Interview: Philippe Perrin
STS-111 Crew Interview with Philippe Perrin, mission specialist.
Philippe, let's start at the beginning. What was it that sparked
your desire to become an astronaut?
That's a long
time ago. I think it all went back to some of the movies I had seen
as a kid. I was maybe too old to really remember the Apollo missions.
Usually people say, "I was really, I got my motivation from the
Apollo days." I was too young at that time. So my motivation comes
from initially movies like '2001: A Space Odyssey' and later on
some other television series. And everything stopped quite rapidly
because I knew that nobody in Europe was able to go to space. It
was the privilege of being either American or Russian. So, everything
really came back to my mind in the early 'Eighties when the first
French astronaut flew. And then, I restarted to think about it.
there other people who influenced you towards that decision?
I think doing
something of your life is something that you've got deep inside,
whether it's to, whether you want to be an astronaut or a, whether
you want to do science, or whether you want to be a movie star,
or whatever. And, I think, as a kid, I had a strong motivation to
do something of my life. And, I think that's the strongest motivation
I really got. And, that came obviously from my parents and my grandparents.
advice would you give to someone who is becoming, considering becoming
an astronaut today?
I would say,
just believe in yourself; it's doable. The people who are here in
the program have believed in their own skills, although very few
of the ones who tried have succeeded. So, it takes a lot of chance
and luck. I mean I was lucky enough to get in the program where
people with the same skills never made it to the program. So keep
let's flash forward in, to when you got the call from Charlie Precourt
that told you that you were going to, slated to fly on STS-111.
How did it feel when you got that phone call?
I was all
excited. I think it's almost unreal until, it was unreal until I
got the whole crew being assigned. For me it took the whole crew
to be assigned a few months later to really understand that I would
go and fly in space. Especially when I first really started to work
with Kenneth and Franklin, who had been in space already. And so,
they were able to talk about space and tell me a few things about
how things would really happen. It was quite different from training
in the simulator to talk to these people who had so much experience.
And, that's kind of funny, because that's when I started to dream
about space. I had been here five years already, training very hard,
learning about the systems, the shuttle, the station systems. But,
everything really became real when I started to work with them.
And, that's when I started to really dream. I mean overnight dream
about going to space.
Ken Cockrell or Franklin Chang-Diaz given you any advice for your
Oh a lot.
A lot. I mean, Franklin, for instance, is very detailed oriented.
So, he's going to tell me everything about the first second we hit
MECO, and here we are in space, and what do I need to do with my
helmet, with my gloves, and how am I going to react, and function
of how I react. What I should do, not do. So it's, I think it's
quite, quite unique to fly with somebody with so much experience.
Commander Cockrell and Paul Lockhart have similar backgrounds to
you, in a way, coming up through the military as pilots. Does that
reinforce any kind of bond with them?
Oh, very much
you see things the same way?
much so. Yes, there is a global international fighter pilot community.
We've been on the same ventures before. I mean, in the past. I've
been as a pilot involved in the Gulf War. And then, in the No-Fly
Zone. Most of the young astronauts had been there at the same time.
Although I may have met them or not. So, we do share the same background.
And, it's more than the background. It's also a way to look at a,
a way of working, a way of handling critical, complex systems. And
that was the best surprise when I came to Houston, to understand
that my background as a fighter pilot and as a test pilot was really,
really helpful. But, as you said, it was more than that. Because
it was also being part of a bigger family and having a very strong
camaraderie before I even met them, my friends here in Houston.
does it, how is it to train with the Expedition Five crew? This
is a shuttle-station exchange mission. How do you feel about training
with the international partners?
It's, I mean,
for me, it's the same as training with my crewmembers. We share
the same first part of the flight. We all go together. It's the
most critical part of the flight, the ascent. So, for me, I make
no difference whether I'm training with my shuttle crew or the Expedition
crew. Of course, I think I want to take more care of the Expedition
crew, because they're going to stay there for a long time. So, in
my mind they are very special. And, I need to treat them the best
I can. You are talking about the friendship and camaraderie between
fighter pilots? Valery Korzun, the Commander of that Expedition
Five, is a former Russian fighter pilot. So, we have a lot in common.
be the second French citizen to visit a space station, but the first
astronaut representing the French Space Agency to go there. How
important is it for France to continue to send astronauts to space?
I think it's
critical for France to understand that, although we make an international
station and that now most of the [astronauts] in Europe are within
a European astronaut corps, it's very important for every single
French citizen to be able to identify himself to the astronaut.
So, I think for everybody in France, having a French astronaut is
very, very special.
launch date for this mission has slipped as various tasks have been
added to your timeline. Is it hard to see that happen? Or, is it
easy? I know that this will be your first trip into space, but you
also get to do three space walks now.
It's a mix
of different feelings. When I heard the news, I was at the NBL working
on my second EVA, and we learned we would have a third EVA. I realized
I would fly a little bit later, which was, I mean, a little bit
sad because you're already, at that point of the training, I really
feel ready. I want to go. And I cannot wait to go to space. But,
at the same time, I understood how critical that third EVA would
be and we definitely need to repair the Canadian arm. So, I thought
it was very interesting, very challenging, and I personally like
being challenged. So, I overall, I was more excited than anything
are the goals of STS-111, in summary?
So, it's going
to be hard to make a summary because we have a lot of different
goals. It's a very complete mission. You mentioned the third EVA.
So, the purpose of this one is to repair the arm; one of the [joints]
has to be changed out. The two others EVAs are going to add some
capabilities, additional capabilities to the station. One is to
bring the MBS, which basically is the shoulder of the Canadian arm.
And the third EVA, the first EVA is going to give some more protection
to the service module, bringing some debris micrometeoroid panel
protections. So, that's already different objectives in three different
EVAs. On top of that, we're going to bring the new crew to the station,
and bring back Expedition Four. And then, we'll bring a lot of science
in the Italian logistics module. So, I think everything that can
be done in space, except maybe for going to the Moon is done on
mission is designated UF-2. Why is that?
for utilization flight number 2. So, it really means that we already
have the capability on the station to do science, and that's why
we have a crew there, and that's why we're bringing more experiments.
So, that's really what it meant.
talk about some of these new experiments that you're taking up and
new hardware. You'll be bringing up something called, let's talk
about the Mobile Base System first, the hardware. What does the
Mobile Base System add to the International Space Station?
Yes, I see
the Mobile Base System really is the shoulder of the arm. The arm
is right there, like a human arm. It's really funny to look at the
similarities between a human arm and the Canadian robotics arm.
There is an elbow joint, and then there is like at your wrist level,
a roll, a pitch, and a yaw joints. And, the same thing at the shoulder.
But, so that this arm can grab something, it needs to be attached
to the station on the other side of the arm. And, basically that
attachment is the MBS. And, that gets positioned on the MT, which
basically will be the feet of this arm so that the arm can move
along the truss.
built the Mobile Base System?
The Mobile Base System is the Canadian hardware. Like the Canadian arm. So,
it's, the [Canadians] have been very involved into robotics for
a long time now, starting with the shuttle arm. And they've done
a terrific job at creating a very nice arm with a lot of capabilities
and a very smart interface, crew interface. And it's, I think it's
unique to have one agency being so focused on one specific piece
of the hardware. It [makes] them extremely talented and knowledgeable.
I think it makes a lot of sense for the [Canadians] to keep working
on…robotic arms. I hope they do more on the Mars mission, maybe
they do one.
station's robotic arm attaches to the MBS through a device called
the power data grapple fixture. And the MBS has several of these
on it. For those who don't know what a power data grapple fixture
is, can you describe one and what they do for the ISS?
Yes. If you
keep thinking of the MBS as a shoulder you need different attachments.
Like on the human body, you've got different shoulders. And, we
don't have different arms. So we just have one. And, we put the
arm either on the right shoulder or on the left shoulder. So, that's
basically what it is. Now for that connection you run, of course,
power because the arms need power to move. And, you run also telemetry
and data, so you can command that arm and get feedback from the
arm. And, you run also video because to fly this arm, you're relying
mostly on some external camera views that may be coming from the
arm itself or from the station.
this mission, you and Dr. Chang-Diaz will also stow, as you mentioned,
several service module debris panels on Pressurized Mating Adapter
1. What will this accomplish?
What it will
accomplish? Yes, I think the criteria of our robust, the structure
of the space station is, we're slightly different between the Russian
segment and the US segment. That does not mean that the Russian
segment was weak in any way, but NASA thought that it would be better
in the long run to have a better protection of one specific part
of the service module. So, we came up with the idea that it would
just take some additional panels to better protect the service module.
also bringing up a MPLM, a multipurpose logistics module called
Leonardo. That's a big, giant moving van. What's going to be in
this moving van that you're taking to the International Space Station?
It's a Christmas
treat for Expedition Five. It has already their food. And enough
to live for five, maybe six months. And, clothing, of course. And
all kind of experiments. We can talk about the major rack that we
take up there on the, on that flight being the EXPRESS rack three
and the MSG, the micro, microgravity science glovebox.
let's talk about the EXPRESS rack. What makes this type of rack
I mean, the
EXPRESS is a generic rack. To do science in space, you have to basically
build a laboratory and provide all kind of connections to your payloads.
So, we came up with the idea that we build a generic rack in which
you can plug your experiments, so the scientists know ahead of time
how to design their interface so they can very easily interface
with the station power and consumables.
rack will live in the Destiny module?
like the MSG rack.
is the microgravity science glovebox, and why is it useful for research?
it's a big glovebox like you would find in any laboratory on Earth.
You have to look at the, at Destiny as basically a big laboratory.
look, looking at the timeline of this mission, it looks like Dan
Bursch and Carl Walz change places earlier than the rest of the
crew. At what point is each Expedition Five crewmember considered
to be officially on board the ISS?
interesting. We have to go by the capability of returning the crew
in case of an emergency to the ground. And, for the Expedition crew
they mostly rely on their what we call the seat liner, which is
the seat that they use on the Soyuz to get back to the ground. So,
whenever their seat is installed on the Soyuz they are considered
being part of the station crew. That's the criterion.
you've docked the spacecraft together, the hatches on both sides
will open. Can you tell me a little bit about what's scheduled for
those first couple of hours that the two vessels are together on
Yes. A lot.
I mean, it's time for a celebration. But, unfortunately, we don't
have much time for celebration. As we have already understood, the
mission is really packed. Packed with operational activities like
three spacewalks, but also packed with a lot of transfer out the
logistic module. And, a lot of handover between Expedition Four
and Expedition Five. So, as soon as we open that hatch, everybody
starts rushing and everybody knows exactly what to do. And, on that
day, I personally have to take care of all my EVA hardware suit,
and take everything from the shuttle into the airlock and start
building up my own suit and get ready for my first EVA.
talk about the EVAs. Let's, take us step-by-step through the first
EVA, starting with getting your suit on. And, tell me what the highlights
of that first EVA are.
It takes a
while to be able to first get suited and get ready to go into space.
It takes several hours because, first, you have to prebreathe and
get rid of the nitrogen in your blood. then you have to get your
suit ready; all the tools, and get through the depressurization
process. So, it takes several hours after you wake up in the morning
before you can go out. The first EVA is very intensive. It's going
to be a long one. More than six hours most probably. For me, it's
going to be hand-intensive because I have to move all over the place.
I'm going to start going to the PMA-1, install a receptacle, an
interface so we can put the shields there later on that day. And
then, I run to the P6, almost, I mean midway to the top of the P6,
where I'm going to wait for Franklin to install a PDGF that will
later be used to reposition the P6 on the end of the truss. And
then, I go back to the payload bay to help Franklin getting all
the shields, the SM MMOD shields, out of the bay. And, in the meantime,
Franklin needs a position on the top of the station arm. And so,
while he's being transferred back to the PMA-1, I do the whole translation
by hand go and see him there. And, when we are done installing the
shields there, we all go together, by hand, back to the bay so we
can remove the blankets out of the MBS so that the MBS can be positioned
the next day by the robotic arm. So, basically, the first EVA is
going to be for me, a lot of handwork, a lot of translation, and,
a long, very long EVA.
and Franklin will be outside during this EVA. What's going on inside
the ship and the space station during this time? This is a job that
Yes, I told
you [that] Franklin is on the top of the station arm. So, it takes
already two operators to fly that arm. At the same time, we rely
on some camera views from the shuttle arm. So, the shuttle arm is
going to be flown by Kenneth. And we have somebody doing the choreography
of the EVA. We call him the IV. And Paul is going to do that for
us. So, basically, everybody's more or less busy helping us for
that EVA. And, EVA is more than just two people by himself outside.
It's a whole team, including some support from the ground, meaning
here in Houston but also in Canada. Like on EVA 2, we go, we've
got all the specialists, from the Canadian Space Agency and the
contractor working the MBS, who are going to be, they are real time
to help us out of anything would go wrong.
talk about EVA 2 then. Between the first EVA and the second one,
the Mobile Base System has been docked to the space station or to
the mobile truss. But, it hasn't been attached permanently yet.
Why does the Mobile Base System stay on the arm overnight between
those two EVAs?
It takes power,
I say, to move an arm. But, it also takes power to keep the arm
alive. Power for an arm is like for a human arm blood flowing through
your veins. You need that power so you warm up all the electronics
and the camera. So, without power, the arm would simply die. So,
we keep grappling the MBS and the same thing applies to the MBS.
So, we keep the arm grappled to the MBS so that, through the arm,
we can send power to the MBS and keep the MBS warm until we are
able to make a strong connection between the MBS and the MT, and
then connect some of the power cables that it's mostly one of our
most important tasks on EVA 2.
talk about the second EVA a little bit more. Could you point out
some of the highlights during this EVA?
The most important
tasks are really first to bolt, to very securely bolt, the MBS to
the MT. I mean, it just takes four bolts. They are not basic bolts.
They are very sophisticated bolts, because they can be replaced
if something goes wrong. And but that's basically what it takes.
So, with the power tool, we'll be able to go and just screw these
four bolts. And then, we have to connect some electrical connectors,
and connect also the connectors for the telemetry and data and also
video, between the MT, basically, between the station and the MBS.
let's talk about the third EVA, the one that was added to your timeline.
This EVA is scheduled to fix a problem with the wrist roll joint
on the station's Canadian arm. What exactly is the problem, and
what's the plan to solve it?
is not, the joint is sick right now. It's still working, but it's
not working the way we would like the joint to work. And, because
for some reason, and I think it's, we think it's a short, it may
be a short on some of the circuits, the brakes on one of the two
strings of that joint, the brakes are applied on the motor when
they should not be applied. So, basically we suspect something is
wrong on that joint. We don't know exactly what is wrong, but we
know that, for the rest of the station assembly we want a healthy
joint. So, we're going to change that joint. And, this is a major
So, it takes first to disconnect the LEE from the joint and to that
LEE somewhere. And then, look at the joint, take out that joint,
and take a new one that's going to be stamp-stowed on the, in the
orbiter payload bay. And, when this is done, you can put the LEE
back on top of it. It's critical because as you do that, you cannot
be powering the arm. It would be too dangerous for astronauts to
be working on the, and doing that surgery with the arm being powered.
So, you first need to remove all the power from the arm. But, as
you do that, remember the power is the blood flowing through the
vein, veins of the arm? As you do that, you have now a time constraint
before the electronic is going to die. So, what you want to do is
put some thermal blanket, especially on the most critical equipment
being the camera on the arm, and when this is done, you have a lot
of time, more than the time reserved to an EVA, so you can work
on the arm and do that major surgery.
you cut the power to the arm just like you would to your house if
you were going to work on the electrical...
socket on your house. After you've cut the power, what are the steps
to actually replace this joint? Do you do…? It's not as simple
as popping one out?
as simple as that. Every joint is positioned and through the means
of six bolts. So, you've got basically every time you want to remove
either the LEE or one joint, you have to work on six what we call,
I mean, six very special bolts. And that's about what it takes.
It's not more complicated than just working on six bolts.
LEE. You've mentioned that several times. Is that kind of the hand
for this station arm right now?
hand. That's the hand of the station arm. It's the basic hand. The
same one that we have been using forever on the shuttle arm. And
basically it's a female part with some snares inside that can go
in and grapple any grapple fixture. Eventually down the road, the
Canadian arm will have a more sophisticated hand with basically
different fingers on it. But, we are not there yet.
right now we have the latching end effectors, otherwise known as...
As the LEE.
Well, after the, all of this, you need to move the MPLM from the
ISS and berth it back into the payload bay of Endeavour. Now, that's
your job. Have you learned anything from others who have done this
Oh, I'm always
learn…learning from others! We are in the critical job environment
where you get some formal training and people are very good at giving
you all the theoretical knowledge. But then, it takes a lot of practical
knowledge. And this one, you can only get through a lot of talking
with senior people, been there before, done that before, and that's
where I learn a lot. So, in my case, I went and asked other people
who had done the exact same task, Scott Parazynski being one of
them, and I read through all his notes, and I made my own. And,
I tried to build that knowledge. For instance, I know I'm going
to rely on some camera views that are not as good in space as they
are in the simulator environment. So, I ask to see some camera views
from previous flights so I can really know what to expect from a
camera view when it's time for me to manually fly and reberth the
MPLM into the bay.
you've reberthed the MPLM back into the shuttle and the hatches
between the station and the shuttle have been sealed and you're
about to go home, you have a pretty significant role in helping
the Expedition Five crew make their adjustment back to a one-g environment
on Earth. Can you tell us about that?
true, I could be thinking that my role is over on the mission. I've
done my three EVAs, berthed the MPLM. But, I still have a critical
task which is staying in the middeck throughout the reentry, helping
Expedition Four to get strapped, seated on their seats, strapped,
and then help them through the reentry if something would go wrong.
They've spent a lot of time in space. They are very well used to
the space, to the space environment. But, the reentry for the, that
same reason may be very tough on their physiology. So, I'm going
to have to make sure that, as at least they have a very good seating
and they feel comfortable, and they've had enough to drink. And
I'm going to basically pamper them all the way to the ground.
part of this mission do you look forward to the most?
I think there
are two highlights. The first one being the launch, obviously. I
cannot wait to be there. And the second one is going to be when
Franklin opens the hatch, the hatch for our first EVA. I see that
first EVA almost as a, another mission in the mission itself. So...
are your thoughts about the significance of the, of taking this
new crew to the space station and changing out the previous crew
and enabling the continuing presence of humans in space? It's a
big job. How do you feel about it?
It's, I mean…it's
critical. We're not going to do any science [without] people being
on that station and feeling very comfortable on the station and
staying long enough so we can learn about staying for a long-duration
flight in space. We can better prepare for future exploration of
the solar system. So, I see these first flights for Expedition Four
and Five as first steps of further exploration down the road. So,
I think these people are really writing history. And I try to make
my best job so they can write history in a very good environment.