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Preflight Interview: Eileen M. Collins

A couple of weeks prior to scheduled launch, STS-93 Commander Eileen M. Collins took some time out from training to answer questions about the mission.

Click on the image to hear Eileen's greeting.

Eileen, what was it that drove you to want to be an astronaut? Was it something from when you were a little girl, or did it come later in your life?

The desire to be an astronaut came later in life, but I was always interested in flying as a child. I grew up in Elmira, New York, which is the location of the National Soaring Museum, and Harris Hill where the gliders fly. It's a very historical place. I went to summer camp up at Harris Hill as a child, and during the summers, I'd watch the gliders fly overhead. I always thought that someday I wanted to do that. My family didn't have the money to give me flying lessons when I was a child, so I had to wait until I was sixteen so I could get a job and save up money. I actually started in powered aircraft in Cessnas, and eventually got my glider license. That was really where it started. Seeing something that I wanted to do and knowing that if I worked hard enough, I'd get a chance to do it someday. After I got my flying license, I joined the Air Force and learned that I really did love flying. I saw that there was an opportunity to apply to be an astronaut. I decided I wanted to be an astronaut in 1978. It was also the year that I graduated from college, and the first year that NASA selected women for the space shuttle program. That's when the career of being an astronaut first became a reality to me, and when I really started looking forward to doing this someday. I think it's been a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck to get here, but I'm happy I'm here. I don't think I could have a better job.

When you were growing up, who were your heroes? Were there special people that you looked up to?

Yes. I know every young person has some kind of hero, and my heroes were my parents. I say that because they've been so good to me as far as motivating me and telling me that I can do whatever I want as long as I work hard enough to reach my dreams. On the outside, of course, I had heroes from music, television, and sports, and those are good heroes for children to have, but as I think back, none of them really stayed with me for any length of time. Only my parents could take me from my childhood all the way through to my adulthood. I think it's important to say that because I don't know if parents realize what a big role they have in their children's life as far as really inspiring them. I have a three-year-old and I know that my child, even at her age, listens more to other people than she really listens to her parents. At least that's the way it appears to me. In thinking back, I probably didn't let my parents know how much they really meant to me when I was growing up. I do that now that I'm older, and I'm thankful that both of my parents are still healthy enough to visit and come down to the launch. I still ask them for advice at times. I think, without a doubt, that my parents are by far my heroes.

When you were growing up, what were your favorite subjects in school?

When I think back to grammar school, science and math were always my favorite subjects. They were also the subjects that I did the best in. I try to encourage young people to take a variety of courses in school and find out what you really like, because usually what you like is what you're going to do well at. There'll be things that you don't like as much, but I encourage young people to continue to work hard in those areas. You may find later on that what you liked in elementary school may be something different in high school. I found as I got into high school that I became interested in languages. I never really had a real talent for languages and I always had to work hard, but I found it very interesting because I enjoyed learning about different cultures and their history. I found that I was good at math and science, and I think that's just because I was born with genes that favored those subjects because of some God-given talent. That's where I decided to go with my career. I was a math major in college and I went on to teach math later. I hoped that my love of math and working with numbers was something that I could pass on to my students. I know a lot of students struggle with math, but if you work hard enough, eventually you're going to get it.

Given your background in science, you might have applied to NASA to become a Mission Specialist rather than a Pilot.

In 1989, I applied to the Astronaut Program for both the Pilot and the Mission Specialist jobs. Since I was in fourth or fifth grade, I had been interested in the space program and learning about the universe. That was why I wanted to become an astronaut. I wanted to be part of learning about the universe that we live in. It really didn't matter to me whether I was selected as a Pilot or a Mission Specialist, so I applied for both jobs. I think the reason NASA chose me as a Pilot was due to all of my flying experience. Being chosen as a Mission Specialist would have been great too. I would have had the opportunity to do spacewalks or to work the robot arm. I would have learned more about the actual science of it. Both jobs really do have a lot to offer.

You mentioned developing an early interest in space. Do you remember what it was that sparked that interest for you?

Yes, I do. In fourth grade, my school subscribed to a magazine called Junior Scholastic. I remember reading an article called "Pro Versus Con: Should We Spend Money on the Space Program or Not?" As I read that article, I could not understand why anybody would say "no". It was obvious to me, as a fourth grader, that we needed to learn about space. I was more fascinated with what we didn't know rather than what we did know. That was when I started learning about the astronauts and their backgrounds, and figuring out what you needed to do to become an astronaut. From that point on, I was always very interested in space. Unfortunately, schools in the 60s didn't really emphasize space as much as they do today. We didn't have a Young Astronauts program or Space Camp, and the teachers didn't know as much about space as they do today. I find that children have many more opportunities to learn today, and I'm very happy about that. What did inspire me was the Gemini program, which led to the Apollo program and the moon landings.

You've flown as a shuttle Pilot twice, and now you're commanding your first space shuttle mission. What was it like for you, as an astronaut, to get that kind of news? What does it mean to be given that kind of responsibility?

To be given the responsibility of being a shuttle Commander is definitely a great challenge. There's the tremendous responsibility of doing the mission right, and the leadership that's needed to instill motivation in your crew and all of the other people you work with. I find that if you really love what you're doing and you really believe in the mission you're leading, the job becomes fun and easier to do. I've been given the responsibility of commanding the mission that will take up the Chandra X-ray Observatory. I really believe in what we're doing on this mission and what Chandra will bring to the scientists and people that live on this planet. It's going to teach us about the universe that we live in, and I can't think of a more interesting, fun, and exciting mission to be on. I couldn't have picked a better mission for myself. This past year of working, training, and making sure that this mission really comes together has been very rewarding, and I know that the ultimate reward will be when we successfully fly this mission and deploy Chandra.

You're getting quite a bit of attention being the first female Commander. You were even invited to the White House for your command to be announced. What does it mean to you to have this historic distinction?

It's an honor for me to be chosen to be the first woman to command a space shuttle, but I also see it as an evolutionary process. I wouldn't be sitting here today if it weren't for all the people, the women in particular, who've gone before me and set the stage to bring women into aviation. In the beginning of the century, it took a lot of courage to fly as a woman when that really wasn't a woman's place. Not only were they women who had a lot of courage, but they were women who loved flying. They really loved what they did, and that's why they did it. During Word War II there were the Woman Air Force Service Pilots, and the women who ferried aircraft. In the late fifties and early sixties, women competed to be astronauts. In the later sixties we started getting more women in the military. In the seventies women were first offered the opportunity to fly in the military, active duty. That's when I first became interested in flying. In the eighties the numbers became greater. Now, in the nineties, the opportunities have really expanded. In 1993, women were first allowed to fly combat aircraft. Then, of course, there's the space program. We had our first women selected as astronauts in 1978. Sally Ride flew in space in 1983. Since then, we've had more and more women become astronauts. There are three women shuttle Pilots now, including me. Soon after me there will be more women who become Commanders. We'll have women aboard the space station. Women are training now to be long-duration crewmembers. Shannon Lucid set a record for Americans aboard the Mir space station. I know our women will do great aboard the International Space Station, and when we send people to the moon and to Mars, women will be an integral part of those crews. Eventually, having women in these roles won't be news anymore. It will be accepted and expected. I'm setting a precedent for women to follow. With that in mind, I want to do the best job that I can. People outside of NASA will be watching because they're interested in the fact that we have a woman Commander now. Inside of NASA, I'm very accepted and I'm treated very much like the other astronaut Commanders. I really don't notice a difference, but I do know that there's a lot of interest on the outside, and I think that's just normal with any first.

Does being first bring extra responsibility, or is the job simply more challenging because of the notoriety for being perceived as a role model?

Yes, being a first does bring added responsibility and pressure. The little bit of added pressure doesn't come from the people I work with inside of this organization. It really comes from the people outside of the organization, mainly my family and friends. What they're passing on to me is the expectations that they see from people who will be watching this mission as citizens of this country and from around the world. In that respect, there is a little bit of added pressure that makes an individual work harder to try to set a good precedent. I felt this on my first flight when I flew as the first woman shuttle Pilot on STS-63. My second flight, as a Pilot on STS-84, didn't have the media attention that we had on the first flight, because there had already been a woman shuttle Pilot. I was able to really focus on my job without the outside media attention and without the requests for interviews and the other things that I felt like I needed and wanted to do. I didn't have that extra pressure. The extra pressure in being the first doesn't bother me. I find that I can still do my job effectively.

This is going to be your third trip to space. What experiences from your two previous missions as shuttle Pilot are you finding most useful to you as you step up to take charge of this flight?

The two missions I flew before this one were both very challenging. They very much prepared me for the flight that I'm flying right now. My first flight, STS-63, was jam-packed full of events. We had a spacewalk, we had the SPACEHAB laboratory that was full of secondary experiments, we deployed the Spartan telescope and then retrieved it, and we were also the first crew to rendezvous with the space station Mir. We didn't dock, but we were the first Americans to see it. It was very challenging because we wanted to make sure we did it right to set the stage for the docking flight which was to follow in three months. On my second flight, we rendezvoused with Mir and docked with Mir. It was exciting for me to see how a space station operates and how a logistics transfer was done. Those missions have definitely prepared me as much as possible for this flight as Commander. I guess you're never really prepared for a job like this completely because no matter what mission you fly, there is always going to be something new that happens. That's when you have to take everything you've learned and all of the experiences you've had, and put them all together. I find that the best way to prepare is to really know your job and the specifics of what you're doing, and to really know and work well with the crew.

You've been preparing with this crew of four people for more than a year now. Three of them are experienced space travelers and one of them is a first-time flyer. Tell us about how you've all grown as a team during the time that you've been training together.

Our crew was assigned to this flight a little over a year ago. We all knew each other because we all work in the same area, but you don't really get to know a person until you start working with them on a day-to-day basis. We all moved into the same office, and I talked with each one of my crewmembers. It was important for me as a Commander to learn where their talents and interests were. With that, we were able to decide who would do what duties on the flight, keeping in mind that we would be able to change that later if we found that we needed to spread the work load around a little bit better. As we started working eight- to sixteen-hour days together, we really started to become a family. We got to know each other so well that we became like brothers and sisters, although we get along much better. That's one of the strengths I see in my crew. We listen to each other, we get along well, we really understand and can focus on the mission, and when we make decisions for the mission, we do what would make it most successful. One thing that comes to mind is how we work together when we do simulators and we're given malfunctions. You really get to see how people work under stress and you really get to know each other that way. That's why it's so important to train together. You need to know each other really well when you go up on a mission like this one. It just makes it that much easier.

You've had a lot of time to work together because the target launch date for your mission has been changed a couple of times due to problems in preparing the primary payload and its associated hardware. Can you give us a sense of how you've put the extra training time to good use?

While it's disappointing to hear about a delay, it's good to know that we're fixing something to make this telescope better. The circuit boards needed to be replaced on Chandra, and we were happy that we found [that] before we launched, because we want to make sure that this telescope can make its five-year lifetime. It also gives me a chance to look at my team, and for each individual to look at themselves, and say, "What do I need to work on to make this mission more successful?" We had already trained for the normal deploy activities and what we know should happen on the flight, so the delay gave us a chance to look at what could break during the mission. There certainly are a variety of things that might malfunction, and we want to have a plan so that if it happens, we can just implement the plan. We don't have time to try to figure out what to do while we're actually on the mission. We've done a lot of that type of planning. Our crew has gotten to know the flight control team better due to the delays. We've had weekly meetings to talk about "What if this happened?" We've found a lot of things to check on that we may not have thought about before. I think that we've become a very sharp and prepared crew because of the delays.

The most recent delay was caused due to the failure of an Inertial Upper Stage rocket during an unrelated satellite deployment in April. You are using an IUS to deploy your payload on this mission. Why are you confident that the IUS that you're going to be using is going to perform properly this time?

The Air Force is still completing the last of its activities to wrap up the investigation and get back to NASA with a report of exactly what happened. We do know that there was some kind of problem with the booster's first and second stage separation. We also know that the booster that was used on the April mission is the same type of booster we are using on our mission with Chandra. The Air Force investigation board has narrowed in on a cause of the accident in April, and they've looked at our upper stage booster and have determined that there's nothing wrong with it. They told us that we could continue processing. With that in mind, the booster has been attached to the telescope, and has successfully gone through quite a bit of testing. As of our talk today, the booster still needs to be officially cleared for flight. I'm confident, based on what I know, that it will be and that we won't have any problems with it. I think the Air Force has done a great job with what they've done in their investigation and I'm confident that we'll be in good hands.

Let's turn our attention to the deployment of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, "a highly sensitive x-ray telescope which offers scientists a greater understanding of the forces that created the universe and continue to shape it." Can you tell us what an x-ray telescope is? What do astronomers learn by looking at x-rays?

An x-ray telescope is very different from a visible light telescope, like the Hubble Space telescope. Telescopes that reflect visible light have mirrors that are shaped like a dish, and the light comes in, reflects off the dish and is focused at a point where the image is recorded and viewed. If you try to observe x-rays in that way, the x-rays would go right through the mirrors because the x-ray particles are so small and high in energy. Therefore, to observe the x-rays, the mirrors have to be designed differently. What the creators of this telescope have done is design four mirrors in a slightly curved, barrel-like shape. The light will come in at one end of this barrel, and reflect off at what they call a high grazing angle, and focus on the instrument at the other end. The data is recorded on the instrument and stored, and then later downlinked to the ground. I might add that Chandra is a very, very powerful x-ray telescope. We've had three smaller x-ray telescopes in orbit before, but Chandra is just leaps and bounds above them. If you could read a newspaper from half of a mile away, your eyes would be about as powerful as Chandra is.

You noted that there are other x-ray observatories already in space. They were launched on expendable rockets. Why does this one have to be brought to orbit on a space shuttle?

Chandra will be launched on the shuttle because we have astronaut intervention, we have a test and checkout capability, and we have the ability to return the observatory if we find something wrong with it. That is the value of taking it up on the shuttle. If we were to launch it on an expendable rocket and something were to go wrong, we would not be able to do anything about it. If something goes wrong before we deploy it from the shuttle, we have capability to bring Chandra back. That is by far one of the best reasons for putting it on the orbiter. Many years ago, the plan was to put Chandra into a low Earth orbit, like the Hubble Space Telescope, that the telescope could be repaired and last longer. It would have been sent up on an expendable if we had stayed with that plan. Instead, it's going to be put into a very high orbit. That's what this booster's going to do. Once it's in that orbit, it can't be retrieved because the shuttle can't go to an orbit that high. It's going to be in a very high elliptical orbit of about 140,000 kilometers by 10,000 kilometers. The reason it is put into an orbit that high is so that the Earth's radiation belts do not affect the x-rays. Also, it will be able to observe one specific target for a longer period of time. In low Earth orbit, it's limited to a ninety-minute orbit, and you only can observe for a certain portion of that. In the orbit we're sending it to, it can focus on one thing for as long as forty-eight hours. All in all, we are getting better science for the price of not having the ability to repair it.

What kinds of concerns do you and the crew have due to the fact that this telescope is not retrievable? What kind of special training do you and the flight controllers go through?

Once Cady Coleman throws the deploy switch and Chandra separates, we will not be able to get it back. We have test and checkout capability aboard the shuttle, and if it doesn't meet the requirements that we have for deployment, we won't deploy it. We'll wait until the next revolution or until the next day. Although it is scheduled to be deployed the first day of flight, if we are not confident that Chandra is ready to go then, we really have up to four days on this mission to deploy Chandra. The only circumstance that would allow us to bring Chandra back is if the first stage of the booster does not light. In that case, we would be able to send up a later shuttle flight to bring it back. The decision was made a few months ago to add two mechanisms to the sides of the telescope to allow us to go back later with an RMS and retrieve Chandra, stow it in the shuttle payload bay and bring it back. We have not yet worked on a design for how the telescope would be cradled, but that's something that could be done over the next year as we plan a mission to go back and get Chandra.

This satellite is going to be put in an orbit a third of the distance to the moon. The work you and your crew have to do to deploy this satellite begins on launch day. Talk us through the events that will take place once you get into orbit. What will you be doing during the preparation and the deployment of the observatory?

Our launch and ascent will be very normal to a typical shuttle mission, but once we have main engine cutoff, things are going to be a little different than normal. Seven hours and seventeen minutes into the flight, our window opens to do the deployment. It's only an eight-minute window, so we're gonna be extremely busy from the time we get up into space until we get the telescope deployed successfully. With that in mind, we'll need to tear down the flight deck, get out of our suits, take down the seats, put away equipment that we don't need, and bring up the equipment we will need. Cady and Michel will be working primarily on getting the setup while Jeff, Steve, and I are getting the orbiter portion ready for the deployment. We'll be very busy over the next five-hour period. We need to do some maneuvers and we need to align the inertial measurement units. Cady and Michel will run several checkouts on the telescope's mechanical, electrical, and communication systems. At five-and-a-half hours into the flight, we will raise the telescope to a 29° angle and run more tests and checkout. We mainly want to make sure that commands can be sent from the Chandra Operations Control Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Chandra, and that they can get good telemetry back. The same for the booster, which is controlled out of Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale, California. They will want to make sure that they can send their commands and get good data back. At about seven hours into the mission, we'll raise the telescope again to 58° and do some more brief tests and checkouts. Then we'll wait for a "go for deploy" call from Mission Control in Houston. At that point, we'll start a twenty-minute countdown that will be time-critical. We'll have to get certain things done at certain points during the countdown. We have this choreographed down to the last detail. We know what we're going do if a malfunction occurs in that time phase. I'll be setting up my station in the aft cockpit on the starboard side of the orbiter because I need to do a maneuver right after deploy. Steve Hawley will be sitting in the Commander's seat, Jeff Ashby will be in the Pilot's seat, Cady will be throwing the switches for the deploy, and Michel will be backing [her] up. Michel's also responsible for the cameras and watching the computer displays to make sure that the information we're getting back is correct. Once we throw the switches for deploy, six springs will push the telescope out at a 60° angle, and I'll watch the telescope fly over my head and the overhead windows. One minute after the actual deploy, I'll do what we call an out-of-plane burn. I'll fire the forward shuttle thruster jets to fly us up and around the spacecraft. Hopefully we'll get some good photograph opportunities then, but primarily I want to make sure that we get a good separation from the spacecraft. At that point, we'll do a maneuver to take us to a separate attitude, and Jeff and I will set up the orbiter to do a separation burn. It's a thirty-one-foot-per-second separation burn that will take us thirty-nine miles away from Chandra/IUS because the telescope will be doing its own burn one hour after deploy. That is obviously a very critical burn during the flight. It will take Chandra up to its higher altitude. It'll burn for a couple of minutes, then they will have first and second stage separation. A few minutes after the second stage burns, the IUS will completely separate from Chandra and will be on its own. At this point, our day will start winding down. Once we do our separation burn and do our closeout of the shuttle systems after the deploy, the rest of the Chandra mission is out of our hands. We do have the ability to send some commands if we need to, but most of the control will be taking place from the operations control center in Massachusetts. A few critical events that will take place that we'll be very anxious to hear about will be the low gain antenna deploys, the sunshade opening, the solar array deployment. There will also be several on-board burns that are very important to get it to its final orbit. In fact, those burns will be taking place on board Chandra even after we finish the mission five days later. There are a lot of critical events that will be taking place and we'll be listening very carefully to hear about what happens. It's going to take anywhere from six to eight weeks before we get the first pictures back from Chandra. We'll definitely be looking forward to seeing those images after we return.

In all your preparation for the mission, I presume that you've been through some simulations of the deployment where things do not go exactly as they are planned to go. What are some of the critical failure scenarios in this operation, and how have you trained to respond to them?

I look at the potential failures aboard the Chandra/IUS booster spacecraft in four different categories. There are mechanical failures, electrical failures, communication system failures, which are commands and telemetry, and there are also safety failures. We've trained for all of these failures over the past year, and as we've trained, we've really learned how the on-board systems work. A mechanical problem that we've trained for is the possibility of a tilt table jam. I had mentioned earlier that we raise this tilt table to 58°. At some point it could stop. There are alternate means of raising the table that we've trained for. If those don't work, we would have to do a spacewalk. There is a manual mechanism that can be attached to the tilt table so that we can physically crank the telescope up to the point it is supposed to be at. If there's a problem with the electrical system, we have spacewalks planned in order to attach a cable to bypass any electrical boxes that fail. If we need to do an EVA, Cady Coleman and Michel Tognini will be our EVA crewmembers, and Steve Hawley, Jeff Ashby, and I would do the deploy. We've trained for those scenarios and others. I can assure everybody that if we do have problems, we have trained for them. Of course, we expect everything to go well.

Chandra's the third telescope of four that are envisioned in NASA's Great Observatories Program. How does Chandra complement the observations and research of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory? How does that all help scientists better understand these forces that are shaping our universe?

To understand NASA's Great Observatory Program, we need to know about the spectrum of light and the kinds of things that we can see in space. In the middle of the spectrum we have visible light, which you can see with your eyes. Colors make up the visible light spectrum. On the high-energy side are the x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet light. On the low-energy side are the microwaves, radio waves, and infrared light. The Great Observatory Program focuses on four important parts of that spectrum. The Hubble Space Telescope observes visible light. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory observes the very high-energy end of the spectrum. Chandra will bridge the gap between Hubble and Compton and observe x-rays. In the future we will have the SIRTF telescope, which is the Space Infrared Telescope. It will be launched on an expendable booster in about two years or so, and that will look at the low-energy end of the spectrum. High-energy photons, like gamma rays and x-rays, can't make it to the surface of the Earth because they are absorbed in the atmosphere. We have to go into space to observe them. Although we don't have to go into space to observe visible light, we put Hubble into space because we can get much clearer pictures, more light, and we can see much farther. Chandra's resolution is at least fifty times better than anything we've done in the past. It's something that we can't even do from the surface of the Earth. We're hoping that in the future we can continue to refurbish and upgrade these telescopes.

The Gamma Ray Observatory and the Hubble are already in orbit doing their missions. What kinds of things have the experiences of these two facilities offered to the engineers and the scientists who were developing Chandra? What have the problems with the mirrors in Hubble taught them?

The Hubble Space Telescope had a problem with [some] of its mirrors. When Chandra's mirrors were built, polished, and coated, the mirror assembly was sent to the calibration facility at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and was thoroughly tested and calibrated. It was actually found to exceed expectations. Because of what happened on Hubble, we have a lot more confidence in Chandra. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory has been very successful [and] is still in orbit sending information back. Hubble makes more headlines because the pictures are so powerful and beautiful. The Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory observe the part of the spectrum that you can't see with your own eyes, so it's really not the pictures, but the information that we get back that's going to help the scientists learn more about our universe.

The Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System is another telescope that will also be on board Columbia during your mission. It's going to be used throughout your time on orbit. What kinds of astronomical observations are going to be made with this instrument over the course of these few days?

The Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System, or the SWUIS telescope, obviously observes in ultraviolet. The telescope will have the capability to look much closer to the sun than Hubble can. A couple of the primary targets are Mercury, Venus, and anything else that might be orbiting the sun at very close distances. The SWUIS telescope will be set up on a window, which is in the shuttle middeck on the port side. Jeff Ashby and I will be flying maneuvers that will be critically timed to point this telescope at the targets without looking directly at the sun. If we look directly at the sun, we could damage the telescope. We'll be doing maneuvers that will allow us to observe Mercury, and then move to a sun-avoid attitude, and then come back on the other side of the sun and take a look at another target. I think that this telescope is very unique because other telescopes that are in orbit around the Earth cannot do this.

So you're going to move the entire space shuttle rather than the telescope?

Yes. The telescope will be fixed in the window, and to move it, we will have to do a maneuver with the entire shuttle orbiter.

There's another orbiter maneuvering test that's scheduled for your mission called the Fly Cast Maneuver. You are doing this to test a procedure that may be used on a future shuttle mission. Describe what's involved here, and tell us what you and Jeff Ashby will be doing for this.

We will be doing this Fly Cast Maneuver as a flight test to the September shuttle mission, which is a radar mission. STS-99 will have a radar boom that extends out from the shuttle payload bay on the port side. I'm told it's almost sixty meters long. On that mission, the shuttle will be flying at a relatively low altitude, so it will be experiencing atmospheric drag. Periodically, they will have to boost their orbit. You can't just fire the shuttle jets and raise the orbit with this long boom hanging out the side, because it could possibly structurally damage this boom. What the engineers from the Jet Propulsion Lab and Johnson Space Center have designed is a technique to fire the shuttle jets with almost millisecond timing between the pulses to keep from activating any structural modes that might damage the radar boom. What we're going to do on board the ship is do jet pulses and change the autopilot system by pushing buttons that will change from one set of commands to another to the jets. The timing is split second, and you really need to be paying attention during these maneuvers. It's easy to make a mistake if you're not well trained and not paying attention to what's going on. Jeff Ashby and I have been practicing this fly cast technique quite a bit. We want to make sure that we do it right and get good data so we know that we can successfully do this mission in September. I'm not sure why they call it the "Fly Cast" technique. I've been told that the engineers who designed it said, "This reminds me of fly-fishing," so the fly-cast name stuck and we're still using it today.

Among the many payloads that are flying on your mission is the last scheduled on-orbit evaluation of an exercise treadmill that's destined for use on the International Space Station. Explain for us the idea behind a treadmill designed to isolate the vibrations that are caused by the exercise, and also talk about your plan to put the range of experience of your crew to work when you test this thing.

We have to have a treadmill aboard the International Space Station. We are planning on taking a treadmill up next year, and we want to get it right. We've flown a treadmill on the shuttle occasionally over the years, and it's been made better, but we find that when an astronaut runs on the treadmill, the pounding from the running can be felt throughout the ship. It'll be felt throughout the orbiter and in the future, it'll be felt through the International Space Station. That pounding could add some element of disturbance to the microgravity experiments, so what we're trying to do with the treadmill is isolate those vibrations. We don't want them to affect the experiments or the space station. Along with that, we want to make sure that the astronauts continue to exercise. Exercise is very important in space because your body doesn't get the stress in space that it does on Earth. You're not walking, your bones don't get compressed, your muscles don't get used as much, and your heart doesn't work as hard. We've got to get on the treadmill and we've got to exercise. We've been working on this system for years and years to get a good isolating system so that we can help the astronauts stay healthy. I think we've finally come up with one that's going to work pretty well. We are going to test one of the very last parts of this system on our mission. It'll be the last time the treadmill flies on a shuttle before it goes up on the space station. What we're testing is really the harness and some final changes that'll be made. The astronaut will wear a harness that will keep their shoulders and their hips comfortably aligned as they run on the treadmill. There are also load devices and other things that really need to be refined. What I want to do with my crew is to give a broad experience base to the engineers who are working on the treadmill so we can get some good feedback to them on how to refine the system one more time before we take it up to station. Steve Hawley will run on the treadmill since he's used it on past missions. Michel Tognini will also run on the treadmill. He was on Mir for two weeks back in 1992, and he's run on the Mir treadmill, so he can bring us that experience base. This is Jeff Ashby's first flight, so he can give us a fresh attitude on what he thinks of the treadmill. Over the past couple of months, we've found some extra time in the flight plan, so Cady and I will also run on the treadmill. We won't be an official part of the test, but we'll get a chance to run on it and give our feedback to the system. If we don't get to run, the experiment will still be a success.

Your mission's carrying quite a few other experiments. Tell me about one or two of the other experiments that you're particularly looking forward to during your five-day mission.

We'll be doing a series of burns and jet firings for the Air Force. The Air Force has satellites in space and will be observing the shuttle and our jet firings from various parts of the Earth. We have a ham radio on board that we'll use to talk to schools and to various amateur ham radio operators around the world. We'll be making scheduled contacts, and it is always possible that we will also make accidental contacts. We have protein crystal growth experiments, we're taking up some ladybugs as part of the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Experiment, and we'll be growing spores on another experiment. We only have a five-day mission so what we have selected to fly on this flight are experiments that can really produce some of useful information. We'll be pretty busy. We have thirteen or fourteen secondary experiments that we'll be doing after we deploy the Chandra observatory. We will be very busy throughout the entire flight.

How do you explain STS-93's role in advancing the goals of space exploration to people outside of NASA who do not necessarily know a lot about what you are doing?

I see STS-93 as an astronomy mission. Our primary goal of our mission is to successfully deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory. That is why we're going up in space. Chandra will teach us so much more about the universe that we live in because it will be able to look at a part of the spectrum that we can't see with our own eyes. What the scientists are looking for from the Chandra Observatory is to be able to teach us about the origin, the evolution and the destiny of our universe. We'll be able to look at high-energy objects like pulsars, quasars, and matter that's falling into black holes. We know that there's mass out there somewhere in the universe that we're not able to see it, and we're trying to learn what is it. When we learn about this missing matter, we'll know more about what its part in the universe is and where the universe [is] going. It's amazing to me that we live here on this planet Earth, a very minuscule part of the universe, and there's so much that we don't know. I find that the Great Observatory Program is really going to teach us more about the world that we live in, and I find that very exciting.

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