Return to Human Space Flight home page

Preflight Interview: James H. Newman

A couple of weeks prior to scheduled launch, STS-88 mission specialist Jim Newman took some time out from training to answer questions about the mission.

Jim, it has been two years now since you were named to the crew for STS-88 and you're closing in on the scheduled launch date now; what are your feelings as the beginning of this mission moves closer to becoming a reality?

Well, obviously I think we're all very excited now that we have a firm launch date and we think December 3rd is going to be a good one. If it does slip we'll deal with that, but actually I'm very excited: I'm taking this launch date seriously, and studying very hard now.

The target launch date has been moved twice in the past to accommodate the delay in getting some of the station hardware ready to go. In terms of the postponements themselves, have they been frustrating for you and your crewmates, or have they provided you valuable time that you needed to get ready to fly this mission?

Well, it turns out that both are true. On the one hand, we'd loved to have flown last December because that means we'd be a little closer to our next flight; on the other hand, the postponements have in fact, been valuable. The development of the space station is a daunting task, and I'm impressed that we're as ready as we are. There's a whole lot of work to do and they're still doing it, a lot of testing, a lot of integration because, of course, as you know, this is a multinational project, so I think the delays, although unfortunate, have been put to good use. We've done, been able to do more testing and more integration, and I think it will end up letting us have a more successful mission.

From your point of view over the two years, have you been able to see a development of you and your crewmates working together as a team?

Oh, absolutely. And one of the things that are unique and special, actually, is the way a crew comes together. We're comprised of different personalities and different backgrounds and that's really, in the end, what really makes a crew a strong entity is that we, if things go well and they have, we're able to draw on each other's strengths and to help each other. So we do a lot of cross-training but we also end up knowing what the other people are good at. We've had, as you mentioned, a particularly long time to learn to do that. I think that you're going to see that in the simulations that we do and then in the real flight by the crew coordination and our ability to help each other as we run into unexpected things.

And during all this, the time that the five of you have been working together, growing as a team, you've recently acquired another crewmate with the addition of Sergei Krikalev to STS-88. How would you expect that this sort of a change, relatively late in the game is going to have an impact on your preparations?

I can only look at it positively because I'm doing the post insertion work and we have a whole lot of stuff that we're bringing into space with us. So I'm looking forward to an extra set of hands to help me on the middeck, because right after we get into orbit I'm going to be very busy downstairs trying to turn this rocket ship into an orbiting work area. That's going to involve a whole lot of configuration. What Sergei's going to bring, of course I'm looking at it from a point of view of helping early on in the flight, but for the whole flight he's going to bring an enormous amount of expertise in spaceflight and his understanding of Russian systems. He's got a good knowledge of English so it'll be easy to communicate with him, and I think that what we'll see as we integrate him into the crew, an even stronger crew, once we get there.

Do you think that Krikalev has been added to the group particularly because of his knowledge of the Zarya and its systems by benefit of the time that he's spent training as a member of the first Expedition crew to be living and working there?

I don't actually know how they chose their representative, but I think that the Russians chose a good one. His background is obviously strong, and as one of the crew that will be the first permanent inhabitants of the ISS, I think that he obviously makes a lot of sense. Because right now he can come and fly with us and still have time to resume his ISS, his International Space Station training without any real impact to that. So without understanding the politics and difficulty of crew selection. Because I'm sure that there was more than one Russian who would've enjoyed coming with us, it makes sense to have a Russian on the flight. This is an international collaboration, we'd also love, of course, to take with us one of our European Space Agency astronauts and a Canadian and a Japanese, as well, on this flight. But I think you'll see that in subsequent flights, is making sure that we have a good mix of the partners who are responsible for building the station. It just makes sense.

STS-88, your mission, is to assemble first pieces of the International Space Station. Now before we talk about the specifics of what you're going to do, let me ask you one of those "big picture" questions: to you, what is the historical significance of this flight? Why should we be building a space station in Earth orbit anyway?

Well, that question has a lot of answers, Pat, and I'll try to touch on a few. That is one, as an exploring nation, as a country, and a great country, I think, does great things, and I think that that's very true for America. The United States of America-we are a great country and we go do great things, and building a space station, is one of those things that we do as part of our space program, as part of being a spacefaring nation. And so that I see that in a historical context as part of a series of steps that we're taking to end up with a permanent presence in space, is to make it a home for not only the United States of America but for all people. Because we have found that anywhere we go, if we get enough people there, enough smart people, we're going to find a way to learn things from it, to get economic advantage out of it, technological spinoff, and a lot of things like that. So on one level, on a very "big picture" level, going to space is something that makes sense for us to do. As a employee of NASA and as a citizen of our country, I also think that it's a step on our way back to the moon and on to Mars, and that it's a logical step in order to understand how better to live long-duration in these hostile environments. Although they're hostile, if we take the right precautions and we have the right technologies, we can actually go and, astonishingly enough, live in these places and perhaps make them our home.

You mentioned that the International Space Station might serve as a jumping-off place, headed to other places; do you see it as that much more than a scientific laboratory, or do those things really balance?

That's one of the other answers for the International Space Station's existence. Because in addition to being part of exploration, there's a whole lot that we learn by exploring, and having a permanent laboratory in space; a scientific laboratory, with enough power and enough computing capability to support real science and good science. I think that we'll see science and engineering accomplishments and breakthroughs in the unique environment that space has to offer. Our challenge as a agency is to take an expensive program-going into space is expensive, I acknowledge that-and to make real benefits, in tangible benefits in terms of science and technology, as well as fulfilling our need to go explore our universe.

Now there are people who have criticized the fact that the United States is working with Russia and with many other international partners, in order to build this station to work on this project; how do you respond to those critics?

When I look at the, 'cause it's a good question, hard questions are good questions, and it is our responsibility, I think, to have an understanding as best we can ourselves. Now of course there are a lot of answers to this question as well as others, but NASA is an instrument of foreign policy, and it's, I think, fair to acknowledge that we have a role in this country's foreign policy. So including our foreign partners is, I'm sure, part of that foreign policy that the administration and Congress have decided on. It brings the world more together, and I only see that as a good thing. Working together on a project like this is so superior to contesting a cold war, and I see only advantage to going in with the Russians on this-we'll end up with common understanding of each other. For example, I've been over at Home Depot or Builder's Square or anywhere you'd like to be and I've seen Russians there shopping. They have to take what they see, their experience here, 'cause we have hundreds of engineers from their country come and see ours, and they take what they learn here and they go home, they tell their friends. They have a better understanding of us as a people and we of them because we go over there and see their system and their society, acknowledge the problems they're facing, and have a better understanding of them as a people and as a country. And if we do that with Russia, we do that with our European friends, and already allies, the Canadians, and the Japanese, and now Brazil, of course, as well, partner on the International Space Station, it only helps, I think. So that's one of the answers that I try to give to people who don't understand why we would go in on a project like this with other countries: NASA's an instrument of foreign policy, and an important one. But also, of course, the United States of America could've done this by ourselves; we can afford it, we're very fortunate to be a very, very well-off country, our economy is strong. But the value of doing this with other countries, I think, outweighs the isolationism that would result just from doing it by ourselves. It's time for America, I think, to really take a leadership role in the world in terms of helping out and getting everybody into space together.

Now specifically, in terms of the United States and Russia, the two countries had worked together for some four years now on the first phase of the International Space Station program in preparation for the task that STS-88 is going to kick off. From your point of view, what are the most valuable lessons that have come out of the four years of the Shuttle/Mir program?

We've learned how to work with the Russians and that, in particular, is valuable. We've already had extensive experience with our other foreign partners and so we rely on that, but working with the Russians 'cause they are a different culture than we are. One of the things that we do get before we go to Russia, for example, and before we work too much with Russia, is we've had cross-cultural training classes where we learn about the differences in their culture. And they have a very long, and proud history of their own: of course there space exploration and their accomplishments in space we're all familiar with and they're very impressive, but they do approach things differently than we do. Again, this is the idea, as we do on a crew, we take people from different backgrounds and we try to draw on their strengths and learn how to get along. Well, the same thing now with the International Space Station: we have a number of different countries, but we need to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses in order to deal effectively with each other as we build something in space. And that will translate, of course, to doing things well together, understanding each other, on the ground.

In the course of preparing for this mission, you and your crewmates have had a lot of time to study and to understand, better than most folks, the overall plans for assembling the International Space Station on orbit. Laymen might look at the assembly as simply a series of spaceflights, each time you go up, plug another piece on to whatever's there, and come home; that's probably not as simple as it goes. Give us a sense of the complexity of arranging and executing the job of building a space station like this, in space.

That's a challenge just to describe. The, simplistically, as you said, it's a, a matter of bringing modules up and plugging them together, and we hope it goes that simply; if it does, that would be good. The complexity involved is in integration of these different modules across different countries, for example, in one part, and the other part is getting pieces to fit together, making sure they'll fit together, that've never touched each other on the ground. So there will be pieces in orbit while they're still building new pieces on the ground, and so they'll never have gotten to fit-check them, as we call it, before they actually have to fit together in orbit. It will be difficult to make changes to real hardware, this is big stuff, in orbit, so we need to make sure that we have that all worked out ahead of time. So the challenge and the complexity comes in, for example, Zarya, the FGB, now called, Zarya, is a piece of hardware in Russia which has never actually touched the Node, or Unity is the name of it, which we have built here in America. Those two pieces of hardware are going to go into space and we're going to connect them together and they're going to fit the first time, they have to, and a lot of people have worked very hard to make sure they will. So that's the level of the complexity. If you then add another piece on top of that which was built after the other ones, then you try to make sure that everything fits together. Then you have to allocate your power 'cause your solar arrays are going to come up. You have to have enough power to run the heaters to keep the thing warm enough when it's on the cold side and you don't want it to get too hot when it's on the hot side. So you have to start thinking "How much power do I have, am I in the right attitude control, do I have enough propellant for attitude control?" There's a little bit of atmosphere up high, it's a tenuous atmosphere, but it slowly brings satellites back to Earth, as we know when Skylab came down it was because of that. So we have to have enough propellant to keep it up high enough and we have to know what orbit it's in, in order for the shuttle to go up and meet it. When you start putting all this together and tryin' to get, again, across countries, different languages, different people, as I said early on, it becomes a daunting task, but one which I'm impressed to see how well we're doing with.

Let's talk some more of the specifics of what's going to be involved in your mission. Two major pieces of hardware, as you've described them: Zarya, a control module that the Russians will launch, and Unity, a connecting node that you are bringing up in the shuttle Endeavour with you. For the benefit of those that don't have a detailed background, describe these two pieces of hardware and what their roles are in the functioning of the International Space Station on orbit.

I'll start with the Node. The Node was built here in the United States of America, and it is, the way I look at it, is it's the building block, it's the cornerstone of the space station. As a node-and we've named this node Unity, there'll be other nodes as well-it's where the other modules come out from which will end up comprising the International Space Station. The first module to be connected to the Node is the Russian-built, although, we've paid for it and they're providing the launch services so it's a partnership, is a control module, as you mentioned, it's named Zarya. When it plugs in it will have solar arrays that come out of it, it'll also have propulsion, so it'll have propellants in it for attitude control, it'll have computers in it for guidance and navigation, and it'll have some rudimentary environmental control systems. So with those elements together, you have a spacecraft which is self-sufficient in orbit and can take care of itself in orbit for about a year or so, and so we have that much time to bring up the next module. A service module, which the Russians are contributing to the program, and that will then allow permanent habitation. So that's really the first of the few flights which really make the station a habitable volume. From there, then of course we do have the other modules which come up-laboratory, habitation modules, power modules-which allow us to turn it into really a first-class, a world-class laboratory.

And starting with your flight, and throughout the other steps in the assembly, there are hundreds, literally hundreds of hours of spacewalks that are planned to build the station, to assemble the pieces on orbit, and to do maintenance to make sure that it continues to function and can stay there. More spacewalks are planned here than have been done, in total, in the history of human spaceflight; is this an achievable task? What're the big factors that have to be considered as we plan and execute space station spacewalks?

What we're doing is we're really learning how to take spacewalks from a special, rare spacewalking feat into a production mode. And I think that what we'll see as we go along, I hope, is that we will actually find efficiencies and places where we can cut back on those hundreds of hours. Spacewalking is an unbelievable experience, I've got to admit. I've been on one spacewalk, and I'm looking forward to the three we have, but what we need to do is to get the station built and then we need to go to work inside it. The spacewalks are an important part of it, there's actually been some savings in cost and in design. Some of the problems they've had have actually been moved over into the spacewalk world for us to take care of there, and I think they've taken advantage of the efficiencies there where they can. But looking at the big picture, we're going to a production mode of EVA, of spacewalks, so that we can accomplish the task. It's a large task, but they're already planning out how to do it. We have the new Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory out at the Sonny Carter Training Facility, the largest pool in the world. In that pool of water we can train for these spacewalks. It's large enough for us to have several modules at once inside it so that we can do training of one crew, actually two crews at the same time, and one crew on one set of hardware and another crew on a later flight's hardware. So we're seeing a gearing-up to the production, and we're also seeing a move away from where the next crew got whatever they thought they needed in terms of spacewalk training, and we're moving more into "This is the training that you have available and make the most of it." And I think it will certainly be able to do the job.

You mentioned you have had the opportunity to do a spacewalk in your history as an astronaut, on your first spaceflight in 1993; how does that experience help you get ready for the three spacewalks you are to perform on STS-88?

Well, it was tremendously valuable. Back in that time frame, my crewmate Jerry Ross, actually, is the one who was one of the people who looked and saw that, with all of this spacewalk requirement coming up there weren't going to be enough people in the office with spacewalk experience. So they sponsored a series of what they called Detailed Test Objectives, an opportunity for some of the people in the office to go outside who hadn't been outside, or who were on their first flight. And on my flight, STS-51, Carl Walz and I were lucky enough to get to go outside and get some experience that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise. We were able to put that time to good use testing some of the tools and techniques that the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission subsequently used when they went up and put the eyeglasses on the Hubble. And that experience, one, it gives me a great deal of confidence in the fact that I know I can go outside and work in space, and work as a spacewalker, and that's something that everyone always wonders about for their first spaceflight is, "How am I going to do? How am I going to feel?" And that went very well for me, so I feel very confident that I can go outside and do whatever is required. The spacewalks that we have coming up, the three of them, although not challenging in detail and in the stress level, I think that overall we'll end up finding ourselves plenty tired at the end of the day.

Let me get you to amplify on a couple of points you raised there. One, about the succession of spacewalks that've been done over a number of years to get prepared for what's coming up, testing the construction tools and techniques for the International Space Station; did they provide all the knowledge that's needed to prepare you for the spacewalking tasks on this mission?

Well definitely, 'cause what they've done is they've helped evaluate and refine in particular, tools that we'll be using when we're outside. And that's where the value, a lot of the value does come from, as well as the value of getting people outside, 'cause I can go and talk to, and have, talked to other spacewalkers about their experiences to make sure I understand what they encountered. We have, for the space station, some new tools, and we have some tools that we're using from the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions. So having that background of experience allows those of us who are going to be using them for the first time to go and find out what other people have encountered while they're using them. I've watched the tapes from previous spaceflights, for example, and seen some of the techniques that they've used and seen how well it works. I've talked, of course, to the people as well, and it's having that experience in the office that is going to be important, in fact crucial, to making sure that all of these spacewalks end up being successful.

A couple of times now you've referred to the spacewalks that have been done to the Hubble Space Telescope. Of the three spacewalks that you and Jerry Ross are planning on, to do on this mission, can you give us some sense of the complexity of what you guys are going to do in comparison to what's become a fairly famous set of spacewalks in making repairs to, and servicing, the Hubble Space Telescope?

I think that the Hubble repair mission is probably the closest analogue we have to our own. It's a large module out in the payload bay where, with the spacewalkers working around it doing various tasks, one person at, on the end of the Canadian-built arm, the other person free-floating on a tether and helping as required and doing their own set of tasks. The Hubble Space Telescope repair missions are famous now and very successful, as we know, and in some ways I think they may have been more procedurally complex because of the amount of equipment that they were actually taking out and installing and then bringing back. They were working with delicate optics and they were working with a number of orbital replaceable units that the Hubble has. Our tasks are, as I said, in some ways more straightforward than that but I think in other ways, as I said, we may find them challenging, too. On the first spacewalk, we're going to be going outside and our primary task is to, once the two modules have been put together, to hook up the power and data cables that connect the Node. The PMAs, the Pressurized Mating Adapters, which are what other modules will connect to and move around as we need them. Also back up to the control module, the Zarya, so we'll be connecting the power and data so that all these modules talk to each other, share data, share power back and forth as required. We'll also be removing thermal covers from the computers that are on the Node, and we'll be doing some various configuration and general setup tasks to get things ready for later spaceflights that are coming.

Before we get to the later flights, or even the later spacewalks, as you've described it so far, the first spacewalk for you and Jerry Ross sounds almost as if you're walking around the room plugging things into plugs on the wall, if somebody moving into a new house. Is it that simple, or can you give us a sense of whether it's just plugging things together or what else you have to actually do?

Well, what we have are a set of cables, because at some level it's as simple as plugging things together. It turns out to do that in space on a spacewalk can be very tiring and time-consuming task because there's all sorts of things to consider. On one side of the space station, with the sun shinning on it, it can be extremely hot; on the other side of the space in the shadows it can be extremely cold. By hot and cold I mean over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, under 200 degrees Fahrenheit cold, depending on how long they're in the attitude. And these connectors then, if you expose metal, they can get hot very quickly or cold fairly quickly. So we have thermal covers, we have to remove the thermal covers that are protecting them. We have dust caps to make sure that no debris gets inside it, we have to remove the dust caps, and we have to manage all of this without losing any of the pieces off in space. When we connect them together, we have to inspect the pins to make sure that the power and data pins are still intact, we have to then typically plug them into the Node itself. We have a primary set of cables, a redundant set of cables, and these are all tied together, bundled up, and have to be transported and loosened and released from the Pressurized Mating Adapters and moved over. So it's an analogue is moving the power cables around in your house but these are big power cables and big data cables.

You mentioned the Zarya and the Unity are two pieces that have never touched each other on the ground. You've got to assume that there is a possibility, however slight, that once you folks get up there that things aren't going to work exactly as they've been planned; what is your proposed response if you plug these two pieces together and they can't talk to one another?

Well, what we're actually working on is some of those contingency plans right now. Because what we have are two sets of cables, as I mentioned on each end of the Unity, the Node, and a primary set of power and data and a redundant set of power and data. The same thing for connecting ups the modules together, the Zarya and the Unity. So if the primary set doesn't work, we'll of course try the redundant set; and if that doesn't work we have some things that we can do. In particular we're looking at, for the computer, the data lines. As I was talking about, where the computers have to talk to each other, we're bringing up bus analyzers, for example. The plan is to try to bring up a bus analyzer which we can connect to the bus. Just as your network administrator at your office often has problems if the network goes down, they get their bus analyzers on it and they look at it and they try to understand what's happening on the bus. If the computers don't come up, well, we can reboot them, or reload them if required. So we're doing a lot of things that have some analogy to what you do in an office here, 'cause that's what we're trying to set up, a laboratory, an office where people can go to work. So certainly some of the things that you think about doing here, in that regard, are very, very similar to what we're trying to do there. I don't like to think about what would happen if the two pieces of hardware didn't fit together; they've been very, very careful about making sure that that won't be the problem.

Two days after the first spacewalk, you and Jerry Ross go outside again to install some hardware to the exterior of the station. Can you walk us through that, if you will, that second spacewalk of the mission.

Jerry Ross will be on the arm on the first spacewalk, and we're swapping on the second spacewalk, I'll be on the end of the arm and he'll be free-floating. We'll be helping each other transport some large communication antennas up to the Node, to Unity, to be installed, and this will give us an early communications capability with the Node, and the FGB through the Node, that we wouldn't have had otherwise. The Russians have a communications capability with the Zarya, but it's typically only available over a Russian ground site and there's a limited number of passes every day. So our primary task on the second spacewalk is to get the Early Communications system installed, which will give our Mission Control Center here in Houston, sort of equal access, actually more continuous access even than we'd otherwise have until much, much further down the assembly. It will also give the early flight crews a video teleconferencing capability which they can use to talk to the investigators on the ground, to talk to the flight control team and even to talk to their families, which is I'm sure something that they'll enjoy having. That's the primary task on the second spacewalk. We'll also be putting up a sunshade…I mentioned about the extremes of heat, the extremes of temperature, hot and cold, and we're putting up a sunshade to protect one of the computers which is located on the outside of the Pressurized Mating Adapter #1. In addition to that, we'll be putting thermal covers on some of the trunnion pins-now these are the pins that held the Node, the Unity, the Node, in the payload bay of the shuttle while we were launching it. We'll have to put some thermal covers on those because those big pieces of metal would otherwise be thermal leaks. And there are a number of mundane tasks. In truth, looking at a spacewalk it looks very exciting but a lot of what we're doing is basic construction and some "grunt work". We're out there cleaning things up, organizing the cables, making sure that things are ready for the other, as I said, other spaceflights that are going to come up.

Are you expecting a day will come when spacewalking will be a mundane activity?

I don't think the activity itself will ever, ever, excuse me, ever be mundane; some of the tasks may be: plugging cables together is, in truth, fairly mundane, but the environment that we're doing it in, I think, will always be very, very exciting.

After this second spacewalk of STS-88, you are going to be amongst the group of people who will be the first to go on board the International Space Station; what are your feelings about having that spot in history?

Well, I think it's pretty neat. I'm very, very excited about that because there aren't very many times in a career that you get to be involved on the ground floor of a new project like that and so it's really a very special opportunity and I feel very fortunate. Of course, I won't be the first one in, I think, the Commander will be, of course-but just to get to go in at all is a real treat and something I'm really looking forward to. I hope to go back someday, perhaps to be one of those crews and perhaps to spend a little bit longer time on it, too.

Presumably, since things that must survive in space are fairly complicated, entering Zarya is not simply a matter of opening the door and floating in. Describe for us what you all will be doing to prepare to enter the control module for the first time, and what you expect to find in there? What will it be like inside that module?

Well, as I mentioned, I'm not the first one to go in and the ingress team is Bob and Jerry, and they're really the ones to give you the details. But I know from participating in the training that they'll be hooking up, again, fairly mundane tasks in a unique environment, and that is they'll be hooking up ductwork in order to make sure that we have good clean air. We joke about who's going to be the canary to go in to test it out 'cause these modules may have been closed up for a month or two before we go. So we're putting in some ductwork in order to make sure that we've got fresh air inside. We've got some fans, some desiccants; that's just to get in and then, of course, to open the hatches and make sure that we have pressure equalized in order to open the hatches safely. Once we're inside we'll be doing a number of configuration tasks. One of them is we put the antennas up on the outside, so we're also going to hook up inside the electronics that allows those antennas to talk to the Mission Control Center in Houston and to provide the video teleconferencing. We'll be doing some stowage transfer. We have a whole lot of stuff in the middeck of the orbiter, but there wasn't enough room for everything. So we're actually had some things stored on the Node, in the Node itself, some of our clothes. We were trying to decide "Should we put any food in there?" and decided against that. We could do without some clothes but we didn't want to leave the food in there 'cause there's always a chance that something might occur that we don't get to get in there and in that case you might go hungry. So we'll be getting clothes, we'll be getting swapping out one of the SAFERs, the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue. We'll be bringing a spare computer, we'll be transferring some other computer equipment as well.

After the day of working inside the International Space Station there's a third spacewalk on the timeline for you and for Jerry Ross; tell us what is planned for that day's activities.

That is the spacewalk which has a couple of specific tasks, but we've, also left a part of it open for general configuration and cleanup since we'll be leaving it and it could be months, it's expected to be months before anybody comes back. So the plan is to take out a large bag, we call it the Node bag, or the bag for Unity. That bag has in it a whole lot of tools and foot restraints and PFR attachment devices that the subsequent crews can use. By leaving it there it's ready for them and they don't have to bring it up and back every time on the space shuttle so we save a lot of payload mass by doing that. That's one of the primary tasks is putting this large stowage bag on the outside. We're also going to be unhooking the cables which we used to lock the two modules together, and I think that's actually a very symbolic act, because when we do that, then the two modules, Zarya and Unity, will no longer be able to be separated. They will be permanently fixed, and very symbolic, I think, as a representation of our partnership and our commitment to making this happen for the long term with our international partners.

In describing the tasks that are planned over three spacewalks, there's a lot of detail that we haven't gone into but we've heard that there are quite a few things to be done. In terms of assembly of the entire space station, how critical is any one step? For instance in your mission, would the entire planned assembly sequence for the space station have to be thrown out if you don't do every single thing that you've described?

Certainly not; it depends on which task it is that doesn't get done. If we're lucky, and everything goes nominally, which means normally for us, then, of course, everything will get hooked up just fine. But then after that there's a number of I said redundant cables. So if one of them didn't work or you couldn't hook it up then you'd rely on the other one, and while you're relying on the other one, the smart people on the ground would be working on a plan to recover the redundant one. They'd come up with special tools, special bus analyzers, special power systems, whatever was needed to regain that redundant capability. So for most of what we're doing no one thing will bring the space station construction to a halt. The only exception to that, of course, is mating the two modules. That's where we're concentrating a lot of our training time and a lot of our effort to make sure that we can, not only rendezvous with the Russian Zarya, grab it, and then berth it with the node Unity. That's, our primary task and, and we're going to make sure we do it well.

On the day of your mission when that is to occur, what is your job? Where will Jim Newman be and how will he be contributing?

We're splitting up the Node install onto the ODS, the Orbiter Docking System, and then the rendezvous and, Zarya install on two separate days. As the backup arm operator, I'll be assisting Nancy Currie as she manipulates the robotic arm, the Canadian-built robotic arm, and lifts the Node up out of the bay and berths it onto the ODS. And then the following day, I'll be as one of the rendezvous team with Bob and Rick Sturckow and Nancy Currie. We'll be all working together to make sure that we rendezvous safely with the Zarya, and then again as the backup arm operator, I'll be helping Nancy, supporting her, as she grabs the, Zarya and then maneuvers it into position. My primary task that day is to make sure that the Canadian-built Space Vision System, which is used to align, precisely aligns these two modules. These modules are up so high above the payload bay that we can't actually see with our own eyes, or with any camera view, the mating surface; and because of that we need to have another method of positioning the two elements. And if you happen to have or can show at this time, a picture of the Node, Unity, and the Zarya, you'll see all these little dots on it. These little dots are actually used in the computer vision system to figure out where the modules really are and how to align them precisely. This system will be used, not only by us, but by subsequent flights to do the same sort of complicated tasks. Robotic tasks where you don't have "eyes on" seeing capability for what you're trying to do, and need a robotic vision, a computer visions method to determine where two objects are in space and to align them. And that's what I'll be worrying about on that day, is to make sure that that system is working, that it's giving us good data, and that we are able to use it to successfully bring the two modules together.

As we conclude, let's move away from the detail that we've been talking about and consider more philosophical question: what in your mind is the meaning of the International Space Station for the future exploration of space? Is it necessary to leave Earth? To go to the moon? To go to Mars? To go somewhere else?

Again, philosophically, it goes back to a little bit of what we talked about at the beginning. Philosophically, we don't need to; but we're going to. It's something that people do: we explore, we go to the places we can, we learn what we can about our environment, and just looking at the history of humans, as I've seen it appears to me inevitable that we're going to go. Smart people are always going to be improving how we get there, and I hope that happens soon because we need to bring the cost down as quickly as we can and get more people into space. It's, right now, only a fortunate few who get to go, but I think that, as we improve our techniques and find more inexpensive and safer ways to get into space, that we'll be able to send more and more people into space. The view, the understanding that we get of the Earth by seeing it with our own eyes from that perspective, I think, will go a long way towards helping people understand better that the Earth we live in is a fragile place. It's huge-it takes only an hour and a half to go around at 17,500 miles an hour, but nonetheless it's very large place. But we affect it and you can see that from space. Whether it's fires in one area of the planet or in the wintertime you can see lights coming up from amongst the snow but, you know, there's people down there, and we're affecting our world. So, philosophically, I see, one, we're going to understand our planet better as we go there, and just the perspective of having been there, I think, bringing that back, helps us understand our place in the universe.

All that said and in mind, as STS-88 starts that new era, how would you like history to remember this mission?

As a small step on the way to a permanent space station, where we have a world-class facility. As a small step on the way back to the moon, to stay, to set up a scientific observatory, to set up outposts on the moon. As a small step on the way to Mars and a permanent habitation there. As a small step on the way to the asteroids, the outer planets; and that, as a small step in our understanding of the world we live in.

Image: James Newman
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Newman's greeting.
Crew Interviews


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
Web Accessibility and Policy Notices