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Preflight Interview: Curtis Brown

Before we talk about the details of the mission that you're about to fly, I'd like to get a little bit of information about you and how you reached this position. I'm sure a lot of people must ask you why you wanted to be an astronaut. Where in your life did the desire to explore come from?

The canned answer that most folks expect or give is that I've always wanted to be an astronaut, but in my case I can't really claim that. My dream as a small kid was to fly. I fell in love with aircraft and flying movies and things about flight and built all the little models and all the little airplanes that kids always did when I was growing up. My big goal, or dream in life was to be a pilot and fly airplanes, preferably fighter-type aircraft in the military. You get to do some really neat things with some really neat airplanes, and that was my focus. Thanks to some good folks in my hometown, and my teachers and family who helped me stay pointed in that direction, I went off to the military and became a fighter pilot. As I progressed through my flying career, you always want more and more challenges, and so I kept trying to challenge myself. I went through the Fighter Weapons School, which the Navy calls the Top Gun school, and it was a good experience, although not as much fun as the movie. I went through Test Pilot School and then after that, I basically had all the requirements that NASA looks at to be a shuttle Pilot, and so I said, "You know, I really want to go do that." I'd thought about it, but I hated to set goals for myself that were totally unattainable. If you asked me if I wanted to be President and I said yes and then there was no way that I could ever get there, I'm one of those people that would get frustrated over some period of time. I wanted to fly, and after I got all the requirements that NASA looks at, I applied to the space program and got accepted.

You made a reference to your hometown and some of the people there. Is there a specific person or two, or events, that you can look back at that were key in your development?

That's actually a very tough question. I would like to give my mother and father the most credit. My dad was always very interested in scientific things and always pushed me in a technical area to always understand how things worked and those kinds of things, so I give them the biggest credit. I grew up in a very small town in North Carolina, and my teachers and the folks in the town that were real good friends definitely helped point me and keep me straight. They didn't let me get in any trouble as a youngster, and they were always watching, so it kept me focused on the right ideals.

STS-103 will be your sixth space flight. That puts you in some pretty exclusive company-only four other men have ever flown as many as six times. What does it mean to you to be included in that group, and to have another opportunity to fly?

To be honest with you, I really don't think about it being the sixth flight. It's kind of become a joke because on my last flight we had Senator Glenn aboard, and there was a lot of media attention, obviously. I made the joke that the reason we were getting all the media attention was because it was my fifth flight, and everyone got a chuckle out of that. I actually have gotten a lot of questions about it being my sixth flight, but to be honest with you, I don't really think about it. It's another shuttle mission. Every shuttle mission is unique, every shuttle mission is brand new, usually, to an astronaut, and you always dive into that mission with the same determination that you would for any flight. We're very excited about 103, and I've never seen Hubble from space. I am very honored and very excited about being part of the Hubble mission. There are a lot of folks up in Goddard that do a tremendous amount of work - that built the telescope, that got it all going, that have been monitoring it, working it for the last nine years or so. I'm very excited to be a part of that team, and I'm hoping that we as the 103 crew can go up and do the servicing and modifications and bring Hubble back to A1 condition.

You mentioned your last flight-you're getting ready to go back to space right about one year after having returned from your last mission. Does flying twice in that space of time make things easier or harder to get ready?

Yes and no. You would think that it would make it easier just because it was recently that you've done this, and in reality, since the crew is a team, you can't really skip anything just because you have flown recently. You still need to work together as a team to build that team effort: the coordination, the communication, the understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities. It doesn't really take anything away from the training requirements, but it does make it easier because, yes, you have been exposed to it recently. We're all getting old here and so you kind of remember things better if you are told over and over again, so that helps our training team get me up to speed. It is actually almost to the day that we launched last year.

Now this mission is fairly high profile, but so far has not generated the kind of public reaction that your last mission did. As you mentioned, Senator Glenn was a member of your crew. How is the difference in the attention that's been paid to you making it easier for you guys to prepare?

The last mission was like walking a tightrope between the general public's interest, which was really overwhelming, and the training we had to do. You always want to keep everyone happy and do the right things, so it was kind of a tough line to walk. Everything worked out OK, and we did a good job. This mission, as you mentioned, may not have as much attention yet because we don't have any significant individuals that have a big history on the flight, like Senator Glenn did. We haven't had the attention yet, but I think the attention will come as we get closer and closer to launch. I have a very good, experienced team: with one rookie and the other six folks, we have eighteen shuttle flights to our credit, so I have a very experienced crew. They know what's important and so focusing their attention on the training and the details is very, very easy for me, and it makes my job much easier. We do want the attention and the focus as we get closer to launch because we are part of a significant program, the Hubble Space Telescope program, which tends to rewrite our textbooks about astronomy and space almost weekly. It's amazing the information that we learn from the Hubble, and we're very happy to go up and be part of that team.

Let's turn our attention to that. You're preparing for a mission that's being pulled together on relatively short notice for an early servicing visit to the Hubble Space Telescope. First, summarize for us your role in the mission as the Commander on the flight, and what it's like for you to be a part of this flight.

The Commander is given the role of the ultimate coordinator, the bottom line on getting the mission done. It's my duty and responsibility to manage my crew in a way that's the most efficient and to go get the mission done. That's what we all, as astronauts, are charged with. We were announced in March, and we're flying in October, so seven months is a little short compared to our normal template in the shuttle business, but I think it's the way we'll be going in the future. It's kind of nice to maybe break some ground here and try to make sure we can be the most efficient we can be between the beginning of training and the launch date. That's the challenge, and I welcome it. We've done quite well so far. I think we'll be ready to fly in October. Again, I have a very experienced crew so it sure helps me out. I'm also really excited about having a rookie, Scott Kelly, on the flight because it's nice to see their reaction and their face and their emotion when they first get to orbit. We are doing some things that maybe we don't need to do to help him along-not that he needs it-but just because it's his first flight, and we want to make sure he's well prepared and we don't cut anything short for him. It's a challenge, but we're doing fine with it.

You referred to the fact that you were named to this mission in March, but four spacewalkers on this flight had begun training for this mission a number of months before that. What's it like for you as a Commander of the mission, the man with the ultimate responsibility, to walk in to a group of people who've already been busy working together on this for some time?

It's really not a problem. It may sound like I come in kind of late and try to change everything, but actually that's pretty normal for the way we organize shuttle crews. If we have a specific scientific experiment, or payload that requires a long time training, or a long lead time-type training, those folks get assigned to missions earlier than the rest of the crew. The extravehicular activity folks were assigned a number of months earlier than we were because they have been doing engineering and evaluation and developing the procedures that we're going to use and go out and work on the Hubble Space Telescope. It's not like working in your backyard where if you need another tool or another wrench you can go get it-once we go up and go spacewalking, we have what we have, so we have to have all those operations choreographed down to the most minute detail. Yes, those folks need to take a little bit more time and training to get that all organized. They've pretty much been working on their separate areas, the EVA part of the mission. We got together as a whole crew once we were assigned and now, I take that part that they've been doing and integrate that into the whole team and it's really not a problem. It's kind of the way we do business-we don't compartmentalize, but everyone in the crew has their specialty, and we give them the responsibility to make sure that happens. That's kind of the way the EVA versus the whole mission works.

Set the stage for us to have a better understanding of what you and your crewmates are going to do once you get into space. Let's talk about the mission of Hubble itself in the first place. What is it that the Hubble Space Telescope can do that telescopes on the ground, or other telescopes in orbit, can't do?

A telescope is a telescope. It has certain capability and power and range and acuity. The Hubble is really no different than your typical Cassegrain-type telescope that you would have in your backyard. The major difference, and it's relatively easy to understand, is that it's not in your backyard, it's up in space. What makes that different by being in space? We have no atmosphere to look through, which is a major difference. We look through the atmosphere out here every night and see the stars, so you really don't understand, from a telescope standpoint, how bad that atmosphere is for viewing through. We don't have any weather, so if there's nights you can't work, nights you can work, there's no rain showers, clouds, anything to get in the way, and there's no light pollution. There you can point out to deep space and all we see is deep space, we don't get the lights from the nearby town, or city, or that kind of problem. Airplanes flying over or getting in the field of view, any number of things. Space offers a tremendous, unique place to work on the astronomy problem, and so Hubble, being up above the atmosphere, is able to spend all its time looking, without the problem with the weather and the atmosphere, and it's able to do those precise pointing activities and gather that data. That's the difference between Hubble and the telescope in your backyard.

Can you characterize, in a way that the layman can get a better grasp of it, the scientific value of the data and the images that Hubble has returned to us already, and presumably would continue to do?

I've been in space a few times, as we've mentioned, and people always ask me what it's like and I try to tell the emotional side of it. I'm probably not very good with emotions, but…when I look out into deep space and I see all those stars, I always ask my question---it's kind of the question of the century for me---and that is, how far does that go? There could be two answers. It could be going out to a certain place and stopping-then my next question is, if it stops, what's on the other side of that? If there's a boundary, there has to be something on the other side of the boundary or some boundary, so tell me why that is. Then, if it doesn't stop, if it goes on forever, I'm not sure we, as humans, can understand what forever is, so tell me what this forever is all about. To me, that is kind of the ultimate question. What Hubble allows us to do is look out into these vast distances and try to understand our universe, understand what space is all about. Whether that means finding new and unbelievable things that we haven't imagined, or getting more data on the things that we already know about. Once we complete that database, or build that database, hopefully we can understand where we fit into this vastness of space. Looking out into deep space and seeing all the stars and the clusters of stars that are so thick they look like clouds here on Earth-I mean, it's just amazing-and so, with so many places to go and see, we need to understand more about how we fit into that. That's what Hubble does for us. It's able to gather data on a weekly basis that, as I mentioned a while back, tends to rewrite our textbooks almost weekly, monthly, for the folks now that are in school, in college and high school that are studying astronomy. Nine years ago, astronomy was totally different, and all that's come from the Hubble, or a large part of it. Hubble is a team, and there's a lot of other telescopes that are helping gather data, but all that's coming from that kind of exploration, that kind of Hubble information.

The Hubble Space Telescope is part of NASA's Great Observatories program; already it's been followed to orbit by the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and just recently the Chandra X-ray Observatory…an infrared telescope still to come to complete that program. What is the value, or perhaps the necessity, of having telescopes that look at different portions of the spectrum of light?

You kind of have to understand the nature of the magnetic spectrum, the way we see things or view things. We're used to dealing in the visible spectrum, where we look out and we see something, and that's what we do. Because we can look in different areas of the spectrum, we can see things and therefore gather information about the objects, the stars or the planets, by looking in a different area of that magnetic spectrum. For instance, heat is a different way of looking at something, the heat it gives off; x-ray is a different way of looking at something. All of these different telescopes that look at things in different spectrums can then take that data and put it all together. Hopefully, well, we do, learn much more about the object that we're looking at by looking at it in a different way, at different angles, so to speak.

To continue its work, Hubble is going to receive its third on-orbit service call from you and your crewmembers although a little earlier than was originally planned due to the failure of some gyroscopes. In this case, what do these gyroscopes do? Why has their failure prompted NASA to take the unusual step of flying this mission earlier than it had originally planned to?

First of all, the gyros, there are six of them, originally, and we only need three to do operations. These three gyros are required to do the precise pointing that Hubble needs to take the long exposure-type information gathering-type images. We need to be able to point very precisely, and the three gyros do that. We had three backups-if we're only using three there must be three backups-but over the years those gyros have failed due to a condition that we now understand and know about. Basically, it was the way the gyro was built, and now we have rebuilt some of the older gyros and new gyros to take care of that. Our mission is to go up, and our number one priority is to replace those gyros. If another gyro fails, and the reason we're doing this mission early kind of fits into this, but if another gyro fails, Hubble will be safe. There's no harm to Hubble, no chance of it hurting itself or getting overheated or going to sleep and never waking up. It's nothing like that, but if Hubble loses another gyro, it'll go into a safe mode and it'll just wait for us to come service it. It's kind of like your car, or something else that you really need or really want to be using. It has a limited lifetime; it's not going to be there forever. Any time that it's not operational and taking data, or being used, that's kind of wasted time. If we didn't do this servicing mission a little early here, and another gyro had failed between our launch time, or planned launch time, then the Hubble would go into safe mode and we would just lose valuable time on orbit that we could be collecting data. Again, with a limited lifetime, you don't want to waste that valuable research time.

On your last mission, just a year ago, one of the payloads was the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform. Remind us about what those experiments that were included there are, and whether or not there are impacts of results of the HOST experiments that are being put to use on STS-103?

The HOST, as we know it-you defined the acronym there, but we like to talk in smaller words-it flew on STS-95 with us. It allowed us to, or it required us to go up to three-hundred nautical miles above the Earth's surface, which is pretty close to where Hubble is, and which gave us a great view of the Earth as a by-product. It required us to go up there and test some of the equipment that we will be installing on Hubble on this mission, the servicing mission, so we have actually tested it in space on STS-95. One of those pieces of equipment was the computer that we're going to put on Hubble on this servicing mission. We tested it in the same radiation environment. Up in space it's a little bit different because you don't have the atmosphere to protect you from the different cosmic radiation or rays that are coming in from deep space. We actually tested this computer up on STS-95, it worked very nicely, didn't have any problems at all, and that gave us a big confidence in taking it up on the servicing mission here and putting it up on Hubble. We tested a Solid State Recorder that will be going up on 103, on the servicing mission. It has no moving parts-it's like your computer. It's solid state memory, whereas the recorders, or one of the recorders that we're using now on Hubble, is a tape-to-tape machine, and that was the technology when Hubble was know, when Hubble went into service, that was the best we could do. Now, we can put up a recorder that can store ten times or so more data, do it very fast, and have no moving parts to break. That gives us another layer of redundancy, so we're going to install that. We also tested a thing called a NICMOS cooler. NICMOS is one of the cameras onboard, and a cooler actually. We used to have a dewar, a bottle is probably the best way to say it, of cryogenic or very cold liquid that was used to cool the detector on this NICMOS camera. Since then we've run out of coolant so this camera can't really be used because the detector, the optics, the sensitive part of the telescope has to be very cold so that it can see very faint objects. We tested a cooler for this camera on HOST, but because of our testing on 95 it's not quite ready to go on this servicing mission, so that'll be on a following mission, hopefully the Servicing Mission 3B which will go in the fall of next year. That's pretty much what we tested on 95, and it's kind of rewarding for me to have taken up stuff on STS-95 and tested it for the Hubble Space Telescope, and now we're going to go up on 103 and actually install the same hardware. That's kind of neat for me.

On this mission, on Flight Day 3, you and your crew are going to approach that giant telescope and snatch it out of orbit and plop it down in the payload bay…Very gently…Very gently. Talk us through the procedures of that day and…rendezvous, grappling, berthing, and particularly talk about what you get to do during that mission, which is fly this thing.

There you go. Actually we'll wake up that morning, on rendezvous day, and we'll do a couple of burns. Scott and myself will do some orbiter height adjust or orbit adjust burns to start the rendezvous process with the Hubble Space Telescope. That'll take a series of a few hours because every time around the planet is an hour-and-a-half or so, so it'll take a few orbits to catch up with Hubble. We'll catch up with it from below, and our last little tweak burn will put us on an intercept course with what we call the R-bar. If you drew a line from the telescope itself as it orbits the Earth directly to the center of the Earth, that would be the R-bar. We'll intercept that R-bar, that line, about eight-hundred to five-hundred feet below the telescope, and then we'll control the orbiter and fly right up that line. Again, I need to define a little bit of what Hubble's going to be doing. Hubble's inertially stable, which means it's pointing at an object in space and as it goes around Earth, it doesn't rotate with the Earth, it stays fixed, pointing at an object in space. As we come up, with us being stationary with respect to the Earth, as we come up that R-bar Hubble will be apparently rotating, because again its inertially fixed in space as we go around the planet. At some point, when the big end of the telescope, the aft shroud end that does not have the aperture door that opens that looks out-when that gets pointed at the shuttle, then we will go inertial in the shuttle, which means we will start being fixed in relation to the telescope and space. At that point, we'll continue closing because what we want is for that big end, the shroud end, not the aperture door but the safe end, we want that end in the bay so that we don't contaminate the telescope or get any debris around the telescope. We'll continue to close up to around forty- to fifty-feet or so, and at that point, we'll slowly start braking so that I can arrive around the thirty-five to forty-foot distance from the grapple fixture, the little pin that we use to grab the telescope, and the payload bay. What that does, though, it puts that big end of the telescope pretty close to the orbiter, down in the bay, and the solar arrays are out there. Again, this approach is made to protect the solar arrays because they're very fragile, very lightweight, and we don't want to disturb them with our reaction control jets. Once we stop, Jean-François, who is my flight engineer and primary arm operator, will maneuver the robotic arm out to grab that grappling pin, the little pin that's on the telescope. Once he has a firm grip of the telescope, we'll secure it with the arm and then he will maneuver the telescope very slowly, again because of the solar arrays and just the telescope itself, down into a structure that we have in our aft cargo bay. We call it FSS, or Flight Support Structure-there's kind of different acronyms depending on what part of it you're talking about-but it has three latches, and on the bottom of the telescope is three, we call them "towel racks," but three bars. What we're going to do is take the arm and bring the telescope down into those three latches, close the latches, and at that point Hubble has now become part of the orbiter. We can disconnect the arm from the telescope, and use it to now maneuver the spacewalkers around the telescope to do the work. All of that will be done in one day, that's a pretty busy day, and each crewmember has a specific duty. I get to do the manual flying of it. I actually put the inputs in to control the orbiter, fire the jets, and do the manual flying. My Pilot, Scott Kelly, will be doing some of that as we approach the telescope, but his primary job is make sure I don't do anything wrong or forget anything, and also to take care of the orbiter, because someone has to "manage the store," so to speak. So he manages, makes sure all the systems on the orbiter are correct and working correctly, and if there are any problems with that, I can continue to fly, he can manage the orbiter and we can continue to rendezvous. Jean-François, again he's my prime operator, will also be working some computers that take the data from our rendezvous radar, from a handheld laser that we shoot out the window at the telescope. All that information goes into a little laptop computer that helps me plan my rendezvous so, again, we don't want to hurt the telescope with our plume, and we don't want to waste a lot of gas. We want to do it efficiently.

As you say, that's an awful lot of activity…very busy day for you. For the next four days after that, it's very busy for your four spacewalkers. Starting on Flight Day 4 Steve Smith and John Grunsfeld begin the series of spacewalks that are planned for the flight; the rest of the crewmembers have jobs to do inside Discovery while they're working outside. Describe what your responsibilities are going to be during those days that some of your crewmates, alternatingly, will be spending time outside the orbiter, and whether or not any of those tasks that you do inside differ from one spacewalk to another?

Let me answer your last question first-not really. We have our EVA team-and I don't like to use acronyms too much but that's our extravehicular activity, that's our spacewalking team-we have our team of two people that always goes outside, so each of the four EVA days, two folks are outside. We have one person inside that's kind of like the conductor-the spacewalk conductor. They are charged with the responsibility of making sure we have this whole spacewalk choreographed, or organized, so that we don't have to turn around and go back and get something or miss something here or miss something there. It's very, very precisely choreographed. We have the arm operator who is operating the arm. He usually has a crewmember on the end of the arm, on a foot restraint, moving the crewmember around to different places on the telescope or steadying them so they can do operations with both hands. We have another crewmember that's kind of like the rover that's taking care of additional setups for maybe some Photo/TV requirements. We try to document all our stuff and also we document all the operations to Hubble so that on the next servicing mission the latest information they're going to have is what we provide them with photo documentation. They're doing that. Scott, again, the Pilot is taking care of the orbiter systems, making sure it's healthy, and I like to think of myself as kind of like the coach sitting back and watching the whole team work. Actually we're all watching out the window, making sure that everything is going OK. The big things I worry about, or big things that could happen, things that we as EVA or spacewalkers work on and worry about are, we have an arm that we're moving around the telescope. The telescope has appendages, solar arrays and things. We want to make sure those two do not get in contact with each other. We have spacewalkers, humans outside, and we want to make sure that they're always watched and if there are any safety issues that we bring those up quickly. We have a whole number of tools and tethers and equipment; we don't want any of that equipment to maybe come loose and get away, so we're watching things like that. The team is very well organized, very well practiced, it's like a greased operation-everything's going real smooth. Then if something does happen, then we have people like myself that will say, "Stop, we have to take care of this," and we'll go work that and hopefully not interfere with the rest of the EVA operations. It's a big team effort, and I think that's what a lot of people do not realize - the two spacewalkers outside, yes, they're doing their spacewalking, yes, they have to do a very good job, but they have a whole team behind them in the orbiter taking care of them. Even on the ground because there's a number of people: Mission Control, the Goddard space telescope folks, in Maryland or the Hubble Space Telescope folks in Maryland at Goddard Space Flight Center, all of that team is watching, so it's a lot of team effort.

You mentioned a few minutes ago that the replacement of the six gyroscopes, the three Rate Sensor Units, is the primary goal of the mission, that's what will make it a success. Certainly you want to see that, but my question is more literal: as you look out the window at these spacewalkers doing their work, what are you most looking forward to seeing?

I would like to be out there with them, actually, but unfortunately, they won't let me go outside. The Hubble Space Telescope has a great history, and I mentioned a little earlier that I'm so honored and proud to be a part of that team, so I'm looking forward to seeing the telescope. Like most people here on the ground, I've seen a lot of photos it has taken, and it truly amazes me the type of information that we can get from the telescope. The telescope is currently working fine, we're just going to go up and get ahead a little bit on some maintenance and replace some items that we wanted to replace so that we can leave the telescope in a much better condition than it arrived in. That's going to make me personally happy, going up there, doing the work, coming home, and knowing that we as a team had a small part in providing the world, not just the Americans, but the world, with the information, data, and photos that the Hubble can take.

Spacewalks are concluded then, and these planned improvements to Hubble have been concluded…it's time for you guys to say good-bye to the telescope and to start to come home. What's the plan for concluding operations with the telescope-undocking day?

OK. The fourth EVA finishes one day, and the very next day we get up, we will let Jean-François, with the Canadian arm, grab hold of the telescope. We'll release it, and we'll put it back to its internal power from batteries and solar arrays, since for all this time it's been on shuttle power. We'll unhook it from the Flight Support Structure in the aft cargo bay and raise it up above the orbiter cargo bay. The solar arrays have always been out, we're not going to retract those or anything, they've always been deployed. However, there are two high gain antennas that are on big arms that we folded up to make the rendezvous and the grapple a little easier and to work around the telescope once it's in the payload bay. We're going to go ahead and command those antennas back down to their working position. Once they're deployed and checked out, we will then open the aperture door, in other words, the door that opens up all this information to the telescope. We want to open it up and get the telescope in an operating configuration before we release it. For example, if the high gain antennas do not deploy correctly, or if the aperture door does not open correctly, we can go outside on another spacewalk and fix that part of the telescope - deploy the high gain antennas, open the aperture door, and put it back in a configuration so that it can do good science. Once it's in that configuration, and the folks at Goddard have checked out the antenna, checked out the telescope and made sure it's fully operational and ready to go, then we release it with the arm, very gently. Then we back away with the orbiter and Hubble's on its way again, to do many, many, many more years of scientific work.

Then you bring Discovery home to the Kennedy Space Center and you'll have completed an important upgrade to Hubble…also demonstrated that shuttle missions can be planned and executed in a shorter period of time than they have been in the past. You've touched on this before, but to conclude, I'd like to ask you to do it again: when people ask you, how do you explain how this mission that you and your crewmates are about to fly-with the help of all the people on the ground that you've referred to-how do you explain how this mission helps further the objectives of space exploration?

Let's say you were going fishing in the ocean, and you knew nothing about the ocean. The more you understand about the environment that you're going to go operate in, I mean, what kind of fish are in there? How deep is it? How far does it go? Is it salty? Is it fresh? I mean, you just have to know all that information. We go to work in space. I use this example that maybe is boring at times, but let me throw it on you here. We go do public speaking and people ask, "Why do we need to go to space? Why is it taking so long?" or "What are we doing?" I say, well, try to put it in perspective on what we're doing here. It wasn't that many years ago that Columbus was trying to come across the ocean because everyone thought the Earth was flat, and he finally got someone, and here we went, and he found the New World. The Earth was not flat, and we know that obviously. I've seen it. It's round. OK. It wasn't that many years later that Henry Ford came along with the car. Everybody says, "You're crazy. Why do you need a car? We have horses-you're going to scare the horses and hurt people." Obviously that was overcome because now everyone has two or three cars in their garage, and don't know what to do with them. That many years later we had an airplane. The Wright Brothers flew an aircraft, and everybody says, "You're crazy-you're barnstormers, daredevils-you're going to kill yourself…if you were meant to fly you'd have wings," so forth and so on. Now, right now, you and I can go to the airport, we can buy a ticket and get on an airplane, and fly around this supposedly flat world at a moment's notice. At a moment's notice we can fly around the world, and the only thing we can complain about is the food, the service, they lost our baggage, or it's not on time. Now think about where we've come in just a few years. The space program and space travel is the same way. People wonder why are we going to space, why do you need to do this, why do you need to go there? The shuttle's been flying a number of years now, and it's doing a really amazing job. People say, "Why do we need to go to space?" I think we're going to look back a few years from now, and ask "Why in the world were we flying the shuttle for so long? Why didn't we get something better?" Something more, something quicker, faster, and all that and it'll be like the Wright Brothers airplane, going to space, and the thing is, we need to learn what's around us. We're going to go out into space-the human experience, or the human nature is to go explore. I think we're going to go out in space, and it's just a matter of time, and we need to understand that environment and know more about it. The Hubble Space Telescope sees further than we've ever seen before out in space, and it sees back in time, and I think that's probably going into another subject but it sees back in time. It can tell us what has happened in the past, how things formed, how things developed. That information will help us in our future exploration and I think it will help us right here on Earth to better understand how the Earth works a little bit better, and how it interacts with the rest of the environment.

IMAGE:  Commander STS-103, Curtis Brown
Click on the image to hear Curtis Brown's greeting. Commander, STS-103.
Crew Interviews

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