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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Jeff Ashby
Click on the image to hear Commander Jeff Ashby's greeting (351 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Jeff Ashby

The 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.

When 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.

When 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.

Who 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.

Part 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.

You've 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.

Now, 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?

The primary 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.

The 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.

Well, S1, 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.

Give me some other details about the S1. You talked about the radiators. What are some other specifics that are on the S1?

The biggest 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.

Now 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.

And, 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.

Yes. When 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.

Tell 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.

Now 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?

Well, it's 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.

And, 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.

Let's see. 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.

Let's 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.

Tell 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.

Now 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?

Well, logistics 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.

You'll 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.

And, 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.

Well, with 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 docking.

And 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.

Well, because 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.

You'll 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 of those?

The science 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.

Can you talk any about the secondary payload, which is the SHIMMER payload? What...


...what's that going to be used for? And what are you guys going to be specifically doing with that?

SHIMMER is 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.

Now, 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?

Well, eventually 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 space.

Can [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.

Well, it'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.

What, 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.

You've 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?

Well, it's 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 Control.

Now, 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.

Well, I'm 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 duties.

I 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...


...and 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 out?

Well, shortly 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.

What are you most looking forward to on this flight?

I anticipate 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 station.

And I guess, what are your thoughts on how the crew is, has trained and how prepared they are?

Well, this 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.

Are 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.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/24/2002
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