Interview: Paul Richards
STS-102 Crew Interviews with Paul Richards, Mission Specialist.
Paul, I'd like to start by finding out a bit about you as you
get ready for your first space flight. Tell me, why did you want
to become an astronaut?
it was a boyhood dream that slowly manifested into an actual career
path, and being a mechanical engineer, technical things always
interest me. I think being an astronaut is the ultimate engineering
job. It requires challenging aspects as part of academics psychologically
and physically, and just dealing with the space program and being
an explorer and working with leading-edge technology is just enjoyable.
say it was a boyhood dream. As a boy, what was it about this that
made it something you wanted to do?
Americans, I was affected by the Apollo Program. And I had a kindergarten
teacher sit me down in 1970 - and I believe it had to be Apollo
12 - and [I] saw the launch of that. Just then, I think, emotionally,
I wanted to aspire [to] be one of the Apollo astronauts. And then
as I grew up, I learned what astronauts do technically and physically,
and again, I wanted to aspire to do those things.
astronaut has a different path to get here. What's yours? What
are some of the high points in terms of education or career?
the key to my journey is persistence. I just kept trying and trying.
And I went to Drexel University and majored in mechanical engineering
and started working with the Navy on board aircraft carriers and
saw that technology there, and that awed me. And later I transferred
to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and I worked
there in various jobs from testing [to] finally designing satellite
mechanisms and then got involved in the Hubble Space Telescope
project. And from there, I got my first interface with astronauts.
I started designing EVA tools, and actually going underwater in
the EMU - the EVA suit - before the crew would for Hubble and
making sure everything would work underwater. So, every time I
got closer I really knew in my heart that that's what I wanted
it a matter of being fortunate enough to get selected the first
time you applied?
Yes, I felt
I was very fortunate. In fact, I had plans for graduate school,
and I considered my first interview a dry run so it was very surprising
that I got selected on the first go-round.
When you look back at all that you've just described, who do you
consider the people who were, or perhaps still are, the most significant
influences in your life?
Three groups sort of come to mind. First my family,
my mother and my father of course. Without them and their guidance,
I wouldn't be sitting here today, and the rest of my family, my
brothers and sisters, and the friends along the way back home
that have influenced me, that I still maintain a close relationship
with. The second would be all my teachers through high school
and through college [because] I believe the teachers, every time
they give you a class and teach you something, they leave a part
of them with you. I think that's very important, and I stand on
their shoulders to be here. And the third group would be all the
people that I've worked with in my career at NASA. I'm just awed
at how many people here are so dedicated and so smart and very
good at what they do. And I think everybody I work with here ends
up being a little bit of a teacher as well and leaves a part of
them with me.
course, this isn't the first space shuttle mission you've been
involved with, but it is the first one for you to be a member
of the flight crew. What was it like for you to receive the news
that you'd been assigned and you were going to go in space?
as a surprise. I was home and my wife, Susan, had told me I received
a call from Charlie Precourt, who typically gives the phone call
to tell you you have assignment. So, I hurriedly called back,
and it was a flight assignment. I was happily surprised. And it
overwhelms you, and it brings back the same enthusiasm that I
had when I received the call that I got a job for NASA at Goddard,
when I received a call that I would be getting an interview, and
then when I received the call that I was selected as an astronaut.
The feeling is identical and overwhelms you with excitement.
talk about the mission that you and your crew mates are preparing
to fly. If I could get you to start by summarizing the goals of
STS-102, what is this mission designed to do?
We are the
mission that will be exchanging the Expedition One crew, who are
currently up there, with the Expedition Two crew, which we'll
be bringing up. So we have ten people on our crew right now. Three
of them are in orbit, and we'll bring a crew of seven up and exchange
the space station crew members and bring home three more. So,
it's a first of its kind and a very interesting mission, and I
believe that our major goal is exchanging the crews. And while
we're there on our twelve-day mission we'll be doing space walks
and logistics transfers and other parts to continue the construction
of [the] space station.
bringing a lot of different kinds of hardware in different places
all over the ship, including some of the important equipment that
will outfit the U.S. Lab Module Destiny. These are called "racks,"
and there are apparently several kinds of them. Can you give us,
in general, a description of what racks are the varieties that
are involved in your mission?
racks are like lockers, about the size, maybe, of a refrigerator-freezer,
and they're made modular to fit in various parts of the Lab, as
well as other modules on [the] space station. And we'll be bringing
them up in a cargo transfer vehicle called the MPLM, and once
we dock the MPLM to the station, we'll transfer the racks from
one side to the other. Some of the racks, right now, are for the
environmental control systems or the communication systems and
are systems racks. Some of the racks will eventually be experimental
modules that will help control experiments. We're also bringing
up a rack for the robotics workstation that will help control
the robotic arm on space station.
these are modules that can have a range of different functions?
functions that we can interact with daily to functions that help
support life inside the space station through the environmental
control system giving us oxygen and water to the communication
system, to allow us to talk to the ground.
as you mentioned, these racks are going up in a thing called an
MPLM, a [Multi-Purpose] Logistics Module, that's going to be in
the payload bay.
the background on this "moving van" module and how it's
going to be used to bring cargo back and forth.
you well know, the space station is the International Space Station
and our Italian partners, this is [the] first module that they'll
be delivering to us, Leonardo. And it's pressurized, and it's
in the cargo bay, but we don't have access to it until we dock
it with the space station. So, it's very similar to the Lab in
shape - slightly smaller - and it has the same interfaces inside
to hold racks and cargo. So, we'll go up to the space station
and rearrange some of the ports so we can dock it to the one port
below - the nadir port, the port that faces the Earth - and then
once we dock it there, where we have access to it, then the transfer
of hardware begins to bring the new hardware aboard space station.
Then [we] bring some hardware we're no longer using or need to
refurbish down to Earth.
the MPLM serve only to transport racks or other kinds of hardware
inside it as well?
design is very modular, a rack can be a locker to hold different
kinds of hardware. So they have many racks that are hard, like
lockers with doors, and other racks that are soft and [are] like
a suitcase and can carry up various things like food [and] clothing.
So, it varies. The designers of that were very smart and made
it very modular and came up with some really good ideas on that.
not only is there hardware inside this module, but then there
is other payload that's going up unpressurized out in the payload
bay. Talk about what some of those items are.
other pallet is the ICC pallet, and we carry several pieces of
equipment. The Early Ammonia Servicer, the Lab Cradle Assembly,
the Rigid Umbilical, the External Stowage Platform and the Pump
Flow Control System - PFCS. And these are equipment that will
be installed during the two to three EVAs that we'll be having
during our mission.
you say two to three, so the final number is still being worked
out at the time that we're having this discussion. Right now,
you're thinking that there [are] going to be three.
practicing the installation and practicing the EVAs right now,
and we felt it prudent to schedule a third EVA just in case one
of those little "gotchas" [comes] up so we'll be able
to complete our entire mission.
course, you won't be able to complete any of this until after
the shuttle docks to the space station.
the rendezvous on your mission is different than has been flown
to the International Space Station before. Tell us what your job
is going to be - a very important job on this rendezvous - and
generally, what we should look for as the high points of this
My job during
the rendezvous is the navigator. I provide the Commander, Jim
Wetherbee, and the Pilot, Vegas, with the tools to make decisions
on where we are and where we need to be. So, I'll be running the
computer system and getting various sensors to talk to the computers
and displaying that to both Commander Wetherbee and to Jim Kelly,
I said, your approach is different. Tell me how it's different
and why it is that way.
the first approach that will be coming along the velocity vector
of it, and as the station moves through space, you can approach
from below, above, behind or in front. So, we'll actually come
and approach from below, and when we're stabilized below it, we'll
swing up to the front of the space station and move in and dock
on the velocity vector. And during our simulations we're also
finding that the sun will be very prominent during this and may
cause some problems, but that's why we train. And so, we have
the first docking from the front. And that'll become one of the
[standards of] docking throughout quite a bit of the assembly.
you've completed that docking, the hatches between the two vehicles
will open, but only for a few hours - long enough to complete
the first exchange of one station crew member for one new station
crew member. What is it that has got to happen in that period
of time? What has to move in order for this exchange to be official,
to be completed?
a crew member to transfer from the shuttle to the space station
or from the space station to the shuttle, the major component
is that their seat, their IELK seat that allows them to fit into
the Soyuz and enter in the Soyuz, which is our escape vehicle,
has transferred. So, once the crew member's seat insert has transferred,
they effectively have transferred over. And the clothes and the
food and the other incidentals that they bring with them is another
part of the transfer. In addition, they need transfer time to
talk to the space station crew member that they are replacing
to get a hand-down and a tour of the space station and a handover,
we call it.
this case, the commander of the second Expedition is going to
be the first new crew member to come over, but not in exchange
for the for the current commander, Bill Shepherd. Is that, as
you say, so that the two can spend time together?
that's the face-to-face handover time to give them the ins and
outs of what it was like over the past four months to live aboard
space station and to, in one day or two, try to give them the
"heads-up" and the foresight of what they need to do.
as you move along, that transfer is complete and the hatches are
going to close again because the next day is the first of the
some number of planned space walks on this mission. In this case,
Jim Voss and Susan Helms, the other two Expedition Two crew members,
are going to be in the spacesuits outside. As for this first space
walk, tell me what it is that you're going to be during the EVA,
and describe for us the planned activities. What are Jim and Susan
going to be doing outside?
during the EVAs is to be the IVA - [Intravehicular] crew member.
I go over the checklist, and I sort of am the conductor who makes
sure that we're hitting every item in the checklist and we're
on schedule to do this and remind them of the little. They know
the tasks inside and out, but there [are] small things like numbers
on foot restraint settings or numbers on connectors or handrails.
I give them reminders just to make sure that we're doing things
correctly and answer any questions they have or direct them in
a different direction if the ground wants us to complete something
before something else. We also, on the IVA, give them the go-ahead
that power has been removed from an electrical connector and it's
safe to connect, so that's an important function. The task that
they'll be doing is to put the Lab Cradle Assembly on top of the
Lab, and that's the connection point for the long truss structure
in assembly complete. So, this is a building block we have to
transfer that to the top of the Lab. The other task that they're
doing is to disconnect the electrical connectors from the PMA,
which is a docking port, because it's in the place where we want
to put the MPLM. So, they have to undo the electrical connectors
for that so we can take it off with the robotic arm and move it
to the port side. And then, later in the mission, we'll move the
MPLM to the nadir side. They're also going to install a Rigid
Umbilical, and this is an electrical harness with fiber-optic
and power cables on the outside of the Lab. It's going to be used
for the robotic arm. So, they'll be attaching that to the Lab
and then connecting the electrical connectors for that.
is this the EVA where they're planning to remove one of the Early
Communication System antennas, too?
another task that we'll be doing is to remove and bring back the
early communication antenna.
that antenna removed and umbilicals [connecting] PMA-3 to Unity
removed, that's the time that, back inside, Andy and Jim are going
to go work with the arm to move that PMA. Can you tell us what,
what happens there?
has to be very well-orchestrated because, while Jim and Susan
are cleaning up, doing the other tasks on the EVA, as soon as
the arm's available, Jim and Andy will be grappling the PMA with
the arm. [They'll] start moving it to the port side from the nadir
side, and we've done this during the end of the EVA to allow for
Jim and Susan to help us if there [any] problems docking it. This
is a tricky connection because there [are] no direct views of
where we're putting [the PMA], so we're using some sensors and
vision systems. NASA always plans for backup, and our backup will
be our crewmates Jim and Susan. And they can go out and help Andy
and Jim install it.
you said there are a variety of systems that can be used to help
the arm operators, who won't be able to see at the end of their
arm. The Space Vision System is one of these?
Space Vision System uses a series of black and white dots on the
exterior of the space station. It uses the existing shuttle payload
bay cameras, and we aim and calibrate the cameras into the payload
bay and then aim them at the station. Through a computer we have
on board and special equipment, that's fed into, again, another
computer, and that tells Andy and Jim how far they are and what
the orientation of the module is that they're installing. So,
it's a very good sensor, and they also have the arm sensors that
they use to tell the arm where it is itself.
day after this first of the space walks, the schedule calls for
transfer of more crew members [and], also, the first-ever mating
of this MPLM to the Unity module. Talk about the events that are
scheduled for that day. What are you going to be busy with?
coordinate with the ground as well, and the ground will be preparing
the mating surface. We will open the petals that protect that
mating surface and give an inspection of it, and then we grapple
to the MPLM and move it into position. Then we activate the Space
Vision System, and that helps to do the final positioning and
docking of it. Once it's in position, we activate the Common Berthing
Mechanism, which is a mechanism that joins the two together, and
we activate some latches that pull the two halves together tightly
enough. Then we activate some bolts that'll go up and actually
bolt the two pieces of structure together. And all that has to
be sequenced with ground help and with on board help, and with
the robotic arm, with the Space Vision System, and with the space
station and the shuttle to all come together and do this one task.
it's not snapping it on?
Yes. A lot
of the tasks people will be watching on NASA-TV and in the news,
and they seem very simple but behind the doors and in the back
room there [are] hundreds of people looking at the systems and
helping us who are on board complete this procedure. And they
do get complicated sometimes, and our trainers have done very
well. The people on the ground, the controllers in the front and
the back rooms, make it look easy.
are you going to be doing while this is all going on?
operating both the Space Vision System and the Common Berthing
Mechanism, the CBM, through computer interfaces along with Commander
then, I imagine, at the end of the day, [you'll be] taking some
time to rest. The next day is the second space walk of the mission,
but the roles that are being played by people are going to change
dramatically from the first. Who's going to be doing what this
Andy and myself get to go outside and do the space walk, and our
crewmate Susan Helms will be the IV. Jim Kelly will be moving
Andy around on the arm, and our first job is to install the Early
Ammonia Servicer. And this is a large, fourteen-hundred pound
ammonia tank that carries spare ammonia should there be a drain
of the ammonia that helps cool the space station. So we'll be
installing that and routing some heater cables to it to keep it
warm and safe on orbit. Then, we're going to install the early
External Stowage Platform onto the Lab, and then the Pump Flow
Control Assembly onto that. And then there [are] little jobs here
and there like testing the LCA latches to make sure they work,
throwing some switches outside circuit breakers called CIDs to
make sure they're open first. Then when they transfer some of
the equipment in those Lab racks that we mentioned earlier, once
they're installed, I have to turn the switches outside to apply
power to those racks. So, we have to coordinate with the people
on board station for that one, and they're the major components
of the second EVA that we'll be doing.
some of these tasks the ones that we might end up seeing on a
thought it prudent to try to have what's called an "unscheduled
EVA," for EVA 3, and should we finish in two EVAs there wouldn't
be a need to go out for a third EVA. But should one of the tasks
run long or [should] we not get to one of the tasks, we always
have that third day for Andy and myself to go back and Susan to
do IV to complete the job.
you, who started his career in NASA, as you said, years ago, testing
spacesuits and testing tools for space walks, is it just too trite
to say to actually make the space walk is a dream come true?
a very good way to sum it up. I have the opportunity to be in
an unusual position to, having been a worker and having worked
with a lot of the folks I work with now as a peer, get the opportunity
to use the equipment and go out in space. So I feel very privileged,
and it is very much a dream come true.
even get to use some tools you helped design, help make. Right?
of the tools from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Pistol Grip
Tool, or PGT, as we call it we designed for the Hubble Space Telescope
repair mission, and space station was looking for a power tool
at the same time, so we made extras, and now they're being used
on space station so a tool that I led a, a design team on and
designed, I'm actually going to be using in space.
we said, there'll be a second and maybe a third EVA, and they
are separated by an extra day. In between there [are] a lot of
transfers going on inside the station. Can you give us a sense
of how that movement is choreographed and where things are going?
shuttle is, as you know, the three separate vehicles - the ascent
vehicle, the orbit vehicle and the entry vehicle - and we have
a lot of equipment that we have to stage and move out of the way
to get to other equipment. And the middeck is going to be full,
with lots of bags and lockers, and when the hatches are open,
we have a set of instructions that tell us what to move when.
And a lot of the equipment will come from the middeck, as well
and move over to the station, and some station equipment will
come to the middeck. And then, when we have access to the MPLM,
we'll also take equipment out of the MPLM and move it to station,
and vice versa from the station to the MPLM.
would one correctly assume that even while the hatches between
the station and the shuttle are closed, the station crew could
still be working on transfers from the MPLM into the station?
be assisting in that and, in fact, taking the lead on some of
the rack [installations], so it's very integrated operations with
a truly ten-person crew. But sometimes we'll be separated by a
hatch and working on opposite sides.
and around the space walks on this mission, there [are] a lot
of transfers that go on back and forth, and there'll be transfers
of the other two crew members that we didn't refer to directly.
But those occur as well. And then, finally, you get to the point
where the transfers are done and it's time to remove the Leonardo
Module from the station [and] put it back in the payload bay.
Tell me about what has to happen there. Is it essentially the
reverse of putting it in place, or is there additional work that
A lot of
it is the reverse task - that move back - but the the tricky part
now is putting it in the payload bay, not installing it on the
station. So, we go through the reverse procedures and then mount
it in the payload bay back to where it was in the beginning. But
since we've done it once and know the position of the arm and
know the position of the modules, it makes it easier than if we're
going to a location for the first time.
it's in essence moving the arm back to its original, recorded
position so that it goes back where . . .
space, once we get up on orbit the station and the shuttle actually
deform slightly based on the pressures. It's a structural vehicle
that has various tolerances and slight movement in certain parts.
So, from what we know of where things are on the ground to what
they are on orbit vary slightly, we have systems to help us calibrate
that. But once we're on orbit and we calibrate where something
is it's easier to get back to that position and repeat a procedure
that was done before.
all of that is done it's time to conclude about a solid week's
worth of docked operations and for you and your crewmates to head
home with three new crewmates. Do you expect there'll be a farewell
ceremony? What do you think the mood is going to be at the time
that this first crew leaves ISS?
imagine very emotional. After four months, [the] Expedition One
crew, who will be eager to get back on Earth, probably, and to
visit with their [families] and friends, [will] be excited that
we're there. And at the same time, I think there'll be some sadness
that three of our crewmates that we've worked with and trained
with on the ground will be saying goodbye for four months on space
station for another crew to bring them home. So, I think there'll
be a mix of emotions between excitement for one crew and a little
sadness for saying goodbye to our other crew, but again we'll
be wishing them luck. And I know they're going to do a great job
during their stay.
you mentioned, when they get home, Bill Shepherd and Sergei Krikalev
and Yuri Gidzenko will see family and friends, but they will also
revisit gravity for the first time in many months.
What special things are you folks doing during the docked operations
or on the way home to help prepare the three of them for a return
to a one-g environment?
They, of course, will be doing plenty of exercise to
keep the stress on their bones and muscles to try to prepare,
and then we have three special seats in the middeck - recumbent
seats. So, they'll be coming home on their [backs], and Andy Thomas
will be in a fourth seat on the middeck to assist them and help
them during the return. And this'll be the first time we'll have
three people on the flight deck because we'll remove Andy's seat
on the flight deck from ascent so he can help the recumbent crew.
Some of the other things we do are fluid loading. We'll be rehydrating
our bodies, which tend to get dehydrated in space and also the
liquid tends to pool in your upper body. Well, when gravity comes
back, it goes back to where it came from in the feet and the arms,
and that can cause lightheadedness. And so, we make sure we have
enough fluid and use some salt tablets and various drinks to try
to prevent that or minimize it.
we've talked a lot about the "what" and the "how"
of this mission. I'd like to end by asking you a "why"
kind of question. In your mind, why do we do this? What is the
goal of the International Space Station?
believe that the human race are explorers and very curious by
nature, and I think the minute we stop exploring we give up the
potential for a better life for everybody here on Earth. So this
is just a continuation. We're the descendants of Marco Polo and
Columbus, and we're just carrying on now - for the first time
as an international community - the exploration. And we may not
know what we're going to find specifically, but we've seen throughout
history that any nation or nations that continue that curiosity
and that exploration help the quality of life for the people in