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Preflight Interview: James Wetherbee

The STS-102 Crew Interviews with James Wetherbee, Commander.

Q: Jim, tell me why you wanted to become an astronaut.

A: I decided when I was about ten years old that this is what I wanted to do for a job. I don't really know why, I just remember that there was a Gemini flight going on, and when I was little, I snuck a Remember those little 9-volt transistor radios that we had? I snuck one into a classroom one day to listen to the flight, and instead of getting in trouble the teacher allowed me to sit in the back and plot the progress, plot the orbit, around the Earth on a map so the rest of the children could see. And I thought that was pretty interesting, and I decided at that point that I really was going to become an astronaut.

Any sense now what [that flight was about] or others that caught your interest so much?

I think just the exploration part of it, doing something that was challenging and new, and I always knew that I wanted to control hardware and fly vehicles. I didn't really know anything about them. I'd read a lot of books, I guess, and watched science fiction movies of vehicles flying up to space stations. But I always knew that it was something that I would enjoy very much, and I had hoped that I would be good at it someday. And so I decided to pursue that.

Having set that goal, how did you achieve it through school and through career? What did you do to become an astronaut?

Well, as I got older, I began to realize that the chances were pretty low that I ever could become an astronaut. And by the way, as I go around to schools around the country I'm asked that same question, and I try to tell folks that the best thing to do is to study what interests you. And, as I got older, even if I thought I had little chance to become an astronaut, I still was very interested in the program, and so I studied math and science and planetary science. I got all of the books I could find on the planets in the solar system, and in fact, I had figured out that 1984 would be the optimum time that we were going to go to Mars the first time. Of course I had planned to be on that mission, but things changed as I got older. But I really enjoyed aerospace engineering, and so that's what I studied in school. I decided to join the Navy to land on aircraft carriers. I thought that would be challenging and fun. Not really, ultimately, to become an astronaut, but I just thought that would be the best job in the world, and it was, when I was flying on the U.S.S. Kennedy. I couldn't figure out why anybody would want to do anything differently than that. And after that tour I applied to the Navy Test Pilot School because I thought that would be challenging and interesting and fun. It was, and that was the best job in the world. By then I had married Robin, my wife, and I had mentioned to her that I was interested in the space program. And I really still thought that the chances were too small that I'd ever get accepted, and so I wasn't even going to send in the application. But Robin told me that I really should, and, and I got lucky and was selected.

Who do you consider the people who are or were the most significant influences in your life?

I would have to say my parents, of course. They were the biggest influences in my life. My father was an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II. He became an airline pilot with American Airlines, which is what he did while I was living at home with them before I went to school. And I always admired the way he worked. He worked pretty hard. He was, of course, very honest. He became, actually, a manager. He was the chief pilot of American Airlines for the eastern region for many years, and he flew just enough to keep his ratings. It [occurred] to me much later on that that's sort of the career that I'm in now. I'm mostly a manager, and sometimes I get to fly just enough to keep my ratings. And of course, my mother, who, at the time, didn't have a job. Although she raised four children, and she still played tennis. And she's taken piano lessons for eighty years of her life and takes yoga lessons and all that kinds of thing to always constantly be improving herself. I thought that was a great way to be, and so they were my two role models.

You mentioned that you had spent at least your share of time in management in the space program as the head of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate here at the Johnson Space Center. From that perspective, as well as being an astronaut, you have a unique point of view on what it takes to prepare for missions to the International Space Station. What are some of the lessons that you see that have already been learned about how best to prepare astronauts and cosmonauts for these missions?

Well, there [are] a couple of things that come to mind. Of course, I've been watching the whole process ever since I entered the program fourteen years ago, and we have improved it over the years. The training has become much better. But on the other hand, you can optimize it and make it nearly perfect, and yet it still requires an awful lot of work. The students have to just come in and just buckle down and really study. And in some sense, it doesn't matter how optimum or efficient it is. You really have to go back and forth, read the workbooks, go to the simulator, talk to people - some of the older folks who have been around for a while - learn the tricks of the trade, go back to the workbook, go and talk to the engineers and the designers who built the systems. And so that really hasn't changed. But other things we can optimize. America has gotten very good at training for missions that are of short duration. We learned it way back in the early days - in the Gemini flights and Apollo and, of course, the space shuttle flights - about a hundred flights we've flown now - and we've gotten very good at the training. The Russians, on the other hand, are very good at training for the long-duration missions, and it's two different ways of going about the training. What we've done - in working with the Russians in the Phase 1 program with Mir and now as we get ready for the International Space Station - what we really want to do is to marry the two programs and take a little bit of both different methods of training and incorporate it into the flow. This is certainly a different kind of a flight. It's an assembly flight, and it's kind of a mix between a shuttle flight and a long-duration flight. We have some crew members who are going to be on long-duration flight, so they've had to train a little bit differently than [we have]. The trick is to get the two together and make it work for a short-duration mission in preparation for a long-duration mission.

[There are] really three different groups involved here. There's you and three others who are going up and down on the shuttle and two different Expedition crews. How do you work to coordinate those groups in the different things they need to do together?

Well, that's a good question. It's one of the big challenges that we've had. What we've done initially is to train separately. The four crew members who are going to be on the shuttle up and down have been training for the past six months pretty extensively, and so we've been living and working with each other. We've probably seen each other more than we've seen our families. The [Expedition] Two crew, who we will take up to the space station, they've been back and forth between Russia and America, but we really have not had very much training with them. Of course, the Expedition One crew, the other part of our crew, is in orbit right now - doing a great job, by the way - and so we expect, when we go up there, the first thing that's going to happen is we will learn from them. So, our training will continue as soon as we dock with the space station in addition to the fact that I need to really be talking to the crew even before we launch. So we will start to integrate [Expedition] One's crew into our training process with weekly telephone calls, etc. Now, [Expedition] Two is here between now and launch, and so we will start to train more and more with each other. Luckily, as a Commander, I'm very fortunate to have an experienced [Expedition] 2 crew, so now that we're coming together finally for the first time only two months before launch, I don't really have too many worries. I'm very confident. We had one session over in Building 9 the other day, and it was the best I'd ever seen. They really took care of the middeck and got it squared away. We were simulating what happens right after main engine cutoff on ascent, and they did a tremendous job. And so I'm very fortunate to have the [Expedition] 2 crew with us on the flight.

Has the experience of the first phase of this program - the Shuttle/Mir flights - which you were a part of as well, helped in contributing to how you all get prepared?

I think the Phase 1 program with Mir was invaluable. We could not have built an international space station with another country like Russia without first doing something like the Phase 1 program. We learned a tremendous amount about how to work with each other, and the give-and-take - it's kind of like a marriage. You really have to feel like you're giving more than you're receiving for it to work, and the Russians certainly have a tremendous amount of space flight experience. They really know how to build vehicles that are simple yet really work. The designs are great. They've refined them over the years. The cosmonauts are very professional. They really know how to fly in space. I learned that with Vladimir Titov a long time ago when he came to America the first time, and he didn't really know very much English - at least the technical side he wasn't as familiar with. But I realized very quickly that he knew what it took to be a good cosmonaut in space, and so even if he didn't quite understand what we were saying, he knew what was important in the vehicle. He knew what switches not to touch. He knew what systems were important. I gave him a lot of responsibility on the first flight because I knew we were going to be working with the Russians in the long term, and the second time I flew with him, on STS-86, we asked him to perform a space walk in an American suit and gave him a lot of responsibility again. So, I'm very impressed with the Russian cosmonauts, and we have learned over the years how to work with the Russians. I hope that they have learned how to work with us, and so, we're off to a great start with the International Space Station only because we worked the Phase 1 program with them.

Let's get into the details of this mission. Let me start by getting you - if you would - to summarize the goals of STS-102. What's this mission designed to do?

The primary goal as I see it is to exchange the crew. Bill Shepherd and his crew are working very hard up in space right now. And by the time we get there, they will have been in space for about four months, which is about the length that you really want the first increment to be. And then we will relieve them - bring them back down to the planet - and we'll bring up the second crew, who will continue the assembly of the space station. It's an incredibly complex building up in space, as you can imagine, and the [Expedition] 2 crew is ready to perform the next several very intricate, complicated procedures on board the space station. Bill Shepherd's primary goal, I think, has been to get the space station going, to "take it out to sea" and give it a shakedown cruise, and he's doing that very well. And so, hopefully, he's looking forward to seeing us, and we'll bring him back down to the planet.

Along with bringing the second Expedition crew, you are also bringing hardware. I'd like to get you to talk about some of that. You're delivering different kinds of racks for the U.S. Laboratory module. If you could tell us, in general, what are racks, but in particular, the purposes or the use of these racks on your mission.

OK. The best way to explain it [is] if you're going to build a laboratory in space, the first thing you need is the building - the structure - and so the previous flights have done that. We've gotten a lot of the structure up. Most recently, we've added a new "Hoover Dam" up there. We installed the solar arrays on mission 4A, and so Brent Jett and his crew have given the space station more power. So, now that they have extra power, we can begin to bring up other modules, and they can actually use modules that are up there now. Many of the flights are bringing up large pieces of structure. Since our primary goal is bringing the crew up, we also have the capability of bringing some of the insides. If you're building a laboratory in space or even a laboratory down here on the ground, the first thing you want to do is outfit the insides of the laboratory with equipment that enables you to do science experiments. And so, that's what the racks consist of is the equipment - the infrastructure - for the laboratory that will enable us to do various things [like] communicate [and] collect data. Some of the racks have connections that enable more enhanced communications and data transmission on board the space station. One of the racks [has] an experiment on board. We'll have just one experiment so far. Most of the things that we will do will be to build the insides of the house that we're getting ready to live and work in.

And so, if I understand then, some of them are for science, but some of them are for operations.

Right. Most of the ones that we're bringing up are for operations, - different communications equipment and electrical equipment, jumpers, etc. - that enable us to connect power from one end to the other. Things like that.

The racks are riding to orbit inside something called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, which is going to be in your payload bay. What's the background on this "moving van" module, if you will? And talk about how it's going to be used to shuttle cargo back and forth?

Well, that's a good way to explain it. It is a moving van. We have the module in our payload bay. It's called Leonardo. It's built by the Italians over in Alenia, and they really have a great capability to build hardware that's very good. They had very little trouble building this, as I understand. They successfully passed all of the tests. They didn't have to go back and redesign the hardware, and it's a tremendously capable pressurized logistics module that is at an atmospheric pressure of 14.7. It has the racks and the equipment and anything we need to take up, but it does not have a tunnel like the SPACEHAB or the Spacelabs in the past. So, we can't get into that module. What we do is use the robotic arm and take this box-like structure and connect it to the space station. Once we do some pressure and leak checks to make sure that it that it does have pressure integrity and will survive opening the hatch, then Bill Shepherd and his crew can go inside and take the equipment out of the moving van and bring it into the space station. After they have transferred the things out, of course, they will bring some things back into the module. After several days we will close the hatch again, disconnect it from the space station, and put it back in our payload bay and bring it back down to the Earth and refurbish it for future use on another mission. So the challenges for this mission are - instead of bringing up one major piece like Destiny, which [went] up on [STS-98] - we have, of course, that module that we must successfully connect to the space station, but then we also must go through the process of disconnecting it and returning it in the payload bay. We also do some reconfiguration of some other structures on board the International Space Station. So we have four or five different, very challenging tasks to configure the vehicle and get it ready for the next flights that are coming up.

You also have a whole other category of cargo that's riding on the Integrated Cargo Carrier out in the payload bay, unpressurized. Talk about those items out there and the roles that they're going to play once they're installed on the station.

Well, if we continue the analogy of building a structure or a building - an office building or a laboratory down here on the Earth, or even a house - we have, for example, an air-conditioner unit or parts of an air-conditioner unit, just like [the one] outside of your house. And we'll bring up the ammonia servicer - the ammonia's what we use to cool the inside of the space station, the equipment and the atmosphere for the astronauts. And so we'll bring that piece up and and connect it to the outside structure. And of course, that has to be done outside the vehicle in spacesuits, and we have the space walks to accomplish that. There is some other equipment - a rigid umbilical - that we will go up and connect to the outside of the Laboratory. That, again, is used to transmit data, this time on the outside of the vehicle rather than on the inside of the vehicle. And so, it's a continuing, very complex design and fabricating process where we're putting together the space station to enable the power to get from one end to the other and the data to be transmitted to the ground so that scientists and engineers around the world can actually perform experiments remotely from the Earth up to the space.

To do all the things that you plan to do you've got to bring the shuttle and the station together on orbit. You get the responsibility. You're going to be approaching the station from in front this time, rather than above or below. If you would, talk us through the plans for the shuttle's rendezvous and docking to the station, and describe what you will be doing particularly as you fly Discovery into that docking.

This is one of the things that really I'm looking forward to. It, of course, goes way back to when I was child watching the science fiction movies of space vehicles flying up next to big space stations. And the first time I had an opportunity to do that, of course, was on STS-63, when we went up to the Russian space station Mir, and I think, at the time, a lot of Americans probably didn't realize that the Russians had a space station up in space. And so we got very close. We didn't have docking hardware, but it was a precursor and a checkout flight for Hoot Gibson to dock a couple of months later. Oddly enough, back in those days, we approached the Mir from in front on what we call the V-bar, and there are some technical challenges with doing that. [On] all flights after that - on the Russian space station - we came from below and sometimes you can come from above, and it gives you the same added benefit of what we call orbital mechanics braking. You get some natural slowdown of the vehicle as it approaches from below. You also have the vehicle slow down as it approaches from above, and so we can use that to relatively aggressively approach the space station, knowing that it will slow down as we climb the hill up to dock with it. Unfortunately, as the space station gets bigger and bigger, it does not have the capability, or we desire not to maneuver it such that we can approach from below. We'd like to leave it in the current attitude [so] that it'll always be flying in parallel to the surface of the Earth. We have to approach from in front of the space station, and we don't have the natural braking capability due to orbital mechanics. And so we have to be very careful as we're approaching. We don't want to plume the station with our braking jets. Tthat would reduce the life or cause degradation of the Fine Guidance Sensors that are on board the space station. So, we have to be very careful. It'll be interesting to make this kind of approach from in front, and this is the way we'll do it into the future, because, again, as [the space station] gets bigger and bigger, you really don't want to maneuver it very much. You want to leave it in its current position or orientation around the Earth. But, fortunately, I did have the experience of doing it on 63 up to Mir, so I know it's possible. And we're looking forward to seeing how it works with the International Space Station and actually coming in and docking with them.

Talk me through those last few thousand feet. What are the steps that we should be looking for, the landmarks to see that things are going as they're planned?

Well, the first clue that things will be going according to plan will be if we have a, a good, an operational rendezvous radar. If you remember, on our previous flight, we had a failure of the radar. It is still possible to rendezvous and dock, but it will be a little more fuel-expensive if you don't have the great navigational system of the radar. If the radar is working fine then we will be relatively relaxed as we're approaching. We go to another sensor called the Trajectory Control Sensor, which is a laser system. By the way, the rendezvous starts on the launch pad. You wait until the vehicle is in the proper position - the space station - and then you quickly launch into that orbit. The first couple of days, the rendezvous burns are all done automatically by computer. The ground sends up the information, and the first third of the rendezvous is all done automatically. And we just type into the computer and the burns occur. The middle one-third of the rendezvous occurs with computer steering information, but it's done manually by the Pilot and Commander. And so Jim Kelly, my rookie Pilot, will do some of the rendezvous burns manually, actually moving the hand controller to fire the jets, but he uses computer steering information. The last one-third of the rendezvous occurs as we're getting relatively close where it's eyeballs out, looking at the target on the station and flying manually. Of course, we still have the benefit of computers telling us information but it's our job, as, as the commanders of these vehicles, to decide whether or not the computers are accurate or the cameras are more accurate or the laser system is more accurate. And finally, what you really believe [are] your own eyes and what you're seeing, and we train this a lot in the simulators around here. You look at the target, and you make the final corrections, and we in America do the final portion of the docking manually. So that's relatively challenging. It's the thing that we enjoy, I think, doing the most is docking with a space station, and it brings back all of the great memories I had when I was a child looking at the movies of flying up next to the space stations.

Once you've docked, the first few hours of the docked operations on this mission are scheduled to be pretty busy. Tell us what it is that's got to be done prior to the opening up of the hatches.

Probably the most important thing is to make sure that we have good pressure integrity between the two vehicles, and so there are some leak checks that we will perform to make sure that we are ready to open up the hatch or the hatches. In this case [there are] two hatches, one on either side of the vehicle. The Expedition crew on board the space station will, in the previous weeks, have already configured the vehicle in preparation for bringing the hardware, so they don't have to do any of that. So, it's just a matter of making sure that we have successfully docked, and the hardware is all working correctly in preparation for opening up the hatches.

Now the time that the ten of you are going to be together, at this point, is only going to be a few hours but time enough apparently to complete the first exchange of Expedition crew members. What is it that's involved in completing making official the exchange of station to shuttle crew members?

There are about three things that are very important to think about when you're exchanging crew members. The first is, you must always, no matter how you do the crew exchange order - in who changes with whom -be ready in case of an emergency to separate very quickly and have seven people on the shuttle and three people on the space station if both vehicles are capable of continuing operations. The first thing that you must have when you exchange a crew member is the ability to use the lifeboat, the Russian Soyuz. And if the three crew members on their side of the closed hatch on the International Space Station have to evacuate - maybe it was a cabin leak or a fire and they really had to leave the space station - they have to have the proper equipment to get in the Soyuz and return to Earth. And so that seat that they sit in in the Soyuz is the piece of equipment that we actually will change from the orbiter because we're bringing it up to the space station. Once that seat is properly installed in the lifeboat, then the crew member has the capability of now working on the space station, and that becomes the official handover. So the first thing is to get the seat over. The order that we chose comes from the other two things that you must think about. You want to have the capability for someone to pilot the Soyuz, of course, and so, we're swapping the two Yuri's - the Russian cosmonauts who are both trained to fly the Soyuz. And that brings us to the third question. You need to have people who have successfully handed over the job, and you need a certain amount of time for the commander to work with the oncoming commander to tell him the rules of the road. Here's how we really operate, and these are the things that you have to watch out for, and there's a certain amount of training time that occurs in space. And, at any point during that training of Yury Usachev before he is ready to assume command of the International Space Station, you really need to have Bill Shepherd still on the space station side [to] be the commander if you suddenly have an emergency and you have to terminate operations. So, Shep will be the last to leave, and that's a typical tradition that the commander is the last one to leave after the handover has occurred. But we really want to get the new commander on board as soon as possible so we can begin that handover transition, and so we have an interesting situation where the commander changes out with the Soyuz pilot instead of having the commanders changing out right away.

So, with one of your original crew members already moved over and a replacement from the Expedition crew on board, the first of three planned space walks on your mission comes up the following day with Jim Voss and Susan Helms scheduled to be in the spacesuits outside. Tell me, first of all, what your responsibility will be during the space walks, and then describe what they're planning to do. What's to be accomplished on this space walk?

Probably the biggest task that I have during a space walk is to make sure that everybody who will be concentrating so hard on their particular activity is working together. There's a tendency in space to know your job very well, and so you get focused on your job. And maybe you forget that the clock is marching on, and we're running up towards the end of the EVA. It's also coordinated with the arm activities. My Pilot, Jim Kelly, is going to be using the robotic arm to maneuver Andy Thomas and some hardware around in the payload bay, and so he's inside the vehicle. We have an intravehicular crew member, Paul Richards, my other rookie, who is in charge of making sure that the EVA is being conducted very well. And, of course, that only leaves one person left to make sure that the overall activities are going well and that the two vehicles are flying in space well. If we have any systems problems, I need to take care of that. So I'm probably an overall manager - just like my job on the ground - making sure that the operations are going safely and efficiently.

The space walk itself: what are the big tasks that are on the agenda for that?

Sue Helms and Jim Voss will take some of the hardware from the cargo carrier in our payload bay up to the space station and attach it. One of the tasks that we haven't talked about later on in the EVA: Jim Kelly will take the Pressurized Mating Adapter, which is being used by the previous two flights in a particular place on the Node that we call Unity, and we have to move it to a different location so that we can attach this pressurized logistics module in the payload bay to that place on the Node. When we maneuver that Pressurized Mating Adapter, we have no backups in case the Canadian Space Vision System doesn't work to make sure that it's properly aligned, and so the backup that we use - you know, of course, at NASA, we always have to have backups in case something fails - will be the two crew members, Jim Voss and Susan Helms.
They can go up and just give visual cues to the arm operator, Andy Thomas, to make sure that he is properly orienting the adapter for reinstallation onto the space station. And, hopefully Jim and Susan's talents won't be needed, but if they are needed because something has gone wrong, it's a very important function that they'll be serving for us, to give verbal cues from from on-scene out at the construction work site back to the robotic arm operator.

And during their the space walk, they're going to be preparing the PMA to be removed. They're also going to be, as well as delivering some hardware, removing some hardware from the station other than the PMA.

They will, I think, take off the early comm antenna that we've been using, which was an interesting afterthought when we realized that we didn't have continuous data and communications capability from the station down to the Earth. And so we added what we call an early comm system - Early Communications System. That antenna is in a location that will be needed for other modules, and so they will take that antenna off. And I think we're going to leave it on board inside the vehicle for use in the future. If we have other failures it would make sense to me if we left hardware up there to be used as spares in case we need it later.

They're also working with a piece of equipment called the Lab Cradle Assembly. Can you explain to us what that is?

The Lab Cradle Assembly is a connection that will be used on the flight after us when we bring up the new, bigger Canadian robotic arm that will exist on the space station. It's the first time that we will attach the arm to the space station, and it will be mounted to that cradle assembly. I have the fun of checking out the hook on that device by sending some commands, and the EVA crew members will watch it open to make sure that it performs correctly because we can't see it. And so, again, they are the on-scene foremen out at the construction site while I, back in the home office, am sending the commands to open up the cradle assembly. After the Canadian arm is installed on the next flight [to] the space station, it then leaves that site. That cradle assembly will be used one more time for mounting of the arrays that we're bringing up next - the long structure that will initially be the place where the structure resides on the Lab just before it gets connected permanently to the Lab. And after that, that particular system won't be used anymore.

That's a lot of work for them outside, for your crew inside. What is the space station crew doing during the space walk?

They, of course, are, as the overall bosses of the space station, very interested in making sure that we do things well, and they'll monitor the space walk on the radios. We have the ability for them to listen to what's going on. They have the capability of sending any commands that we need to make sure, of course, that the electrical systems are dead-faced. If the astronauts are working with umbilicals, they must be absolutely sure that we have no power through these connections - the outlets, the plugs - as the space walkers connect these plugs. And of course, they have the very difficult task - probably the most difficult thing on the space station is the logistics of transfer operations - [of] moving boxes. It's just like when you move from one house to the other. You know how busy it can be with all the boxes all over, and they're organizing their living space in preparation for their increment after we leave.

The day after that first space walk, the schedule currently calls for the transfer of another crew member as well as the first-ever mating of the MPLM, Leonardo, to the Unity Module. Talk about the events that are planned for this day, and again, point out what you'll be doing in the course of it.

One of the things, of course, that the space walkers must do is to check out the equipment that they will use the next day on the future EVA and so, we do that. The transfer operations, again, are very difficult and must be coordinated very well. Andy Thomas now has the task of being our transfer czar. He's the person - the traffic cop - responsible for making sure that we put everything in the proper place, and it's something where efficiency and planning must be done preflight to make sure that we don't waste any time in moving boxes from one location to another. And of course they have to end up in the proper place for management of the center of gravity of the station, which is very important. So, those days where we're not doing the space walk - although some people maybe think they're not as exciting to us - they are very important, and [it's] critical that we do them efficiently. But, also, if you think about floating up in space, off the surface of the Earth, and not needing to touch the floor and the view and the sights you see, it's all very exciting, even when you're doing the mundane tasks of taking the cargo from one location to another. We always have a tremendous amount of fun, and we just can't believe we're up there doing that kind of work.

The transfer this day, as I mentioned, includes a crew member - in this case, Krikalev for Voss. Is there a strategy about this exchange as there was on the first?

What we did in the second one is to think about actually the last one, and we really wanted to have Susan Helms be on our side of the hatch, on the shuttle side, last because she will be our intravehicular crewperson who helps the space walkers on the next two space walks. And so, she has to be on the shuttle side and will actually transfer last. That puts her at a little bit of a disadvantage. She won't have as much handover time with her counterpart, but I hope that she will be able to get some of her handover time while she's still on the shuttle side. We're asking her to be dual-hatted, to start thinking about transferring even though she's still on the shuttle side. And so, the other two crew members who remain are the middle two crew members - in this case Sergei and Jim.

You made a reference to the upcoming space walks, the second space walk coming on Flight Day 6, but the roles being played by the members of the crew will have changed substantially. Who's doing what this time around, and again, what events are planned for the EVA?

On the second EVA, it will be Andy Thomas, who flew as the last Expedition crew member on the Phase 1 program on Mir. He's had long-duration exposure in space and experience but he hasn't had any experience in a space walk, so he's, in a sense, a rookie space walker. And then Paul Richards, who has no previous space flight experience, also will be performing a space walk, and so, again, he's a rookie. It's always very interesting for me, as a commander and an experienced space flier, to watch how the rookies are responding, and by the way, they're doing very well. Paul has extensive experience in the pool - the training facility that we use to train astronauts - and he also designed the Pistol Grip Tool that we've used so successfully on the Hubble Space Telescope. So he's a very capable engineer and designer, and I expect he'll do very well out in space when he finally has the opportunity to go out and actually use the things that he helped to design. Andy and Paul, it's a very interesting space walk that they do. A lot of times the two space walkers are working together and doing similar tasks and helping each other. This one, we found when they work together and they have some separate tasks, one would get ahead and the other would have to wait for the other one to catch up, and then the other one would get ahead and then the first one would have to wait, and so it wasn't very efficient. So we decided to have the two space walkers working mostly independently, and occasionally they came together for a "Hey how's it going?" and "Do you need any help?" and "No I don't need any help this time," and off they go working separately. So they're in two pretty different locations on the structure, and so again, one of my jobs is to make sure that, although we're operating with almost two independent space walks occurring simultaneously, things are going well. Of course, Susan Helms, as the intravehicular crew person, will assist in that area, and Jim Kelly - "Vegas" is his call sign - will be moving the arm around, transporting Andy from one location to another and some hardware from one location to another. And then I have to also help Jim Kelly. The Canadian arm is a relatively complicated piece of equipment and relatively fragile as well, and for the first time we're moving this arm in these weird, different locations around the station to attach things way up over head. We want to make sure that we don't get the arm into a singularity, or a reach limit, where we damage any of the structure. And so that's a mental process that, after doing it for a long period of time, it's great to have a backup, and I'll be looking over his shoulder helping him and assisting him in that area.

While Andy and Paul are outside, what will they be doing separately?

Andy will take up this one air-conditioner unit - the Early Ammonia Servicer - which is the coolant that we use in the air-conditioning system and the water-conditioning system. They will attach that to the truss. Paul has equipment that he will be taking from from the Integrated Cargo Carrier in the payload bay and attaching it to the Lab in preparation for other flights who will come up and actually use the hardware. In general, each of these flights in the assembly sequence of the station, one flight or one series of crew members will bring hardware up and install it, and then subsequent flights come along later and actually use it - either connect it or actually operate it and use it. They have a lot of manual connections that they must make together - electrical connections, coolant line connections, etc. - and, if you remember way back in the design of the space station, we knew that we were going to be launching pieces separately from hardware. So, the first time they really were going to have the ability to come together was going to be up in space. And so, Boeing did a lot of work with CAD/CAM systems - with computer design - to make sure that there was the proper length on a line or a cable so that it could properly come together. And so that's one of the things that we will be watching intently on this flight. When they start making the connections, do they have any trouble? Do you find that one line is too short and it doesn't reach? I expect that won't happen, but this is the first time that we're going to be actually making some of these connections.

That day is followed by another day of transfers between the station and the shuttle and then a third space walk on the agenda for Flight Day 8. Give us a sense of what's to occur on board during those two days.

Again, it'll be more transfer activities which Andy Thomas will be in charge of as the transfer czar, making sure that we transfer efficiently and effectively all of the pieces. There may be some things on the station that they don't need, and we'll bring those back. And we get ready for ultimately making sure that the MPLM, the Leonardo Module, is in a proper configuration to reinstall in our payload bay to bring back down to the Earth. And everything, of course, has to be in the proper place so things don't rattle around as we're trying to land the vehicle. And, of course, they're checking out their own spacesuit hardware in preparation for the third EVA and also resting. The space walks are - you'd think it would be relatively easy because you're weightless and items that weigh as much as a car down here on the Earth that they're moving around, of course, they weigh zero up in space, and so you don't have to use a lot of muscular energy. But, unfortunately, you do use a lot of energy in squeezing the gloves and working against the pressure of the suit, and so that gets to be very fatiguing and tiring. And then the thing that you really have to remember when you're moving something that weighs as much as a car, you must be very slow and deliberate and careful with it because if you get it moving too fast, it won't slow down. It'll go right through a truss structure just like an accident down here on the street. If a car drives through a telephone pole it'll go right through it. So you really have to be careful, and that requires a tremendous amount of finesse and dexterity and strength after a six- or seven-hour EVA. So they really are going to be resting in preparation for the third EVA.

And the third EVA tasks are . . .?

We found that the tasks for the two EVAs were probably too much to accomplish during the two EVAs, and we also found that we had sufficient capability to have a third EVA. So we plan right now to have three EVAs to do all of the same tasks that were oversubscribed in the two EVAs. If things work well, which they rarely do in space - we generally have problems and then we work through them. That's one of the benefits of sending humans. But if things work well, they have get-ahead tasks, and then they can perform all of the tasks on the first two EVAs, and then we wouldn't need the third EVA. But if it goes like all space flights do and we have any trouble at all and it takes them a while to make connections or move hardware around, then the third EVA will be used to complete all of the tasks in preparation for the next flights coming up. As a commander and as a crew, on all of these flights on the assembly, we really want to leave the space station in a configuration where it's capable to receive the next vehicle coming up. And so, we're always thinking a couple of flights ahead, and we know what is needed and what needs to be left properly working so that the next flights can come up without too much replanning.

The following day, the doors are going to be opened up back into the station for more transfers, including that of the third crew member, Susan Helms, for Bill Shepherd. What do you expect to see at that point in the mission?

Knowing that the Expedition 1 crew will be experienced with four months worth of space flight, I expect that the inside of the space station, first of all, will be in a very good working order, in an operational and very neat fashion. I know Shep. [I flew] with him on his last mission, STS-52, a long time ago, and he's a great operator. I expect the vehicle will be in great condition. Of course, it is new. By the way, I loved flying on Mir. It was like a Navy submarine or a ship, and it was great and very capable. I expect the station will be a lot newer. Of course, it'll look better. It may initially, since we don't have all of the elements on board, be almost as cluttered as Mir was with boxes and things all over, waiting to be installed in their final location after we get other modules up in place. But it will be much bigger than Mir. Ultimately, it'll be three times as big, I guess. The one thing I want to look at, which will be very interesting, is the length [from] Destiny through Unity, through the FGB and down to the Service Module. It's going to be [a] pretty long living compartment that you can operate in on the space station, and that will be interesting to see.

There has been activity back and forth from Leonardo into the station for days now, but that's going to come to an end on the following day. What's the sequence involved here to close up that module and transfer it back into the shuttle payload bay?

Of course any time we close hatches in space, it's an operation that we really take great care. The O-rings that will seal the hatches and prevent airflow from coming out of the space station or coming out of the pressurized logistics module Leonardo [are] relatively small, and the hatch is several feet in diameter. So, the commanders will always meticulously go - it's almost like a white glove inspection - make sure that there's absolutely no dirt or contaminants or even a hair on the seals as we prepare to close the hatches. And we, of course, make sure that everything is done properly. The last thing you want in space is to improperly close a hatch and then separate and find that you have a leak. There are only probably three things that you really don't want to have happen in space. One is to tumble out of control. One is to have a fire. And one is to have a leak. And so we take very great painstaking care to make sure that the hatches are sealed properly. We've already been taking care to make sure that everything is installed properly inside the vehicle as we prepare to get it back in the payload bay. But then it's a relatively complicated task to again grab this module and separate it and put it down in the payload bay. There isn't much clearance between the sides of the payload bay, and you have to be very careful when you're reinstalling it and latching it down. You really want to make sure that the latches, of course, are properly mated in preparation for coming down. You don't want anything rattling around in the payload bay as we're slamming through the atmosphere trying to land.

You're going to conclude a solid week's worth of docked operations the following morning and come home with three different people than you went up with. Do you suspect we'll see any kind of farewell ceremony? What kind of mood, do you think, will there be as it's time to leave?

These ceremonies and the moods are always very interesting to watch. The last time I did it with Dave Wolf, I was a little bit worried because it seemed like the closer we got to him leaving, the more time he was spending on the shuttle, and I was a little worried that he wasn't ready to make the leap. But the morning that we were going to have the ceremony, we couldn't find him because he had made the mental transition, and now he was a Mir crew member. He was deep inside Mir conducting his experiments already, even before we were ready to close the hatch, and so we had to pull him away from his experiment to say goodbye to him. I knew at that point that he was ready for his long-duration stay on Mir. Other times it can be very emotional. You're seeing good friends for the last time for several months. Some of them are coming back to the Earth to smell again what trees and grass and the Earth smell like and taste Earth food and see family and friends. And so they might be very excited and happy, but they try not to look too excited and happy because there are other crew members who are leaving their family and friends for four months. Of course, they have the challenge of being up there on the space station, and they're looking forward to some of the best times of their lives. So, there's a great mix of emotions that you normally don't see in astronauts. Astronauts in general try to have subdued emotions. There's not enough space in the workday to be emotional. But at these ceremonies, when you're shaking hands and hugging each other and saying goodbye to friends, both Russian and American - and we certainly have some great friends over in Russia - it can be a very emotional time. I expect we will have a ceremony, and in large part, it's Naval tradition because it's very analogous to Navy ships at sea, but it isn't just the Navy. We want to make sure that, if there are any Air Force traditions on change of command ceremonies we are certainly going to incorporate the best of all traditions. If the Russians have any traditions, then we will incorporate those into the ceremony. That's one of the fun things about working with a new program. You get to design or invent or begin the ceremonies and traditions that we are now going to carry into the future, and the best place to look is for analogous situations like the Navy or the Air Force or the Russian space program.

Once those hatches are closed, it's time to separate the two vehicles. Talk about what happens that day. What's the plan?

The separation is always very challenging and interesting for the Pilots. They're the copilots on our vehicle, and Jim Kelly, my rookie pilot, I've asked him to be responsible for flying around the space station. We do that to take photographs. They're the opposite side of the space station you don't always see, and you can't take photographs unless you do a flyaround just before we separate. Of course, that's a very challenging thing. Orbital mechanics are a little bit weird and different, and it's not intuitive. It's not like driving a car or riding a bicycle around a tree, for example. You really have to be careful. Things don't go in the direction you would expect, and so he has been training very hard in the simulators here lately to make sure that he flies the proper profile around the vehicle. I've watched pilots in the past do this, and it's always very interesting and challenging for them and very rewarding when they accomplish it. Vegas is one of the best, and I expect he'll do a great job.

How far distant will you be for the flyaround?

Four hundred feet from the station. Of course, we have very powerful lenses, 400mm lenses on one camera, and we'll take video pictures of all the structure that we can. Even though the space station is new - it's only recently been up in space - space is a very harsh environment with the radiation and of course the micrometeoroid environment, and it probably has a couple of thousand very small holes already on it and on part of the structure, like the solar arrays. Over a period of time, it can become a little less efficient if there are enough holes in it from the micrometeoroid debris, so we'll just document the exterior surface. I hope we don't see too much damage, but if we do, then we can make corrections later or improvements in the design or patch holes and things like that.

You mentioned before that Shepherd, Gidzenko and Krikalev will be coming home to see their family and friends for the first time in four months. They're also going to experience gravity for the first time in four months. What are you folks going to be doing during docked operations and on the way home to try to help them get better prepared for that?

The things that we do personally for ourselves are, of course, to exercise, but what we really want to do for the Expedition One crew members, who will have been in space for four months, is to make their return trip as comfortable as possible. That involves the first thing they've been doing, every day: exercise. They must be running on the treadmill or riding on the bicycle ergometer to keep their cardiovascular system in shape because it doesn't need to work as hard in the absence of gravity. They also have been experiencing a loss of calcium in their bones, especially the weight-bearing bones like the hip, and so they must be running on the treadmill to induce the loads in, in the bones. That's the only way we know, now, to keep the calcium in their bones so that they'll have a comfortable return and a safe return back down to the Earth. The crew members on the shuttle, who have only been up for twelve days, our systems have not atrophied enough that we can't come back sitting up, and so we do come back in a seated position. As we hit the gravity field, initially the drag of the vehicle, as we slam into the atmosphere, causes all the blood to pool down in the lower extremities and it leaves your head and you can feel light-headed unless you've properly fluid-loaded and [have] done all the proper exercising. For the crew members of Expedition One, it is even more magnified because their hearts are even weaker and bones are even weaker and the cardiovascular system isn't as sturdy. And so they come back lying down as a precaution, and so, when we slam into the atmosphere, all their blood will not leave their head. By the way, I'll try to make a smooth landing to make it even more comfortable for them, but after we land, depending upon how well they did, they are capable of standing. All astronauts and cosmonauts, when they come back, of course, want to be relatively aggressive and get back into feeling what Earth's gravity is like, but we really want them to slow down and make sure they don't overextend themselves. There is a small chance that you can have damage to the bones. You can get heel spurs or hip pointers, and it can have small cracks because of the lack of calcium. So you really want to make sure that they're moving around relatively slowly - they don't start jogging right away. We have a very extensive program of rehabilitation into Earth's gravity that can last anywhere from two to four months after they get back down on the planet. It involves a lot of swimming, which is a great way to reduce the load on the bones but get the cardiovascular system back up into shape. And I expect after a couple of months, they'll be right back as if they had never left.

We've talked a lot about the "what" and the "how" of this mission; finally, I want to ask you to help put it in perspective for us. To you, what is the goal of the International Space Station? Is it science? Is it what we learn about how to build the station, or is what we learn that contributes to future explorations?

I think it's all of the above. Of course, the thing that I like to think about the International Space Station, [is] it's the next step in exploration. It's the necessary next step. We must walk before we run. So now we have an outpost in space, in low Earth orbit, and we will learn how to live in space for a long period of time. We also have the great advantage of having scientific discoveries on board that will benefit folks down here on the Earth just like we had on the shuttle - even better because now you can stay up there for months at a time. It's analogous to telling a scientist, "You can go into your laboratory on the shuttle but only for two weeks at a time, and then that's it. You have to just analyze the data for the next three or four months before you can go in the lab again." Now we can tell the scientist, "You're free to go in the lab and work continuously, and by the way, we can remotely send data back down and so you don't have to grow a very small and pure protein crystal on the shuttle and then worry about reentry into the atmosphere so the scientist can analyze the crystalline structure on the ground." Now they can analyze it up in the microgravity environment of space. So, remotely, scientists on the ground are actually participating in the space station. And, of course, we need to learn how to live in space for longer periods of time and readapt. If we ever are fortunate enough to get approval to go to Mars, it will be about a two-year trip. We need to learn how to live in space for two years. We need to take all of the food, water, and equipment that we need, all the computers - because you remember if something happens like on Apollo 13 when they had the explosion, you can't just whip around the moon. By the way, you can't just call down to the ground and expect an answer to be here within two seconds for how to configure the vehicle. When you're out at Mars it's about a forty-minute trip at the speed of light for the answer to come back. And so, on board, you must have sufficient computing capability to figure out the answer. We have to have all the air, food and water and grow plants that will give us more oxygen that we can also use to make bread so that we can eat and then make sure we save part of it for seeds for the next generation of crops and all these kinds of things we need to learn on the space station around in low Earth orbit. So I think it's a next step. And then, finally, probably the biggest reason to continue exploring in space is so that our children will be enticed, like I was when I was ten years old, to study math and science, and so when they grow up, even if they don't work in the space program, they'll be prepared to keep our nation advancing in technology so that the world is a better place for everybody that's living here. And I think that's probably one argument that's irrefutable. Our job, no matter what job we have, if we're making the place better for the next generation, then we're doing it right. And so I think the space station is a necessary next step, and it also gives the motivation and excitement for children to study and, hopefully, come and work with us someday.

Crew Interviews
Image: James Wetherbee.
Click on the image to hear Commander James Wetherbee's greeting (WAV file 353 Kb).

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