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Preflight Interview: Umberto Guidoni

The STS-100 Crew Interviews with Umberto Guidoni, Mission Specialist.

Q: First off, tell me: Why did you want to be an astronaut?

A. Well, actually, that happens when I was already in my job in, technical job. I mean, I am a physicist and I was working in a research laboratory in Italy. And I was working in space science mostly. And in the lab I was in, we were designing the experiments for satellites to fly. And one of the satellites we were working on was the tether satellite. And just when we were at the end of our design process there was the news that the Italian government and the U.S. government had signed an agreement to fly the first Italian astronaut on that flight. And so I said, "Well, why don't [I] try and see what happen?" And that was really the dispute. I started this whole endeavor really. And at the beginning we had the selection in Italy. And that was pretty much among people that had held previous experience in that particular satellite. So, I was in that, in a good position then. And at the end of the process, there was four candidates left and I was one of them. And so, at that point I start to think, "Well, it might happen after all." And it happened. I was selected as [one of] the two Italians that were sent here [to] Houston for training. And the first flight of the tether satellite happened in '92, and I was the backup on that flight. And then my chance really happened in 1996 when we added the second flight of the tether satellite. And so I flew as a Payload Specialist on that flight and I was pretty much involved in all the science of the tether satellite. After that I had so much fun in space that I decided to make a career out [of it]. And since Italy was involved in the space station as well as signed an agreement with NASA. And when the possibility to enter the 1996 Mission Specialist class. So, I asked to do that to the Italian Space Agency, and they sent me here. Actually, I didn't move really. I was already here, so I just started my new activity as a Mission Specialist candidate. And then I graduate two years later, in 1998, with my class. And, since then I've been here in Houston for training basically. And I was very happy to be assigned to this mission. This is very, very important mission. Very, very specific for me, too, because we have an Italian module on our flight that, of course, is important for my country. And that's pretty much my story; how I am here and why I wanted to be an astronaut.

Had you thought about space at all when you were a child?

Yes I did in fact. But, of course, being an Italian we saw the landing on the moon. I remember; I was 15 years old when Neil Armstrong put feet in the moon. And for me it was like seeing a movie. I mean a science-fiction movie. He was, I mean, very, very interesting. But, at the same time it was very far in the future. I couldn't believe that 30 years later I was in the position to be an astronaut.

Were there any particular people along the way that were big influences on you in getting you where you are?

Well, when I was a teenager, my uncle used to give me science book, and he also gave me the first telescope. And I started to look at the stars. And probably that made my, I mean, make up my idea to become a scientist. Not to NASA because, as I said, at that time I didn't dream of being at NASA. But to become a scientist and to start study in particular the space, because that's what's really my major interest. I was, I remember, I still remember when the first time I pointed the telescope at the sky and I saw Saturn with the rings. It was a beautiful image. And that really made my mind to become a scientist. And that was the first step in order to become an astronaut, of course.

And here you are on this extremely important mission. Tell me what the goals are of STS-100?

Well, we have two major goals. The most important one is to get the station arm on board the station, because that's this really milestone in the space station building since from now on they will be using this arm to continue building the space station. There will be tasks that cannot be accomplished with the shuttle arm. So, we really need to have this bigger arm, as we call it, in order to accomplish this task. And the second important payload that we have is the MPLM, the Logistics Module, that was built in Italy. That's why it is also very important for me in particular that we use it to ferry goods to the station but also experiments and materials, I mean, spare parts that are needed for the crew on board the station.

Why is it so important that this flight be successful in the whole assembly sequence of the space station?

Well, because immediately after us, on 7A they will install the airlock. And it will be impossible to install without the station arm. So, in order [for] 7A to succeed, they need to have this arm fully working, fully tested and ready to work. So, that's why it is important. Of course adding the airlock on board the station is one key element to have the EVA capability on the station. And that's really a must to have. I mean, in order for the crew to be safe on board the station, to have the opportunity to go out and repair…anything, I mean, can happen there.

Before you install this important equipment on board, you have to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station. Talk me through that process, and tell me what are you doing while all that's going on?

Well, pretty much I will be probably doing photo documentation during that part. Because, of course, almost all of the rest of the crewmembers will be pretty busy with this, with the activity of the rendezvous and docking. And so, I will be probably, since I am not involved in all the activity, I will have some spare time to devote to document all this busy part of the flight.

And, after the docking takes place, what happens in those hours just after then, after the two ships are, have come together?

I believe we cannot open the airlock as soon as we are docking because we have the first EVA just a few hours after that. So, we will be depressing the, our cabin, the shuttle cabin, and in order to have Chris and Scott ready to go on the EVA.

When you finally do see the Expedition Two crew face-to-face, do you have anything special for them?

Yes. We have a surprise for them. I cannot tell what it is. But we are working that.

All right. Now, the day after docking, the shuttle's robot arm is used to install the robot arm on the station and that first space walk begins. Talk me through the steps of that day. What happens on that space walk and, again, what will you be doing during that time?

It will be a pretty complicated space walk. And Chris and Scott will be basically unfolding the arm and [connecting] the power to the LCA, the cradle where the arm is located. And since this is a difficult position to reach, we will be using the arm as a support for one of the EVA crewmembers in order to reach this position. Jeff Ashby will be flying the arm, and I will [be] supporting him as a R2. Basically checking the, some of the spec on the computer and also using the visual cue that we have in order to help him in driving the arm.

Is that arm fully functional at the end of that space walk or is there still more work to be done?

At that point, it will be in standby. And, it needs some other work in order to be fully operational. But, what we need to get out of the first EVA is to have the arm completely unfolded and powered so that they can keep the temperature under control. That will really the call of the first EVA.

On that space walk the guys are also installing a UHF antenna. What sort of communications are going to be possible once that's up there?

I believe it's mainly a space-to-space communication. And I'm not sure about that though.

Now, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, we've talked about that. It's going to be lifted out of the shuttle's cargo bay and attached to the space station. Tell me some more about the MPLM. What is it and what is it bringing up on this particular flight?

Yes. The MPLM is really the module we use to carry all the spare parts and experiments on the space station and also back to Earth. So, it will be our truck, space truck, that we will be using back and forth from the ground to the space station and back. It is inside them, they can be [configured] in different [ways] depending on the kind of materials we are bringing on the station. In our particular flight, we will be bringing two EXPRESS [racks] that are pretty much the standard size rack that are used on board the station. And, we will be also carrying some of the [experiments] to put on these racks. Also we will be carrying food and clothes for the Expedition Two crew. And as well as spare parts for the EVA that will be conducted from the station in the following months. And also some spare parts for the space station; like, for example, DC-DC converters and computers and other things of this nature. In particular, we will be bringing also a scale model of the SSRMS for the crew to train. I mean, it's always very important to have a physical representation of the arm. Because this station arm is very complicated. It's really one generation, next generation arm with respect to the arm we are flying on the shuttle. In particular, this arm has 7 degrees-of-freedom that makes the overall motion of the arm very complex so that, before you start driving the arm, you should be very familiar with all the position it can get. And, that's why we need a model on board the station. We will be carrying that as well.

What's the process of getting this Logistics Module attached to the station? How does that happen?

Yes. The Logistics Module is [a] pretty big and heavy payload. It's half of the size of the Destiny module that just went up on the last shuttle mission. So we will be uncradling the MPLM from the shuttle cargo bay with the shuttle robotic arm. And it will be pretty much moved up, most of the motion will be up, until we get almost at the, close to the Node 1 where it will be attached. Since we don't have a good visibility of the Node and of the berthing mechanism that will be used to attach the MPLM to the station, we will be using a centerline camera in order to help…that is pointing out from the Node and will be reflected on a mirror that is mounted on the MPLM so that we get the image from the berthing axis. And this will be a very delicate task because, of course, again we are moving a very massive object and we are moving against this station. So, that's really something you want to do very carefully. And when we finally get close, on the order of a few inches, then there is a latching mechanism that will attach momentarily the MPLM. And then the system, I mean the bolting, automatic bolting system of the CBM, the Common Berthing Mechanism, will take over and will bolt the MPLM to the rest of the station so that it's structurally sound. Because of course while we are doing all this maneuver, the space station will be in free drift. And so in order to be able to command the attitude again, we have to be sure that the MPLM is sounded, I mean, is attached to the rest of the station.

There's another very important space walk, the second one that goes on, on this flight. What happens during that space walk?

Yes. During that space walk there will be some repositioning of the power so that the arm can be fully controlled by the robotic station that is in the Lab. When this space walk will be completed, then the arm will be fully operational and ready for the next activity that will be pretty much the testing, the first flight testing of the space station arm.

How does this testing work? What happens?

Well, we brought the station arm in its cradle that is, was attached to the Lab. When the arm is fully functional, we don't need that cradle anymore. So, we will be bringing the cradle, the SLP, back into the cargo bay. Originally we planned to do that with the shuttle arm. But then there was this new idea to actually, to test the station arm just by doing this, the first part of this translation from the…so detach the pallet from the Lab and bring it close to the shuttle cargo bay. At that point, there will be the handover between the shuttle arm and the station arm so that the shuttle arm will take the cradle and put it into the cargo bay. This way it's a pretty complex operation. For the first time we will be operating two arms at the same time, even though it will be done sequentially. But, nevertheless, it needs, it requires a lot of coordination between the two crews-the station crew and the shuttle crew. So, that really will be a very interesting phase of the flight.

There's also a scheduled tentative third space walk.


Why is there a tentative space walk?

Well, you know, space walk is always [a] very complex activity. And there might be something we haven't planned. I mean, the actual flight might be a little different from what we have rehearsed many times in the pool. And so, in case we have contingencies and things that we cannot accomplish within the duration of the space walk, we have a buffer, I mean, in order to be able to complete the…what we want to accomplish. Because that's, as we said at the beginning of this: This is a very critical flight. And, we have to be sure that everything we planned is completed during our mission.

And, if you do not need that third space walk, how will you use that time?

Probably it will be mostly devoted to transfer of the cargo between the space station and between the MPLM and the space station. This is something that we will be doing together with the Expedition crew. And so, if we have more free time, we can help them to do it quicker. I also think that if we have this extra day available, probably we will have just time to relax and to enjoy being on the station.

Once you finish those transfers and hopefully have gotten to relax a little bit you'll then move the MPLM back into the payload bay of the shuttle.

Yes, that's-

How does that happen?

That will be much pretty the reverse of the activity that we did on flight day 4. And so, at this point, the MPLM will be closed from the space station crew and the Common Berthing Mechanism will be restored as it was originally when we latched it, when we put the MPLM and the station together. And at that point, when we start to unbolt the bolts and before we complete that process, the arm will be grappling the MPLM and at a certain time, there will be a, I mean, when the MPLM will be released, the arm will be used to move the MPLM away from the station and back in the cargo bay. So again it is another joint operation that we require a coordination between the two crews.

After all that work, you finally get to say goodbye to the Expedition Two crew and undock from the station. Tell me what's happening on that day. How does all that happen?

Yes. After we have successfully undocked from the station, Jeff Ashby will be flying the shuttle around the station. I am looking forward for that because it will be probably some breathtaking moment for us because, I mean, flying so close to the station, we will probably see all details of this big structure in space. And so, Jeff is very excited about that and so is the rest of the crew.

As you mentioned, this is your second flight aboard the space shuttle, and you're going to an International Space Station that's hosting its second set of residents. As a member of the European Space Agency, what are your thoughts about the growing international presence in space and, in particular, the role of the Europeans?

Well, I think that one of the major [aspects] of this space station is the international cooperation that is the base of the realization of the station itself. I would say that for the first time in the history all the major countries in the world are pushing together to reach this goal. And in my opinion, this is in itself, is already a good, a very important achievement. If we think that, I mean, we've having all the, I mean, Russia, United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, are all together on this endeavor, we think that for the first time probably we are building something in space that is really for all humankind. And not only that but the fact that, eventually, when the station is completed, there will be an international crew, I mean, made of astronauts coming from different cultural experience speaking different languages, but working together for a common goal in my opinion is really a good achievement. In this respect Europe is playing an important role. Not only Europe will provide a lab-one of the three major laboratories that will be on the station for scientific and technological development-but also Europe is involved in the logistic support of the station, providing the so-called Automatic Transfer Vehicle that will be [launched] with an Ariane-2 rocket and will provide automatic docking capability to the station so that we can send basically all kind of supplies to the station. We talked already of the other logistics support that we are providing for the station. That is the MPLM. That is an Italian endeavor but it's also part of the European contribution. And, also Europe is involved in the development of the crew rescue vehicle, the lifeboat of the station, the next-generation lifeboat of the station. That will be ready when the space station will be completed and will be able to support seven [astronauts] in case of an emergency on board the station. So, altogether I will say that the role of Europe is very important. And also…I mean, Europe is kind of changing, it's shifting its interest from what we had in the past that was pretty much mostly in the scientific mission, unmanned scientific mission, towards a manned operation. So, for that reason Europe had created a new astronaut corps that was created by merging the astronauts coming from different European countries. So that, now we have a corps of 16, 17 European [astronauts]. That is really our first attempt to have a super-national astronaut center. And I believe that this is also due to the fact, to the involvement of Europe, in the space station building basically.

Crew Interviews
Image: Umberto Guidoni.
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Umberto Guidoni's greeting (WAV file 603 Kb).

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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