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Preflight Interview: Marsha Ivins

The STS-98 Crew Interviews with Marsha Ivins, Mission Specialist.

Q: Marsha, before we talk about the details of the mission, let me ask you a couple of questions about you. Why is it that you wanted to become an astronaut?

A. It's a most often asked question, and here's the most often received answer, which is true for me. When I was 10 years old was when Alan Shepard made the first flight in the American space program. And we got to stop school, and we got to stay up late at night, and we got to watch all of that stuff. And it captured my imagination. And, since then, I wanted to do it. Now, wanting to do it and getting to do it are, of course, different things. But that's what I wanted to do since I was 10 years old.

Well, how did you get to where you could do it? What were the steps in your academic career and your work career that got you qualified to do it?

Well, the steps I took. I looked at what astronauts were at the time, and they were men. And I decided I was not going to let that be a problem at the time. The next thing they were was military test pilots. And that was, at my ripe old age, not an option. And so, I went on to the next thing. And they were engineers. Well, that was an option. So, I went to college and got an engineering degree for no other reason than that seems to be what the path at the time was. And, after I graduated from college, I applied to NASA, saying, "I'm ready. Here I am." And that was back in 1973, 1974, and no one was getting jobs doing anything, even at NASA. Ultimately I was hired at NASA as an engineer and worked for 10 years as an engineer at NASA, applying three times to the space shuttle astronaut program before I was selected.

Marsha, let's talk about the details of what it is that you're going to do on this mission. If I could get you to start by summarizing for us the goals of STS-98 - what is this mission going to do? What's the significance of what you are bringing to ISS?

Our main goal on this mission is to bring up the U.S. Laboratory module and successfully attach it to the space station. That's the big deal.

One item in the payload is rather unusual. It must be awfully important. What's the significance of this new component of the station?

The addition of the U.S. Lab to the space station allows control of the station to be given to the U.S. and through the Lab and through its commanding system, and that is significant. It also adds a huge amount of volume to the total station and provides the platform for the near-term science that will be done on the station. We bring up, for the most part, an empty Lab. We bring 5 of the 24 racks that it can hold, and then 5A.1 and 6A, the two flights that follow ours, fill out the Lab with the additional racks that allows it to come full up to its science capability.

And yet, as you say, at the time you deliver it, it will have the hardware and some systems that are necessary to allow control of the entire station.

Yes. It allows control. What we are bringing are basic systems modules in there. We are not bringing any scientific modules. We bring the things that allow it to do cooling and allow it power and allow thermal condition and things like that. And so, we don't provide any of the science, and we don't start any of the science. We bring the basic structure, and we plug it in, and we leave it for the crew.

The task of completing that is, I know, more-


-is, well, it's certainly more detailed than a plug and play. And you have got a big part to play in that. I'd like to take you through it in chronological order and talk about what's going to happen. And the first big step is to bring the space shuttle and the space station together on orbit. Tell us about what's involved in the rendezvous and docking day, and about what your part is as part of the team on the shuttle will be.

Well, I have a small part in this. I don't get to drive like the pilots do. But, unlike what you see in movies and what you see on television, you don't launch and immediately dock to the space station. We spend 2 days catching up by changing our orbits a little bit at a time until we're in a position where we can maneuver relative to the space station and join the shuttle and the space station together. And it's done the same way that we've done it with all the Mir flights. My job during that time is, basically to stay out of the way in some parts. I operate the handheld laser. There is one crewmember on each flight who operates a laser. And it's the same device that the policemen use to see how fast you're exceeding the speed limit. And so we use this and point outside the window at the station. And I can tell the range and the range rate. Now, we have a system in the cargo bay that's a laser-operated system that feeds directly into our displays on board that's doing this automatically. But, if that system fails, the pilots need to know the range and the range rate. How close, how fast you're approaching, or slowly you're [approaching], or whether you're approaching. And so, I'm the backup to that. So, we take laser marks from about 1,000 feet on in, and I'm the one that does that. In between taking laser marks, I'll be taking pictures. So, all those cool pictures that you see - hopefully, cool pictures - will be ones that I am helping to take. And then, in the last few seconds of the docking, I focus the camera for Taco so that he can see that his docking target is in focus, and then I call the distance down to inches as we finally dock. And then I get out of the way.

As you said that, it's the same type of mechanism the police use to find out how fast you're going. You're really going to be finding out [how] slow you're going, right?

Well, yes. It's a relative measure. So, what I'm looking at is what our closure rate is on the station. So, hopefully it's in the order of tenths of feet per second. I mean, not what you're doing on the road.

Shortly after these two vessels are brought together on orbit, the hatches on both sides of the Pressurized Mating Adapter are supposed to be opened and the two crews do have some time to work together. What is it that's scheduled for you all to be doing during those first few hours?

Not all of these flights are the same when we do this task. We're lucky that we do get to open the hatch the day we dock. That's not true of all flights. But it is for us. We are carrying about 30 locker bags-worth of transfer items, many of which are things that we install once we get the Lab attached. We're bringing some food and clothing for the crew. We're bringing hardware that they need. And, it's filling up just about every molecule of space on our middeck. So, we have arranged that, for this first hatch opening time, we will transfer over there most of the stuff that we'll need later the next day, after we've got the Lab attached. So, besides saying hello and the hugging and the kissing that normally happens and the presents that we bring them and, you know, things from home and from their families, we will be clearing off our middeck, which gives us the space to spread out and work the EVAs for the next 6 days.

The first of those space walks comes the next day. Through all three of these space walks, you're going to be at the control of Atlantis' robot arm. I want to talk about the space walks one at a time. And the first one features the big show, the mating of this module you described earlier to the International Space Station. Talk us through that, the schedule for that day. And as you do, would you point out the way you plan to deal with the fact that, from where you stand on the flight deck, you can't really see where these two pieces of hardware are coming together.

When we attach to the station, when you look out the aft window and the overhead window of the flight deck, all you see is station. I mean, the station is 6 feet out the window. So, unlike most flights where there is a robotics operator who's manipulating a large structure in the payload bay, we have no direct eye contact with the payload. We can't see it at all. So, it's a blind task. I have to rely on cameras that are distributed around the payload bay, and on the end of the arm to do my job. And so, I don't get a great view of all of this. So, that's the first scary part. Now, the first thing that we have to do is we have to take the Pressurized Mating Adapter, the PMA, off of the Node and temporarily stow it on the truss so that we can put the Lab there. Those PMAs are like little pop beads in a Tinkertoy kind of thing. They're the things that the big parts attach to. So, we move them around as we do the space station assembly. So, I go over with the arm, blind, and attach on to this PMA that's on the Node. And that's relatively simple. I have pretty good views, if all my payload bay cameras are working. If they're not, it'll be a little dicier. Then the next big thing that has to happen is the CBM controllers in the CBMs have to work to allow us to unlatch this PMA from the Node. And that will be a moment that, if we're successful, we'll be very happy with that. So once I get that off, then I back this away, back the PMA away from the Node and start moving it up, straight up, to the truss. Now at that point, Tom and Beamer come out of the airlock and they start getting their things set up. And Tom climbs up to the truss, and now I've got the arm and the PMA positioned, ready to go on this truss. And he literally says, "Come on back." He's a "mom-back." He tells me "Come on back, a little left, a little right, pitch a little, yaw a little." And I have no visual cue of this at all. There's no camera view that tells me anything. So, we've practiced this quite a bit in the VR Lab - the Virtual Reality Lab - so that he can tell if I'm pitched or rolled or yawed. And when I get the PMA in the right place, he says, "Stop." And I stop, and then he manually latches that. Then he tells me, "It's latched." I take the arm off and I go down and I get the Lab. Okay. So, that's pretty easy. I go down and I grab the Lab. Then we unlatch the Lab. Now the Lab is about as wide as the payload bay is. Now, we fly wide, long, heavy structures before, and this one's got things that stick out on it: handrails and whiff sockets and things that they need for EVA. So, I have about an inch clearance between the bits that stick out of the Lab and the payload bay. I have to set up my cameras so that I can see as the Lab comes out of the bay because I can't see it out the back window. So, we get all that set up and I tell the guys outside, "Here it comes." And I'm going to pull the Lab out of the bay. And I'm going to pull it out of the bay at about a tenth of a foot per second. So, it will take 20 minutes to get this thing out of the bay. Now when they built the Lab, they put the trunnions on the Lab not at the centerline of it. So, when I've cleared the guides that these trunnions sit in, the fat part of the Lab is still in the bay. So, I keep coming slowly and slowly. So, it'll be quite a while before I have actually cleared the structure and then I can pick the rate up on this thing and get it the 20 or so feet above the bay that it is. Then I have to flip it 180 degrees. Now, as it turns out, there is a keel pin on the bottom of the Lab that holds it into the payload bay when we launch. I have to flip it over because a few flights from ours they will attach something to that keel pin. So, we're sort of utilizing structure in multiple ways. So, I have to flip this thing over 180 degrees. In order to get the arm to do that, there is a certain path it has to fly to do it, and it's taken us about a year-and-a-half to figure out what that path is. So, I got the path down. I can do that. So, we flip this thing over and bring it down to the position of the Node. Now I have, hopefully, working an additional camera that allows me a centerline view of this. This is a camera that we've mounted in the Node and it's looking at basically its reflection in the window on the end of the hatch of the Lab. And then they've positioned a target around that has reflective, retroreflective tape on that and I have an overlay on my camera. And after 4A attaches an EVA cable that allows us to go through the copper path, when the shuttle and the station are attached, I should get a view of the camera in the Node on my flight deck so that I can look right down the barrel of the Lab and attach it. And I really hope that works. So, if that works, I very slowly bring this Lab in to the Node at about a tenth of a foot per second, and I still have no other direct view of it. There are some debris shielding around both ends of the, around the end of the Lab and the Node, that we've called a stove pipe. And what that does is, it blocks my view of the mating parts of the petals as they overlap, so I don't see this at all. So, if that miracle happens and I get this all aligned, we will get a display inside the flight deck that tells us we have made four ready-to-latches. And this is the way all of the assembly parts are done. We get the system that tells us, "You have hit the right part in assembling these things." And we will throw the latches, and we will drive the bolts, and I will start to breathe again.

[A] couple of points. The camera view you described coming from Unity, that gives you a view of the Lab coming, in essence, toward your own face?

Yes. It's a camera that looks at its own reflection, like looking at your reflection in a mirror. So, the camera has a ring of LED lights around it. And what it's looking at, since hopefully the lights aren't on in the Lab and it's dark in there, it's a piece of glass that acts as a mirror. So, it reflects back the view of this camera looking at it. And so, now I can tell very precisely, you know, where I am relative to where I want to be.

Is the Space Vision System not used?

The Space Vision System is used. The Space Vision System uses cameras that do not have a direct view, looking at the sets of dots, those black-and-white, white-and-black targets that are on the PMA and on the Lab. And so, you aim at the targets on the fixed structure, which is the Node, and then you put the Lab in a certain position and then you focus on the targets, that is the moving one, and then it knows the fixed targets, the moving targets. It creates for you a solution that tells you when these two are mated; this is what the number should be. So, basically, what I get from the Vision System is a set of digital numbers that tell me my goodness in mating this, so how far off I am in roll, pitch, and yaw, X, Y, and Z. And we use that, we plan to use that as a backup to this direct view camera, which is truth. It's a visual truth.

For all the science and all the things that you've described, it sounds as though there's an awful lot of art involved in running that arm.

Well, hopefully, it's less art than real science and technique. And a lot of it is dependent on all of the systems being up and working within their specified tolerances. So, the thing that's very scary about this is that, if the arm is working but it's slightly miscalibrated or it's off a little bit, and if the cameras are off a little bit, and if the rings are off a little bit, the stack up of these tolerances could potentially get us into a position where it doesn't work right. So, we hope they're all good.

They're all good. The Lab's installed on the end of Unity. And it's then that members of both crews are going to go to work to begin the activation of the Destiny Laboratory. What are the steps in that process? I believe it's that day and the next day when you actually get to go inside the Lab.

After we have driven the latches and tightened the bolts and done all the rest of that stuff, the guys are still outside making some connections. And then, Taco and I start the process of preliminary Lab activation. Now, this is before the hatches are even open. But, the connections that the guys have made EVA will allow us to start powering up the systems of the Lab, so we get the fluid flowing in the Lab. Now the Lab is conditioned by being plugged in to the space shuttle with a connector. So, it allows the lines to not freeze, because it allows the cooling to keep them cool and keep everything nice and warm. Well, once we unplug that so that we can pick it up on the arm and flip it over, it's getting ready to freeze or it's getting ready to be a bad temperature. So, the clock ticks from the moment we start this to where we get it plugged in and we can reinitiate their own cooling systems in there. So, that's the first thing basically that we do. We don't open the door that first day. Shep now has some jobs to do in the vestibule for some outfitting to allow the pass-throughs from the Node, to allow power to come down from the solar array, you know, through the truss through Node and into the Lab. So that when we get ready to turn things on, there's power there.

That happens the day after the first EVA, when you all will go inside. What jobs are involved for the, I guess, all eight of you inside the Lab that day?

Well, the Lab has been launched with five racks in it, and they are all systems racks. When we launch things, in order to protect them against the launch loads, they have the launch bolts in them. So, each rack has got between 20 and 30 launch bolts that we have to remove. And that allows you to open the doors if you have to access any of the hardware that's in the inside. So, one of the tasks is to remove the launch bolts. For c.g. reasons, we have launched the Air Revitalization system rack in one location. We've got to move it 180 degrees over to the other side. So, we have to un-attach it from where it is, pick up this huge rack, rotate it over, and put it in another location. So, that's one thing. We carry eight soft stowage racks with us. And, these things all launch folded up, and one of our jobs will be to unfold them, which provides Shep an enormous amount of closet space, which up until this point he has not had. So, that's another thing we do. There are some jumpers and cables and connections that we have to make, things that have been tied down for launch that we now have to cut the tie wraps on and take out the structure that held the connectors in place and remove that and connect the various racks. So, we're basically continuing to put it together from the inside once we get it attached.

Getting everything set up as if you just moved into a new place.

Yes. Basically, we deliver and install. You know, we don't operate.

The next day, you go back to operating the arm. It's the second space walk, the day after that ingress, to do more work on the outside, starting with that Pressurized Mating Adapter that you had linked-


-up on the Z1.

Now. This pop bead that we've left on the Z1 now has to go down to the end of the Lab, because that is where the next number of flights will dock. So, it's very important that we leave it down there. So, again, I go over and grab it with the arm. And then Tom and Beamer come out of the airlock, and Tom climbs back up to the truss again and he manually unlatches it. And then he reverse "mom-backs" me out of there. Basically, I back straight away. Again, I have no direct view. I have almost no camera view of this. And he tells me when I'm clear. When I'm clear of the truss structure, then I drive that PMA straight down the back of the Lab and I have to roll it around. I get to the end of the Lab, I drop it down. Now, that camera that we used in the Node to give us a direct view, this day that we've had in between these two EVAs, we've taken it down to the end of the Lab and we've mounted it in the hatch window of the Lab. And it's still connected to the same cables that run it to my flight deck. The crew that just left - the 3A crew - in this PMA that we took off, put in a target on a big crossbeam in the fat part of it. And it's got a mirrored surface on it with some retroreflectors on it. And now, because the PMA has no hatch and it has no window, as I bring this PMA down, the camera looking through the window of the Lab picks up its own image in this reflective mirror on this beam on the PMA. And, again, I have an overlay. And I look at my own reflection in the mirror, and I look at the piece coming towards me, and I centerline berth it because that's truth. SVS - the Space Vision System - is again a player in this, and they are looking at the fixed targets on the end of the bottom of the Lab and the moving targets on the bottom of the PMA, and they are generating for me a mathematical digital solution. But I'm looking at truth through the window for that.

There are a number of other items to be done during that second space walk. What else is on the agenda?

Well, I get the PMA attached, and again we go through this, the CBM controllers and the latching and once we've started the bolting, I can take the arm off of that. Now, there are a couple other parts that we carry in the payload bay, attached to the wall that Tom and Beamer have to stick on the Lab now that we've got the Lab attached. And one of them is a grapple fixture that allows the station robotic arm to attach to the Lab, and then it can, you know, sort of leapfrog, slinky itself from place to place. We don't do any of that. We attach the fixture. So, I have to get Tom on the arm, Beamer on the arm, depending on which task we're doing, and then drive them over to where the part is on the payload bay. And they take it off, and then I drive them under the Lab. Now, this is an interesting task. This maneuvering a body on the end of the arm where I can't see them through the aft window at all. So, I'm counting on my payload bay cameras to give me clearance views of how I do this. And I literally have to thread them between things and tuck them around. Now, I have a good view of what they are doing. What I don't have a good view of is the fact that the upper part of the arm comes within inches of the Lab structure. So, it's not just not knocking their head off on the seal of the station, or the shuttle as I bring them in and not banging their EMU on to something. But [I've] got to watch the whole arm as I do this. So, there are some cases where I have to stop one guy from his task and ask him to move over and watch the clearance on the arm. And either the window cover or the PDGF, we know, those tasks, when I'm wrapped all the way around the bottom of the arm, [I've] got to stop the other guy and have him make sure I don't hit the Lab at some place I'm not looking at.

There's a third EVA on this mission, too. What's involved in that? And do you have the same kinds of-

Oh yes.


Oh yes.


The arm is always in a knot. No matter what we do, the arm is always in a knot. We are delivering an ORU called the SASA, and we are delivering it to a place where it could be used later. So, we don't install it unless the one that's there has had a failure, in which case one of our contingency jobs would be to install this. But, again, it's on the side wall. Got to put somebody on the arm, get it off the side wall, and then get it to where it's going up on the truss. Now, it looks very simple when you do that. You could just, you know, lift it up like that. But, if you look at doing as maneuvers with your own arm, you'll find that there are some positions you, you know, have to get into to do this. So, none of these positions are straightforward. I give a guy a round-the-world tour in order to get there in order to keep the joints from tying themselves in a knot. So, we practiced this one a lot also. And then, after that time, mostly I'm done with the arm. The arm and I will be having a big Motrin at that point.

At the conclusion of the third EVA, hatches between the shuttle and the station are coming to open again for another day of joint operations, at least according to the current schedule. What's on the agenda for that period of time?

What's on the agenda then is whatever we didn't get done the first day the hatches were open. And that's the way we hope to run it. We have a list of jobs that need to get done, bolts that need to be moved, cables and connectors that need to be made, racks that need to get opened up. If we're way ahead on the task, we could help Shep sort of move some of the stuff that he's got accumulated on the floor of the FGB and in the Node from previous flights, because we brought him stuff but no closet, and put it away. I mean, if we can help him get some stuff put away, that would be great.

The next day, you guys have done your job and it'll be time for you to go. Talk us through the events of the undocking and flying around and what kind of view are you expecting to be able to get of this ever-expanding station as you guys back away?

Well, when you back away, the view you'll get is the end you backed away from, you know. And that's the best you get. If we have the fly around, if we're allowed to do the fly around, and that's based on whatever consumables we have or have not consumed as far as propellant and other things, if we have the opportunity to do a fly around, this is when you get the view of all sides of the space station. So, doing the fly around is not just Mark Polansky's time to drive. You know, it's a big deal for him. It's our time to actually photograph the station in its current form. You know, some flights don't get the opportunity to do that. And so, they don't have the opportunity to really take a great picture of the whole station. So, I'm hoping we do get to do the fly around. And the back away is pretty simple. You undo the latches, you back away, you call it when it's clear, then the Pilot drives out to so many feet, and then he just basically maintains that distance from the station as he flies around it once or twice or whatever we're allowed to do. Hopefully, we get good Sun angles on things and I'll be snapping madly pictures so that we can show everybody what it looked like when we left. Also, now that we are not attached, we will finally have a view out the back window of, you know, the world, which we haven't had for 6 days. So, it'll be our first, the three of us who've been inside for all this time, it'll be our first opportunity to really get a good look at the station as it is.

The pace of the assembly of the International Space Station has been accelerating rapidly. And you are part of the crew that's bringing the largest American component of the station to date, but one that's going to allow the whole thing to begin to operate as one unique and workable complex. What are your thoughts about getting to be a part of this space shuttle mission?

I have been fortunate in my career at NASA to have been given the opportunity to go to space, period. So, any opportunity, to me, is…this is why I will never win the lottery, you know. I've gotten to go to space, hopefully now, five times. To be a part of the Phase I Program, the Mir Program, to me was a bonus. And to be part of a crew that does some assembly to the space station, which for whatever anybody thinks about it, will be the most amazingly large, massive undertaking we have to date tried in the world in space, to be a part of that, again, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that. To be able to operate the robot arm and to actually do this kind of a task is not one I have done before, so I'm looking forward to being successful in doing that. So I just feel very fortunate that I've been given this opportunity.

Image: Marsha Ivins
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Marsha Ivins' greeting (WAV file 344 Kb).
Crew Interviews

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