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Preflight Interview: William McArthur Jr.

The STS-92 Crew Interviews with William McArthur Jr., Mission Specialist.

Q: We are talking with Bill McArthur, one of the Mission Specialists for STS-92. First off, tell me why did you want to be an astronaut? Was there any particular event or person that inspired you?

A: There really wasn't a specific event. I'm probably one of the older folks in the Office now. I was almost 10 years old when the first human beings went into space. And as a youngster, I grew up with an interest in all things technical. An avid science fiction fan. But I never really had any idea that I could actually go into space. I was interested in joining the Army and so I went to West Point-the United States Military Academy-and I was commissioned a lieutenant and did the things that lieutenants could do. I was interested in flying, so I asked the Army to send me to Flight School, and they did. In college, I'd really gotten fascinated with engineering. And I liked aircraft. Liked rockets. Engineering kind of put it all together, and aerospace engineering made a lot of sense. And then in the late '70s, when, 1978, when the first space shuttle astronaut class was selected, there was an Army pilot in that group, a fellow named Bob Stewart. And, you know, just a little light came on. It's like, "Well, what did he do and could I do the same thing?" And I looked at it and, lo and behold, the goal all of a sudden became attainable. And so it looked like it would combine the two things that I really liked from a professional standpoint- flying and engineering-and was the, really the pinnacle, it seemed like it's the apex, I mean the highest professional success you could achieve in those combined fields. And I said, "What the heck. It's like buying a lottery ticket. Send in an application. The chances might not be very good that you'll win. But they're a whole lot better than if you never buy the ticket." So, here we are.

Now, let's talk about this flight a little bit. This flight begins a series of missions that involve some of the largest and the most critical hardware for the International Space Station. If you would, talk to me about this flight's pivotal role in the whole assembly sequence. And just let me know about how this is going to affect the flights that come on down the road.

Sure. This is almost like we've been preparing for a long time. We've been training for the Olympics, if you will, and now we're at the starting line and the gun's about to go off. There's been…tremendous work that's been done on the missions that have gone up to the International Space Station so far. We've got a fantastic fledgling outpost in space now. But it's time to turn it into something much more than that, to begin to realize the grand potential that the International Space Station has. And there're two really key things about living in space, things that you just really have to plan around. You have to be able to provide power. And you have to be able to communicate. I mean, we've got our large mission control centers here on the ground whose sole purpose is to communicate with the space station through voice, through data. And it's that information we get back from the space station that will justify its existence. And STS-92 International Space Station Assembly Mission 3A is really going to be the beginning of providing the tremendous power and communications capability that the International Space Station will have. We're carrying two elements up with us, two primary elements. The first piece of truss structure- we refer to it as the Z1 Truss because it's the zenith or uppermost- it'll be on the uppermost part of the station or the top; the zenith. And we're also carrying another Pressurized Mating Adapter which we'll attach to the opposite side of Unity or Node 1, and that provides a docking interface or an attachment interface for the space shuttle. Well, now talking about the zenith truss, Z1 - it really is going to be the anchor point for a significant amount of the at least early external hardware on the space station. It'll have gyroscopes called Control Moment Gyroscopes which will be used in controlling the attitude of the space station, using the electricity that spins gyroscopes so that we don't have to expend fuel which would have to be transported up from the ground. It also will be the permanent or temporary location for the communications antennas for two systems which will provide-I mean, in this day and age, everyone's starting to become familiar with the term-broadband. And that means, you know, the broader, it's, you know, when we talk about broadband, we're also, we're almost talking about how big a pipe we want to send information through. And the bigger the pipe, just like a bigger pipe can carry more water the higher the bandwidth or the more broad your band is, the more data you can send up and down. So, we'll have a couple of communications systems that are going to do that. The zenith truss, the Z1, will also be the location to which the next station flight - STS-97, ISS 4A - will attach the first piece of long truss structure, the P6 Truss…from which will be deployed the first US-built solar panels. So, it will be essentially the path through which this significant addition of electrical generation capability will be fed into the space station.

Now, what have been some of the biggest challenges for you and your crewmates as you train for this flight?

You may have gotten a sense from our earlier description that this is a pretty complex flight. Two different elements, we're mating. They're carrying quite a variety of different systems. The biggest challenge for us has been getting to know this unique hardware, ensuring that it's been integrated properly into the shuttle, and that we understand how it interfaces into the rest of the space station. After we've used the robotic arm to attach these elements to the space station, then we'll begin a sequence of four space walks to connect these to mate the electrical connectors, the data connectors, reconfigure the antennas, completely outfit the external surfaces of the Z1 Truss and of PMA-3, get them working with the rest of the space station, and ensuring all these pieces fit. That the myriad of cables that we have to connect in fact are going to fit. Gosh, just to go check them out at the Cape and make sure they're long enough! You know, if you get out in space and you go to plug a connector in and you're an inch short, you can't go to the local hardware store and buy an extension cord. And so, it's been…a significant responsibility for us to go to the maximum, maximum extent possible, touch the hardware, make sure it fits in place. Make sure, if we're going to, let's say the antennas we remove, make sure in fact when we take them off they don't interfere with other pieces of the space station so they get blocked in. And so, that's really been the biggest challenge, I think. Making sure that we're satisfied that all these pieces fit together properly and that we understand how they fit together. As we're attaching these elements and mating these cables I mean, we all know that you know, when you start doing some electrical work in your house, you go turn the circuit breakers off. You don't want to get a shock if you're wiring a new outlet. Well, when we're mating these connectors, we have to make sure that the power is turned off. Well, it would be nice to just go hit a master circuit breaker and turn everything off. Well, but that would shut down the entire space station; so, we can't do that. And so, we've had to pay a lot of attention to how the sequence of tasks is choreographed so that we have the right plugs turned off when we stick the connectors in. And then we have to turn those interfaces back on so that, when we mate the next set of connectors, we can turn those sockets off. And so, it's quite an interesting task to get this all scheduled and choreographed.

Tell me about the process of installing the Z1 itself. Give me an overview of how that happens.

Well, the Z1, the Z1 Truss, it's a fairly large structure. It weighs a little over 18,000 pounds. It fits pretty snugly in the payload bay so it's about 15 feet wide, roughly 12 feet long, and about 10 feet high. So, you can almost imagine it. It's just about a, oh, approximately a 12-foot cube. And so what's going to happen on ostensibly on Flight Day 4: Koichi Wakata-a Japanese astronaut who's our robotic arm operator- will use the robotic arm and he's going to be assisted by Mike Lopez-Alegria during this task. They will grapple the Z1 in the payload bay, lift it up, turn it around, and then mate it into a device called a Common Berthing Mechanism. The Common Berthing Mechanism is located at many of the inter-module, in the US inter-module interfaces on space station. And so, Koichi will basically pick the pick Z1 up, turn it around, get it very, in very close proximity to the Node, and there's the powered side of the Common Berthing Mechanism is on the Node and the passive or inactive - the unpowered - side is on Z1 itself. And then Koichi will insert it very gently in. Our Pilot Pam Melroy, will then operate the Common Berthing Mechanism, and this will be the first time it will be used in space to mate two elements of the International Space Station. Once that's done and we've got a good mechanical connection, then Koichi will ungrapple the arm from the Z1. We'll be essentially done with our primary task that day. Well, following that, we're going to ingress the space station and we'll do some logistics transfers. Then the next day will be the first EVA. Leroy Chiao and I will go out on EVA 1. And our job is to then do the majority of the reconfiguration of Z1 to prepare it for future use on the space station. So our task, our first task on this EVA is to configure the arm itself to support the EVA. And so, when I come out of the airlock, Leroy will have hooked me up to the end of the robotic arm. And then the first thing that happens is I'm just going to hang on to it-you know, sort of looking standing in a streetcar, holding a [mimics holding strap]-and then Koichi is going to take me to a location between the US segment and the Russian segment of the space station, and we'll then configure the arm with a bracket that I can stick my feet in. It's called an Adjustable Portable Foot Restraint. And so, once the arm is configured, I will then clip my boots into this bracket on the end of the arm. And then Koichi will then be able to maneuver me just like a very dexterous manipulating device on the end of the arm. And so, he's going to carry me over, and he'll stick me between, now this point, the stack is coming up out of the payload bay. Out toward the tail is where Z1 is. And so, Koichi is going to stick me underneath Z1, and I will attach…I will release the first 6 cables from their temporary location on Z1 and attach them to the Node. Then while we're doing some commanding, turning…that electrical power back on to those connectors and off to the second set of connectors, Koichi is going to move me up into position by a device called the S-band Antenna Support Assembly. And you know, we'll talk about things like S-band and K-band. And those refer to the frequency at which these systems operate, and these are pretty high-frequency communications and data transmission systems. The S-band system can communicate directly through ground sites, but normally will communicate through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System which is on orbit. So anyhow, then Leroy and I will get in position. I'm on the arm. Leroy will be in another foot restraint fixed to the side of Z1. And we're working now on the side of Z1, which is on the left side of the payload bay of the space shuttle. And so, we have to release a series of bolts. And we'll do that with these electrical wrenches - and we call them Pistol Grip Tools; they look like, you know, very sophisticated electric screwdrivers - and we'll release a series of bolts and electrical connectors that will free up this large S-band antenna assembly. Then Koichi will pull me away from Z1. I will rotate the S-band antenna 180 degrees so it points toward the Node. And then Koichi will move me over in position. We'll put it in a temporary location, and, while Leroy holds it, I'll bolt it back down. And this is a temporary location because it will not actually be put into…put it in its final or its first usable location and activated until the next flight; until 4A. And, gosh, we're just getting warmed up at this point. So then after we're finished with the S-band antenna assembly we'll move some small components around - some of these foot restraints, these foot brackets- we'll move them in position for the next task. Then if all the reconfiguration is completed with, for the power status the power system on board station - and by the way, the primary plan is for this reconfiguration to be commanded by the Russian control center, which means we have to be over Russian ground sites; and so, that adds to the complexity of the choreography, because if we're not over a Russian ground site, then our options are either to wait until we come back around to that side of the world, which could be a significant loss of time for us, or to command that reconfiguration from onboard, which Pam would be able to do; so we'll see how that goes. So, once the electrical reconfiguration is complete, Koichi will stick me back down underneath the Z1 and I'll then release the next set of four cables and attach them to the Node. And then we'll be ready for pretty nominal power status onboard the space station. Let's see. Then the next task. This is, these are pretty complex EVAs. Now, the next task will be to then go around. And what we'll do is, we'll release another communications antenna, the Space-to-Ground Antenna - and we call it SGANT, but it's Space-to-Ground Antenna - and it's in the K-band system. It would only communicate through the TDRS or Tracking and Data Satellites - and this one really looks like an antenna. It's a large parabolic dish, somewhat fragile, which, so here you are with this fragile antenna. Okay, so it makes us a little bit nervous. Anyhow, and then Leroy's gotten around on this face. It's the face that faces aft toward the tail of the space shuttle, so we'll, so the ground should get pretty good views of this antenna. And we'll release this antenna. And then I have this T-bar that comes out of the base of the antenna, and I'm sort of holding it off to the side. And then Koichi will move me aft in the payload bay; Leroy will be guiding the antenna as well, and will guide it clear of the Z1 structure itself. Leroy then moves over to the left side of Z1 - left side as you're facing forward - and positions himself near this boom that's folded down on that face of Z1. So, Koichi…will move me over on the end of the arm. I'll rotate the antenna around, present it to Leroy, and then Leroy will begin bolting it to this boom. I have to, at that point, get out of the arm, crawl along Z1, around underneath the antenna, to attach some of the, to attach one of the bolts and a couple of electrical connectors that provide power and data to the antenna. Once that's all said and done, Leroy moves around to the right side of the, or actually he'll move around to sort of the topside of the boom. And then we, by hand, we just fold the boom out. And once the boom's folded out, Leroy's got a couple of bolts that he attaches to the base to hold it in position. And then the K-band system is simply waiting to be activated on Flight 6A. I go back up, get back in the arm, and our last primary task on that is for me to go to the back of this pallet, this bracket that's in the payload bay, which is holding Pressurized Mating Adapter number 3, and I release a toolbox that's attached to it. Koichi brings me around and on the, you know, looking from the tail, on the right side of Z1, I'll then install this toolbox which contains tools that will be used both by us and by EVA crewmembers throughout the life of the station, both station crewmembers and subsequent shuttle crewmembers who come up and do assembly ops. Then it's back up to the interface between the Russian segment and the US segment. We'll break the arm. We'll take all these, all this equipment back off that I attached to the arm: the foot brackets and things like that. Koichi then lets me hitchhike on the arm back down to the airlock. And we're finished with EVA 1.

Now, you mentioned Pressurized Mating Adapter-3. What does that thing do and where is it located?

Okay. Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 will be installed on the next Flight Day, on Flight Day 6. And so again, Koichi is going to take the arm and he's going to lift it up. And this is an interesting task now. He has to sort of bring it up, sort of around and kind of high on the side of the station…and he puts it right over the nose of the space shuttle to attach, using the Common Berthing Mechanism in a very similar fashion to what we did with Z1. Now, Pressurized Mating Adapter. Well, mating adapter. That kind of tells us a lot. So, we must be mating something together. And that really that, in my opinion, is our equivalent of the jetway that you see at a commercial airport. You know, you go to gate 20. You get to gate 20 and you walk down the jetway, and you get on the airliner, and you go to your destination. Well, the PMAs are our equivalent of the terminal gate at an airport. PMA-2 is where the shuttle - where our flight and where all the shuttle flights that have gone up to station up through ours - will dock with the International Space Station. And so, it's got a ring on it-an interface that matches with a similar ring on our airlock on the shuttle-and our Commander Brian Duffy will fly the shuttle up until these two rings hook together. I throw a couple of switches, press some buttons, and these things pull themselves together and we get a good airtight seal and then we can open the hatches. Well, we've been using PMA number 2 so far. Well, you know, sometimes maybe gate 20 isn't available so you have to go to gate 21. So, that's what PMA-3 is. It's essentially the next gate to which arriving and departing shuttle flights will be able to attach. We say it's pressurized because we really want to transfer from vehicle to vehicle in a shirtsleeve environment. We don't…want to have to put on pressure suits and go through airlocks and things. And so, it is…able to maintain pressure and it allows us just to transfer in a, you know, pretty, in pretty relaxed attire between vehicles. The importance to PMA-3 is that the next couple of flights will dock to PMA-3 instead of, Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 instead of Pressurized Mating Adapter-2. On a subsequent flight- 5A-they're going to take PMA-2 off the station, temporarily attach it to a location on the zenith truss so that they can then attach the US-built laboratory to the Node-to Unity-and then subsequently take PMA-2 and attach it to the Lab. So now talking about PMA-3: both Z1 and PMA-3 present us a pretty difficult problem. Historically, we've relied on the ability of the robotic arm operator to observe out the aft windows and perform whatever tasks he or she is performing using the robotic arm…or as my friends from Canada say, "the Canada Arm." But, the problem with the space station is, once we're docked to it, you look out [the] aft windows and you see space station. …we can see very, very little in the rest of the payload bay. So, we have to rely on television cameras to determine how we're moving an object using the Canada Arm. And…if it's just a plain, unloaded arm, generally it's not that big a problem. But if we're trying to very precisely mate either Z1 or the PMA into these Common Berthing Mechanisms, we need something a little more precise. We need to be able to detect very precisely where this object is in all three dimensions, whether it's…you know, how it's rotated. And you really cannot do that with a single camera view. So, what we're going to use is the Space Vision System. While we're attaching Z1 as I mentioned, Koichi's operating the arm. Mike Lopez-Alegria will be his backup, will be helping him with camera settings and monitoring the arm on the computer display, and I'm going to be operating the Space Vision System. During PMA-3, during the PMA-3 mating Mike and Jeff Wisoff are going to be out in the payload bay on the second EVA. So, I'm going to be Koichi's number 2 arm operator. And, again, I'm going to be the Space Vision System operator. Now, folks may have noticed that on the space station elements, there're lots of dots. There're black dots and in some places there're white dots. And, no, the station doesn't have the equivalent of mechanical measles. And we're not all just madly in love with Dalmatians that we want to put dots all over everything. But what we do is we use these dots and you can see sort of a set of array, dots here in this array. We use the dots to be able to determine exactly where the payload is in relationship to where we want it to be. And you might look at it and go, "Well, how can these dots tell you that?" Well, I tried to set these dots up in a rectangular pattern. And so, what we do is, is that we know very precisely where the dots are on either Z1 or the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 or where they are on Unity, the Node. And we surveyed them very precisely. And as the camera image scans this, we have the computer looks through. And the computer, by determining the intensity of the image, can determine exactly where these dots are. Now, by being able to measure exactly where these dots are and knowing where they should be, we can know things like, "Well, you know, if this thing is rotated a little bit, we can tell." I mean, the human eye tells you very clearly, "It's rotated." Similarly, if an object gets closer, you can see the distance between the dots appears to get further apart. As it moves further away, the distance between the dots appears to be smaller. Similarly, if we do some other turns, we can see that the distance in these dots looks like it's gotten closer and, these dots, it looks like it's gotten further away. And so, by doing a very precise mathematical analysis of the geometric relationship between the dots, what we can set up right in front of Koichi operating the arm is exact numbers that tell him where he, how much further he needs to move the arm. Whether he needs to move it and we set it up and it tells him, "Koichi, you need to move it 24 inches forward." Or, for PMA-3, "You need to move it 24 inches aft." And so, the Space Vision System will give us that type of information. And folks who are following the mission may hear us at times talking a lot about the Space Vision System because since it relies on the cameras, it can be very dependent on the lighting conditions. And if the lighting conditions aren't good you may hear a very worried Bill McArthur on the radio trying to figure out how to fix that. So, once PMA-3 is installed then Mike and Jeff are going to come forward. They'll do similar to what we did with the Z1. They will attach it some electrical and data connectors. And then that will pretty much complete…they'll also be doing some reconfiguration on Z1. And so, that pretty much completes Flight Day 6, the PMA-3 installation, and EVA number 2.

For EVA number 3, you and Leroy Chiao go back outside. So, what's going to be happening during this space walk?

Yes, we do. Somebody accused us on this flight of being very greedy. This is my first opportunity to do any space walks and, by golly, we're going to get to do…each team's going to get to do two of them! So we have no complaints. This is a great mission. But we still have…we couldn't cram everything we needed to do on the zenith truss and PMA-3 in the first two EVAs. And so, it turns out we actually need two more EVAs to finish all the reconfiguration. So, we start off and we're going to finish some of the electrical connectors. We have a couple of boxes mounted to the side walls in the payload bay underneath…they'll be underneath the zenith truss. And they're called DC-to-DC Converter Units. Well, they're sort of like DC transformers, if you will. Pretty sophisticated ones. The solar arrays on P6-when the 4A crew gets it installed and the solar array's deployed-will produce electricity at a voltage that's different than the voltage we need on board the station. The voltage will be higher than the voltage we need in the station. You know, it's a little bit analogous to the fact that we transmit power in, you know, from the electrical company comes on…these large or high, high-voltage power lines than you use in your house and so you have to reduce the voltage. And that's sort of what we're doing. It's not only are we reducing it. We're also trying to keep it regulated to a very steady level so that we don't see power fluctuations in our equipment inside the space station. And so some of the important tasks during this flight are for this time Leroy's going to be attached to the end of the arm and I'll be basic, I'm actually his sort of like assistant mechanic. I'll go get tools that, and set out tools that he needs. He's going to go underneath Z1 on the end of the arm and release these two DC-to-DC Converter Units, one at a time. He'll bring them up, and he'll initially attach one bolt that holds each of them in that holds one in place, and then he goes to get the second one. And I scamper up, scamper around to the side and drive the second bolt. And he brings in the second DC-to-DC Converter Unit, and in each case, I'll help him help guide them into position for him. And then again, I'll come up on the side and attach the second bolt as he, as he's going to do the next tasks. Once they're in place, there're a couple of more cables that we have to reconfigure now that the DDCUs are in place from the zenith truss over to Unity. There's one more toolbox back on the pallet that previously had held the Pressurized Mating Adapter number 3. And so, Leroy will go on the end of the arm and release that box, and he'll bring it over to the left side of the zenith truss and attach it. And I'll help him guide it into that place if that's necessary. And so, then we'll look at some other task we might be able to perform to get ahead. We'll look at some of the EVA 4 tasks. And if we have time, maybe try to pull those forward in. For example, we're going to relocate the keel pin, a big pin that was on the bottom side of the zenith truss to hold it in the payload bay. Well it turns out, it's now still pointed down into the payload bay. And it can't be there for subsequent station assembly flights. It will interfere with some of the other equipment such as the P6 Truss. And so Leroy will release that and he'll move it over to a different side of the zenith truss. And then I'll go to these to up…up between the…up on the Node where we have a bag with a lot of tools in it. And I'll carry, a significant number of those tools over to the toolboxes and start populating the toolbox with some of the tools. And that pretty well will wrap up EVA 3. Of course, Leroy goes back up… reconfigures the arm, takes the foot restraints off, and then we'll come in and be ready for a nice dinner.

Are you doing any sort of support work during EVA 4?

Right. During EVA 4 I'll be doing actually some of the arm work. I'll be the arm operator for the first half of EVA 4. And EVA 4 Mike and Jeff will be out again. They will finish configuring the zenith truss. There's actually a tray on it that's down pointing toward the payload bay, which will actually be the forward part of the space station when we leave. But that tray had to be folded for two reasons: one, to fit in the payload bay for launch; and also it had to remain folded so that I could release all the, all the cables that were underneath there. Well, one of the tasks that Mike and Jeff will do will be to release this tray, and it will rotate forward into its final configuration. And it then exposes a number of ammonia fluid lines and connectors. And Mike will release a lot of the bolts that were holding it in place for launch so that on 5A that crew will be able to attach these ammonia fluid connectors to the US Laboratory. We use ammonia as our cooling fluid. Z1 acts as a passthrough for these ammonia lines; also has ammonia accumulators on board which, you know, act as sort of a reservoir and a sort of a shock absorber to absorb expansion and contraction and pressure fluctuations in the ammonia. And later, we'll have radiators on the station through which this ammonia will flow. And the radiators radiate heat out, and then pass the, you know, the hot, the warmed ammonia will go through the radiators, heat will be radiated out into space, and then the ammonia flows back into the heat exchanger assembly, heat exchangers in the thermal cooling system, the active thermal cooling system for the space station. Then Mike and Jeff will be doing a number of other what we call "get-ahead tasks." They'll be trying to move pieces of equipment such as these foot restraints into locations about the space station that will, that will put them in a better configuration when subsequent missions come up and those folks go to look for this equipment. You know, hopefully, it'll save them some time so that it's where they need it to begin with instead of them having to move it. Now at the end of that EVA Mike and Jeff have a couple of tests that we're doing because we hope to have a little bit of time at the end. They will do a, an evaluation of the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue, which we call SAFER which is this little compressed nitrogen backpack that attaches to the back of our space suits, you know, to be used only if we become detached from the space station or the shuttle and float away. It would give us the ability to fly ourselves back. So, they're going to do an evaluation of that unit. And then they're also going to evaluate techniques for how one EVA crewmember could rescue a disabled partner. And that will pretty well wrap up EVA 4. And then we'll be ready to, of course, celebrate that night to, hopefully, the you know, the things that we've been able to do. And we'll be ready the next day to ingress to do our final, our second and final ingress of the space station. Transfer some equipment, do some reconfiguration, some electrical reconfiguration inside the space station to prepare it for the arrival of STS-97.

Now, you are a veteran of space flights. But this is your first time as a space walker. What are your thoughts about this opportunity?

Well, I'm just grateful and excited about the opportunity to do a space walk. There are no bad jobs on a space flight. There really aren't. The first mission I had was a medical research flight- Spacelab. Wonderful group of folks to fly with. And it just was, I mean, it was more fun than ought to be legal. The second mission I was on was a flight that went to the Russian space station Mir and docked with Mir. And we, interestingly enough, carried then what was our version of a Pressurized Mating Adapter to enable the shuttle to dock with Mir. And so, that was very different than the first flight. And so, this flight now has some similarities to the second. Gosh, going up and docking with a space station. But now it has the additional dimension of doing some space walks. And so, I consider myself just extremely fortunate to have three flights with significant differences. I mean, gosh, it's a tremendous experience to be able to go in space. It's just a very…you just really have to count your blessings that you have the opportunity. And you can never do all the things you could possibly want to do. And so by going through these flights, I look at this one as I can really not imagine now, you know, it's all the…all the blocks are checked now. And it's just really exciting. I look, though, I look with a little trepidation, though, at the thought of, [being] out of the airlock, like, just for a few minutes. Kind of still looking around, sort of like, "Well, there's not much between me and space now." And then the first thing I'm going to do is hitchhike on the arm, out in the middle of nowhere. Like, okay. It's like…it ought to be fun.

As you mentioned, you have visited the Mir space station. What are your thoughts about the growing importance of international collaboration in space?

Well, I mentioned before being an avid science fiction fan. And, you know, we've seen you know, from Jules Verne, H.G. Wells on that, we've seen that science fiction writers tend to be remarkable predictors of the future that their readers never get to don't live to see. And all those visions of a space future really I think is a vision that mankind explores space. And there are a lot of reasons for that. I mean, clearly, it's a very daunting undertaking considering the resources required. People, money, technology. Exploring space is difficult. If it was easy, everybody would do it. So it's, so it must be difficult because, you know, right now, right now the United States and Russia are the only two countries which, on a regular basis…well, which launch people into space. Period. You know, there're probably going to be some countries who join that club in the not-too-distant future. But right now, United States, Russia. And I think, clearly it is an undertaking that cannot be done as well by a single country as it can be by a consortium of nations which are committed to leaving planet Earth. You know, besides, just besides the resources-the money, the equipment, the people- let's look at what the Russians have done in space. I mean, April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin, first human being to go into space. 1986 launch of the space station Mir. I mean, the Russians have accomplished significant things in space. They can…the potential is there for them to contribute significantly to you know, what many years ago was Space Station Freedom and had significantly fewer international partners. You know, talking about international partners: Koichi Wakata on our flight. The Japanese are just tremendous to work with. They're very…they're very reliable partners. They, the Japanese astronauts we have in our Office, are extremely skilled. Koichi - simply to watch him operate the arm is to watch a master at work. Sometimes, you know, I sometimes just go, "You are the master. You are the master." And so, I think what we see is that the, you know, to use a word that sometimes is abused a little bit, I think we see synergy here. We see that, collectively, we are more than the sum of our individual parts. Going up to Mir was a tremendous experience. You know, shortly thereafter it became very popular in the press to voice concerns about this decrepit space station that was falling apart. And, is it an old vehicle? Yes, it is. Does it require a significant effort to keep it operating? Yes, it does. But even so, that fails to, if you focus on that, you fail to acknowledge what a remarkable technological achievement Mir is. Now, I personally think it is time to build the International Space Station. It is time to build a vehicle which has more capability and requires less upkeep. But based on their…space flight experience, I think the Russians are a tremendous asset to the International Space Station.

Tell me a little bit more about that. What do you think the Russians have to contribute down the road?

Well, I mean, clearly they have a significantly greater wealth of experience at long-term space flight than we do. They present an opportunity for us to do things earlier than we would have otherwise. You know, for example, we're going to rely on using Soyuz capsules as lifeboats for, you know, for the next little while before the Crew Return Vehicle comes on board. A Crew Return Vehicle's going to be a great addition to the space station. But our options without being able to attach a Soyuz are to wait, you know, perhaps a couple of years or more before we could permanently inhabit the space station. So, by drawing on the technology they have-the technology they've proven for quite a few years-we really are able to accelerate the assembly and habitation of the space station. Now besides just the convenience I mentioned they have a lot of experience. You know, we, other than the Skylab days- when we had, of course, the longest duration - Skylab 3, 84 days - you know, we don't have a lot of…we have not had a lot of experience of, even on the ground, how do you operate a control center 365 days a year, year-in and year-out? And we're getting ready to do that. And so you know, we can certainly look at how the Russians have done long-term space flight. Now, does it mean for the International Space Station that the international partners ought to do it the same way? Maybe not. If the way they're doing it works well and is applicable here, well, by golly there is no reason to do it differently. If, though, we do, we look at the ISS and how we're going to do business and we think, "Well, the way the Russians did you know, the way they operated, for example, primarily relying on ground sites," well, we said, "Well, we really want to have more continuous communications with that." So, we're not going to operate exactly the same way there. We're going to rely on our constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites so that we can have near-constant communications with the space station. So, I think the advantage is we can see what they learned in long-term, long-duration space flight and we can then draw lessons from that. And if the lesson is, "Good way to do business. Let's do it that way." Good. It saves us going through trial-and-error. Similarly, if we look at something and say, "We think we ought to do it differently because maybe there's a better way." Then again, we can learn from the lessons that the Russians are sharing with us from operating Mir.

Now, if you would, give me an overview of the role of this flight in getting ready for Expedition 1. It's all about getting people up there, living on the space station. What's this flight doing to help get ready for that?

Well we're, as many of the other flights have done…we will be carrying a small amount of equipment for them to use. And primarily, though, what we have done is we have laid the groundwork for…and it's almost more…we've laid a groundwork for Expedition 1, for the Expedition 1 for a pairing because, as I mentioned, it's communications and power. Of course, there's…I mean, everything, everything that you do in space requires electrical power. And so, if you can't generate enough electrical power, then you can't operate the life support systems. You are limited in the experiments you can do. Again, communications. If you don't have good, reliable communications with the ground, then it's difficult for you, I mean, of course, if you need assistance from the ground, you've got a problem. But also how do you get the information…how do you get the results from on orbit to the ground? Well, if you wait for a round-trip, if you wait for the bus to come in and then take it home, you wind up either with a lot of data that's sitting around and not being analyzed, or perhaps you run the risk of losing that data, or you know, again, how do you…how do you transfer that data? Well, if you have good communications, you transmit it via radio. And so, you know, it's going to be a combination. We finish. A couple or three weeks later, the Expedition 1 crew comes up. Shortly thereafter, 4A comes up. And in conjunction with the Expedition 1 crew they're going to get the first set of solar arrays out, the S-band system activated. And folks we're going to be in business.

Well, so once you're in business what do you think this space station's going to lead to in the years to come?

Well, what it is, is it marks I think- especially for the United States-it marks a permanent presence in space. And I think you know, you can certainly say, going back to 1986 with only a couple of brief interludes there have been human beings permanently in space since then. Well, we don't anticipate interludes any more. Even brief ones. I think this really marks the beginning of humankind as a spacefaring race. That, forevermore, there will be human beings in space, and we will continue to look outward. I like to ask people every once in a while, "Do you remember the name of the pilot on the last commercial flight you were on?" I mean, you know, they always say, you know, "This is John Smith. I'm your, I'll be your pilot." And we don't. You know, if you took a ride in 1903, you would remember who your pilot was. And so, in and as conversation comes up when people will sometimes say, "Whoa, you're an astronaut. Oh I'm sorry. I didn't know that." You know, that's okay. We are making a transition in which we're beginning to consider space flight more and more routine, which is good. Because it means it become…it's becoming a part of our lives, not only do we accept because it's occurring on such a regular basis, but that we can't conceive of not having people in space. It will become an expectation of human beings everywhere that people are in space, people belong in space, and, by golly you know, eventually more and more of us will be there. Sure, I mean, it's inevitable. Civilians are going to go into space. Next year? Well, probably not. In 10 years? Well, maybe not. But 20 years? Why not? And it's only, you know, this is, we're taking small steps here. People clearly should be going back to the Moon. We need to, I mean, there is no reason for us not to go to the Moon and use that as a stepping-stone to develop the propulsion technology to go to Mars. I mean, on space station, we're going to prove the life support technology, power generation technology; we're going to develop a lot of the technologies that we will use to go on to Mars and even further. We're also going to understand better what happens to people in space. People change in space. The changes can be very novel and very entertaining. But also, we need to understand the potential negative medical impacts of some of the exposure to microgravity and the slightly higher radiation environment of space. And we need to understand those things before we can send people to Mars. So, what's the space station? Space station is a gateway to the future. The space station is…going to be our steppingstone to the planets and to the stars.

You talked about space becoming more routine. Yours happens to be the 100th shuttle flight.

Imagine that.

Now, tell me a little bit about the shuttle, how it's unique and what it's going to be doing in the future for us as well?

Well, one of the things again we take for granted is, the space shuttle is a reusable spacecraft. The first and only reusable spacecraft that people have ever built. And it works very, very well! It takes a lot of work though. I mean…the folks at the Kennedy Space Center who prepare it…that is a labor of love. And there's a lot of labor involved. But it is a tremendously versatile vehicle! It has the…you know, I talked, we talked about the Russian accomplishments. What they bring. Well, you know, one thing they've always lacked during the Mir program is the ability to bring much back from space. The Soyuz capsule comes back with room for three people and not much else. Well, the space shuttle can bring back almost as much as it can carry into space. Weight-wise, it surely could. And, you know, it's just a matter, if you carry some bulky payload up there you know…if you wanted to bring it back, getting it back in the payload bay could be a challenge. But so, it provides us tremendous logistics capability to space and back. I mean, it's called a "shuttle" for a reason. And, you know, sort of, the concept was, "We'll build a shuttle. And we'll build a space station. And the shuttle goes back and forth to space and services the space station." And we just were a little tardy building the space station. Well, the space station's coming along. The space shuttle is really in great shape. We upgrade them on a continuous basis. Gosh, Atlantis has this new Multifunction Electronic Display System, you know, really sophisticated, state-of-the-art cockpit which Discovery doesn't have yet. But, you know, we're all the time looking at ways to improve the shuttles, make them more efficient, extend their life. When we take them back to Palmdale, California for Boeing to look at, we're just always very pleasantly surprised at what good condition they're in. So they're extremely versatile vehicles! They've done everything we've ever asked them to do, and they've done it well! You know, clearly this space station could not be built without the launch capability both…of the shuttles to both carry the equipment, you know, the components of the space station and the people to put it together. So you know, if you look at it, it is a bird in the hand. It works well. We've got four of them. We know how to operate them. We know how to keep them running. We know how to get the most out of them. And any replacement system is going to have big shoes to fill. So that's I mean, the shuttle is a clearly, is not only a national resource for the United States. I think it's a world-class resource for the entire world.

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

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