspect in the case of my parents, for example, they
probably don’t fully understand what the intricacies of the
job are on a day-to-day basis because a lot of people outside the
agency don’t fully understand what the day-to-day life of
an astronaut is. They see just the, the spaceflight aspect of it,
which is probably the highest-risk activity. I suspect people who
know me and friends and family will probably look at this upcoming
launch with, perhaps a little more trepidation than they have previous
launches, but I think that’s going to be true for everybody.
I think the, the U.S. public will look at this launch that way,
too. It’s inevitable after an event like Columbia.
been more than two years since Columbia and its crew were lost.
What was it like for you, as an astronaut, to deal with the fact
that an accident had taken the lives of seven of your friends?
two years ago was obviously a very dark day for all of us in the
Astronaut Office. I think it was a dark day for the Agency, and
a dark day, probably, for the country as well. It is very sobering
to lose seven friends and colleagues under any circumstances, but
when you see that happen as a consequence of them doing the same
thing that you aspire to do, doing the very job that they came here
to do, then it’s especially tearing at you and it’s,
it’s very hard to accept. I remember that day: most of us
were in a state of disbelief shortly after 8 a.m. We were just saying,
this can’t be happening, no, no, this can’t be happening
... we will find something soon, surely they’ll come on the
radar screen soon or the comm will come up. But of course it didn’t.
I think that’s perhaps an inevitable human reaction in a tragedy
like that is the sense of denial, that it’s not really happening.
And it takes a long time to come to the idea to accept it. I think,
initially, you accept the event at a sort of intellectual level,
because you see the debris and you see the reports on television
and so on, and you have an intellectual understanding of the loss.
But, you don’t really have a deep, emotional understanding
of the loss, perhaps, until later. In my case it was perhaps the
next day or the day after that I had to go in to the [STS-]107 crew
office as part of my duties. We were securing the office, and I
had to retrieve some equipment there. It was very sobering to go
in there and see all the desks there with all the personal possessions
left there as if they had just got up knowing that they would be
back in a few days. Everything was just left waiting for them, and
it had that sense of presence that made me appreciate the loss in
a much deeper way than perhaps I had up to that point.
you think about those seven men and women now, what are your best
memories of them?
I flew with
Mike Anderson on STS-89 the flight that took me up to Mir. And he
used to joke a lot about taking me up to Mir and leaving me there.
He was an understated person -- you didn’t really have an
appreciation of his skills because he didn’t have a need to
advertise them or to have a lot of bravado. It’s only when
you worked with him, and I flew with him quite a lot in the aircraft
that you started to get an appreciation for his background and his
talents. He was looking forward very much to subsequent flights
after Columbia -- he used to talk about it, he was hoping very much
that he could do a flight like we’re doing now, a flight to
the International Space Station. That was something he, he felt
very strongly about and wanted to do, and it was very sad, his loss.
I also knew K.C. [Kalpana Chawla] reasonably well. We had mutual
friends from her days when she worked at NASA Ames. We used to laugh
a lot because, because of our respective backgrounds we were both
tea drinkers; hot tea. Of course, hot tea is, it’s not something
that’s drunk very much here in Texas in July or August. So
we used to try to make hot tea but the only way you could do it
was with a microwave, so I used to joke with her and say, well,
if you want hot tea why don’t you just go down to the cafeteria
and buy some iced tea and put it in the microwave. She didn’t
see the humor at all; actually, I thought it was pretty funny. Dave
Brown was another one. Again, a very understated individual. You
wouldn’t have an appreciation for the richness of his background
and the breadth of the things that he had done until you really
engaged him and talked about it. He didn’t feel a need to
brag about these things, but, you know, he was an excellent pilot.
He was a, a doctor, a flight surgeon, a Naval officer, had his own
aircraft and had all kinds of interests -- really a, a fascinating
individual. There’s no doubt about it, a great loss to our
program to lose him.
you and your crewmates talked about what you’re going to do
to honor their memory and, and their spirit during your flight?
Yeah, we have.
Of course, we modified the STS-114 patch, to incorporate an element
of the 107 patch in our design as a tribute to them. We will do
something to honor them on orbit. We’ve kicked a few ideas
around but we haven’t yet decided exactly what it will be
at this stage.
Columbia Accident Investigation Board pinpointed physical causes
for the loss of Columbia and specified some mechanical fixes to
make flying the Shuttle safer. I’d like to ask you to assess
the improvements that have been made to eliminate debris and detect
and repair damage that might be done to the Shuttle.
been a huge undertaking at Michoud to look at the whole question
of how foam is applied to the tank in order to eliminate foam release
during ascent. They understand now the very complex mechanisms,
the unexpectedly complex mechanisms, which can lead to foam release.
They’ve taken steps to mitigate those mechanisms whereby gases
can get entrapped into the foam and then expand and pop the foam
off. So that problem has been resolved. The area where the foam
was shed for the Columbia accident -- they have removed the foam
completely and put in a heater installation instead. That particular
piece of foam can’t be liberated because it’s not there
anymore. They’ve done a lot of work on the ramps and the fittings
on the tank to ensure the integrity of the foam. That’s given
us a very high confidence that large pieces of foam will not be
shed during the ascent. It is inevitable that some pieces of foam
may come off. That’s probably to be expected considering the
nature of the technology. In order to deal with that we are going
to carry cameras during the launch, which will be looking down at
the cavity between the orbiter and the tank to make sure that if
any foam is released, we can see where it goes. There will also
be ground-based cameras doing the same thing, and airborne cameras
doing the same thing. Then when we get on orbit the first order
of business, in fact, it’s for me, I have to un-strap immediately
once the engines shut off, get rid of my helmet and gloves and go
to a locker and pull out two cameras. One is a video camera and
one is a still camera with a very large lens on it. The Commander
will allow the orbiter to pitch up and bring the tank into view
within about three minutes or so of engine shutdown, which is much,
much quicker than it normally would be -- it normally would be,
like, 15 minutes. As a consequence the tank will be a lot closer
and that, coupled with the big lenses on the cameras, means we should
be able to get some fairly detailed photographs of the tank after
its separation. We also have cameras in the well, in the belly of
the orbiter, so that when the tank does separate from the orbiter
we’ll be able to film it and look for any signs of damage.
The orbiter itself is fitted with instrumentation inside its leading
edge that will detect impacts from any foam; it's an accelerometer-based
system. So if you put all those together I think you could say there’s,
with a lot of confidence, that we shouldn’t have foam damage
on this flight, and where we’d have foam damage we would understand
where it is and the severity of the damage in that very unlikely
You know, there are thousands of people all across the country
who have been working for more than two years on all the things
that you just detailed in order to make the Shuttle fly safer. Tell
me what you think about the contributions that have been made by
all of those people.
A lot of people
have worked very hard on this effort. It’s actually quite
impressive, I think, to realize what has been done in the two years
since the accident with all the corrections to the tank, all the
detection systems, the camera systems, and of course the large boom
we’re carrying that’ll do the inspections. As a government
agency we don’t have some of the freedoms that private enterprise
has. We have to conform to certain bureaucratic requirements in
all the engineering we do, and that carries an overhead with it.
So all of that development that’s been done in the last two
years has had to go through a lot of checks and balances that we’re
required, really by Congressional mandate. That’s been a very
big administrative undertaking as well as a big engineering undertaking.
People from all over the country have been involved in that engineering
and administrative work, I think because people recognize that it
is important for this country to get back into the business of human
spaceflight, that we don’t want to be stuck on the ground
and we don’t want to be a non-spacefaring nation.
has it meant to you when you’ve had the opportunity to go
to the many NASA centers and meet and talk with the people who’ve
been also part of the Return to Flight team?
a little humbling in a way, because you go to the NASA centers and
some of the contracting companies and so on, and the people there
are so effusive and enthusiastic about meeting the crew of the next
mission. These are people who have spent years working these various
problems. They’ve given their life and careers. They’ve
made huge contributions and they’ve given so much, and yet
they’re the ones that are enthusiastic about meeting us. We
get to ride the vehicle, we get to have the flight, but these people
have done all the work so they’re the ones that you really
have to take your hat off to and say, “Hey, thanks for a job
repair procedures for the orbiter that have come about as a result
of CAIB recommendations are still being fine-tuned. Some of them
are still in development. And yet the Shuttle program’s confident
in moving ahead with this flight even though there are still procedures
being tested and certified. And you’re comfortable with that?
Oh, yeah. In
fact, because of the detection systems, the photographic systems,
the boom inspection systems, and what has been done to the tank,
I have a lot of confidence about the safety of this flight from
the point of view of foam liberation and damage to the Thermal Protection
System. I don’t think these are going to be issues for our
flight at all. So, I’m comfortable to do the flight even without
developed and refined TPS repair techniques. I think one of the
things that’s come out of this is that repair of the Thermal
Protection System is that a system which has to allow itself to
be heated to incandescent temperatures for prolonged periods of
time and be subject to aerodynamic loads for periods of time, is
a very difficult problem. It’s a very big engineering challenge,
to be able to go and do that not in ideal laboratory engineering
conditions but in the vacuum of space and in an operational vehicle
orbiting the Earth. That’s a tough, tough problem. I think
we have realized, and the people working it have realized, just
how tough it actually is. But not only that, I think they’ve
also realized how sensitive these vehicles are to damage to the
Thermal Protection System. I think perhaps people had underestimated
how important even small cracks and delaminations and things like
that can actually be.
the physical causes of what took Columbia, CAIB cited organizational
and human factors within NASA that bear responsibility as well --
the management system and the safety culture here. Do you see a
change for the better in those areas in the last two years?
You know, the
cultural question is an interesting one because I think it was a
very important issue in the Columbia accident. I was a little sorry,
for example, that the CAIB Report did not actually tie a specific
recommendation to that issue. They did talk about the issue and
recognize it, but there was not a specific Return to Flight recommendation
on that issue, probably because it would be very hard to have a
tangible recommendation to address that issue. That’s something
that could be watched and for which you could build metrics. I’ve
worked in a number of organizations professionally since I graduated
from university, both private industry and a government lab. I would
have to say in all of those organizations I’ve seen cultural
problems, especially in private industry. Even in my university
days I saw cultural problems. I think many organizations suffer
from cultural problems. The difference that exists here now at NASA
as a consequence of the accident is that people now talk about that
topic openly and recognize that cultural issues are important to
the successful undertaking of these great endeavors that we’re
trying. That was not fully appreciated, so now the whole question
of culture is raised in everybody’s mind. Given that, a lot
of people say, well, has the culture changed, and you have to understand
that for a culture to change it’s going to take years. The
culture is the people, and the policies of the managers, and it’s
not going to change until a new generation of people has grown into
the positions and the organization has evolved. That’s the
natural way it should be. It would be quite unrealistic for someone
to say in two years, “Oh, the culture is completely changed,
everything’s different.” It just doesn’t happen
that way when you have a large organization of people. It’s
going to take time. I do recognize that here, in this agency, the
people are very keenly aware of the need to do that, and that’s
what makes NASA right now different from all of those other organizations
that I’ve worked for in the past. But, we need time.
STS-114 is called LF-1. What does LF-1 mean? What are the
goals of this flight?
is what LF stands for. Since the Columbia accident there has not
been a Shuttle to the Space Station in over two years, and the Space
Station really needs the Shuttle. The Shuttle, in fact, needs the
Space Station. The Shuttle was a vehicle designed to shuttle to
and from low Earth orbit, and you need somewhere to go there, and
the Space Station is that. That’s the, the mission of the
vehicle. But as a consequence of the Shuttle not flying, there’s
a lot of accumulated trash and equipment on the Station which needs
to be brought back. There is no downmass capability to speak of
with the Progress vehicles, there’s also a lot of resupply
necessary because the upmass capability of the Progress resupply
vehicles that we’ve been relying on is very limited. So we’re
carrying some experiments, we’re carrying clothing, we’re
carrying food, water, and equipment for the Station in the MPLM
in the payload bay of the orbiter. We will offload those while we’re
docked to the Station, and then reload all the accumulated equipment
and trash and detritus and whatever that needs to come back, as
you might expect, from a vehicle that’s been operating untended
from a Shuttle for two years.
you noted, the capacities of the Russian launch vehicles that have
kept the Station supplied are, are limited in comparison to the
Space Shuttle. Does that make the Return to Flight of Space Shuttles
critical to the future of ISS?
Oh, yeah, I
think so. I don’t know how we could run the Space Station
as we have it without the Shuttle. It would be very difficult. You
know, I flew on the Mir space station, the precursor to the International
Space Station; that was a remarkable vehicle that had been built
without a Shuttle. And you could see the consequences of that. For
example, large pieces of equipment that were no longer needed were
still there, they were just floating around tied off somewhere;
there was nowhere to put them. You couldn’t send them in the
Progress because they were too big. In fact, the Mir space station
was extremely cluttered as a consequence of that. We don’t
want that to happen to the International Space Station. It needs
the Shuttle for these missions. The Space Station right now has
four Control Moment Gyros. One has failed, one is suspect, and I’m
sure they’re biting their fingernails over the other two.
One of the things we will do on our mission is repair one of those
gyros. That’s a very important function, because that’s
what stabilizes the Space Station and helps it maintain attitude.
We need to do that because if the Space Station were to lose attitude
control permanently then it would be essentially the end of the
vehicle because we wouldn’t be able to dock with it, we wouldn’t
be able to service it, and we wouldn’t be able to control
the first hours of your flight you’re going to be confirming
some aspects of the redesign of the external tank, as you referred
to a few moments ago. What’s involved in getting the data
from the sensors in the wing leading edges and from the cameras
inside and outside the vehicle back down to the ground?
cameras. With the modern technology of digital cameras it’s
fairly straightforward. You have a memory card, we’ll put
it into one of the computers, we’ll set up the computer network,
which the ground can remotely access, and then during the night
they will actually retrieve those images and downlink them through
the communications system. It’s pretty nice. The wing leading
edge sensors are small sensors that are imbedded in the leading
edge throughout the vehicle. All those data come into the crew compartment
through a telemetry system into a laptop as a, huge files of numbers
and we have to set up the computers to receive them. Once we’ve
done that then the ground can also, during Flight Night 1, access
those and bring those down to the ground while we’re sleeping.
this mission you’re going to also be the first crew to perform
a new task for Shuttle crews, inspecting the exterior of the orbiter
for possible damage. First, describe this new Orbiter Boom Sensor
System and how it’s designed to learn whether or not the Shuttle
has been damaged.
This of course
is a consequence of one of the recommendations of the CAIB Report,
the accident report, the ability to inspect the orbiter. A boom
has been developed -- it’s based on the robotic arm. It’s
very similar to the robotic arm. Whereas the robotic arm lies in
on the port side of the orbiter, this boom will be on the starboard
sill in a complementary position. It contains at one end a suite
of sensor systems, laser-based sensor systems, which can image a
surface and can actually measure imperfections, three-dimensional
imperfections, in the surface. The other end of the boom has a grapple
fixture on it which enables us to grapple it with the robotic arm
and communicate with it electrically through that grapple fixture.
That’s going to be the basis for doing the inspections on
Flight Day 2. Flight Day 2 is a very busy day for us because we
are going to inspect the orbiter to make sure that there has been
no damage during the launch phase. We will unberth the robotic arm,
swing it over to the starboard side, grapple to the boom, lift the
boom up out of the payload bay, do some calibration checks of the
sensors on the boom, then we’ll start systematically sweeping
it back and forth across the starboard wing leading edge; I think
there are about three passes. Then we’ll bring it up around
the forebody of the orbiter, the nose cap, and we’ll do a
series of surveys around there, all the time recording imagery data
and downlinking it to the ground. After we’ve done the nose
cap we then swing it around and do the port wing, time permitting,
and we’ll sweep it back and forth across the port wing at
various angles to make sure that the integrity of the RCC [Reinforced
Carbon-Carbon] is good on the port wing. It’s a pretty ambitious
undertaking because it’s never been done before. We have a
lot of arm sequences that we go through to do it. We’ve been
practicing it and I think it’s going to work out well. It
is a big time hit to the flight, though, because it takes a full
day to complete.
full day to look over the exterior; it’s, well, some would
say it could be a fairly tedious task to spend an entire day making
those small movements. What’s the plan to make sure that you’ve
got somebody who’s still sharp in charge as this goes on?
hit the nail on the head, because when you’re doing something
like this which is somewhat repetitive it’s easy to let your
guard down. When you let your guard down, something could go wrong.
That’s a risk. We’ve set up a, a crew coordination.
We will have four people actually engaged in this task; three really,
but a fourth one there. We’ve split up the tasks of operating
the arm, recording the data, and monitoring the clearances of the
arm. That’s the big issue. When you swing the arm ’round
with this huge boom on it, you don’t want it to run into something
-- you end up creating the kind of damage you’re trying to
look for. So we’ve set up the management of our crew tasking
on those three areas. We also have a fourth person who stands by
to substitute for any one person if they need to take a meal break
or something. That fourth person also can provide out-the-window
views on those occasions when the arm is in view out one of the
windows. We think with that strategy that we’ve got enough
eyes watching this activity that we can perform it properly.
Inspections are going to resume during the final phase of
docking to the Station as well. Talk about the plan to inspect the
orbiter’s upper surfaces and then to spin it around so that
the ISS and its cameras can have a look.
As we do the
rendezvous on Flight Day 3 and we come up below the Space Station
on what’s called the R-bar, the radial direction, we are going
to pause in the approach at that point at I think 600 feet, and
the orbiter will do a complete 360-degree pirouette, basically.
The crew on board the Space Station, while we’re doing that,
will have cameras with some large lenses and they will actually
image the entire lower surface of the orbiter to look for damage
and in fact, the upper surface as well, for that matter. These will
be on digital images, which also will be downlinked from the Space
Station. If some sites are seen where it’s thought there might
be some damage based on that imagery, on Flight Day 4, I believe,
we will actually unstow the boom and do some additional targeted
inspections, we’re calling them. The idea is that this gives
us the capability that the people on the ground have identified
sites that they’re concerned about and we have time set aside
that we can go and look at those sites with the inspection boom
and make sure that they are in fact in good order. I should point
out that what we’re doing on the flight to check the integrity
of the orbiter is really only a small part of this. There are a
lot of people on the ground who are receiving all of these data
that have been generated from the on-board cameras, the airborne
cameras, the launch cameras, the Station cameras for the pitch maneuver
and the wing leading edge sensors, and then all the boom inspections.
There’s a huge wealth of data coming down, and we have a lot
of people who are set to receive the, all of those data and look
at it and compare it to preflight information to check the integrity
of the orbiter. So we, we’re not alone in this by any means;
we have a lot of really smart people helping us out.
the docking is complete, have you given any thought to what it’s
going to be like to be there when Shuttle crews finally return to
the International Space Station?
going to be interesting. From my own perspective it’s actually
going to be interesting because I was at the Space Station four
years ago -- it’ll be four years -- on STS-102 in 2001. One
of the things that struck me when I went on the Space Station, especially
the Russian segment, was, it was a sense of déjà vu
-- it was like being on Mir again because the Russian segment is
very much like Mir. It even smelt like Mir. The air treatment systems
are the same and they leave that slight residual odor. Sergei Krikalev,
one of the senior Russian cosmonauts, says it’s “the
space smell.” You get used to it. But I was really struck
by this déjà vu sense I had when I went into the Russian
segment of the Space Station. It’s going to be really interesting
for me to go back again now, four years later, and see how I react
to that. The other thing that’s going to be interesting for
me personally is there’s a lot more Space Station now than
there was when I was there four years ago. Even though we haven’t
had a Shuttle in two years, there was two years of assembly that
took place after my last flight. So there are some much bigger truss
segments on board now, and there’s a new airlock on board,
and I suspect there’s probably a lot more accumulated equipment
on board, too, which we’re going to help them do something
talk about that. The next day after docking is the day that you
install the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. Talk about what is involved
in that procedure.
will be executed by Wendy Lawrence and Jim Kelly. At that point,
of course, we’re docked to the Station so we’ll be able
to use the Station arm. We will have moved the boom that we’re
carrying out of the way, and they will bring the Station arm down
into the payload bay. They will grapple the MPLM. Myself and probably
Charlie Camarda will be on the flight deck and we will release the
latches that restrain the MPLM in the payload bay. Once we’ve
done that then Wendy and Jim can lift the MPLM up out of the payload
bay and mate it to the side of the Station. They’re going
to do pressure checks to make sure that there’s a good seal
between them, and if there is they can open the hatch and we can
start the transfer operations, which is going to be a big part of
the flight for Wendy Lawrence and Charlie Camarda, especially.
part, a big part, of the training that you all have been through
the past couple of years has focused on spacewalking techniques
for making repairs to the Shuttle. How involved have you all been
in the development of the actual technique?
been a lot of work done, especially in the last year, on looking
at ways of doing repair of tile on orbit. Tile is a fairly fragile
material. It’s a very unusual material; it’s a silicate
glass and to repair it, even on the ground, is not an easy thing.
But to do it in orbit, in a spacesuit, by the way, is much more
difficult. We’ve been supporting the developers on that effort
with flights on the KC-135, where you do it in zero gravity to look
at the right kind of tools and the right procedures to use. A critical
question in all of that is, how does the material behave -- the
material they’re going to use for repair for the tiles is
a kind of a two-mix, like an epoxy like you might have in your garage
that you mix two components together, squirt it into, say, a gouge
or a hole on a, if you had one on tile, and then smooth it out a
bit and let it cure. It sounds easy, but in space it’s very
hard to do. There are a lot of questions about how the material
will flow in space, where there’s no gravity; there’s
also a vacuum so there’s a lot of questions about how the
material might out, outgas in a vacuum. The only way to really satisfy
yourself that it’s going to behave the way you need it to
behave to be a viable repair, is to actually evaluate it in space.
that’s what the first spacewalk is, in this mission is all
That is correct.
We’re carrying a box in the aft of the payload bay and the
box has a hinged lid. The crew will open it in the first EVA. Within
that box there are a number of samples of tile and Reinforced Carbon-Carbon
that have been intentionally damaged, and the crew will be applying
material to these samples and patting it in using different strategies,
and the material will be allowed to cure and will be brought back
and tested in test facilities here on the ground to see just how
good the repair technique actually is.
you are the choreographer for these events.
correct. I have the role as IV for that EVA and the other two. I
liken it to being the conductor of an orchestra, and it’s
an orchestra of two players, but nonetheless you get to basically
orchestrate the operations. EVAs are very structured, organized
activities; they have to be for safety and to understand what’s
going on. The crew spends an awful lot of time practicing the sequence
of events from the moment the EVA starts and they go out the hatch
to the moment it ends and they close the same hatch. It’s
all very structured and it’s all very timelined, and we spend
a lot of time working on that. And I will be basically leading the
two EVA crewpersons through that timeline in each of the EVAs.
second EVA calls for the replacement of one of the Control Moment
Gyroscopes that you referred to a few moments ago. That one’s
got a fairly well laid out set of steps, if you will.
Yes, it has.
That’s an EVA that was on the original flight well before
the Columbia accident, so it’s a very mature, developed EVA.
We understand the process and the procedures involved to do it.
The Control Moment Gyro is very important to the Space Station.
There are four of them. I liken it to those little toys that you
used to have as a kid where you’d have a gyroscope and you’d
put it on your finger, spinning, and it would just balance there.
And it’s exactly that principle that these devices use to
hold the attitude of the Space Station as it orbits the Earth. They’re
really important for that, they use electricity generated from the
solar panels to do it; that means you don’t have to use propellant
which is a very important resource on a spacecraft. You don’t
have to waste it just holding attitude; you can save it for the
important maneuvers. If these Control Moment Gyros fail, you no
longer have control of the spacecraft, the attitude of the spacecraft.
Actually, in an extreme situation if you lost control completely
you’d never get the spacecraft back; you’d lose the
spacecraft. It would be catastrophic failure, so these are very
important devices for the, to maintain the stable flight of the
Space Station and to allow vehicles to dock with the Space Station.
They do fail from time to time and there’s one that has failed.
It’s really important that we get it replaced. Not only that,
it’s important that we bring the old one back because the
specialists on the ground need to understand the failure mechanisms
of these devices so that future designs can have that failure mechanism
built out of them, designed out of them.
is a third EVA, and that’s centered around installation of
what’s called the External Stowage Platform. Tell me what
a large platform just as it sounds: it’s probably 8 feet by
6 feet, and on that platform are spare components of the Space Station
-- some camera stands, some pump units, and various electronics
boxes. Rather than carry these components to the Space Station piecemeal,
you can just carry the platform and put it on the Space Station
and then you’ve got a place where you can have all your spares
where you can put all the failed components in the times that you
need to replace components. So on the third EVA we’re going
to take that platform, which is being carried in the payload bay
of the orbiter; the crew will release it in EVA, the arm will grasp
it, lift it up out of the payload bay and the crew will help the
arm to mate it to the side of the airlock on the Space Station,
where it will be permanently fixed, so that these spare components
are available for future repairs of the Space Station.
couple of other tasks on that EVA, too, right?
a number of get-ahead tasks. We will probably, in that EVA, be checking
the tile repair that was done on the first EVA, because the samples
will have been outside curing, hopefully, for two days, and the
crew will probably open the, the box and allow cameras to do an
inspection of the repair. They will also actually probably check
the hardness of the repair with some tools to make sure that the
repairs worked successfully.
day after the third spacewalk you close up the MPLM; the day after
that you undock, you come home. But it’s the last big event
on this flight, the landing, that’s going to get more attention
than, well, maybe any other Shuttle landing. What are your thoughts
about that part of the flight?
Yeah, I don’t
think it will be the landing, I think it will be the entry that
will get the attention. It’s going to be interesting. You
know, after the Challenger accident people tended to have this sort
of, breathe a sign of relief after SRB separation, almost with a
sense of false complacency like the SRBs are gone, now they just
ride the main engines, everything’s fine. I think that was
probably a false sense of complacency, actually. Spaceflight is
an inherently risky process, and we now know how risky it really
is. I think people shouldn’t have any false sense of complacency
-- the mission is not safely over until wheel stop. I think people
now will be watching the entry with a, perhaps a, a heightened sense
of awareness, a little more tension, a little more concern just
to make sure that it goes all right, because it’s the first
entry we’ll have done in 2-1/2 years. From my perspective
what I’m looking forward to is that I get to ride on the flight
deck during entry. I’ve had three flights on the Shuttle but
all three of those entries were down on the middeck, so I’ve
never actually seen an entry from the flight deck. I’m told
it’s a pretty spectacular light show, so I’m looking
forward to seeing what an entry looks like from the vantage of the
flight deck. I think it’s going to be pretty interesting.
heard it said that STS-114 opens up a new chapter in space exploration,
one that’s going to transform a Vision for Space Exploration
into a reality. Do you agree?
sure I’d put it in such embellished terms, but essentially
it’s true. When, when we lost Columbia, I think, I think we
faced a decision point. That was, do we continue in human spaceflight,
or do we pack up and go home. I think the nation, basically, probably
thought about that, and I think the nation decided that we’re
going to continue human spaceflight. I think that’s something
that, by and large, the American people want to see this country
involved in. So, this flight, 114, is symbolic in many reasons.
It’s not just that it is the technical accomplishment of returning
the vehicle to flight, it’s the symbolic accomplishment of
saying we are back in the spacefaring, the space launch business,
and we are going to resume flying into space. We’re flying
in space, but we haven’t been flying into space, and that’s
why this flight is important. I think it’s important to the
country to see that and to recognize that. We are all employees
of the people of this country; their taxes pay our salaries. So
we have an obligation to them, and we have to show them that their
trust in us is valued and is earned and is worthwhile. And we can
do that by showing them that we can bring this vehicle back into
space and bring this country back into the business of human spaceflight.
So that’s one thing that’s very important about this
flight. The other thing does connect us to the Vision and where
we’re going. I think the accident made people think about,
well, if we’re going to do human spaceflight why are we going
to do it? What’s the payoff? What’s the reason for doing
this? And, the emphasis in the ’80s, for example, was largely
on a space station; well, we’ve got that. And, we need to
have a reason to do this. It’s fun and exciting to do, but
that’s not enough reason to do it. You’ve got to have
a really viable, tangible reason. And, to me, that reason is exploration,
and going beyond the Space Station, and returning to the moon and
returning to Mars. And, in a sense, this flight is a symbolic step
in that direction. It is kind of a new paradigm for us as an Agency
and the directions we’re going. I think this flight does somehow
capture that symbolically, that step that we’ve, that new
step, that new direction that we’re taking.
let me get you to, close the circle then. In your mind, how does
flying this mission to go on to get back to the Space Station, how
does the International Space Station help us achieve that Vision
and, and pave our, our path to the future?
actually a good question, because a lot of people don’t understand
that the Space Station and what we’re doing with it is really
going to help us go beyond low Earth orbit. And it’s a connection
that a lot of people don’t appreciate. If you’re going
to go beyond low Earth orbit to the moon or a six-month journey
to Mars, you have to have systems in your spacecraft that you know
will run continuously for long periods of time, you’re going
to have the right life support systems, you’ve got to have
the right electrical systems and propulsion systems. Everything
has to work properly because when you do a mission to Mars there’s
no going back -- if something’s wrong, you can’t just
get down to Earth and fix it. The Space Station is going to teach
us how to do that. It’s teaching us what kind of technologies
you need to operate and maintain a spacecraft in the hostile environment
of space for long periods of time as you would have to do if you
were doing a deep space interplanetary mission. That’s one
thing. There’s the human element, too: Space Station’s
teaching us what is required of us as humans to live and function
in space. It’s teaching us what is the consequence of living
in space on us as human beings, and it’s teaching us how to
mitigate some of them, the deleterious effects, of spaceflight.
We need to have answers to all of those questions if we’re
going to go on beyond low Earth orbit to the moon or to Mars. And
that’s where the Space Station can really help. So I see it
as enabling all the technologies and capabilities that we’re
going to need to do deep space exploration.