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Crew Interviews

Image: Mission Specialist Julie Payette
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Julie Payette's greeting (WAV file 200 Kb).

French greeting (WAV 288 Kb).

Preflight Interview: Julie Payette

The STS-96 Crew Interviews with Julie Payette, mission specialist.

Julie, you have got a job that a lot of other people in the world would only, can only dream about having. What is it that drove you to want to be an astronaut? Was it something that started back when you were a little girl or a later in life thing?

I wanted to be an astronaut since I've been a little girl. I was growing up in Montreal, Canada, and during the Apollo mission I was watching that on TV, on French TV because that's the only language I spoke when I was ten, and I was fascinated. Fascinated by them living in a little capsule and going to the moon, driving that rover and then coming back with these three parachutes on their little capsule. And I wanted to do the same thing, so I said so to everybody that one day I'd be an astronaut.

Just to fly in space?

It was both. I wanted to do the things. I wanted to wear a space suit and activate systems and do some scientific experiments. I wanted to drive that rover on the moon big time. You can imagine that when you are ten, twelve years old and you're growing up in a town in Canada and you're French Canadian and you're telling everybody "Hey, I'd like to be an astronaut one day." Then people pat you on the back, smile a little bit and say "Yeah, sure." And they hope that you're going to change your mind and find a more down-to-earth job, which is what I did eventually.

That was still heading in the direction of being an astronaut, though, wasn't it?

There was so little opportunity at the time I was growing up. When I went to high school, and when I first went to the university, Canada didn't have a human space program. We had participated as a player from the very early times; we were actually the third nation to have sent a satellite in space. But we didn't have a human space flight program until 1983 and that's a little bit after I started the university. So because of that, it was kind of crazy to think that one day I could be come an astronaut coming from Canada because we didn't have a program. But still you make those small choices in life that maybe, if indeed, that opportunity comes through one day, you never know, then you'll be prepared for it.

You became an astronaut and now after years of training, STS-96 will be your first space flight. Can you describe how you felt when you got the word last year that you're finally going to get to fly?

I was taken by surprise, completely. First I had just finished my training program with NASA in what we call the basic training program for astronauts, the astronaut candidate years. And I had just graduated in April of '98 from that program, so I didn't really expect to be given a flight assignment right away or just after that. So I'm sitting at my desk and doing my job on the ground, working on some robotic issues for the crew office. And I get a sign from our chief astronaut to come in his office and I thought of something completely different. I thought maybe I'd been caught speeding in the Center or something like that, and instead I was told of my flight assignment. And I was really surprised; I really didn't expect to be assigned so quickly. I was the first one of my class to get an assignment after the graduation in April.

What does it mean in your home country for you to be participating in a mission like this to an International Space Station under construction?

Well, it means a lot to Canada to be a partner in the International Space Station. We've been players in the aerospace business since the beginning, and we are providing a higher robotic technology to the International Space Station. But we also providing human resources, and I am part of those human resources; the country is now celebrating our first participation in the International Space Station. We're all very excited about this; this is just a first step to our contribution and our partnership, of which we're very proud.

As things are laid out right now, history will record that Julie Payette was the first Canadian to go aboard the Space Station. What does that mean to you?

I think it's a nice, pleasant coincidence, but that's really all it is. I find myself extremely privileged to be able to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, to fly with my crewmembers, to be able in such a tiny little way to contribute to the advancement of our knowledge and our pushing the frontier of what we know today. I just find myself part of a whole and a bigger endeavor that is much bigger than who I am. So I have the immense privilege to be the first one to represent my country aboard the International Space Station; that is something I take with much humility.

Let's talk about that larger endeavor, the International Space Station, the assembly of which you are going to be a part on orbit. Overall, can you give us some sense of the difficulty and the complexity of assembling this space station in orbit?

Assembling the International Space Station in orbit is extraordinarily complicated, and it's hard to realize it, because most people haven't been to space, so it's kind of far away. But most people have been on a lake or at sea, so it would be just very similar as if we wanted to assemble a full ship crew in the middle of the ocean during a storm. It's just as complicated as that. We don't have any infrastructure out there in the middle of the ocean. We have to bring along every single piece of material, every single bolt, every single cable. We have to make sure they fit somehow before you leave in the middle of the sea in the storm, because you won't have time there to devise a new cable, you have to connect it at that time. So basically that's what we're doing: we're building an enormous infrastructure in a very hostile environment, in very difficult conditions, and we have to bring everything with us. And if things don't fit, and if we don't have the right bolt, well, we just can't go and walk to the store and buy it and then come back to the work site; that brings the difficulty.

The other difficulty about the International Space Station is in the word international. We have several different nations putting together pieces, developing and designing these pieces in their own country, sometimes under a different measurement system because we have both imperial and metric measurement systems onboard the International Space Station. And then having everything fit together in orbit for the first time because sometimes those pieces won't see each other on the ground before they get to space. And that is an extraordinary challenge to make sure that everything is going to be fitting together, everything will connect and talk to each of the other systems. That is a challenge that we've been tackling now for several years and we see, so far, that it's working quite fine.

Your mission is not scheduled to bring another large piece of the station as the last assembly mission, STS-88, did. How can you gauge the complexity of what you folks are going to do in the sense of what the framework of that you've just described?

When the assembly sequence of the International Space Station was first put together, it was mostly big pieces. One module will be sent up and another module will be sent up, and both of them will be docked together and then another one piece, big piece will be sent up. And then soon people realize that these big modules are just the walls and the outer infrastructure of the International Space Station — just like a house or a skyscraper or a big boat that you're building. The outer shell is only the outer shell; you have to equip the inside, you have to connect the inside. You also have to make sure that all the pieces of the outer shell fit together and connect together and that's what logistics and resupply missions are for. In between the big pieces you have to bring all the small pieces that outfit the inside of the International Space Station. That's exactly what STS-96 is doing.

Talk about how that work was, go a little more in detail rather than how that work (bringing logistics and supplies) is important to the overall assembly sequence. Let me put it this way: Why does the work that you're planning to do have to be done in order for subsequent missions and crews to finally arrive?

One of the difficult aspects of planning an assembly sequence of such a large infrastructure on orbit is to plan ahead for all the pieces that the next construction crew will require. When we start having a permanent crew on the International Space Station, all the equipment that this crew requires will be onboard before they get there. So in order for that to happen, then the resupply mission brings a lot of equipment — several thousand pounds of equipment — that we transfer from the inside of the space shuttle into the International Space Station. And then we put it inside the station, install it, and activate it if needed, such that when the next construction crew comes in, then all the equipment for them to continue is in place. The problem with that is that there is a limited amount of cargo that we can bring on one Space Shuttle. So in between big pieces, then we bring small pieces, so that the next flight can be using what we brought up to continue the construction. And this is completely essential. That wouldn't happen, the construction would stop dead if it weren't for the resupply mission making sure that all necessary equipment is activated, installed and ready to use for the next flight to happen.

The plan to assemble the Station stretches out over years and literally dozens of space flights. There are already changes that are being made and some of the changes in the launch schedule for station components has led to changes in the training for your mission, led to changes in the tasks on your mission. How have the changes in the flight plan impacted the training for you and your crewmates?

The training for International Space Station assembly flights is a little different than the training that we used to do at NASA for a shuttle mission. Our philosophy, our culture was to assign a crew way ahead of time, and practice every single detail of the specific task of a mission many, many times over, so that by the time you get into orbit you know exactly what to do and do the mission as planned and then come back. With the International Space Station we can't do all of this planning way ahead of time, but most of it we can. But because each flight depends on the other, if a flight occurs two months before another, there might be conditions that have changed in between those two flights that will impact what people will do on the next mission. And, therefore, we'll have to now reconsider completely the timeline, the task that we're going to do onboard and the training for it. This has already happened with STS-96; it's only the second assembly flight on the International Space Station.

Just a few months before the flight we learned that a new important task has been put onboard. We've decided that some battery chargers in the Russian module, Zarya, have to be replaced — eighteen units of them, and that is a late addition to the flight. So now crewmembers will have to go to Russia to get the training because it's a Russian system, and also we'll have to find room inside the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle to house those eighteen units that weren't supposed to be onboard. And we all do that just a few weeks before launch. But that will be the business that we're in — for constructing such a large structure in space.

Another first for your mission is that it is going to be the first to fly with the integrated cargo carrier, what we call the ICC, in the cargo bay. Tell us about this carrier and what it'll be used to carry to orbit.

The integrated cargo carrier, the ICC we'll call it, is a platform that will be outfitted in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle; it's an outside platform, an external platform. We can't access it from inside the space shuttle. Only the EVA crewmembers that do the space walking go and access the equipment that will be stowed on it. And what it is, is a platform on which we attach our equipment that we need to transfer from the space shuttle to outside the space station. And that equipment is not pressurized. We fix it to the ICC, and then the space walkers will get to this equipment, unbolt it and transfer it and install it on the exterior of the space station, leaving it there for the subsequent crews to use.

We'll talk in more detail about the space walk in a moment. Before the space walk happens, all of you will have to dock to the station that's scheduled to occur on Flight Day Three, the first-ever docking to the International Space Station. I'd like to have you describe the operation for us and make note of the part that you'll be playing in, as part of that team while Kent and Rick fly the shuttle to that docking.

For us who grew up in French, it's always very interesting to realize that NASA has used a French word to describe this absolutely incredible operation, which is the approach, the docking of two space vehicles in space. It's called a rendezvous and a docking. And this rendezvous is extremely complex because objects in space don't quite behave like they do on the ground and in two dimensions. We have orbital mechanics, we have definite orbits and speed, so it is almost just as tricky to fly a rendezvous with a space shuttle as it is to land an airplane on the carrier while the carrier is going up and down in the sea. So all of this operation is extremely rehearsed on the ground with as many flight simulators as we can find and under all kinds of conditions. Our crew is very well trained to do this rendezvous; it will be flown by our Commander Kent Rominger. But everybody inside the orbiter will be participating in this process. We're going to approach it very slowly, we're going to make sure that we're right aligned, and we're going to continue flying very slowly.

And by the time we finally dock, one of the crewmembers will activate a system to capture the Space Station with our docking system. Then we'll be docked and then we can start checking for leaks and eventually ingress inside the Space Station. My role during that approach and rendezvous is the one of documentation. I am the one in charge of all the cameras, including all the photo survey that we need to do. A lot of the systems in space have changes that occur to them due to the hostile environment of space, and we need to document these changes. So there are requirements for us to use extremely precise and extreme powerful lenses to document some parts of the station before we dock to it and then the same after we undock from it.

So I will be sharing the one window with the Commander that we'll be swapping in and out all the time. Whenever he has a second, he will get away from his control and I'll zoom in with a 400-millimeter lens attached to a camera, which is a huge lens to photo survey the Space Station while we're approaching. I'm also going to be providing some of the downlink that everybody will be able to see as we approach and dock to the Space station.

I am assuming that you had an opportunity to talk with your colleagues who have been to the International Space Station, those folks from STS-88. Have their firsthand descriptions of what that station is like … how have they assisted you and your crewmates in preparing for your rendezvous?

They're extremely important. The crewmembers of STS-88 are the only people that can give us a precise description of what it is to work inside the International Space Station. They're the only ones who have actually, physically been there. So obviously we've been talking to them extensively to find out how they did it. They had a bit more time to train than we did; and because of that, they had time to think about how they would conduct the space walk, how they would conduct operations, and what they would do differently if they could. That is extremely useful for us because these are lessons learned. Also they have their impressions. We're going to work in an environment where we've never been either. So it's very interesting, it's also very useful to know what other people think about it. And it's impressive to hear them talk about it. First, also, to talk about how much space they felt there was inside the Space Station. But when you think of it, there are [now] only two small pieces up, compared to the entire infrastructure when it'll be complete.

We referred earlier to the space walk. There's one space walk planned on your mission for Tammy Jernigan and Dan Barry to leave Discovery for about six hours. And you have, but although you don't get to go outside, a very important role to play in that. Would you talk us through the space walk, what is supposed to happen, and describe your role as the IV, the intravehicular crewmember?

During STS-96, we'll conduct one space walk. It is to take equipment from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle and install it on the exterior of the International Space Station. We also have a few other tasks that we have to conduct — maintenance tasks as we go along and find out that a few details need to be corrected. And during that space walk I'll be the intravehicular crewmember, the IV we call it. The IV is kind of the chief d'orchestre or the one that is conducting the space walk from inside the vehicle. The space walk starts several hours before the crewmembers actually come out of the hatch and go outside into the shuttle cargo bay area.

We have to prepare the inside of the Space Shuttle, we have to depressurize the cabin, we have to start configuring the tools that we will take outside, and we have to know exactly what we're taking out, and have everything ready. Once you're outside, there's no coming back inside to go and find a tool that you might have forgotten. So everything has to be placed. We also thoroughly check out the suits and that is done in conjunction with the crewmember, but also with the IV.

And once everything is ready and in place, then we have a full routine that we follow of checks and verifications that we do while we suit up the crewmembers and that, again, is my role. Then we install the crewmember inside the air lock and it's my role, also, to do the leak check on their suit once they're completely suited. And then we have to close the hatch, wave them goodbye and then send them off on their six-hour task. During the EVA itself, I'll be sitting at the aft window of the Space Shuttle and looking outside. Unfortunately, because we're docked to the International Space Station, it'll be the first time in our history, and that's a new way of operating, we will not be able to see our crewmembers directly with our eyes.

We'll have to use the shuttle bay cameras and the cameras that are installed on the arm for us to be able to see our crewmember while they're doing their task outside. But I'll be the one talking to them, I'll be the one reminding them of some of the settings and some of the locations they have to go through and then answering any of the questions they might have about details. So I'm the main communication between the crewmembers, the orbiter and also to the ground. I'm basically supervising and monitoring the space walk. And when the crewmembers are ready to come back in, again I'll be making sure that they don't leave anything that we don't want to leave outside, outside. We'll clean up the work site, come back into the hatch, and I'm the one that will help them repressurize the hatch and de-suit them after this long work.

The middle part, can you fill in for us a thumbnail sketch, if you will, of the kinds of tasks … of the tests that are planned for the space walk?

There are several tasks that we're planning for this one six-hour space walk. It will be extremely busy. The main task is to transfer two cranes from the external platform, the ICC, to the outside of the Space Station. One is a device we call the ORU transfer device. It's a small crane that will allow crewmembers to move big pieces of equipment. And we'll install that on the node Unity. We also have pieces of a Russian crane that will be installed on the Russian segment of the International Space Station; this is a very massive piece of equipment that we have to take from the Space Shuttle cargo bay. And, with the help of the robotic arm, we'll bring it all the way up to the top of the stack, where it'll be installed on the Russian module, Zarya.

We also will install a number of tools and bags that we have in a box. It's a container box, a small box, that the EVA crewmember can open; then inside that box will be a number of pieces of equipment and bags that are filled with equipment. And, again, Tammy Jernigan, my colleague, will carry those bags at the tip of the arm and will be moved in position, will hand those pieces of equipment and bags to Dan Barry, who will then install them at various locations on the node. These are our main tasks.

We also have a number of secondary tasks in which we're going to install a pinion cover that got away in the previous mission. We also will try to get a cable away from one of our space vision system targets, such that the target is not covered. We also have a few other tasks. We might have to cover one of the Russian targets, which has been scratched, and things like that. So these little tasks are going to be just normal. We're constructing a huge structure and there're little details and pieces that need to be fixed inside and outside.

And this is another example, I think, of how tasks have changed because of the different situation than Space Shuttle missions of old.

It is indeed very different, now that we are constructing a structure that is already in orbit. We're adding to it. So this structure needs to be maintained. Also, every time one of the construction team, as I kind of like to call ourselves, gets on the work site, we'll find details that have to be fixed, have to be corrected, or have to be modified. But we also will do our task and then come back and brief the other people. Then people will find that we better fix this problem at this time. It will change completely our way of operating. We can no longer plan exactly to the detail one year ahead, because it depends on what happened on the mission before, and it also depends on the elapsed time between missions. There is a live vehicle up in space that is orbiting around the Earth constantly, and this is a modifying environment. It's surely not a complete vacuum up there. And because of that, it has impact on the equipment and hardware. And when we go up, then things will change that way. That is the part of the challenge of building the International Space Station that makes it too incredible.

The day after the space walk is when you and your six crewmates are scheduled to first enter the station. Any sense of how you're going to feel when you get to float into the space that the STS-88 astronauts have told you about?

It's hard to tell what one's going to feel when it'll be the first time that we'll float inside the International Space Station. I kind of have the same feeling about how I'm going to feel when the Space Shuttle takes off from Cape Kennedy the end of May. It's hard for me to tell. This is something I've worked for all my life. It's something I take seriously. I have a lot of responsibility on this flight, but I know that it will be extremely special; it's a great privilege. I'm looking forward to see these modules that I've seen on the ground, which I've had the pleasure to see on the ground before they were sent up into space, and how they've evolved. I'm looking forward also to be able, with my crewmembers, to participate in making this progress and advance, because I think it is so fundamental for us to have our laboratory in space.

You all are scheduled to spend several days with the Shuttle docked to the Station, transferring materials from Discovery over to the Station. Talk a bit about the plans for the supplies transfers and the kinds of materials that you'll be delivering to the ISS.

After we ingress the International Space Station, we'll do a number of checks. We'll go around, photo survey, look around, and make sure that we understand well the environment in which we're going to work because, again, it'll be the first time that we're inside ever. And once that is done, my first task will be to perform this important maintenance and repair activity which is to change out the battery charger in the Russian module. That is something that was decided very late in the training flow, for which we had to train in Russia.

Then after that is done, we can't do any transfer of equipment into the Russian module at the time when we're doing the charging, the change-out of the chargers. The reason is because those battery chargers are underneath the floor of the Russian module. So we have to open panels and dig inside, do the change-out, then close up the panels. So at that time we might try some transfer operations from the Space Shuttle SPACEHAB into the node, or Unity, part of the International Space Station. I'll be inside the Russian module with my colleague, the Russian Cosmonaut, Valery Tokarev, doing the battery change-out.

Once that is done, we'll close out the panels and then we'll be able to start transferring material and equipment from the SPACEHAB to the Russian module. We'll first put some of the equipment inside the panels. Again, the Zarya module is kind of a corridor which is laid out with a ceiling, floor and both sides with panels that open up, so we can put equipment inside and there are specific locations. We're going to start putting equipment inside the panels. Once we're through with that part of the plan, then we'll continue putting in equipment, but we'll install it on the panels outside in the corridors and on top of the panel door, and then tie it down with some Velcro strap.

The real trick here about outfitting the International Space Station with, you know, almost 7,000 pounds of equipment — new equipment — is that we have to be really careful about where we place it and how we cinch it down to the floor. And the reason is, after we are done with our transfer operation, we going to document and photograph all this, and then we're going to close all the hatches; we're going to undock from the Space Station and come back home.

But the next step in the assembly of the International Space Station is the automatic docking of a third module, the service module that will come in and automatically dock to the other part of the Zarya Russian module. This docking will be done and flown from the ground automatically and will be quite impactful.

So before we can dock the station with the new module, the Service Module, we have to understand exactly where every piece of equipment that we've brought in is positioned, how much it weighs, how much room it takes, and how strongly it has been installed. This is so that they can calculate the mass properties of the International Space Station to the decimal figure. So that they'll know exactly when the docking occurs, what those masses will do when they're in there together. And how the center of mass of the International Space Station with respect to the space module will affect the vehicle once it's all docked together. And I would say one of the most critical things that we're doing on STS-96 inside the International Space Station is the layout of the equipment inside the node, Unity, and Zarya.

Another of the things that you and Valery are scheduled to do inside Zarya is install a muffler. Can you explain for us what that piece of equipment is and how difficult a task it is for the two of you to do that?

If people who have had someday a chance of visiting a submarine or of working in a confined environment where air doesn't circulate normally, they know that one of the big contributors to the noise level inside such places is the ventilation system. You've got to make air circulate if you want to breathe, and also for equipment to cool and for condensation not to occur. And that is the case inside the International Space Station. We have a very complex environmental control/life support system, which involves a number of fans and air circulating. This produces a lot of noise, and at the outlet of these fans there is a fair amount of noise. But now we have people who will live permanently on the Space Station for several months at a time. It will be hazardous if the noise level would be too high. So, one of the tasks that we have on STS-96 is to bring up some noise covers, mufflers, that we'll install on the fan outlets, such that the noise level will be reduced. That is mostly for the permanent crews, the people who will spend long periods of time inside the station.

Also, during the docked operations, you're scheduled to do some work relating to the Canadian Space Vision System and its use on future assembly flights, including using some of the cameras on the Canadian Remote Manipulator System to survey some SVS targets. Talk about what that work is going to consist of, as well as your feelings as a Canadian astronaut and getting the chance to actually use this magnificent machine.

When I think about this upcoming space flight, there are so many things I am looking forward to that it's difficult to make a list, a complete list. I would say the top of it is probably the chance of being able to see the Earth from above. But I must say that a close second to this is having the privilege to fly the robotic arm, the Canadian-built arm manipulator system. This is something I've grown up with as a Canadian; it's part of our heritage and we're also proud of this technology that has performed so well since the beginning of the Space Shuttle program. So to have the chance of flying is quite amazing as a Canadian, but also as a pilot.

This arm flies like an airplane, it's a six-dimension arm where you can rotate the tip of the arm, so you can translate that tip along the cargo bay of the shuttle and up the stack of the International Space Station. It is an absolute joy to fly. Right after the space walk is complete is when I am timelined in the flight to go on the controls of the Canadarm, as we call it in Canada, or the remote manipulator system. I will use the camera, which is mounted at the end of the tip of the arm, to survey all the targets that are placed on the Space Station, the space vision target. I survey them to see if they're in good shape, any problems with them, if they've been scratched, and if there are bubbles in the material.

The reason why the people from the space vision system program require that very thorough survey of every single target on the Space Station is that each target will be used on the next flight to manipulate and dock pieces of equipment together. When the operator of the arm will be blind with respect to the work site, he won't be able to see the interface, so the space vision system becomes critical. And because the targets are critical to the operation of the space vision system, we want to make sure they are in good shape before we use them operationally and actually have several tons of equipment coming in contact with the Space Station.

You started your career with the Canadian Space Agency working in robotics and as a technical advisor for the mobile servicing system, which is a part of Canada's contribution to the International Space Station. If we can step off Discovery for a moment, can you give us a quick overview of what the MSS is and how that robot arm system on the station is going to work?

The Canadian contribution to the International Space Station, the hardware contribution, is a small piece with respect to the big structure, but an essential one. Actually, the assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station does depend on a new robotic system that we call the Mobile Servicing System. It is a very advanced space robotic system that Canada has designed, and it comes in several pieces. It is a robotic arm, the main pieces, that we call the SSRMS for the space station for the remote manipulator system. And this big arm will sit on a platform that will provide the power and the necessary data and command path for an operator inside the station to control that arm.

On that platform is a mobile MSS Space System, which will then sit on a carrier. It's basically a moving carrier that will be mounted on rails and be able to move across the length of the Space Station. This is so that the operator inside the space station can position the robot arm at the proper work site from one end of the solar batteries to the other end. That's called mobile transport and it's also part of the mobile servicing system. And this will be used with the remote manipulator system, the robotic arm, to move crewmembers around when they have to perform a space walk. It will be used to put big pieces together during the assembly phases, but also to do all kinds of maintenance work: carrying equipment, carrying the orbital removal unit and things that we can change out and then move across the Space Station. It will also be used with its camera to do some inspection and survey. So it's an essential part of the construction and assembly of the International Space Station.

We've mentioned a couple of times how in the era of assembling the International Space Station things change and it's hard to plan far ahead, especially when missions fly in quick succession. With that in mind, then, as you folks prepare to wrap up your mission, what do you see as the minimum that would have to be required for this mission to be considered a success?

That's a hard question to answer. Obviously in our minds, the crewmembers', a hundred percent is mission success. And that's what we're targeting and that's our goal. We are carrying several thousand pounds of equipment, both inside the SPACEHAB and outside on our Integrated Cargo Carrier. That is our main task — to dock to the International Space Station. And since this is the first docking, it'll be challenging and it'll be the first time that we actually have people do it, so we'll learn a lot through that. That's something we'll carry back with us on the ground and then give to the other crews as they go along.

But really our main task while we're docked is to transfer all this equipment, install it, and activate it outside and inside the Space Station. So our mission will not be complete until we transfer most of this equipment. We are going to do an important repair and maintenance activity inside the Russian module and that has also now becomes part of our success. This battery change-out is being done at this point in time because it is essential for the next flight to come. But in my mind, I think our mission also won't be a success, if we don't have the time or if there is an anomaly that prevents us from deploying a small experimental educational satellite that we carry in the cargo bay. There are several thousand young people, students, on the ground waiting for this to happen.

That comes after you undock: it's a satellite called Starshine. Why don't you explain now what that is and what you and your crewmates have to do to deploy it?

The small experimental educational satellite that we are carrying is basically the size of a basketball, and it is mounted with about 900 small mirrors, one-inch-diameter mirrors. It looks like a big disco ball. It's called Starshine, and this experimental satellite is a great idea from a professor from the University of Utah, who decided to involve students all across the world, first in the preparation and integration of a space system. Meaning that each of one of these little mirrors has been polished, prepared, and processed by different schools all over the world. And then they all sent their little mirrors back to an integration center, where these little mirrors were mounted on the satellite. So not only will they be doing experiments with the satellite, they also have physically worked on the hardware.

Then the satellite is mounted into the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle, we go to space, and we deploy the satellite. This is a very reflective ball made of several hundred mirrors that will reflect light of the sun very well and will be observable from the ground, particularly at dusk and at dawn, with the naked eye, so students can — will be able to — track the satellite. When it will be launched, it will be launched in an orbit and a trajectory such that it will remain in orbit for several months, about six months. So students on the ground will be able to track Starshine for about six months and will be conducting some experiments.

Among these experiments is being able to predict the orbit of that satellite, which will change as the satellite orbits the Earth day by day. We'll be able to calculate the orbital parameters, and then we'll exchange information on a Web site that has been prepared for that, such that they can then predict the behavior of the satellite, but also when it will reenter the atmosphere. And they do that again from several schools around the world. So it's a collaborative international project that will bring students together where they've managed to touch the hardware and then we'll see it go by in the sky until it reenters the atmosphere. I think it's extraordinary. We'll make new astronauts and rocket scientists out of those bunches for sure.

…experiments that they didn't have for you and me to do when we were that age.

I don't think so. I don't think I would've been able to calculate orbital parameters when I was in high school.

It's a new era as we assemble a space station and do these other things. Your experience as an astronaut, in general, and your experience in training for this flight: you have a much better understanding of the goals of the International Space Station program than do most people. So I would ask you finally to help us understand it. In your mind, what is the role that the ISS will play in the future of space flight, in the future of space exploration?

The International Space Station is just a step in our normal progression as human beings. We have been pushing our frontiers all along. When our frontiers were one continent, then we explored further and found others. Our kind of frontier today is space, and when we think about it, we haven't been that far. We've been on Earth and we've been once or twice to the moon several decades ago. But we now know that we're part of a universe in which we are not even a grain of salt compared to the size and vastness of this universe. We haven't been to another planet inside our own solar system. Our frontiers have been right up there just outside the orbit of the Earth. And today we are just progressing by building our first step to ensure that we have a permanent observation post and laboratory and where our kind of frontier is.

So this is part of our normal evolution as human beings. But why do we do this? We do this for ourselves and mostly to provide service and to conduct experiments to benefit us all, not on another planet but right here on this planet, on Earth. The International Space Station is a laboratory, but it's also an observation post. We'll be monitoring the Earth; we'll be preparing experiments that will benefit us all here on the Earth by providing new techniques, new technology, new ideas, basic research fundamental to our progress, and fundamental to our future.

Inside the International Space Station we'll be trying to tame an environment that we didn't evolve to live in, called microgravity. We humans have evolved to live under the normal gravity of the Earth. When we are in space or traveling a long distance to other places — and we sure want to do that one day — we have to be able to function in an environment which has quite a lot of effect physiologically, biologically on our body. We have to study that for long periods, if we want to undertake long-period voyages to other planets like Mars.

Inside the International Space Station, we'll be able to see our planet on a large scale, but also over long periods of time, do time series of photo documentation of our environment and how we conduct business right here on the Earth. And when we look at the way we've grown in population, certainly in the last few centuries, we're now over almost six billion people on this Earth. That's a lot of people who live, produce waste, use resources. We are changing the face of this planet and we've done more so in the last 150 years than we have ever done it throughout our history. Basically, in our minds, we've been conducting an uncontrolled experiment on our environment. We're not so sure what the impact will be down the road.

We need to continue observing and monitoring this very closely. It is our survival; the Earth is our only spaceship. At the moment, it's the only place we have to live. We can't live anywhere else. Even onboard the International Space Station we've got to bring everything with us — our water, our food, our air supply and everything else to protect us against that hostile environment. And that's another of the aspects we do inside International Space Station.

Then when it comes down to why do we need to go further? Why do we need to explore? Well, this has been part of our past, it's part of our present and it'll be part of our future. If we don't do it today, we'll do it tomorrow because it's part of progress; it's part of our future.

Very good. That's all.

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