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Ask the Crew: STS-112

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Question No. 1 Sandra Magnus' Reply

From: Alexandra Mattinson, Scott AFB Elementary, Ill., Age: 11
To: Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus

Question: Dr. Sandra Magnus, as the "Master of Transfer Operations," what was the first piece of cargo that was moved from the shuttle into the space station?

Magnus: I have to tell you, Alexandra, the first thing that I took over -- and you probably saw me carry it with me across the hatch -- was some special items we brought up for the space station crew: some of the fresh food, some of the crew preference items, some letters from home, things like that. Because when the shuttle comes to the station, getting your mail and all the neat presents that people sent is obviously the thing you're looking forward to second after seeing your new visitors.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus
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Question No. 2 Sandra Magnus' and Piers Sellers' Replies

From: Anna Walsh, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., Age: 9
To: Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Piers Sellers

Question: Since this was your first flight, how did the launch differ from your expectations? What was your first breath-catching "WOW" moment once in orbit, and did your commander do anything special to welcome you into space?

Magnus: I'll give you my answer, and then I'll hand it off to Piers. For me, the launch was a little bit different from our training, so I was not sure what to expect. I guess the noise, the vibration and just the whole experience of it was way beyond what I thought it might be. My first breath-catching "wow", I have to say, was when the SRBs separated from the shuttle. There was a big bang and big flash of light, and I really wasn't prepared for how noisy and how much light that would be. And I actually did say, "wow." It was pretty amazing. And both Jeff and Pam welcomed us into the flown astronaut corps when we hit the 50-mile mark. They turned around and shook our hands and grinned at us, and Piers and I, of course, were grinning right back. Let me hand it over to Piers, and he can give you his answer.

Sellers: Yeah, it was very hard to remain unimpressed throughout this. It was like we were lying on our backs for hours and hours in a little gray room, and then, suddenly, started really shaking it really violently. It was like being on a piece of elastic that somebody else had let go. Schwing! You're shot up from the pad, and you can feel yourself just going up and up like an express elevator. And then, a few minutes later, the ship rolled, and we saw the beautiful, blue Earth below us. It was just the most gorgeous sight. And Pam and Jeff -- the two people who've been in space before -- turned around to look at Sandy and me to see how we would react, and we reacted as predicted. We were smiling.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Piers Sellers
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Question No. 3 Piers Sellers' and Sandra Magnus' Replies

From: Nikki, Oxford, England, U.K., Age: 40
To: Mission Specialists Piers Sellers and Sandy Magnus

Question: How did it feel as you dived out the hatch for your first EVA? Does zero gravity meet or exceed expectations?

Sellers: We were waiting in the airlock for a few hours -- Dave and I -- getting ready, and it's like a little, white room with a hatch at the bottom. And the moment came to open the hatch, and I pulled it open. And I was looking straight down at a beautiful landscape, with a river running through it and some clouds and some snow on the mountains. Just beautiful. And when I dived out of the hatch, it looked like I was diving down straight to it and just floating. You know, I couldn't see anything on either side of me. It was just a view of the Earth. There was all this light around. It was just the most glorious view. Beautiful thing. Completely distracting. And best regards to Nikki.

Magnus: Being in zero-g -- it's hard to imagine what that's like. And I was trying to figure out how to explain it, and I guess, if you've ever been floating in water and just sort of hovering there in the water totally relaxed and at ease, or SCUBA diving and totally relaxed at ease underwater when you're neutrally buoyant, that's probably the closest thing you can get. And every slight motion that you make changes your direction or affects the way you're going so you have to move really carefully, but it's really a fantastic experience to be able to do this -- floating.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus
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Question No. 4 Sandra Magnus' Reply

From: Mike Harris, O'Fallon, Ill., Age: 39
To: Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus

Question: It seems that you are traveling through light and darkness very quickly. How does this affect you mentally and physically? How do you prepare/train for something like that? Good luck and have a safe (and fun) mission.

Magnus: You do travel through light and darkness very quickly. We travel around the Earth every 90 minutes, so we see several sunrises and sunsets every day. And that's a spectacular view, let me tell you. I haven't noticed anything mentally or physically about the night and day cycles. You know, at night we sleep down in the middeck, and we block that off so we don't really notice the day night going so much. I haven't really felt that effect. I don't know if there really is a good way to prepare for something like this. You know, the bigger impact is just on learning how to float and not bang into things.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus
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Question No. 5Piers Sellers' Reply

From: Nancy Crocker, Lawrenceville, Ga., Age: 35
To: Mission Specialist Piers Sellers

Question: My students and I want to know what a truss is? What is its function, and why is it needed on ISS?

Sellers: Well, a truss is a big … it looks like a bit of a bridge -- a railway bridge or something, and what it's going to do is provide a structure that will hold the solar arrays that will stick out from either side of the station and keep them out of the way of the rest of the station. The other thing it does is, it's got some radiators on the back, which are going to be popping out. Some time during this mission, you'll see them. They help cool the station. And to do all that, it's got a lot of electrical power running through it and some computers and other stuff like that, so it's quite a complicated little structure. We describe it as a kid's jungle gym full of priceless Ming vases, which is what it's like to do spacewalks on.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Piers Sellers
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Question No. 6 Sandra Magnus' Reply

From: Darrell Dye, Charlotte, N.C., Age: 44
To: Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus

Question: I and many other people my age grew up with space flight in the news. From looking at the current pictures, these vehicles are much "roomier" than what we grew up with. Does it feel that way, or does it still feel a little "cramped"?

Magnus: Well, actually, right now on the flight deck, there are four of us, and it does feel a little cramped. But in the space station, when we docked and opened up the hatch, it was really amazing how much space there is available over there. It's certainly nothing like the Apollo and Gemini and Mercury programs, where you were more or less trapped in the space of your seat in a small capsule. So we've certainly gone a long way in space exploration. It's pretty big up here.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus
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Question No. 7 Sandra Magnus' Reply

From: Michael Jones, Belleville, Ill., Age: 9
To: Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus

Question: Do you like the space food?

Magnus: I have to say, I like some of it, and some of it I don't like. I found out up here that I like the creamed spinach a lot, I like the orange-mango drink a lot. The shrimp cocktail is nice, but it's not as nice as I thought when I had it on the ground. One thing I found that I really like is the cheese spread that they have. If you warm it up and put it on a tortilla, that's spectacular. So that's probably my favorite thing. I don't like the grapefruit drink, and I don't like the meatloaf very much, either. So it just depends … ["I love the meatloaf" is audible in the background from another crewmember.] … Other people up here are telling me they do like the meatloaf, so it really just depends on your individual tastes.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus
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Question No. 8 David Wolf's Reply

From: Cindy Burns, Richmond, Va., Age: 47
To: Mission Specialist David Wolf

Question: My students watched the first EVA and enjoyed listening to you and Piers work together. They are wondering if you expend the same amount of energy or less in a weightless environment? Does working from different physical angles (not always being upright) have an effect on your control and effort? And lastly, are you more physically or mentally exhausted at the end of a spacewalk?

Wolf: We expend, I would say, more [energy] in general, when you're out EVA, because the suit is hard to move in because it's pressurized. ‘Does working from different physical angles, not always being upright, have an effect on your control and effort?’ And the answer is it does have an effect on staying oriented and being able to move correctly, so it expends a lot of mental effort to keep things in order. ‘ lastly, are you more physically or mentally exhausted at the end of a spacewalk?’ And I'd say it's about an equal mix of both, because you have to have constant vigilance of tethers and safety while doing a task and listening to instructions from your control team and other crewmembers. So it's mentally tiring and it's physically tiring moving in the suit in general. That's all.

STS-112 Mission Specialist David Wolf
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Question No. 9Pam Melroy's Reply

From: Jason Wurtz, Boulder City, Nev., Age: 6
To: Pilot Pam Melroy

Question: I am a 6-year-old boy who would one day like to go to the Moon and to Mars. My question is: Are the shuttles' tiles affected going out into orbit or only affected when they re-enter the Earth's atmosphere?

Melroy: Well, first of all Jason, I'd like to tell you that I'd love to go to the Moon and Mars as well. And one way that can really help you is if you study hard in school, especially math and science. That was a great question about the shuttle tiles. I'll tell you that the tiles are probably most famous for keeping the inside of the shuttle cool during entry. And I was thinking maybe that's what you're thinking. In fact, on ascent they don't get hot, but every part of the shuttle is affected going up into orbit because of the tremendous vibrations and loads from the giant rocket engines. And of course the tiles then work to help keep us cool inside the shuttle when we enter the Earth's atmosphere. Great question!

STS-112 Pilot Pam Melroy
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Question No. 10Sandra Magnus' Reply

From: Michael Donahue, Shepherd, Mont., Age: 59
To: Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus

Question: At 17,500 mph, do you have a real-time sense of speed in orbit? And do you see lights on Earth at night?

Magnus: Last night, I spent some time looking out the window straight down at the Earth over on the station, and it was kind of strange. It was like, you do get a sense of speed. The Earth is speeding by, or you're speeding by the Earth at a really fast rate. It just turns so fast and one minute you're over an island and the next minute you're in the ocean. It's really amazing. And then at night when the cities go by, you do see the lights and you can, for example you can see the coastline of the whole Eastern Seaboard defined by the lights of the cities over there. The other thing that's really spectacular to see from orbit are the thunderstorms to see the clouds the cloud lightning as it dances around in some of the bigger thunderstorms. It's like a big fireworks show. It's spectacular.

STS-112 Mission Specialist Piers Sellers
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Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/21/2002
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