Return to Human Space Flight home page

STS-106: Home | The Crew | Cargo | Timeline | EVA

Preflight Interview: Dan Burbank

The STS-106 Crew Interviews with Dan Burbank, Mission Specialist 3.

Dan, you're just the second person ever to come to the Astronaut Corps out of the United States Coast Guard Academy… thousands of flight hours in search-and-rescue in your Coast Guard career. It sounds like you were somebody who grew up wanting to be on the water more than somebody who wanted to fly.

I think I did to a certain degree. I certainly love being on the ocean and for that reason, I guess, the Coast Guard always attracted me as something I wanted to do, but I've also been interested in astronomy more from the standpoint of it being a hobby. As far as the Coast Guard goes, when I was a youngster-probably eight or nine years old-I had decided, probably somewhere around there, that I wanted to rescue people, and I wanted to actually be the person operating the Coast Guard small boats, you know, rescuing people in the surf, that kind of thing. And so that was something that was a dream I always carried on. And it wasn't until after I got to the Coast Guard Academy that I realized that officers, those who would graduate from the Academy, aren't the ones that operate those small boats, and if I wanted to do search-and-rescue the way to do that would be to fly Coast Guard helicopters. So, aviation wasn't really something I had thought a lot about until after I got to the Academy. But, what I did is I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy, I served my first tour of duty on a ship, Coast Guard cutter Gallatin, as a Law Enforcement/Boarding Officer and a Deck Watch Officer, and I went to flight training after that. My first tour was at Elizabeth City in North Carolina where I was flying the HH-3. And it was while I was there that I learned that Commander Bruce Melnick, a Coast Guard commander, had been selected for the astronaut program, had come down here. Before then, it had never occurred to me that this was something that I could do. And so, while at Elizabeth City I sent my first application in to NASA, and over the next six years I followed on with two more applications, interviewed for all three of those applications and was selected on the third try. In the intervening years, I was at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, where I flew the HH-60 helicopter, and then at Sitka, Alaska, where I was the Engineering Officer and flew the HH-60 as well.

You talked about an interest in flight and in boats and a variety of things in school; you know, academic subjects in school. With a wide range of interests like that there are also a wide range of people that you look back on and say that, these were the people who influenced me to make certain decisions, things that led you to where you are today.

Well, I think I'd have to put most of the credit on my parents, you know, as far as the folks that influenced me the most in making me the person that I am today. As far as outside interests and the things that I like to do, again, they were a huge influence; friends as well. And then there was one, a special person that kind of helped me out early on, and that was when I was in high school there was an instructor that taught physics there named Jim Harvey. I had been interested in space science before, since I was a kid, and he taught me how to build telescopes, and we did a lot of things hands-on in those classes. All of us, the students, made generators and did a lot of other things; we kind of made science alive. And, so I'd probably have to credit him, too.

So, from a kid who had an interest in space science, here you are an astronaut who's just been told for the very first time that you're going to fly in space-what is it like to hear that news?

It's amazing. Often, as I come to work today even, I stop and almost have to catch myself because it's becoming more and more immediate as we learn that the Service Module is on track. It's going to launch soon, the Progress vehicle that's going to bring up some of the supplies that we're going to install is getting ready to go, our training is starting to become more and more final. We're doing the later-stage simulations where we work directly with the Houston Control Center and the Moscow Control Center, and it's becoming more and more immediate, and we're all very excited.

And on top of all of that, you get to ride a rocket…

Yes, I do; yes, I do. And, I don't think there's anybody in this Office that would tell you that that would not be something fun, that that wouldn't be something they've looked forward to for an awfully long time, and I'm no exception in that respect.

As you say, ordinarily-historically, rather-the shuttle program has planned flights years in advance and flight and ground crews have had a year or more to prepare for them, but [that's] not the case in this one. Talk about the factors that led to the decision to add STS-106 to the flight schedule.

OK. Well, a lot of them are technical, and a lot of the factors are not technical but kind of go beyond the technical realm into the financial situation in Russia, for example, into some of the ground preparations that we're doing both here and in Russia to get our hardware ready to fly. In this particular case, we'd had two instances where there were failures of the Proton launcher, which is a Russian launcher that was going to subsequently be used to launch the Service Module- those happened last fall and then last summer-and because of that the Russian Aviation and Space Agency went and investigated it, discovered that there were some problems with the preparations for the engines on the Proton, and they needed time to identify the problem, number one, and, number two, to fix it. And, so, there was going to be, of necessity, a delay of about six months of the planned launch of the Service Module. In the meantime there were some other factors that are kind of conspiring here. The FGB, the Functional Cargo Block, and the U.S. Node, or Unity, which are currently on orbit have been on orbit since November and December of 1998, and that was never initially in the plan. We had hoped to have the Service Module flying and a permanent crew on board long before this. But because they've been up there so long, some of the equipment is degraded, some of the equipment is starting to approach its life limit, so we needed to do some maintenance work on it, and the delay in the Service Module was going to be a problem for that. Another factor that's played into this too is that this year currently we're experiencing a solar maximum, which is affecting the size of the atmosphere of the Earth, which actually increases the drag on the space station and all other things in low Earth orbit. So, that necessitated a reboost and it also is a hit on the propellant that we have on board the ISS. Because of all that, the mission that was originally to have been the post-Service Module shuttle mission, which was STS-101, the decision was made to send those folks early and do all that work, do the reboost, do the refurbishment on equipment, both in the FGB and also in the Node, and then we needed now a new mission to do the servicing in the Service Module. And it kind of fell onto our shoulders to do that.

You and your crewmates on this mission were assigned to this flight with [a] relatively short period of time to train. Now, granted, this is your first time to go through a training flow, but what are you finding to be the real challenges that are facing the flight crew as you get ready for this mission?

Well, we knew that the short training flow was going to be a challenge for us, just because there's so much to learn, so much to do, and you want to make sure that you are planning and training for all the contingencies that might come up, both with the shuttle and with the space station. So, we knew that there would be challenges with that. It turns out that we're pretty well on track, and I think we're going to be more than ready to go in plenty of time to launch. The training community has stepped up to it, the flight control community has stepped up to it, and the work that each of us had been doing prior to being assigned, kind of laid some of the groundwork for that. The other thing that I think probably concerned some people was the team-building aspect of putting a crew together on short notice. We, historically, have had a year to a year-and-a-half for a crew to build the friendship, to build the camaraderie, that you expect, that you need, on orbit. And I think we've more than surprised everybody, including ourselves, in that respect, too. We've got a great crew. They're all great friends. We train together, we work together, but we also do things outside of work together, and we've got it, and we've more than built that team.

Despite all [of] those challenges - or maybe because of them-is this circumstance fun? Do you get excited about being thrown into this situation?

Absolutely. There's nobody here in this office that wouldn't consider this fun, absolutely. And speaking as a first-time flier, it is exhilarating. All the training, all the work that we do, whether it's simulation, whether it is training in a classroom setting, or anything else that we do, all of it's very, very exciting. And as we get closer and closer to launch, that only picks up.

Your flight is the first shuttle mission to the station since the arrival of the Service Module. You're going to be docking with a station that not only has that new module attached, but a Progress supply ship attached to it as well. Now, you don't get to fly the shuttle on the rendezvous, but talk us through what happens that day. Talk us through the events of rendezvous day, and in the process, describe the role that you'll be playing while Terry Wilcutt does fly Atlantis to this rendezvous and docking.

OK. On rendezvous day we basically are faced with the task of joining two very large, very heavy vehicles that are both traveling almost five miles every second. And we essentially come from below and from behind and catch up to the space station; we gradually increase our altitude as we decrease our speed to match the closure rate, to make it very, very small, obviously. And, what we do is we come up from behind the station, and then we maneuver from below the station up on top of the station, where we can see the Earth below us and the space station below us, and we dock from there. It's something that we have to be very, very careful about, but it's something that we have a lot of assistance with because we've got the large flight control team here in Houston and also the flight control team in Moscow that are all working this together as one big team. My particular job related to that activity is really twofold. In the payload bay of the orbiter we have a number of cameras, including one that's mounted right within the mechanism that we call the orbiter docking system, the mechanism that mates the orbiter to the space station. And, that's one of our prime centers that we use to allow Terry and to allow Scott to control the orbiter and maintain the approach corridor into very close tolerance. So, I'll be operating those cameras and also operating the docking system itself, and that's my primary job.

Now, at the end of the process that you've described as the shuttle comes down, toward the International Space Station, toward the PMA, those two pieces come together, then you are the one that has to crank up the system that pulls them together?

Exactly, that's right. And the system is very sophisticated, fairly complicated, very robust, though, and what it does is it's got alignment, guides, alignment aids, that will do fine, fine-tuning of the alignment of the two vehicles as you bring them together. It's got capture latches, which will do the initial capturing and holding of the two vehicles together. It's got damping mechanisms that'll dampen out any relative motion that you have, and it's got a retraction system that will gradually take the space station and the orbiter and retract, and decrease the interface between them until they are sealed. And, after which we've got a number of hooks that are mounted within the two rings that will be face-to-face, and those hooks then get driven and will, you know, provide the structural interface between the space station and the space shuttle.

The day after all of that activity is the day that Ed Lu and Yuri Malenchenko are to venture outside of Atlantis. It's only going to be the second time there's ever been a space walk from the shuttle by an astronaut and a cosmonaut team. Before we talk about what they're going to do out there, tell me what, if anything, is important about that aspect of it. What do we learn from having a pair of space walkers from two different space agencies working together in this way, as we did with Americans who made space walks from the Russian space station? How do they help us, as we look ahead to working together on one space station?

Well I think just in a general sense…we are both learning a lot of valuable lessons from each other on how to conduct operations in space. Our experience is different, for one thing. But, specific to the EVA, what we've done is we've looked at all the tools and we've looked at all the techniques that each side has used, and we have chosen, basically chosen a suite, a combination-a hybrid, if you will-of Russian and U.S. tools and Russian and U.S. techniques that we think will best allow the crew to efficiently, you know, do the activities they have to do outside. And as we go from this EVA to all the subsequent EVAs, we're going to be constantly adjusting that. But the key there, I think, is that we both are bringing to the table a set of successful techniques and tools and ways of conducting EVA, which is a very challenging and very complicated activity, and also one that we're very dependent upon for the construction of the ISS. And we've brought those and we're looking at the tools, collectively, between all of us, and trying to take the best of what each of us bring to it. Additionally, we're going to be refining and making changes and upgrading, we're going to be using new tools and as all the subsequent flights come up, we're designing specific tools and adjusting the ones that we have to allow us to do our job better.

As part of this learning process, also, in the case of your crew, [has] been the fact that you've trained for this space walk both in Star City and in Houston?

That's right. That's another challenge here. Because of the hardware that we've got, because of the expertise that we've got resident in both places, there is no one single facility that we can go to that we can do all of the activities associated with the EVA from beginning to end, from airlock egress throughout the entire EVA, ending with the airlock ingress. So, what we have to do is train here for the initial part of that and for the final part of that, and then do the specific tasks, the training for the connection of the cables, for example, or some of the other things, we have to do that over in Russia. So, the trick for the crew, the trick for the flight control team, is to integrate those activities.

On this mission you are what is called the intravehicular crewmember for the space walk. First of all, tell us what that means; but then secondly, bring us through what's planned for this six-and-a-half-hour excursion outside the station. Tell us what Ed and Yuri will be doing out there and how you'll be trying to keep it all choreographed.

OK. As the IV, or intravehicular activities officer, my job really is to be the coordination interface between the crew, that's between Ed and Yuri as they're doing their activities, and Scott and Rick Mastracchio, who will be operating the arm inside the orbiter, and also the ground. And what I do is I'll have the checklist, where we have gone through, painstakingly, over the last couple of months and will continue to do up to launch. We've built all the set of techniques and step-by-step detailed procedures, and I'll be walking them through those, checking off all the items as they do them, making changes to them real time as we go through it, reacting to whatever the situation dictates. And a lot of it is communication, certainly, and a lot of it is looking ahead and working with the ground on some of the things that are going on. The specifics of the task, what they're going to do, is they're going to start out and they're going to egress, or exit, the airlock in the orbiter in the payload bay, and then from there they're going to move aft to where we've got a toolbox, if you will, a large toolbox mounted in the payload bay that'll have cables on spools, that'll have foot restraints, a number of other tools, different things that they'll be installing on the Service Module and the FGB. And both Ed and Yuri will then go ahead and attach those to what we call a body restraint tether - it's basically a tool that allows them to grapple either to the space station or to a package of tools that they want to bring with them. And, at that point, Rick will then bring the arm down to them and transport them from this toolbox up to the FGB. And at that point, then, they're on their own; that's as far as the arm can reach. And Ed and Yuri will then translate up the stack, up the FGB, towards the Service Module. They'll make connections between the Service Module and the FGB: those will be electrical power connections, command and data handling, computer, you know, cabling. They'll make connections for a communication system that will be used with the Orlan, the Russian Orlan suit. They're also going to mount, on the exterior of the Service Module, what's called the ferrozond, which is a magnetometer which is an attitude determination system. And all of that will take about six hours, a little more than six hours for them to do.

Can you describe what a magnetometer is? What is it, how does it contribute to the station operations in the future?

Well, the magnetometer is one of many sensors that the space station uses to determine its attitude. And that's very, very important because only by knowing your attitude very precisely can you have the solar arrays trained towards the sun, can you do a whole number of other things. But anyway the magnetometer is one means by which we do that. And it's much like a compass that you would use here on Earth, but it's got two sensors and there are two coils that, as the space station travels over the surface of the Earth, uses the lines of magnetic force of the Earth to determine the attitude. And again, some of the other sensors would be, we've got infrared horizon sensors, we've got sun sensors, we've got star trackers and other things, too. But it's one of a whole suite of tools that are used.

The day after the space walk is concluded is the day that you all are to enter the International Space Station and become the first people ever to enter the Service Module on orbit. Got any sense, at this point, how you're [going to] feel to be a part of that event?

For me it's going to be very special because, as I told you earlier, I've been working on the International Space Station technical work, including crew procedures, for a long time. And, in fact, I was one of the folks that was helping out with the training of the 101 crew, while the Service Module has been down in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, undergoing preparations for launch. We have had several sessions with the crews, both the assembly crews, the shuttle crews, and the future Expedition crews that'll be permanently based on board station, where they've come down to visit…to get familiarization training and so forth, on the vehicle. We've also done procedure validation, where we've taken these crew procedures and we have run those on the vehicle to make sure that the system response is proper, make sure the labeling and the callouts and all those things are proper. So, in the course of that work I was down there working with the crew, preparing them for all the things that we thought at that point they would be doing on STS-101. And no one could ever have told me at that point that I would be the one that would actually get a chance to do those activities. And, so…personally, it will be very, very rewarding.

The Service Module is the star of this mission…described, basically, as being the early living quarters for long-duration crews on the space station. But I need you to fill that in for us. Introduce us to the Service Module: what [it] is, what does it have, what's in it that permits human habitation of the station, what other systems does it house, why is this piece of hardware so important to this space station?

OK. Well, the Service Module, like a lot of the other follow-on modules, is a laboratory, but in its particular case it's much more. It really is a house for the crew. It is the home for the crew. It has crew quarters, it has systems that'll generate oxygen, it has systems that will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it controls the temperature, it controls the airflow, the entire environment of the space station at this early stage in the space station construction. It has food preparation facilities. All the things you need to sustain life [over a] long period we have now with the Service Module and we did not have until this module launched.

It also provides, if you will, similar essential services to the station itself as well as its inhabitants.

That's right. The Service Module provides motion control capability. It has command and data handling computer systems on board for the exchange of data between the various modules, it has a thermal control and regulating system, which is very, very important to control the heat exchange between the space station and space. And it has electrical power generation, which, of course, is very, very important-almost all the systems that we have on board space station require electricity, and a lot of it, to operate. And we have storage batteries on board the Service Module, as we do in the FGB, and we'll have in some of the subsequent modules. But we have eight battery sets on the Service Module and two very large solar arrays and all the computers to control the orientation of those.

And "outfitting" this new module is a way to try to summarize all of the things that you're going to be doing; the fact is, it's going to arrive on orbit without a lot of the important stuff that you've just described in it or in it but not working. What are some of the priorities for your crew in outfitting Zvezda on orbit? Start with talking about the batteries.

Well, the batteries are probably the first and foremost priority for us. We're going to actually install three sets of batteries and their accompanying hardware. And of course, that's very critical, as I mentioned, for all the system operations. We're also going to be installing equipment that will allow you to charge visiting vehicle, Progress/Soyuz vehicle, batteries from the Service Module. We'll be installing equipment that will help with the interchange of electrical power from the Russian segment, that being the Functional Cargo Block, and the Service Module and the U.S. operating segment. And then we're going to be doing some mechanical installations, mechanical only, for a lot of the life support equipment. And what we'll do is we'll basically put all the big pieces in place so that the first crew, when they get on board, they can continue the activation of those systems afterwards. In addition to all that, we'll also be transferring a lot of food and supplies and other kinds of equipment that the first crew is going to need on board, and just stowing that, having it ready for them.

Let's talk about a couple of those things. You're timelined to spend five days working inside the International Space Station. Again, summarize the goals of what's going on, and tell me what you're going to be doing during that time.

Well, it sounds like a lot of time, but actually we're very concerned that there is so much to do and we actually feel like it would be great if we had six or seven days of docked time that we could do all these activities. My job, specifically, in addition to doing some of the installation tasks, my job is to be what's called the stowmaster. So, in this case, we're going to have equipment that we're going to be transferring for installation and for stowage from the Progress, as you mentioned, the cargo vehicle, that's docked to the aft end of the Service Module, and then also equipment that's coming from the shuttle and the SPACEHAB module. And my job is to keep all that straight. As the other crewmembers bring it into place, I need to make sure that we have all the equipment in place in time to support the installation activities and make sure that every other piece that comes over that's just going to be stowed ends up in the place it needs to be so that when we need it for the subsequent missions, everybody knows where it's at. And coordinating all that activity in multiple tons worth of gear is going to require just very careful bookkeeping and coordination with the ground.

You'll be stowing and making sure that what you stow doesn't get in the way of the installation work?

Absolutely. And in the Service Module I think we have a pretty good handle on that. I think that's going to work out OK. But the FGB right now has a lot of cargo, a lot of equipment that's stowed within it right now. So, some of the installation activities are actually going to go on in the FGB. We're going to be replacing some battery sets in there and we need to-it's a bit of a shell game-we need to make sure that we move whatever equipment is on top of the panels that we need to get behind, that we don't put it in some other location that's going to then impede some follow-on work. The way we're going about this is a little bit different than what we've done in the past, and instead of looking at this as just this is a list of equipment that needs to go from point A to point B, because so much of that equipment has to be installed, we're basically going to try to timeline every activity that we do. So, we're going to move one box only when it's needed for its activity; we're going to make sure that every installation has timelined before it all the activities needed to prepare for it, to make sure that we move all the equipment out of the way because we have, in our minds, so little time to get so much done, we think it's the only way to do it and do it efficiently.

On your mission this is also going to be the first time in this sort of circumstance where you've got supplies coming in from two directions: not only from the SPACEHAB but, as you mentioned, from the Progress vehicle. Is there a new kind of strategy that you've had to develop to coordinate activity from multiple directions?

Right, and I kind of touched on that a little bit there. This new approach of timelining all the transfer and installation activities together, I think, is really important; they're not independent by any means. There's dependencies and interdependencies built into everything that we move, built into everything that we install, so our goal really is to try to coordinate all of that stuff together. And, again we have to work that with the ground real time because there will be some activities that we're going to have to do that right now we're not counting on doing. We're going to have to react to some, you know, some things like that; we need to be prepared for it. The other thing that's challenging about all of that is it's not like we're bringing the equipment from the shuttle or from any other one place and bringing it across the hatch and giving it to somebody else, as we did in the Phase 1 Shuttle/Mir program, where the Mir crews who were already on board took ownership of all that equipment, knew where it needed to go; we own it from the time we bring it on orbit until the time we leave, and so it's another level of responsibility that we've got in this particular case. And the space station spans more than a hundred feet, so we need to make sure- in my case, for example, as a stowmaster, I need to make sure that I've got oversight over not just the Service Module, where I may happen to be at this one time, but also the FGB and the Node. And it'll be a little bit challenging, I think.

You talked about some of the, if I can make the distinction, some of the equipment that has to be brought in and installed or stowed; talk about some of the supplies, too: what other kinds of things are in that couple of tons worth of material from SPACEHAB and Progress?

Well, we have a lot of spare parts for things that we know we'll need down the road. We have equipment that will be assembled once the first crew gets on board. We have equipment like exercise equipment, medical equipment, some of the different kinds of things we'll do experiments with. We have clothing, we have computers, we have all the things that you might think about that you might need here on Earth. The crew that's going to come on board-when Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko, and Sergei Krikalev come on board after our mission-those folks need all that stuff. There's no way that they can bring all those things with them on the Soyuz vehicle that they launch on, so all that has to be pre-positioned.

Once that work is done, whether it gets done in the five days you talked about or not, time for you all to leave. Describe what's going to happen on undocking day, talk us through that and again the part that you'll play during that activity.

OK. Well, some of the most important things, again, going back to my responsibility as a stowmaster, personally, I want to make sure that we do an end-to-end audit. One more audit to make sure that everything is in its place and that all the documentation that I've been working on for those, you know, ensuing several days is all up-to-date, and that the ground, when we're done, knows where all this stuff is. So I'm going to spend a lot of time doing that, just carefully going through the list over and over again. When we do the egress activities themselves, we're going to be leaving the space station in a very specific, pre-planned configuration, with certain hatches closed, with valves in a certain configuration that would be necessary so that the ground, if there were a problem, could command those remotely. And we're going to basically be sweeping our way through the space station, kind of an all-hands evolution, tidying everything up and making sure all the cargo that we've got there is secured and ready to go and ready to receive the next mission. Once we close that last hatch, we have a number of checks we do on board the orbiter, and the following day, we'll do the undocking. And the undocking is a very similar event to the rendezvous and docking. From my perspective, initially-it's all done in reverse, obviously-my perspective, initially, I'll be working on the orbiter docking system; basically demating the vehicles, you know, breaking down the mechanical connection between them. And shortly after that, in a very few moments, once that's done, the orbiter then will fly, that same approach corridor in reverse, backing away from the space station, and, Scott will be flying the vehicle and doing a flyaround, where we can do a photographic survey of the exterior of the vehicle, and that's dependent upon the amount of propellant we have left. It's dependent on a number of other things including ground commanding capability and ground insight. But, if things go well and go as planned, we would probably do up to two revs of a flyaround and then depart space station.

It's a jam-packed schedule…a lot of things that you guys have to do in a bit more than a week. But the success of your mission is critical to establishing this station as something that can house a permanent presence of Earthlings off of the planet. The fact that you're willing to go to space and do it yourself tells me that you think it's important. So, finally, tell me why-why is establishing this space station so important? What can it do for us in the future?

Well, just in a general sense, there's no better place to learn about outer space than outer space. If we have dreams, if we have hopes, to go back to the moon and to go to Mars and on to other places in the solar system and beyond, and I believe we should have those, we need to learn a lot about how to keep humans healthy and productive, long-term, in space. And there's no better place really to do that than here in low, low Earth orbit, in the International Space Station. That's not the only thing we learn by this because we learn, we have the opportunity to do a lot of research in science on very important things that will have benefits back here on Earth. But we also learn by working through the problems that are bound to crop up on a program of this complexity. We learn how to work together and how to get beyond those. And I think those lessons will be some of the best ones we'll have as we do this follow-on exploration.

Image: Dan Burbank.
Click on the image to hear STS-106 Mission Specialist Dan Burbank's greeting.
Crew Interviews

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