Interview: Pedro Duque
International Space Station Expedition 8 Crew Interviews with Flight
Engineer Pedro Duque.
Q: The International
Space Station Crew Interviews with Pedro Duque of the European Space
Agency, Flight Engineer on the seventh Soyuz flight to ISS. Pedro,
you're about to begin a ten-day trip to the International Space
Station. Tell me, what are the goals of your flight?
A: The goals
are multiple, as we normally have on these spaceflights, because
spaceflight is a dangerous and expensive issue, and you have to
use every minute. We have the goal of, first, replacing the Soyuz
that is up there and has, which has reached the end of its guaranteed
lifetime, so that is the first goal. Of course deliver the new crew
to the Space Station, and by doing that, then in the time that it
takes to exchange the crews then I take the opportunity for eight
days to use the Space Station as a laboratory with some experiences
and other activities that have been waiting in the queue of the
European Space Agency for so long for the launch of the Columbus
the fifth European Space Agency astronaut to go to ISS, and of course
the first from Spain. How important is it to the ESA nations and
the partner agencies these days to have a European astronaut who's
going to go on board the station that they're helping to build and
It is important.
The people need to see…steps being taken and goals being attained.
In this case, we are going to launch the Columbus module as soon
as the Space Shuttle returns to flight, and the rest of the necessary
pieces of the Space Station are there and from then on we will be
using the Space Station as a full partner in a permanent basis.
From this moment till then, it is important to keep the experimental
teams working and to give them opportunities to already obtain some
results from the Space Station.
you alluded to, the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew have
postponed your mission. Now, for many people the danger of spaceflight
hasn't ever been more clear than it is right now. But, you are aware
of it: you're an astronaut, you were an astronaut classmate of three
of the Columbia astronauts, and you've flown in space before-you
understand the dangers. And here you are, ready to go do it again.
Tell me why you think the rewards that we get from flying in space
are worth the risks that you're going to take.
that people do are risky, and they believe that they have a reward
and they're doing it for a good cause and for helping others, or
whatever it is. I mean it is dangerous to go to space-there's a
certain percent probability that we're always told that we may not
come back from it. But the other people who do other risky things
on Earth, we on our side think that the knowledge that we can bring
from space and the first little steps that we are putting on human
exploration are a good reward for what we are doing, basically.
Everybody wants to leave something done at the end of their days.
Other people think that going to Africa and with elementary medical
equipment and cure the children there is enough reward for them
to get into zones that are in war, and that is more dangerous than
what we do. And I…there are certain things that you have to
do that well, are have a trade-off.
about why you feel this trade-off is worthwhile: why did you want
to become an astronaut?
Yes, I don't
know, really. It's one of these things that happened little by little
that or, let's say, coming and going, when you're a kid. And I remember
seeing the lunar landing and thinking that these guys were doing
something very important for everybody, that I would like to be
there; this is normal for children with a sort of, some interest
in science and technology that they have these kind of feelings.
But, of course, for somebody born in Spain that wasn't a real possibility
in the 1960s or even the '70s or the '80s. But then the European
Space Agency started to participate in Space Station and Spain,
as part of ESA was also, and other countries was proposed to send
astronauts. And suddenly it became real again, and it was more or
less a quick decision: yes, we can-I can-try to, I can try to get
must have, whether you realized it or not, been laying the groundwork
for becoming an astronaut even before you got to that point. How
did…for you, what was the path? What did you do in your education
and your early career to be somebody who was qualified to become
never, you can never tell people exactly what is it that qualifies
you to be an astronaut because there's a big element of luck, a
big element of who do you meet during the path of your life that
may give you a good hint one day, and so even though it is not a,
completely a path to follow, then what I did was I studied engineering,
aeronautical engineering, in Madrid, I finished in '86, and then
I started working for a company that did orbit determination, orbit
calculation software, and I worked in our Mission Control Center
in Germany for five years before becoming an astronaut.
As you look
back now-and as you say, you never know what's going to be important
or who you're going to meet that's going to influence you-look back
now, who do you think are the people who've been the most influential
in the path that you've taken in your life?
becoming [an] astronaut, well, I have of course friends and family
also always encouraging me to have good marks and study and leave
me alone to be able to do it, and all those things that a kid and
a youngster needs in order to make the best out of his or her own
potential. And this I have had a lot in my parents and my brother,
and and then after becoming astronaut I've been for quite a number
of years, like a sponge that tries to extract all the little knowledge
from all the people who have been in space and I have been in contact
with. I was selected at twenty-eight years of age, so I looked up
at the fifty-years-old people that have been several times in space
with awe and with a lot of wish to know what they knew. So, I can't
name too many people. Ulf Merbold told me a lot about how to work
in a Spacelab in a efficient mode; I remember one day Gennadi Manakov
told me how to wash yourself in an efficient manner. I don't know-Steve
Lindsey…how to work and have fun at the same time; John Glenn, how to deal with the press afterwards, you know, there's so many
the last few years you've also been working on the European components
that are going to be added to the International Space Station in
the coming years. Tell me, so tell us some about the Columbus module
and the other ESA contributions to the Station that are going to
be coming along in the next few years.
Yes. The main,
the centerpiece of the contribution of ESA is a laboratory module
that we call Columbus. It is not very different from the United
States' Laboratory: it is, it has the same number of experimental
locations where you can put experimental hardware; it is shorter
because the U.S. Lab fulfills many other functions as a central
piece of the Space Station, so it has to accommodate much more hardware,
but in essence it's about the same as the United States' Laboratory.
The…inside the Columbus module we will have, we have developed
very sophisticated experimental equipment for metallurgy or fluid
science biology, and other kinds of science in which ESA is a specialist-
nobody does this racks, that we call, or wardrobes, full of equipment
better than the European industry. This will launch with the Columbus
module whenever, of course we get to it. And the other piece of
the contribution is an Automatic Transfer Vehicle, or cargo vehicle,
that would, will dock automatically to the Russian side of the space
station. It will fulfill, more or less, the role of the Progress
spacecraft today that everybody, I think, know but it is like three
times bigger so with one of them we will cover about three launches
of Progress in terms of cargo, fuel reboosting or lifting the Space
Station capabilities in all these things. The, a cargo ship is supposed
to go on the end of this year, it doesn't depend-the end of next
year- it doesn't depend on the Shuttle, it, it's actually complementary,
if you want to look at it. And of course, the other contributions
will wait for the return to flight.
Do you think
the fact that you will have been on board the Station is going to
be a benefit to ESA and to the program after you come back home
to help finish preparing Columbus?
Yes, I hope
so. I went to integrate myself into the engineering team of Columbus
more or less right after the flight [STS-95]-six or seven months
after-and I felt that I could contribute a lot to…well, ESA
is just starting operations in space with systems and everything.
We have done the Spacelab many, many years ago, which is part of
the Space Transportation System, or was part of it, from the early
'80s to the late '90s it was the only laboratory that was used in
Space Shuttles. So we have some experience and some people experienced
some building laboratories, but operations in a continuous basis,
we are all learning. So I thought that I could contribute a lot
during this three years I was in Columbus. And, the other people
who have been in space, in Space Station before me for ESA, are
also contributing already, so I think when I come back I will have
something to help, I will have some knowledge to pass.
had some experience at this-on your first spaceflight you were also
part of a multinational crew that completed dozens of experiments.
In that case, you and your crewmate, John Glenn, were the primary human subjects for research into how people are responding to being
in a weightless environment. Has that whole experience benefited
you as you've prepared yourself for this flight?
Yes. That experience
and other, two others that I had when I was doing backup crewmember,
so during, let's say, this is then the fourth time that I trained
for a spaceflight and that has, well, I think it is…you can't
deny that every time you do something you have to do it better,
and in this case I think it has benefited a lot, in particular,
of course, doing really the spaceflight has benefited me to be more
confident of what's going to happen there, what's going to be my
reaction, and how to deal with other people in small spaces. So
you approach, of course, the second flight with an enormous quantity,
or enormous level, of confidence, much more than the first.
On the other
hand, you're going to be starting your second flight quite differently
than your first, this time in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft rather
than the Space Shuttle. Describe for us what takes place in the
Soyuz during the launch and during the two-day trip to the station.
And talk about the responsibilities that you will have as a member
of that crew.
The Soyuz rocket,
that carries the Soyuz capsule or spacecraft on top of it launches-as
probably everybody knows already-from the steppe in Kazakhstan near
the Caspian, Aral Seas in that region of the Earth, and takes, like
the Shuttle, eight-and-a-half minutes to arrive to orbit. What is
maybe special about this is, of course, it's [an] older-style rocket
with different phases, a first phase, second phase, the third phase.
In the whole trip of the rocket the crew has almost nothing that
they can do, because they are inside the rocket, and they can't
operate any of the systems, so the rocket, it operates automatically.
After separation, the crew has to make sure that they are in a stable
orbit, and then during the two days, forty-eight hours, it takes
from then to docking to the Space Station, they have to raise the
orbit, chase the Station, and there's a lot of responsibility given
to the crew in such a small spacecraft. It is small, it is, it has
a lot of rocket power to move from here to there, to turn, and that
makes all operations rather quick. And that means that the ground
control cannot be in charge of everything, because that's too quick
for them to react. So the crew has a lot of responsibility. In particular,
of course, the Commander has a lot of responsibility in the overall,
and I am given the responsibility in the functioning of all the
systems that support his duty on taking the spacecraft where it's
supposed to go.
you are, have the job of Flight Engineer; what does that consist
It is the job
of the person who cares that all the different separate systems
of the Space Station are working correctly. Of "Space Station,"
I said-of the Soyuz rocket are working correctly; there's another
Flight Engineer on the Space Station…
case. But the job is to have everything working well so that the
Commander can take decisions on whether to take the docking automatically,
manually, and, of course, support the decision taken on the spacecraft.
arrival, as you've mentioned before, during the handover period
by the two Station crews you have a science program of your own.
What are the scientific, different scientific disciplines that are
represented, that are in your research program? What are the goals
of the scientists who've come up with these experiments?
are various areas of science. We normally take examples of each
area, of this very long queue of experimenters who are waiting for
the Columbus module to go up. We have, we are building materials
that do not form really in space for special molecular filters that
are needed by industry, and then they study the result on the ground
and try to mimic the result on the ground facilities. We have biology;
we are studying genetics expression of genes. Now, of course since
the genome of humans is almost decoded and the genome of several
simpler beings is fully decoded, then scientists have gotten a lot
of questions, much more questions than the answers that they got,
but that is the normal thing in science. We have physiology experiments
for the astronauts themselves to, I mean, give blood at certain
moments depending on things that you are doing and considering the
differences about what the reaction of the body is in space and
on ground. And fluid physics, and we are also taking some materials
to produce educational videos of, we hope, quite a high level of
education, so the laws of physics in very detailed form; of course,
that has, as NASA has been doing for a very long time, that has
two goals-first, to show what can only be shown in zero gravity,
but second, to have the interest of the students in science just
because it's being done in space.
that one of the areas is finding out how people respond to being
in space. What in particular are you going to be doing during your
research time in that area?
are several research projects that deal with the human body or mind.
There's one about orientation, so you have electroencephalogram
and electrodes and everything, and you're presented a sort of visual
cue about orientation, going to the left or right, and you have
to guess, more or less, what has happened without looking anywhere
else. And that is totally different in ground or, as in space. And
by that they're hoping one day to know much more detail about how
this works, really, on humans on ground. Now maybe, people who are
ill of the systems, the equilibrium system, can be cured by having
much more knowledge. We have some studies about chromosomes, about
whether chromosomes of, again, parts of the genome are more activated
in space than on ground and by that, we start building, little by
little, on the knowledge of what each of these genes that now we
know does. There are others about cardiovascular effects, about
what happens when you go to space and suddenly the blood doesn't
pool anymore in your feet.
mentioned that there's an area of research that some people call
microgravity science or physical sciences. Would these be the kinds
of experiments that you were referring to before that are a particular
area of expertise for ESA scientists?
ESA scientists I mean, Europe is very large, they are in all kinds
of…there are people who are expert in all kinds of areas. What
I was saying is that ESA as an organization is very expert on building
hardware and facilities for science, and we have done this since
the Spacelab times and we have sent, for example, the biggest experimental
facility now on the Space Station, the glovebox, you know, with
all of its different devices, is fully built in Europe. So, that,
that's what I'm, and I'm going to be using this glovebox for the
experiments. In the sense of physical science, yes, well, there
have been several experimental groups that have been on the forefront
from ESA on this part, in this particular area.
your experiments, then, as you say, will be using the Microgravity
Sciences Glovebox; that's in the U.S. Lab. Are your experiments
taking you from one end of the station to the other?
Yes, and that's,
I am very happy that this happens. I would like to see how the U.S.
Lab works, and then that has given me the opportunity to refresh
all the training that I have for how the American segment works.
And well, also, it's just a small but significant element of pride
in being, using the glovebox that, it has been built by the European
industry completely. And but of course, I'm doing experiments on
any kind of the station is, I mean, we do it in any kind, in any
part of the Station, mainly because this mission is going to be
a little bit different than the others: they are going to be doing
the handover, and during that time I will have to try to not be
in the way because they will be traveling a lot along the Station,
showing the old crew showing the new crew the state of the Station.
you referred to that, you start your mission launching with Mike
Foale and Alexander Kaleri, but you'll be ending it, coming home,
with Yuri Malenchenko and Ed Lu. Describe for us the trip back to
Earth, as it takes place in a Soyuz as you've trained for.
You are in
your spacecraft, and at the time you're still docked to the Space
Station, check that all the hatches of course don't let any air
out because when you detach, of course, that is the main thing that
you want to know; put on your spacesuit that will help you in case
that the whole atmosphere of the vehicle is lost, even in that case;
and detach from the station. Talk to ground control, they beam up
the parameters for your automatic firing of the rocket, retro-rocket
firing that we know since the Mercury era. And then you take care
of your systems and make sure that everything is working. There
are certain checkpoints along there that you have to be very aware
of that that's a moment in which this, the Flight Engineer has to
be very aware of not, fuel leaks and other things that may happen
because of the dynamics of the de-docking. And then afterwards the
automatic firing of the rocket occurs: if everything works then
you have to do nothing; if, as in the simulator, everything breaks,
then you have to work a lot and bring back all the systems and so
on. And, in about forty minutes from the firing of the rocket you're
down on Earth on your parachute.
landing this past April, which was the first of the new Soyuz model,
the TMA, was rougher than normal and it was off target. What was
the, what was it that's been determined was responsible for the
ballistic landing of the last Soyuz? Any concerns about the spacecraft
that you're going to be coming home in, which is also a Soyuz TMA,
from that operating according to plan?
It has, we
have been very lucky in the sense that all suspect blocks and devices
that could have caused the error returned to Earth in the capsule.
I mean, if they would have been lost with the retro-rocket or anything
they would have never known. So, they have put all of them in the
laboratory and they have restricted the, all, the possible failure
to only one of these blocks-this is analog amplifiers, and switches
and latches. Exactly one like this is up there now. They have said
that the laboratory has proven that the probability of this signals
occurring at exactly the same time, which is exactly what, what
happened it wasn't foreseen, and maybe one millisecond or something
of probability in, in every second the probability is very low.
So, concerns: first of all, we will be watching for it. We can't
do much because this is an automatic block that it either works
or not. But we are not concerned for our safety because the landing
even if it's rougher, it is, it happens in a controlled way, and
it happens in a way that is foreseen. You land off target but they,
the target, I mean, the area in which you land has also been computed
as being suitable for landing. And…and there's yet another
possible mode-even if this thing would fail a second time, there's
still another mode in which you can land safely in the same target,
and it's also computed. So there's no safety concern, and the concern
of landing maybe anywhere and taking some time to find us has been
removed by putting more equipment in the Soyuz, more communications
equipment, location equipment, so that we will just make a regular
phone call to the ground control as soon as we land.
for a taxi?
for a pizza.
be next for you after this flight? Do you have any designs on being
a long-duration Station crewmember?
everybody has in the European group. We don't have a Shuttle, we
don't have a Soyuz; our thing is to be partners of the Space Station
and use it permanently. So, we started in 1992 with this goal in
mind: we are going to build a Space Station. And, Europe is part
of the project who wants to be a crewmember of the Space Station.
All the rest of the things, this is just a path towards it. So we
are hoping that in about two years from now Europeans will go permanently
to the Space Station, one after the other, and I'm in that queue,
is a very ambitious project. It's got designs on achievements in
engineering, in science, global relations, as well as just the future
of space exploration itself. Pedro, what do you think is the most
valuable contribution that can come out of the International Space
It is very
difficult, as you said to give more priority to one of the three
areas, one of the either your international cooperation in difficult
times, technological advancement, science, exploration. I think
what, the most important thing that we get from the Space Station
is, if put in one word, is knowledge. So either with the science
or with the technology we develop, or with the experience that we're
gaining, for then go to other places as humans, then what we're
getting from the Space Station is knowledge and that, that should
help us in not many years to accomplish even more difficult goals.