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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Mission Specialist Michael Lopez-Alegria
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Michael Lopez-Alegria's greeting (366 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Michael Lopez-Alegria

The STS-113 Crew Interview with Michael Lopez-Alegria, mission specialist.

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

A: Well, interestingly, the main goal of the assembly mission is to bring a crew up there, so it's not really assembly. But our number one priority is to rotate the crew, so we're bringing up Expedition Six and we're bringing home Expedition Five, who will have been up there for probably pushing six months by the time we get there. The second most important thing, which was the most important thing before we added the crew rotation, was, of course, delivery of the P1 truss. And we'll install that with the combination of both the shuttle and station robotic arms, and then we'll do three EVAs to effect all the connections and configure it for the next mission. And then we undock -- of course, that's preceded and succeeded by a rendezvous and an undock on each end.

Now, you've flown on two earlier shuttle missions; the most recent was another trip to the ISS, with you doing spacewalks, as you're doing on this mission. Has that experience helped you train for this flight?

Yeah. I mean, they say that there's no teacher like experience, and so just having been there is a great help. We can simulate a lot of things very well on the ground -- the simulators that we use for ascent and entry, in particular, have been refined over many, many years; we do a good number of simulations in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab where we practice for the spacewalks underwater wearing the same spacesuit, on mock-ups that look just like and feel like the flight hardware. But there are a lot of things that we can't simulate very well -- i.e., zero gravity, obviously -- and so having been there just helps a lot. The EVA part of it is that, you know, on my last mission I was teamed up with an experienced EVA partner, so I was the apprentice, and I did a couple of EVAs and learned a lot, and now I'm sort of the journeyman and John is the apprentice, and that's sort of the way we have this scripted out to pass this knowledge on. And it helps a lot.

You've been at NASA for 10 years now; why did you want to be an astronaut in the first place?

Well, I … first wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. My mother used to work for NASA, and she used to bring home NASA Facts, which is a publication back then about satellites and the first manned spaceflights, and I really, you know, I sort of, like everybody, went through a lot of phases, and wanted to be a fireman and wanted to be some other things, and I really didn't want to be an astronaut again until much later in life, when I was about 25. I was reading an article in a magazine, Naval Aviation News, that talked about United States Test Pilot School, and it talked about the graduates, some of the graduates that had gone on to become astronauts. And I thought, you know, I had an interest in Test Pilot School already, and I thought, you know, I really think maybe I could do that. And so, here I am.

Well, let's talk about how you did that, because there are different paths that astronauts take to get here. What was yours?

My path here was fairly typical for a military astronaut, particularly a pilot. I was interested in math and science when I was in high school. I went to the Naval Academy. I went to flight school after the Naval Academy, and after my first fleet tour I applied to and was accepted to the Naval Test Pilot School. And part of that package for me was getting a graduate degree in aerospace engineering. So it's pretty typical of a lot of the military astronauts. As I said before, most of that occurred before I wanted to be an astronaut, though, and so I kind of looked at it as the next challenge, you know, the next higher, highest rung on the ladder. And it was kind of a logical choice for me.

When you look back and you identify the people who were, or maybe still are, the ones who were most influential in you succeeding in all those steps?

Well, I don't know that I've ever, you know, thought about people as being as my heroes, although I respected a lot of people in a lot of different professions, but I'd have to say my mother and my father were the most influential people in my life. Probably everybody would say that. They were influential in a lot of similar and a lot of different ways. The similarity is that both of them were immigrants to this country -- my mother was actually born here but her family immigrated from Italy; my father himself was an immigrant. In fact, I guess I was an immigrant since I was born in Spain, but they didn't, neither of them had very much education. My mother had a high school education, my father had gone to the Spanish version of West Point but that, of course, when he came to this country, not speaking any English, was not really recognized as much of an education. So he kind of had to start over. And so they were sort of simple but very hardworking people. And the differences are that my father was always kind of a dreamer, and my mother was very pragmatic, and I think you need a little bit of both to be an astronaut.

I mentioned a moment ago that you'd been here at JSC, or around JSC for a good ten years, and in that time you've trained with astronauts from other countries that are partners in the International Space Station, and you spent time in Russia as NASA's Director of Operations in Star City. From your point of view, seeing what you've seen, how do you think the partner nations have been doing in achieving the goal of learning how to work together?

Well, I'm glad you asked that about working together, because I think that is really one of the great windfalls that we've had in the ISS program. You know, the reason we're there is to conduct first-class science, but one of the by-products is that we sort of have to work together. And it's tough, you know; there are, the cultural differences are big, particularly between the United States and Russia, not to mention Japan. The ways of attacking problems are not the same in a lot of ways. You've got different measurement systems, different alphabets, really a lot of challenges. And I don't think we're there yet. I don't think it's perfect, but it's, it has really come a long way, and I think that's going to be one of the real legacies of the program, because if we want to do any kind of future space exploration, sort of out of low Earth orbit, we probably cannot afford to do it as a single country. Nobody can. And if we're going to do it jointly, we are really, you know, taking the first baby steps toward that level of cooperation.

Let's talk about the details of this mission heading toward that goal. Your primary payload, after the Expedition Six crewmembers, is a piece of hardware that's known as the P1 truss. Introduce us to it: how big is it, what does it do, where does it go?

OK. The space station right now is kind of like a long sausage, and the links of the sausages are the, sort of, the different modules, starting from the Service Module to the FGB to the Node and the Lab. And the sausage can't fly in any orientation because there's no wind up there to speak of. However, we talk about forward and aft based on a certain coordinate system and the longitudinal, the axis, the longitudinal axis of the sausage is basically pointed forward. And the forward-most sausage link right now is the U.S. Lab, Destiny. On top of Destiny there's going to be a long truss that doesn't go forward and backwards, but left and right. And it's going to be longer than a football field when it's done, it's going to have eleven pieces on it. The middle piece is already up there, it's called the S0 truss. And then they start, to the right -- S for starboard -- S1 through S6, and on the left P1 through P6. So, P1 is the first piece on the left side. And basically, these, each of these pieces is about 45 feet long, and P1 weighs over 30,000 pounds. Its function, other than just being a piece of structure, is to hold, particularly in P1's case, is to hold a beam which has three deployable radiators. And a radiator looks kind of like an accordion that will unfold, and it'll be, once it's all the way stretched out it has little tubes of ammonia running through it, and the ammonia is used to collect heat from the various avionics equipment on the shuttle -- I'm sorry, on the station -- and reject that heat into space by basically, it works just like a car, just like a car radiator. So that's the biggest thing on there; there are also, there's a UHF antenna. Interestingly, there, the front face of the truss, if you look at the truss from the side, the P1, it has, it's sort of like a hexagon with the back half cut off, so there's a front face and then two diagonal faces and a large back face, which is where the radiator beam is on. On the front face is really a, like a railroad track that has, will have on it, on our mission, a CETA cart-CETA is c-e-t-a, it stands for crew equipment and translation aid -- and it's basically like an old-fashioned cart that you drag, only instead of pumping a mechanism we actually pull ourselves along. It has a couple of parking brakes that you could set so it won't go anywhere. There's one just like it on the S1 side, and in the middle is the MT, the Mobile Transporter, on top of which stands a base that holds the robot arm. And the idea is that you could translate this thing from one end to the other first of all for attaching the truss segments as they come up, and then to do maintenance work.

And since there will be additional segments further outboard of this, which will have solar arrays on it, I assume that the P1 also has all the plumbing that it needs to help run what's coming later.

Right. It's like an extension cord, both electrically and for the fluids, to take the cooling fluid out to the ends to cool the photovoltaic arrays, which are going to be on the very ends of the truss. And then, of course, to pick up the heat that's in the sausage part of the station and send it to the radiators to reject it, and then the electricity, which starts out at the end of the truss, has to go through it to get to the station.

You mentioned a few minutes ago that you'll be conducting a spacewalk on this mission. It's not the only thing you'll be doing. What are your other top jobs on STS-113?

The EVA, extravehicular activity, is definitely the most important thing on my plate. Sort of in priority order behind that I would say right after orbit and right before entry we sort of reconfigure the space shuttle from being a rocket to a base of operations, if you will, which includes a house. We call that post-insertion activities. And, right before we land we turn it from that house or workplace back into an airplane, a glider, to land; we call that deorbit prep. And so I'm kind of running that show down on the middeck where we have to, you know, take away the beds and the -- well, they're sleeping bags really -- close up the bathroom, close the airlock, put away all of the stuff that we've had on orbit. It's kind of like taking your house apart or moving all your furniture out, only the furniture doesn't actually come out, it actually has to get put away in places where it can't be seen. So that's pretty important. I'm also going to be involved with setting up photo-television equipment, we have a number of recording devices, both still and video; setting up the computers that we use, we call them the portable onboard computers, that we use for a variety of tasks. You know, the shuttle computers have less memory than a lot of, sort of "pocket" devices these days, so we end up using portable laptops to supplement that memory brain power, to do all kinds of, of different tasks. And we have, actually have an RF network, so a wireless network, on board: we receive messages from the ground, we can print them out, we can send e-mail home. So setting up that network and all that is something that I'll be doing on the second day of the flight. And we also will be transferring some equipment, some payloads, experiments, on the station as well as the crew, so all of their equipment that goes over, and I'm what we call the transfer czar for that activity.

But, do as you said, your primary job is as a spacewalker, and I'd like to talk about a couple of different aspects of that. We mentioned that you've done a spacewalk on the International Space Station before-you've done more than one -- but the station looked very much different then than it does today. Do you feel like you have any advantage from having some familiarity with the playing field, if you will?

I think the advantage yeah, I mean, yes, a little. There, the advantage is that, just having been there, there's a certain comfort factor, a certain level of, I know what to expect; the view isn't going to surprise me as much this time as it did last time. But the area that we're going to be working in, obviously, wasn't there on my last mission, so that's going to be all new so I have a lot to learn. But I don't have as much to learn as John does.

You said that you don't think the view will surprise you as much this time. Did it surprise you the first time?

You know, I was less surprised about what it felt like to go outside than I thought I would be, and I attribute that to the training that we get, and the transfer of information back and forth of the people who have done spacewalks. That said, the view is pretty mind-boggling when you go outside. The view from anywhere in space, even through a tiny little knothole, is probably pretty great, but when you're looking out, when you're outside and you can't really sense that there's anything between you and the exterior because the visor is right up next to your eyes and it's transparent, obviously, and you have the peripheral vision, the sense of the enormity of the Earth is very overwhelming. And in a positive way. There are people who have described tumbling sensations and falling sensations; I didn't feel any of that, but there was no doubt that you're in a very, very special place when you see that view.

Now, despite your experience spacewalking on this station, there will be new things for you this time, perhaps most notably the new airlock, Quest, that you didn't get to use, wasn't there, your last time. Are you eager to try that out?

I'm eager to get into all the station that wasn't there when I was there. In fact, the Service Module was there but the door was locked so we, there were no people on board, so that whole experience is going to be different. When we went up there it was kind of like going to a vacation home that had been boarded up for a while; we went inside, we had to turn all the lights on, you know, it had that smell, that not inhabited smell, and when we left we closed the door and turned off the lights, and it was a little different. This time there are going to be people on board, it's much bigger, volumetrically, than it was so I'm very interested in going into the Lab and, of course, going out of the Joint Airlock, which is a much different even though the very crew lock structure is, I believe, almost identical to that in the shuttle the equipment lock, which is a bigger diameter, is very different. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to all that.

Let's talk about the first of the spacewalks on this mission, scheduled for Flight Day 4, the day after you rendezvoused and docked. And, two robot arms, operated by two different people, are to lift P1 out of the payload bay and put it up next to the port side of S0. And that's about the time that they cue you and John Herrington to leave the airlock. Take us through the next six hours or so.

The, as I said before, this is a team sport, and so not only does the shuttle players are on the team, but we have station players, too, so we have ten people on the team. And the activities start early with the unberthing, using the robot arm of the shuttle. And then, we actually hand it to the robot arm of the space station. And because of the intricacies of EVA 1 we have certain "hold" points, that we have to wait until the robotic arm operations have progressed to a certain point before we continue because we don't want to get out the door too early because we have limited consumables in the suit, we don't want to get out too late, because we have a thermal clock that we're running up against. So, it's very, you know, tightly choreographed. Assuming all the robotic operations go well, we will go out when the third of the four mating bolts is attached, the assumption being that by the time we get out there the fourth one will be done. And the very first thing we're going to split off right at that point. John is going to concentrate and spend most of the EVA basically taking the CETA cart, which is going to be all folded up and tied up, sort of, with a lot of wrapping paper and putting it in a usable configuration. During that time I'm going to go and work the first of two sets of power and data umbilicals that will connect the two trusses together, the S0 and the P1 truss. That involves basically taking the cables, which are stowed on the P1, on the S0 side and taking them off their stowage location and attaching them one by one, and there are seven or eight, depending on which tray you're talking about. In between those, basically in order for me to do that they have to take half the power, power down half the station. So here's another factor where now we've got the ground involved -- they're always involved but they're even more involved now -- so as soon as they power down the first set I'll be going to work on the one tray, the nadir side. As soon as that's complete they have to re-power that and then take down the zenith side; in the meantime I'm going to take some what we call spool positioning devices ... without getting too technical, these are manual brackets that will go into place on fluid quick disconnect lines to hold the valve in a certain position. There are depending on the size of the line -- they go from 1/2-inch, 3/4, 1-inch, and 1-1/2 inch; they're all over the station -- basically anywhere there's a fluid connection outside, there are one of these QD, quick disconnects. And, some of them need the spool positioning devices installed. So, I'll be doing some of that; John is still working on the CETA cart. Back to the zenith tray, as soon as they get the nadir tray powered back up and the zenith tray powered down, we'll mate that. And then we will be working together to take the first of two WETA -- WETA stands for WVS, which is a Wireless Video System, which is a system that allows people inside the shuttle and on the ground to see what we're seeing from helmet-mounted cameras-there are, right now all the antennas, that stuff is, as it sounds, wireless, so it's transmitted via radio frequency to the shuttle antennas and sent to the ground. We want to be able to have that capability when the shuttle's not there, so we're putting antennas on the station as well. It's a pretty big blivet -- it's much bigger than a breadbox, it's going to be in the airlock with us; we take it outside, and at this point in the EVA, John and I will work to attach that to a stanchion, which launches on one of the keels of the P1, and we're going to work to install it on the Node so there will be coverage in that area. And that, after that we will be complete with the EVA and we come inside and get ready for the next one.

You mentioned that you didn't want to get out too late because there [were] thermal concerns. Is that, there's a time limit for you to make those connections?

There is a time limit …based on the fact that, you know, space is cold or space is hot, depending on where you are in space, and I don't know all the details about, well, what the exact length of the thermal clock is, but I know that we're up against a constraint. Further, we're up against a crew day constraint, because we start pretty early in the morning and even if things go exactly on time, even if we get to, get started on work as soon as we can, it's still going to be a very long day. So, another reason we don't want to get out late is because we don't want to have to terminate the EVA early because we've run out of, basically out of daylight, even though that's just a figure of speech.

So is it correct then to think of this as your activity, where you talked about, in the trays, the nadir tray and the zenith trays, are you essentially plugging in P1 to the rest of the station?

That's exactly right. We're just taking, as I said, power and data and making the connection, because it's like a big extension cord -- only it's not one extension cord, it's, you know, seven or eight times two.

Another major task on this mission is to come up the following day, and that's the change out of the station crews. You're the transfer czar; what is it that is required to exchange the new space station crew for the old space station crew?

I guess the official crew swap occurs when we transfer over their IELK, which is a kit that includes their seat liner, which is what is put inside the space capsule, the Soyuz rescue capsule, so, on the station at all times, there is a Russian-built Soyuz capsule that is docked, and it is their lifeboat. So, if something goes wrong -- they get a big hole in the station, somebody has a medical emergency, you name the scenario -- they have to get out of Dodge, they put on a certain type of a entry suit and they climb into the Sokol into the Soyuz and they come home. The Soyuz has, sort of, couches in it, and each couch has a liner that is molded to each person's body. It's because you land on, the landing is a fairly sporty event, and it's, you want it to be, you know, you want to support your body uniformly. So, I couldn't fly home in Peggy Whitson's seat liner. So, the swap of that is really what determines which vehicle a particular crewmember belongs on, and that happens on Flight Day 5. The other things in that kit are the suit that I mentioned, plus there are survival suits in case they land somewhere and they don't get picked up for a few days and it's cold outside, or if they land in the water, so there are a bunch of different packages that are inside that kit. But once that transfer of the kit is complete, then the crew is officially swapped. Now realistically speaking, that isn't really complete until they've had some time to hand over: to talk about, you know, when you go to buy a house and somebody shows you around the house, and say, OK, this particular faucet you have to turn the knob from the wrong way than you would expect, that kind of thing. And that takes a couple of days as well.

So that's an opportunity for Ken and Nikolai and Don to get familiar with the place before they sign the lease?

Exactly right. And they want to make sure that they don't have to call down to the ground in a few days asking a question that, you know, they should have gotten during the turn, the handover because there are things that have to be done every day and, you know, it's just little quirks of living in space that they need to know about.

The day after that transfer is scheduled is the day that you and John are supposed to go back out for the second spacewalk of the mission. If you'd be so kind to take us outside with you again, and let's talk about what's going to happen.

There are no robotic activities during that leading up to that, so we basically will go out based on a clock time. And the first thing that we're going to do is connect the two trusses together, not electrically but this time hydraulically, I guess, is the word I would use; to connect the two sets of fluid lines. So, there are long, probably about 5-foot-long, fairly large diameter, somewhat flexible hoses with quick disconnects, like I described, on each end that allow the fluid to go across the border between the two trusses. This is going to be a challenging task because these things are very large and they're somewhat unruly, and they're pressurized and they want to stay in a certain orientation and we're going to have to bend them around a little bit. So, if we were electricians in the first EVA, we're like plumbers on the second EVA. We get them, they're going to be, they're actually up there right now, stowed outside on S0, and we have a certain choreography that we'll do to hand them to each other so we don't actually have to walk or translate with them, and we'll put one on each end, and get leak-checked with the ground helping us out, install the spool positioning device, and then we'll do the same thing on the second one. The next task is to relocate the two keel pins, which are basically upside-down "A"s with a little point on the end of it, and that point goes into the shuttle's cargo bay for launch. So that's what holds the whole truss in the cargo bay. The problem with that is that they're in the way of this little train track that runs down the front face, so we need to remove that. I didn't mention that on EVA 1 we'll have removed the drag links, which is sort of the third member of the tripod there, and stowed them. We do that using a Pistol Grip Tool, which is a very fancy cordless screwdriver; it looks like a gun. And we use that to tighten or loosen bolts. So we'll loosen two bolts on the drag links and put that in a stowage location, then we'll do basically the same thing with the keel itself. The interesting thing is that on the last, it's attached in two places to the truss; we'll remove one bolt and reinsert it for stowage, then John will enter a translation foot restraint, of which there are two on the CETA cart -- one of them pointing, so your heads are pointing in each direction -- John will get in the starboard one, I'll get in the port one, and we'll remove this keel and with me holding the keel and my feet restrained to this TFR, John will push the CETA cart, manually with his hands, to the stowage location. So instead of using the robot arm to do this translating we're trying to use the cart. We turn the keel around and put it inside the truss, where it won't interfere with the translation of the CETA or the Mobile Transporter. And basically we then repeat the same process with the second keel. But, between those two, we'll take the second WETA which is again the Wireless Video System antenna assembly, outside, attach it to its stanchion which mounts on the keel, flies up on the keel, take the whole assembly off the keel and then put it on the very outboard edge of P1 so that there will be coverage for the Wireless Video System out there. And the last task on EVA 2 is an interesting one. When we leave, the next element needs to be installed, of course, on the left, port end of P1 -- which is not P2, it's actually P3 -- but the way it's done is using the robot arm but the robot arm needs to translate aboard that MT along the train track to get to that end. And the cart is between the train track, between the MT and the end of the train track, so we actually will remove the cart, take it off, and put it on the other side of the MT. And the way we do that is that John will be in a foot restraint attached to the SSRMS, the space station robotic arm, I'll release the two, two of the four wheels clamps that hold it, the train to the track, and he will just pick it up. I think Ken Bowersox will be operating the arm at that point, he'll back him away and then maneuver him in a big arc-he's going to have a great view -- to the exact opposite side; same thing but opposite side, of the other CETA cart. And I will translate over manually, and I'll reattach the two wheels, and we'll just leave it there and couple it. So that this whole, now we're going to have the MT, the CETA cart 1, which flew up on S1, CETA cart 2, which flew up on P1, all together, and then they'll move that whole contraption down to install the P3 on mission 12A.

Another busy day, but there's one more to come. A couple of days later your third spacewalk is on the books. What are the jobs here?

That spacewalk is almost totally dedicated to installation of the spool positioning devices, the SPD. I'm going to be putting some on part of the station that isn't the P1 so I'll get to go back to my old stomping grounds, the Z1 Truss, put some there, put some on the jumpers between the Z1 Truss and the Lab, and then a couple of more on a Lab heat exchanger, which is going to require me removing a panel to get access to a couple of QDs that are in there. In the meantime John is going to be doing the same thing on some quick disconnects that are on the truss itself. He's going to be doing part of that task based on the SSRMS, the arm with his feet restrained there, and part of them, part of it what we call free floating, basically just holding on. The other thing we're going to do on that EVA is go up inside the S0 truss and do a little bit more electrical work disconnecting some electrical connectors and basically doing a reconfiguration, which will allow power then to flow all the way down to the outboard truss segments once they're installed.

As we mentioned a few minutes ago there's work other than the spacewalks scheduled during the docked time of this mission; that includes the transfer of, back and forth, of supplies and delivery of new experiments and new hardware for use in the station in the future. Tell me about some of the things that you and your crewmates are going to be delivering to ISS.

Most of the things are hardware and a lot of clothing that are used by the Expedition crew, so a lot of their Flight Data File -- or actually it's called basically, their procedures, it's a set of, it's like a small set of encyclopedias -- we'll be sending that over. We, of course, have their clothing. We're also transferring some powered payloads, so there are, they're science experiments going on, on the station, and we are bringing one of those up and trading it for one like it that's already on the station and then we're bringing two more that are on station home. All of these are either crystal growth experiments or CGBA, commercial generic bioprocessing assembly, I believe; and we're also bringing some supplies for other experiments like ZCG, which is zeolite crystal growth. So, it's personal and experiment equipment, mostly, that we're bringing up.

And it sounds like it's a fairly good example of how the rack system that's in use inside the station, in the Lab, it has these components that can be changed out, and, you're facilitating that changeout.

Yeah. Going back to the house analogy, really what we're doing is taking a drawer out of a piece of furniture and swapping it for a drawer just like it that lives on the space station. So, it just so happens that this, the piece of furniture provides not only volume for the drawer but also power and data and cooling that you need for that kind of experiment.

When all of that is done, after you have undocked from the station, on the way home there's an experiment package that you're going to drop off that's known by the acronym MEPSI. What is a MEMS-based Pico Satellite Inspector? And what are you folks going to do with it, and what is it going to do once you deploy it?

Well, our interaction with it is very brief; basically, we just launch it out of the payload bay. It's basically stowed in a container on a spring-loaded apparatus, and we will press a button and it's going to shoot out. It's going to shoot out pretty fast, about 10 feet per second. And then once it gets out there it deploys, and basically, it's two very small pieces of equipment that are tethered together. And, I think its purpose is to just demonstrate the use of that miniaturization technology in satellite applications.

On the way home you're going to, for landing, you're going to be down in the middeck with Valery, Peggy, and Sergei, who, as you said, are going to be in the neighborhood of having been off the planet for six months at that time. What do you do down there with them, for them? What sort of arrangements have to be made to help them get accustomed to feeling gravity again?

It's an interesting transition, because these guys are going to be so good when we get up there at living in space, if you can make that analogy, it's not like on Earth where everybody pretty much knows how to walk; in space there's a definite difference between somebody who's been up there, even on a short flight, between someone who gets up there on the first or second day. By the end of 10 or 11 days there's a dramatic difference in how well they can navigate and move around. Well, these guys are going to be so good after being up there for such a long time that I'm putting them to work: they're going to be helping us prepare the middeck for entry. However, when they land, they're going to be extremely deconditioned, not having been in a gravity field for such a long time. So what we do is, we have recumbent seats, recumbent seat kits, basically, that turn a regular shuttle launch seat into a couch, so they will come home lying down rather than sitting up. I know that they're exercising very hard, and that's very important, obviously, but I'm going to be there to do whatever I can, and keep in mind that we also suffer some deconditioning. But once we get the hatch open, it's going to be the medical technicians and the other personnel who are there to help. I'm going to, I'm very, looking very much forward to doing that part of the mission, because I know all those three very well from my time in Russia, and especially Peggy, who is a good friend and who left, you know, I saw her right before she left and she was sort of the, I'll say, confident but somewhat nervous rookie; when we get up there the tables are going to be turned because she's going to be the grizzled veteran and I'm going to feel like a neophyte next to her. And I'm going, I'm looking forward to being alongside her when we come home.

The time you get back with Valery, Peggy, and Sergei, it'll be a little bit after the second anniversary of the arrival of the first Expedition crew on board ISS. In your opinion, Mike, in these first two years of real operation, if you will, what's been the best thing that has come out of the ISS program?

Well, I go back to what we were talking about before, and that's just the experience of working together. We have so much to learn, but we have learned so much. It's amazing the strides that we have made since those days way back when, and even before that when I was a working in Star City. And I think that the level of cooperation at every level -- from design people, engineering people, logistics people, flight controllers training people, and flight crew, and management -- it just keeps getting better and better. And as I said, it's not easy sometimes, and it's tough to be convinced that your way is not the right way. But there's going to, somebody is going to have a better way --you know, one of the five partners is going to have the best way to do it, and it's really an exercise in, I think, optimization to figure out how we can do this thing best, given the considerable constraints that we have. So, I think that the two years of manned presence aboard the space station has proven that we are, this is an endeavor in foreign policy as much as it [is] in space exploration.

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