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

Preflight Interview: Thomas Jones

The STS-98 Crew Interviews with Thomas Jones, Mission Specialist 3.

Q: Tom, let's start with a couple of personal questions. Why did you want to become an astronaut?

A. When I was growing up, I was in elementary school during the time that we were racing the Russians to the moon. And I was in about 5th or 6th grade and the Gemini missions were taking place. And I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and that's a place that's got a lot of different industries. One of them is the Martin Aircraft Company. And in the mid-60s, they were building the Titan boosters that lofted the Gemini astronauts into orbit, two at a time. So, while I was in elementary school we could see the Gemini launches taking place on TV and people would stop classroom activity at school, roll in a television, and we'd watch the whole launch. And then a few days later, wait for the splashdown. So, it was really important, obviously, to all these adults and teachers about what was going on in space. So, I certainly was impressed by the importance that they attached to it. And then, a lot of my friends had dads who worked at Martin Aircraft. And, in an Open House one year, when I was a Cub Scout, we went down to the Martin plant a couple of miles from my house and there were these two shining, steel and aluminum Titan boosters that were going to be the Gemini VII and Gemini VIII boosters. And that just knocked my socks off. I thought that was the neatest thing. And the Super Guppy of the time would fly in and take these booster stages down to the Cape. So, that's what got me hooked on it. I just thought it was fascinating. There were some astronauts who, not only were going to get to go to another planet one day, but they also got to fly a really nifty space vehicle and I was really fascinated by airplanes at the time. So, to me, these were the epitome of exploration. They had both a fantastic place to go to and a fantastic machine to operate on the way there. That was a combination I couldn't beat in my imagination. So, that was what I set my sights on.

With that as your goal, then, would you describe for us the education and the career path that finally led you here?

When I was growing up, to be an astronaut you quickly found out these people were all test pilots by training. And so, you had to go into the Services and fly, which was fine with me because I loved airplanes. And so, I decided the best place to get a flying education was at the Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy. And I was growing up in Maryland, that would have been fine, too. But I opted to go the Air Force route and tried to get an appointment there, succeeded, studied science in the Air Force Academy out in Colorado Springs. And then [I] was a bomber pilot in the Air Force for 5 or 6 years, which was fascinating in the sense that it was a crew job, working with five other people on a crew. And you know, I still had in the back of my mind the hope that one day I'd get a chance to try to get a slot as an astronaut. So, this was good experience, I thought. Because it's the same kind of makeup that a space flight crew would have. Now, about the time I went through pilot training and got into the bomber business in Strategic Air Command, the space shuttle made its debut. And it was clear that this was a crewed spaceship, not just one or two or three people, but, you know, as many as seven or eight. And also, NASA opened up crew selection on the space shuttle to a wider array of people. So, we had not only the option of going into test piloting, but also there were scientists and engineers who were being offered the chance to join the astronaut corps. So, in the early 1980s, when I was wrapping up my first assignment as a pilot I just assessed which route would be best for me and that was going back into science I thought. So, when I left the Air Force, I went back into graduate school, spent 5 years getting a doctoral degree in space sciences studying the planets, the asteroids and comets in particular. And then I just started sending in applications. And…after two failures, on the third try I got interviewed and was hired to come and work down here in Houston in 1990.

Over the course of that time, as you look back at it, do you see any particular people who were or perhaps still are, what you might consider the most significant influences in your life? Tell us about how they influenced you.

Certainly the astronauts themselves were my heroes as a kid, and they were in Life magazine and they were in the newspapers and I was really reading up on all of their stories as a kid. There were some books I still have, one called "Americans Into Orbit," which is about the Mercury 7 astronauts. So, I must've gotten that when I was about 10, and, you know, I read about these seven people and they were very fascinating, of course. And then there was the new crop of astronauts. And the ones who went to the moon finally. I knew all of these guys by what missions they flew, and I was really hoping to follow directly in their footsteps. Now, as it worked out I didn't exactly do what they did. I wasn't a test pilot. But, I certainly got to fly, and I identified with their love of flying and aviation and space flight. And so, they had the biggest influence, I think, in terms of showing how important it was to excel in academics and school. And then to set higher goals for yourself, even after that, and try to be the best pilot you could be. And they really had, I guess, the biggest influence on my career model. In my family, no one else was a pilot. No one else was in the military. And there were no scientists in my family either. But my dad was a teacher; and he certainly valued academic excellence, and he understood how important it was to do well, even in elementary school. Because that was the steppingstone to middle school and high school and then college. So, I certainly had that boost from my dad and then my mom in terms of excelling in school. But, as far as the sky's the limit, they just sort of stood back and said, "Well, go follow your imagination." And they were able to let me do that.

You are now part of a space shuttle crew that has had more than 2 years together to train for this mission, which is longer than most space shuttle crews train for a mission. What has that been like for you in comparison to your previous missions? Is it hard to keep your concentration when the goal you're working toward moves further and further away from you?

Yes, we've had a lot of waiting to do. I think the most valuable experience out of this long assignment has been learning the value of patience, or relearning the value of patience. My first flight, I trained for, oh, 2 and a half years, I think, a little bit short of that, to get off the ground. And that was hard to wait through that long interval. But, you knew it was going to happen. It was in a serial line of missions that was going to come off sooner or later. So, you can [get] annoyed at a 6-month delay but you can stay philosophical about it. It was harder in the case of the space station flights, to be honest, because we really didn't know how fast things were going to progress, especially when the partnership was delayed by financial problems in Russia. And so, yes, you were assigned to an assembly flight. But it had certain key milestones that had to occur before it. And we had to have the first elements of the space station in orbit. We had to have the first crew living aboard. And so many pieces had to come together that it was very difficult to actually settle on a date when you'd be through and be ready to fly. So, it has been a special challenge to wait out the slow development of the space station. But, now, the effect is quite the opposite. Instead of a snail's pace and marking time and hoping that things were [going] to come to maturity sooner or later now, we're in an avalanche. We're just tearing downhill at the fastest pace that we can manage, trying to stay on our feet while trying to avoid the giant snowballs rolling down around you. And, we literally have 2 and a half months left to get ready, and probably I could use another 2 and a half months now just to finish up all the things I know I don't know. So, it's going to be quite a scramble to get finished. So, from one extreme to the other. So, it's been a great life experience.

Let's talk about the details. Starting, if I could, to get you to summarize for us the goals of STS-98. What's the 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?

STS-98 is what's called 5A. That's the assembly step that we're executing. And, it has always been a big milestone on the charts of space station assembly because it marks the arrival of the United States Laboratory, called Destiny. And the Lab, as we call it for shorthand, the Lab is really the guts of the space station's research and command and control capabilities. It becomes possible to do science and to make the science quality science because of the arrival of the Lab. We already have a crew on board. And we already have the capability to control the space station's attitude. And soon we're going to be generating a lot of electricity on board but the Laboratory is what's going to bring all of these elements together and bring them up to a performance standard that makes the research capability possible on the station. So, for example, the added power that the 4A flight's going to deliver will then be channeled, using equipment in the Laboratory, to the research racks and the experiments that will then come up and populate the Lab. So, we're providing that power resource in a deliverable fashion that the user can take advantage of. For command and control, right now we're in sort of a crude mode where we use thruster control to maintain attitude on the space station and that's a very fuel-intensive or propellant-intensive activity. We want to get the gyros that went up there on 3A to control the station's attitude, and the software and commanding, the computers that make that possible, are all in the Laboratory. So, that enables a more fuel-efficient mode of operation, which permits maintaining attitude control with momentum wheels. And the Control Moment Gyros are much less disturbing to a microgravity environment than thruster firings are. So, that makes a good quality research environment available on the station. And, finally, I think the Laboratory provides enough computer architecture that we can not only fly and maintain the space station and manage its life support for the crew, but now we add the important capability to handle data and link it to the ground and return scientific results. So, the potential that the Lab provides is really a big step up, a quantum jump, for the space station's maturity as a research facility. So, we're really getting into the serious growth phase of the space station; and we can leapfrog from the Lab to doing some really valuable work there.

If I could get you to expand a bit on that last area that you mentioned. The Lab does have computers that are going to communicate with other portions of the station for overall control of the station. How complex is a setup like that? Is it not as simple as having a couple of computers linked across this, what, 40 or 60 feet from one room to the other?

It's much more complicated to make these computers work together than just the physical connections that mate them up. We'll, by delivering the Lab, make it possible for the Russian segment computers that are already there, that the crew's using right now, we'll link those to the new capabilities aboard the Lab. And so, for example, a crew in the Laboratory will be able to have some insight into what's going [on] over on the Russian delivered portion of the station; the Russian segment. And while the crew's living in the quarters on the Russian segment, they'll be able to look at a laptop and see the health and status of the rest of the space station because the Lab will provide that monitoring and channeling capability of information over to them. So, it provides much more visibility for the crew. Wherever they work in the station after the Lab has arrived, they'll have insight into the function and health of the rest of the station. And that kind of activity is not going to be trouble-free. I'm sure there's going to be some troubleshooting and some working out of some of the bugs. In fact, there's even going to be some special connections that'll have to be run down from the Lab, outside through the Node, and then over to the Russian segment and back inside to the crew compartment. And these convoluted paths of data transfer just are a necessity because of the different stages of development of these modules. They weren't all delivered at the same time; and thus, the planning for routing the data wasn't as easy as it could have been had everything just been shoved out the door at the same time. But we'll deal with those and provide that insight. We hope that, wherever you go in the space station using the Lab's computers, the command and control computers, you'll be able to essentially set up your cockpit right where you are and then you can command the station from any of the laboratories, from over on the Russian segment, from down in the Habitation Module eventually.

As you said, not only does this component of the station have the systems to help control the station, but it is also what its name would imply, it is a laboratory. Talk about some of the various hardware that's contained inside Destiny and the kinds of science that would be done in the early stages of its life on orbit.

Well, Destiny has the cylindrical shape. And it's subdivided into four zones, if you will; they're called "rack faces." And we have the advantage in space of being able to use the ceiling and the deck as well as the two walls for mounting research equipment. So in these 4 bays, we have 6 positions in each; and so we'll have 24 locations for refrigerator-size pieces of equipment that we call International Space Station Payload Racks; Standard Payload Racks - ISPRs. And so, there're 24 slots for these racks. They can be anything. They can be life support setups. They can be racks full of avionics and computers. And these will control and manage the station. They can be research facilities. And anything from a microgravity furnace to a biological containment facility for small laboratory animals, for example. And another rack can manage the crew's health. So, we're going to launch with only 5 of these 24 bays occupied for the space shuttle's performance reasons. We have to launch mainly an empty lab. But the five racks that we do bring up are pretty important. They're a couple of thermal control racks which cool the interior of the Lab and exchange heat from the inside of the Laboratory out to the radiators on the outside of the station. They also condition the air that flows through the Lab and cool it at the right temperature, for example. We have a couple of avionics ranks, which contain the computers that we've been talking about, the command and control computers that establish this attitude and motion control function and also deliver commands down to the lower tiers of computers that will monitor the various subsystems on the space station from photovoltaic power to life support to some of the laboratory data handling equipment. And finally, there's an AR rack, an Air Revitalization system rack, which will scrub carbon dioxide out of the air and then condition it and blow it to the rest of the Laboratory. So, we make use of the Lab's power and command and control capabilities to sort of make it a habitable volume that's a good place to work. And then the Expedition crew will begin to see racks of science delivered later. So, we don't actually bring up any experiments, but we provide the facility and we tie a nice ribbon around it and turn it over to the station crews.

And it's the arrival of this module that really starts the transformation of this whole project into a scientific research project. I'm curious. Do you see the main goal of this as being that pure science research? Or is it also, if not exclusively, is it also about learning how we live in space?

Oh, the two goals can't be separated. I think they're in parallel; they're intertwined because they'll feed each other as we go down the road. So I see the space station as a laboratory for technology exploitation and experimentation as well as science activity that goes back to the ground in terms of improving our life back here. So, it's a laboratory for human beings to study them and to make them live healthier, more productive lives while they're working in space. And we're concerned about a particular environment, microgravity, where we think we're going to be exposing ourselves to long stretches of that environment on the way to the other planets like Mars or out to an asteroid. At the same time, we're using the same human beings that are acting as guinea pigs, to operate scientific facilities that are aimed directly at improving things back here on the ground for all of us. So, we're conducting biomedical research into trying to produce pharmaceuticals, for example. And there will be a rack facility for doing biomedical investigations. We'll be looking into the basic physical sciences, chemistry and physics. And creating new materials in a materials furnace. We'll be doing basic, some basic scientific investigations in a combustion facility out there to learn about the physics of burning things. And if we can improve combustion understanding, we can make our cars and furnaces and power plants more efficient back on the ground. So, the two sets of facilities are going to be intermixed. And the very people who run the science facilities will be themselves part of a science investigation that will help us establish humans permanently out of low-Earth orbit at other places in the solar system. And this is a steppingstone for me. I want to see this facility take on a role that leads us to other places besides just low-Earth orbit. We're going to certainly use that environment to improve our lives back here. But we want to use it as a steppingstone to go farther out.

Before any of that can happen, you and your crewmates have got to bring Atlantis and the International Space Station together on orbit. Talk us through the plans for the rendezvous and the docking to the station and what part you play as part of the team on board the shuttle to do that.

It's sort of a marvel for me, because, when I was a kid, rendezvous in space hadn't even been performed yet by people. Well, by machines either. The first rendezvous in orbit was on Gemini VI and VII back in 1965, late 1965. And I watched that as a school kid happen on television. And so, these two Gemini spacecraft came together and stayed just a foot or two apart in the first demonstration of a technique that we would need to go to the moon. So, here we're bringing the space shuttle up to the space station using that same technique, the same physics and the same equations, and we're not going to the moon on this particular mission. But by building the space station, I hope that we'll enable that visit to take place sooner rather than later. So, to get to the space station, we're going to have to spend a couple of days in orbit catching up after our initial launch. And so, we'll go into a lower orbit and we'll orbit the Earth a little bit faster than the station and pull up to it from behind. And then, on the morning that we wake up on rendezvous day, which is the third day of the flight, we'll be going through a series of thruster firings to actually bring us up beneath the space station on a direct line from the center of the Earth to the space station itself. And we'll eventually wind up about 6 or 700 feet out on that line and then begin closing in from directly below. At this point, everybody on the crew is on the flight deck looking out the overhead windows at the space station above us. We have a docking port on the station that's facing directly downward, so it's almost a straightforward or a straight shot right up to the docking port with a few wrinkles thrown in. We have the two pilots, one flying the spacecraft physically so Ken Cockrell will be back in the back of the flight deck flying Atlantis with his hands on the thruster controls. Mark Polansky, our Pilot, will be up in the front seats entering computer commands that will enable the various phases of the rendezvous. He's also in charge of the navigation state of the orbiter and controlling what sensor data we feed into the orbiter's computers. My role in the rendezvous is to act as the Mission Specialist in charge of the laptop computers that aid us in our situational awareness. And so, we'll have a laptop between the three of us that everybody can see that provides very precise information from our laser out in the payload bay called the Trajectory Control System - the TCS. And it also displays information from a handheld laser range finder and velocity device that Marsha Ivins will be operating out the overhead window. So, that data comes together and it's displayed along with the orbiter's understanding of where we are on a single screen. And so, we can actually see our relative closure rate and position in a way that the pilots can use to fly precisely up that corridor to the docking port. And Bob Curbeam, the last member of our crew, is sort of the jack-of-all-trades. He's going to be handling all of our camera duties. He's going to be handling the Orbiter Docking System, when we get to the final few feet of the rendezvous. So, we all play together as a team. And everybody's roles sort of blend in at the end to make sure that everything's safe and that we have exactly the right docking parameters when we arrive at that docking port with the last few inches to go.

Once you put these two ships together, a short time after that, the hatches on both sides of that Pressurized Mating Adapter are supposed to open and two crews go to work together. Talk about what's scheduled for those first couple of hours that the two ships are joined together on orbit.

We're not a cargo flight by definition. We're bringing a laboratory to install on the lab. So, we're not bringing cargo for the crew as our primary mission. But there is a lot of gear that we've got to transfer over to the station crew, Expedition One. And so once we get the hatches open initially we're going to lug over several crew transfer bags' worth of equipment to put it on the station crew side of the hatches. We've got some logistical supplies, some food and clothing for them. One of the Progress cargo flights to the station has been delayed, so we're probably going to be bringing up several hundred pounds of provisions in that sense. So, that's stuff we don't need for the rest of our work up at the station. We're going to just send that right over on the first day. We'll also haul over some fresh rolls of film for the IMAX camera on board so that the crew can film some scenes on board during the subsequent week. And then we'll take that exposed film back down to the ground, so we'll shove over that equipment so they can set up some of the camera work to document the assembly activity that we're going to be carrying out. And, we'll be taking various space station tools and spares that are needed on board and getting them over on the other side of the hatch. So, if we have to leave in a hurry, they've got all the deliverables that they need if we have to pull away suddenly. And then, we're going to close hatches that night and start to depress the cabin for the first space walk the next day.

The space walks are going to be a very important part of the installation of the Destiny Laboratory on ISS. And you're going to be one of the two space walkers who are going outside to do that. Before we talk about what happens on this mission, I can't help but remember what happened on your last mission, when you and Tammy Jernigan were going to make a space walk and were not able to because a hatch handle got stuck. How frustrating was that for you? Is this a second chance for you to finally get that step out the airlock?

I hope it's the second chance that succeeds, that's for sure. Well, I've been looking forward to this 5A set of space walks ever since that day almost 4 years ago when we had the Thanksgiving Day hatch failure on STS-80. Now, the disappointment that I felt at the time was not really too keen at the moment that the failure happened, because we always overcome failures in NASA and in the space program. We don't let a failure stop us. We find a way to work around it. So, here are Tammy Jernigan and I in the airlock in a vacuum in our space suits, ready to go. And the hatch doesn't work. And the handle is jammed. And we couldn't open the hatch to start the space walk. It was literally being on the doorstep, and we couldn't go through the doorway. But, it didn't worry me at the time because, surely, we'd find some way around this. And so, for the next 2 hours, we played with various things that we could try in the airlock. We swapped out hatch handles and took a look at the one that was jammed and reinserted it into the hatch. And we tried various ways of providing muscle leverage on the handle to see if it would budge at all. When none of those worked, well, I said, to myself, "Don't get excited. We'll just come back tomorrow and try this again, and we'll have a solution to it by then." And then, the next day, we wanted to take some measurements of the hatch. So, we postponed for another day. And, it was only a couple of days later that we really cancelled the EVAs. We did an assessment that said, "The benefit of doing these rehearsals for space station construction in November of '96 was not worth the risk to the satellite we had out behind us, about 60 miles behind. If we couldn't recover it, that was a much bigger problem than losing these two opportunities for some space station rehearsals." And, in fact, we got all that space walking information a year later on STS-87. So, there was no reason to push it. And so, a couple of days later, they said, "Well, we're not going to try this on STS-80." And, they had [a] good rationale. And so, they sort of let us down easily, in stages. And, by the time that had happened, we had all come to grips with it mentally and philosophically. And it's hard to complain when you're in orbit with a good crew and you've had a good science mission, which we did with our two satellites. So, the loss of the EVAs was philosophically somewhat easier to take because it was spread out. And then when we got back to the ground my colleagues said that they would do everything they could to see that we got another chance to try out our skills that we'd spent so long preparing. And that's the way it's worked out. So you know, there's a way to look at the long term and be happy with the way things went.

That first step out the airlock for you is now still just a couple of months off. Do you have any sense of what you'll be thinking or what you'll feel when that finally comes around?

Oh, I'll be delighted, of course. And I think I'll be at the top of my exhilaration and excitement for the mission at that point. I can't think of another part of STS-98 that's going to be personally more rewarding for me than opening that door for the first time and sticking my head out the hatch. So many of my friends have done this work and have raved about how rewarding it is and what a personally great experience it is to see the Earth from just your faceplate that I'm going to be just at the peak of anticipation. So, I'm really anticipating that and looking forward to it. But I think it'll be somewhat anticlimactic to just turn the hatch handle, because it's going to work just like it has worked every other time anybody's ever tried it. So, I'm ready for that exhilaration.

How has the experience of the growing number of space walks that have been done outside ISS so far, how has that been rolled back into your preparations for your mission? You mentioned your friends who have made space walks. Your colleagues passed along experience that's helped you and Bob Curbeam prepare?

That's been very important. We do it informally. You know, you go grab somebody in the hallway and say, "Well, tell me what it was really like. What did you experience when you went out? Did you have any disorientation or, you know, how did it compare to training underwater?" So, you ask them all of these personal perspective questions on it, about things that took them by surprise or things that you should watch out for. Things that you might train for more vigorously on the ground, knowing that they might have experienced some problems with a certain piece of hardware or a certain area of the space station that you're moving around on. So, you attack it from that direction. And then there's also the formal debrief that the crews provide when they come back. And we sit in on that technical debrief, so that we go through, systematically, and look at all of their equipment and all of the tools that they used and all of their techniques and training to see whether there might be holes that we can fill in before it's too late for us. We have another couple of months where we can learn from both the experience on the other docking flights to the station and, most recently, STS-92, the 3A flight, where they did an assembly mission, added an element to the space station, did a lot of the same kinds of work that we're going to be doing. So, we're already benefiting from some of their comments that have been brought back. And then, we'll be in Mission Control-Bob Curbeam and I and Mark Polansky-watching the space walks on STS-97, making sure that we watch this unfold in real time and see how this team deals with their problems.

Take us outside with you, then. Comes the day of your first space walk, and you're going to go outside to help install this. Take us out with you, and describe the series of tasks that are set out for the first EVA.

It's very ambitious, the first EVA. We have the goal on this mission of installing a laboratory and leaving it activated and ready for use. The first day of this docked activity, we've got to get the Laboratory out of the payload bay and on to the front of the space station and latch it permanently in place. And that's a robotic activity that Marsha Ivins carries out. It's got to be extremely precise. She has to have the Lab delicately balanced at the end of the arm and then moved directly into the capture envelope for the Common Berthing Mechanism on the front of the Node. Now, she's going to do that with all of the aids at her disposal. And she's not relying on us to help. But we're outside at that point, and she can't help but use us as a resource. In fact, she depends on me to get the docking port PMA number 2, out of the way so she can put the Lab into place. So, first she has to have me manually release the latches that hold…I'm sorry…wait for her to release the latches that hold the PMA to the front of the Node. She moves it up to Z1. And then, I have to manually fasten it in place with the Manual Berthing Mechanism up there. So, she needs me to take charge of that docking port and get it out of the way so she can then go back down into the payload bay, pluck the Lab, and turn it around and put it in its place. So, right from the start, we're doing coordination with the crew outside and helping her directly, and then we're in a position to help her with the Lab berthing.

Describe the steps, if you will.

Well, the major activity of course is getting the Lab in place. And that's a big chunk to swallow. So, Marsha's got to pick up the Lab out of the cargo bay, turn it around on the end of the arm, and then move it down into the corridor for berthing on the front of the Node. Now, she has the Space Vision System to help her, and she'll be talking about this, of course, in great detail. But, she's also got the orbiter's manipulator system feedback to tell her where she is. And then, if neither of those methods are working, she's got a camera system mounted in the Node that can help her align the Lab. But, should all of those methods fail, she has four eyes outside. Bob Curbeam and I can come over and hang on the edge of the Node and help her guide it into the proper alignment so that she can berth it. And, we only have about 6 and a half hours on the space walk, so she's going to get this done right up front. And then the rest of the space walk is devoted to, after her successful berthing operations, to hooking up the critical connections to the Lab that keep it in good health for the following few days of activity. And those amount to some power connections that will enable us to provide heat and thermal control for the Lab, and they also are some umbilical connections that provide cooling circulation into the Laboratory that allows it to dump the excess heat from the computers and electronics inside. And those big cooling lines have to be attached before we can activate the Lab, too. So, that first EVA is mechanical berthing and then hooking up these critical keep-alive functions of cooling and electrical power to the Laboratory. And if we can get all of those done on the first EVA, then we can go back inside and know that we can build on that and we can activate the Lab internally the next day with those connections made. And I can talk about that in greater detail if you want.

Before we go inside, these connections that you've described. These are connections that are between the Lab and which other components of the station?

Well, the STS-92 crew just built on the Z1 truss to the station. There's a lot of wiring and plumbing in that Z1 truss that's meant to be used by later elements. First, the P6 truss is going to be stacked on top of it on the 4A flight. And then we're going to put the Laboratory on the front of the station. And so, our job is to go down at the lower end of Z1 and mate up the fluid and electrical connections that have been put in place by those other crews. So, the ammonia lines - the fluid lines - are circulating cooling ammonia all the way up to the radiators on the P6 truss. And that provides an outlet for the Lab's heat. The electrical power is flowing down from the solar panels down P6 through Z1, and that power is available at the end of these umbilicals that we then hook into the Laboratory's connections. And now we distribute this 120-volt electrical power into the Laboratory so it can be distributed to the various life support, command and control, and scientific functions later on. So, we actually have a little fold-down tray on the end of Z1, at the front edge, that lays out these lines in a nice, orderly fashion. And we have to bend them across a few feet of space, and then mate them to the Laboratory. And both Bob and I reach in from opposite sides of this tray and spend about an hour doing all those critical connections.

In training how to make these critical connections and how to help guide the installation of the Lab, you also train for how to respond to what might go wrong in order that it ultimately would be successful. What are some of the more likely failure scenarios, if you will? And what things are you folks prepared to do to respond should they happen?

Well, a good example is [this]: on this first EVA, if we can't hook up the main power connections to the Laboratory, we can't enable the heaters to operate on the Laboratory. We have a backup system for that. So, if we can't get the main umbilicals to hook up for whatever reason we have a smaller set of electrical connectors that we can unstow from the Lab, run the wire over to the Node, and then hook that connection up. And that provides survival heater power to the Laboratory so it can survive over the course of our night. And then the next space walk we take, we can go out and try to re-attempt the major electrical connections. So, it puts the Lab in a survival state that's good indefinitely until we can deal with the larger problem of getting these connectors hooked up. So, we have a couple of backup approaches to keeping the Lab healthy on the front of the station. One thing we don't want to do is, after it's mechanically berthed, take it off and put it back in the payload bay. We'd rather, you know, just deal with it in place, and this launched Activation Heater Attachment makes that possible.

As you mentioned a moment ago, the day after that first space walk and after the Lab is installed on the end of Unity, both station and shuttle crews are going to go inside Destiny. Talk about the steps in this process. What all has to happen then for the assembly to proceed and for the Lab to begin to assume some of those functions we discussed earlier?

Well, we've got to get inside the Laboratory to turn on some of the critical life support functions and to reposition one of the racks. In fact, that's the Air Revitalization rack. And it doesn't take over this life support function of scrubbing CO2 and conditioning the air and filtering it until it moves to its actual orbital location. For launch load reasons, it's down essentially in the floor of the Laboratory on launch. And then it gets moved by our crew, working with the Expedition guys, up into an overhead location where all of its plumbing connections are. So, that's one of the major tasks inside that activation day. We also have some mundane chores like swapping out valves that were needed only for the launch phase that now are needed for later connections to the front of the Laboratory that permit the pressure to be equalized on either side of the hatch. We have to make some electrical connections inside that deal with providing the Laboratory users, the astronaut crew, communications capability back to the Russian segment comm system so that they can talk to Mission Control through the Russian segment and even just use intercom throughout the length of the station. The stack's going to be 160 feet long or so by then, and you can't shout down the hallway. So, this jumper connection will enable, you know, Sergei, using the U.S. Lab audio terminal unit, to talk to somebody back in the Service Module back there. We've got some set up to do on the stowage racks in the Laboratory that enable the crew to actually put things in there and keep them stowed in an orderly fashion. So, it's really a housewarming party for the whole second day, where we open up the closets, we turn on the lights, we enable the fan and air-conditioning systems to come on. And, by the end of that day, we should have laptop control of the Lab systems from inside. We should have all the air circulating. We should have the thermal control activated so that everything's humming for making that a habitable space for the crew. And that doubles their working space. So, I think they're going to be as motivated as we are to get it going.

And after a day's worth of work doing that, there's more equipment to be installed on the outside of the station, to be moved around on the second space walk starting with Pressurized Mating Adapter number 2 that you mentioned earlier. If you would again, take us outside with you and talk through the series of tasks that are involved in the second space walk of your mission.

After the Lab's onboard, the space station needs to have a place for the shuttle to dock in future. And so, we've temporarily taken the docking port, PMA-2, and put it up above the Laboratory. And it's stowed up here on the Z1 truss. And so that docking port needs to wind up at the front of the Lab so that later missions will be able to dock at the front of the station and then crews will emerge into the Laboratory and proceed into their work. So, we've got to relocate this docking port. Once again, Marsha, from the inside with the robot arm, is going to grab on to the PMA. And Bob and I will go outside. And the first thing I do on that space walk is release the docking port from the front face of the Z1 truss. And that enables Marsha to move it around to the front of the Lab and over the course of several hours, she'll put it in place and berth it mechanically to the front of the Laboratory. Well, in the meantime, we've got a lot of other work to do on the Lab itself. So, the docking port task is going on, and now Bob and I swing into equipping the outside of the Laboratory for both future space walks and for some of the robotic capabilities that are housed in the Lab. The workstation for running the Space Station Manipulator System is in the Lab at first. So, it's going to be added to the inside. We've got to provide the foundation for the outside robotic capability. So, Bob and I are going to work on a major task on the second EVA which involves putting in place the connection point for the Space Station RMS. And it's called a Power and Data Grapple Fixture. It's just a grapple fixture that you've seen on all sorts of payloads on shuttle and space station elements. But, this one's a little bit more capable in that it provides electrical connections into the Laboratory from the outside. And not only electrical connections but video feed, so that the cameras on the arm can be monitored from inside the Laboratory and later from other workstations inside the station cupola, for example. So, we have to take this grapple fixture off the orbiter sidewall and put it in place on the Laboratory. That's pretty straightforward, except that all the connections for that PDGF - Power and Data Grapple Fixture - are buried underneath debris shields on the Laboratory to protect them from the space environment. So, Bob and I have to take off two debris shields-and that's mainly his job-gets the shields off, moves them out of the way, and now all the underlying wiring connections are exposed. And we spend a couple of hours putting in place the power and data grapple feed power and data feeds to the Grapple Fixture that will make that arm come alive outside. And then we'll also put in place some connections and actually install an electronics box called the Video Signal Converter, which will provide fiber-optic video connections to the work station from inside the Laboratory to the Laboratory-based arm outside. And so, that's the way that the operator inside can make this versatile arm come alive on flight 6A. And so, we'll put the shields back in place after that work is done. And there are a number of other minor outfitting chores on the EVA, and installing a slide wire for translation safety up and down the Lab, installing foot restraints for other work that we're going to be doing and other crews will be doing on the space walk. But the major tasks are getting that docking port relocated and then providing the foundation for the robotic operations outside.

The day after that, you're scheduled to get a little rest. And the day following that, you've got a third space walk coming up. What's on tap for the third time for you and Curbeam to go outside?

Well, the plan is that these first two EVAs will have taken care of all of the major assembly tasks. We'll have left the Lab in good shape. It'll have all of its power and cooling capability. We'll have relocated the docking port so future crews can come to the right docking port to deliver the MPLMs for cargo and installing the science capability on board the station, delivering the robot arm, for example. So, those are the key things. Then on the third EVA, we're going to set our sights on just enhancing the situation of the space station with regard to spares. We have a large radio package on the sidewall of the orbiter payload bay; it's called the SASA. And the SASA is the S-band antenna group that can be used to link the space station to Mission Control via S-band, through the TDRS satellites. Well, there's only one on the station. And the 3A crew put it up there. And the 4A crew will install it and make it functional. And then we're providing a spare. And so, we take this SASA antenna group and it's about the size of, half the size of a refrigerator. And the two of us team up - Bob and I - and unbolt it from the side of the orbiter, use Marsha's help on the robot arm to bring it up to the Z1 truss, and then we park it in a stowage location. So, now if that group fails up on the top of the P6, there's a second one that can be put into place by the space walking Expedition crew and they can restore their communications capability. So, that's the most important job there. And then we've got, again, a variety of small parts that we have to install. If we didn't get to it on the second EVA, we install a non-propulsive vent on the Laboratory which allows us to dump gases from inside to control the atmospheric pressure and condition inside. We're going to be putting in place a series of covers over the trunnions to prevent heat loss over that. That's, again, a second EVA task. And on the third EVA, we're going to finish up by connecting up the umbilical lines between the Lab and the docking port that we relocated to the front. And those power lines will provide both electricity flow to the heaters on the PMA and then also some data feedback into the station so that, when an orbiter docks, you can transfer information and commanding from the orbiter through to the rest of the space station via these lines. And those lines have already been hooked up by the STS-88 crew. The 4A crew's going to break them and then we'll reconnect them at the front of the Lab on STS-98. So, some heavy-duty electrical connections there.

At the conclusion of your third EVA, there's still a day scheduled for both crews to be inside the station together. The hatches open again before time comes for you folks to leave. Could you briefly tell us about what kind of activities are planned for that day together? And then, talk us through the sequence of undocking and Atlantis leaving ISS.

Okay. Well, as I see it, this extra day that we've got after the third EVA is really a gift. Because we didn't anticipate having that on the flight originally. We thought we'd have to undock the very next morning after the last EVA. So, we've got some time to recover from any problems that might have occurred on the first day of activation after the first space walk when we were working together inside the Lab. So, anything that we have to clean up there, we can take care of. And so, there's no reason to rush on that first day. And I'm really grateful for that. We don't have to plow through that day lickety-split and risk making mistakes. After our last space walk, we're going to leave one of our suits aboard the space station for use on EVAs once the Expedition crew or another visiting crew uses those facilities. In fact, 5A.1, a month later, will be using that same suit to do one of their space walks. So, we'll leave that spare space suit aboard. We'll take two with us in case we have a problem on the orbiter on the way back. We'll leave any last-minute space walking tools that we were using that need to reside on the space station, we'll transfer those over at the end of the ride. And we've also got the SAFERs that we used on our three space walks. Those small jet packs will be left aboard the space station for future use, too. We won't be having to use them if we have to go outside on the orbiter because we'll be undocked at that point and won't require the SAFERs. So, it's a chance to finish up our activation, make sure that the Expedition crew has had a good handover of the Laboratory from us to them. Any late-breaking training that we had on the Laboratory systems that they were not able to get before they left Baikonur, we'll be able to brush them up on those facts and those techniques so that they can expand the capability of the Lab. And, finally, it's just going to be some time to talk to them about their experience. I'm really looking forward to taking a break from the work, where we've got our heads inside of panels and we're exchanging technical data and swapping checklists and so on. I just want to talk to them about how they've lived for the first 3 months up there and, you know, what we can do when we get back to help them out for their remaining month or so onboard. And then, what we can do to get that information to other crews that are going follow them; Expedition Two, which will be just about on the verge of leaving. So, I can't deny, I'm very curious about the human element of what their experience has been and what we've done wrong, what we've done right, and how we can help them out.

Early on you made reference to the fact that the pace of ISS assembly is picking up, and quite dramatic, over the past few months. What are your thoughts about the significance of the expansion of this complex, and its starting to move so fast? And about how the U.S. and the Russian elements are blending together, becoming really an international facility?

The international nature is very, very evident to me. I've been working Space Station from the desk over in the Astronaut Office for the last 4 years almost. And so, it's been a long wait, seeing all these partners come together and getting their hardware in orbit. But the space station, as I see it right now, is a facility that doesn't have a flag attached to one end or the other. And it's very hard to divide it up into segments from various countries. I really see it as a facility that's been put together and now is becoming more seamless. Now, we've got a long way to go before everybody forgets where everything came from onboard. But, there's no question that we couldn't be seeing this rapid-fire sequence of assembly missions now if the Russian hardware hadn't done its job when it was asked to do it. And we've got the FGB and the Service Module as evidence that, you know, we've got a lot of space flight talent already up there and a lot of experience that's been put into those vehicles to provide the foundation for the station. And now we're adding, obviously, these American elements. But the crew that's up there now [has] been working together for so long, they're very seamless in terms of the way they work together. They're three friends up there on orbit. I hope to go up and visit those friends and see how they've gelled together as a crew. And then I get to go home in a week after I arrive on board, so I don't have to deal with the challenges of a long-term space flight. But, I'm very, very curious to see what progress they've made towards making this an integrated crew expedition after expedition, and making this a true international facility. Everybody's raring to go, and to get up there and live and visit the station. And I'm just very happy to be a part of this particular element. So, I'll close that question by saying: this is what I'm going to look back at, at the end of my career, as one of my proudest achievements…participating in the expansion of this platform that's truly going to be something brand new in space exploration. It's going to be a steppingstone to the planets. It's going to deliver some long-term benefits to our society and our economy back on Earth. And I want to be able to look back in 15 or 20 years and point to this thing going overhead and say, "I helped put that together at the very early stages." That's going to be something that's going to tickle me for years.

Image: Thomas Jones
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Thomas Jones' greeting (WAV file 345 Kb).
Crew Interviews

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