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Preflight Interview: Ed Lu

The STS-106 Crew Interviews with Ed Lu, Mission Specialist 1.

Ed, you began your professional career as an engineer and a research physicist before coming to work for NASA here in Houston. Why did you want to be an astronaut?

Well, I'd always been interested in space, even as a little kid, and flying things and that sort of stuff, although it wasn't something that I thought that I was ever going to do. And it kind of happened by chance: I heard about the possibility of applying, I talked to a friend about it; he went and sent an application in and said, hey, you ought to send one in, too. So, I sent an application in…this was when I was working as a research scientist. And about a year-and-a-half later, I got a phone call saying, hey, do you want to come on down for an interview, and that's how I ended up here. It wasn't some sort of preordained thing where I had been planning it my whole life, which is perhaps a little bit different than a lot of the astronauts.

Let's talk a bit about the route that got you here. Talk about the different kinds of jobs that you had that prepared you, that helped fill out that application that you sent in to Houston.

Well, I don't know what really filled out my application or what sorts of things they were looking for, but what I did was I was an engineer, I got my degree in electrical engineering, and then after that I went to grad school to study theoretical physics. And, I worked in different areas of astrophysics and I was working as a research scientist up until the point when I came here. I had a lot of flying experience, general aviation-type flying experience, before I came here, but nothing like the kind of things that you do here. But I had been flying airplanes for over ten years by the time I had gotten here.

Your NASA biography also has a list of other interests that's as long as somebody's arm. Is there. . .

I made it all up!

. . . is there anything that you don't enjoy doing? New experiences that you go, eh, forget it?

Oh, not really. I guess I'm more limited by the amount of time I've got in a day than the things that you want to do. There's always more places you want to go, more things you want to do, things you want to try, than you've got time to do…or money.

As you look back, your college career, back to your childhood, throughout your career as an astronaut, can you identify a few of the people that you look back at as being the most influential in your life? People who've really made a contribution to you becoming the man you are.

Well, I suppose everybody says this but, of course, your parents are the biggest influence in your life, and they were in mine. They encouraged me to do things and to, to work hard at things, and they supported me through all the things that I would force them to put up with. And so they're probably the biggest influence in my life.

Your first space flight, STS-84, was the sixth in the series of space shuttle missions to the Mir space station, and you even had one Russian and one French crewmate on that trip. Does that experience of having worked with people from other nations and other space agencies help you in your preparation for this mission you're about to embark on?

Well, not so much the experience of working with people from other countries in that I had a lot of experience with that before I ever came to NASA, just working as a scientist, which is a very international field. But particular, on that flight, what I think helped me here was to learn the Russian system: The fact that we had been to Russia. I had been to there several times before I was assigned to this flight, and that I knew a lot of the people, I knew a lot of what was going on over there, and that helped a lot because this flight is as much a Russian flight as it is an American shuttle flight. So it involves training over in Russia, working with Russians, having now two Russian crewmates, and working on Russian equipment, which is not the usual standard shuttle flight up until now.

Is that what you have in mind when you say that this is as much a Russian flight as it is a space shuttle flight?

Well, it is, because most of, like I said, of our equipment that we'll be working with once we get in orbit will be Russian-built and -designed, and even a lot of our procedures are written by Russian designers. And we, as a crew, have spent many months over in Russia training to do the space walk and to do all the installation procedures that we'll be doing to outfit the Service Module.

Let's talk about this mission. Historically, now, the space shuttle program has planned missions for years in advance, and flight crews and ground crews have spent a year or more in preparation. Well, the fact is you and your two Russian crewmates on this mission had been training with four completely different crewmates for quite some time when you were switched to become part of the crew for this mission, and at the time you only had a few months before the launch. First, tell us about the factors that were involved in the decision to add STS-106 to the flight schedule, and what it was like for you to and your crewmates to move yourselves from being part of one group to being part of another.

Well, the big reason that they have a 106 mission to begin with is the fact that there was a delay in the launch of the Service Module. And that was due to the fact that the rocket that was supposed to carry it up, the Proton, had a failure last October, and that meant that the Service Module was not going to be launched per its original schedule. And what happened then is that the pieces of the station that are still in orbit were starting to decay to a lower orbit, and that required a mission to go up sooner or to go up on the original schedule. And, given that the Service Module was going to be late, they wanted the folks who had originally trained to work with most of the Service Module things to still fly on that mission. But, now you require a mission to do some preliminary work on the parts of the station that were already in orbit as well as to reboost its orbit. So that's how we ended up with two separate missions, and that's how Yuri, Boris and myself ended up on this second flight, which was really, originally, the first flight. And one of the hard things about it was the fact that it takes a while to get a crew to work together as a crew, and while you may know all the procedures, you need to know what everybody else is doing and how they're doing it in order to work effectively as a team - you can't be sort of seven individuals off doing your own thing. And, so it takes a little bit of time to gel together as a crew. And we've done that now, but we had a very short period of time to do that. And in the end, it has worked out, and we're working together as well as the old 101 crew did back in February when there was still only one flight.

Given the circumstances, then, what have been the biggest challenges for you and for your crewmates in getting ready?

Well, the biggest problem has been lack of time, so we've had a very compressed training schedule. I think we've had about a little less than half the time that the STS-101 crew originally had to train for their mission. It's not as dire because three of us had come over from the other mission, and also a lot of the preliminary work had been done by the original 101 crew in setting up procedures and figuring out how things should work. So, it was not as bad as you might think in terms of training, all that, in a short period of time. But the big problem has been time management, figuring out how to make everything fit into the limited time that we have before launch.

And that's worked out pretty well?

Yeah. It has worked out, and I think we'll do just fine, and I think we'll go into the flight ready and not overly beat up and tired from, you know, having stayed up all night for six months!

Let's talk about what you're going to do. Your flight is the first shuttle mission to fly since the arrival of the Service Module. You're going to be docking with a station that not only has that new module, but also has a Progress supply ship docked to the far end of it. Talk us through the steps of what's involved on rendezvous day - if you could paint us a word picture of what's going to happen as Terry Wilcutt flies the rendezvous, and point out what you'll be doing as, as part of that team.

Well, Atlantis will be coming will be following the station in orbit around the Earth, so we'll be behind it by many miles. And on rendezvous day we'll actually come up from below it. If this is the station moving along, we'll come up below it in the shuttle like this, and then move up to a point where we're about five-hundred feet from the shuttle, and then we'll fly around it half way to come down on the station from above. During all of that, what I'll be doing is operating a set of computers, which takes in all the data from our sensors, which tell us what is our relative position with respect to the station and how fast are we closing with it or opening from it, or what is our direction of motion with respect to that. And those computers will put up a series of displays, which will help Terry fly the shuttle in to that docking.

The day after that docking is complete there's some work to be done on the outside of the station, and you and Yuri Malenchenko are going to get to go outside for some six-and-a-half hours to do that. It's only the second space walk ever from the shuttle by an astronaut-and-cosmonaut team. Before we talk about the details of your space walk, talk about this situation, if you will: What is it that we learn from having a person from one space agency and a person from a second space agency do the space walk together? Is there something specific about that combination or that cooperation that's of value?

Well, once we go outside neither of us is going to think, where is the other person from. he's your partner, he's your crewmate, and that's the way we've been trying to train this, just like any other space walk. The whole goal is to make it so it doesn't matter where they're from. It doesn't matter who he works for or who I work for. The point is that we've got a job to do, and Yuri is a very talented cosmonaut. He's already done two space walks. And I'm looking forward to working with him because of his wealth of experience out there, and I'm sure I'm going to be able to learn a lot. I have learned a lot from him during our training flow, and I'm sure I'll learn more from him once we get outside.

Well, as you almost pointed out, this is going to be your first space walk. What do you anticipate it's going to be like the first time you float out of the airlock out into the payload bay?

Well, I guess, I'll probably end up being like many other astronauts who I've talked to about their first time going outside, where they end up saying, Oh, you end up so focused on doing your job that you kind of forget a little bit to look around. And you have to remind yourself every once in a while, hey, look at where you are for just a second! You know, take a look at the Earth for a second…sneak a peak at where you are, and think about that every once in a while so you don't come back inside and say, wow, did that all really happen or not? And I'll think I'll probably end up being just like that, having to force myself every once in a while to just take in the scene a little bit.
The space walk, to summarize, is to help set up and activate the Service Module, to help connect it to this, parts of the space station that are up there. The first task on the timeline, I believe, as it exists today is installation of a magnetometer on the outside of the module.

Let's talk about the space walk and begin with that, and if you could describe what a magnetometer is, what its function on the station is, and the steps for you and Yuri to complete that task.

Well, actually the first thing we have to do is get out to the work site, and as it turns out the work sites where we'll be working on the Service Module, are about a hundred or so feet from the airlock. And the thing that makes this different from all the previous shuttle space walks and most of the following assembly flights, which are coming up, is that we will be using what's called a Russian tether protocol. We will be traveling along the outside parts of the Russian segment, which do not have the ability to run a retractable tether from a location called the slide wire, which we can move. And what you do in the shuttle is you attach yourself by this tether which you never disconnect, and that way you can move around the shuttle payload bay or move around the station without just using your two hands to move around without worrying about tethering off to places. However, we're going to be moving around the station and around various targets and sensors and things like that, so we will not be able to drag behind us a long tether, which is, you know, going back many feet. So, what that means is that we have a, sort of a very different task. The way we are going to move around is to carry two tethers and constantly make and break connections, sort of like the way a rock climber might move who is putting up ropes at various places. You know that alone makes us a very different space walk than the kinds that we've seen previously. In fact, that is the way that the Russians have always done their space walks, 'cause their space walks have been done outside the Mir. So it'll take us a while to get our equipment and get it all out there. Because this type of translation is so much slower we won't have the ability to come back to the shuttle to pick up more equipment - in other words, to make multiple trips. So, what we're going to do is carry all of the equipment and everything we need - the cables, the tools, etc. - all at once. So we're going to have to pile these things onto the backs of our spacesuits, and basically be pack mules all the way out there. Once we finally get out to the work site, the first thing, as you said, we'll be installing is the magnetometer. What that is is basically it's like a three-dimensional compass: It's a sensor, which is used to tell what the orientation is of the spacecraft, of the entire station, with respect to the Earth. You know here on the ground a compass will point basically towards magnetic north, but in space the magnetic field of the Earth is curved, and it, it points down, again, towards the magnetic North Pole. And if you have a model of how that magnetic field looks or if you know what that looks like, and you have something that can measure which direction the magnetic field is pointing, you can figure out which way the ship is pointed with respect to the Earth. Now, one of the problems with that is that, if you've ever played with a magnetic compass, you know that if it gets near any piece of metal that has any iron in it, or any electrical currents, it's going to make that needle swing around. Now, this thing doesn't have a needle on board, but it is effected in the same way by any types of magnetic materials, magnetic metals or electrical currents, of which there are many on the station. So what you have to do is stick it on a pole so it's some distance away from the rest of the station. So what we'll be doing is putting together a pole and mounting this magnetometer onto this pole, which will be out over the nose of the shuttle. It'll be mounted to the Service Module but Yuri and I will be a hundred or so feet out over the nose of the shuttle, looking down through the forward windows of the shuttle down below us. And then, after that, the main task, actually, of the EVA is to connect electrical cables between the Service Module and the FGB, which is the part of the station that's already up there now. So once they dock there will not be electrical connections between them, and we'll be bringing out with us reels of cable on something which looks like garden hose reels. We'll be unreeling these things and running them along the outside part of the Service Module to attach them to connectors on the part that's already up there now.

Are these cable connections, that job, similar to what we saw on STS-88 when, Jim Newman and Jerry Ross made connections between Zarya and Unity?

In some ways similar, but the big difference is that we are going to be carrying the cables out with us and also the, the clamps that hold down the cables all the way along the path. So, rather than just making connections we will be setting up the pathway along which we can run the cables, too. So most of us the job is actually laying down of the cable rather than just making the connections at the end. So, it's a little bit different. The cables are pretty long. Some of them are over ten meters long, so thirty or so feet of cable, which in weightlessness is a little hard to handle, or can become hard to handle, which is the purpose of having them rolled up on reels rather than just bringing them out, because if you have a thirty-foot weightless cable, it would become like a giant snake in orbit, and it would be tough to control and keep it from snagging on things. So we'll be actually unreeling it along the outside of the Service Module.

And you've pointed out a couple of times that you're going to be working on the outside of Zvezda, which is going to be quite a distance away from the shuttle - farther away than the robot arm on the shuttle can reach, and yet the arm is involved in what you're going to do. Talk about how that, you coordinate the activity of that fifty-foot-long arm with what you and Yuri are going to be doing around the station.

Well, there's two reasons that we're going to be using the arm. One is to avoid having to do as much of that hand-over-hand, mountain-climbing technique as possible. We're going to use the arm to drop us off partway up, and that'll eliminate maybe fifty feet of the hand-over-hand motion, which will save us a lot of time. And the other thing they'll be doing with the arm is using it to take images. There's a camera on the end of the arm. And since we'll be out over the nose of the shuttle, where there's no camera views possible and also no way for the people inside the shuttle to see what we're doing, they will actually move, Rick will move the arm out in front of the shuttle and point back at the space station to get a view of us so that they can follow with us; the procedures in the checklist.

Before we leave the question of the space walk, I want to get you to talk a little bit about the training that's been involved. Not only over the course of, of quite a long time, as you've moved from one mission to another, but over great distance. You've trained in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory here in Houston as well as the Hydrolab in Star City. Talk about the reasons why you train in the two places, and, and how that training has been of advantage to you.

Well, the neat part about it is, both the neat part about it and the disadvantage of it, is that half of the EVA can only be trained here in Houston, and those are the things involving the shuttle airlock, the shuttle arm, and the Node, which is the part which the station will actually be connected to. The other half of the space walk, or actually, the majority of what we're doing, the only mock-up in existence is in Russia in their version of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, some - they call the Hydrolab - and so what we've been doing is training half of the space walk here and half of it over in Russia, and this has required us to go back and forth to Russia many times. In fact, we've made five trips over there to Russia in the last year-and-a-half, and we have trained extensively in their pool, their Hydrolab, which has been an amazing experience. We're the first shuttle crew to ever train in the Hydrolab, and that required us to bring a whole series of U.S. training suits and all of our hardware out to Russia and build adapters such that our suits could be powered off of their oxygen supply systems. And that required an awful lot of work by a lot of our engineers in order to make all this happen.

It sounds like there would be quite a few people involved in, over the course of time, in making that training work.

Yeah, there were a fair number of folks heading back and forth to Russia along with our crew. In fact, those people actually put in a lot more time than us over there, because they would have to go out there before we ever got there to help set up the suits, for instance, and the equipment. And they wouldn't get to leave until afterwards because after we all left, all that equipment has to be packed up and brought back to the U.S. And, so while our travel schedules were hectic, theirs were even more so.

The day after your space walk is the day that you all are going to enter the International Space Station for the first time and become the first people to ever enter Zvezda on orbit. You got any sense, at this point, how you're going to be feeling to be present for that event?

Well, I hope someday to get a chance to fly as a permanent crewmember on board one of the long-duration flights. So, obviously, it will be a first look at the core of the station, but also maybe, someday, a future look at my future home for a few months.

Service Module is described as the early living quarters for the long-duration crews; I'd like to ask you to share the benefit of your training and help introduce us to this piece of hardware. What is it that Zvezda provides that permits permanent human habitation? What kind of equipment does it have? What control systems, etc., etc.,? Well, "who" is Zvezda?

Well, it will provide the main life support system for the station at this point. And that means, so up until right now, you could not have a crew living on board the station because there is no oxygen generation, there is no CO2 removal, there is no water system on board. What they've got up there right now will provide power, for instance and so on, and you can have people go inside as long as it's docked to something like a shuttle, but you can't permanently live up there. What the Service Module will provide is the main computers to control the electrical system, the orient, the motion control system, which is basically the system that figures out where it is and how it should be pointed and operates all the, you know, the jets or the gyroscopes that control the motion in the system. And like I said, the main thing is it provides all the life support equipment you need. Now, the big thing is that most of this equipment, or much of this equipment, will not be launched when the Service Module is launched; it weighs too much to launch it all together. And so our job will be to bring those systems up separately or - or actually some of them will also be brought up on board the Progress freighter which will, which will also be up there - and to install them into the Service Module.

Let's continue the story then. You've done first steps of activating and connecting this module on the outside. Now you're going to be working on the inside. Take us through some of that and what you know are some of the most important pieces of hardware or systems that have to be installed.

Well, we'll be basically opening up panels and getting right in there with much of the electrical system - three battery units and their associated electronics boxes. The reason you have these big battery units is because the station is powered by solar arrays, and, well, it goes behind the Earth every forty minutes or so, and so you need to store power for the times when it's on the night side of the Earth. And, so what you do is, you have these large storage batteries that store electrical power on the day sides of the orbit and then you switch over to battery power during the night side. Now these batteries are quite heavy and bulky, and that's why we're carrying them up. So we'll be installing those and along with all the equipment that it takes to figure out how to charge these things and discharge them; you need a set of electronics that controls the charging and so on of these batteries. So, all of that will be installed by us, and that'll happen in the first few days after we get up there. The other things that we're going to be installing are parts of the oxygen generation system. What they've got on board is a system which will take water and break that down, just basically running an electrical current through it, breaks it down into hydrogen and oxygen; you vent the hydrogen overboard and you breathe the oxygen. So, that system will be mostly installed by us. We will not actually start the system up, but we'll have it ready for the first crew, Expedition 1, who will come up a couple of months after us, to be able to activate that system rapidly; they don't want us to, uh, get the water into the system while it's not being used. So we'll actually install these pieces and have 'em ready to be activated as soon as those guys get back up there. We'll also install pieces of the CO2 removal system, and we'll also be working with some of the communication systems. We'll be doing a lot of testing and checkout of these systems, too, because the thing will have launched up there, but no one will have used these systems. So, if there's a problem with any of them, you want to know about it before you send people up there to live there permanently. So, a lot of our job will be to make sure that everything is in order.

You're timelined to spend about five full days working inside the station. How do you summarize the goals of what the work is for you and your crewmates? What are some of the things that you, yourself, are going to be doing during those days?

Well, the big goal is to get the space station ready for the first permanent crew, for Expedition 1. And that means we need to get all the stuff ready, all the equipment on board that they need for them to live up there. So, as I mentioned before, you know, all these various systems. Another part, big part of what we'll be doing is transferring cargo over there, and cargo would be food, spare parts, other things that they need to finish the installation of some of these systems and equipment for them to do their space walks and so on. We will bring that up there and stage that up there so that it's ready to go when they arrive, that they can turn it into a fully-functioning space station in very short order. You don't want to send them up there without these systems being fairly close to ready to go.

And, if unless the situation has changed, you and Yuri are going to be spending a good deal of your time outfitting - putting equipment into place - in the Service Module. Now, are you two going to be spending all of your time doing that, or will you be joining your crewmates in helping move the supplies and the logistics as well?

We'll be doing a little bit of everything but the majority of my time and Yuri's time will be spent installing things, although it becomes kind of a group effort and, and in fact, also, it becomes…it's not really a clear line between moving stuff over and installing it. For instance, you know, if we're going to install a battery unit, well, you've got to get that battery unit out of the shuttle, you have to unbolt it over there, bring it on over, and you may need to remove a bunch of panels and move other cargo to get it out of the way to get into a section underneath the floor so, that, that entire task is partially moving equipment and partially installing equipment. And, the people who will be mostly in charge of making sure that everything gets to the right place at the right time will be Rick Mastracchio and Dan Burbank. Although, Dan will also be spending a substantial amount of his time installing equipment, also.

While you're doing that, in fact, you will all be moving equipment. It'll be coming in from two different sides, both from the SPACEHAB in the shuttle as well as the Progress ship. And that's going to be a first for a shuttle flight.

And the person who'll principally be doing that is Boris. Now, normally, on board the Mir when they bring a Progress vessel up filled with cargo, they spend maybe a week or two or even longer unloading this, because they have the time. Now, we only have five days to do this so we're going to have to get right in there and unbolt and disconnect everything inside there that we need and get it out of there because that Progress vehicle is going to have undock automatically after we leave, and another one will be in its place by the time the first expedition gets up there. So, we have to get everything out of there that needs to get out of there and then seal that up and get it ready to undock right after we leave.

On your first space flight you were the loadmaster in charge of making sure things got out of the space shuttle and onto space station Mir. That experience, are you finding, is that paying dividends for you now as you get prepared for doing this task?

Yeah. Well, I'm not doing that job on this flight, but I've been able to tell Rick and Dan a little bit about how we operated on those Shuttle/Mir flights. Now the big difference here is that those Shuttle/Mir flights were very much easier because you had a station crew up there. All we had to do was get the stuff off the shuttle, and you would hand it to a cosmonaut or ask him, "Where do you want this?" And so, pretty much, you were only responsible for half of it. On this flight we are the station crew also. So we have to worry about not only how does it get off the shuttle, but where does it go, and, even worse, how does that fit in with the installation procedure, 'cause a lot of these spaces we're going to be working in are, are rather small or cramped. And you can't be moving large boxes through an area where somebody has taken all the panels out and is in there installing some piece of equipment. So, I think this flight is going to be a lot more challenging in that respect than the Shuttle/Mir flights, because the choreography is going to be a lot more critical.

With all of that done, it'll be time to close up the hatches and for you all to leave the station. Again, can you describe to us what's gonna happen on that day, the day of undocking and flyaround, and tell us what you'll be doing?

OK. Well, I'll be operating the computers in exactly the same way as we did on rendezvous day, but on that day, Scott Altman will be doing the flying. And what we're going to do is fly around the space station, because we'll be the first flight to really get a good look at the outside of the Service Module. And what Scott will do is undock and fly the shuttle around. We're not exactly certain how many times we're going to fly around, it depends a little bit upon the amount of fuel that we have left and the, the lighting conditions at the time, which depends upon the orbit at the time. So right now, we're planning for two, uh, flights around the station. And again, I'll be operating the computers to give Scott a view of our relative position with respect to the station, which will aid him in his flying of the orbiter around the space station. And then, after that, we'll fire the jets and head off and come down two days later.

The success of your mission is critical to establishing this station as a permanent place where people from Earth can live. The fact that you're willing to fly there and do the work yourself would tell us that you believe it's something that's important to be done. Finally, tell me why you think it's important to establish this space station; what is it going to contribute to us in the future?

Well, I think it's an unbelievably important step because of the capability it offers us. Right now, if we want to go further in space than we're doing right now, if we want to eventually go to Mars or out of low Earth orbit permanently, we need to know a bunch of things, and a lot of the technology is not there yet. And if you think about how you would test this technology or develop it on the Earth, you can't really test things very well on Earth because you don't have the weightless conditions, or the vacuum, as it turns out. And for instance, what we do now is we send experiments up on a shuttle; you get a week or so of data, you bring it back down. That same experimenter, that same scientist or engineer, will think about the data, make some changes, he might get to fly his equipment again two years later…at which time he'll get another six or seven days worth of data. It's very difficult to make progress this way. If you think of how an engineer would develop something in his lab here on the ground -- he works on it every day, he's making changes every day. If you only let that scientist into his laboratory once every two years for a week period, progress is incredibly hard. So, what it allows you to do is to have an engineer or a scientist or an astronaut running an experiment, making changes and doing things real-time every day, all the time. That's how you're going to make progress, and I think that's how we're going to be able to develop some of the systems which we need to go out to other planets and to move outwards.

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

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