Interview: Peter Wisoff
STS-92 Crew Interviews with Peter Wisoff, Mission Specialist.
Talking with Jeff Wisoff, Mission Specialist on STS-92. First
off, if you would, why did you want to be an astronaut? Were there
any particular events or persons that inspired you to be where
you are right now?
A: I was growing
up in Virginia when the men walked on the Moon for the first time.
And I remember watching that live on TV and being very excited about
it and always thinking that would be a great thing to do. It wasn't
really until the shuttle program came along that it, there was enough
seats going into space on each space ride to have an opportunity
for someone with my background-which is science, laser technology
in particular-to participate because I'm not a pilot. So, that got
me interested in the shuttle program, and [I] applied, and got lucky
enough to get in and have really enjoyed it ever since.
if you would, give me an overview of your education and career.
How did you get to be where you are?
Well, I went
to college at the University of Virginia and majored in physics
there. And then I went on to Stanford University and did my degrees
in applied physics and laser and laser construction technology.
And then I went to Rice University, where I was a faculty member
there before being selected to NASA. So, I've always been interested
in science and technology and space technology. And now I've had
an opportunity to participate in the shuttle program, and it's been
a real…privilege and a very fun experience.
talk a little bit about this flight in particular. You're beginning
a series of missions that involve some of the largest and most
critical hardware for the International Space Station. If you
would, discuss this flight's pivotal role in the assembly sequence.
Why is this flight so important for the flights coming up down
space station's a lot like building a house. You kind of have to
do it in sequence. You can't put the roof on until the walls are
there, things of that sort. So, we're really one in a stage of build
flights to build station. And we obviously need to put our hardware
there before the hardware that goes on top of ours can be put there.
So, in that sense, it's critical because each piece of hardware
builds on the next. We are taking up what's called the Z1 Truss,
which…looks like a big cube and it goes on top of the Node,
and it has some of the subsystems that are needed for thermal management
and for electrical power generation as well as attitude control
of the station. We're also taking up what's called a docking port
that we put on the station that allows the next flight after us
to dock to that docking port in order to be in the correct position
to put its hardware on top of the Z1 Truss, which is going to be
the solar arrays that they're going to put up there. So, in that
sense, it's critical because we have to put the place there for
the next shuttle to dock to, and we put the substructure that the
solar arrays [go] on top of.
what have been the biggest challenges for you and your crewmates
as you train for this flight?
a very complex flight. We're really going to be breathing hard all
the way up to the last day because it's, you know, thing after thing
on the flight that we have to do. And so, I think it's really just
the whole script of the flight, to keep the pace going, keep the
concentration going, and learning how all the pieces are related
and what the constraints are. Because, until we get the hardware
out of the shuttle bay and on to station, there are certain thermal
constraints we have to worry [about], getting too hot or too cold.
And getting a handle on all those and how to orchestrate it, I think,
is probably the most complex part.
mentioned earlier the Z1 Truss segment. Describe the Z1 Truss
in some detail, if you would. How big is it? And what does it
do for the ISS now and then in the future as well?
Well, it looks
like a big cube-probably somewhere on the order of about 15-foot
a side-and it sits in our payload bay as we go up in the shuttle.
And Koichi will, as our arm operator, will lift it out of the payload
bay and stick it on top of the Node. And on the Z1 Truss is a number
of pieces of hardware. There are some antennas that'll be used later
to give the station a larger amount of communication capability
than it currently has. And, during our EVAs, we actually move those
antennas around so that they can be positioned correctly later and
actually be put to use. It also has on it Control Moment Gyros,
which are basically like big spinning tops that help maintain the
attitude of the station. Keeps the pointing in the right direction
without burning fuel, you know, liquid fuel that we have on board
the station. It also has what are called ammonia accumulators on
it, which is part of the thermal system. It helps cool the station
once it's all put together. And then it has some various other little
pieces of hardware on it that are related to the electrical power
system as well.
good. Now, what are some of the difficulties and complexities
you've trained for in the installation process of the Z1 Truss?
I mean, that's the most important thing. What have you had to
Wakata, our arm operator, has the hardest part there because he's
got to lift it out of the payload bay and stick it on to the Node,
and that's a very difficult operation. He has a vision system that
he uses to help him do that. My part in it is more as in the EVA
end of it. And on the first EVA, I will be inside acting as the,
what's called the IVA or the intravehicular activity person. And
that means that I hold the checklist and I'm talking to Leroy and
Bill, who are outside doing the EVAs, and reading them the steps
in the checklist as they go through their choreography of how to
connect up the electrical umbilicals that give heater power to the
Z1 to keep all the components on and alive. And they also go out
and move around the antennas during EVA 1 to position them for future
flights. So, a large part of my role in the very early part of the
Z1 is integration, is going to be the checklist manager for the
the second EVA, you're adding a Pressurized Mating Adapter that
you mentioned earlier. Now, what does PMA-3 do and where is it
for the uphill ride in the shuttle, it's located in the payload
bay and it's tied down, bolted down, on to a SPACEHAB pallet, which
is basically a frame. The front of the frame looks like a circle
with the PMA circular adapter attaches to that. And on the first,
on the second EVA, Mike and I go outside and work our way around
that clock face-that circular face-unbolting the PMA from the SPACEHAB
pallet. And then, Koichi Wakata takes the arm and grabs this thing
and lifts it up over the nose of the Orbiter and sticks it on the
nadir docking port of the Node. And while he's doing that, Mike
and I will be watching that operation, giving Koichi voice indications
of how well the alignment is, if necessary. Again, he will be using
a vision system to help him do that. But if there's any problems
with it, since we're already out EVA, we'll be there to be able
to give him voice indications of how to help him dock it. And once
it's docked, Mike will climb all around on the PMA and undo the
launch restraints for the umbilicals. I will set up the robotic
arm with a foot restraint and get in the foot restraint and be flown
over to where the PMA is. And then I will connect up the umbilicals,
which provide power and data for this docking system. And, as I
said, the next flight-4A-will use that docking system to come to
and dock the Orbiter.
are your thoughts as a veteran space walker? Is it something you
look forward to or is it just part of the job?
Oh, very much
look forward to it! It's an incredible opportunity, an incredible
experience. You're kind of in your own little spaceship in the space
suit. And you can't beat that view of the Earth while you're working.
It's an incredible sight.
on your second space walk of the flight, you'll be working again
with the Z1 Truss. Tell me what you and Mike will be doing during
Okay. A large
part of that EVA is really preparing for the next flight. As I mentioned
earlier, the next flight will bring up the structure that holds
the solar arrays and put it on top of Z1. So, you need to make sure
that that surface of Z1 is clear of all objects that would get in
the way. And some of the hardware that we take up has been packaged
up there just for flight uphill and needs to be moved prior to P6
arriving that goes on top. So, what we're going to do is go out
and basically prep Z1 for the next flight. Some of the things that
we do is: we move a grapple fixture that was used to move Z1 out
of the way, so it's no longer in the way for the next flight who
has to put their structure on top. We also deploy a tray that has
a bunch of electrical umbilicals that are later connected to the
US Lab, and that tray folds down and…we basically undo a bunch
of launch locks on it so it'll be ready for the 5A flight that comes
along a couple of flights later. In addition to that, we also cycle
some of the capture devices that are on Z1 that are used to hold
later components in order to make sure that nothing's happened to
them during the ascent and that they work and that the later flights
can depend on them to work. So, we do some cycles of those capture
devices. Then at the end of the EVA, if there's time, our plan is
to do a SAFER DTO. SAFER stands for Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue,
and it's a little jet pack that we wear, so that if you become disconnected
from your tether by some accident, you have an ability to fly yourself
back to structure because it's much harder for the shuttle to come
and get you, since it's attached to the station. It would have to
detach, and that takes some time to come fly over and get you. So,
you can rescue yourself. And our plan for that is to activate the
SAFER unit that's on our back and fly down towards the B camera,
which is in the back part of the shuttle, so that they can aim the
camera at us and see what our flight path looks like as we fly down
towards this camera. And that's basically the task you have to do
as an astronaut if you fell off the station. You have to pick up
point, and then you have to fly to that point to get back to it.
And so, we want to test that end-to-end operation that we can do
that successfully with SAFER.
if you would, discuss the Common Berthing Mechanism. And, if you
could, compare its differences with other docking mechanisms we're
very similar in the sense that the two pieces of the docking mechanism,
as you bring two vehicles together, they have guides on them that
interlace as you bring them together and allows, you know, basically
takes out the tolerances for misalignment as you bring them together.
We will be the first flight that actually uses it to connect two
devices together. We have cycled the devices on previous flights
and so obviously a big part of the success of our flight would be
to have this mechanism work successfully. And we have prepared a
bunch of contingency operations in case something, you know, various
parts of it don't work. So, we feel pretty prepared and pretty confident
that it's going to work okay and that we'll successfully get the
objects docked together.
the flight, the crew will be ingressing into the International
Space Station. What are you going to be doing inside the ISS?
A number of
things. Me, personally, I will be, once we've got Z1 docked on top,
Pam Melroy and I will go inside the Node and open the hatch that
leads up into a little vestibule area for where the Z1 attaches
on to the Node. And there's a number of electrical connectors that
have to be configured in there. There's also some grounding straps
that have to be placed in there. And, we will also actually be scavenging
some of the equipment from the docking system so that we can use
it on other parts of space station. Because Z1 will always stay
where it is, there's no reason, need to ever undock it. So, there's
no reason not to reuse its parts. So, we're going to take out some
pieces and reuse them in another part of the station. It helps save
money. In addition to that, Mike and Brian will go further into
the station to do some configuration in the FGB in terms of transferring
things that the ISS crews will need when they come on board. You
know, the first crew that'll stay on board station's going to come
shortly after our mission, so we need to do the final preparations
for them in terms of putting supplies on board. And that's what
we'll be doing.
Very good. Now, on STS-81 in 1997, you were part of the fifth
shuttle crew to dock with the Russian Mir space station. And now
you're visiting the ISS. What are your thoughts on the opportunity
to visit two space stations and how space has become a place for
I think it's
been a great opportunity. I feel much more comfortable that I know
kind of what it's going to be like to go to space station, having
been to Mir. I think the Mir program was great in terms of preparing
our two countries-Russia and the United States-to work together
on the space station. It's really easy to have, you know, 6 to 10
astronauts work together on orbit because we have similar backgrounds
in the way we do business. It's much harder to get the ground structures
integrated together, because you've got to run data lines between
them. You've got to learn how to work within each other's processes
of how you build your hierarchies and your separate mission controls
and things of that sort. And I think our cooperation in the Mir
program really helped create that communication that allows us to
work together on ISS along with our other partners. And it was a
really good training ground to get ready to do ISS.
me some thoughts, more specific thoughts, about similarities and
differences between visiting the Mir and then this flight here.
What do you think about when you think about the differences between
this is a newer space station that we're building, and it's not
completed yet. Their, the Russian, contribution to space station-the
Service Module-is very similar to the base block module that I visited
in Mir in the way it's laid out. This space station is going to
be a lot bigger. It's going to take a while to build because we've
got a lot of parts to put up there. It's a very big challenge. Obviously,
having gone and participated in the Mir program, we're better prepared
than we were if we had just started out cold to go do this. The
command and control schemes are a little different because we're
now partners together in this program. Before, this was, you know,
the Mir program, it was a Russian space station, and we were basically
guests visiting them as part of our joint cooperation program with
them. So, there are differences. But the essential challenges of
operating a space station in such an environment-which is a very
harsh environment-are still there. And we've learned a lot from
the Mir program, and look forward to, you know, meeting the challenges
our Russian partners have shown a lot of perseverance in getting
us to this point in the assembly. Now, what do you think about
their contributions so far? And what does our partnership entail
from this point on?
Well, the Service
Module is a very essential part of the space station. It's going
to provide the living quarters for the early crew. So, it was very
important to get that there. And I think everybody's breathing a
sigh of relief now that it's there because we know we can continue
forward and put people on board and really start…utilizing
the space station for what it was meant to be utilized for, which
is to do science and to…help maintain the station by having
people there to respond to any contingencies. I think that the continuing
contributions of the Russians, obviously besides providing crew
and their crew time to help maintain the station, is they provide
Progress vehicles, which are the little automated space vehicles
that come up and provide fuel as well as supplies for the crews
that are living on board, which is, you know, a much better way
of having a robust…traffic model for maintaining the station
than depending on just shuttle to deliver everything. This way,
you have more than one vehicle going up there, delivering supplies.
They also supply the Soyuz spacecraft, which can take people up
and down and will also act as the lifeboat for the station early
in the program so that we'll always have a vehicle attached to the
station so that if there's a, you know, emergency and the crew has
to get off the station, there's a way to get home without waiting
for a shuttle to arrive. So, those are very important contributions.
you would, give me an overview of the role of this flight in preparing
the International Space Station for the arrival of Expedition-1
crew, which is really what this is all about.
our crew is delivering components that are going to be necessary
to eventually put the solar arrays on in 4A, which will provide
more power to the crew that's on board. Shep and his crew will arrive
prior to 4A putting the solar arrays on. But we will have all the
supplies on board, like the food and the water. There's also exercise
equipment going up on the very next flight for them so that all
the kind of, the needs that you have to maintain your physical well-being
will be there. And all the tools and equipment to continue outfitting
the inside of the space station will be there. And so, I guess we
look on ourselves as kind of delivery boys. Making sure everything's
there for them and then Shep and his crew will be well trained to,
you know, maintain the station and continue on with outfitting it
on the interior, awaiting for the next shuttle crew to bring the
next big component.
is the importance of establishing the space station and what do
you believe it will lead to in the years to come?
I think that
the space station really provides a couple of things. One is, you
know, its basic plan is to be a science platform in space that we
can conduct space operations from and science operations, provide
a long-term environment to do microgravity experiments. I kind of
look at microgravity as one of the knobs you can tweak to discover
new things. If you look back at the history of science, you know,
we learned how to control pressure of materials, vulcanize rubber,
things of that sort. Each time you learn to control a physical parameter,
it leads to new discoveries because it allows you to tweak and understand
the physical processes that go on. Space station will allow us to
be in an environment where we can control the amount of gravity
that [an] experiment sees. And, we do that by putting…a centrifuge
into orbit along with our ability to feel microgravity just by being
inside the space station. And by spinning up the centrifuge, you
can control the amount of gravity an experiment sees because it's…simulated
gravity when you're in a centrifuge, just like when you go around
a car in a fast bend, you feel yourself being pulled to the side.
That's what a centrifuge does. And so, by having that control over
that parameter, you can conduct all kinds of materials experiments
and life sciences experiments to understand the effect that gravity
has on basic processes. And I think that can't help but lead to
important discoveries. Building the space station itself also provides
an opportunity in that we learn how to do space operations. It's
a very complex project, and it will give us the basis for going
on and doing, you know, even more challenging things like going
to Mars eventually and building colonies there and whatever goes
beyond that. So, I think, you know, when you do hard things, you
learn things that can't help but have a payoff. And the challenge
itself is, I think, a big motivator for kids to get into science
and technology, because kids are very excited about space exploration.
And so, I think it has multiple payoffs in that sense.
yours is also the 100th shuttle flight. And, if you would, discuss
the significance of the space shuttle in human space flight history.
Just talk about its uniqueness a little bit, what it's accomplished,
and then its role in the future as well.
Yeah. I think
the 100th shuttle flight is an opportunity just to reflect back
on what a great vehicle the shuttle is. And also the fantastic job
that the shuttle team does in preparing the vehicle for the crews
to go use. Because it's just, it's amazing to go watch a launch
and just think about how complex this machine is and how well it
works. The shuttle has proven itself to be a great workhorse for
getting large pieces of payloads to orbit and have an opportunity
to work on them for 10 to 14 days. And in this case, it's going
to be our taxi to take stuff to space station and help build the
space station and deliver crews back and forth along with the Soyuz
vehicle. So, it's just an amazing achievement. It's probably the
most complicated machine ever built that I can think of. And yet
it works almost flawlessly every time we launch it. So…the
significance of the 100th shuttle flight is just an opportunity
to reflect on how lucky we are to have the opportunity to fly on
it and to use this vehicle to build a project like ISS.