Return to Human Space Flight home page

STS-111: Home | The Crew | Cargo | Timeline | EVA
Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Philippe Perrin
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Philippe Perrin's greeting (53 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Philippe Perrin

The 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.

Are 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.

What 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 trying.

Well, 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.

Have Ken Cockrell or Franklin Chang-Diaz given you any advice for your first flight?

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.

Both 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 so.

Do you see things the same way?

Yes, very 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.

How 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.

You'll 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.

The 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 else.

What 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 that mission.

This mission is designated UF-2. Why is that?

UF-2 stands 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.

Let's 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.

Who 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.

The 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.

During 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.

You're 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.

First, let's talk about the EXPRESS rack. What makes this type of rack unique?

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.

This rack will live in the Destiny module?

Yes. Yes, like the MSG rack.

What is the microgravity science glovebox, and why is it useful for research?

So, basically 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.

Well, 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?

Yes, it's 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.

After 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 orbit?

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.

Let's 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.

You 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 the EVAs...

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.

Let's 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.

Let's 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.

So, 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?

The problem 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 surgery.
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.

So, 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?

It's almost 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.

The LEE. You've mentioned that several times. Is that kind of the hand for this station arm right now?

That's the 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.

For right now we have the latching end effectors, otherwise known as...

As the LEE.

Okay. 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 before?

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.

After 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?

Yes. It's 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.

What 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...

What 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.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/24/2002
Web Accessibility and Policy Notices