Return to Human Space Flight home page

Preflight Interview: Paul Richards

The STS-102 Crew Interviews with Paul Richards, Mission Specialist.

Q: 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?

A. Well, 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.

You say it was a boyhood dream. As a boy, what was it about this that made it something you wanted to do?

Like many 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.

Every astronaut has a different path to get here. What's yours? What are some of the high points in terms of education or career?

I think 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 to be.

Was 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.

Of 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?

It came 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.

Let's 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.

You're 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?

Yes. The 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.

So, these are modules that can have a range of different functions?

Yes. From 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.

And 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.


Describe the background on this "moving van" module and how it's going to be used to bring cargo back and forth.

Yes. As 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.

Does the MPLM serve only to transport racks or other kinds of hardware inside it as well?

Since the 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.

So, 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.

Well our 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.

And 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.

Yes. We're 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.

Of course, you won't be able to complete any of this until after the shuttle docks to the space station.


And 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 rendezvous?

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, the pilot.

As I said, your approach is different. Tell me how it's different and why it is that way.

Yes. We're 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.

Once 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?

OK. For 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.

In 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?

Yes. And 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.

So, 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?

My role 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.

And is this the EVA where they're planning to remove one of the Early Communication System antennas, too?

Yes. That's another task that we'll be doing is to remove and bring back the early communication antenna.

With 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?

Yes. Everything 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.

And 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?

Yes. The 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.

The 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?

Yes. We 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.

So, 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.

What are you going to be doing while this is all going on?

I'll be operating both the Space Vision System and the Common Berthing Mechanism, the CBM, through computer interfaces along with Commander Jim Wetherbee.

And 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 time around?

This time 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.

Are some of these tasks the ones that we might end up seeing on a third EVA?

Yes. We 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.

To 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?

No, that's 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.

You even get to use some tools you helped design, help make. Right?

Yeah. One 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.

As 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?

Yes. The 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.

And 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?

Yes, they'll 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.

In 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 goes on?

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.

So, it's in essence moving the arm back to its original, recorded position so that it goes back where . . .

Yes. In 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.

After 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?

I would 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.

As 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.

Paul, 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?

I truly 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 that country.

Crew Interviews
Image: Paul Richards.
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Paul Richards' greeting (WAV file 432 Kb).

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
Web Accessibility and Policy Notices