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Preflight Interview: Jerry L. Ross

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

With this space flight, Jerry, you're going to become only the fourth person ever to make as many as six space flights. Is this where you thought you would be when you were selected as an astronaut back in 1980?

Well, way back in 1980 I hoped by now that I would have walked on Mars and been back to tell you all about it. It's been a very exciting time; I couldn't have hoped for any more exciting opportunities, to serve my country. I've been, really blessed by the man above. I've enjoyed every aspect of the work here and am very much looking forward to flying with this crew and laying the cornerstones for the International Space Station.

You didn't get to make that space walk on Mars yet, but you have performed four space walks in your career. Back in 19, we looked it up, back in 1985, you were testing space station construction techniques in space walks with Woody Spring and you said, "Let's go build a space station." 1985. Did you think it was going to take twelve years to get started doing that?

Well, in the euphoria of the moment when I said those words, I didn't think it would take that long. But, being a realist I think probably twelve years is probably reasonable time to expect for all the mechanisms that had to get in place to get us to the point we are now to happen. And certainly with the international aspects of the station that now exists, I think it took a certain amount of time for all those things to get in place and for us to get comfortable with each other and what we're about ready to do.

It's been two years since you were named to the crew for STS-88 and you're…

People keep reminding me of that fact.

Well, you're now closing in on the scheduled launch. What are your feelings as this flight that you've been working on for two years really is moving closer to being reality?

Well, I think the entire crew and, in fact, I think the entire NASA organization is getting very excited about it. There is a certain amount of anticipation that the individual crewmembers go through as they get closer and closer to launch, and I'm starting to experience that now. Of course, I do that almost every day no matter what I'm doing anyhow, but, there is that heightened awareness and excitement level that is there and a, if it's possible, more seriousness being applied to what you're doing, and to make sure that every possible detail has been covered.

We've mentioned that the target date, target launch date, for this mission has been pushed back a couple of times because of delays in getting pieces of hardware ready to go. Have these postponements been the source of frustration for you and your crewmates, or have they been the opportunity to be better prepared?

Both! Certainly we've been frustrated by the delays, we had hoped that we would have had hardware on orbit by now and that it would be operating and that, hopefully, we would have been turned around back in line, getting ready to go again. But at the same time, we have used all those delays to our advantage. We've got a much better handle on the procedures now, we've worked more with our Russian partners to understand their hardware better, and I think that everything is just going to be in that much better condition and ready to go.

For two years you've been part of a group of five people working to get ready to go fly this mission. Recently your group has been expanded with the addition of Sergei Krikalev to this mission. With the addition of Krikalev relatively late in the game for you folks, how is that going to change how you get prepared?

It's caused us to hold off some things that we were going to do so that he would be here so we could do them as a total group. But basically, we see Sergei as somebody who brings a lot of on-orbit experience. He certainly knows the Russian hardware systems so he brings a lot of expertise should we have any problems with the FGB systems. He's flown on the space shuttle so I think that he'll be very comfortable getting back into the training flow with us and, I think it should be no big problem. Like I said, we have delayed some activities so that we could do it as an entire crew, but other than that, I think he will be a big help to us because he does bring the expertise of having flown in space a lot and the Russian systems. Also our timeline was pretty busy, and so we're offloading some of the activities onto him, giving him things to do on orbit. He'll be a big help in making sure that we get things done in a timely fashion.

From a point of view of symbolism, you're going to start assembling the International Space Station. Does it makes sense to you to have a crew that represents more than one of the nations involved?

Yes, absolutely! Americans don't see themselves as anything other than Americans, but I've been doing genealogy work for the last year or two and I see myself as international myself. So from that perspective, I think Americans are very much an international cross section of the world. But, definitely, I think adding Sergei to the crew is a good thing to do; it certainly sets the tone for what we are about and what we are going to hope to do for many years to come.

Now, with the addition of Krikalev to the crew, he and you make up two people who are members of the STS-88 crew who have experience on board an orbiting space station; the other three of them do not. From your time on board the Mir space station and your experience there, plus the preparations for the current mission, can you give us a sense of the similarities and differences between the Mir space station and the International Space Station?

Well Sergei spent well over a year on board stations and I spent, I think, two or three days so he has me well outweighed in terms of the experience level. I think the biggest things I see is that it is a new program and it is designed from the ground up to provide us with a very high level of science capability in the station. I also think that its' coming from an international perspective from the very start is certainly something that has a lot of importance and a lot of significant impacts to how you do things. I think it's very interesting that some of the most key players in this station besides ourselves are either our enemies or our allies during the last World War. We have Japan, Italy, and Germany, who are some of our key, counterparts in helping to build various different parts of hardware that we'll launch into space on this one. A couple of our allies, Canada and Russia, in the last World War were another couple of our partners. And then, of course, with the long Cold War that we had with Russia and some of their fellow iron block countries, it is very interesting and it is a growing experience. It is not easy to shift gears so quickly. Even though three or four or five years that we've been working with the Russians on the International Space Station seems like a long time, in relative terms it's a very quick shift of ideas, concepts, attitudes, and it takes time. I am glad that we did the Phase 1 program that allowed us to work through a lot of those issues to get comfortable with each other and to get to the point where we are prepared to go build the International Space Station.

Let me get you to expand on a couple of the points that you've raised there. First the historic perspective of the International Space Station. What is the…not perspective but significance: you talk about what these countries were doing, their relationships with one another just a couple of generations ago; in your mind, what's the historic significance of this project, ISS?

I think there's probably two. I hope and pray that the station will be used to good advantage, to give us some very important scientific breakthroughs that will be of value to every human being on the surface of the Earth. And I do believe that that'll happen and hopefully twenty years from now when somebody plays this back they'll say, "Yea, it did happen." I think that that is probably one of the most important things. We are now going out, building an international space station that'll operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the year, and hopefully we'll be able to produce some very important new capabilities for every human being here on the ground. I think, equally important to that, however, is the international aspect that this program represents. Even though it's a very highly scientific and very highly technical program, you cannot ignore the political aspects of this program because of the way it's been put together. And I think the way it is put together is partly by design by our politicians and others around the world. It serves as a very highly visible way for the international partners to learn about each other, learn the weaknesses and strengths of each other, learn how everybody does work, learn how to work together and to trust each other. It not only is paving the way for future programs in space, but also here on the ground as well.

In another perspective, do you see ISS just as an orbiting science laboratory, or is it part of what's required to leave Earth orbit, to go to the moon or to Mars?

I certainly anticipate it to be both. Primarily I see it as a scientific laboratory, and hopefully many of the efforts that we do up there will be pointed right back towards improving the conditions of individuals on the ground and I'm thinking primarily about pharmaceutical products but there are many others as well. But, part and parcel of that scientific research that we're going to be doing on board the station is to study the human being and understand what zero gravity does to a human body over long periods of time. Something we need to know if we're going to push back the frontiers, the boundaries in space and hopefully go to Mars and maybe beyond someday. And many of the maladies that people experience here on the ground are analogues in what a human body experiences when it goes into zero gravity. So by understanding the body's mechanisms, why it does what it does, and somehow try to counteract those in zero gravity, hopefully we will learn more about the human maladies here on the ground and be able to counteract them here as well. But we also have to understand how to develop systems that will last for longer periods of time, require less maintenance, be more reliable and lighter weight. All the things that you could talk about and consider when you go fly in space, but they are even that much more important when you're talking about multiple-year-long missions, to go to Mars, to explore, and then come back home.

You also mentioned a moment ago the history of the United States, of NASA, and Russia working together in preparation for assembly of the station which is a task that STS-88 is about to begin. For a good four years or so Phase 1 of the International Space Station program was conducted and you were a part of that on your last mission. From your perspective now, getting ready to begin Phase 2, what do you think are the most valuable lessons that have come out of the Shuttle/Mir program?

I think by far the most valuable lesson that came out of Phase 1 is just trying to understand how the Russians-their scientists and engineers and politicians-work, how they view the world, how their culture differs from ours, and vice versa, for them to understand us more fully. It just takes time to get to know people and to understand their likes, their dislikes, their cultures, their foods, all those types of things that you really have to understand if you're going to be married to somebody. And that's basically what we're doing with this International Space Station. We have a long-term, growing relationship that we're establishing, not only with the Russians but all of our other international partners. I guess everybody focuses on the Russians partly because they are the other space faring country in the world, but also since they were our prime antagonist for so long, and also the latest ones to come into the International Space Station. I really think that it would have been very difficult and probably would have caused even longer delays in the initial assembly of the station had we not brought the Russians into the program and conducted the Phase 1 program with them. And we also did learn quite a bit of science and understand more about their systems and how we can expect to operate with them in the future. But, I think the best thing is just getting to know each other.

There are quite a few members of NASA's astronaut corps, as there are members of the cosmonaut corps in Russia, who are members of their country's military, and you are one of them. Is that learning to work together with the Russians…maybe this is stereotypical and maybe we can set it aside if it's not correct…but has it been harder for military men and women to learn to work together with Russians?

I'm not sure if that's the case or not. I think that military people are professional just like civilians in the various different institutions from which they come. I think it's more the mind-set of the nation, if you will. You know for years when I was a young, young boy in Indiana, we worried about those Russians dropping a nuclear weapon on our country. We used to go through drills of getting underneath your desk-I'm not sure what that would've done but we did that. When you're raised with that type of an environment, with that type of a culture, with that type of a mind-set, it just takes time to get used to some other way of thinking. And I'm sure that the Russians, especially with what I perceive to have been at least a fairly closed society and not very open press or anything, I'm sure that their mind-set was established by what they were given through radio and TV and newspapers and other things. I think that they probably did the same types of things, they drilled to get underneath their desks because we were about ready to drop a nuclear weapon on their country.

On your last mission, STS-74, which was part of the Phase 1 program, there was an operation that strikes me as at least somewhat similar to what you folks are going to do on STS-88. On that mission you and your crewmates used the robot arm to lift a Docking Module out of the payload bay and put it on the Orbiter Docking System so that it could then be docked and in this case, delivered and left behind on the Mir space station. How important is that sort of exercise to getting ready for what you folks are going to do, at least, that, what is similar to what you folks are going to do?

Right. Well, I think it was a good first step. It demonstrated that the concepts we used to mate the Docking Module to the Orbiter Docking System were a valid way of doing business. It gave us an opportunity to work out all the kinks a long time ago and it worked. So when we mate the Node to the Orbiter Docking System on this flight it basically is identical to what we did on STS-74; however, when we mate the FGB to the topside of that stack, on a subsequent day, that's going to be a different task. It's similar in nature but it's going to be quite a bit different. The difference is that we have a camera that's looking out of the overhead hatch window in the Orbiter Docking System that allows us to very precisely align the Node so we know that it's very precisely aligned when we fire the orbiter's thrusters to smash the two units together. Exactly like we did when we mated the Docking Module on STS-74. However, we don't have a camera that's mounted at the far end of the Node stack looking out of the PMA-1 interface towards the FGB. So we're using a lot of other cues. We're using the digital numbers that come back and are displayed on the mechanical arm's control panel. We're using multiple different camera views. We're also using our naked eyeball out the overhead windows, and importantly, also, we're using the Canadian-provided Space Vision System as another way of verifying that the very critical alignment between those two mating surfaces is there before we fire the orbiter's thrusters to mate the two structures.

On the day that, well there's actually it's two different days, one to get Unity, the connecting node ready, and another one, the next day, to dock with the control module that's now called Zarya, what will Jerry Ross' job be on those two days?

My job on those two days, since I'm not directly related to the RMS activities, the mechanical arm activities, is, number one, I've got a lot of Photo/TV activities to do. To both document what we're doing but also to provide the proper camera views for Nancy, Jim, and Bob as they're doing the work to mate those things. I'm also the one that is responsible for operating the mechanical mechanism that actually does the physical connecting of the two pieces of hardware together. So, I'll be busy.

Let's take a step back from detail of what you're going to do and work back up to it. You've had the opportunity for some time now to be studying the overall plan for assembling the International Space Station as well as the detail of what's going to happen on the mission that you're about to fly. For a layman, it might look as though it's something as simple, if you will, as fly a shuttle up there, grab two pieces, plug 'em together as if they were toys, go away. Give us some sense of the real complexity of arranging, and then carrying out a plan to put together such a huge structure in space.

Sure. If everything goes as we want it to, it will be as simplistic as you stated. However, if it goes that well, that means it is because a lot of people have done a lot of hard work and preparation to get us to that state. There is always a good probability that something will not work quite as we expected it to. I guess the best way to describe what it's like to try to do this, flight after flight, is if you can imagine waking up on Christmas morning and Santa Claus has delivered a whole bunch of "to be assembled" things to your kids and you get out the instructions and you sit there and just try to figure out "tab A in slot B" and all that stuff. That's basically what it can be like if you haven't done a whole lot of preparation before and maybe stayed up a little bit late, you know, to get some things prepared. A lot of preparation, the attention to details, is the thing that is critical and the thing that makes flying in space sometimes look easy to the layman. But I can guarantee you the long hours and hard work that literally thousands of people put in to preparing a flight to go is what makes it a success and what makes it sometimes look relatively easy.

On this mission, STS-88, the goal is to mate the first two elements of the space station together. The Zarya, which will already be there, launched by the Russians, and the Node, called Unity, which you're bringing with you. For the benefit of those of us who don't have the detailed background, describe Zarya and Unity, these the two pieces of hardware; what are they and what function do they play in the life of the International Space Station?

OK. I refer to these two units as the cornerstones of the International Space Station; they are the cornerstones of the foundation of the station. Basically the Node is exactly as it sounds, it is a connecting block for multiple other units to be attached to. The front end of it will be where the laboratory, the U.S.-built laboratory, will attach. On the one side we'll have the airlock that the crews will do all their space walks from on space station later on, after 7A flight is completed. On the top, on 3A, they'll be mounting a small piece of truss which has some control moment gyros on it, has some electrical interfaces to a solar array that'll be attached at the top of it, has some thermal systems on it, and some communications systems attached to it. And then the backside, where we mate to the Russian part of the station is well defined. Then on the bottom of it, later on, we will be attaching a habitat of some type. A U.S.-built habitat that will be providing additional scientific capability but also will give the capability for crewmembers to have their own living quarters and shower facilities, toilet facilities, that type of thing.

Over the course of the years that it is planned to assemble all of these pieces, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of space walks that are scheduled to be conducted to do this. Not only to assemble but then to maintain the station in operating condition after the assembly is done. We are talking about more space walks in total than have been done in total throughout the history of human space flight. Is that achievable? I mean what are the important considerations that have to be made in order to plan and execute this mountain of space walks?

Yes. Well, we've been dealing with that for some time and I have to answer, yes, we believe it's achievable or we wouldn't have taken on the challenge. I worked for quite a while as the chief of the Astronaut's Office, EVA branch, to try to make sure that we had all the wherewithal in place to be ready to address that large hill of work ahead of us. We put a lot of Detailed Test Objectives together, which meant that we had hardware that we flew on various different flights. That is, hardware that we hope to use on the International Space Station but we weren't sure that it was going to work or wanted to verify that it would work. So, over a period of three or four years we've had multiple flights where we had crewmembers go outside on space walks to check out the various different pieces of equipment, to verify different techniques, and to develop procedures that we're hoping to use for the assembly of the station. And I think that has proven itself to have been a very valuable exercise and not only gave the Astronaut Office a fairly good-sized group of people who have had experience on EVAs, but it also helped to develop faster and verify the hardware that we're going to be using. And beyond that it also helped the crew, the members that trained the crews to go fly, and the people that designed and built the hardware. It gave them a very good place to cut their teeth and get trained and prepared for this very steep hill we're about ready to start on.

Before we take the first step up that hill, you and Jim Newman on STS-88 are to make three space flights. In a general sense, how can you compare the complexity of the tasks that you are to do, to tasks that you've done on space walks before yourself? Or perhaps to the tasks that have been done on Hubble Space Telescope, repair or servicing missions which people have paid a lot of attention to and are somewhat familiar with? How do you compare how difficult what you have to do is to what we've seen?

I don't know that there is any one task on any one of our EVAs that I would term difficult. If we've done our preparatory job right and if we're in there early enough to get the hardware designed so that it's compatible with what is capable during space walks, then no one task ought to be that hard. And that's where I think we are now, I don't feel there's anything that's that challenging. If it was I'd be doing something about it to try to make it, make me more comfortable. I think the biggest challenge we have, not only for our three space walks but for all the ones to come on behind us, is to get in there and to look at the hardware and to exercise the task in our water tanks; which is the best way to evaluate and to develop the procedures. And then to be very careful about paying attention to details-the details is what can bite you. If you haven't done something I lay awake at night worrying about what I haven't been smart enough to think about, and that is the thing that most of us worry about, is making sure that we've done all the pre-flight preparations that are going to ensure success once we get up there. Now obviously there's always the opportunity for a piece of hardware to not work the way we hoped and designed it to do, and that's what we then try to provide some margin for on orbit, is to be prepared to react to those situations and to, hopefully, to recover from them.

Take the rest of us along with you, then: first of the three space walks on STS-88, if we read it off the page, says that it involves connecting some cables between the two pieces of hardware. Take us outside with you and walk us through the plans of what's going to happen.

It's more than some cables; it's quite a few. The first EVA is by far the most critical one, it's the one that is required to hook together the elements of the station that are up there and to permit us to start activating the U.S.-built parts of that station. Jim and I will go outside, we will release some things from the payload bay, basically foot restraints and tool stanchions. One of those foot restraints Jim will take up and mount onto the station which will provide him a place to stand in while he's working on the station. We will mount a foot restraint and a tool stanchion to the side of the mechanical arm and then I'll get into the foot restraint on the arm and Nancy Currie will then be driving me around to my work sites. We'll go directly up to the interface node that is closest to the payload bay, and from there we will establish the capability to transfer power inside of the Unity node once the power's applied. We'll do that through the installing of six mating plugs which will either deadface telemetry, or computer channels, or will reroute signals, and also we will install two cables which are jumper cables which will allow us to have power coming out of one set of connectors on the Node and inserted into another one. The Node is designed for its final on-orbit configuration, and since we're at an interim point along that assembly process, we have to do some short-term rewiring to make the systems work the way we want to at this stage of its assembly. After that's done, Jim will have been already started on releasing the cables that go from PMA-2 up to the Unity node, and those cables, will require to back out several bolts that are holding the cables into position for launch and the opening of several, electrical clamps. Once that's done, I'll get myself into position, he'll hand me the cables, and I will take some dust caps off of the receptacles where those cables will be attached on the Node side, verify that both the socket where I'm going into and also the pins on the connector side, there's no debris, there's no bent pins, anything like that. Then we'll physically start the mating of those connectors, locking them into place, and then pulling a thermal cover down on each of those connectors as we go along. It's not as easy as just taking an electrical cord and putting it into a socket. We have both a primary and a backup set of cables that go from PMA-2 up to the Node, four cables in each of those. We'll do those, and then Jim and I will string a safety tether slide wire along one side of the Node and that will provide us with the capability to have a continuously tethered translation path along the side of the Node so that we can go to the other end and continue our work. Once that's installed, then Jim and I will transition to the topside of the Node, if you will, the side that's closest to the Russian-built hardware. This time we have again two cable bundles to release and attach to the Node, but this time each of the cable bundles has eight cables in it. And so we go back through the same process again of releasing the bolts, opening the clamps, removing the connectors from their launch configuration, stringing them across to where we need to connect them up, removing the dust caps, mating the connectors, and pulling down the thermal covers. We do that for a total of sixteen connectors on that end. Once that is completed then Jim and I go a little bit higher up onto the stack and we actually will transfer across to the Russian-built hardware, where we remove six more cables that were launched in place on the outside of the FGB, Zarya. We'll bring those across and hook them up again through the same process to six locations on the PMA-1 side of the U.S. hardware. And those are the cables that will transfer the power between the U.S. part of the station and the Russian part of the station. Once those six cables have been mated and all the others are complete, then we can give the OK to the ground to have the Russian ground control facility in Moscow power-up the U.S.-built part of the station, to transfer power over to us. Then we can start powering-up our hardware. Once that is completed to a certain step, then one of the last acts that Jim and I will do on the first space walk is to remove a couple of blankets from the outside of the two MDMs, multiplexer-demultiplexers, or computers in layman language. Then, throughout that first night, after we come back inside, the ground here in Houston will be commanding, checking out the systems, starting to activate various different systems.

Not to say that it isn't going to work, but there's a possibility it isn't going to work. These are extremely complicated pieces of machinery, and as some of your crewmates have described in their interviews, these are pieces that will never have touched one another until it happens there on orbit. What is your planned response if you'll pardon me my simplification, but if you plug these things in and Zarya and Unity can't communicate with one another, what do you do next?

Well, there are a lot of options. Obviously we'll get a lot of help from the ground, they'll have a lot more information and be able to troubleshoot a lot of things. We do have, as I related earlier, a redundant and a primary side of cables. If either one of those two sides works then at least you can start to activate the systems and check out the systems and get telemetry and do commanding, maybe not in the full-up fashion that you'd like but you can start down that path. If we can isolate the problem to maybe a connector with a bent pin or something like that, then I think we would power-down that side, go out and look at that connector and see if we could correct the problem if in fact that's where it was at. We do have on board some spare parts, we have a spare computer, and we have some other spare parts that we could use inside once we've gone inside the station to try to fix certain aspects of the problem. Even if we don't have a spare part, I think, in all likelihood, if we can identify the problem down to one black box or one piece of equipment, we will probably take out that piece of equipment, bring it back home so the failure modes can be analyzed on the ground, and figure out what went wrong. Because most of the equipment that we have on board the station for this element of the flight really is repeated throughout the rest of the station. So if something breaks we'd like to get it on the ground and figure out what went wrong so we can correct any potential problems.

Successfully now, you have linked up Unity and Zarya through the first space walk; the second space walk, you go back outside to, if you read it off the page again, it says "install hardware to the exterior of the station." Take us through that; what's going to happen on the second space walk?

That is a very simplistic approach to things. Because the Unity node is so large in diameter we couldn't mount all the hardware on the outside of its structure that we wanted to, while it was still in the payload bay of the orbiter, and the launch environment that exists there. So, Jim and I will be installing a series of additional handrails, or handholds, on the outside of the station which we'll need for tasks, either on our flight or future ones. We'll also be putting some additional foot restraint sockets on the outside of the structure that we can plug our foot restraints into to do tasks on this EVA as well as others. We have a thing called a gap spanner, which is really nothing more than a long piece of strap that we're going to attach between a couple of handholds and cinch tight. That is a way of bridging a gap that was too long between handholds to provide a continuous translation path for crewmembers to operate on the station. Once those are done, then Jim and I will stretch out another cable from the Russian-built hardware across and down to one of the radial ports on the side of the Unity node. This cable will provide future capability for the Russian segment to talk to the Russian-built Orlan spacesuits and should they operate out of our airlock, to go on a space walk. In addition, and primarily for early part of the station operation, we'll be providing some cables that go between the two segments which will allow us to have early communication capability, which is a new system that we're installing on the outside of our part of the station, to be operated from the Russian segment of the station. Once that cable is in place, then Jim and I will prepare the two radial ports where we'll be mounting the antennas for the Early Communication system, then go back down to the airlock, get those two antennas and bring them out, mount them to those radial ports and, lock them in place and connect up the cables that will allow them to operate. That being done, we go back down the airlock one more time to get some additional hardware. This time, I'll be handing out a large sunscreen that Jim will take up and mount close to the zenith computer, the one that will be facing towards the universe, if you will, once the station is in its normal flight attitude to block the sun coming to the computer and making it too hot. He will also have a series of four thermal blankets that he'll put around the trunnion pins that are on the sides of the Node. The trunnion pins are how the Node will be held into the payload bay for launch on the orbiter. These provide a leak path for the heat to go from the inside of the Node to deep space, and we'll be putting thermal blankets on those to cut down the amount of heat energy that has to be added to the inside of the Node to keep it warm. At the same time I'll be doing some releasing of launch locks and removing pip pins on the other two radial ports, the zenith and nadir one, which is preparing the way for activity on future space flights. At the end of that EVA Jim and I will be bringing some additional hardware that had been initially stowed on the outside of the orbiter back into the airlock so that we can bag it up into a very large, about one-yard cube, bag that we'll be mounting on the outside of the station on the third EVA.

Before that third space walk is conducted but after the second one is complete, you guys get to go inside the International Space Station.

Very exciting.

That's my question: what is it…what're your thoughts about having that spot in history?

Well, I think it's just an exciting thing for anybody to be able to do something for the first time. Getting to go inside of this very exciting, new facility and to start activating it and starting to do some setup inside is going to be, I think, really neat. And, I think probably all of us will, at some point during that period, kind of sit back if there's a time for that, and to reflect a little upon what we're initiating here and where the facility will go in many years to come. I really hope that many of the young people that are watching this program today will have an opportunity to come fly in space someday, and hopefully to conduct some very exciting new research on board a very exciting new facility. It's going to be something that we'll be able to see for years to come with the naked eye at dawn or dusk if the lighting is right and it happens to be flying overhead. Fifteen years from now when I'm retired and looking up in space it's going to be a very satisfying feeling to have helped to develop this facility and then, so fortunately, to be involved in one of the very early flights.

Have you, as a crew, given any thought to which of you gets to be the first one on board?

Oh, I think Bob will be doing that; he's the Commander of the crew and I think he has earned that right.

Presumably entering Unity and Zarya is not simply a matter of opening the door and floating on through; describe for us what it takes to prepare to enter these pieces of hardware for the first time and what will you see inside.

OK. The preparation work to get inside is kind of like preparing for a camping trip. We have quite a bit of hardware that we need to do the ingress and egress from the station. There's also hardware that we'll be taking inside the station to leave there, and likewise, there's some things in the station we'll be bringing back out and taking home with us. So it's kind of like packing for a camping trip, and that'll take a couple people several hours to do that. But once we're ready to go inside there's a series of hatches that you have to go through, and to go through those hatches you have to equalize the pressure in each of those volumes that you ingress deeper and deeper inside the station. So, we'll be doing some of that activity from on board. We'll also have primarily the Russians through their ground control facility in Kaliningrad, commanding various different valves and systems to equalize those pressures across hatches. Once we get to those hatches then we will be removing some caps off of some valves, connecting up some ducting that we can blow air through to make sure that we can have good air circulation throughout the entire station while we're attached; then going ahead and opening up the hatches, turning on lights, and configuring things as we go in. And we will continue to just march pretty much all the way through all the hatches until they're all opened up, and it's pretty much the same thing at each hatch. There's some things you have to do, valves to configure, plumbing to hook up, and then the hatch to actually open and to march through to the next one. Once we get inside, hopefully, we're going to see exactly what we expect to see. We just finished our Crew Equipment Interface Test at the Cape last week on Unity and it's essentially all closed out for flight. All the hardware's stowed inside, there's a little bit of work yet to be done but it looked pretty much like we'll expect to see it. And the same thing for Zarya, the Functional Cargo Block: we'll be going over to Baikonur, their launch facility in Kazakhstan, in October to see the hardware for one last time. Hopefully, we will expect to see essentially the same thing we saw when we left it here on the ground.

There's a full day's worth of tasks timelined for you folks the day that you get to go inside the station, and inside Zarya. As I understand it, part of your job is the set up of some communications equipment for the Expedition 1 crew to use next year. Can you give us some more detail on what work you're doing inside the Russian hardware?

Sure. Bob Cabana and I will be installing the Early Comm, the guts of the Early Comm system, just like Jim and I had installed the antennas on the outside for that system. We'll be installing that system actually inside Unity. It will go into an empty cabinet area and we'll hook it up, route the cables from those electronic boxes over to the inside of the hatches, and connect up the cables. Which then, the cables we'd hooked up before went from the outside of the hatch out to the antennas themselves. Now that'll take us probably a couple of hours to get all that hardware installed, activated, and checked out. Then once that's completed we will actually be doing a video conference with the ground by using the cables that Jim and I had strung from the Russian part of the structure over to that radial port. We'll be using those cables and checking out their valid function by going into the Functional Cargo Block Zarya, and hooking up basically a laptop computer that has a little TV camera mounted on it. We'll be doing video conferencing with Mission Control Center here in Houston to demonstrate that the entire system works from end to end. We're also going to be checking out another type of laptop computer which is a way that the station crews will monitor and operate the station, systems and, the experiments on orbit. In addition to that, we have a series of what I would call mundane tasks: unlocking a lot of systems, setting up some systems, removing launch locks and bolts from various fire extinguishers, oxygen masks, etc. Things like that that need to be available for us should we have an emergency or a fire on board the station. Probably the most mundane one, but one that's very important, is we're going to be removing over seven hundred bolts that were there for launch strength and integrity. This will give the crews that come after us a leg up on what they would need to do to get their tasks done.

The day after all of that, you and Jim Newman are scheduled for a third space walk. Again, talk us through what it is that you're going to do on your third journey outside to the outside of the International Space Station.

This EVA right now is a less ambitious one. There's not nearly as much that has to get done on this one, and that's partly by design. We want to leave some margin there should we have to do some maintenance or some repairs or investigate some problems or complete things that we didn't get done on earlier space walks for whatever reason. So there's some buffer there. But the primary things we're going to be doing on this one is I talked earlier about this large, about one-yard cubic bag that we'll be leaving on the outside of the station. It'll be up on the far end of the Node towards the FGB and basically it will contain a lot of hardware and tools that will be used by future crews on the station as well as some emergency tools that could be used by any crew should that eventuality happen. It will take a little bit of effort to get that up there, not because it weighs a lot, but just because it has so much volume. It's kind of bulky and will block the view of the crewmember, me that's holding it on the end of the arm while we get it up there. Once that's strapped into place, then, Jim and I will be coming back down to the PMA that's closest to the orbiter and we'll be removing a series of six cables that are no longer needed. They were the cables that allowed us to operate that mechanical attachment mechanism which secured the structure between the PMA-1 and the Zarya Russian-built hardware. That will never be operated again so we're going to disconnect those cables and stow them so that future crews again will have a leg up on tasks that they'll be doing. We will be retrieving a handrail that will be launched inside of the Zarya FGB cargo block; taking it out with us on this third space walk and going all the way to the top of the FGB as it will be positioned in the payload bay of the orbiter. We are attaching this handrail at the end of a long handrail, which allows us to bridge a gap and go over the top of the FGB and go look at the docking port at that end, which is where the Service Module will mate on a subsequent flight. The purpose for that is the Russians and sometimes in the past, as we have on various things, have experienced some debris, some, some straps, some cables, other things like that, that have caused them some difficulty when they try to dock various different pieces of hardware together. And this is just a good "eyes on" view of the mating interfaces to make sure that they're clear and that we won't have any problems such as that when the Service Module is launched. We also will continue to do photographic surveys on the outside of the station, there's a significant period of time on this space walk dedicated to that. Where I'll be on the end of the arm and Bob Cabana will be operating the arm for this third space walk and Bob will be giving me great views of the outside of the station, so that we can document the condition that the hardware arrived on orbit. Also to document the way we're leaving it after we've done all of our work on the outside, which is very critical to document that so that future crews when they get up there won't be surprised by what they see. We want to set up our training facilities precisely as we left the hardware up there so that they're knowledgeable of what to expect. We also have one last task which will be to configure whatever hardware is on the outside of the station in a way that is most advantageous for the future crews to use it. In other words, they can hit the road running and get out there and go right to work.

All that you've described are the space walking tasks and the assembly tasks for just the first assembly mission.


In terms of the whole sequence then, that will take years to assemble a complete station, how critical is any one step along the way? For your mission, does the entire assembly sequence get thrown out the window if you don't complete each and every task as you've described them?

Not each and every task, but there certainly are critical ones that have to be completed successfully or the whole program can come to a screeching halt until they are completed successfully. Our flight, in some ways is easier than some that follow. There are some payloads, I think the Laboratory is one of them, that has fluid systems inside it that has to stay warm enough so that those systems don't freeze up and destroy themselves, basically. There are even more critical flights coming downstream in terms of time-criticality, but every flight has elements of it that have to be completed before the next flight really can be anticipated.

With that in mind then, as Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station and begins to head home, in your mind, what will have made the operation, what will have to have been completed in order for the operation to have been a success?

Everything; I want everything to work just as planned, I don't want any deviations, I want the timeline to go just by the minutes that was set out months before we went to fly. We've worked hard for this, a lot of people've worked hard for this and I think in some ways we'd be disappointed if it didn't go exactly that way. But at the same time, I think we've trained and are prepared that if we do hit some bumps in the road that we can overcome them. As long as we have a functioning station up there and that it's ready for the next crew and the next flight to come up and do their task, then I'll be happy.

After you leave the International Space Station behind on your way home, there are two satellites to be deployed which your Pilot, Rick Sturckow, is I understand, really in charge of. But can you give us something of a description of what these satellites are, these payloads are and what's involved to deploy them?

Sure. There's two small satellites that we'll be launching; Rick is in charge of it and I'll be backing him up or helping him with the launches. The first one is called MightySat; it's a U.S. Air Force-sponsored satellite. Both of these satellites are about the size of a metal trash can; they mount on the sides of the orbiter's payload bay and are spring-released from the orbiter and they're both designed to demonstrate various different types of technologies. The MightySat, I don't remember all of them, but they are trying to demonstrate a new structural design for satellites, using an all-composite design, looking for lighter weights and still providing all the strength that's required. They're also trying to test out some new types of electronic components and a new system which instead of using explosives they're trying to use a biometallic or metallic system that will allow them to cause certain types of functions to happen on orbit and not cause explosive charges to go into the system that could damage delicate hardware. And also, they should be reusable, they won't destroy themselves in the process of doing their functions. The second one, SAC-A, is a scientific applications satellite built by the Argentina. We had the good fortune to go down there and look at the hardware and to be briefed on its systems and its activities. Primarily again, it's a way for the Argentinean government and some of their contractors and universities to start to learn about flying in space and to develop some in-country capabilities in high technical areas. And basically that's what it's looking at, trying to demonstrate that they have the capability to build spacecraft and operate them in space.

Let me give you the opportunity to move away from specific detail as we've been talking about, to a more philosophical look at what you are involved in here. In your mind, what's the role the International Space Station plays in the future of space flight, whether it is it necessary to go beyond Earth? To go to the moon or to Mars?

Uh, I don't know that anything is ever "necessary;" it all depends upon the mind of the person that's deciding what's necessary. I think it is part of human nature to always be inquisitive and to wonder what's over the next hill, the next horizon, and to dream big and to think about doing things. Man's always dreamed about flying, had always dreamed about what it would be like to go to the moon, and I think that's what sets us apart from all the other creatures that God put on the Earth: to use our minds and to be creative and to be inquisitive. I think it's a matter of time before human beings go back to the moon, hopefully, and certainly on to Mars, and probably beyond. Once you have some capability you want to stretch it and test it and see what it can do and to lead you to that next challenge or, next hill. I think that the International Space Station's important from two perspectives. First of all, it's allowing individuals from these various different countries to get together, to talk together, to work together, and to build something together that will be of benefit to all mankind. Not any one country has all the smart people, and certainly not any one country anymore has all the resources required for a lot of the challenging things we want to do in the future. So I think we're setting the foundation here on the ground, to learn to work together, to understand each other, to be tolerant of each other, and to be appreciative of each other. That will take us, hopefully, a long way in the next millennium to a lot of achievements in the future, not only in space but here on the ground as well. More specifically, the International Space Station itself is important because of the things I already mentioned, that I don't think any one country has the political will or necessarily all the resources required to go do a human adventure to Mars. I think we will do it, and I think that once that we have demonstrated the capability as an international community to design, manufacture, launch and operate an international space station, then we will have also the political resolve to do a joint venture to go to Mars. And I'm looking forward to that; unfortunately I think it's going to happen beyond my window of availability but, some of the young people out there, including maybe my daughter, or someone else, will have the chance to do that.

With that in mind, since STS-88 is the beginning of assembly of the station that you see leading in that direction, how would you like history to remember your mission and the work that you are about to do?

Well, I have mixed feelings. I'd like to see a great big billboard that says they were there and they did this great thing. At the same time I hope that the future allows us to do such significant and important things that this will be very dim sign along the side of the road to whatever happens in the future. I hope that they see this as a first effort in international cooperation in space. The fact that we're going there to do peaceful things and we're going there to do things that are significant to all mankind, not any one nation or not any one portion of any one nation. And if we can achieve those types of goals, and they are real goals, I think they will happen, then I'll be very happy.

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


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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