Interview: Dan Burbank
STS-106 Crew Interviews with Dan Burbank, Mission Specialist
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
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
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?
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 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?
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?
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
It also provides, if you will, similar essential services
to the station itself as well as its inhabitants.
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
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 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.
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?
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
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,
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?
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.
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?
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.