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STS-98: Home | The Crew | Cargo | Timeline | EVA

Preflight Interview: Robert Curbeam

The STS-98 Crew Interviews with Robert Curbeam, Mission Specialist.

Q: Bob, I'd like to start with a couple of questions that don't have anything to do with the details of your mission. Tell me, why did you want to become an astronaut?

A. That's a really funny question. A lot of people have asked me that. And I think I have a unique answer. We were down here at Johnson Space Center while I was going through test pilot school. And Kathy Thornton talked to our class about her mission. She had just gotten back from her mission. And then I had a chance to talk to her one-on-one afterwards over lunch. And I just listened to what she had say and the kinds of things she did as an astronaut. And I just decided that's what I wanted to do. Those were the kinds of things that interested me. And I was 28 years old at the time, and decided right there on the spot that "This is what I want to do. I want to become an astronaut." So I was fortunate enough to, several years later, get picked up by NASA and now I'm here.

What kinds of things did you and Kathy Thornton talk about? What was it that she was doing that piqued your interest?

I think it was a combination of things. I really didn't have a good understanding of what astronauts did in their off time, if you will. Time when they weren't in space and how they trained for it. And I thought it was more, it was more like a squadron atmosphere. You know, a month, a month and a half earlier, they go, "Okay. We've got a mission coming up. You seven guys look good. Go up in the shuttle and do this." I didn't realize how much of a part each individual astronaut had in the development of a mission, how it was planned, things like that. And that is what really interested me. It was almost like being a project officer back at the Patuxent River only now it was dealing with spacecraft. So, that really interested me. She talked a lot about space walking; and that seemed very, very interesting to me. As a matter of fact, that was probably one of the biggest selling cards. Because that just seemed like it was a blast. And she had nothing but great things to say about it. And so I would say, most definitely, my talk with Kathy Thornton was just probably the most influential thing I did in deciding to come here.

Among the dozens of people in the Astronaut Office, there's a range of backgrounds and experiences. Tell me about yours. What's the academic and career path that got you prepared to be an astronaut?

My career path, it's very similar to most of the military guys. Went to the Naval Academy. Came out. Did some flying in the in the operational world. Flew F-14s off the USS Forrestal. As a matter of fact, one of my old squadron mates is in the Astronaut Office with me, too. Then went to graduate school. Went to test pilot school. Stayed at Patuxent River Naval Air Station doing test work on the F-14 for quite some time, about 3 years almost, after test pilot school. And then after that, went and taught at the Naval Academy for about 6 months before coming here. So, I think the Naval Academy stint's probably the only unique part of that whole, you know, military career to be an astronaut. But the rest, I think, is pretty typical of most of the military guys you'll see here.

What were you teaching?

I was teaching weapons systems and engineering. And, as a matter of fact, the course-the individual course-I was teaching was weapons, which was kind of interesting because I was doing weapon separation tests my entire time at Pax and doing a lot of different types of ordinance work. So it was right down my alley. And I think it added to the class that I could give them a whole lot of first-hand knowledge about especially how airborne-delivered weapons work. And I think that it made [it] a little more interesting for the midshipmen.

As you look back in your life, before you even attended the Naval Academy up through your life now and your time in the Astronaut Office, do you see a handful or a few people who were the most significant influences in the path that your life has taken?

Well, I think everybody would say that their parents obviously had quite an effect. You look at what your parents did and how they were successful, and I was very fortunate. Because I think that my parents took two different, decidedly different, paths to success. My mother was very big on education. She educated herself very well. She was always in school during the summer, even when I was coming back from college, she was leaving for college during the summers and teaching during the school year. My father, on the other hand mostly earned what he got, the success that he got, through hard work. He worked extremely hard. Sometimes double shifts, et cetera, et cetera. And I think I took a little bit of both of their philosophies. I think that I learned that education is very, very important. But if you have a whole lot of education without working hard, it won't, you know, bring you too much success. So, I think by combining what the two of them taught me I learned a lot and I think that has really helped me out as far as my career goes. But as far, you know, aside from my parents, as far as one individual person? I think that'd be difficult to say. Very difficult, I would say. I'm such a mix of a lot of different people, you know, and what they've taught me. Everything from a friend of mine, Tom Zelibor, who's now an Admiral-Admiral Zelibor-who was my first wingman. He used to take me for one-on-one debriefs after we flew, which weren't always pleasant for me. But [it] helped me learn a lot about what I needed to know. And also teachers that I had in school. A chemistry teacher in high school. My trigonometry teacher in high school. Those are the kind of people that taught me that, you know, this is something worth doing. Success doesn't necessarily come easy; but it's very enjoyable once you get it.

You have taken that background and are now poised on the beginning of your second trip to space. Let's first get you to summarize for us, we'll get details in a moment, but summarize the goals of STS-98. What is this mission going to do? And what's the significance of the new hardware that you and your crewmates are bringing to the International Space Station?

Well, on STS-98, we're going to deliver the United States Laboratory module to Space Station. And the significance of this mission is huge. Absolutely huge. Because what it does is it provides us a platform from which we can control the entire space station. And for the first time, we will be able to transfer control, daily control of the space station, from MCC-Moscow over to MCC-Houston. Our mission is to bring that module up and outfit it, both externally and internally, and also to help train the crew that's there on any last-minute changes as far as the operations of the module, what needs to be connected, what doesn't, et cetera, et cetera. So this is an absolutely huge mission in the development and the building of the International Space Station. And we're very excited to be on it, obviously. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better mission as an astronaut than something with this kind of significance.

You raised for us the idea that this piece of hardware has got a variety of uses. And I'd like to break them apart and talk about them one at a time. Let's talk about the Destiny Laboratory itself. Talk about that payload and the hardware that's contained inside.

Destiny has all the operating hardware, basically, to control the major functions that have to happen in a spacecraft. Life support control of the avionics or the aviation electronics as they're called, and also the plumbing and cooling needs for the station. So, from that one module, you can perform guidance and control, control and guidance commands. You can reconfigure the different elements of the cooling system in there, in the space station. You can also use its air revitalization rack to scrub the air of carbon monoxide and harmful contaminants, things like that. But it's also a module that's large enough that, while doing all that and also providing a robotics workstation later, in later flights to operate the robotic arm that'll be on space station, it also has enough room to do basic scientific research. And so, it's a very large module - over 30,000 pounds - that we're taking up to orbit. And it performs such a breadth of functions that it's kind of hard to, I guess, pigeonhole it as something that's only doing one or providing one function to the station. It's pretty much doing it all.

It contains some operating systems, contains the electronics that operate the Control Moment Gyroscopes which were delivered on STS-92. Can you help us understand why that's significant? What's the importance of those gyroscopes being put to use?

The most important thing about having the CMGs up and operating is that it saves us propellant. Right now, we're using propellant to maintain the attitude of the International Space Station. Once the CMGs are up and running, we use a whole lot less propellant to achieve that same function, and it greatly increases the time we can stay on orbit without resupply; i.e., we don't have to bring up fuel every month, say, - and I just threw that number out - to feed those Reaction Control Jets that we're using to keep the space station in a proper attitude. Now, with the solar arrays, all we have to do is get electricity. And using the CMGs, the Control Moment Gyros, we can keep the space station in an attitude that we want to. Whatever that attitude might be.

And Destiny also contains computers that will be able to communicate with the computers in the Service Module, Zvezda-


-that allow, as you referred to, command and control of the station from both control centers. Yes?

Yes. I think that's a very interesting point you bring up. Because any time you have an international project with international partners and different philosophies on how you build things, how you operate things, or even how computer protocols are constructed and operated, it's very interesting. Because now you have to have all these different systems interacting and working as one in the case of the International Space Station. So, what you see is, when you get into the U.S. segment, you see that system, that computer system has to pull a lot of critical data from the Russian system and vice versa. So that, no matter where you are, you can still do the basic functions that are necessary to keep International Space Station alive and kicking, if you will. But you don't, you usually don't have the whole picture. You can't do everything from every module. But I'm sure that's been a real challenge for the software people, software writers, and we just thank them for doing such a great job.

Is it a complex linkup between computers in the Lab and computers in the Service Module? Or is it just plugging two components together?

As far as the hardware goes? It's pretty much plugging two components together. As far as the software goes? It definitely is not a simple thing. I worked a little bit in software, space station software before I flew my first mission. And I can tell you one thing that no one ever used to describe the software was "simple." So it is definitely a very, very complex system. And we just hope we can get it up and running smoothly once we get Destiny up to Space Station.

Of course, the arrival of this Lab on orbit begins the transformation of the station into a scientific research complex on orbit. Talk a little bit about the philosophy of doing science on the International Space Station. What do you see this space station and through this Lab offering us in terms of being a laboratory in space? And what can it teach us that would be useful for our future exploration?

I think that probably the most important thing that space station provides us with is an asset for doing long-term microgravity research. And a lot of people say, "Okay, that's great. That's fine. But we don't live in microgravity. Why does that help us?" It helps us in a lot of ways, actually. And I'll use an example from my first flight to tell you how it would be different on space station. My first flight, I did some colon cancer research in an apparatus called "bioreactor." And what I did was, I grew colon cancer cells. I fed them every day for 8 days basically. And saw how they made the transition from just single cells floating around in a media to cell aggregates, which is the first stage of tumor formation. Okay. And you say, "Okay, well, we can do that on the ground." Well, not really. Because, in space, since there's no gravity there, they grow in three dimensions and they get quite large quite fast. And what you get, what you see is accelerated cell aggregation. So, in the time that it might take us, I don't know, 2 weeks to grow a cell aggregate of a certain size, we can do it in space in 4 or 5 days. And that's exactly what we saw. It was pretty amazing. Especially for a guy who's not, you know, medically oriented like myself. But now let's take that one step further and see what we could do in space station. We were constrained by the shuttle's maximum flying time when I did this experiment on the shuttle. Now what we hope to do is take something like that in space station, and now we can take it through its entire lifecycle-from individual cells to cell aggregates-and, hopefully, all the way to the point where it starts to form a tumor. And the value of that, of doing an experiment like that in space is, one, you can grow your tissue in three dimensions without using a host body, which is something that we can't do here on the ground. But more importantly, we can study it in detail, every mechanism that it uses to grow, what phases it has to go through to form this tumor, things like that. When you can do that, once you understand how something works, then you can attack it. And that, like I said, that's just one specific example. And I hope that this all comes to fruition, at least for colon cancer, while I'm still around to see it. But that's one example of how microgravity research can help you. And it's a simple example. But, like I said, I think that, if we look at all different problems we have in medical, especially in medical material science, maybe we can solve some by using an asset like the International Space Station.

Before any of that work begins, the Lab's got to be installed. And, in order to install it, you and your crewmembers have to bring Atlantis together with the ISS on orbit. Talk us through the events of rendezvous and docking day. Tell me what you're going to be doing. And hit the highlights of what we'll see as Ken Cockrell flies Atlantis together with ISS.

Space rendezvous is an absolutely amazing thing to me. You have these two objects sitting in orbit, moving at over 17,000 miles an hour. But yet, you've got to control these two vehicles so you get closure behind them to less than a tenth of a foot per second when we go and actually link up. So, it's a pretty amazing feat in itself. And I bow down to Taco every time I see him do it when we're in the simulator and do it so well. But basically, it takes all day to make that happen. And what it is, is a series of maneuvering corrections and burns. We use our orbital maneuvering engines and our reaction control engines-in other words, big rocket motors and small rocket motors-to change our orbit so that we continually get closer and closer to the space station. And what we'll do on our flight is we'll come up under the space station, close to within about 600 feet. Then we'll actually turn our tail into the wind, so to speak, so that we're going backward; space station's going forward. And then finish the docking maneuver that way. My specific task in the docking sequence, I should say the rendezvous sequence, is docking module. I'll be the person who's operating that to make sure that, once we do get contact, the two vehicles link up and then pull themselves together, we get a nice, airtight seal. So, that's my specific task. Before that, of course, there are other smaller subtasks that I'll help in like all the photo documentation that has to happen while we're going up there and things like that. But the docking system is generally my area of expertise and that.

Because of the way your mission and the mission before you are docking with the station, it's been described as having somewhat of an offset of the centers of gravity of the two vehicles as opposed to earlier shuttle dockings with the International Space Station. Does that pose any particular not maybe concern, but things that you have to pay attention to as you're operating the Orbiter Docking System to draw these two vehicles together?

Actually, a lot of that stuff has been taken care of by the designers. It's pretty amazing. We're very fortunate to have extremely smart people working for us so that people like myself have a very easy time of getting our tasks accomplished on orbit. So no. Actually, the docking system compensates for the vast majority of that. Actually, it's a spring cam mechanism that'll actually take the shock of the two quarter-of-a-million-pound vehicles coming together. And it'll damp out all the oscillations and then pull the two vehicles together. So, like I said, it's a very robust system. And I'm fortunate enough that it's designed that way, because, basically, everyone can do their task exactly the same and the system will take up the slack.

Well, shortly after docking, the hatches on both sides of that Pressurized Mating Adapter are scheduled to be opened and the two crews to work together for a time. Talk a bit about what it is that's scheduled for those first couple of hours that the two ships are joined together on orbit.

Well, the first thing we're going to do is we're going to say hello to our friends. At that point, we'll not have seen Shep and Sergei and Yuri for quite some time; several months. And it'll just be nice to see Shep on orbit. I mean, I've worked on space station and worked getting ready for space walks on space station for a long time. And it'll be nice to actually see them in the space station, having turned it into a home instead of just a very large mass of orbiting metal. So, I'm very much looking forward to seeing Shep and the boys. But after that, we have a lot of hardware to transfer. We're bringing up food, clothing, and a lot of water-things like that-up to them. And we'll transfer as much as we can that first day for two reasons. One, so that it's onboard the space station just in case there's any contingency that comes up and we've got to leave. But, two, and more importantly, so we can get some of that stuff off of our middeck-the bottom floor of the space shuttle-and we'll have more operating room as far as getting ready for space walks and sleeping, things like that.

The day after docking is the day of the first scheduled space walk on this mission. And you are one of the space walkers on the space shuttle crew. You have been training for space walks around the International Space Station for a couple of years now. Talk a little bit about the training, the different kinds of training that you've gone through and how you feel it's helped prepare for you for what you're about to do.

I think that they have a very balanced program here as far as we have a lot of different training methods, let's say, I should say, in training hardware. And each of them gives you a different degree of fidelity as far as what it's really going to feel like, from what I've heard. I have to say, "from what I've heard" because I have never done a space walk. So, this'll be my first, second, and third when we go up there. But we spent a lot of time in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. We go over there; and what it is basically, is a lake masquerading as a pool. It's 100 feet by 200 feet and 40 feet deep; and in this pool, we sink full-size mock-ups of the International Space Station and the module that we're going to bring up, hook them up in the same configuration they'll be in on orbit, and then we'll practice our space walks. And we spend, at this point, excuse me, at this point a few months out, we're spending 2 to 3 days every week under water. So that training is probably the most important method of training we use most often. But we also have things like the Virtual Reality Lab. And that provides a very good visual representation of what your space walk's going to look like, what to do if you get in trouble, how you use the rescue devices that we carry, things like that. So, that's another method we use. And last, probably, the thing we use least but I'll be using, is the air-bearing floor. And what [this] does is that gives you that feeling of microgravity, but only in one plane. You know, it's basically a big air hockey table. And what it's good for is…in my case, I have some bolts that I'll have to drive free float, and I have a certain reach that I'll have of a pretty good distance between my hands when I drive those bolts with the drill in the right hand and holding on with the left hand. And then I go over to the other side of the mast- it's an antenna mast-and drill the other way. What that does, that allows me to see how much torque I can deliver to that drill to take those bolts out, the cordless drill, and see if I'm going to be able to offset that just with my hand. So, those are the three biggies that we use. And I think that what we do is we take the advantages of each to give you kind of a picture of what it's going to be like. And I hope it's accurate. I can probably tell you in a couple of months.

Are you getting any helpful stories from the folks who have already conducted space walks outside the actual space station? Other folks in the Astronaut Office who've come back and talked about what it's like out there?

Oh, most definitely. I would say crew debriefs are the most important part of getting ready for these space walks. Very, very important. I was fortunate enough, during my initial space walk training, back when we had the old Weightlessness Environment Training Facility, a much smaller pool, to work with Leroy Chiao, who just went up on STS-92 and did two space walks. And so, I tend to lean on him heavily because he's a very experienced space walker and he's extremely good at it. Both of which are important things. And he has been very helpful in telling [me], "Okay, these are the things you need to look out for. These are the things that happened on my space walk. Watch out for this." And I think I'm using him as an example because I turn to him a lot. But I've talked to probably 50 or 60% of the people who've done space walks in the past about what I'm going to do and what I should look out for. And those people have been absolutely great. And they're forthcoming with the information that I need to make this as successful as I can.

Because, as you said, this will be the first space walk of your career. Have you got, at this point, any sense at all of what you're going to be feeling and thinking the first time you float out of that airlock?

Oh, gosh. It's the first time I float out of the airlock; it's going to be a tremendous relief. Because, as you know, we have had one flight where the guys did all the preparation, they got in the airlock, and the hatch didn't open. So, you can imagine how much relief there's going to be when we go to vacuum, we open up the hatch, the thermal cover comes open, and on the first space walk Tom Jones will go out first. So, that will be a tremendous relief. But what I found on my first flight, I should say, was that pretty quickly it becomes all business. You know, you sit here, you've trained for this so long, and you notice the differences more than you notice what you're doing. You notice how, "Okay, this didn't feel this way in the simulator. Okay, this is different than it was in the simulator." And I think that's the first feeling I'll have. "Okay, when we were in the NBL, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, this didn't feel this way." Or, "This bolt is much tighter here in space than it was in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab." But I've also talked to enough people that I know that, once I get that first glimpse of Earth and space around me, with no spacecraft around me, that it's going to be quite distracting. Everyone talks about how beautiful it is, how pretty it is, and, looking out the windows was just awe-inspiring to me on my first flight. So, I can't imagine with all the peripheral views and just me and nothing between me and Earth, looking down, I can't imagine how awe-inspiring that's going to be.

Let's get down to business. The hatch is opened. Tom's gone out in front of you and you go out after him. Take us through, step by step, what happens on this first space walk on the day that you two assist in the installation of the Destiny Laboratory.

Well, the big job on EVA 1 is to get the Lab connected to the space station and then get the minimum set of power, data, and cooling lines from the rest of the station to the Lab so that we can activate it the next day. And each of us, when I say each of us, Tom, myself, and Marsha, has a different role to play in that. Marsha's going to be operating the arm. So what she's first going to do is she going to move the Pressurized Mating Adapter off of the Node and on to a temporary spot on Z1. And Tom will help her lock that on. He has to actually turn the bolt that locks that Pressurized Mating Adapter on to the Z1. Meanwhile, I'm down at the back of the Lab, taking seals off of the ring that's going to seal that Lab to the Node. And then Marsha, when I'm done with that, Marsha picks up the Lab, flips it over, and rolls it and then puts it on to the International Space Station. The guys inside-mainly Taco and Marsha-will then do a lot of computer work to make the thing, the bolts drive that hold the Node and the Lab together. And then as soon as they get a minimum set of those bolts driven so that the whole structure's rigid, Tom and I jump on the Lab and we start making those electrical data and plumbing connections so that we give the Lab, hook it up electrically to the rest of the space station; hook up the cooling lines so we can get cooling there to keep it from getting too hot; and also the data connections, so that it'll be able to interface with the rest of the space station. So, that's the big picture as far as that goes. And of course, there's some fallbacks if the time stretches out a little bit or whatever that we've considered and different ways that we can execute that plan to make sure we get at least keep-alive power to the Lab if we can't get everything there.

Will the two of you be working in the same area together or separately? Do you work around the interface or down the length of the Lab? Where will you be moving?

It's really interesting, because I think that we have one of the few EVA sets, if you will, three, where we very rarely work together. Most of the time, it's one of us working in one work site, the other working in the other site, which poses a real problem not only for Houston, keeping up with us and what we're doing and what to tell us, but also with our IV guy, who is Roman Polansky, Mark Polansky, who is going to be basically helping us through our checklists. But most of that time, we're going to be working right around the interface between the Node and the Lab, the new interface that's been mated. So, that's where the majority of that time is spent.

Now, despite all of the hard work and planning, there's always the possibility that things won't work out the way they're planned. And, of course, you recognize that and you prepare for that. Talk about what some of the critical-failure scenarios here are, and about how you and your crewmates are trained to respond should one of them occur.

Well as you can imagine with any project of this magnitude, there are probably thousands of things that could go wrong. But some of the bigger ones, as far as the space walks are concerned, are for instance, not being able to get those umbilicals-the fluid, power, and data lines-from the Z1 truss and the Node over to the Lab. If we don't do that, we have a contingency plan to basically hook up heater lines between the Node and the Lab that'll just keep it warm, give it keep-alive power. We'll go inside, we'll regroup, and then come up the next day and, you know, with a better plan to take care of that. Some of the other things that we've done are more large scale. We've planned the EVAs and planned the tasks so that regardless of how many we get done, hopefully the major task of delivering the Laboratory will be completed. And that was very important to us, to make sure we did the big things first and the little things second, so to speak. And so if we get just EVA 1 and 2 complete, then at least we've left the station in a very good configuration where assembly can continue and it basically will just flip some of the tasks that we were going to do on to later crews. But it won't stop assembly. So, that's how we basically treated the whole contingency issue, if you will. Basically, what we want to do is get the major task done so that we can continue with assembly of the International Space Station and figure out how we're going to do the little things later.

You, you talked about you and Tom making the connections, and that essentially completed the first EVA. Yes?


The next day, you and the station crewmembers will all go to work inside the Laboratory in the activation of Destiny. Talk about the steps in the process there. What is it that has to happen for assembly to be able to proceed, and for the Lab to start to assume some of its functions?

Well, actually, all of that starts the night before, right after we come inside from EVA 1. Actually, Taco and Marsha are going to be working on the portable computer system to activate the Lab. They'll be doing a lot of things, just basically electronically, to ready the Lab for us to come in. So, that's where everything starts. And that's a several-hour process. So, that whole day of EVA 1 will be a long day for all of us, you know. I think we'll all sleep well that night. Then the next morning, the things we have to do are basically start pressurizing the vestibule, or the area between the Node and the Lab that is still at vacuum. We'll pressurize that. We'll open up the hatches, and we'll go inside. And, basically, everything in the Lab is in a launch configuration. For various reasons, things are out of the configuration you want to live in them for. Most of it is for launch loads, basically. If we put it in the configuration we wanted to, then it wouldn't be able to launch in the space shuttle. But also, there are some things that are in configuration just for weight and center of gravity reasons for the shuttle. So, we'll be moving a bunch of racks within the Destiny module. We'll be hooking some racks up to others. We'll be hooking it up to the housekeeping utilities that are in the Lab, because now we're getting all that from the space station. And, basically you know, bringing it to life. You know, it's almost like a bad Frankenstein movie, only this is a big tin can that we're taking from a bunch of hardware that isn't powered and making sure it's getting all the connections it needs so that these different racks can do their function. And it's quite a long process. But we think, over the several days that we'll get to go into Destiny, we'll be able to finish it.

You used the phrase, the term a couple of times, and I want to get you to make sure we understand the word "rack." It means something very special in terms of space station hardware.

Yes. A rack [on] space station is designed so that all the spaces or there are…how can I put this? Hold on. Okay. In the space station, we have modules, which we call "racks," that can go basically in any module. And these racks are, I don't know, they're probably about the size of, you know, a small trailer, you know. But in weightlessness, easy to move around obviously. Or a small closet actually, I would say. And what you can do is you can take a rack and put it in 1 of 20 or so positions in the Lab. You can move it there. And each position has its own receptacles for all of the housekeeping utilities that I've talked about earlier - power, data, and cooling. And what you would do with this rack is, if one rack went bad, you could send up a new one on another space station mission, take the existing rack out, put the new rack in, and then, you know, you're good to go. And this is good for a couple of reasons. One, because you can move these racks around, especially for experiments. You want to be able to put a rack where you'll want it, and that's really important. But, two, because it makes the whole thing modular, you know. And that makes extremely large experiments, extremely large systems that you might have, easy to move around and disassemble and reassemble rather than taking individual pieces out and trying to replace those. So the rack, the racks that we talk about are very important in space station lingo, you're absolutely correct.

So, after a day's worth of work inside the Laboratory, activating it and its systems, it will be time for you and Tom to go back outside for more movement of equipment around on the outside of the space station starting with the movement of Pressurized Mating Adapter number 2. Once again, talk us through the events of the second space walk of this mission and tell us about what you and Tom Jones will be doing.

All right. The first space walk is basically to prepare Destiny for activation. That's all we're doing. We're getting it hooked up, and now it's ready for us to go in and fix. The second space walk is basically to get ready for the rest of the assembly sequence. We take that Pressurized Mating Adapter off Z1 where it's temporarily stowed, and we put it on the front of the Lab, because that's where everybody's going to dock after our mission. So, that's an important one. The next thing we're going to do is we're going to take something called PDGF - Power and Data Grapple Fixture. I'm going to take that off of the orbiter sidewall and we're going to put it up on the Lab and install that. And that's important because what we're going to do with that on mission 6A is we're going to hook the robotic arm, the station's robotic arm, to that so that it can get power and data from the space station, and it can actually walk off this little storage platform and be a part of the International Space Station. So, that's the big picture for EVA 2. And, believe it or not, I know those sound like two very simple tasks, but that's going to take us probably 5 or 6 hours to complete.

Because of complex, tiny connections, or what?

Right. It's mostly the connections take a long time to make. The fact that we have to remove shields, micrometeorite orbital debris shields, from the space station, from Destiny, to actually get down into the guts of her and change the way the wiring is. And there is a little bit of slop time in there where we'll do some small tasks like put Work Interface Adapters around, and widths and gap spanners, which are basically translation aids that hook one module to another. Things like that that have to be done. Just external outfitting of the Lab in general. But, those are the two big tasks, and they eat up a big chunk of time.

The day after that, you're scheduled to get a little rest before you then go back out for a third space walk on this mission. What are the jobs involved here? Again, what's the sequence of events for the third EVA of STS-98?

The third EVA of STS-98 is basically more outfitting and also getting things in position for the follow-on flights to make their flights easier. We have to put in a slide wire on the Lab so that space station crews, when they come out, can move up and down easily on the Lab. We're going to transfer a very large piece of hardware called a SASA, which is basically a radio antenna, from the orbiter sidewall up to the Z1 truss. And the reason we're doing that is just what we call a "critical spare," so that, if the SASA or the radio antenna that is already on the station breaks after 4A, they have a spare sitting there and waiting and they can replace it. And the other thing we're going to do, which is pretty important to us, is we're going to put the window shutter on the Lab. And we think [this] is very, very important because once we get the window shutter on and we move the protective covering from the Lab window, now the guys are going to, once the shuttle leaves, the guys onboard are going to have a wonderful view of the Earth. The window looks straight down out of the Destiny module and we hope that'll bring a lot of joy to them because if you've ever been in space, you know the thing that you live for is just being able to look out the window.

After that third EVA, you guys open the hatches between the shuttle and the station once again. Talk about why they're opened again at this time. And what are the final transfers that are going to be performed before you end up closing those doors for undocking?

Some of the things that we're going to take over there is, we're going to take one space walk suit, one EMU is what we call them. And that's to be used as a spare for one of the future assembly flights. We'll be taking both of our rescue aids for EVA; we call them SAFERs, the little jet packs that they tested on flight 3A. We'll be taking two of those over so they'll have them onboard station for when they do space walks. So, that's really important. We'll be mostly taking things that they no longer need, their trash, things like that, that have to be removed. You have to do something with them. So, we'll take a lot of that kind of stuff. A lot of supplies and items that they no longer need or boxes, say, that are empty now or containers that are empty, I should say because they used what was in them. We'll be taking those back to Earth. And finally, it's just so that we can say goodbye to those guys. Like I said it'd be a shame if you went all the way up there to space station and had these friends you hadn't seen in a long time and then didn't get to chat with them and talk to them, see what their experiences were like. None of the crew on the shuttle, the shuttle crew that I have right now, none of us are long-duration guys. None of us have done a long-duration space flight. And it'll just be really interesting to get their perspective on activating the International Space Station and living there for, at that point, 3 months. Knowing that, in about a month, they'll be coming back to be back in the office and talk to us on the ground.

As I said, the time will come when you have to close those doors. And then, the next day it's time for Atlantis to leave the International Space Station. Tell us about what's involved in the events that we might see as Atlantis undocks and removes itself from the space station and starts to head home.

Well, once again, I'll be operating the docking system. So, I'll be the person throwing the switches and pushing the buttons to actually separate the two vehicles. Now, although their vehicle will be a lot larger at that point, which is a great thing. I mean, that's what we want to see. And our vehicle will be a lot lighter, because we will have delivered about like I said, about 35,000 pounds, 40,000 pounds of module and gear that went into that module. So, that'll be one big difference when we come off. And then what we'll do is, we'll do a series of burns just to get further away from them. And then the real work starts. Preparing the shuttle for entry is not a simple task as far as stowing things, turning things off, disconnecting things that are only used in orbit, and now turning this orbiting space vehicle into a glider so we can come back and land, hopefully, at Kennedy Space Center.

As you backed away from the station, do, are you going to be doing it in such a way that you think you're going to get a good view of the newly enlarged ISS?

Oh, yes. That's one of the nice things about this flight is we'll back off from the station, several hundred feet, and then we'll actually do a fly around. So, we'll do one or two 360-degree rotations. Not rotations, revolutions around the space station, get a lot of nice pictures, hopefully, and basically see the fruits of our labor. You know, because we've just increased their inhabitable volume by probably 40 or 50%, which is great. And allowed Houston now to take control of the station for daily operations. And that's going to be a very good feeling. I mean I think that, up until that point, up until the point that we undock, you know, it's going to be a lot of tension, obviously. Because you want to do well. You want to do a good job on this flight. But until you undock, as far as the space walkers are concerned anyway the job's just not done. You never know when they say, "Oh, we're going need you to, you know, something got screwed up. We're going to need you to go out for one more time." But once you undock, you know that you've completed your task, at least to the satisfaction of Houston. And that's going to be a great feeling. And it's going to be an absolutely wonderful feeling.

You know, the pace of ISS assembly has dramatically quickened over the past few months. Finally, can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the significance of the expansion of this complex and about [how] the combination of U.S. elements and Russian elements is really combining; they really are blending together to become an international complex.

I think it's very interesting. I think it's great, as a matter of fact that we have so much involvement throughout the international community. Right now you see only U.S. and Russian modules. But the flight after ours, we're going to take up an Italian module, the Pressurized Logistics Module; and then a few years after that, you'll see the Japanese Experiment Module and the European module, the COF - Columbus Orbiting Facility. So, I just think it's amazing that I'm even a part of this team. That's the thing that amazes me every time I wake up. I mean, this is a monumental task. We're building something larger than any other space structure that's ever, you know, been in orbit. And I'm a part of that team. And that is just an absolutely fantastic feeling. And the only thing that makes it better, I think, than just being a part of the team is to see how large the team really is. I mean, how much of the globe, you know, is included in that team. So, I think it's a huge milestone for international cooperation. I think it's a huge milestone for space flight. And if we can pull this off I think we can all pat ourselves on the back and say, "Gosh, it's amazing. Look at, you know, look at what we've done." Well, I'll be able to sit there in my rocking chair with my lemonade when I'm older and go, "Yeah, I had a part in that." So I'm really looking forward to doing this flight.

Image: Robert Curbeam
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Robert Curbeam's greeting (WAV file 315 Kb).
Crew Interviews
Personal Space
Image: Robert Curbeam
Can a man find happiness tethered to the outside of a ship wearing a 300-pound suit...220 miles up? For Astronaut Robert Curbeam, happiness is a space walk. PROFILE.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/15/2003
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