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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Dave Brown
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Dave Brown's greeting (106 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Dave Brown

The STS-107 Crew Interview with Dave Brown, mission specialist.

Dave, can you please give us a brief overview of what the crew will do on this mission? And, explain the goals of this mission.

STS-107 is a 16-day science mission. So, the 16 days, the first day is ascent. Then we have 14 days of science research. And then the last day, the 16th day, is entry. So, one day to get there, 14 days to work, and one day to come home. We're going to look at three broad areas of science; we look at Earth sciences, we look at physical sciences, and then some health and medical research. On the Earth sciences, we're going to be looking at the Earth's atmosphere amongst other things. Looking at dust and aerosols, also looking at ozone to try and improve climate modeling. Particularly looking at, say, things like global warming and improving our ability to predict if that's happening. We're also going to look at physical sciences. We have a combustion module where we'll be burning flames, trying to reduce soot emissions and also perhaps produce cleaner-burning engines. And we're also doing some medical research. Things like prostate cancer and will it spread to bone? And how it does that. And then also looking at other things like osteoporosis, which is a big problem for a lot of people on Earth. So, we're going to have a pretty packed two weeks of science work while we're up there.

Can you give us some insight into why these areas of research are important?

Well, let's talk about osteoporosis. That's going to be three different groups of experimenters on our flight [that] are going to look at osteoporosis. The first group will, actually looks at the astronaut and what happens to us; that's our PhAB4 or physiology and biology experiment. If you don't stress your bones, you actually lose calcium. It's kind of use it or lose it. So, for the 14 days, the 16 days that we're in space our bones will actually be losing calcium. So, we're a pretty good model for what happens to people here on Earth. We also have, in addition to studying the people on the Orbiter, we have a payload sponsored by the Canadians and then also by the Europeans. The hardware was developed by Canada OSTEO, which is Osteoporosis Experiment in Orbit. And, that's a series of cell cultures of bone cells looking at trying to predict who might get osteoporosis. And then, if it does occur, how to slow it or prevent it. And the Europeans have a similar payload; they're actually using the Canadian hardware, that's called ERISTO, which is European Research in Space and Terrestrial Osteoporosis. Similar cell cultures, but a different group of scientists looking at the same problem. So, for osteoporosis which again is a huge health problem (particularly for women and as everyone gets older) we'll be looking at, again, astronauts and how we lose calcium, and then we'll be looking at two different sets of cell cultures and again trying to understand how to predict and prevent the problem.

Why do we need to go to space to conduct the same research that's being conducted on Earth? What's the importance and advantage of conducting this research in microgravity?

Well, my background is in biology and then medicine. And then, I flew airplanes in the Navy. And so, when I came to NASA, I don't think I really understood why we go to space to do research. And something that really opened my eyes on this mission was our combustion module and the scientists explained why they want to do this. Some of the things they're trying to do are: produce leaner-burning engines, better gas mileage in a car. Or, reduce the amount of pollution or soot in an engine. They have flames that will burn on orbit. They're about the size of a candle flame. And, if you think of, actually, a birthday candle flame. And, if you think about a flame. It has a very characteristic shape, because as it burns the air heats up and it becomes lighter and it rises. So, convection (that's convection), convection is a very strong influence on how a flame burns. When you do science the classic way of doing science is: you control as many variables as you can and then you just change one. Well, in combustion research when you go to space, you don't just control convection. You actually eliminate it because there is no gravity. And then you can understand, again, just the fundamental building blocks of why combustion occurs as it does-not just by controlling this variable. By actually eliminating it. And so, that's why, in the case of combustion research why we're going to take that experiment to space.

Some people may be expecting the research on this mission to yield an immediate solution to a problem. But, that's not necessarily the case. Would you describe for the layperson the purpose of scientific research and its place in the scientific problem-solving process?

Well, I think I'd like to talk a little bit about one of the experiments that we have that's being sponsored by the European Space Agency. And, it's called the Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System. They're asking a lot of questions. There [are] actually eight different experiments sponsored by five different countries in Europe. But, one of those experiments looks at a very specific question. And, that's: do our lungs work better when we lie on our stomachs? When we're prone? And, you know, why would we want to know that? That's an answer, well, if you're a healthy person it really doesn't matter. But, if you're a really sick person in a hospital, if you've been severely ill or injured and you're on a respirator every little bit of lung function can be absolutely critical. And so, the question is: Is there a benefit to treating a patient who's severely ill by putting them on their stomach? We're going to look at this. Or, actually say, we're going to be part of the research that looks at this by looking at this in space. The scientists will be looking at us in no gravity. They also look at us and other subjects in one-g here on Earth, both lying on our stomachs and lying on our backs. And then, they actually will put subjects into centrifuges at three- and five-g's to see how their lungs work. So, if you're now a physician who has a really seriously ill patient and you want to know, "Is this a good idea? Should I do it? And if so, why? Or, maybe I don't want to do that. And if so, why?" this body of research that we're going to do is really going to tease out: why does the lung work the way it does? And is this potential treatment of benefit? And, that's the real basis for the science that we do. We lay the groundwork for people (in this case, a physician) to then make a much better-educated decision about a treatment, you know, an applied treatment. So, we don't develop so much the applied treatments as we'll work to develop the base of understanding, the solid scientific knowledge, that'll underlie decisions that other people are going to make. Be it medicine or developing some other technology.

You mentioned that in this experiment (or ARMS) they're monitoring your sleep patterns. And, they're monitoring your sleep patterns and some other members of your crew before and after you go up in the shuttle?

Actually, that's a slightly different experiment. There is a sleep experiment that we have that's not part of ARMS. But we do have our sleep monitored kind of before, during--.

The actilight watches?

--and after. The actilight watches.

Well, that brings me to the point that as part of being assigned to this mission, you and your crewmates have agreed to be part of the research yourselves. I was wondering what your thoughts were about being an experiment subject.

Well, on this flight, all of us are not only operators, but we're experiment subjects. We're heavily involved in not only collecting the science, but we kind of are the science for parts of it. But being an astronaut's kind of a participatory event. If you put on a space suit and go outside and assemble the space station you're pretty well fully engaged and involved in that and you're going to come back with a few sore spots and bruises from that event. We're doing a little bit of different work here in that we're having our blood drawn. We're sitting on an ergometer (a bicycle, a stationary bicycle) and breathing while we're being studied. So, it really doesn't matter what job you have as an astronaut. You just climb right into it, and you're right in the middle of it. As someone with a science background (I'm a physician) I think it's pretty darn neat. I think it really feels like a great privilege to kind of jump in and be right in the middle of it. And whatever I can do to contribute to the science, to improve the science, I think is really great.

I'm guessing that being a medical guinea pig probably isn't the main reason that you wanted to be an astronaut.

Well, you know, why would I want to do this? The great thing about being an astronaut is you kind of get to do a little bit of everything. I mean, we're going to ride a rocket uphill. There's not that many people that get to do that. We're going to have the most amazing views, looking out the window, of the Earth. And at the same time, we get to participate in some fundamental research that will contribute to some medical understanding, some basic physical sciences understanding, and a better understanding of the Earth and the Earth's atmosphere. And so I think that's just great, you know, that I get to do all of those things. And I wouldn't want to leave out any part of it.

So, those are the reasons that you wanted to be an astronaut?

Well, when I grew up, I get asked a lot, "Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?" And, I remember growing up thinking that astronauts and their job was the coolest thing you could possibly do. I remember, I was a little bit late for Mercury, but I remember Gemini and Apollo quite well in the Sixties, and then Skylab and early shuttle. But I absolutely couldn't identify with the people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars. And, I just thought I was kind of a normal kid. And so, I couldn't see a path, how a normal kid could ever get to be one of these people that I just couldn't identify with. And so, while I would've said, "Hey, this is like the coolest thing you could possibly do," it really wasn't something that I ever thought that I would end up doing. And, it was really kind of much later in life after I'd been in medical school, I'd gone on to become a Navy pilot, that I really thought, "Well, maybe I would have some skills and background that NASA might be interested in." And then, I went ahead and applied. So, I think growing up I really underestimated myself. And, I was really a bit wrong about things that I could do. And, I'm glad I figured out kind of later in life that if I wanted to pursue that, that I could.

What were the interests that you had growing up that helped put you on the road to a career with NASA?

Well, I think growing up, I was always interested in flying. Actually, I wasn't, I can't say that. I was interested in flying beginning at age seven, when a close family friend took me in his little airplane. And I remember looking at the wheel of the airplane as we rolled down the runway, because I wanted to remember the exact moment that I first went flying. And I do. I remember the exact moment when I saw that wheel lift off. So, that's really when the flying interest began for me. And, it was someone who took the time to take this kid in his airplane; and, boy, it sure set a bit in my head that's been there ever since. And the other thing growing up is that I was always interested in science. And I think the two of those kind of naturally worked out between the medical degree and then flying in the Navy that allowed me to come here. But it wasn't planned out. I pursued things that I was interested in. I don't think I was afraid of working hard and went down a path that I thought would be really challenging. And, lo and behold, this is where it ended up.

Are there other people who inspired you towards becoming an astronaut?

Well, I don't, I guess when I look back, there's a lot of people that have helped me get to where I am today. And their influence on me has allowed me to be able to be part of STS-107 and get to do these things that I'm really looking forward to. One of the ones, one of the people that I think stands out in my career was my college gymnastics coach. He was a fellow that really took, actually did (and still does), take a very long-term view of what athletics and education are all about. And, he's just been investing in people in that program ever since. When I look back now, and I think I understand a little more what he was doing now than at the time, he invests in people and gives a lot of his time and attention. He certainly did to me. I learned a lot about what it's to be, what it's like to be on a team. What you need to know to be on a team. About setting personal goals. And about kind of daily discipline to get to those goals.

The time that you spent in college doing gymnastics, was that one of the most enjoyable or memorable times of your life so far? Outside of NASA?

Well, when I think about one of the times when I was doing things that I just really enjoyed, it was when I was with the Navy in Nevada. I was working at a school there in Nevada and was getting to fly two different high-performance jets. I lived in kind of a rural area. I'd ride my bicycle to work, 13 miles each way past all these ranches and cows and alfalfa fields. I actually rode my bicycle about 2500 miles that year. And, that was, for a guy that likes to fly airplanes and be outside and do interesting stuff and be around challenging people, that was pretty neat, that four years I spent in the Navy in Nevada.

I was wondering: how common it is for a Naval flight surgeon to also fly high-performance jets, and how possessing that duality of talents has been beneficial for you.

When I was in medical school, I was thinking I would have a pretty traditional career in medicine. And then, one day I got a brochure that showed a Navy physician standing on a flight deck next to a F-4 Phantom. And, I said, "Boy, I've got to go learn about this!" So, I actually joined the Navy after my internship thinking that I was going to be a physician that took care of pilots. And, I did that for four years. And then, I heard about this program where you could actually go to flight training as a Navy physician. But, it wasn't very often implemented. Not very many people were accepted very often. So, I applied; and the first time, they said, "No, you're not going to do that." So, I thought, and I said, "Well, I really would like to do this." So I reapplied, and they said, "Yes." So, off I went as a medical guy off to Navy flight training and ended up flying (at the time in the Navy) a jet called the A-6. And now, here at NASA, the T-38, which has been an amazing experience. Again, not ever thinking that I would have a chance when I joined the military. As a physician and as a pilot, I think it lets me be a pretty good translator having one foot in the medical world and one foot in the flying world. Sometimes when the medical guys come in and speak medical stuff to the pilots, the pilots really don't know what they're saying. And vice versa. And I think the biggest benefit of having done both is that I speak both languages. And sometimes the answers are not quite as complicated as we think if you understand both halves of the problem that you're working on.

So, you do a bit of translating?

Do a bit of translating.

Let's talk about the fact that this first flight of your career is also the first extended-duration mission since STS-90, which was the final Spacelab mission. Do you have any thoughts or concerns about being on an extended-duration mission?

Well, our flight, STS-107, is 16 days. And we actually will carry extra oxygen and hydrogen to allow us to stay up for that long. So, it's a long mission for an Orbiter. But, and I think it's a pretty long mission if you're, if you look back to the first suborbital flight. If you look to Alan Shepard or John Glenn, this is pretty darn long for those standards. But, a long-duration mission now is if you're in space for over a year, as one of the Mir cosmonauts did. So, I think I'm going to be up there for two weeks. It'll be about time to come home, and I'm going to say, "No, I want to stay and keep going." So, I think we're long-duration in one sense, maybe in the Orbiter and the space shuttle technical sense. But in another sense I don't think 16 days is long enough. At least not for me.

With this being your first spaceflight, you've no doubt consulted some of the spaceflight veterans about what to expect on this flight. Have they given you any advice or insight?

Well, I think the best advice I have heard since I came to the Astronaut Office was something that I heard John Glenn say. When he got back, what he said, and it kind of surprised me, because I didn't know what to expect. But even having said that, what he said surprised me. He said, "You know, when you get up there, you need to make sure you look out the window." And as I thought about it, that's really what all the astronauts say. And when you look out the window, you're not looking at the stars or the Moon. You're looking at the Earth. And, when you look at the Earth, invariably people say that they think about people. And, they invariably say they think about the people that they kind of know and care about. So, I think the best advice I've gotten is to make sure you really appreciate how wonderful an experience that it is. Because we're going to be so, so busy. So, take some moments to kind of look out the window and really think and appreciate how special this experience of going into space is going to be.

Let's talk about this experience a little bit more in detail. Shortly after Columbia reaches orbit, preparation for the on-orbit activities of the mission will begin, including activation of some experiments and hardware. Can you explain what you and your crewmates will be doing at that point in the flight?

Well, one of the first jobs that I have, once we get to orbit, after I take my space suit off, is to activate a series of payloads that are in the back of the payload bay called FREESTAR. Now, these are payloads that actually need to be out in space because they're cameras or other scientific investigations that you just want outside the vehicle. So, I've got about a one-page set of procedures where I make sure that the shuttle comm. (communication) configuration's correct, and make sure the payloads are properly powered. And then, I [have] got four switch throws. There's four "on" switches, and I go right down the line and one, two, three, four, and turn them on. So, it's kind of an important task, but it's pretty straightforward as a first job. And, that's probably good since it'll be my first time in space.

You said that you just switch on four switches. But, shortly after that, four hours after launch, you're scheduled to go to bed. Do you expect to get much sleep during this first night in space?

Well, I think that probably my hardest job on this whole flight is going to be going to sleep the first night. We're a dual-shift flight. So we have one shift is kind of working days, one shift is working nights. (Although we really don't have days and nights on orbit.) When we launch, the Red Shift will launch at the beginning of their day. That includes four of the crew, including the Commander. The Blue Shift, which is three of us, we will launch actually in the afternoon and evening of our day. So, about four hours after we get to space, it's nighttime for us and we need to go to sleep. So, even though I will have had a long day, I think it's probably going to be pretty tough to go climb into bed and go to sleep. That's probably going to be the toughest thing I have to do the whole mission.

Why is a dual-shift work schedule necessary on this type of mission?

Our flight is packed about as full as they could get it. And so in order to do all of these things they wanted to run the Orbiter round-the-clock, 24-hours-a-day. It's almost like a factory; when you need to produce more cars, you run it 24-hours-a-day. And, that's how we're going to be working. So they've split the crew up. We have seven. So, we have four crewmembers who are called the Red Shift. I'm with the Blue Shift, which is three of us. And we'll be running all the science continually. And so that way you don't have everybody asleep where you can't run the cameras taking pictures of the Earth, or you can't run any experiments. We'll just keep it all going 24-hours-a-day. So, it's going to be packed the whole time.

This is the first flight of the Spacehab Research Double Module. Would you explain how that's different from the original Spacehab research module? And, how that will be beneficial on this mission?

Well, in the back of the Orbiter payload bay, we have a laboratory module. This is called the Research Double Module. It started off as a half size of what we're going to fly being able to carry cargo and some science payloads. And, that worked out pretty well. So, if one worked, well, we'll make it twice as big. So, we have a Research Double Module. What it brings to us is more space. It brings heating and cooling and atmosphere to work in. It brings power for all our payloads. We have some that are kind of small that you plug in, almost like to a wall outlet, and we have some that are mounted on the side of the module in big racks that are pretty permanent. And it also brings us communication. We have all this science data coming and going from the shuttle, and our module's set up to be able to send that information to the shuttle and then on down to the ground to the scientists here on the ground. So, that's what we get. We get space and heating and cooling and atmosphere to work in, power and communication.

You do have a lot of experiments that you're working on during this mission. And, the research on this mission originates from various parts of the world. What are your thoughts about going to learn about these experiments to these various parts of the world? And interacting with the people who are behind these experiments? Not only functioning or fostering a continued understanding and awareness of these experiments, but what have you learned about other parts of the world?

We've had, well, we have experiments from multiple countries. Quite a few actually come from Europe, from the European Space Agency. And, because of that, we've made several trips to Amsterdam to their science and technical center there for training. And, I've spent very little time in Europe. Most of my time in the Navy was actually in the Pacific. So, it was quite, it was just a great experience to go over there. And not only to meet the scientists, but to see a little bit of the European country, or culture, particularly in Amsterdam. So I just found it very enjoyable.

What has training for this mission been like? What's been the most challenging for you?

I think the most challenging part of training for this mission is just staying focused for the, well, now almost two years that we've been working on it. You know, it's pretty easy to jump in at the beginning and sprint. But after two years, you kind of have to settle into the marathon pace. There's just so many details. Hundreds, if not thousands, of little things to pay attention to that will make or break some particular experiment. And so, the most challenging part to me is to kind of get into my marathon pace where I can really stay focused on just all these little details because, you know, they're all important. More so than I ever imagined when I started.

Let's talk a little bit more about the operation and purpose of some of these specific experiments that you'll be personally working with during this mission. We mentioned the Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System (ARMS). Can you explain the purpose of that? And, give us a brief overview of what the crew will be doing during that experiment.

One of our payloads that we're flying is called ARMS, which is the Advanced Respiratory Monitoring System. It's sponsored by the European Space Agency. And it has experiments, actually eight different experiments, all combined together. And the experiments come from five different countries. Now, ARMS is going to look at heart and lung function. So, while we're doing the experiment, we're actually on a machine, we're breathing through a tube that measures a lot of our, how our heart and [lungs] are working. And, they put in different gases, none of which will hurt us, but different gases again to tell how our heart and [lungs] are working. At the same time, actually in many of these experiments, we're also riding a stationary bicycle. So, it gets pretty complicated as an operator to do this. As I said, there [are] eight different particular science investigations that ARMS is looking at. One of the ones that I find very interesting, particularly as a physician is the question of do lungs work better whether you're lying on your stomach or your back? If you're healthy, this really doesn't matter. But, if you're really sick - say, you're in a hospital; you're seriously ill or you've been in a car wreck or you have a family member who is - the question is: Would it be better to roll that person over onto their stomach if you're on respirator in an intensive care unit? Or, is it not better to do that? Should you leave them on their back? One of the ways that we're going to help contribute to answering that question is through the ARMS experiment. We're studied here, before we fly, lying on our stomachs. They also put us on our backs, and then on our sides. Also in Sweden, where this experiment's sponsored, they've actually had people studied in centrifuge at three times gravity, three-g's, and up to five-g's. And then, the last part is we'll go to space where there's no gravity and see how our lungs work. Once we take that back, the scientists that work this project will have a much better idea of how gravity affects lung function. So now, if you're that physician who has that really sick patient, and you have to decide what's the best position for this person who's really seriously ill, now we have a really solid science foundation to answer that question of what's the best way to proceed with this treatment and is this a good idea? Or, not a good idea?

Let's talk about the suite of experiments called PhAB4. Can you explain the relationship that each individual experiment within the suite has to spaceflight? And, tell us what PhAB4 is.

Well, we have a series of experiments called PhAB4. And, the people that put it together say, "Well, yeah, that's also what the Beatles called themselves when they started. But, in our particular case, it's the physiology and biology set of experiments." And, there's four of them. The four experiments are [Calcium] Kinetics in Space. That looks at osteoporosis. There's one that looks at viral shedding, when you get stressed and you're in space viruses probably become a little bit more active-whether you're an astronaut or here on Earth. We're also looking at protein turnover which is particularly important in, well, in astronauts who go to space in terms of are you going to lose muscle, mass in particular? But, if you're down here on Earth and you're seriously injured, say, in an intensive care unit, people tend to have a lot of protein turnover when you stress folks. So, if you take care of sick patients, that's part of a…metabolism that you kind of want to know about. And then, the fourth experiment that we have as part of PhAB4 is Renal Stone Assessment Risk Assessment Risk Assessment in Space. When you go to space, you stop really needing your spine and skeleton to stand on. So, if you don't use it, you lose it. And we'll actually lose calcium out of our blood into our urine. And, that puts astronauts at higher risk for forming kidney stones. And so, we'll be looking at not only: Why does that happen? But: Are there some countermeasures to reduce that particular risk?

Is this where your experience as a doctor is being called upon the most?

You know, I bring a background as a physician to the flight. And some of our experiments are specifically medical that look at this. And, about a third of the science that we're going to do looks at health and medicine. And certainly being a physician helps with that. I think the biggest benefit to being a physician is that you learn to not be afraid of hard work. You learned how to work hard hours and you learned how to do a lot of different tasks. A lot of different things. And, boy, you need all of that if you're going to be an astronaut-not only in a life sciences mission, but probably really any mission.

Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the MEIDEX experiment. Can you tell us what MEIDEX is? And, give us a brief synopsis of what it's all about.

Okay. One of our experiments in the payload bay is a camera that's going to look at dust and other aerosols in the atmosphere, particularly around the Mediterranean and the northern part of Africa. This is MEIDEX, which is the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment. It's actually two cameras in the shuttle. One that looks at wide field, and one a narrower field. And, we'll combine that with some ground observations and also an airplane that'll be flying at the same time underneath the shuttle. And MEIDEX will allow scientists to better understand how dust and other things that are suspended in the atmosphere affect climate. And, this is pretty important- being able to understand what our climate's doing, is global warming occurring, and if it is, how fast and what should we do about it? It's a very complicated model. And, MEIDEX will help answer some of the questions about: How does dust and aerosol affect climate change? So, it's going to provide some information that's a pretty important building block into a pretty important question.

It's my understanding that operations for the MEIDEX experiment will at times be conducted on Columbia and at the same time aircraft within Earth's atmosphere. Can you tell us how that'll work? And, why it's being done.

When we run the MEIDEX experiment we have a, it's actually a canister in the back with a door. And we'll turn the shuttle essentially upside down, pointed at the Earth, and fly over the Mediterranean or the Atlantic or parts of Africa (actually, other parts of the world), but that's predominantly Mediterranean where we're going to look. And, we'll point our cameras straight down, called a nadir view, looking down at the atmosphere at dust. At the same time there'll be for some of the runs (not all of the runs), but for many of the runs there'll be an airplane actually flying through the atmosphere collecting dust samples and picking up sensors. So, now we can correlate what does a space-based sensor see and actually correlate that with what's actually going on in the atmosphere. And so, it gives it a very, very accurate calibration of a space-based sensor. So you can pick up a huge amount of information as you orbit the Earth. But you have to know: Exactly what does that information mean? And, that's where the shuttle combined with an airplane will help us give that answer.

Earlier you talked about some of the combustion experiments that you would be doing. Can you explain to us what Combustion Module-2 is?

We have a combustion experiment. We're actually going to be burning flames on the shuttle. This is called Combustion Module-2. So, it's the second in a series of three combustion research facilities. The first one, CM-1, is very similar to our module. It flew earlier on the shuttle on two flights. We have the second version of this. And then, the third will be on the space station; that's called the Fluid and Combustion Facility. So, we're one in a series of science experiments in the evolution of combustion science, kind of bridging between first on the shuttle and then what will be continued on the space station. We'll be burning flames in the CM-2 module, although these flames are about the size of a birthday candle or smaller. So, they're not particularly big flames. And CM-2 is an experiment that I personally find really fascinating. I have a background in biology, so this was totally new. If you're trying to make a leaner-burning engine, if you're trying to reduce soot- those are two of the goals of this experiment- you want to understand the most basic equations of why flames burn the way they do. In a car engine, there's perhaps a hundred thousand different types of carbon products that come out of that combustion process. So, it's incredibly complex. And, if you're a scientist trying to model that and understand it, that's a pretty long equation that you're trying to tease out going from the complex to the simple. A much better way to do that or a very important way to do that is to try and break down the process into the most basic equations. If you take a candle flame and look at the way it burns, it has a very characteristic shape because as it burns, the air heats up and then the gas rises. And that gives the shape of the flame. That's called convection. In space we actually remove that convection. And flames can actually burn, in some of the experiments we have, the flames will actually burn almost like a soap bottle soap bubble. They'll be perfectly spherical. That type of spherical flame was a mathematical prediction. It can only exist in the absence of gravity. Some of the current models that we use to understand how a car engine works or how a power plant works, some of those models don't accurately predict how these soap bubble flames actually exist. So, what that tells us is we've got to improve our fundamental equations. So, the thought is: we will go to space, we will burn these very unique flames, understand much better some of the building blocks in terms of the equations that you need to model back here on Earth- very, very complex processes, just a car engine or a power plant is incredibly complex. So, if we can improve the building blocks of how we understand that, now we hope to get further down the road to a cleaner engine or to one that's more fuel-efficient.

There are three different experiments that will be conducted within the CM-2. Can you give me a brief overview of the operation and the purpose of those experiments?

We have three experiments in the combustion module. SOFBALL; we've got Linear Soot Processes; and we've got one called MIST. They all have acronyms. So, SOFBALL is Study of Flame Balls at Low Lewis Numbers. And these are actually flames that burn almost like a soap bubble. They're a perfect sphere and they burn by diffusion. They were first predicted by a Russian mathematician in the Forties, and they can only exist in microgravity. So, they were first predicted when there was no way to prove whether you could or couldn't do this. So, the proof has only come from flying in space. SOFBALL looks at combustion on the super-lean side of combustion. It's maybe the leanest combustion that's possible; it's the diffusion-only flames. And…if we can study that very lean combustion, it may help us contribute to designing a practical lean-burning car engine; say, like a hydrogen car engine, which is a very lean-burning process. The next one is Linear Soot Processes. If you've ever seen a diesel truck drive down the street, you know that some engines we build here on Earth put out a lot of soot. Again, trying to tease out some of the very fundamental physical processes about why when you burn that you can get some flames that are very dirty, produce a lot of soot. If you want to be able to model and predict that, some of the information that we generate in space we hope will contribute to that. And, if you understand why soot is produced, then you should be able to reduce it. So, cleaner power plant, cleaner diesel engine is the hope for LSP. The third experiment is MIST, which actually uses water mist. And it's studying how you can use water vapor to actually extinguish fires. More and more water is being used not just to hose a stream, point it at the fire, but actually a water vapor is a very good way to extinguish some types of fires here on Earth. It also could be used in space. We're going to take away the gravity part of this, so you can get a very, very uniform flame and a very, very uniform cloud of water vapor. And again, the scientists will look at that to understand exactly why and how does water vapor extinguish a flame. Once you understand that, you come back to Earth where it's a bit more complicated. But, once you understand the most basic parts of that you can then come into the more complex realm back here on Earth and do a better job at figuring out: How do you put out a fire that you don't want burning here on Earth?

So, that could help us all be safer in the long run? Can you give us a brief overview of some of the safety equipment and precautions that'll be in place for these experiments? I know you're also taking up a glovebox, and you were just talking about the MIST experiment?

We have, well, safety on the shuttle is a huge deal. And as we talked about, one of the experiments we're flying is a combustion furnace where we're actually burning flames. These flames, however, are about the size of a birthday candle or smaller. So, they're pretty small. And, on ascent, we have flames that produce seven million pounds of thrust. So, I think if there's a flame to worry about, it's the one that you ride on ascent! And, not the one in our module. Having said that, we are on the inside of a closed spacecraft with this flame. And so there has been a lot of work making sure that the furnace has triple seals and is very tightly closed and closely monitored to make sure that none of the combustion gases get out into the crew module with us. But, the flames themselves are pretty small. And, the safety approval process was pretty darn rigorous for those guys to get on board.

We mentioned MEIDEX as a part of a suite of experiments out in Columbia's payload bay. Can you talk for a few minutes about the other components of the FREESTAR payload?

FREESTAR is a payload that flies in the back of the shuttle payload bay behind our Spacehab module. And it's a truss almost like a little Erector set that extends across the payload, and we can put a variety of things on there. We have MEIDEX, which is a set of cameras that looks at the Earth's atmosphere. We also have the SOLSE experiment, which is the Shuttle Ozone Limb Sounding Experiment, which looks at ozone in the Earth's atmosphere. And, it's a set of cameras also. It's a bit unique in that it looks at a vertical slice of the Earth's atmosphere, unlike looking straight down. So, we roll the Orbiter over on its side and look at the very thin part of the Earth's atmosphere, and you can tell where the Earth's ozone layers are. And it's going to be about a factor of 10 times better, an order of magnitude better, than current experiments that look just straight down. So, there's some promise there. We have also some basic physical sciences payloads out there that just need to be out in space on their own. And, we've got some kind of transmitters and receivers, some electronics boxes that are prototypes for things that you might later put into a satellite that we'll carry along that just kind of need a place to live. So it's a great place we can go stick a lot of little different experiments that need to be outside in space.

Some of the payloads on your flight are similar to, if not precisely the same as, some of the science being conducted on the International Space Station. Are there any advantages in conducting the same research on two different spacecraft at the same time? Can you talk about some of those experiments?

Well, our combustion module payload, which is a furnace that we'll take to space, is actually the second in a series of three combustion space experiments. The first one, CM-1 (Combustion Module-1), flew earlier on the shuttle a number of years ago. And, it had two of the three experiments that we'll be flying in space. On our mission, CM-2 is similar but adds a third experiment that studies water mist and how you can use water to better extinguish fires. Particularly water vapor. So, we're a third, again more in terms of the types of research that we're going to do with CM-2. These payloads come out of the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. And they…also have developed what's called the Fluids and Combustion Facility for space station. So, we're really two in a series of three. And it allows the scientists to start off with their first version and prove it a bit again. We're 30% more capable with a whole other science package here on our flight. And then, they take that experience and that understanding and build an even better and more comprehensive suite, which is the Fluid and Combustion Facility for space station. So the best science, actually, all complicated projects whether you're doing scientific research or trying to build a better car, involve multiple versions. You always learn as you go. And, the next one is better than the one prior. There's very few things if any that were ever gotten right on version 1.0. So, we're kind of version 2.0, and then the station will have version 3.0.

What do you feel is the most important thing that people should remember about this mission?

Well, let me talk about two things about what I think has made this mission a success so far, and what I think is going to make it a success on orbit and afterwards. And that's the team part of it. That there [are] just so many people from so many different places that have worked incredible hours, and have worked for years (long before I got assigned to this flight) to make it happen. I mean, this is a US shuttle launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But there's far more to it than that. We have a science program that we're going to be conducting for our 16 days that comes from all over the United States. It comes from Canada. It comes from the European Space Agency. And it comes from the Israeli Space Agency- the first time that they've flown not only an experiment but an astronaut. And these particular payloads have been in development for, again, a couple of years prior to us getting assigned. And now, it's two years of training on our part. And we're only going to be able to do this incredibly complex set of experiments-and they're complex not just because of the individual experiments, but trying to do them all together- because of the teams, not only the shuttle crew, but the teams of experimenters, the teams in Mission Control, and the teams at the Kennedy Space Center that actually build and install all the hardware. And that's what's going to make the mission a success. I think the legacy of ?107 in terms of what we're going to accomplish is clearly the broad science program that we're going to do. The fact that we're doing utilization. In the Navy we would call it "tooth-to-tail." And there's a lot more tooth than tail in STS-107. Meaning, it's a 16-day flight. We've got one day to get to space, 14 days of utilization (where we're doing 24-hour-a-day science), and then one day to reenter. And we're doing across-the-board projects from Earth sciences, physical sciences research, health and medical research, again for 14 of those 16 days. And so, I think that's going to be the legacy of -107; it's just the intense and broad and successful science utilization.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 12/11/2002
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