Interview: Jeff Ashby
STS-112 Crew Interview with Jeff Ashby, commander.
Q: First of all, Jeff, tell me about your home. Where did you
grow up? And, what do you call home?
A: I was raised
in the Colorado mountains in a small town called Evergreen.
did you have this dream of becoming an astronaut? What started that?
I think like
many of my colleagues I watched Neil Armstrong put the first footprint
on the Moon. And that night I sort of formulated the dream that
I'd like to one day walk on the Moon as he did.
did that dream of a child become this, "Oh, I actually can
do that." You know, and "Here's how I, here's the path
I need to take." And give me, first that moment and then also
the path that you did take to get here.
My dream began
when I watched Neil Armstrong step off the lunar module onto the
Moon surface. But, it took many, many years to develop into more
of a goal as I became a Navy pilot and went off to Test Pilot School
and earned a Master's degree. And, at some point I realized that
I was competitive for the program; and I began to apply and came
down for an interview.
were the major role models or influences in your life that led you
in this direction?
Well, I think
all of us are a product of all the friendships we have and relationships
that we have over our lifetimes. And, we take a bit of each one
of those people with us as we travel through life. There were many
people that influenced me during my lifetime. And, some of the more
important ones were my parents, of course, and my teachers. But,
also, many of my friends and colleagues.
of your training was with, for this mission, was with the Expedition
Five crew that's up there right now. And, you guys will be their
first visitors. What's that reunion going to be like? For them,
and for you?
Well, we were
able to develop some close ties with Peggy and Valery and Sergei
before they launched. And we did get quite a bit of training time
with them. It's going to be very special to dock and open the hatch
and greet them, as their first visitors in a couple of months.
flown before. How is that, how do you envision this flight being
a little bit different? And how did that prepare you for this one?
My last flight
was very similar to this flight. We went to station. There was a
crew aboard at that time, Expedition Two, and we did complete some
assembly work. This mission is similar to that in terms of the time
and the actions that we take. But, it's a very different crew and
a different makeup of personalities. And so, it's equally enjoyable.
And, I'm really looking forward to it.
this is, STS-112 is the fifteenth flight to the space station, and
it's mission 9A. Kind of give me an overview of STS-112. What are
your goals for this mission?
objective of this mission is to deliver and install the S1 truss.
S1 is a 45-foot-long, 30,000-pound structure that houses a number
of electronics components and primarily a large set of radiators
that provide cooling for the space station in its finished configuration.
S0 truss was installed on STS-110. And, you guys are installing
the S1 truss on the first segment after S0. Kind of talk about the
importance of the S1 in the overall scheme of the station.
in the final configuration, provides a structure on which to mount
the large solar arrays that will provide power for all the laboratory
modules that will be up there eventually. And it also provides a
primary means of cooling for those laboratories as the ammonia coolant
is circulated out and cooled through radiators that are on S1.
me some other details about the S1. You talked about the radiators.
What are some other specifics that are on the S1?
thing, of course, is the radiators. But S1 also houses a number
of electronics components that feed data and things out to the arrays,
which will eventually be mounted outboard of it. The radiators themselves
are mounted on a large structure or beam that actually rotates.
And so, there's a device to rotate those radiators so that they
can be pointed away from the Sun for the best cooling efficiency.
how is the S1 going to actually physically install onto the S0?
I know there's the clamp but that's obviously not the only thing
that holds it down. How are they connected?
Well, S1 is
removed from the payload bay with the space station arm. It's lifted
up and aligned with S0 and brought in very close to S0, within an
inch or two. At that point there's a claw-like device on S0 that
reaches out and pulls S1 in and aligns it as it pulls the two surfaces
together. Now, once the mating surfaces are together, then from
the space station we drive four motorized bolts, one at each corner,
that form the primary attachment for S1.
this is kind of a microgravity kind of physics lesson here. How
does the S1, being installed on the station without the P1, which
is coming up with the next flight (in -113), in that period of time,
the S1 is out there, like you said, a 30,000-pound structure on
one side of the station. And, here on Earth we would think, "Okay,
that's going to, like, majorly turn it." But your microgravity,
kind of talk about that.
we leave the space station will be quite lopsided. Both the airlock
and the S1 truss will be asymmetrically mounted on one side. And
so, it does look somewhat awkward. But, and it causes it to fly
just slightly different, but not substantially in space. Because
it has no weight (it has mass). And there's a little bit of drag
that affects it when it's lopsided. But for the most part, it flies
just like it does today, and just like it will in its final configuration.
me something about the arm operations that you'll be doing.
I will operate
the shuttle arm during the installation of S1. And my primary job
is just to use it to position the cameras that are on it. To ensure
structural clearances, we remove S1 from the payload bay. (It's
quite a large structure, of course, and there are many tight clearances.)
And, also we'll use the cameras on the shuttle arm for final alignment
cues in the final mounting of S1 to S0.
One of the
things that is housed on S1 are a number of cameras. And so, we
are, this mission, we'll increase the video capability of the space
station. So, they're becoming less and less reliant on the shuttle
payload bay cameras.
you were on STS-100 and installed the robotic arm that's on the
station. What are your thoughts on the current configuration with
the arm now being on the MBS, and having the mobility there on the
S0? What are your thoughts on that and the way it's progressed?
neat that we attached the space station arm to the space station
on my last flight to allow the space station to grow. Because it's
grown beyond the capability of the shuttle arm to reach. But even
so, even where we attached in the Lab, it had a limited amount of
reach. And now that it's become a part of the mobile base system
and can travel along the truss, its reach is magnified 10 more times.
And, it's able to both complete assembly and also to travel out
for maintenance tasks, all the way out the end of the truss where
the arrays eventually will be.
this flight and the installation of the S1 truss will be the first
use of it on the MBS. And, kind of talk about the significance of
that, of the first use with the mobility.
I think that one of the most important parts about the, having the
mobile base is going to be the future capability of the arm to travel
out to the end of the truss and perform maintenance tasks on the
solar arrays that are affixed there.
talk a little bit about the EVAs on your mission. There are three
of them. Kind of give me a brief overview of the goal for the EVAs.
Well, we do
have three EVAs or spacewalks on the mission. And all three have
tasks that are designed to complete the installation outfitting
of the S1 truss. The first EVA is primarily hooking up electrical
connectors that will provide heater power and allow S1 to survive
on, in the cold thermal environment of space. And, the subsequent
two then add to that by attaching fluid connectors, fluid umbilicals,
and outfitting different components of the truss.
me about some of the specific tasks that you know that they're going
to be doing.
One of the
major tasks that our EVA guys will complete in addition to the hookup
of the electrical connections is the mounting of two video cameras
on the truss. These cameras are quite large. They can only take
one of them at a time out of the airlock. And it's quite a squeeze
to get them and the camera in the airlock and then get out. They'll
travel out with these cameras and attach them to the truss and provide
video capability for the space station, so that they're no longer
as reliant on the shuttle payload bay cameras as they have been
in the past.
The CETA cart
is, well, I think of the mobile base structure, the mobile transporter
(it's called), and it, the CETA cart, one on either side, is like
a little train. It travels up and down a rail on the front of the
truss, and allows the astronauts spacewalkers, and the space station
robotic arm to get out to either end of the truss. The CETA cart
is like one of those little rail cars that's manually powered. And
it allows the spacewalking astronauts to jump on and manually propel
themselves and their tools and equipment all the way out the track
to the end of the truss. On our flight, we'll be outfitting one
of the CETA carts, the first CETA cart to go up. And of course it's
the one on the starboard side.
when the EVAs are not going on you'll be doing quite a few transfer
operations. Kind of tell me what's going on there. What all are
you guys transferring?
transfer on the space station flights has become quite a big task.
There's a lot of equipment to transfer. We have about 1,000 pounds
of equipment that will have to be manually transferred through the
airlock and into the space station. Probably the most important
thing that we're carrying and transferring is a series of scientific
research experiments that we will bring up and trade out with ones
that have completed their research on space station.
also be taking up some space suits, EMUs and SAFERs. Kind of talk
about the, why are you doing that? And, what are you physically
taking up there?
When we take
the shuttle up to the space station, we periodically take extra
equipment for the EMUs, or spacewalking equipment, for the Expedition
crew because some of those devices reach their design lifetime,
and also for re-sizing for different crewmembers that have come
aboard. So those are the two primary reasons that we'll be carrying
extra EMU equipment with us.
one operation that I believe you are specifically going to be working
with is the oxygen and nitrogen transfer. Kind of talk about the
importance and the essential element of that.
the space station in space they only have what equipment and gas
that they carry. Well, let me start over. That one didn't come out
very good. The space station only has a limited supply of oxygen
and nitrogen to replenish its atmosphere, which gradually leaks
at a very, very slow rate into space. That oxygen and nitrogen must
be replenished. And, we replenish it from the shuttle's own oxygen
and nitrogen tanks through a set of hoses that we'll connect after
that's not just a simple you plug in a hose and it runs for 5 minutes.
All right. Kind of talk about the logistics of the actual transfer.
the shuttle nitrogen tanks are at a higher pressure than those of
station, we can simply hook up a hose and the pressure will feed
the nitrogen over to space station. Oxygen's a different story.
Our tanks are at, actually at a lower pressure than theirs. So,
we will hook up a hose, but it also requires a pump that is resident
right now on space station to pump our oxygen up to a higher pressure
to fill their tanks.
also be carrying, you already briefly mentioned this in the science
experiments and payloads to be used up on the station and then bringing
back some. Are there any specifics that you can talk about? Any
payloads? We have four different powered payloads that we're taking
up. And, an example of one is a protein crystal growth experiment.
And, these protein crystals, in determining the structure of the
protein molecules, is one of the research experiments which has
the most promise for medical advances here on Earth.
you talk any about the secondary payload, which is the SHIMMER payload?
that going to be used for? And what are you guys going to be specifically
doing with that?
a scientific instrument that mounts in the side hatch of the space
shuttle. And, once we're clear of space station, we'll actually
point that at the Earth limb or horizon of the Earth as seen from
space, and we measure the ultraviolet signature of the Earth limb.
And the purpose is to develop future technology for satellites that
will orbit in the future and make use of these measurements.
the International Space Station obviously has a lot of cooperation
involved with it because you have so many different countries and
cultures and ways of thinking involved there. What, from your perspective,
what is the cooperation, how important is the cooperation involved
from all these different organizations, agencies, and countries?
we hope that the research on International Space Station benefits
everyone on Earth. And, I'm quite sure it will. But today, even,
the investment in the International Space Station is paying off
through the cooperation that we have with these other countries,
and the things that we're learning about each other, and how we're
learning to work together to build such an incredible project in
[you] also talk about, tell me about the cooperation of all with
your mission. You have a Russian cosmonaut as one of your crewmembers.
So, you kind of have a little more personal involvement with the
international, because you have an international crew and then Expedition
Five is both Russian and U.S.
been wonderful for our crew to have an international crewmember
aboard. And Fyodor is a very genuinely warm, personable man who
we've become very good friends with. It's been interesting for me
personally to understand his culture better and let him learn ours.
And, I think the benefit of that in the space program is obvious.
Because we are going up to space station which is manned right now
by two Russians and one American, and it allows us to work much
more closely together and function more efficiently.
in your mind, is the significance of, I mean, what does it mean,
the International Space Station in our actual cooperation, you know,
what we're doing in space; it's quite amazing the cooperation and
the amount of, the degree of details and specifics that have to
be accomplished through cooperation. What does the space station
mean to the people on the Earth?
Well, I think
it means several things. First of all, it means future advances
in medicine and material science, combustion, fluids, the sciences
certainly, things that will enrich the quality of our lives here
on Earth. Secondly, it means that we can learn to travel out to
other planets and moons eventually, and expand our own horizons
and give our population a place to grow to. And lastly, it means
really a sense of international cooperation on the Earth. And it's
given us a reason to come together and to meld our cultures and
understand each other better.
flown before as a Pilot. And now you're the Commander. How's that
different? And what are your, what's your perspective now sitting
in that role?
a great honor to be chosen to lead a crew on a complex assembly
flight. And I feel a lot of responsibility for a lot of equipment.
But, I also have a lot of help. I have the help from a great crew,
and a wonderful ground team that's got some outstanding leadership
itself in the flight directors and managers down here in Mission
tell me a little bit about that crew. You've, it's a crew of six,
a total of six. So kind of go through each of your five other crewmembers
and tell me a little bit about them.
really pleased to have this crew. We have become best friends in
training over the last year. And, I really look forward to going
into space with them and accomplishing something and completing
our mission. Pam Melroy has been my good friend for about six years.
We were in the same class together. And she is just wonderfully
multitalented, and a tremendous person to work with. I've really
enjoyed training with her on the crew. Piers Sellers and Sandy Magnus
are the two rookies. They're both from the same class. And both
exceptional people who are working very hard. And it's very, very
difficult to tell without knowing that they're first-time fliers,
because they have so much talent and ability that they're functioning
as if they had flown before as crewmembers. Dave Wolf is a great
friend. And a very interesting character. He provides a very unique
perspective for a crew. He's always thinking from some different
direction than we are. And he's wonderfully valuable on the crew
because of his diverse perspective. But he's very, very talented
in terms of his experience in long-duration spaceflight and also
spacewalking. He's got a lot of time in the pool, and he is the
NASA expert on these fluid jumpers that we'll be installing up there.
And, of course Fyodor, our cosmonaut. Fyodor has become a great
friend to all of us. He adds a very nice dimension to our flight,
one of international cooperation. And we're really pleased to have
him along. He's going to prove to be very useful in helping our
spacewalkers don their suits and operating the cameras and the helmet
cameras for them when they're out spacewalking and a number of other
heard a story that one of the first things that you all did as a
crew was to go out to the, Utah, I believe it was...
spent a number of days out there together. What, tell me about that.
What was the reasoning behind that? And then also how did it turn
after we were assigned as a fairly diverse group of people I saw
an opportunity for us to get to know each other by traveling out
on a wilderness training course designed to build teamwork. And,
I proposed it to the crew, got something of a, kind of a warm reception,
and they all eventually agreed that they would go. And, we went
to the wilderness for 11 days and worked our way up a series of
canyons using ropes and standing on each other's backs and wading
through chest-deep muddy water. And we got to know each other very
well. And, we learned to work as a team. And, we learned about each
other, details about each other that will come in very handy once
the main engines cut off and we're living together again for 12
days in a very confined environment.
are you most looking forward to on this flight?
that there will be a lot of great moments. I know there will be,
from my previous experience. But, I think the two greatest things
for me will be when we dock and first open the hatch and greet our
friends that are there on board the space station. I know that's
a very, very memorable moment. And, the second one that I know will
be very special is when we undock and start to fly around and look
back on the space station with S1 attached and realize that we've
successfully completed our little part of the construction of space
I guess, what are your thoughts on how the crew is, has trained
and how prepared they are?
crew has really come together. Like all crews eventually do. But,
this crew came together early on, partly as a result of our wilderness
experience but we came together early on, and we've trained very
hard, and we function very well as a team. Very, very smoothly.
We understand each other. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Everyone works very hard. And I'm really excited to be going to
space to do this mission with them.
there any other lessons, thoughts, or comments for views, people
who are watching this, about the space station, about your mission?
Yeah. I would
just say that it's a great privilege to be a part of this undertaking,
of building such a technically complex project with 16 different
countries. Really a world of people. And cooperating with them to
build this thing in space. And I think it's most interesting that
we are building this project and not even knowing what great discoveries
will come of it. And I can't wait to look back 30 years from now
and look at what we've done and how it's changed our lives. I think
that'll be very worthwhile.