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Preflight Interview: Jean-François Clervoy

Before we begin to talk about the details of the mission you're about to fly, I want to go back in the other direction. Tell me why you wanted to become an astronaut-where is it in your life that the desire to fly, or to be an explorer, where does that come from?

I think there is not really a "why." I always thought, being young, that I would become an astronaut one day because when I was in second grade, my teacher used to tell us that when we would be grown up we would be able to fly in space the same way he was able to buy a ticket to go to the United States. So I grew up with the idea that space would be accessible to me normally. Of course, when I went to college, I realized we were not there yet, but my mind was set. My father was a fighter pilot and I guess a combination of the taste of adventure and exploration, doing something that's reserved to only a very few people who have to be lucky and privileged to do some things very rare. All that added to that desire to be an astronaut.

Were there special people or special events, that you can look back at now and say, that was very important in my deciding what I wanted to do and helping me get there?

I remember when I was young, I was fascinated by explorers and especially a French vulcanologist, Haroun Tazieff, who explored volcanoes, went on the craters and looked at the lava just a few meters from him. I was also inspired by Alain Bombard, who was a famous explorer of the sea who traveled the Atlantic by himself on a Zodiac. I was fascinated by those people trying to do things that were dangerous, risky, never done before, and maybe it triggered something in me.

For you then, what was the path that led you to being an astronaut? You mentioned having teachers that told you flying in space would be routine, but as you went on in school and finished with your schooling, what was the career path that led you to where you are?

I've always been fascinated by space and I wanted to work in space systems and my first job was to work on the remote control of satellites, attitude control, orbit control. I was always fascinated by activities dealing with the air, the sea. I have my military and civilian diving licenses, my private pilot license, and I did a lot of skydiving. I think space is just a further step of all those activities that I was already doing on the ground.

You're now assigned to a shuttle mission that's being pulled together on short notice, comparatively speaking as shuttle missions go, an early servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. Summarize for us your role on this flight and what it's like for you to be a part of the team that's going to the Hubble Space Telescope.

I feel very privileged because I really feel that I have a high responsibility to make the mission successful as thousands of people on the ground, scientists and technicians, are relying on the success of this mission to keep their work going. My primary role during the dynamic phases of flight will be as the flight engineer, to assist the Commander and the Pilot in the dynamic phases of flight, the ascent, the entry, and the rendezvous. During ascent and entry, I will be sitting just between them slightly aft and I will try to coordinate and keep track of the nominal procedures as they are working my functions, especially in simulator. During the rendezvous phases of flight, I will be responsible for all the camera settings to view the telescope as we are in sight to ensure that the solar array, the orientation, is appropriate, and also to operate the robot arm when we get close to the telescope. At that point, when we have stabilized the orbiter by the telescope, I will be in charge of flying the robot arm to capture the telescope which is probably the summit of my role in this mission because everything depends on that. I have been extensively trained to capture the telescope with a degraded robotic arm which has a lot of backup degraded capabilities, but still being able to capture the telescope. Then I will berth the telescope in the bay by fixing the telescope on what we call the FSS, that's a structure that we fly in the payload bay that will maintain the telescope berth attached to the orbiter. Then, for four days-like six, seven hours a day-my main role will be to move one of my crewmates in an EVA suit, one of the spacewalkers who will be attached to the tip of the arm, to move him around, from back and forth from the tool box, the spare equipment boxes, to the telescope, and sometimes inside the telescope. That's what is really challenging in this mission in terms of EVA support by a robotic arm operator, that for changing the gyroscopes, for example, I will have to get Steve Smith entirely inside the gyroscopes bay of the telescope, and that will be four days in a row. Of course after that, my role will be to unberth the telescope, to deploy the telescope, to release it in space. Curt will fly the orbiter to move away, and then we will prepare for entry and I will be flight engineer again for the atmospheric part of the flight, which is more like in an aircraft.

You've had experience operating the robotic arm in flight before-back in 1994 you deployed a large satellite on your mission then. Have you found that that experience comes into play a lot now as you prepare for this mission?

I think the fact that I flew the CRISTA-SPAS my first mission played a lot in my assignment and the ease of my training. I think the assignment on my first flight, on a robotic task, was probably based on the fact that my technical job on the ground was robotics. So I had a lot of experience in working a technical job on the ground, then flying the robot arm on my first mission. Actually, the end effector, the physical end effector that we will have on this flight, will be the same I used on my first flight. We recently had to change it for some technical reasons. The thing I will do this time that I didn't do on my first flight-I was only the backup for that-was the capture-I did the release on my first flight. This will be the first time I do EVA support and that I will move EVA crewmembers around.

Along with your own experience on the RMS, one of the spacewalkers on this flight, Claude Nicollier, was at the controls of the robot arm on the first Hubble servicing mission. Has he had any tips for you, any inside knowledge about how that thing works in this sort of setting that's helping you get prepared?

Claude is a big robotic arm master. He worked a lot to develop the procedures the way they are now, quite standardized for Hubble servicing missions. I think one part where he helped a lot was to put down on paper precise voice protocol to ensure that we understand very well each other between the EVA crewmember on the arm and the one flying the arm. Sometimes the crewmember on the arm is asking me to rotate him or to translate him in axes that are relative to his body. For example, he would say "Roll me ten degrees to my right," and ten degrees to his right may be orbiter yaw left or another completely different axis in orbiter reference axis. So depending on the kind of motion that the crewmember is asking for, whether it's in a body coordinate system or orbiter coordinate system, or telescope. For example he can say "Take me in to the telescope" or "out of the telescope". Those words must be very clear, and we have a very good plan for that to ensure that I will not start driving the arm in a wrong direction when the crewmember expects another direction. In fact, training with the crew, especially in the big pool facility we have, I sometimes realize that we may make one word mistake, but because I'm used to the task, I may detect that the crewmember wants something that is not exactly reflected by the words he uses. So in that case I would ask the question again. My challenge is during all my training to never touch the telescope, and to always move my crewmember in the direction he's asking me to move him to.

Earlier this year, when you got the word that you would be a part of this mission, the spacewalkers had already begun their work. How has it been for you to step in to a situation where the four spacewalkers have already been training for a number of months, and get up to speed with them as you move through this training flow?

In fact, the four EVA crewmembers had started training like six months before we were assigned, but it was not continuous. It was because the training facility for the spacewalking activity had to be scheduled ahead of time, so it's only by blocks of a few weeks, maybe two or three times, that they had trained before and that was pure EVA work and they did a lot of development activity. They developed procedures, they finalized the way the EVA would be scheduled and planned, and I was happy to join the team when the plan was already well-settled in terms of which work we do on which day so that I could feel no pressure right away. They kept telling me they were missing an arm operator so I was very glad and felt very privileged to be joining that crew.

To help us set the stage for understanding what you and your crewmates are going to do when you get to space, let's talk for a moment about the mission of Hubble itself. What is it that the Hubble Space Telescope can do that other telescopes in orbit or telescopes on the ground can't do?

I heard several times, and I think it is quite known by the majority of astronomers and astrophysicists on Earth, that we can say that there is a "before" and "after" of Hubble Space Telescope, the same way we can say there was a "before" and "after" of the first astronomic lens of Galilée. I think it is well-realized that Hubble has completely uncovered a new world of astronomy to the scientists, and almost every day, there are new teams submitting proposals to do new research in the new fields of astronomy or astrophysics, and they all want to keep the Hubble Space Telescope live as long as possible. I think it's a very big scientific asset to the world and as a European, who are so involved because they are a partner of NASA in that project, I feel very privileged for my compatriots, all the Europeans who are also using that telescope as they compete every day to get some time of observation using that facility.

You mentioned something that I think sometimes people lose track of, at least people in America, and that is that the European Space Agency is cooperating with NASA in planning and operating the whole Hubble project. Talk a little bit about the involvement of ESA in the Hubble effort, and the part ESA has played and still plays in the operations of this telescope.

ESA, the European Space Agency, is an agency composed [of] fourteen member states of Europe, including the main being France, Germany, and Italy. The [ESA] was a partner of NASA for the development of the telescope. I think their financial contribution is 15%. We have such a very strong, excellent, scientific community of astronomers and astrophysicists in Europe that they actually get more than 15% time of observation. It's just because all of the astronomers on Earth are competing to access the Hubble Space Telescope to get some observation time, and it happens to be that the proposals from Europe are challenging enough that they get selected beyond the 15%. Europe was a partner of NASA for the development of the telescope, and they are still working regularly on improving instruments, but the main contribution right now is in observation activity and scientific and space research. We have a very good community working in an institute which is the equivalent of the institute we have in Baltimore.

Can you characterize, in a way that helps the laymen get a better grasp of it, what's the scientific value of the data and the images that Hubble has delivered to us already and will presumably continue to deliver to us once you and your crewmates have finished your work?

The Hubble is looking to the visible spectrum, so it allows us to see things we would see with our own eyes if we could see very far. I've been thinking sometimes, to be an astronomer or trying to understand the universe, and I think in the deep of ourselves, everybody, consciously or unconsciously, is always asking the questions, "Why are we here? Why do human beings exist?" and "What is our past? Where are we going?" Astronomy is one of the scientific fields that answer some of those questions. We don't get all the questions in one day. There will be always questions, but each time we find answers we find new questions. It's not only astronomy that can answer all those questions, but it's one field that we must not ignore, especially if we believe that within two hundred or three hundred years, sometime in the future, we will be living on other planets. Many people, including myself, think it's a human destiny in [the] long term, and I can't tell how long it will take. It can take a thousand years, but we cannot stay blind and refuse to observe our environment as far as we can see when we have the intelligence to build the instrument that allows us to see so far.

As you mentioned, Hubble's job primarily is to look at visible light that you and I could see if we could see that far away. Hubble is part of a program, the Great Observatories program: four telescopes that look at different portions of the spectrum of light. There's the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory that were just launched, and an infrared telescope is still to come. Why is that important from an astronomer's point of view? Why do you need telescopes that look at different parts of the spectrum?

The astronomers need to look at the universe in the whole spectrum because the visible spectrum is very, very narrow and you can see only those chemical reactions that emit light in the visible. The highest energies are activated in the shortest wavelength, in the x-ray, in the ultraviolet, and we need to look at those ranges of this spectrum also to understand the whole process. Everything in life is vibrations. From the very, very low frequencies to the radio frequency, the visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, and very high energies, cosmic rays. We need to look in all of these ranges to understand the whole activity because the visible is only the result of lights emitted by very limited chemical reactions of all those that take place in the universe.

To continue doing its work, Hubble is about to receive its third on-orbit service call. It's about nine months earlier than was originally planned for, though, because of the failure of some of its gyroscopes. What do the gyroscopes in question do, and why has their failure prompted NASA to move this mission up, to fly it sooner than they had originally planned it to?

The gyroscopes are composed of a very small wheel, very dense, that spins very fast, and which keeps the same attitude relative to the stars. So basically, gyroscopes are used on boats, aircraft, all navigation, ships, and they are used to either measure the rotation or the orientation of equipment, and they also help to fly that equipment to a given attitude, to a given orientation relative to the stars. Of course, the Hubble, being an observatory, its instruments look at stars, so it needs pointing. The first sensor that it bases its pointing to is the gyroscopes, and normally Hubble Space Telescope uses six of them, and three have failed so far. If we fail one more, the Hubble Space Telescope won't be able to point accurately enough to allow the scientists on the ground to make observations. Because the Hubble Space Telescope represents a big investment so far-I mean, several billion dollars, including the development, the previous servicing missions, all the scientists, and the network on the ground to make use of the telescope-NASA decided to move ahead as much as possible, depending on the availability of an orbiter-a space shuttle-and also on spare gyroscopes to be sent to orbit such that we minimize the risks that the telescope will be unavailable for science observation. The more we wait for that mission, the more we expose the telescope to a situation where one more gyroscope fails and the telescope goes in a kind of sleeping mode, standby mode, where it waits for a crew to come and repair it. With all those people waiting on the ground competing for observation time, we need to minimize that risk.

A couple of days after you and your crewmates launch, you're going to go and grab that telescope out of orbit and put it down in the payload bay to begin to make those repairs and those upgrades. I'd like to get you to talk us through the procedures of that day, Flight Day 3, the rendezvous and the grapple and berthing of the telescope, and particularly talk about the jobs that you will be doing, the tasks that you'll be executing, during that day.

OK. During the rendezvous, we will fly, early that day, at a lower altitude than the telescope, and because we fly lower, we fly faster-it allows us to catch up to the vertical location of the telescope. We fly behind the telescope, but faster, so that we catch up to the telescope after some adjusting burns. We will stabilize ourselves below the telescope several hundred feet below, and the telescope will be in an inertial attitude. That means it will keep the same orientation relative to the star and the orbiter will keep the same orientation relative to the Earth until the telescope presents the bottom exactly facing to the orbiter. Then we go in the same orientation mode as the space telescope. That means we will fly in a fixed attitude relative to the stars with the telescope, and we will lose our reference with the Earth. When we get close to the telescope, then we will approach slowly at about 0.1 foot per second for the last few feet. When the telescope is in reach of the robot arm, we will deactivate all the attitude control jets of the space shuttle to ensure that there will be no disturbance as I am flying the robot arm. The robot arm that I fly has a camera on the tip of the end effector that's looking at the target that's attached to the telescope, to the satellite. I use two control sticks to move the arm and to align the camera on that target. The two control sticks are required because one allows me to move the arm in pure translation-to go up, down, left, right, back away, or close in-and the right stick I have in my hand allows me to move the arm in rotation. I can do pitch, yaw and roll. These are what we call the six degrees of freedom, that any object moves around in space. Once I have the camera aligned with the target, I will push the left stick to start closing in at a very low speed. Claude Nicollier will be my assistant for that task, so he will be looking at the procedures, reading each step, controlling all my moves, and he will call the distance as I am closing in. When he says, "I see you in the middle of the capture envelope," I will confirm with the visuals I have on the camera scene that looks at this target, and I will release the stick and say, "Claude, grapple now." I will pull the trigger that's on the right stick that will control snares to grab a grapple pin that's attached to the telescope. At that point, the telescope is captured by the robotic arm. Then there is a mechanical process to rigidize the telescope against the tip of the robot arm, and then the robot arm and the telescope make one piece. We then recover attitude control, the rest of the crew will send some command to deactivate the attitude control system of the telescope, and I will start moving the telescope-still with the help of Claude Nicollier-to the aft of the cargo bay aboard that structure that's going to receive the Hubble, and that's a very slow motion. The Hubble Space Telescope is a very heavy satellite, and the arm is very thin, and although it can manipulate mass that are as heavy as the orbiter, we have to do it very slowly, otherwise we can break the joints. Once the telescope is in the capture envelopes of the latches-there are three of them that can grab the telescope at the bottom-I will stop the arm and give control to the EVA crew who is controlling those mechanisms to firmly grab the telescope and firmly attach the telescope to the orbiter. At that point I can remove the arm and park it on the side, and then starts the four or five days of servicing.

What you've just described, it sounds like one busy day, but as you mentioned there are four more busy days coming up, starting the next day when Steve Smith and John Grunsfeld kick off the first of the four spacewalks that are planned for the flight. The rest of the crew has jobs to do inside the orbiter while the spacewalkers are outside, and as you mentioned, yours is to operate the robotic arm. In general, can you give us a sense of what that job is that you have to do, and whether or not the responsibilities of that work differ from day to day amongst the four days?

Well, a typical EVA, or extravehicular activity, day will start, and I will move the tip of the arm just in front of the airlock hatch. That means when my crewmates will open the door that exposes them to space vacuum, they will see the arm, like a bus, waiting for them to ride. One of them will attach his safety tether to the tip of the arm, and then will lock his feet in foot restraints that will be attached to the arm. Then that crewmember will be ready for giving me commands for motion-to go up, down, to the telescope, or to the ORUC, which is the carrier of all the spare parts that will go into the telescope. Usually, I will move along orbiter axes, so the commands will be "move me up and aft," and I will have to call clearances. That's the most challenging part for me, because I see very well from the aft flight deck, through the windows. I see very well how high they are above structure; I see very well how much starboard or port they are, but in terms of closure distance to the telescope, which is behind them, I cannot appreciate that very much because there are no side cameras. There is no "bird's-eye view" looking for real. We have developed a very nice tool on the laptop that is called the bird's-eye view. That's a software application that looks at the arm joints, the configuration of the telescope, and shows the view of the orbiter, the telescope, the robot arm, and the EVA crewmember as if there was an actual camera looking at them. That will be a very good tool to help me keep a good situational awareness of where the potential risks of collision are, because this is, for me, my number one task: to avoid any collision. When I become unsure, I will call the crewmember and ask them: "Keep calling clearances as I am getting closer," and I will hear "I see a clearance of three feet to the telescope, two feet to the solar array; you can continue for six inches." When we are close to the work site, usually we stop and we reassess the whole situation and everything is OK. There are no malfunctions, ready to proceed, then we go by inches-two inches in, two inches up, move me five degrees left-and once a crewmember is in good position I stop flying the arm. I don't put the brakes on. The arm will be in running mode at all times so I will have to protect the sticks to ensure that nobody bumps into them. That will happen every day, around the telescope, very precise motion into the telescope or against the telescope, and cross motion back to the spare parts, where they open big boxes to retrieve the replacing gyroscopes, replacing transmitters, replacing computers. I will have to stay concentrated for several hours, and Claude Nicollier will be my backup for that job when Steve and John are outside, and John Grunsfeld will be my backup when Claude and Mike Foale are outside. I will probably give them about 20% of the whole EVA time flying the arm for me to rest, for them to get some flying time on the robot arm as it may help them. Maybe not Claude because Claude is a good experienced arm operator-but John Grunsfeld may fly on future station flights and may have to fly the robotic arm, so those will be long days for me, and more for the EVA crewmembers.

You referred to a couple of the specific things that you'll be doing earlier on. What might be considered a hardest or an easiest arm task for you on this mission?

I think the easiest task is probably to do payload bay surveys. After each EVA, when the crewmembers are back in and the arm is attached to nothing, we can use the cameras on the arm to look at some specific parts of the bay, of the telescope, to ensure that there was no tool left over, that everything is clean, put back in place. Also, the foot restraint that attached to the arm will block part of the view, half of the field of view. That's quite an easy task because I don't have to get close to any structure, I usually don't have to be close to any joint limits. The task that can be very difficult is to capture the telescope in a degraded mode, where the control sticks are not usable and I have to control each joint at a time. The arm has six joints like a human arm, and in a single-joint mode I have to select one joint at a time-for example, just the elbow or the shoulder or the wrist pitch-and control the motion of each of those joints in sequence such that, globally, they do the motion that I would like the arm to do. Capturing the telescope in single-joint is quite tough, but that will be only if the arm has a malfunction. For nominal operations, with everything working fine, I think the toughest EVA support task for me will be to support Steve and John in the change of the gyroscope because both will be working inside the telescope with clearances of just one or two inches before the helmet or their suit touch some structure of the telescope. Also, the second EVA is also challenging when Claude is inserting a new Fine Guidance Sensor inside the telescope. The margins are less than one-eighth of an inch. So, Claude and Mike Foale will have to give very precise guidance to me to ensure that we are doing the motion very precisely, very slowly. It's like a big piano that you have to insert and extract, because we extract the old one and put a new one, at a very low speed, 0.02 feet per second. It's very slow so it takes time, and any little motion can disturb the instruments so it's very, very sensitive. On EVA 2, when Mike Foale changes the computer, he has one side of his suit that is very close to a bunch of connectors and cables that he must not touch, and consequently Claude will call the clearance. Claude will say, "I see one inch; you are two inch, one inch," and with the arm I have to keep track of this to ensure that I, if I do any motion, I do it in the right direction, not in the direction that will cause a contact. On EVA 4, when Mike and Claude are covering the telescope with thermal protection covers, the attitude of the crewmember on the arm will be very unusual, so I will have to convert in my mind their commands that are in body axis-take me to my left, to my right, around the telescope-in orbiter axis coordinates to ensure that I I have the right inputs on the controls. For these EVAs, I will very often have to deflect the two control sticks in the six degrees of freedom simultaneously, so it requires very good coordination on both flying control sticks.

With all those spacewalks concluded and upgrades made to the telescope, it'll be time to put it back to work. You have a final, what I guess would be a final, big task on the day that you unberth the Hubble. Tell us about what happens that day.

The unberth is exactly the reverse of the berth. I grab the telescope with the robot arm, and Steve and John will activate the latches to release the bottom of the telescope; then the telescope is free to move. I will move the telescope up, then forward above the rendezvous camera and slightly above the level of the crew cabin, until it's in release attitude. Claude will be working this with me as he will be the prime procedures checker. He will be the number one coordinator, if I can say that, on the cockpit, because he will have to check the coordination between Curt and Scott for the orbiter attitude control system, John and Steve on the Hubble systems, and my work on the robot arm. Mike Foale will be taking pictures. Once we are at the exact time of the release, everybody will have some actions to do. As far as I'm concerned, I will have to open those snares that were grabbing the telescope and the telescope will be free; then I move the arm away, I mean, quite far away, and then I give control back to Curt who will fly the orbiter horizontally. He will fire the forward jets so the orbiter will kind of slide underneath the telescope, and we will see that huge telescope flying just above the overhead windows, at just a few feet, and that will be probably quite impressive. The release will be complete at this point.

Then you and your crewmates head for home, for the Kennedy Space Center, with another important upgrade to the Hubble completed. When you're asked, how do you explain how the mission that you and your crewmates are going to fly in space, and that's going to be supported by hundreds if not thousands of people on the ground, helps us further the objectives of space exploration?

First, we can say the Hubble Space Telescope was on purpose, by definition, designed to be serviced by astronauts, which makes the work easier because we don't have to invent very strange, very unusual operations that the telescope was not designed for. It makes the life of the telescope far longer, the fact we can service the telescope. You see, we have seen things failing, but fortunately, the telescope has enough redundancy to keep doing its mission in between servicing missions. By keeping the telescope alive, all the investment on the instruments, and the investments on all the research community on the ground is valid and is rewarding because we get a lot of scientific results. It's thousands of people using Hubble Space Telescope data on the ground every day. If that telescope would not be serviceable by astronauts once we lost one [or] two redundancies, it would be lost, and that would be a huge disappointment for all the people that are on the ground who would have to find another job, and also for the general public who recognize the quality of the data and the understanding of the universe that is improving every day. As I told you, like before the telescope and after, it's a new revelation like before and after Galilée was observing stars with his first telescope, so it was a big step. For school, it's a motivation for children, for students in school, to see what you can do when you study hard and you do your homework, and you want to become a scientist or researcher, you want to understand your environment, you can help the community. Of course, it's not a direct impact like looking at the ozone-that was the purpose of my first mission---but in the long range, it is maintaining a very high level of scientific research that keeps people searching for harder work to do, for new technology, and for the next generation of instruments.

IMAGE: Mission Specialist, Jean-Francois Clervoy
Click on the image to hear Jean Francois Clervoy's greeting. Mission Specialist, STS-103.
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Crew Interviews

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