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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Kenneth Cockrell
Click on the image to hear Commander Ken Cockrell's greeting (36 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Kenneth Cockrell

The STS-111 Crew Interview with Kenneth Cockrell, commander.

Let's start at the beginning. Why did you want to become an astronaut in the first place?

Well that's almost ancient history now. But unlike some people, I developed my interest in the astronaut profession later in life. At first, as a child, I was mainly interested in flying. I remember at age 5 seeing an airplane fly over our house when we lived in, for a few months up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And this airplane, for some reason, struck a chord in me. And, it remained a dream in my life from that point on. And the action that I took on that dream was to… do the schooling and…get the degrees necessary to, the degree necessary to get into one of the military services. And, I chose the Navy. And, I joined the Navy and learned to fly. And then, got more and more interested in flying. I found it truly was a love of mine. And I decided that, at some point when I was in the Navy, that I'd like to become a test pilot, because it seemed like that was the best way to just understand in every detail everything about flying and airplanes. And so I eventually did get accepted to the Navy's Test Pilot School. And, while I was there NASA put out a request for application for astronaut to the various military services, as well as to the civilian community. And I looked at the requirements in their document, and having just graduated from Test Pilot School, I met the requirements. So now their rockets had wings on it, they were hiring for space shuttle astronauts, and it looked like the best kind of flying machine that you could hope to fly. And that has turned out to be true. So I got really interested in it then, and started making my applications to the Office.

There's some other people that came up the same way to NASA. Are there, were there people, in your military experience, or other places that significantly influenced you to make that decision to apply to NASA?

There was a little bit of a groundswell of interest amongst the fellow pilots at the Naval Air Test Center, and I'm sure the same thing was happening at the other military services. But it was pretty self-sustaining. When I saw the concept of the space shuttle and the fact that you'd be landing it after orbiting the Earth, it just seemed like the greatest thing for a pilot to be able to do. And so several of us were really interested in it. In fact, I interviewed with three or four of my classmates from Test Pilot School on that very first attempt back in 1979.

What advice can you give someone considering becoming an astronaut?

Well, that's a very good question. I get asked the question quite often, especially from students or people that are young and still trying to figure out what kind of career they want to do. And the strange part of the advice is that you need to forget about being an astronaut and concentrate on being something else first. None of us that have been hired as astronauts come straight from college. We all have developed or worked at some sort of profession before we got here. Astronaut is always at least a second profession that you get involved in, because NASA is looking for people that have excelled in their profession, that have achieved qualifications in, in the case of pilots, that are a little above and beyond what you need to do just to be a pilot. And so, what I tell people is, "Study hard" (obviously) "and work hard, and pick something that you like, that you enjoy…for a profession. If you're a science-minded person, then pick a discipline in science that interests you a lot. If you're a pilot-minded person, well, then, pursue being a pilot and give it, in whatever you pursue -- science, pilot, medicine -- give it all you've got. And to give it all you've got, you kind of, you need to forget a little bit about the ultimate goal, otherwise you'll be distracted from doing the immediate goal. So, my advice is to pursue an immediate goal of being something that qualifies you for being an astronaut, but it has to be something that you like. And then, excel at that, and then make your application to NASA from there."

Well, it certainly worked for you. You're a veteran of four spaceflights.

Yes.

And, you're assigned to the, you were assigned as the pilot of Endeavour during your second shuttle spaceflight...

Right.

...STS-69 in September of '95. Has the orbiter Endeavour changed much since then?

Well, I haven't really seen it much since then. I was in it a few weeks ago during our first introduction to all the equipment that's inside it. But, it looks pretty much the same as I saw it before. There's a new television capability, a digital television capability, a built-in recorder device that wasn't there before. But, Endeavour is the last orbiter to receive the upgraded cockpit with the liquid crystal display screens in it. And so, it still has the same instruments that I looked at when I flew it in '95.

I know that you've actually flown on all four orbiters.

That's true.

And was just wondering how they are different from each other. Are they significantly different from each other? Is it like driving a totally different vehicle?

No, it's not like driving a totally different vehicle. But, they do each have their own idiosyncrasies. To be honest I flew Discovery in 1993. I flew as the Flight Engineer, Mission Specialist number 2. And I didn't get to handle the vehicle during entry for landing. And, we didn't, I didn't get to do the rendezvous that was done on that flight. Endeavour and Discovery and Columbia are as solid as a rock after the boosters come off during ascent. They're just smooth. It's like you're in an electric-powered vehicle. Atlantis, for whatever reason, continues to shake around a little bit, just a little bit of motion. It feels like you're riding in kind of an older pickup truck maybe. And, I don't know what it is about Atlantis that does that. Columbia is the best glider. And, the, probably the easiest one to land because it's a little heavier, a little smoother aerodynamically, and it glides just a tiny bit better, but noticeably so and makes it easier to make a sweet landing.

It's nice that you have that experience to be able to tell us that. You mentioned the glass cockpit, the…liquid crystal displays in the orbiters.

Right.

Paul Lockhart was actually on a team to help implement some new procedures and new capabilities within the cockpit area of the shuttle.

Right.

And, each member of your crew brings special skills to their job, in addition to their skills that they're performing during this mission.

Right.

They have a, as you said, a multitude of skills in their background, even before they became astronauts. Let's talk about each one of those separately, and I'd like to get your thoughts on the team that you're working with. What about Paul Lockhart?

Well, he comes from a similar background to me. He was not in the Navy but the Air Force and flew fighter airplanes not too different than the kinds that I flew. So…it's easy to talk to Paul. He and I speak the same language when it comes to flying airplanes. And, we do real well flying together in formation. Every time we go somewhere as a crew, we're always a flight of two T-38s, and so we continue to sort of live that previous life that we had of, as fighter pilots in part of our lives here when we're flying the T-38 for proficiency. So we speak the same language. He is the rookie, one of the two rookies on the shuttle crew. So, it's been a lot of fun, it's always fun with a rookie to bring them along and show them, explain to them what's going to be interesting and what the feelings and the sensations are going to be like. And so, I sort of…treat him --as well as the other rookie on the flight, Philippe -- as my children. And, you know, showing them what it's going to be like and explaining it to them as the old guy that's flown before. The other experienced person on the flight has got more experience than me, Franklin Chang-Diaz. And, it's kind of interesting that Franklin and I both got off the same airplane to attend our first interview together. We arrived in Houston and we were standing around the terminal waiting for the car from the hotel to come pick us up. And struck up a conversation, realized what we were both here to do, and that was in 1979. And, now we're flying together for the first time. Franklin's got a lot of experience, six flights. This is his seventh. He'll be the only, the second person to do seven flights in the space shuttle. Or, in any kind of space vehicle. But he and I don't speak exactly the same language. He's a physicist…a plasma physicist, to be precise. And, he is as smart of a man as I've ever met. And, really knows about things in depth that I don't even consider in my day-to-day life. So he brings the other side of the astronaut corps to the crew, the scientific side. The understanding, the research, the knowledge.

Do you and Franklin have different approaches to helping the new fliers learn what they need to learn for their mission?

No, I think we have probably a very similar approach in that we talk about what it's like just every time we're training for, discussing a certain phase of flight, we just try to share what our experience has been. And, I think that's probably the best way, or actually the only way you can do it before they get there and experience it for themselves, which is really when you learn what it's like.

Your…one of your mission specialists, Philippe Perrin is another new flier…

Yes.

And, he comes from a military pilot background also.

That's true.

What can you tell me about Philippe?

Well again, we speak a very similar language. He flew reconnaissance airplanes and then fighters in the French Air Force. And again, they're very similar airplanes to what Paul and I flew. And so, we do speak a similar language. With a sort of a different twist to it because the French Air Force did things a little differently than we do. Which stands to reason. A different country, a different part of the world, a different mission. And yet that does enable us to communicate and understand each other without a lot of communication. His role on the flight, along with Franklin, is to be a spacewalker. And, that is capturing his entire attention right now. It's a real big deal. It's hard work. It's a lot of training to get ready for space shuttle EVAs because our time is so precious. We're only going to be docked to the station for eight days. We have to get everything done in those eight days. So, each EVA needs to go perfectly. So, we train really hard. And, Philippe and Franklin are some of the best at paying attention to detail and making sure they got things nailed down before the flight. So, their approach might be a little different to me in that regard in that I'm kind of the big picture person, I need to be the one that looks at the whole mission and doesn't get too bogged down into the details, although it's hard not to in the case of a four-person crew. Because we each have plenty to do. But those two guys are very detail-oriented. And it's a…necessity for the EVA because there are so many fine details. And, to get the job done right, you have to know each detail perfectly. And I don't know the details that they know. But, I do sort of balance their detailed piece of things with the rest of the things that need to go on and have a bigger picture view.

Did you expect to be called back to the ISS so soon?

No. I sure didn't. I didn't expect to get another flight so soon, which is what...

You were on STS-98...

Right.

...which delivered Destiny...

Right.

...to the space station. What do you expect to see different? How would you like to see firsthand what the delivery of Destiny has done to help the station crewmembers?

Yes. Well there's a number of ways to look at your question. One is when I went there, there was a crew on board, it was the Expedition One. And we had just delivered the Lab. It only had five racks in it, and most of them were just, well, all of them were just to support the systems of the space station as a whole. Now it, the Lab, is fully outfitted with experiments and stowage and the equipment to keep the station running. And so, it's going to look totally different. There's a different crew up there. In fact, they'll be Expedition Four when we get there and Expedition Five when we leave that will be in charge of it. So, I think what I expect to see is that the flavor of operations on board the station will be a different one compared to the Expedition One crew, as I would expect each Expedition will set its own tone and have its own flavor. The station is in a different configuration now. We've got the Lab with the PMA on the front of it. We docked to the bottom of the Node on the Laboratory delivery mission so that we could move the Lab out of the payload bay and attach it. Now, we're going to dock to the front of the station, which doesn't seem like a big deal. But, the difference is a whole different approach. We came up from below the station and flew straight up and docked into the bottom of it. This time we do come up to the station from underneath. We stop a little while on that same line of bearing, straight under the Node, and then we do this little circle maneuver that brings us up in front of the station, and then we fall back onto it and dock to it. And, the orbital mechanics of those two different approaches are totally different. And so, I've had to not, I wouldn't say relearn, but learn some finer details that are totally different from the way that we rendezvoused last time. So, I expect there're, from the time we rendezvous and dock throughout the time that we're on board to see some very key differences in a lot of areas on the station. It'll be fun.

You haven't had as much time to prepare for this flight as you did for that last trip to the space station.

That's true.

How much does it help to have been there before?

Oh, definitely, a lot of help. And I would trade off the shorter preparation time for the "recency" of experience not just having been there before. But, having been there before just a year ago, really helps me a lot. I don't, I find that I haven't forgotten as many things about the fine details of the training that I had between that flight and the flight before, which was a four-year span. So, it's been much more comfortable for me getting back up to speed.

That was a pivotal mission for the International Space Station. This mission is also really important to the future of the station. In summary, what are the goals of STS-111?

A couple of things in a couple of different areas. One is we're going to provide a new crew and bring home Expedition Four, who, by the time we get there and bring them home, will have been there a pretty long time. So, they'll be happy to come home. And, I'm sure they'll be really smiling when we open the hatch...after we actually get there. We also put down the groundwork for expanded robotic operations on space station. The flight that's on orbit now has just installed the S0 truss on top of the Laboratory. And, on top of the S0 truss will go the piece that we're bringing, which is the mobile base system. It's a little base that goes on top of the railcar that will run the length of the truss out to the beginning of the solar arrays and provide an ability for the robotic arm, the station robotic arm, to roll along on this little train and reach virtually anywhere on the station robotically, which is a very key capability.

Has the ISS changed much since you've last visited?

We have a couple of new modules on board and the S0 truss which do expand the size of it and the view of it. So, I'm looking forward to the, well, when we're there, we'll have the volume of the station, the volume of the space shuttle, the volume of the logistics module that we will have taken out of the payload bay and stuck to the bottom of the Node, and since I was there, there's also the airlock, which is a very sizeable module, and the Russian docking compartment in between the FGB and the service module, which is also a sizeable compartment. So, there's a lot more space to move around in and to explore. And so, I think it will be quite different inside.

You mentioned that this is a crew exchange mission. How is it to train with the Russians for this? You have two Russian crewmembers...

Yes.

...going up in Expedition Five...

Right.

...and you're bringing Expedition Four down. How do you feel about training with them?

Oh, it's been great. Ah, from the beginning, we made a conscious decision to get all together in the same office. So, we have, it's not really quite large enough for all seven of us, but we have all seven of us sharing an office in our building. And so, every time we come to work, we're together. And, that's the way we've done shuttle crews ever since we've had shuttle crews. It's put us all in an office together, make us work together daily, and that way you work out any kind of interpersonal conflicts there might be and figure out how everybody does their business and learn to get along as a crew. So, we've done the same thing with the Expedition crew. The fact that they're Russian doesn't play into it. Except that it makes it a richer cultural experience. We have more new things that we can learn about each other and more, we have very interesting times. The Commander of the Expedition Five crew is also one of the Russian guys. And, he's a MiG-29 pilot from the Russian Air Force. So, I flew F-18s, which is the same size and the same type mission as a MiG-29, so we've compared notes like that. So, besides training for the mission, we have a lot of other things in common and have had a great time together.

One of the things that you have in common is both you and the Commander of the Expedition Five mission have to manage a large group of priorities. Do you have any philosophies for dealing with so many tasks that you have to do in your amount of time? Obviously, his stretches over a longer amount of time. But, your schedule is completely packed while you're up there.

Right.

Do you have any ways or advice on how to handle...

Oh, well, that… we do all that now on the ground. I mean, we figure out all those priorities that are listed in Flight Rules. And they're fairly rigid. We decide - with long and hard thought and a lot of meetings with everybody that's involved - what is a priority and how it should fit together with the other priorities. So, that's all decided. And, what we do on orbit is execute it as efficiently as we can. So I guess the simple answer to your question is: we've already done that. And, when we get there, we're just going to work hard…and follow the plan that we've made.

Some of your priorities for this mission have changed as time passes by. And, the targeted launch date has slipped for this mission as some of those tasks have changed. Is it difficult to see the launch date pushed back? Or, is this just another way that, an example of NASA demonstrating its ability to respond dynamically to a permanent crew in space?

Well, it's not difficult to see a date change. That's very common. So, we're used to it. In this case the date change was a minor aspect of the changes that have occurred on the mission. So, the decision was made and it was a difficult decision because we had to weigh delaying our launch in order to incorporate this repair job that we're going to do now…we wanted to get the repair done mainly because we want to get the joint back and analyze it, and see what the failure mode was so that if it's lurking in another joint that we can get the fix in. Maybe preclude other failures like this. But to counter that was the fact that the Expedition Four crew should be coming home early in May, but now they won't be coming home 'til early in June. So, it's that, that was a little bit of a tradeoff that the space station program had to make. But, in the end, they decided it was more important to get the arm working. Because if we suffer another failure on it, then it, depending on what the failure is, we could render it inoperative until we can bring a shuttle up and fix it. And, it's very key to all these assembly missions. So, a task was added to the flight, which involved adding a third spacewalk. And it also involved adding a 12th day to the mission to give us time for that spacewalk. And, it's caused us to compress into a smaller time space some of the other things that we need to do, like to transfer the goods and food that we need for the Expedition Five and Six crews and bring back the return items that are stored on station, that it's gradually getting a little too crowded, so, we've got to get those things back! But, we don't have as much time to do it. So, our mission has taken on a lot of additional tasks that we need to get done. So, that's really the big part. The fact that we have to slip the date to accommodate getting ready for that is the secondary part of it. Now, the Expedition Four guys may not agree with me. They probably think that's kind of more primary, because we're making them wait for a few extra weeks. But, it actually works out in all of our favor, at least in one regard. One of the key things that station program wants to do is to de-clutter the station. There's too much old spare parts and food containers (trash, if you will) in the station, and we need to do a spring cleaning of it and bring a lot of the stuff home. The delay has allowed, will allow Dan and Carl and Yury to get more things packed up and ready to be transferred home. And, when we get there, they're going to be more ready for us than they would've been had we launched on May 6th. And, I think we'll be more efficient because of that, getting more things off station. So, it'll probably help in that overall goal.

There are so many things that are happening during this mission. There's a crew exchange. There's some repair. But, this is designated Utilization Flight-2.

Right.

Why is that?

Well, when it was originally manifested, it was meant to bring up some more science in the MPLM, which we are doing, and use the shuttle to utilize to get experiments to station and, therefore, utilize us as a, (it's kind of a stretch, I agree). But, to utilize us as a facilitator for keeping science going and operations going on the space station. The fact that now we have three EVAs, which makes us look a lot more like a construction flight or an assembly flight. So we could very well be called 8A-and-a-half, but we're called "UF-2." So…

What new capabilities [will] this mission add to the space station?

A couple of things. Some minor things in the ability to transfer oxygen and nitrogen from the space shuttle to the space station to replenish those things that are used during, especially during EVA. And the other, the major thing that we should accomplish, it's our goal to accomplish, is to enhance the capabilities of robotics operations on the station. Sort of a NASA word way of saying, "We're going to enable the robot arm to get out further and reach more places on the station, and be able to do its job better."

This is the new device, called the MBS, or the mobile base system…

Correct.

...which you'll be installing. What is the mobile base system? Can you tell us about it? Who built it? And what will it do to increase the effectiveness of the ISS?

It's a Canadian-built platform. It's about the size of a large kitchen table. A little more expensive. It's made out of aluminum truss structure. On it, it has four grapple fixtures that the station robot arm can grapple itself to. And right now, the station robot arm is grappled to the bottom side of the Laboratory, and it reaches around from that location. When we install the mobile base system on the center piece of the truss that's on top of the Lab, we're gonna actually install it with the Canadian robot arm, the station one. It'll reach into our payload bay and pull out the MBS and attach it to the truss. And then, once it's all checked out, a little while later, after we've left, after we leave actually it will un-grapple itself from the Laboratory, and what used to be the tip of the arm will now be the base of the arm and it'll be based on the mobile base system. And, from there as more truss segments are added, the little train car that the mobile base system's on top of can run left and right on the truss, can stop in a location, clamp itself down, and you can use the arm from that position again to reach almost anywhere on the station.

You mentioned that these are attached through a device called grapple fixtures, or power data grapple fixtures. Can you describe what these are? And, how they operate?

It's a, the power data grapple fixture is an enhancement to the grapple fixtures we've been using since the beginning of the Space Shuttle Program. And, it's a very ingenious and clever design. The grapple fixture itself is just a spike. A metal rod. At the end of the rod is a knob on it that's very strong; both the rod and the knob. And, the arm is hollow at the end; and it comes down, it goes over the end of the arm end of the rod, and then inside the arm there's a rotating can that has three wire snares on it. And, the can just rotates until the snares get really tight on the rod, and then the can that has the snares on it retracts itself into the arm, which in turn pulls the arm down firmly against the grapple fixture. It's an enhancement over the shuttle one in that, when it pulls itself down firmly over the fixture, it makes a connection that applies power to the arm and also allows the flow of data back and forth in the arm so you can control it. So, anywhere the station robot arm attaches itself to one of those PDGFs (power data grapple fixtures) that can now become its base. And so, the arm can go from one power data grapple fixture to another and leapfrog its way to different locations.

The power data grapple fixture, that data's not just computer data. It's also things like video...

That's true.

...things like that.

There are cameras along the length of the arm. Each one of them is, or almost all of them are swivel-able and you can tilt them, change the focus, and zoom in and out. And, those controls pass through the same data lines, too.

In addition to the installation of the MBS, Franklin Chang-Diaz and Philippe Perrin will stow several service module debris panels on pressurized mating adapter 1...

Right.

...I believe. What will this accomplish?

Well this will deliver those panels. Eventually those panels will be installed around the service module; hence, their name. We've decided, the experts in orbital debris have decided that they'd like to have a little more protection around the service module. So, 24 panels are being manufactured to go in the certain area of the service module; it's actually in the conical area where it necks down from a large diameter to a smaller one. We're going to deliver the first six of those. We don't have time to install them on the service module. That will be done [by] Valery and Peggy later on during their mission. But we will temporarily stow them on PMA-1, which is right next to the FGB, the first Russian module, and leave them there for them to install later. It's a statistical thing. We want to have a certain probability that we want to have a smaller number than, of the likelihood of getting a penetration from a piece of orbital debris. And, this just improves the statistics. It makes it less likely for that to happen.

There's a lot of other things that'll be in the Leonardo MPLM when you go up. What else is in it?

We have two racks that we'll transfer wholesale over to the U.S. Laboratory. There's a thing called EXPRESS rack, and it's EXPRESS rack number 3. And, it's just a rack that carries, it has power and data and cooling that can be supplied to this rack. And, it will carry a few experiments in this EXPRESS rack. We'll just transfer it wholesale from Leonardo into the Lab. And then, there's the [microgravity]…science glove box. A glove box is sort of like a standard piece of laboratory hardware, where you want to deal with hazardous or toxic or potentially hazardous equipment or samples or you name it. If you need to protect the humans from the science that they're doing, you do the science in a glove box. And, this MSG (the microgravity science glove box) has a couple of places where the operator will insert their hands in through a pair of gloves that are sealed from the outside world and, using gloves and the tools that are pre-positioned inside the glove box, can do experiments on potentially toxic or hazardous samples. So, it's sort of a facilitator of many experiments. It'll be used throughout the life of station to do experiments in.

Speaking of experiments, sometimes you're the researcher on things or your crew is. Sometimes you're the ones having research done on you.

Right.

You're wearing a device called an actilight watch during this mission. It's not really a watch. What does this do?

Well, it tells time. But, it doesn't tell you the time. It's a sleep study. It, as probably most people know, your sleep, ability to sleep and keeping your body and your mind into a rhythm that enables you to sleep well to some degree depends on the fact that it's light outside when you're awake (generally speaking, or at least during a large part of your awake time) and it's dark outside when you're asleep. That's why and that helps you to sleep, the fact that you spent some time in the light, it creates a chemical cycle in your body that reaches the right mix of chemicals to enable you to sleep when it's, when your workday is finished.

So, it is a watch, just not in the traditional sense of the word.

Right. Well, the watch keeps time and records data. And, it actually records the motion of your arm. And, when your arm is not moving it has assumed that you're asleep. And, when your arm is moving, you are not asleep. And then, it also has a light sensor on it that compares the time when you're asleep with the ambient light that's around you. And they plot the data out to show, okay, this, at this time, he was asleep. And it was mostly dark. But, here the lights were on for 30 minutes or whatever. On orbit, it's going to be light, dark, light, dark every 90 minutes. And yet during that cycling daylight/darkness, uh… period, we'll have eight hours of sleep set aside and 16 hours of work set aside. And, they want to compare how those, how our sleep is affected. They can tell when we're not sleeping well by the amount of motion that our arm does. And, we also will fill out a questionnaire every time we wake up to say how well we slept, and how well we think we slept, and how rested we feel. And then, they'll compare the data.

So, this is just a small part of research designed to help us know more about the future of spaceflight.

I think it will, it also, it, in a very broad sense, it helps you learn more about sleep in general. But, it will help us design, perhaps, the way that we, the schedule that we put people on for long-duration exploratory missions, like a mission to Mars, where we may spend several months traveling to get there. We want to get a crew that, there that is that's rested and ready to work. So understanding how best to compensate for the fact that the Sun goes up and down (or in the case of going to Mars, never goes down) and make sleep still work for the crewmembers is one of the long-term goals of this study.

We talked just a small amount about the rendezvous and docking with the ISS. You'll be at the controls for this, so I wanted you to go into a little bit more detail about the steps that it takes to get the Orbiter or the space shuttle from the ground to the International Space Station.

Sure. Well, it's a great part of the flight. I, it's probably my favorite part of the piloting of the space shuttle. The fir…the beginning is launch. I mean, you launch into an orbit that is lined up with the space station exactly. If you don't, the mission is blown. So, that's the reason we have once you get into orbit you cannot change the orbit from side to side. It takes a huge amount of propellant to do so. So there are no space vehicles that really have a significant ability to change the inclination of their orbit. How much it's slanted with respect to the Earth. The space station's in a 51.6°-inclined orbit. It's inclined 51-and-a-half degrees from the equator. We need to not only be inclined that same amount to the equator, but we have to be in the same plane. So, when we the Earth, if you can imagine… the space station is orbiting around the Earth like this. There's the Earth. The Earth is spinning underneath it. When Florida, the launch pad, comes under the space station orbit, that's when we need to launch (plus or minus about five minutes.) So, that's the reason we have tight launch windows for space station flights because we have to wait 'til the launch pad comes underneath it and we can't launch too early or we can't steer over to that orbit. We can't launch too late or we can't steer back to it. So that, that's where the whole process begins and, it has to be very precise. That's the reason for the short launch windows and for all the drama that goes along with trying to get a space station assembly flight off the ground. We will launch into a lower orbit. Generally speaking, we'll be several thousand miles behind the space station. It really doesn't matter where it is on its orbit so long as we're under the track that it's on. We will stay down at a lower altitude, about 120 miles, and we will, the fact that we're at a lower altitude makes us go around the Earth faster. So, in a matter of a day-and-a-half, we will catch up with the space station. And, as we start to catch up, we'll gradually raise our altitude up closer to the space station's altitude so that our catch-up rate slows down. It becomes more gradual.

So, you actually speed up to slow down?

That's true. You do have to add speed to go to the higher orbit. When you get to the higher orbit, that slows you down. It slow, you're going faster, but it slows your progress around the Earth. So, with respect to another body, you're going slower. I'm totally confused myself there. But, that's the way it works.

Well, let's pick it up from the point where you are under the space station and you've done this day-and-a-half, trying to catch up to it.

Sure.

What happens then?

Well, about 2,000 feet out from it, 2,000 to 4,000 feet out, we finish making all the little computer-guided correction burns and we take over control manually. It's sort of a combination of manual and automatic. We use the autopilot to point the space shuttle, to keep it in the right attitude; and what we do is, we tell the space shuttle to take the, its tail and point it towards the Earth. And, we get it to do it at a gradual rate. And, as it does that, we, the Pilots, move a little hand controller that causes the shuttle to translate, to move it, with respect to the station. So, as, (let's see…) here's the station up here, and here's the space shuttle. We're going to come underneath it. We just tell the autopilot to start tilting the tail towards the Earth, and then we scoot it along so that, as it tilts toward the Earth, we end up in front of the space station. It's kind of quasi-magic, but it works. And then, while we're up here, the, on, in front of the space station (if you could imagine, this is the front of it, and we're 400 or 500 feet in front of that) the computer or the autopilot just holds the tail pointed straight at the Earth, and then we just guide it left, right, and in and out, down towards the station.

Manually.

Manually. And that, and it's really a fun piloting task. It's like driving a ship because it, you make very small inputs that take a long time to occur; but once they occur, they're very hard to stop. So, with, it's something you need to do very precisely, and it takes a lot of practice. It's, but it's fun to do the practice. So, we got it very slowly and gradually, we slow down at about 30 feet away from the docking port. And just look through a zoomed-in camera at the target. And, the target has a little set of alignment guides on it. And, we make sure that we're all lined up, that the two vehicles are exactly in plane. And then, from 30 feet in, we just hold a steady rate, and we crash into the station. That's a very slow crash. It's one-tenth of a foot per second. So, it's like, it's as slow as a snail would crawl (but a little faster than that), but that's...

Exactly how it's supposed to be.

...we hold that plus or minus 0.03 feet per second. And at that exact speed, it puts the right amount of energy into the automatic latching/docking system and it causes a couple of latches to engage. And then, once they're engaged, we hook ourselves up real tight to the station, pull ourselves down, make an air-tight seal, and we can go in and out.

After you dock, when you finally open the doors and the hatches to the space station, what happens during those first couple of hours?

Well, a lot of hugs and handshakes in the first few minutes. We'll come over to the station, get a safety briefing from the resident crew, figure out where everybody's going to sleep for the first day or so, and then we get right into preparation for docking or installing the Leonardo module the next day. We also do some transfers of equipment that we're carrying up in the middeck. We have a MPLM that's full of logistical transfer stuff; thousands of pounds. We also have several hundred pounds in the middeck that needs to be transferred over, and things that we'll carry back down on the middeck on space shuttle. So, we'll do a lot of that transfer on the first day.

This'll be the fifth time that a multipurpose logistics module has been docked with the ISS.

Right.

It's the third time that Leonardo's been that module. Have you and Philippe learned from others before who've done this?

Oh yes. We have been very heavily involved in the trials and errors of other crews and other flights. It, there is a, we've got about 200 items that we're delivering to station. And, if we get everything done, about 100 items and I think about 90% by weight of the module can carry, we'll be bringing back. So, we have if you can imagine: it's like having the movers show up at your house with 200 boxes. And, those boxes are going to be coming out of the module really fast, and we've got to keep detailed track of what gets transferred and where it goes on the station so they can find it later. So, it's just a huge moving process. Just like when the Bekins man shows up. And then, we reverse that process to bring back the return items from station. So, I expect once we're docked, and when we're not doing spacewalks, we're going to be in the MPLM doing transfer ops.

Does installing the MPLM… share any similarities to when you docked or installed...

Installed the Lab?

Destiny.

Well I think it's a little easier. The MPLM, all, even though it's the same diameter as the Lab, it doesn't have as many things protruding off the sides of it. So, it's not as tight a clearance coming out of the payload bay. It's the same mechanism for attaching it. So the fact that I've been through that training and seen that work before will serve to at least make me more comfortable with the task. And there's less gyrations we have to do. We pretty much pull the MPLM straight out of the cargo bay, roll it a little bit to line it up with the way the…mechanisms is oriented, and then slide it in and then use the, this common berthing mechanism to elect…electrically drive bolts to latch it down. The Lab, we had to pull out, flip over upside-down, roll, and then put it into place. So, it was more complicated.

During your last mission to the space station, you were the backup operator for the shuttle RMS, the remote manipulator system. During this mission, you're assigned as the prime operator of that system. How is this a unique assign…assignment?

Well, I had to be the prime because the other, the Mission Specialists who are typically the ones that operate the arm are both doing spacewalks. And, the Pilot is choreography manager for their spacewalks. So, he's heavily involved in that. So, there's only one person left. And, that's why I got the job of being the arm operator. It's, being the backup is mainly watching over the other person's shoulder, doing the computer entries to change the configuration of the arm for that other person, and just giving them sanity checks on what they're doing. Make, you know, coaching them, saying, "Yeah, it looks like we're going the right way, and this is going to work right." So the role is going to be reversed. I will have a backup that sometimes it's Philippe, because we do some operations when they're not spacewalking. Sometimes I'll just borrow one of the Expedition crewmembers to come over and watch over my shoulder.

Let's talk about this first EVA. What happens? Take me step-by-step through this first one and give me an overview of what the tasks are.

There's three basic tasks on the EVA. They're separated by a lot of distance, a lot of traveling to be done. And, that's why it takes the six hours to get these three seemingly small tasks done. We're carrying up a new power data grapple fixture that goes onto the P6 truss element. It goes on there so later in station assembly life it can be grappled and maneuvered to its new home on the end of the truss. So, the P6 has to come out of the payload bay, get carried up by one of the spacewalkers, and installed on the P6 truss, bolted down, power connection made. The second thing is the service module debris panels that we talked about earlier. They get pulled out of the payload bay, delivered to the area just short of the FGB, and bolted down. And then, finally, to get ready for the removal and installation of the mobile base system, there's some thermal blankets that need to be removed. They were there for protection of the element prior to getting to orbit. And so, the spacewalkers go over there, remove these covers…they're blankets but they're kind of intricate blankets. They have to fit these unusual shapes, and they're held down with these little fastener things. And, they will undo the fasteners, fold up the blankets, and stow them away, bring them inside.

This will be Franklin Chang-Diaz's first time actually outside of the space shuttle when he's in space. Have you [given] him any advice regarding that?

Not directly, because I've never been outside either! He has sought the advice of other spacewalkers, and we have two that are assigned to our crew to help us in the development of the techniques that we'll use on the three EVAs. So, he's getting that advice from the people that really have the experience. We obviously coordinate everything that he's doing and everything that I'm doing inside. And, we've talked many hours about that… making sure we understand what each other is doing. But I leave the passing on of experience to those that have actually got it!

With, and Philippe, too with his...

Right.

You will, the mobile base system will stay up there overnight before you take it back out to do other things with it.

At the end of EVA 1 once the thermal blankets are removed, then the shuttle, the station arm is cleared to come in and grapple it. We'll release it from the payload bay, and they'll take it up and put it in a pre-installed position, ready to install the next day. The shuttle arm will be used to provide a camera view of that installation process. So, both arms will be kind of working together to get this job done. But, the installation itself should happen the next day.

What steps are involved in the installation of the MBS?

It's done by the station arm. And, it, the station arm reaches down into the shuttle payload bay, grapples the MBS. Once it's grappled and safely attached to the station arm, then we release the fittings that hold it into the payload bay. And then, they very slowly pull it out of the payload bay, move it around to the side of the Lab, and then around to the front of the Lab, and then get it close to the S-Zero truss, the center piece of truss. And then there is a kind of a complicated capture system. It's a, well, not complicated; but interesting. It's a big claw. And, there's a bar on the MBS; and when the MBS is, the center of the MBS has this bar, gets down into the capture area of this claw, then the claw clamps down and pulls it in tight. It has a couple of little conical fittings on the corners of the MBS that fit into a receptacle at each corner. Then it guides it into holding it exactly straight. But, it's kind of a temporary attachment. EVA 2 comes up, during EVA 2 our crewmembers come up and do the bolting down of the four corners to hold it down rigidly to the mobile transporter, the little railcar that's underneath there.

Is that the highlight of EVA 2?

EVA 2 primary mission is to get the MBS bolted down to the mobile transporter (the MT) and also to make the electrical and data connections from the mobile transporter to the MBS. And then, to finish up EVA 2, we'll do some preparation for the third EVA, which is, which might be seen as kind of the big EVA on the flight. Because it's the one that's just gotten added. We're rushing to get trained for it in this last six weeks before flight. And it's a fairly complicated EVA. It involves both arms again. And the, if we have time at the end of EVA 2, we're going to set up the worksite and get the platforms ready for the spacewalkers to put their feet into, to stabilize them while they do the work on the arm.

The third EVA is scheduled to fix a problem with the wrist roll joint...

Right.

...of the station's Canadian arm. What exactly is the problem? And, what's being done to solve it?

We're just going to replace the whole wrist. So that's how we're, we'll solve it. The problem is…it's a little bit undefined. And, that's the reason we want to replace it, so we can get the old wrist back and figure out by looking at it what is wrong. But, there are two paths of control for the space station arm to give it redundancy. On the, I think on the secondary path or maybe it's on the primary (I forget), but on one of the strings of control and power, there was a short in the wrist roll joint. And, it shut down the arm on that string under that control. The other path is working just fine, and we plan to use it, use that other path for installation of the MBS. But we would like to have, very strongly like to have both sides of the arm working, both paths of control working, so that we do have that redundancy again. So, to fix it, we're just going to take off the end of the arm, swap out the bad joint for a good one, put the end of the arm back on it, bolt it all down, and that process I just described in 15 seconds will take about five hours to do (we think).

Let's also talk about what needs to happen to move the MPLM from the ISS and berth it back to the payload bay of Endeavour. It's, is it as simple as just reversing the steps?

It's pretty much reversing the steps. I think the corridor that you have to maintain to get it attached to the Node is about the same kind of tolerance you need to maintain to get it back in the payload bay. It's just about the same tightness. So, it's about, it's a similar task of precision. And I will be the one that installs it, and Philippe is going to be the one that takes it off and puts it back in the payload bay. I think the time crunch won't be as much on the return to the payload bay. We really want to get it done quickly when we install it to the Node so we can get busy unloading it. The sooner we get it there, the sooner we can start work inside it. On the way back, we have all day to get it back in the payload bay. And so a little bit of the pressure is off. And, if we've got it all loaded up nicely, we'll feel more relaxed about getting that job done.

And, we haven't really talked about the crew exchange much yet. We've talked about construction and repair. There's a certain point when the Expedition Five crew officially becomes...

The station crew.

...the station crew.

Right.

What is that point?

Well, the point is when they get all of the…their rescue vehicle is the Soyuz that's attached to the bottom, I think it's going to be the bottom of the space station. And, the Soyuz has very special seats in it that has seat liners that go into these metal seats that are exactly fitted for the bodies of each cosmonaut or astronaut. So, the seat liners that belong to Expedition Four need to come off of there, and the seat liners that belong to Expedition Five have to go on there. And, we should get that done on flight day 3 and 4. And, once all the seat liners for Expedition Five are on board the Soyuz, then they would officially be the crew. If we had to leave in a hurry, they would be the ones that stayed. Theoretically, if we had to leave in a hurry, hurry, within a couple of hours after getting docked, the Expedition Four guys would have to stay because their seat liners are the ones that are in the Soyuz. We really don't want that to happen, and we don't expect it to happen. But, that's the official handover point.

Let's talk about what happens when you start to go home. You undock from the station, and you do a fly-around. Can you talk about that? Actually...

I don't get to do it.

...Paul will be doing it.

Paul does it. This is his chance to get his first opportunity to fly the space shuttle, which is really cool to be able to do that on your first flight. It's, it's kind of a reverse process of arriving at the space station. We will, Franklin and Philippe are running our docking system, and the docking system is commanded to open up the hooks. And, it has a little spring force that pushes you away gently from the station. Once we're clear, Paul will use the thrusters to pull ourselves a little more rapidly away from station. And, the station will still be oriented, flying horizontally with the Lab forward, and we will still be right on the front of it. So, when we undock, he'll just back away. We'll get 400 feet away, and, at that point, he'll use the thrusters to start a big loop. Depending on how much propellant we have left after doing reboost and other attitude maneuvers while we're docked, if we have enough propellant left, we'll do a complete lap. We'll go all the way around the station, go back over the top of it, and separate from there.

What's the reason for that?

It allows us to photographically and with the video cameras map the station. We can get a handle on how the exterior is holding up. And we can make some good, pretty pictures as well. But, it's a documentation of (A) our handiwork (what we've done), you can see the MBS and the arm as its attached to it as we leave, but probably more important it, it documents, in detail, the condition of the exterior of the station.

So, you've undocked. Your crew has flown around.

Right.

And, you're on your way home. The Expedition Four crew has been up there for a while.

Right.

And, they've been in a weightless or near-weightless environment (microgravity) for quite some time.

Right.

There's some procedures for helping them adjust back to a 1-g environment. Can you talk about those?

The name of the game is exercise. And, they will have added a lot of exercise time to their timelines in the preceding weeks before our arrival. We will facilitate the continuance of that by providing our bicycle for them to work out on. The other big priority that we have to do: adaptation is one thing, but getting them actually physically ready to land is another. We have to set up a set of seats on the middeck that is different from the way we launch. We use pieces of the seats that we launch with and construct three horizontal couches that we put them on. And, we will also to save space and to actually get the job done, they will be using parts of the space suits that the Expedition Five crew launched in, the orange suits. So, they'll have different perhaps a different sleeve or boot or helmet, and certainly gloves, and we'll have to assemble those suits from the parts that we had from ascent. So, we'll put all those suits together. On the day after we undock, we'll go through a dress rehearsal. We'll dress all those three guys and make sure that the suits all work and fit. And then, we'll assemble the seats, as I mentioned, and sort of do a briefing, a talk-through of deorbit and landing day, which is a very hectic day. And, they will not have thought about any of this for months. I mean, they haven't been in a shuttle for months. So, this, it'll be our job to reeducate them, remind them of their role, and how they use the equipment that we'll have on them for landing. And, just generally get them in the mindset for coming back home.

You also have a crewmember who will be down there with them on the middeck.

Yes, Philippe's going to be the mother hen for the middeck for entry, so we'll have only three on the flight deck and four out on the middeck. Philippe has [an] upright-sitting chair, and then the three of them will be on the reclined couches. And, Philippe will also provide a little television monitor down there - a little, small, battery-powered one - with a cable running from the camera that looks through the pilot's HUD, so they'll, even though they don't have a window that they can see out of when they're in their seats, they'll be able to look out our front window with this little monitor.

We've talked about all the specifics and tasks and things like that. There's got to be some fun in spaceflight. What do you do to have fun when you're up there?

Well, the fun comes built-in. You don't have to do too much to get a, I think the most, well, let me go in ascending order. Launch and landing are very exciting. They're a lot of fun. More fun than that is seeing this beautiful Earth from orbit and just taking in this panoramic view that you can't get any other way. And then, the number one fun thing is having 10 people up on orbit, all of us with a common goal and a common bond of being space fliers. And, we just, it is just a joy beyond description of camaraderie when the, I've never had a group of 10. But, when I had a group of eight, there on the last flight, it was a lot of fun. And so, I think for fun, looking out the window, when we have time. We're going to be kind of busy while we're docked. I think working hard with your comrades getting an important job done, and trying to do it well will be rewarding and fun. And I just think this is going to be a fantastic mission because of the crew handover, the assembly work, and the logistics work. We're going to be working very hard, but with people that are sharing the common goal, it's going to be great.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/24/2002
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