Interview: Kent Rominger
STS-96 Crew Interviews with Kent Rominger, Commander.
Kent, you've got a job
that most people could only dream about having. Is being an astronaut
something that dates all the way back to your childhood? What is
it that drove you to want to take up this kind of job?
I'm here because of my
love for flying, and I absolutely love to fly. From the time I was
about five years old and my father took me flying (that's when he
got his private pilot's license), I loved it. Then from the time
I was five, I've loved to fly and that drove me out of college to
join the Navy to become a fighter pilot and a test pilot. Really,
I set my goals on becoming an astronaut once I was a fighter pilot.
From that point on, that was really my motivation to become a test
pilot because that's one of the prerequisites for becoming an astronaut
pilot. And I went on to test pilot school, and then kept applying
until they finally took me. So here I am.
I've heard about that
occasionally. How many times did you apply before you were accepted?
I applied twice, so I actually
felt very lucky to get picked up by my second time.
STS-96 is your fourth
space flight, but it's your first as commander of the mission. Can
you tell us what's the emotion you feel when you get the news that
you are going to command a space mission?
Yes, there are a couple
of emotions involved. The first one is excitement; I was just very
excited. The other was emotion in that I felt very lucky, I felt
very honored to be a part of it, not only as a commander, but chosen
for a mission that is an early space station assembly mission. And
then the next thought that comes along is, there's a lot of responsibility
with this job, so I need to make sure there's a certain amount of
seriousness involved with all this excitement so we pull everything
Now you've flown in
space three times before, each time as pilot. Is that experience
helpful to you as you prepare to take on the responsibility of taking
command and running a mission?
Absolutely. There's no
substitute for experience. On a couple of my other missions I was
fortunate enough to have been involved in rendezvous missions, so
I got practice at the aft station flying the vehicle on orbit and
flying rendezvous, and there is no substitute for that. And the
one thing I haven't done is flown a rendezvous to dock with the
Space Station such as we've done with some of the Mir missions.
But I have spent a lot of time talking to people that have and I
try to gain from all those lessons that they've learned to put them
to use in our mission.
Can you boil down the
kind of advice they give you in general about what it takes to do
a rendezvous and docking?
We've got a lot of great
tools these days. So as long as you have all your tools and all
your sensors and good radar data and good laser data coming in,
it's really just all about knowing the profile. We practice it so
much, by the time we launch we know the profile very, very well.
So a lot of our training is centered around what happens when you
lose this sensor or you lose that sensor or you lose a couple of
sensors, or the Station is not in the right attitude; so then it
gets much more involved. In a lot of regards it's similar to our
shuttle training, where on the nominal ascent and launch, most of
the stuff is automatic and we sit there. And there's a big joke
that after main engine cutoff we just wasted months and months of
training because if you don't have all these problems, then the
training depth that we went into was way too detailed. However,
you need to be trained to handle those cases and so we spent a lot
of time training for the cases where we've had failures and a lot
One of the things that
a commander has to do is help work to bring a group of people
a crew together. Most of this crew has been working together since
being assigned to the mission since last summer, but you did have
a change in crewmembers that occurred early this year. Tell us about
the reasons for the switch and how you've all worked to adapt to
a new member of the group.
The reason for the switch
of crewmembers was that originally our mission was going to the
Station after the service module arrived. And due to delays in the
service module and actually just the complexity and the amount of
equipment that needs to go up on orbit, they divided up our mission
into two missions. So they went ahead and allowed us to go prior
to that service module, that third piece going up; they added on
another shuttle mission that'll go after that. The original Russian
crewmember the cosmonaut assigned to our crew, Yuri Malenchenko
was assigned. He's flown on Mir, he was predominantly assigned
for his expertise in the service module and probably to do a space
walk because there's a certain amount of space walking activity
associated with the service module being there. Once that mission
moved, then they went ahead and moved Yuri to the shuttle mission
that would be there after the service module arrives, and they assigned
Valery Tokarev to our crew. The integration has gone extremely well,
and as a commander I'm happy to see that. Valery came in, his English
skills are good, he's a real go-getter, he studies hard, and so
we've been really happy with how all this is turning out.
You made reference to
the fact that the changes in the schedule, because of some delays
in getting some elements of the Station ready to go has not only
affected a change in your crew, it's also affected a change in the
training of your crew. The jobs that you were training for have
changed a bit. Talk about how those changes, some of them lasting
up until only a couple of months before the mission, have impacted
your training, how that's different than training for shuttle missions
of the past.
In the past with shuttle
mission training, things were pretty well set in concrete six or
seven months, maybe even eight months, before the flight. So the
crew starts training and those rules are set and they get very accustomed
and used to that rule and very well trained. The fact that we're
a Station assembly mission means there are late changes associated
with that and that does drive the fact that you just have to be
a little more flexible; maybe we can't be as comfortable in this
mold as we were used to. When the mission changed with us going
before the service module, we arranged some of the seating on the
flight deck for ascent and entry. And it's really to optimize the
people and fairly divide up the tasks. So although it's a change,
we weren't yet all that well ingrained in all the other rules to
begin with, so it's working out fine.
STS-96 is the second
space shuttle mission in the sequence to assemble the International
Space Station. Give us an overall sense of it. How do you view the
complexity of the job putting together a space station 200 miles
Overall it's an extremely
complex job to put together the Space Station. And if you look at
it, I mean this is truly a global building project. We've got Europe,
we have Canada, we have Japan and the Russians as the main partners.
So, we're fabricating equipment all around the world and these pieces
are launching from different places, you know we're launching out
of Baikonur and Kazakhstan, we're launching from the U.S., obviously,
so all that adds to the complexity. Some of the missions in the
build are much more complex than others. The first one, STS-88,
was fairly complex to assemble Zarya; that was already there; to
Unity that the shuttle took up.
There's a mission coming
down the road, 5A, which is an extremely complex mission. In it,
we're taking up the space laboratory, and before we can mate it,
we have to remove a pressurized mating adapter. There's going to
be a lot of critical arm work, and they're relying on some sensors
to be able to do all this. So assembling the Space Station is very
complex. STS-96 is really a logistics and resupply mission. So by
the nature of that, our mission is not as complex.
However, what really adds
to the complexity is how soon we're going. The fact that we are
the second mission up means we're the first to dock. Another the
fact, that the service module is not there now, means that this
stack was never originally intended to be docked with. So the more
we train, the more we realize that as we're approaching the docking
sequence, the control system of this stack isn't as tight as Mir
nor as it will be once the service module's there. The tolerances
are about twice as large as they are on those. So that's something
in the rendezvous and docking we have to keep an eye on. So it's
complex enough, I guess I should say.
You've used the phrase
logistics and resupply. That's the phrase that's used to describe
your mission. Fill that in for us. What does it mean? What is it
that you and your crew are going to do once you arrive at the International
I should've said logistics
and outfitting because it's not really a resupply mission,
since we're the first ones up there. What we're doing is we're carrying
up somewhere between (and this is changing daily at this point,
too) six and ten thousand pounds of equipment. Most of it's going
to go on the inside of the Station. We've got a double-space head
module back in the payload bay; it's a shirt-sleeve-working environment
where we've got probably about six thousand pounds of equipment
that all has to be transferred to the Station. Some of it's going
into the node, Unity; but the majority's going into the Zarya. A
little bit of installation will be done, but most of it is just
stowing it for the future crews that are going be onboard and coming
up. We also, though, have a space walk, where we're transferring
a couple of different cranes that'll be used during space walks
on later build missions. One was built in Russia and one was built
in the U.S. As well, we're doing some other tasks on the Station
with clearing some targets, removing some covers, and in general
kind of cleaning it up for future build missions.
Help us understand that
sequence then. As you say, you're bringing things up there, you're
not bringing another module as the last mission did. How does the
bringing of equipment this time fit into the overall sequence? I
guess another way to put it is, why does the work that's planned
for your mission have to be done before the next missions and the
first crews can come?
When these modules are
launched, ideally you can launch them stowed with equipment and
fully outfitted; but we just don't have the performance. And when
I say we, this includes the Russian launch vehicles as well as our
launch vehicles. So they're launched a lot lighter than they would
be, had this equipment been in them. So we're taking this up and
we're stowing it.
The manifest is changing,
but really we're getting ready for the first expedition crews to
go up and so we're taking up things like clothes, food, a lot of
spare equipment. So as they're onboard, if they have electrical
components that fail, they've got spares onboard so they can change
them out and press on. And this means we won't have to jump through
hoops down here and get something up there as quickly as we can.
We're trying to stage this equipment as smartly as we can to project
what the failure would be to keep them out of trouble and give them
those parts on orbit.
Your mission is also
a first in that it is the first to fly with a piece of equipment
called the Integrated Cargo Carrier, the ICC. Tell me about this
cargo carrier: why it's the first of its kind to be used and what
it's going to be used to carry. What will be attached to it?
The cargo carrier is a
big pallet that spans the width of the payload bay. It's about 15
feet wide and I would guess about 12 feet long, and it's there to
carry logistics equipment to the Station. On it we're carrying the
couple of cranes I mentioned, as well as there's a great big box
on it that's like a big footlocker a big toolbox. The smaller
items we need to transfer will be put in there cables, tools,
smaller parts. When Dan and Tammy are doing their space walks, they
just open the lid, pull the pieces out, close the lid and head on
But inherent to its design
is a very interesting concept in that it's got a grapple fixture
on it. We're not using this on our mission, but on later missions.
It's designed so that the robotic arm can take hold of the grapple
fixture on this pallet, and release it out of the payload bay. Then
you could take the pallet, and maybe a couple of space walkers with
it, and position it near the working site on the Station where the
work's going to be done. So we won't have a crewmember translate
several times, which is inefficient; it takes a lot of time to translate
up and down. You have to be very careful translating on the Station
in a spacesuit, so you don't break an antenna or cause some problem.
This [use of the robotic arm] makes it very efficient. It's just
one translation to get all this equipment up in your work site.
And then the space walkers have this pallet hanging on their arm
to transfer the stuff on a very short path.
Flight Day Three of
this mission has got to be a highlight for somebody who became an
astronaut because they love to fly. It's the day that you and your
pilot, Rick Husband, are to fly Discovery to the first-ever rendezvous
with the two-module International Space Station. Talk us through
that timeline. Describe the approach, the mating and what you will
be doing on the flight deck of Discovery as you fly the first mating
Flight Day Three is going
to definitely be one of the highlights of the mission for me. We
get up that morning and it's real busy. The thing that's interesting
to understand is that on all the rendezvous and our rendezvous for
the Space Shuttle whether we're rendezvousing with a satellite
or a space station the series of rocket firings and column burns
are done to place the space shuttle in a certain area at a certain
time. And the certain time is relative to the lighting. For example,
as we're approaching the radius of the Station, we want to be approaching
on during daylight and approaching orbital noon. And that's so that
we can ensure that we can see it. Incidentally, the Station is not
lit at all for us during this, so that's important. Sometimes stations
are lit, or satellites are lit. The station is not. So we've got
Additionally, there's nobody
onboard the Station and immediately after we dock, there has to
be commands to tell the Space Station that we're there and to go
into free drift to stop trying to control the attitude system.
The attitude system has to be controlled from the ground at a Russian
ground site. So we're obligated to dock while we're over the Russian
ground site. What this means is it makes us train to be able to
hit a plus or minus two-minute window, a four-minute total window
that we have to hit. So the initial part of the timeline is based
on the lighting. And then, when we're in a reasonably close position
to dock, we wait until the timing's right. So we may have to station,
keep for a while, and just kind of hold until we're approaching
the Russian ground site and press on in, to dock within that window.
But early on, it's pretty fascinating. From the time we launch,
we're standing in a lower orbit and that's so that, relative to
the Station, we've got this velocity. So we're phasing in so that
we launch just behind it, but we pass it. And we come back around
and we stay low so that, on Flight Day Three, we're positioned to
now start increasing our altitude up to where the Station is, while
we're phasing into phase.
As soon as we get up on
Flight Day Three, we'll be doing a couple of burns to make that
phasing critical. And then there's just the standard set of burns,
there's six more burns that we're scheduled to do on the standard
rendezvous profile that we do at that time to get the orbiter coming
around. And the kind of profile that we're flying is we'll be coming
up, if my hand's the Space Station, from below it on the radius
with the Earth down below it. And we'll come on up to five to 600
hundred feet, and when we're at 600 feet, we're going to initiate
a fly-around. And that's because, if we went ahead and came on up
on the Station in an attitude that we could dock like this, they're
afraid the shuttle will obscure the antennas from the Station and
they won't be able to do this critical command.
So we fly around so that
we're on top of it coming from above, looking down below with the
Earth in the background; that way we won't obscure this critical
commanding that is required right after we dock. But at 500 feet
we'll initiate the flyaround while we're still closing. And we'll
hit the R bar up here, looking down on it somewhere around 300 to
200 feet. Depending on how the timing works out between the lighting
and the Russian ground pass (and we won't really know that until
launch day, probably maybe in Flight Day Three), we'll hold for
as long as we need to; then at the appropriate time we'll start
our profile down. The one [important] thing is that because the
Space Station has solar [panels], we want to make sure that we never
fire a jet directly at it. So we have different modes on our jets
so that we can do that. They're very inefficient propellant-wise,
so we try not to use them, but they're there if we need them. It's
a tight corridor it's eight degrees initially and then, as we
get closer it, it narrows down to a five-degree corridor. Until
the final docking, we're maintaining plus or minus three inches
and our close rate is within three-hundredths of a foot per second
to hit the exact criteria.
Your speed is three-hundredths
of a foot per second?
That's right. So that's
the tolerance on our speed. The speed that we're looking for is
.1, and so a tenth of a foot per second, plus or minus .03, is the
In the practice for
this that you've done, what are the kinds of important for lack
of a better word failure scenarios that you look out for: the
critical steps along the way?
I guess really a couple
of critical steps are our sensors, we use a radar, we have a hand-held
laser and we have another laser in the payload bay that gives us
information. And if those fail, especially in a subtle way, then
you can be misled to putting in some inputs that you really didn't
need. So we've really got to stay on top of our sensors and make
sure we understand what they're telling us. That's the whole reason,
fortunately, why we have several different sensors. So if one of
them goes bad, we can use the other one or a couple others to sort
that out and not make a wrong input.
Your colleagues from
STS-88, who have been to the Station, didn't fly a rendezvous and
docking that's exactly the same as yours; the Station was in a different
configuration. But they left it in a similar kind of way. Have things
that Bob Cabana and Rick Sturckow have been able to tell you about
flying around that Station been helpful in your preparation?
It has and it's amazing
when you see their faces as soon as you start talking about it.
Then, especially Bob, his face just lights up. Before he'll tell
me anything technically, he just tells me how great it was and you're
going to love it and you see all this excitement on his face. It
basically what they're trying to say is that the orbiter
flies really well and they didn't have any sensor problems and they
felt extremely well trained and they have given us some invaluable
The day after you dock,
two of your crewmates are to conduct a space walk around the outside
of the Station. Tell me generally what it is that they're going
do and more specifically what you'll be doing inside while they're
The crew inside is busy
as well, but Tammy Jernigan and Dan Barry are the two space walkers.
They'll be going out in the
we've got a couple cranes on the ICC,
the Cargo Carrier, that they'll be going down to and they'll transfer.
They'll be rearranging some of the cable to free up some targets
that they've seen. There are some covers that they're going to be
removing, that were on for launch and also to free up some docking
targets to allow Progress to come on another docking port. If the
chance arises, [we'll do] a little bit of a photograph survey to
make sure we document how well some of these targets and
targets I keep talking about are going to be used on later missions
through a camera system. And they're very important for us to be
able to assemble some of the next modules the next pieces coming
up because you can't directly see the pieces you need to see with
cameras. So you place targets on places that you can see
with cameras, and then you let a computer figure it out and basically
give you a virtual display of what you would like to see. And you
rely on that system to work and it's very important that these targets'
integrity is good and the cameras can see them.
On the inside we're all
very busy. Ellen Ochoa is running the arm and it's not an easy task.
You know, as a matter of fact, early in the mission this was something
I underestimated the complexity of. Her task along with Julie Payette's,
who's the IV controlling and managing the space walk from the inside,
is made much more difficult because you can't see much. The way
we're docked to the Station, it's just outside the aft window so
it obscures a lot of it. If you look out the overhead windows going
up, because the Station is protruding upwards from us, it's so close
that Unity is overlaying our window so you can't see much up either.
So really everything they do
you know we're used to looking out
the windows and telling people what to do for flying the arm; they
can't do that now, we're relying on cameras. Which brings in, Rick
Husband is backing up Ellen and running the cameras and trying to
keep everything configured for her and Julie both, as they're trying
to do their tasks. And my task is basically trying to keep everybody
happy feeling, when we need to do some management of the other systems
on the orbiter as this is going on.
The day after that space
walk, all seven of you are to get your first opportunity to enter
the International Space Station. What is it that you expect you're
going to feel the first time you get to float into that space that
you've been studying about for so long?
It's going to be very exciting
for us to ingress the Station. Especially in a sense we'll all feel
like pioneers because there's only been one other crew on the Space
Station. It will have been empty for a matter of months when we
come up. So you feel kind of like an explorer or a pioneer getting
to ingress the Station at this stage in time, and I'm sure there
will be a lot of excitement. I take a lot of pride in being involved
in the Shuttle/Station program and especially at this stage because
it is somewhat historic. And I think, lastly, there's a lot of room,
and in space room makes everything so much more fun
the fact that
there's plenty of room to be upside down or right-side up or have
more people around. It's going to be just a lot of fun and excitement.
In your schedule to
spend several days with the shuttle docked to the Station to transfer
the materials that we referred to earlier: give us a little more
detail. Talk about some of the plans for the supplies transfers
that will take place over those several days and what some of those
materials are that you're going to be delivering.
The list has [not] solidified
yet on everything that's going up. Right now we're taking up a lot
of spare parts for some of the critical pieces on the Station; especially
when the service module gets there, they will be needed if there
are failures. The one thing that's come up, that looks like it's
coming in our mission (it's not a hundred percent sure yet) on the
Space Station is that there are some battery discharge units in
Zarya. The ones that are up there, they're not happy with how
they're working and basically the power supply, the batteries aren't
getting fully charged and they're kind of gradually draining and
charged. They can work around that and fully charge them but that
hurts the overall battery life. So a task that we may be doing early
on and take on the first day is changing out (there's 18 of these)
charge/discharge integrators. We're going to be taking these up,
so we may spend a lot of time on Zarya the first day, day-and-a-half,
working on that.
Once we've got that done,
and they're hidden down under panels, then we're opening up zones.
We have different equipment that is being stowed behind zones: some
of the spares that they don't think they'll need. And then in some
cases we're just going to be stowing stuff in the passageway. The
Zarya looks like a big hallway/passageway, so on the floor and the
walls we'll be strapping down and stowing other equipment. In Unity,
in the node section, there's a couple of big lockers that we're
installing; they're collapsible, they're fabric, so we have to install
them, expand them, put in the shelves, and start stowing equipment
in that as well. And we'll probably be checking out a couple of
the systems on Unity that were checked out by STS-88 and recheck
It sounds like, to some
extent, you're going to be filling up some of that extra space that
you were looking forward to having.
We are. You're absolutely
right, so we better take advantage of it before we take it away.
I understand that you
and Ellen Ochoa are supposed to do some work with a system that's
designed for use on the Station, called the Volatile Removal Assembly.
Can you fill us in on what that is?
The Volatile Removal Assembly,
or VRA, is back in our SPACEHAB module. It's a pretty automated
system but its 32 hours of run time is what they're looking for
on our flight. And when we fly it, we'll be taking different samples.
But this is a piece of equipment that's designed and it's going
to go on the Station later, so, if they do, it'll be hooked into
their systems onboard: the water systems, the fluid systems. It's
there to detect any kind of constituents that shouldn't be there
that could potentially be harmful to people onboard. Because if
you think about the expedition crew onboard, if their water goes
bad, it, that could be very serious and they need to know about
it before they drink it and everybody's ill or has some problem.
And so this is technology that they want to fly before they install
it on the Station the first time and find out how well it does or
doesn't work. So the whole reason it's on our flight is as a technology
demonstrator and to see then, in fact, that it does or doesn't work
and they can work the bugs out before it goes up on, in a year or
so to come on another flight.
Near the end of your
docked operations, you and Rick Husband are also slated for an experiment
on the operation of a system for transferring water, air and other
gases between the shuttle and the Station, which is something that
I don't think we've seen before. Tell us about that system.
The Station is basically
an outpost up there. So like all outposts it needs to be resupplied.
And on the shuttle side we've designed a console that has oxygen,
nitrogen and water a little control panel. There's one similar
to it on the Station side, so when we come up and dock, we're set
up in this transfer line. It's really just a series of hoses that
we hook up to these control panels and then, through the valves,
you can reconfigure and you can flow this oxygen, nitrogen, water
from the Shuttle to the Station to resupply it. And we're basically
going to check it out the first time: open up a couple of the valves
and make sure the hose works that fits. We're not going to transfer
anything, but we're just going make sure that we could. And as long
as it all checks out, then we'll leave these transfer lines aboard
the Station for the other missions coming up.
We've referred earlier
to the fact that this is just one step in a long series of things
to assemble the International Space Station. All in all, as you
look at the tasks that are before you, recognizing that some can
change, what part of your planned activities do you look at and
say we will have had to have done this in order to consider the
mission as a success?
The number one priority
after rendezvous and docking is to transfer the equipment. And then
the number one priority is the equipment from the SPACEHAB, the
internal equipment. So if we do that we'll have been considered
a success. However, onboard I'm sure for us personally to have considered
the mission a full success, the space walk is very important as
well. We'd like to transfer all this equipment we're hauling up
on the cargo carrier to the Station as well. So, you know, really
if we can get the equipment on the Station, whether it's left as
neatly and tidy and as pretty as you'd like, if we can just leave
it there, such that it's there in a safe manner, then I think we'd
be considered a full success.
With all that done,
time will come for the seven of you to leave the International Space
Station. I don't know if it's as simple a fact as a reverse of what
you refer to earlier. Tell us about the activities as you execute
the plan to have the shuttle release its grip on the Station and
survey it and begin the trip home.
The initial backout is
very similar. And I might add during this, the backout, the pilot
Rick Husband, is going to be at the aft station and doing the flying
and I'll be backing him up from the commander's seat, which is kind
of just reverse of what happens during the rendezvous. So we do,
because there's a lot of coordination that goes into work. Tammy
Jernigan is running the docking system; Ellen is backing her up.
The same sensors we used to rendezvous we have set up, so that on
the backout they're set up and should be giving us good information.
But a couple of minutes before we undock, Tammy starts the undocking
system work and we have clocks count down.
As soon as we see separation,
Rick does a couple of burns to gain a separation velocity: about
.2 feet per second is all. Orbital mechanics help us out and we'll
speed that up. And basically the same corridor that we flew up to
dock we'll back out of. And we'll go out to 500 feet, at that point
initiate a flyaround, and now we'll fly a whole circle. We'll find
out more on the real day, maybe [we'll do] two full circles, maybe
one and a half, maybe a half. We don't really know at this point.
But the idea of doing the flyaround is to document the Station.
And when we did the rendezvous, we flew around half of the station
and that's the half of the station that you can see with the cameras
near the tail on the Space Shuttle aft of the payload bay. But the
other side we haven't seen nor have we photographed. So we would
really like to do that flyaround, to see that side of the Station
that we haven't seen or that wasn't seen when STS-88 did their flyaround.
And then environmentally, too, although it's been done before, you'd
like to see if in the months that it's been on orbit, have there
been any changes or has anything significant happened with the micrometeors
micrometeorite impacts or fading or peeling of different surfaces?
How realistic of a possibility
is it that there would have been changes like that? We're looking
at a time period of only six months on a Station that's planned
to be up there for many years.
Because everything is so
new, I think maybe already we've seen some different finishes, whether
it was paint or whatever, that has peeled or if there are any bubbles
and surface in some of these targets I was talking about later.
We've already seen some of that. So there's a reasonably good chance
that some of this has happened on different surfaces; the fact is
it's new to that environment.
On your way home, you
and your crew are scheduled to deploy a satellite that is known
as Starshine. What is the science behind this satellite? And talk
also about the people who are involved, as well as what you have
to do on orbit to get their science program going.
The Starshine Project is
really an educational tool and it's a very interesting one. It's
a satellite that's about the size of a big basketball, about a foot
in diameter, and it has hundreds of mirrors on it. Each one of these
mirrors was hand-polished by a group of students or a science project.
There are different teams, most of them school age, college-age
groups, and from all around the world. So Europe, the U.S., Australia,
many, many countries all have taken part in this. And the reason
for this satellite and these reflective surfaces is that, once it's
deployed at a couple hundred miles up, you'll be able to see it
with your eye and also you can track it with telescopes. But these
different groups now are going to track this. It'll be a project.
Where they'll track it, they'll use some basic principles of orbital
mechanics and they'll be watching it. It'll decay in its orbit,
it won't stay up forever; as a matter of fact, it'll only stay up
a matter of months. But as it comes down, its period will change,
for example, and by timing it and tracking it, they'll be able to
learn a lot about basic orbital mechanics. And so it should be very
interesting for them.
It's something the size
of a basketball that you can see with your eye?
That's right, because of
the reflection of the sun off of it.
Very interesting. Training
for this mission, all the work that you've been doing and your time
in the astronaut program: you have a much better understanding of
what the goals of the International Space Station program are than
people who are not in the space program. So to conclude, I'd ask
you to help us understand what is the role that you see that the
International Space Station is going to play in the future of space
flight and of space exploration?
I think it should play
a couple of roles. One is the first word in the term ISS: international.
I mentioned this earlier, but it truly is international, it is global.
And so it's very exciting to see the world, almost the entire world,
working towards a common technology. And we're all trying to learn,
we're all trying to benefit from the science, and it should be very
exciting. Hopefully we'll see tremendous gains come in medical science,
in material science and these different areas. And although the
Station itself probably won't be a platform, in which we launch
from to go to the moon or on to Mars, hopefully spin-offs of technologies
will help us. And so I think, like all astronauts and cosmonauts
that fly in space, we look beyond the Space Station. Everybody wants
to go to Mars and back to the moon. And so, hopefully, what we've
learned from working on the Space Station will not only benefit
us all on Earth here from the spin-offs but, in addition, will help
us as a stepping stone, in a sense, to get to Mars and back to the