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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Mission Specialist John Herrington
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist John Herrington's greeting (308 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: John Herrington

The STS-113 Crew Interview with John Herrington, mission specialist.

Q: John, give me a thumbnail sketch of this mission: what are the main goals of assembly mission 11A?

A: OK, our primary goal is to take the Expedition Six crew up and swap with Expedition Five, who's up there right now. And then our secondary goal on that is to install what's called the P1 Integrated Truss Structure that, you know, we'll attach to S0.

That is extending the truss that we always hear about that's as big as a football field?

That's right.

This is your first mission as a member of the flight crew on a shuttle mission. What was it like for you to receive the word that you had been selected and were going to fly?

That was, it was a thrill! I mean, it's one of those realizations of a dream, you know, when you get the phone call that you've been picked.

Do you remember the circumstance?

Oh, yeah. I was working, I was working that night, 8 o'clock; Charlie Precourt, Mike L.A. [Lopez-Alegria], and Jim Wetherbee were in the office. I saw them walking back and forth, and they saw me. But it wasn't until I got home that I had a phone call from Charlie telling me I was assigned to a mission. So, it was like, well, I was just in there, I just saw you. But it was a thrill, you know, one way or the other, it was a real thrill.

How did you get to become an astronaut anyway, or become a person who had a chance to become an astronaut?

Well that's a real long story. I dreamed about it as a little kid. When I was eight years old, I used to dream I was sitting in a cardboard box and being shot to the Moon back in the '60s. But it was just that, it was a dream, I never thought it was something that I could actually achieve. And until you do certain things in your life and you follow a certain path that eventually comes to reality. So it really wasn't until I was a, probably a test pilot back in 1990 that I realized that the people that were there at one time, back in the '50s, were the people I admired in the '60s as astronauts. And so you see the names like John Young, you know, Jim Lovell, you start seeing folks that had been through the school, and you realize, hey, this is something I could do. And that dream starts to become a reality.

Do you remember what it was, as a kid, that made you want to be an astronaut?

I think the excitement of it. You know, watching what these people were doing, and people stepping on the Moon. I remember exactly where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon: We had rushed back from a company picnic in Colorado to Black Forest, where I lived, and watched it on TV. And I just, I remember that very clearly.

Tell me about your educational and professional background. Tell, fill in the gaps of what it was that you've got done. What have you done since you graduated from high school?

I moved around a lot as a kid. I left high school in 1976, graduated in '76; ended up in Colorado not really knowing what I wanted to study, but I knew I had to go to college. My folks said you will, you know, you have to go to college. And not knowing what to do, I was in Colorado, I figured, well, I'd be outside, wanted to work outside, I didn't want to be at a desk. Started off in school to be a forest ranger, and biology and I did not get along. I learned how to rock climb, I spent most of my time climbing, and I didn't study very hard, and actually, I got suspended my first year in school and was really fortunate that a person I worked with -- I got a job as a rock climber on a survey crew, and the gentleman I worked for actually talked me into going back to school. And so I went back with the idea of now to be an engineer with a bent for mathematics. I've always been good at math, and ended up in '83 graduating with a degree in applied mathematics. But when I was a senior in college, I tutored a guy in calculus who was a retired Navy captain. He talked me into going into the Navy. So there were people in my life that pointed me in this direction that I didn't necessarily start out to go.

In the Navy then, that you … what [did] your Navy career entail?

Well, I started in the fleet as a P-3 pilot. I flew P-3 Orions on the West Coast out of Moffett Field, California. Hunted submarines, hunted Russians for a few years. Stationed in Adak, Alaska, for two deployments, and then the Philippines for another deployment. A real challenging environment to fly in -- I mean, incredible weather, neat mission, a lot of fun, but I always had this hankering to fly jets. I chose to fly P-3s early on, but, I thought, well, you know, I still want to fly jets, and I applied to Test Pilot School twice, and the second time, the second time I applied I was accepted. So I headed off to Pax [Patuxent] River, Maryland, to be a test pilot.

Had you been a pilot before the Navy, or was it the Navy that taught you to fly?

Well, my father was a pilot. My father was an instructor. And, we had a couple of airplanes when I was a kid: We had a little Aeronca Champ, a little tail-dragger, and a Cessna 150. And my father, you know, you know, flying was something that I did as a little kid, just it was, I assumed everyone had a chance to do it. And I didn't realize how fortunate I was. But I used to fly all over Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma. It was fun; it was a lot of fun. So, that's what got me interested in aviation, my parents.

Tell me about, well, I guess it's, you mentioned a couple of different people that probably will qualify as those who have had significant influences in your life.

My parents, you know certainly. Their enthusiasm for what they did -- my dad was a pilot. The fact that they encouraged us to get a college education. You know, my brother, I, and my sister -- well, my brother and I were the first ones in our family to ever go to college and get a degree on either side. And so … our folks really motivated us to do that. Then the folks you meet along your way, the folks I met as an engineer working with engineers; I saw somebody that enjoyed what he did, and therefore it, the enthusiasm came to me. And his encouragement pointed me to that direction. And then, also the Navy captain who was a fighter pilot in World War II; he was the one that said, hey, this is something you can do. And if they hadn't pointed it out I wouldn't, you know, I might not have gone down that path. So, those folks.

You're also going to, as you launch, become the first-ever Native American to fly in space. Tell me about that in your background, and what it means for you to be that historic person.

What, you know it, when I first came here, I didn't realize that would be the case. You know I'm really, I'm incredibly proud and honored to have the opportunity to serve my country in this capacity as an astronaut. So that's, hands down, just a fabulous thing. If my heritage as a Chickasaw Indian and the fact of what I do here will help motivate somebody who might not otherwise think they could achieve their dreams, if that, and that's good, that's a good thing. I, it's an honor really to be in that position. But I love what I do, and it's fun, and if people attach to that, that's great.

Let's talk about the details of the mission. You mentioned already that the primary payload on this mission, after the Expedition Six crewmembers, is a piece of hardware known as the P1 Truss. Introduce me to it: How big is it, where does it go, what does it do?

OK. P -- the P stands for port, which is "left" in Navy terms -- it'll be the first on the left side of the S0 Truss segment that's already there. P1's primary purpose -- I think it's about 45, or about 45 feet long, weighs over 30,000 pounds at launch -- it has three radiators on it that will actually use ammonia to carry the heat that's generated in a space station and, to the vacuum of space. That's the primary purpose on the back of P1. So our job is to attach that. Once we get that attached, then we'll go ahead and set up a series of umbilicals and ammonia lines to actually utilize that piece of hardware.

Is it then just primarily part of a thermal control system?

It's got thermal control system, it has some computers on, we call them multiplexer/demultiplexers, it has some computers on board. It has a big pump assembly for the ammonia. It has a huge, it has ammonia tank and a nitrogen tank to supply those radiators. It also has a rail that continues down the very front of the truss segment that has a, what's called a Crew Equipment Translation Aid; it's like a little railcar. And one of our jobs is to remove all the launch restraints from that railcar, and to be able to use that in performance of tasks up and down the truss. And we'll use that numerous times during our mission to remove pieces of hardware.

Now, as you said, it's going to be the first piece on the port side.


There will be others as well, so I presume that P1 must have all the same equipment that those others do, too.

Well, it has to be there. Obviously, you know, it has to be there before P3/P4 goes on. And then for the solar arrays, it will continue out to the left side of the station. So, it is a very integral part of the assembly process, yes.

The shuttle crew, as a group, has to possess quite a range of talents in order to complete all the jobs that are in front of them. Tell me what are your top jobs on this mission?

On ascent my job is what's [called ] mission specialist 2 or we consider it a flight engineer. I sit between the pilot and the commander and have the opportunity to assist them in the performance of their task going uphill, and to make sure we follow the normal timeline on ascent. And if malfunctions occur then my job is also to back them up, at the same time keep the big picture and say, you know, let's get back in and work the normal procedures. So that's going uphill. The same thing coming downhill: I'll be on the flight deck coming downhill as MS2. And actually I'll be the, it'll be, Mike LA will be on the middeck, he's MS1, he'll be on the middeck coming downhill. So pretty much it's, as MS I'm the only one upstairs next to the Pilot and Commander, so that's going to be a lot of fun. During the mission my primary job will be as EV2, or Extravehicular 2. I'll do a spacewalk with Mike LA, and have the opportunity to do three spacewalks. And then, assorted tasks, I'll work rendezvous as a navigator.

Let's, if we can do it chronologically, if we start with rendezvous; the first big task after launch would be to bring the shuttle together with the station. Describe what, in this case, a navigator does, and tell us about how your, well, the steps that you as a team go through to bring these two ships together.

OK. During the rendezvous there's a series of burns that we'll have to accomplish, or engine firings, jet firings, to be able to get the shuttle in to a point where it can actually dock with station. My job, we have computers on board the station laptops, we're all set up and it has certain information that the Pilot and Commander will use during the docking, during the approach sequence. So my job is to [be] sure that that's working properly, that I feed the proper information to Jim Wetherbee … and, that also to take in data-we have a handheld laser that we use to determine how far the station is from us, what our closure rate is; Mike LA will be operating that but I've got to make sure that data is picked up by the computer. So it's really just to know where we're at and to follow the gates that we're going to, the different sequences in the rendezvous that Jim understands it, if he has questions about the information I'll be able to give him answers right away, and if it fails be able to fix it and get it together so we don't miss a beat during that process.

Is it easier to navigate for a Commander who's already been there and knows the way?

I'll tell you, flying with Jim is fabulous because he is so well qualified to do what he does. He's been there before, he's very comfortable at it; he works really hard to make sure it's done properly. And it's fun, it's…the enthusiasm is evident, yeah.

And as you mentioned a few minutes ago, your big job on this mission is to conduct the three spacewalks. What has it been like to prepare for that, a job where you are your own little spacecraft, in essence, outside during the spacewalks? How do you prepare for that here on Earth?

We have a large pool here in Houston called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, and in that we simulate weightlessness. And you do that by, you know, the suit weighs about 300 pounds, so once you get in the water you have weights and, we'll start from like the divers will actually make you neutrally buoyant. So, the suit and you are neutrally buoyant; you float. You still weigh something so you press down in the suit and you have to deal with that, plus you have to work against the water. And, but it is the most realistic way we can simulate what we're going to do in space by actually being able to translate and move around the structure and do the tasks. You know, tools in space don't weigh anything; tools in the pool, you know, it can be 10 pounds, 15 pounds -- they're heavy. And so you have to compensate, and the divers help you compensate for that added weight. So but, you know, it's what we have to do, and that's what we live with.

As we said, there are going to be three spacewalks on this mission for you and Mike Lopez-Alegria. The first one comes a day after you've docked and after two robot arms have attached P1 to the S0 truss. Talk me through the events of that first spacewalk, and tell me what you're going to be doing when you get outside.

OK. Flight Day 4 is the day that we actually do the first EVA. Mike is EV1, I'm EV2; he's the first one out the hatch so he's facing starboard; I'm facing port. I'm looking back at what we call the IV hatch. Mike will open the outer hatch, he'll climb out and get his safety tether configured, and then I have a group of, some equipment that I have to pass out to him. So we've practiced this the sequence and how we'll do that, because it always has to be tethered -- you know, you don't want to pass something out that's untethered and off it goes; that's bad. So we practice the sequence of how we take things out. And once that's complete, I will come out. I'll be the second one out, and then I'll gather up my equipment. Mike will have already headed off to do his tasks, so I follow. My translation and Mike's takes us from the Airlock past, you know, the Airlock up through S0 Truss, down the face of the truss to another point where our tether actually runs out. We have to actually swap to another safety tether, so that's a process, you go through that. You get on your second tether, and then Mike's job is to head off to work on the lower portion of the truss; my job's to go directly to what's called the CETA cart, that Crew Equipment Translation Aid, and set up my worksite. I'll be working for about three hours on the CETA cart removing all the launch locks, a bunch of bolts I have to take off; I have to configure the brakes so I get to, you know, work in this one little spot. It's going to be a lot of fun because I take off about twelve different things off of this cart, and I connect them to this we call them fishstringers -- they're hooks with a series of actually seven hooks along 'em. As I take something off, I have to be tethered to it, and I'll tether it to the fishstringer and I'll go back and get the next one. So, at the end of this three hours, I'll have these 12 things hanging on these two, not hanging, but floating on these two fishstringers. And then, I liken it to the task of herding cats: I have to put these twelve things back into this bag that don't want to go in the bag, and so I have to learn how to do them. In the pool a lot of stuff, stuff's heavy, so it sinks to the bottom, so I have to lift it up; in space it's not going to sink, you know, it's going to be right there. So I have to put it in this bag and close the bag up. All the while, Mike is working on two other different steps on his portion of the truss. Three or four hours into the EVA, Mike and I come back together and we start removing some structures, actually launch structures, off the front of the truss. They, we call them drag links. They're long aluminum bars that we have to take off and then stow 'em on the bottom of P1, so we'll do that together. And it depends on how we choreograph, or where I'm at-you know, some things in my task may take longer than we anticipate, some things may take longer for him-so we have to, you know, real time figure out, well, let's go do the drag links and whatnot. Once that's complete I go back to the CETA cart; I will grab the large bag where I put all these launch restraints in, I'll tether that, then I head back towards the Airlock. Mike will grab a -- it's called a camera stanchion -- a large stanchion that's mounted on the front of the truss, and he'll take that off. He'll carry that back to the Airlock. Once I get back to the Airlock there's a -- it's called a Wireless Video System antenna that I actually will install on this stanchion that Mike has. And the wireless video allows us to work on the outside of the station and the cameras that we have mounted on our helmets that wireless video will go back to either the station or the shuttle, and it can be downlinked to the ground so people can see, and you, you've seen other flights, we see the folks working, and, you're right there doing the task with us. So that's great. I'll install the antenna, Mike will carry the stanchion and the antenna to the aft portion of the station, to the, under the Node, and I'll assist him in actually docking that camera stanchion to the Node. He'll bolt that down, make all the connections; I'll go off and do something else. I have another task to grab an, we call it [an] ingress aid, off of a, one of our foot restraints. I'll take that back to the Airlock and then at this time, it'll be roughly about five-and-a-half, six hours in the, into the EVA I will gather up all that I've brought back from P1 and start to put it into the Airlock and stow it. And then once Mike comes back, we'll do an inventory on all our tools, make sure we didn't leave anything somewhere -- we won't -- and then stow it inside. I'll go into the Airlock first. Mike will come in second, close the thermal cover, close the hatch, and off we go. We're done.

On this spacewalk, is there any sort of time limit involved with making the connections between the new truss segment and the existing truss segment?

There are some time limits associated with when we connect, when Mike actually connects some electrical lines, and that has to be coordinated with ground so there's a timeframe in there where we can't do certain things until the ground has configured some electrical systems … total thermal limit from when it come out of the payload bay to when we have to get it connected, I think it varies -- I've heard somewhere up to 10 hours; I'm not really sure on what the exact thermal limits are, based on, on what the attitude of the vehicle is …you know, where the Sun's shining on it, things like that. So it could vary just based on the attitude.

It sounds though like it's a time limit that is beyond the amount of time it takes for you two to complete the tasks.

I think the, I believe that's true but I'm not real sure on that. I think it's something they're still working on in terms of, you know, when we get these umbilicals connected and such, and the heaters installed.

The day after the first spacewalk comes another major task of the mission, that is the exchange of the two crews. Describe for us what it is that's required to happen in order for Expedition Six to move on to the station and Expedition Five to move off.

Well, hopefully, Expedition Five they've packed all the stuff they want to bring home and they've organized all that and they've arranged it such that we can start the transfer process of getting their hardware, the things they brought up with them back onto the shuttle and making sure that we get Expedition Six soft goods and experiments onto the station. So we have the time, it's all timelined out as to what gets transferred when, some of the experiments have a time frame that we can, you have to take 'em out and have 'em powered by so we're time-limited on that. It's just a real intricate choreography of all the gear we have to replace -- seat liners for the Soyuz, they have to be replaced, other, they can't change over the crews until the seat liners have been removed and the new crewmembers' seat liners in place. At that point in time, then, they'll have a handover and, this is when they'll, Expedition Six, will be in command of the station.

The day after that comes the second spacewalk of the mission. Take us outside with you, again, and tell us what you and Mike have on tap for EVA number two.

OK. EVA 2 begins pretty much the same way EVA 1 began. Mike is the first one out of the airlock, I'm second. I have to pass out a bunch of equipment that we'll install during that … EVA. I'm second, I get out, I gather up my stuff; Mike has already headed out down to P1. I follow him making sure our tethers don't get, we keep our tethers in the proper spot. Once again, we have to swap over to another tether; what's different on this one is that now we have the CETA cart has been released and we can move it back and forth. We will install onto the rail truss segment a little thing called a tether shuttle, and what that allows us to do is it clamps over the rail and I can hook my safety tether to that now, and that can follow me down the rail. So it allows us to go even farther down the truss segment. On the EVA 2, now that the CETA cart moves back and forth we're going to utilize it to help remove some of the launch structure that was on P1 for launch. We actually, I have to help Mike remove what we call keel pins, they're large keel pins that actually mount to the bottom of the payload bay for the truss. Now we have to take them off because they're in our way. We have to move those so the CETA cart can move down the rail as well as the MBS, or the robotic arm mobile base structure, can move down and actually help in later installation. So Mike and I, we choreographed this, I will do certain things, he will actually grab hold of the keel pin, I'll climb into the CETA cart, and I'll move it down the rail by hand. So I get, it's not electrical or anything, it's just a, I liken it to a railcar going down. So I'll move it down. Mike will install the keel pins. We'll do both of those; we'll also install another wireless video antenna on P1 at the very far left side of P1, so we can capture video in that area. So we'll choreograph that again, another big camera stanchion, and I install the antenna onto that, or, yeah, Mike will pass it to me and I'll install the camera on that … and the antenna. And then, we will put that on P1. After we've done that we head back down and we move the CETA cart again, but the neat thing is I get to move the CETA cart using the robotic arm from the left side of the station all the way over to the right side of the station. So, my job will be to climb onto the space station robotic arm, grab hold of the CETA cart, and make sure I'm tethered to it, and then Mike will release two little, we call them wheel bogies that release it off of the rail. I pick this CETA cart up, and then the robotic operations are, will be to pull me back off the front of P1 and actually maneuver me all the way around back over to the right side of the station where I install the CETA cart on the rail. That allows the robotic arm on the mobile base, the MBS, to go all the way down to the end of P1, so it just kind of gets it out of the way. But, it's going to be a great ride: I'm going to get to hang out and watch the world go by.

Whether it's in that maneuver or anything else, have you gotten any advice from previous spacewalkers about getting, taking time to see what it looks like?

People say that you're working so hard and you're so busy that you really have to consciously make an effort to stop and really smell the roses, you know, to look around and see what it's like. I asked Jim Reilly once, you know, when did he realize what he was doing, and he said it's when he looked down between his feet and he saw the Earth going by. So, I mean, to me it's going to be just a dream come true to be in that environment doing a really neat job and having the chance to be in that position.

You've got a third opportunity coming up a couple of days after the second; what is in store for the third spacewalk of this mission?

OK. The third spacewalk is the one that's changed a lot in our planning process. Now we have to go pretty much around a large portion of the station and install what are called spool positioning devices. They're small little devices we will put on some of the ammonia lines that run throughout the station. And, what this positioning device does, it allows us to put it on to a fluid connector and manipulate the fluid connector such that there's a possibility that pressure could build up in these fluid lines and we don't want them to, so we have to install these devices to make sure the fluid connector stays in a position where we could take it off at one time if we have to. If the pressure builds up on these connectors, there's a possibility that sometime later on, you know, say, two, three years from now, if we have to take it off, we might not be able to. So, the engineers have decided that we needed to put these devices on these connectors to prevent that from occurring so we can continue the assembly sequence. So we, Mike and I, pretty much run around on the third EVA and install a lot of these devices on fluid jumpers. So that takes up a good portion of that EVA.

And, does that cover, is that just in the truss area, or is that elsewhere?

There's some place down on Z1 that that'll be done on the Z1; to the Laboratory, that has to be done. We will do it on EVA 2; we actually install a couple on those, on some ammonia lines that we also install big one-and-a-half-inch ammonia lines, so we will have already have installed some of those on EVA 2 … I have some on, Mike will install some on EVA 2 as well, in a different portion, but I have to go down the top portion, the zenith portion of P1, and install about eighteen of these. So it's going to require some robotic operations, I'll be in the arm for probably a good portion of the EVA. And then I'll get off and I'll free float and I'll install more of these devices on some more connectors.

And, you, I'm sorry, you said that's the entire EVA, or, just most of it?

A good portion of it. I have some tasks where I have to install, connect, actually, ammonia tank and a nitrogen tank together so that the nitrogen can pressurize the ammonia, which will actually be used to go through the radiators. So that has to be done or the radiators won't be able to do their job.

You made reference to this earlier, that there is other work on this mission besides the spacewalks. There's a transfer of the supplies and delivery of some experiments and experiment hardware. Talk about some of the things that you and your crewmates are bringing to the space station for the use of the Expedition Six-and beyond-crews.

You know, we have … I think it's a tissue sample, or a crystal, protein crystal growth experiment that we transfer over. It's one of the experiments, there's a time frame which you have to take it out of the shuttle powered, unpower it and get it back in to the station prior to, you know, destroying the experiment that's in that. And, the idea is when you, you've heard this before, growing proteins, or growing crystals, in a microgravity environment, they grow more pristine, the structure's much easier for people to analyze, so you can optimize how a drug will best interact with that. So that's one that Expedition Six will fly.

After you depart the station, on your way home you've got another drop-off to make: an experiment package that's known as MEPSI. Tell me about what is a MEMS-based Pico Satellite Inspector -- what do you do with it, and, what does it do once you send it on its way?

A MEMS-based Pico Satellite Inspector … MEMS is a microelectromechanical system, MEMS. What it does, there's a well, the package is about a 15-pound package that gets ejected from the starboard side of the payload bay after we undock. It comes out at about a foot per second…let's say about 10 feet per second, I'm sorry … and it has a tether between two small transmitters. And this tether will extend about a hundred feet, and the concept is that these transmitters will transmit back to a ground station in California, and they'll pick up data. The idea about this technology is they want to use that at some point in the future where possibly they'll have a camera on it, have some type of sensors where they can actually deploy this off of a satellite and it can actually inspect the outside of the satellite using cameras or, you know, broadcast this information back down to the ground. Pico satellite means it's just that: It's a very, very small satellite. The idea of having the two, having the tether, you know, I'm not sure what frequency it operates at but it must be about a watt, I think a watt of power in the transmitter. So at some point in time they'll have the capability of actually, you know, doing inspections of satellites or hardware in space without, you know, people being there.

By the time you and your crewmates get back to Earth with Valery, Peggy and Sergei, it'll be shortly after the second anniversary of the arrival of the first Expedition crew onboard ISS. Tell me: In your opinion, after two years of operation, what's been the best thing that's come out of the International Space Station Program?

For me, personally, having the chance with a lot of international partners. I have some fabulous friends here that I work with that are you know, from France or from Germany or Spain, that it gives us a chance to really work on an international, on the international stage and the cooperation's been fantastic. I've had a chance to go to Russia and train with the cosmonauts; I've gone, some Expedition training in Canada and in Wyoming with cosmonauts. I had a fabulous time -- I mean, they're just like us, they love what they do, they do it very well, and they're very enthused about it. So for me, personally, and I'd say for the group as a whole, it's that being able to work and cooperate on an international level.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 12/10/2002
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