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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Commander Jim Wetherbee
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist James Wetherbee's greeting (313 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: James Wetherbee

The STS-113 Crew Interview with James Wetherbee, commander.

Q: Jim, I'd like you to, get you to start by giving me a thumbnail sketch of the mission. What are the main goals of assembly mission 11A?

The exciting thing for us, of course, is to deliver people and bring back some people, and so we'll exchange the crewmembers who are up there now flying around and bring Peggy and her two Russian friends back down; we'll bring up the next crew. In addition to exchanging crewmembers, we have an assembly task, and that is to deliver the P1 Truss and install it and hopefully activate it and get the station even bigger.

Now this is your sixth shuttle flight -- the fifth time to fly as the commander, in fact, it's your fourth trip to a space station. Has the experience of having done this before helped you prepare yourself and your crew to get ready for this mission?

Well, I think it probably has. When you've seen it the first time, you're filled with, of course, the sights, you know, luckily, the first time we went up to Mir we didn't have docking hardware and so I was able to enjoy the sights. You know, that's the only thing I've ever wanted to do, since I was about 10 years old, was fly up next to a space station and possibly connect with it. And, back in those days I think a lot of folks didn't realize the Russians had a space station up in space with people permanently on it. So it was very exciting for us to go up and fly next to Mir; it looked so beautiful and white and pristine and clean. The second time I went back -- and this time we had docking hardware to exchange some crewmembers -- I wasn't so much filled with emotion but more concerned about the technical side of the mission, which I frankly enjoy thinking about the technical side of it. But I also noticed that the station had aged over the years and it gets some discoloration from the harsh environment of space with the radiation, a couple of holes from micrometeorites and then when we went to the International Space Station the first time, of course, it, again, struck me with how beautiful it is and how nice and clean it looked, and it'll be interesting to go up this time and see if there are starting to be some discolorations. I expect there probably won't be, it's still a young space station, but it's a pretty harsh environment up in space. So we'll see.

It hasn't been that long since you've been there.

Well, that's true.

You've touched on it. Let me ask you about why you do this. Why is it that you wanted to be an astronaut?

It's the only thing I can remember, since I was 10 years old that I've wanted to do for a living and I guess I don't really know why. It's just something I always wanted to do, and I've always been interested in science and math and it was a calling, I guess. I studied the subjects that I thought would be interesting in school. As I got older than a young 10-year-old, I figured, well, there's no chance I'll ever become an astronaut, but I studied the things that were interesting to me -- math and science -- and went to college and majored in aerospace engineering. I went to grad school and studied aerospace engineering again, with a minor in dynamics and control of space vehicles only because it was so interesting to me, and I really wanted to study that, and I had fun learning about space vehicles. And then I joined the Navy thinking that that would be my ultimate job. And it was really fun -- I really enjoyed flying off of ships and, I mean, it was the best job in the world. And then at the end of that portion of my career I decided to apply to Test Pilot School, thinking there was no way I would ever get accepted. I was accepted, luckily enough, and I did that for three years, tested airplanes with the Navy. I'm still thinking there's no way I'll ever get accepted by NASA, but I decided to send the application in anyway at the urging of my wife, Robin, because she knew how much it meant to me. And I was lucky and was accepted.

As you look back on all of that time, can you identify the people who were or maybe the people who still are, the significant influences in your life? It sounds like, at the very least, your wife is one of them.

Well, certainly. And I met her about four years before I became an astronaut. My father, I guess, was probably the biggest influence on me. He was an airplane pilot with American Airlines for many years the director of flight for the Eastern Region for American for fifteen years; he flew in World War II. And I just admired his work ethic and his ability to control vehicles, and that probably was the biggest influence in my life, in my desire to control vehicles.

Now, you're a man of an age to have remembered some of the earliest flights of the American space program. What do you remember about those times?

That was when I woke up and realized that there was a world outside of my little world and one day in, early in the, I guess third, fourth or fifth grade we used to, back in those days I would smuggle in a little 9-volt transistor radio -- do you remember those radios? -- and I would listen in the back to the, for early Mercury flights orbiting around the Earth. And, the teacher caught me one day, and I thought I was in big trouble and I was going to have to go see the principal, but instead she did something that I always appreciated: She had me sit in the back with a map of the world, and my job was to plot the progress of the vehicle as it went around and, you know, it passed over the different ground stations and I would put a little pin there, next to the orbit. And so I was in charge of plotting the progress of, for example, John Glenn's flight around the Earth. It was interesting to me, many years later, 30 or so years later, when I was the director of Flight Crew Operations here at NASA and Senator Glenn flew again; when he was in quarantine down at the Cape, they wanted somebody to come and, in a sense, plot his progress up to his mission, and they selected me. And it was interesting because I had the same job that I had in the third grade, was to explain to folks what he was doing and show where he was and what he had had for breakfast, things like that. So it's, little interesting for me.

Jim, you've been involved in the International Space Station program for a number of years, from flying that first Mir rendezvous mission to commanding missions to two space stations, to being in charge of Flight Crew Operations here at JSC. From your point of view, have the partner nations, to this point do you think, succeeded in the goal of learning how to work together?

I think so. I think they've greatly exceeded any goals that they had. It's very difficult for nations with different cultures and backgrounds and different levels of technological advancement to work together, and I think we've done that very well. What's interesting to me is probably the fact that we, together, have built something that is so technologically advanced, and yet we did it when parts of the space station are already up in space. You know, when we go to deliver this P1 Truss, it has never been connected to the S0 because it's not here on the Earth -- it's up in space right now, so we had to do it virtually with computers. And so, it's also amazing to me that we have, the companies worked together the hundreds of companies around the world worked together putting the space station together. And, of course, you magnify those problems when you start talking about nations and different people getting together and working. It's been very interesting for me, and I really appreciated working with the Russians and I had a counterpart, Yuri Glaskov, over in Star City that I worked with for many years, and he's a great cosmonaut and a great human being.

Let's talk about this mission. The primary payload, apart from 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?

Of course, the backbone of the space station that holds the solar arrays on the space station, which we use for electrical power, and also holds the radiators to radiate the heat that we generate out into space, the backbone of the space station is the truss elements. And, we connect those elements together, piece by piece, and of course they all are able to fit inside the payload bay of the shuttle, and so we come up with the size of the individual elements of the truss, which are about 45 feet long and maybe about 15 feet wide. It's a girder-like structure, hexagonal in dimension. The "P" stands for port, it goes on the port side; it's very close inboard to the center, and so, it's the P1 Truss. Another crew will bring up the S1 Truss, which is on the starboard side. And, when we connect this truss to the S0, which is in the center attached to the Lab that's already up there, we will then connect first the mechanical latches and hooks and bolts and to give it structural rigidity. And then through spacewalks, our two spacewalkers will connect the fluid lines, the data connections, the electrical connections and the jumpers required to get across that place where we've just interfaced the two segments, and the segment that we have has a radiator segment with ammonia coolant lines that go into the radiator. And the theory is -- and it works very well, it's proven over the years of flying in space -- when you generate heat inside the vehicle and you dump it into the ammonia, it goes out into the lines and radiates off into space and so you have a habitat in space where you can control the living environment and radiate the heat and generate electrical power.

Is it too simplistic to think of this as simply a structural element? Or does it have moving parts that do things?

On the forward side of the truss, very interesting, there's a railway and we use that with both the Mobile Transporter, that the Canadian arm is connected to, can move up and down the entire length of this girder and actually help us assemble, remotely, different parts of the space station. We also have a cart that people can get on, spacewalkers can climb on this cart and roll down this track on the outside of the truss. There are also different things on the outside of the truss -- some gyros, some ammonia systems for cooling and, of course, the radiator. Other trusses will have the solar arrays and the big gimbals that are required to slew the solar arrays and so they can track the Sun and generate more electricity more efficiently.

We've seen in recent shuttle missions, with the addition of the Mobile Transporter and then the Mobile Base System, which is very large and is run remotely, the CETA carts that you referred to are different in scope and in how they're powered, right?

They are the ones that move the people along, and we'll have, we actually have one of them installed on the truss as we bring it up, and then we will move it to a different location as we assemble this. You have to, of course, think ahead to the next flight coming up, and we have to get the carts on the other side of the Mobile Transporter system, and so we'll do that via spacewalk again and connect it up. And then the three elements -- the Mobile Transporter and the two CETA carts -- will be all in a row, ready for the next flight to come up.

Any shuttle flight crew has got to possess a whole range of talents in order to complete the job. Tell me what are going to be your top jobs on this mission?

As the commander, which also turns out to be three of the most fun things, I think, on the mission are to take care of the vehicle and the systems and the crew on the ascent phase; and then, of course, the rendezvous is very exciting and interesting for me -- that's the thing that I love doing is, again, we mentioned earlier since I was a little boy, I've dreamed about flying up next to a space station -- and so the rendezvous portion of the mission is very exciting to us. It's basically, you can think of it as, as we do it in thirds. The first third is controlled by the ground and automatically done by burns onboard the vehicle, all computer-controlled. The middle third is still computer-controlled but we have onboard targeting and we start to complete the burns manually with computer steering. And then, the final third is done almost completely manually, where you're looking out the window at a camera and you have a visual of the target on the space station. And so the way we've evolved in our space program, we fly the final portion manually, actually controlling the vehicle which weighs, of course, as you know, about 100 tons. And we have about plus or minus 3 inches when we finally connect, and the vehicle's about 100 feet long and it's very slow, the closing rates. Of course you're traveling 5 miles a second, or 17,500 miles an hour, around the Earth, but the relative difference is about 1/10 of a foot per second. And so it's pretty exciting for us to dock. The system was designed by Russians and adapted by Americans to make that final connection. During the spacewalk, I have the interesting challenge of using the robotic arm to pull the truss out of our payload bay and hand it off to Peggy Whitson onboard, and she will complete the installation of the P1 truss using the space station arm. We can't reach to the place where it's going to be installed and she can't reach it in the payload bay, so we do a handoff which we've practiced, of course, down here on the ground, and we'll have some virtual practice well, she's up in space now, we'll have another simulation where we "virtually" do this task. And then we have the three spacewalks, the EVAs, and I'll be onboard the shuttle again using the arm to provide different visuals so that we can keep good situational awareness for the crewmembers. And then the entry and landing -- entries are very exciting and interesting. You know, you put so much energy into the orbiter getting it up into space, with the millions of pounds of propellant getting it up there, and then the only way to take that energy out of the orbiter is to come slamming into the atmosphere and hit the molecules as hard as you can and it creates a 25-mile trailing plume of fire as you re-enter -- it feels like a rough train ride or a runaway freight train -- and then come back and land the vehicle. So it's a pretty challenging mission, and one that we're really looking forward to.

Does all of that live up to what 8-year-old Jim Wetherbee wanted when he wanted to be an astronaut?

Yes, and more. Every flight has its challenges, every one is interesting, I never get tired of it. You can tell, I think, that, when astronauts are ready to leave, when they don't want to train -- everybody wants to fly, but the training is so demanding and rigorous beforehand. And I still love the training, working with the people around here and the trainers getting us ready, building up our confidence as we get closer to the launch pad. And to me, that's a large part of the mission is the ground job and getting ready for the flights and pulling the crew together and working as a team and working with the ground teams and, just getting ready. Making sure that we've thought of everything before we go launch.

But in preparing for this flight, you had the unusual situation of having a new pilot added to the crew just a couple of months prior to launch. What's it been like for you guys to start working with a new crewmate at this point in your training flow?

Well, the good thing about having different crewmembers is that we bring experience from previous crews. And so you can take the good parts about previous training that crewmembers have had and share those experiences. And Paul has just recently come from a flight, and so he can show us the good things that they used to do, the optimum ways of getting ready for certain events, and we can do the same with him. And so we've actually gotten better.

So, his recent experience is actually a positive that others couldn't provide?

Absolutely. And also I think these days the training is much more standardized than maybe it was in the past, and so we are able to accept a new crewmember this close in to flight. Of course, he does have the recency of experience, and so he was, he's been to the space station only a couple of months ago, and so now, instead of me training a new pilot, I'm actually receiving some information from him on what it's like up on the station since I've been there.

My question was going to be, how has Paul responded to the challenge of getting up to speed on this mission?

I can't say enough good things about Paul. He is really, really good, really professional, brings a lot of discipline to the crew. Probably the thing that I like the most about him, other than his systems knowledge and his ability to do his job, is the fact that he's not afraid to tell me, no, we need to do it this way, or let's think about it this way. He doesn't tell me what he thinks I want to hear, he tells me what he thinks, which is what I like in a pilot, especially at this stage of my career when I have so much experience … other people tend to defer to me. Well, Paul is very good about saying, no, let's think about it this way, and I really like that.

A few moments ago, you mentioned that you're going to be the primary operator of the space shuttle's robot arm. And that's a little bit unusual assignment: Why the robot arm job for the CDR in this mission?

The interesting thing about the crew task assignments on this mission is that we've simply run out of bodies. We have the three primary crewmembers that we're taking up to the space station and replacing, leaving onboard the space station and bringing back Expedition Five. That only leaves four others of us who are on the shuttle side doing shuttle tasks. I have two of my mission specialists out in the payload bay doing the three critical spacewalks, and my pilot, Paul, will be assisting them as the intravehicular crewmember in charge of what they do on the outside -- he'll be on the inside with me -- so that only leaves one crewmember left to perform the robotics tasks, which is an interesting extra challenge for me. Again, at this point, late in my career, it's one extra thing that I can do on a mission that I haven't had the opportunity to do before, and mostly it's because we've run out of bodies.

You mentioned that, in at least the, this first task, in the first spacewalk, or before the first spacewalk, you've got two robot arms going at the same time. Why does it take two to do this?

Well, the place where we have the P1 Truss installed in our payload bay as we bring it up there are two connections where the robotic arms connect to the truss and grab on to it so that we can lift it out. We would like to have Peggy reach down with the arm from the space station and grab the truss and lift it out of the payload bay -- it would be much simpler if she could do it and install it -- but her arm isn't long enough to reach the attachment of the truss element in our payload bay. My arm, on the shuttle, can reach the attachment and pull the truss out and swing it around, but I can't reach the place where it's going to be finally installed. And so we do a handoff maneuver: I bring it up and come to a complete stop, and then she grabs on to it and we're talking to each other through the intercom system -- we're not near each other we're separated by 100 feet or so, I guess -- and she does all of it, by the way, using television cameras on monitors. And we can see out of our window, but the large structure that connects the two vehicles is sort of blocking our way so we use a lot of cameras and visual equipment monitors and such to do that handoff maneuver. So it's kind of a, it's a great challenge to do that kind of a thing, where she can't do it alone and I can't do it alone, and so together the shuttle and the station are building the station.

If you can, talk me through that portion of this: is it a, you know, hours-long operation, or what, you know … that day, Flight Day 4 how does this get started, before the spacewalk ever begins?

One of the interesting things about the space business is that things … tend to happen relatively slowly. You want to be very careful. It's interesting that the truss weighs about 28,000 pounds down here on the Earth; of course up in space it's weightless, but it does have inertia, it has the same amount of mass. And so you can imagine something that's four or five times as massive as your car moving very slowly, maybe even 5 miles an hour, if you hit something at 5 miles an hour with 28,000 pounds it's going to damage whatever it hits because it still takes all of that energy to slow it and stop it. And so we don't move anywhere close to 5 miles an hour; we go in, in fractions of feet per minute. And we move very slowly and carefully and plan everything ahead. Of course the day is only so long and we have to get things connected while the spacewalkers are ready to help if there are problems. And so we practice pulling the truss out early in the morning while the spacewalkers are putting their suits on and getting ready. If we have any difficulty and we have to slow down in our operations, then we'll give a quick call to the spacewalkers to slow down their operations -- all very coordinated and controlled and choreographed. If we're going according to the timeline but they're having difficulty, then maybe we'll slow down. We'll probably go up and get it ready and then we'll wait until they're ready, and then finally make the connection. After we make the connection mechanically and the latches and bolts and things are pulling the truss together as commanded by the ground, then the spacewalkers come up in preparation for doing the fluid connections. So it's all very choreographed, that's our intensive day, we've planned it, we've thought about it for many months. And we think we're ready for that exciting day.

After you hand the truss off to Peggy, Peggy starts to attach it to the S0; that's when Mike and John come out of the airlock. If you can, briefly tell us about the list of jobs for those two outside on this first spacewalk.

On the first space … we have three spacewalks during the flight, on the first one they are doing things that we need to activate the P1 Truss. And so mostly they will be … well, the first thing they do is stand by, in case we have trouble mechanically connecting, they can provide a backup and connect the truss elements manually with wrenches. If the truss connection goes together as planned, then their job will be to connect the fluid connections, the data lines, the umbilical lines that are involved in transferring power from the solar arrays to inside the Lab, where we can do the science experiments. And there are different hardware things that they need to reconfigure. When the truss comes out of the payload bay, it has a giant element that's used to connect it to the space shuttle, which is right in the way of the railroad tracks of the CETA cart, so they have to move that big, giant beam that's in the way. So the whole first spacewalk will be pretty much solely dedicated to things to get the truss to be activated on our mission. The … and I also am interested to watch John -- this will be his first flight and of course, therefore, his first spacewalk. It'll be interesting to watch him, and I'll want to be seeing his eyeballs getting about this big when he goes out the first time and sees the view and sees how big the space station is. Mike has performed a couple of the spacewalks before but no matter how many times you've done it it's got to be pretty exciting, so it'll be interesting to me to listen to them operate. We have two other spacewalks during the mission. The second one two days later after they've rested -- you know, it's a long, grueling task of doing, even if it's only a six-hour spacewalk, they're in the suits for maybe twelve hours, putting it on, getting ready, checking it out, making sure there are no leaks, performing the spacewalk, bringing all the tools back, getting ready to come and re-ingress the vehicle, and getting out of the suits. They're in the suits for sometimes 12 hours at a time and it's pretty physically demanding, even though they are weightless, and you would think that things would be easy -- it's not, you don't have to exert too much energy to lift something that doesn't weigh anything. However, the suit has what we call a memory: it goes to a certain configuration, and it's pressurized, and so if you want to pull your arm in you have to exert muscular energy against the suit, and of course the fingers on the gloves go to a certain position and if you want to grab on to something you must work your wrist muscles to keep the force to hold the wrench. And the other thing that's interesting is you don't have very much tactile sense of how tightly you must hold this wrench up in the weightlessness effects and if a very small tip-off for us if you're not squeezing tightly and the tool goes flying off, so of course, we tether everything. But again it's physically demanding and so we'll take a day of rest in between the next spacewalk. The second spacewalk is in preparation for the P3 element that's going to come up and get connected to the P1 element. And then the final third spacewalk two days after that one, will be get-ahead tasks for future flights for activating the different truss elements.

On the first spacewalk is there any sort of a time limit or a clock ticking on getting these connections made between S0 and P1?

There is, and depending upon the orientation of the vehicle and the thermal environment that we're going to see it's predicted that it could be as long as ten hours; it might be a little bit shorter than that so we don't want to … dillydally, but we also don't want to be so hasty that we're running into trouble. And so, what I try to do as a commander is make sure that we're doing everything correctly and methodically, but we don't watch the clock too much. The ground, of course, will keep track of the time, this 10-hour clock that we have to get it installed and activated for thermal considerations. If we have any trouble with it and we can't make a connection we can always reinsert it into the payload bay and potentially bring it back. I think we should have sufficient time to do it and I won't worry too much about that…maybe with one eye I'll be watching the clock but we'll just make sure we do everything correctly.

Is this task in the spacewalk primarily a shuttle crew event? You mentioned that Peggy Whitson would be operating the station's arm; she's got two crewmates plus the three new station crewmates-are they participating as well?

Well, absolutely. That again is another fun part about the mission is that we're doing much of our training with the core four crewmembers of the shuttle, but when we get up into space it's a 10-person evolution. And of course we must have the three people, Peggy and Valery and Sergei, on board now, because they know the space station: they know where everything's located, they know how to turn everything on and they will have been living there -- it's their home -- and so when we arrive they are mandatorily going to help us connect the element. We couldn't do it without them. They know more about the airlock for getting our people out, et cetera. We're bringing, of course, Ken Bowersox and Don Pettit with us, and Nikolai Budarin, and Sox will actually help me as I pull the truss element out on the shuttle arm. And he's a great astronaut and we work very well together, and he supports me in that task, working the cameras and unhooking the truss remotely from inside the space shuttle. As soon as I get the truss, as soon we, Ken and I, get the truss element to a place where we're going to hand it off, then he floats across as quickly as he can over to assist Peggy for the installation. And he's going to be very interested in watching how that arm operates on the station side, because that will be his task for the next five, six, seven months while he's up on board the space station. So he will get some valuable on-the-job training from Peggy, actually doing an installation. And then Sox will be the primary operator responsible for installing truss elements as they come up during his increment later.

You mentioned that there are days off between spacewalks; the major task that's scheduled for the day after that first spacewalk is the change-out of the station crews. Describe what it is that's required to exchange the Expedition Six crewmembers for the Expedition Five crewmembers.

When all Expeditions are up on board the space station, they have the Russian lifeboat, called the Soyuz, the capsule that is their ability, it contains their ability to leave, evacuate the station if they need to after the shuttle departs. And so, the Soyuz is also very small and cramped like a small little Volkswagen; it's so tight that they have form-fit seats that are specifically contoured to each of the cosmonauts' and astronauts' bodies. And so, when we bring Expedition Six up, the three crewmembers will have three different seat liners. The major task that we need to do is to install their seat liners into their lifeboat, the Soyuz that's, exists on orbit. Once you change the seat liner out you have the official handover of who goes where in case there's an emergency. From then on, any time there is some kind of an emergency, Expedition Five will come to the shuttle and Expedition Six will stay on board the space station. So that's the technical, mundane change of command ceremony. Of course, we have the official change of command ceremony later, and also I must point out if there's no emergencies on board then the off-going crew, Expedition Five, will be the commanders and the owners of the space station up until the time very close to separation and undocking of the two vehicles because it's their vehicle up until they're ready to be relieved by Ken Bowersox.

The second spacewalk in this mission comes up the following day. Again, if you would, take us through the sequence of events there: What's on tap for this second EVA of your mission?

On the spacewalk, the second one, of course now John will have had experience and so it'll be interesting to me to see if his attitude changes and there's less excitement and more getting down to work, or, we'll see. He's a great astronaut, and I'm looking forward to watching. I always like watching the first-time fliers … I also, by the way, try not to tell them too much about the emotional side of flying and the feelings that they're going to feel. I tell them everything I can technically, so they're prepared professionally, but it's more fun to watch them and see their eyes get really big when they see some of the sights and feel some of the experiences that they're going to have. The second spacewalk will be tasks that are required on our newly installed P1 truss to get ready for that truss to accept the next element that we'll bring up on a future flight, the P3 truss, and make those connections. And so we'll be arranging tools and getting the carts in the proper position, the Mobile Transporter in the proper position to make sure that it's ready for the next element that comes up.

So we're going to see more movement of carts and whatnot up and down the railroad?

And getting ready with the connections, the fluid connections, data lines, umbilical lines, et cetera. We have some small devices that we're going to install on a lot of the different quick disconnect connections on board the fluid lines. And so, they spent a large part of their time reinstalling those. They're, they install a camera group on the truss element that will be used in the future for assembly of different elements.

This [is] the Wireless Video System?

We do have a wireless video system. Of course, our astronauts have cameras that you'll see, it's a lot of fun watching from their vantage point to see what they can see. And I can see from their helmet cams, both of the astronauts on board. And I think down here on the ground you'll see either one of them as we downlink, whichever one is doing the more exciting work at the particular time. You'll see what it looks like to operate and be a girder worker up in space.

Two days after that, they have the third spacewalk of the mission. What are, what's the job for Mike and John outside?

The, basically, it's similar, getting ready for future flights to come up. Of course, the tasks that we study and practice down here on the ground, we choreograph over in the laboratory, the big giant pool that we have across the street. And so the tasks are different from our point of view but for the most part, as you're watching, you'll see similar kinds of things: getting ready for future activation of other elements that come up on board the space station. But no less exciting to the two astronauts outside, and no less exciting for me watching them build this structure up in space as they're, you know, they'll probably look pretty small even from where I am, and, they'll really look small if you look up and try to see them.

Along with spacewalks and crew exchanges there's other work scheduled throughout the docked phase of this mission, and that includes the transfer of supplies and the delivery of some experiments and experiment hardware. Tell me about some of the things that you and your crewmates are going to be delivering to the International Space Station.

Of course, the primary purpose of a space station is to do science experiments, and so, and they're ongoing now, the Expedition Five crew is conducting some experiments now. When they complete those experiments and close them out, we'd like to get them back onto the space shuttle and bring them back down for the payload investigators to analyze. They do a lot of analysis remotely, which is one of the beauties of our technology in the space station these days: a scientist can have a laboratory operating permanently in space with astronauts who are manipulating that science experiment, but then they very quickly can get, at the end of the three-month period, or four-month period, however long it is, the experiment back down on the Earth and either modify it, analyze the results or modify it for future experiments. We're going to bring up a couple of experiments and install them on the station for Ken Bowersox and his crew to work. That's the primary goal of the space station. Of course, in order to do that and to have people on board we need to provide various supplies for them -- clothing, food mostly, so we bring a lot of food up for them for the next increment. And you always have to plan ahead: in case we have trouble getting up with the next supply ship, the next cargo ship, you want to have enough food and supplies and water and equipment for them to stay and live and conduct the science experiments. Of course, the other thing if you can imagine maybe in your garage, if you're putting things into it for 15 years and never taking anything out of it, it would get very cluttered, and so you don't want to do that on a thing like a space station. So we take a lot down, a lot of things that are either not going to be used any more, the trash and it, you have to have some way of getting rid of it, otherwise it would get too cluttered up on board the space station. So we take the old, used equipment and the trash back down to Earth also.

And, on this mission, unlike your last one, you don't have the advantage of carrying a moving van with you to help do all those things.

The moving van is pretty interesting. The Italian-built structural logistics module -- the one we carried on my last flight was named Leonardo -- and it's pretty big: it's about 15 feet in diameter and when you take all the equipment and experiments out of it in preparation for receiving the old equipment that you're going to bring back, it's a pretty big volume. And you can get stuck in the middle of this cargo van with no way to grab onto the side except sit there and patiently wait until you float over to the side, so you try not to get stuck in the middle. The moving van has the great advantage of being able to transport a tremendous amount of equipment, up and down, so it's very useful for us. We couldn't bring one of those this time because we have the truss element, which is so big in the payload bay. And so all of the equipment and supplies that we're bringing up have to fit inside the middeck volume, which is not very big -- it's about the size of a large camper, maybe, or a small camper, I guess. And so we'll transfer that equipment over to the space station. It's a well-thought-out -- by folks down here on the ground -- method of logistically transferring the new equipment and then bringing the old equipment back. And so the crew, Expedition Five, Peggy and her friends, will be getting ready, with the old equipment, staging it in various locations, so that we can very efficiently make these transfers on the days that we're not doing a spacewalk. And that's, will be one of the challenges of the mission is getting all of the equipment back and forth, because it's such a tight volume without the Italian-built moving van.

So after all of that activity and crew exchanges and spacewalks and whatnot, and you guys start heading home with the Expedition Five crew, and on your way you've got another drop-off to make: an experiment package known by the wonderful acronym MEPSI. What is the MEMS-based Pico Satellite Inspector, what do you do with it, and what is it inspecting?

Primarily, we will deploy the satellite; investigators on the ground will track the satellite and remotely sense how it is operating up in space. It doesn't have a very long life. This is an experiment in pico satellites -- it refers to, you have regular satellites and then microsatellites, which are smaller, about the size of a breadbox; pico satellites are about the size of a softball. We have two of them that are connected by a 50-foot-long tether, and we will eject it from the payload bay, send it on its way, and it orbits around the Earth several times before its orbit decays and it falls through the atmosphere and burns up. But during its lifetime the ground trackers will monitor its life and see how it's operating. The goal for pico satellites in the future is to have them operating and be able to be attached to a regular satellite, and then if there are problems with the satellite this little pico satellite can remotely fly around the vehicle, take camera views, and you can also envision someday in the distant future maybe a smaller satellite being able to autonomously repair a satellite or remotely repair a satellite and so it's a pretty exciting time. As the technology with computers and things down here on the Earth gets smaller and smaller, satellites are getting smaller, too. And so we will test this ability, see how the satellite operates under the harsh environments of radiation and being up in outer space.

On the way, as you come home it'll be five months or so for Valery, Peggy, and Sergei since they've been in space. Do you have to make, take special steps to help them prepare to return to Earth?

Well, we hope it'll be about five months since they've been [in] space; unfortunately, you can't know for sure until you get there. And, so the first thing that they need to do is psychologically be prepared to stay longer, and they always do-all of the Expedition crews are ready to stay much longer than they are. It's very challenging and interesting and fun to be an astronaut, but by the end of five months you're ready to come home and smell the Earth and trees and grass and see your friends. And so one of the problems that astronauts have up in space is that when you first get to space you have the immediate effects are you have a fluid shift, the blood and the plasma in your body migrates northward because there's no gravity pulling it down to your feet, so your body perceives that as a fluid overload and it gets rid of the fluid, and you lose about 25 percent of the blood plasma volume. That fact that you're dehydrated in space works very well up in space since there's no gravity; unfortunately, if you were to come back in that state, you would not have enough blood in your body, and you would become orthostatic and pass out, just like we do down here on the Earth if you're laying down on the couch and you stand up too quickly. And so the first thing they need to really do is fluid load: put the, replenish the fluid back in their body before coming back. One of the longer-term effects of being up under zero gravity without the effects of gravity and the loading on your hips and your legs the bones tend to lose calcium. It, the structure doesn't need to be as strong up in space. The body's a pretty amazing mechanism and it perceives that it doesn't need as much structural rigidity and it starts getting rid of calcium, and you actually lose a significant amount of calcium in your bones. So in preparation for returning the crewmembers will constantly be running on the treadmill, trying to load up the bones in their body to get the body to think, well, I need more calcium, and to get ready to come back down to the Earth. And they need to cardiovascularly stay in shape, keep the heart muscle pumping. It gets pretty weak and lazy up in space; it doesn't need to be very strong. And so we've got to invigorate it and get it pumping really fast. And so the astronauts do a lot of exercise up in space in preparation for coming back down. Two-fold goal: hopefully, we can learn more about the human body up in space to prepare us to go to someplace like Mars, which has one-third gravity, and you want to be able to go there and effectively operate on the surface without an extended period of readaptation to gravity; but probably more importantly, if we can learn how to replenish the calcium in bones up in space with astronauts there are possible implications on being able to solve things like osteoporosis down here on the Earth for people who are living in gravity that might have problems with replenishing calcium in their bones. If we can solve those kinds of problems then we'll make the place better down here on the Earth in gravity.

By the time you get home with Valery, Peggy, and Sergei and your shuttle crewmates, it will be shortly after the second anniversary of the arrival of the first Expedition crew on board ISS. Finally, Jim, in your opinion, what in these first two years of operation do you think has been the best thing that has come out of the ISS program?

The thing that we want to accomplish, of course, is science and getting a return on our investment and starting to do experiments. We are doing that now, and we're actually getting return and so that's a great thing. And so we're already accomplishing the goal of the mission of the space station by producing some good science and doing experiments and learning new things about microgravity and processing and drugs and have the ability to help with disease down here on the Earth. The thing to me that has amazed me the most about the program is that it has gone together so well. I fully expected as with any aviation program where you're building something for the first time, to have significant problems, especially something this technologically challenging and complex. And then add the degree of difficulty that we talked a little bit about earlier, when you finally build the P1 truss that we're going to build, that we're going to take up and install, you can't check it out and see if it fits properly because the element is already in space. And so all of these pieces that are built by thousands of contractors around the world, we had to do virtually with computers, and to me it's just truly amazing that it has gone together so well and we haven't had any significant problems in building this vehicle. And I think if the average person knew how challenging that was, not just for astronauts -- in fact, our job is relatively easy because the thing does connect so well -- but it's been so challenging for the thousands, hundreds of thousands of workers down here on the Earth to get it to go together so well it's a tribute to the international program, both the job that NASA and the contractors are doing here, but also other nations around the world, to pull together to build something this incredible.

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