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

Preflight Interview: Mark Polansky

The STS-98 Crew Interviews with Mark Polansky, Pilot.

Q: Mark, before we discuss the details of the mission you're about to fly, I'd like to ask you a couple of other questions about you. Starting with one I'm sure you've heard before: Why did you want to become an astronaut?

A. Yeah, you get that one a lot, and it's only natural. But for me, I was growing up back in New Jersey during the '60s. And so, what I tell a lot of the kids when I go visit them in school is that a lot of the major differences back then; where the fact that at the time, all the major networks would cover every launch. And so, you'd get a lot of exposure to it in the media. And so, I remember watching all the early launches, you know, of Mercury and Gemini, and, of course, I was 13 years old when we landed on the Moon. And so, that kind of really got me excited about it for the first time, and I started thinking about, "Gee, wouldn't that be great to do when I grew up?" So, I never grew up, and I still have that dream in the back of my mind. And when I went to college, I went to Purdue University, which, as you know, has a lot of alums that became astronauts; in particular, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan -- first and last people on the Moon. And when I was a freshman, I got to meet Gene in person, which really got me excited about it. And talked with him and I also talked to Joe Allen, who came through for a visit. And at that point, I, for the first time, decided to try and see what it would take to really try and fulfill those kind of dreams. And so, that's how I got involved at the beginning.

There are a wide variety of backgrounds possessed by those who are astronauts today. Tell us about yours. What's the academic and career path that made you qualify to become an astronaut?

Well, it's interesting. I chose the more, if you want to call it, traditional route, which is I was a pilot -- a fighter pilot in the Air Force -- and then became a test pilot and went that route. When I was at Purdue, I got a degree -- both a bachelor's and a master's -- in aeronautical engineering and then got commissioned through ROTC. As you know, all the early astronauts were all military test pilots, and so that was kind of the norm. And just about the time that I was starting out in my career out of college, that was the timeframe that they were starting into more of the scientist astronauts and coming up with the first class of astronauts for the shuttle. And so, at the time, I was more looking to the military route as opposed to the science route. So, that's how I wound up doing that.

Talk to us about your Air Force career then. Because you, you're retired from the Air Force now, correct?

Well, I'm not retired from the Air Force, but I started out in the Air Force in '78. I got my commission, and I graduated from pilot training and flew fighters, F-15s and F-5s, for a few years. And, I was fortunate enough to get selected to attend the test pilot school that the Air Force runs out at Edwards Air Force Base. After doing that, which was in the mid-80s, I graduated in '87 and was assigned over to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which is on the panhandle near Pensacola. I worked there for five years as a test pilot for F-15s and A-10s. And then, at that time, I had a lot of friends that were starting to come to work for NASA as astronauts, and I wound up, through a friend of mine, finding out about the opportunity to work as a pilot for NASA. As you know, we run a directorate - Aircraft Ops - out of Ellington Field here in Houston. And so, I got selected to come here and work. And so, I left the Air Force to take a civil service job for NASA, did that for a few years, and then was very fortunate back in '96 to get selected in Group 16 and start out as an astronaut back then.

Who are the people, as you look back on your life, the part of it you've described and the part of it that you haven't, who do you consider the people who were or are the most significant influences in your life?

Well, you always need to start with, I think, your family. And so, for me, my parents had a profound impact on my life. And just from the standpoint that I thought that I was well raised and was given opportunities, like a lot of parents, especially in that generation They always wanted their children to have more opportunities than they had when they grew up. And so, I really appreciated the fact that they did everything to make sure that their kids could grow up well and that they always instilled upon me the belief that anything you want to do, you can do it if you set your mind to it, that they were always very supportive of whatever career choice I wanted to make. And they never tried to steer me in any direction, but they really let me come up with my own answers to questions as I grew up.

Let's talk about the mission that you're about to fly. Starting with a summary, if I could. So, and we'll work off of that. Summarize the goals of STS-98. What is it that your mission is going to do? And what's the significance of this new hardware that you're bringing to the International Space Station?

Well, you know what's real exciting about space station right now to me in this phase is just the fact that just about every time a mission goes up, something changes, so no crew that goes up there sees the same thing. Every mission is brand new; and the exterior is different every time. So, just from that standpoint, the primary mission that we have is to take up a module, the U.S. Laboratory. And on one hand, it sounds just like the way it is. It sounds like you're just taking up a laboratory, but it's a lot more than that. As we get the Lab up there, we're going to deliver the primary research facility for the entire space station that we're going to be using for the life of the space station. And so, that's very exciting just from that standpoint. But there are also a lot of other capabilities that, with the Lab, we're going to enable; use of the Control Moment Gyros, which are going to be used to maintain the attitude of the space station that was taken up by the last mission, STS-92. We're going to be able to utilize and draw down all the power that's being brought up on P6, which is a big truss structure with solar arrays that's being taken up by the next mission, STS-97. And, with all of this, we're going to finally be able to have control over in Houston at Mission Control there, as opposed to where it's being run right now out of Mission Control in Moscow. So, it's a pretty significant milestone, I think, for the entire program.

Let's talk about a couple of the details as you've mentioned them. Part of what this new laboratory, Destiny, will do is provide electronics that will operate gyroscopes that were delivered on the most recent mission that are located inside the Z1 Truss. Why is it important that these gyroscopes be able to operate? And how does the Lab contribute to it?

Well, the gyros play a very major part in the life and work that will be conducted on the International Space Station. The main reason is that, traditionally, the way that we maintain attitude, if you will, when we're going around in orbit is we use jets. We call them Reaction Control System -- everybody on the inside knows that as RCS -- jets and we have a whole bunch of them. And every time you need something, you fire the jets and it gives a little bit of a jerk to the shuttle as you go. If you want to conduct very long-term, high-quality research in microgravity and maintain that environment, you don't want little pulses pushing your station. The CMGs will allow you to go ahead and maintain a very stable platform for long periods of time, when necessary, to conduct long-term microgravity research. And so, that's one thing that the CMGs will do for you. And, of course, any kind of a system that uses jets requires a lot of fuel. And so, the CMGs just running off the power, it's just like a giant version of a kid's gyroscope, which you're just going to spin up and you'll be able to use those to maintain a stable environment. What the Lab allows is the infrastructure through the control system to be able -- through the use of laptop computers -- to be able to run the gyro system, which was delivered, as I said, on STS-92. So, that's what the Lab will allow us to do is the use of PC machines to run through all of the electronics, all of the data paths and control the moment gyros.

The Lab will also contain computers that are going to be set up to communicate with computers that are in the Zvezda module right now. And it's that setup that's going to allow control of the station through Houston?

Yeah, that's true. Right now, the architecture is set up so that the Russian side has Russian laptops, which they have their own software architecture for. And the U.S. side, we have ours as well; and we were able to design them so that they're able to interface with each other for certain critical paths for most of the things that we're going to be doing on the U.S. side; as we said, Control Moment Gyros, to go ahead and turn on the electrical systems, to make commands and do those sort of things that you need to maintain operational life on the station. We'll have the laptop machines being able to do that, but at the same time, they're connected because we don't want it to be just a system whereby we do everything on the U.S. side with our laptops, the Russians do everything on their side with their laptops. We don't want what we call "segmented ops." We want to operate as a big team.

And the Lab, I take it, then also provides a means of communication from the ground to the station? To that so-called American side of the station?

Yeah, and that's also true from the standpoint that the Lab does have in it systems that allow communications and also the ability to command communications, again, through the laptops. A lot of the hardware -- the antennas and everything else -- they're up there right now as we speak. As I'm sure a lot of people are well aware, on STS-92, they deployed what we call the SGANT antenna up there and another S-band communications antenna called SASA is up there now. We'll be bringing a spare to the station as well. And, those systems will already be in place and just waiting for the Lab to get up there to go ahead and put them to use.

We've talked a lot here in the last few minutes about how the Lab provides means of controlling and attitude control and command control. But it is, by its name, a science laboratory. Talk about some of the, the hardware that will be found inside Destiny that's there to further its science mission.

Well, the Lab, of course, is like you said: It's going to be where all of the research gets done. Besides that, for the Expedition One folks right now, it's going to go ahead and open up a tremendous additional amount of living space for them. So, just from that standpoint, I'm sure they're really excited about us getting up there, but from a laboratory standpoint, the beauty of it is that it's built so that it can accept different modules or racks, which we can go ahead and install. And, of course, as everybody knows, since we're in orbit and we have the benefits of microgravity, we can have racks on the walls, on the floors and on the ceiling. So, we have a lot of room to put all different kinds of racks that we conduct science with. Now, because we're not ready to operate everything all at once, we're only taking up a small amount of the racks that the laboratory can hold, and so, early on, the amount of research will be at a fairly low level while we're still building up the laboratory. But, at completion, we'll be able to conduct all kinds of research in the life sciences, medical research, biomedical research, microgravity research, crystalline growth, electronics, you name it. And I think, NASA showed in the past what they can do in space. And so, those are the kind of things that we'll be able to do in the laboratory.

On the subject of the science laboratory: Do you see the philosophy of the kinds of science that are being done there strictly as, if you'll forgive the description, laboratory science and what you can learn in that way? Or is the important research about how human beings can live in that environment?

Well, to me, it's both. I don't think you can ever say it's one versus the other. Traveling in space isn't all about science and research and exploration. It's everything all combined into one, and the Laboratory is going to be a giant experiment. It's going to be the science that you do in a high-class facility up in space. And the one analogy I always use when I talk to people is: If you imagine that you have a world-class facility, but you're only able to use it two weeks out of the year, that's kind of what a space shuttle mission is right now. You go up there on some of our wonderful missions that we've had, and yet you've got two weeks at best to get everything done, working around-the-clock in two shifts. And then, you come back and you land. Here, finally, we're going to have the chance to go ahead and have people live up there for years and years, and go ahead and get things over long periods of time. We can really learn from that. So, that's the one benefit of the Laboratory and the space station that we're going to get from this. The other one is at the same time we're doing that, people are going to be living up there for long periods of time. Now, the Russians have done that; and so, we have a lot to learn from them. And at the same time, I think that we've got experience through Skylab and other things as well. But we're going to learn a lot because this is what I hope will be a very large steppingstone on the way to going to Mars and other places.

And a big steppingstone for you and your crewmates to do what you're going to do: successfully bring Atlantis together in space with the International Space Station. Talk us through the plans for the rendezvous and docking day. Tell me what you're going to do, and, if you would, hit the highlights for us of the steps that must be completed to bring the shuttle together with the station.

Well, a rendezvous and a docking is a really exciting thing. I mean, the more training that I have, the more excited I get about actually doing this task. And it all starts way back with the launch. I mean, the reason why we have a certain launch day and a launch time, with a very short 5-minute window, is we're about to catch up with a moving target; and we only have one shot each day when we can go ahead and launch because of the limited amount of fuel or propellant that we carry. So, once we go ahead and launch ourselves into orbit and establish ourselves, we'll do a couple of what we call "burns," where we'll adjust our orbits slightly over a day or so to get in a position to go ahead and be able to do the major burn to get us close to the station. Everybody's going to be active in this. We have a 5-person crew; and so everybody's got a role to play. And what we'll be doing is, as we get close to the station, we'll get to a point that we do a series of small correction burns. And I'll be doing that sitting in the Commander's seat. The Commander, Ken Cockrell, will be in the aft portion of the flight deck, ready to do the manual flying, which will be looking out the window visually. So, rendezvous and docking's like a pilot's dream, because you actually get to look out the window and fly this thing just by saying, "There it is. This is the closure that we've got." So, you're really doing hands-on flying, which is very exciting. So as we come in, we'll get to a point where - I have to use my hands here - this is the space station. We would be coming on an approach to the space station and trying to get between the Earth and the station on what we call the R-bar, which is an imaginary line from the station down through the center of the Earth. We will come up to the R-bar, somewhere about between 600 and 1,000 feet below it; and as we start coming up, once we get to about 600 feet, we will do a maneuver called "tail forward," which STS-97 is about to do. And we'll be the two missions to do that. So, we will go ahead and maneuver ourselves 180 degrees while we're going. And so, if the station is going this way, the orbiter will then be going tail forward. The main reason for that is: when we finally dock to the space station and we want to pull the Lab out, we need to be in a proper attitude so that the Lab is on the right side of the space station. So, it's a very important maneuver for us to do. So, now that we're going ahead and we've gone tail forward, we'll just keep on closing in, using cues. The Commander will be doing the flying. At this point, I'll be backing up and monitoring all the systems in the front seat and sitting there and able to go ahead and provide whatever support that he needs. And then he'll take it all the way in to docking. And so, that will culminate in, hopefully, another successful docking to the space station.

Yet you mentioned a few minutes ago that, with the pace of construction, every crew is seeing something that's very different. When you get there, it'll be the first time that a shuttle Commander has tried to dock with a station that has solar array wings on it. Does the addition of that piece of hardware or any other piece of hardware substantially change the difficulty of the rendezvous? Does it make it a substantially different effort?

I don't know that it necessarily makes it a different effort. But there are different rules that you need to think about. Obviously a big concern to us is that, on any of the arrays - not just the US solar arrays, but the solar arrays on Zarya and Zvezda - we don't want to do any damage as we approach. So, one of the things that we're going to do is, when we do our tail forward maneuver we are going to do it at 600 feet with the intent of being completed by 400 feet. And the reason for that is when we come out of this maneuver, the shuttle will fire jets to go ahead and stop the maneuver and we don't want any of the fuel that we eject from the RCS jets to damage the arrays. Now, the arrays, of course, should also be feathered so that they are not flush out to us but in a position where we shouldn't do a lot of damage to them. But those are the kind of things that we think about in more general terms. The main thing really for us is just the fact that as the station gets more and more added to it and every crew approaches, it's going to be huge. And so, I think it's going to be just a tremendous sight as we all gaze up and see this thing for the first time, as opposed to seeing it in a simulator.

Shortly after you complete the docking, the hatches from both sides, both vessels are to open up. The two crews are going to go to work together. Talk about what it is that's scheduled for those first couple of hours that the shuttle and the station are together on orbit.

Well, of course we're going to be now the second crew planned to visit the Expedition One members. And we're really excited about seeing them. So, I know that what we would all love to do is open the hatch and then just sit down and chat for hours on end. But our time is limited. So, what we expect is going to happen is: Once we get inside and say our hellos, we will get a very quick briefing about operations on the station. We've already gotten training on that here and some of us have been over in Moscow to go ahead and up at Star City to get some training on the Russian components. But mainly, we're going to go ahead and immediately transfer items that we're carrying up for the Expedition One crew and for the space station. And so, we're going to try and transfer as much as we possibly can so that we can then go ahead, leave the station for the time being, close the hatch, and the sad part is, since we're doing most of these space walks, as a lot of people know, we depressurize the shuttle slightly below sea level so that it's easier for the folks that are about to go and do the space walks for their prebreathe, because we don't want them to build up nitrogen in their system. So, since the station will be at one pressure and the shuttle at another at those times, we can't have an open hatch while we're doing the space walks. So, as soon as we come out, we close the hatch, depress the shuttle, and it won't be until after the first EVA that we press back up and go inside.

The first of the space walks comes the day after docking, the day that the Destiny Lab is to be physically attached to the station. And that requires work that goes on both inside and outside of the shuttle. Now, in addition to what we've come to understand is the normal duties of a shuttle Pilot, on this mission you have a lot of specialized or have specialized a lot in the space walking activities and have a crucial role to play in them, where many Pilots of the past have not. Describe your training regarding the space walks and what your role during the space walks will be.

Well, I've been really fortunate. I mean this is my first mission. And any mission that you get is a fantastic mission. But to get a chance to do the things that I'm getting to do, I really just can't believe how lucky I was. And so, one of the things that I'm going to do is I'm going to be what we call the IV crewmember, the intravehicular guy. And you kind of look at that as a choreographer. So, while Beamer and Tom are outside doing the walks, I'll be inside; I have the timelines. I know what they should be doing. You work it so that you could see it in your sleep, because you don't have the ability to see all the things that they're seeing through their eyes. I need to be there to provide whatever support I can to try and make sure we stay on a timeline. Any questions about things, to document things, make sure that everybody's on the right track. And so, I'll primarily be doing that. Along those lines, I also train as a backup. Now, those guys kid me they probably need to lose a limb before they'd let me go out there in their place. But, if something was to happen, and we needed somebody to take one of the crewmember's place, then I'm trained to do that. To do that training, any time that we go over to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for our water runs, I'm always there, sitting in the control room acting my primary role as an IV crewmember. And I also run in their position, so I've had quite a few water runs, which is a real special opportunity for a Pilot. And by the time that we do launch, I will have seen not only each EVA, but I'll have seen each EVA as each crewmember.

Let's talk about that first space walk then. Talk us through the events of that space walk and the physical mating of the Lab to the space station.

That first EVA is really going to be something to see, I think. It's going to be exciting and there's going to be a lot going on. It's very ambitious, but we really think that we can get a lot done. It doesn't, as you said, just involve us; it involves the rest of the team, the folks on the station, the folks in Mission Control. So, there's a lot that'll be going on behind the scenes. But really, to break it down: By the time that we're ready to go outside, Marsha Ivins, who's one of our Mission Specialists, she will already have taken one of the Pressurized Mating Adapters-we call [it] PMA-2; it's on the forward side of Unity-she will take that off of Unity, because that's where we're going to put the Lab. And we have a location on a structure that the STS-92 crew just delivered called Z1. That will already be positioned up and out of the way, and at that point, Tom [and] Beamer will come outside. The Lab's already in the payload bay. And in a nutshell, they'll get the Laboratory prepared so that Marsha can take it out of the payload bay and, at the same time, Tom will be there ready so that when Marsha gets the PMA in a position that's it temporarily stowed out of the way, Tom will drive a bolt, or, excuse me, he will, through a bolt, drive these four capture latches which we manually use to temporarily stow the PMA. While this is all going on, then Marsha will be ready to move the Lab out of the payload bay and, without any EVA assistance is the plan right now, go ahead and berth the Laboratory to the existing space station on to the forward end of Unity. While she's doing that, Tom and Beamer have a lot of activities that they're conducting on the space station. They're going to be getting ready one of the starboard radiators for deployment. They'll be going ahead and removing some of the locks that hold some of the gimbals on the SGANT antenna that the -92 crewmembers delivered. And they will be preparing to go ahead and get work done on the Laboratory once the Lab is safely berthed on to the station. At that point, once that's done, then we have three major activities to do. We have to hook up two sets of electrical connections, and we also have to hook up fluid lines, which are running ammonia through them, from the existing station to the Laboratory. The ammonia is used to provide external cooling to the Laboratory, which is used, as you know, everything, even in space, a lot of these electronics generate tremendous amounts of heat and we need to dissipate them. So, we go ahead and run lines that will run past external lines, filled with ammonia, to go ahead and dissipate the heat that way. So, we need to make those connections, make the electrical connections so that we can safely power the Laboratory and then basically, with a few other cleanups, we'll be done. And while it sounds like you ought to be able to do those in a couple of minutes, the whole thing is timelined to take 6½ hours.

And if I have understood the drawings correctly, although the Lab will be riding in Atlantis' payload bay, if you will, directly beneath where it is to be docked, once Marsha Ivins grapples it with the arm, it's got to do a lot of twisting around of it to get it in the right position. Why is that?

Yes. That's right. And we always say that Marsha's going to be our baton twirler with the Lab. It's mainly in there due to the fact that the way that the structure was set up with the keel pin on it to go ahead and hold it into the payload bay, that's just the way that it's going to fit in the payload bay. But, it just doesn't seem to be the way that we're going to want to install it. So, yes, she will have to move this thing out, raise it high above the payload bay in what we call a low hover, and then from there, she'll go ahead and twirl it 180 degrees so that it's facing in the right direction, roll it as necessary, and then she'll finally put it in position so that if this was Unity and this was the Lab, she'll actually come just slightly from above it and come down into a position that she can move straight in. So, she actually doesn't come straight in. And a lot of it also has to do with the motions of the arm. For those that know the workings of the RMS or the arm onboard the shuttle, they know that it's not quite as beautiful as a regular human's arm and that sometimes you have to move joints in certain ways to get the kind of motion that you want.

Now, you told us the plan of how things are to go on this first space walk. Despite all the planning, things may not go exactly that way. But you recognize that, and you prepare for it. Tell us about some of the crucial failure scenarios that are considered, and about how this crew is trained to respond should one of those things happen.

Well, you're right. I mean, we do spend a lot of time trying to "what-if" the scenarios as much as possible. And especially on an EVA, time is very critical. The people outside can't stay out there for 24 hours, nor do we want them to stay out there for that long. So, we would like to have things worked out so that, if we do have a problem, we've already thought about three or four different possible solutions so that we don't have to waste a lot of time figuring things out while we're in the middle of an EVA. And that's kind of why the way we've set up that first EVA is: We already have the PMA off of Unity before we start, because that's our first showstopper. The place that Unity is attached, or where PMA is attached to Unity is where the Lab's going to go. So, we can't get it off right off the bat because we have some failure of the CBM or the Common Berthing Mechanism. If we can't get it off right then, there's no sense in sending Tom and Beamer outside. So, that's our first contingency plan. We do have ways of trying to work around that, and we also have maintenance tasks that we can do EVA and we have the ability of adding another EVA, something that we don't really want to do. Maybe Tom and Beamer would like an extra one, but we're hoping that we don't have to do that so that we do have contingency plans along those lines. So, the worst-case scenarios would be: We can't get the PMA off of Unity to start with. We can't get the Lab attached to Unity. Things along those lines. We don't have time because of the way things are going to get all of the electrical lines attached. And for all of those scenarios, we have thought of different workarounds and how we can do things so that we can put the Lab in a safe environment while we come up with a workaround game plan. And to include that, maybe we don't get all of the connections on the first EVA as planned and we do it on the second.

Let's [say], for the purposes of our discussion, the Lab has been installed properly. No, there aren't any problems.


There's then more work to be done inside the shuttle to begin the activation. And the following day, you all get to go inside the Laboratory to continue to activate it. Talk about what's involved and tell us about some of the many different things that are going to go on inside Destiny.

Well, once again, as this thing is like a well-choreographed play there are many things going on at the same time. And so, once the Lab is actually connected to the space station, the EVA is still going on. And while the EVA's still continuing and they're starting to finish up and come inside, we will finally be at a point where the Commander, Ken, and Marsha will be in a position that they can go ahead and start activating the Laboratory. They'll be doing that using a laptop in the space shuttle while we're still finishing up our EVA. Lab activation is going to be for most of the critical systems: the primary computers onboard the Lab that are needed to go ahead and run the Laboratory and run the station, we'll bring those things all alive. We'll bring the Laboratory alive for the first time so that, when we are finally ready to go into the station and hook up with the Expedition One crew, that we will be then able to enter the Laboratory. Once we do go inside the Laboratory, then there's a tremendous amount of work to do right off the bat. We have a lot of outfitting to do inside the Laboratory; some critical activations that need to occur. One of the primary racks, which is an Atmospheric Revitalization rack, which basically is for atmosphere control inside the station and the Laboratory. It's launched not in a position that we want it to be on orbit. The reason for that is: It needs to withstand the loads that are going to be put upon it during the launch. And so, we actually have it just completely opposite where it needs to go when we do get to orbit. So, Marsha, I, and Shep are going to be slated to go ahead and move that rack from one side to the other. And a lot of other activities: hooking up jumper lines, setting up the internal cooling loops, getting some of the comm jumpers electrical connections made. Just a laundry list of things to go on. And at the same time because of the way the training flow has gone, we, on a lot of areas, have the most recent experience dealing with things as opposed to Shep and Sergei and Yuri, who are there. And so, some of it will be just showing them the things that we've learned so that they'll know how to work problems after we leave.

At, I think, a number of occasions throughout the time that Atlantis and the station are docked the shuttle will be boosting the station, its altitude in orbit. What's the reason for that, one? And two, what do you and Ken Cockrell do to accomplish it?

Well, the main reason about that is: You know, space, where we go in orbit, it's, you know, nothing's ever perfect in life. But, when we go in orbit, in low-Earth orbit, we still get small amounts of orbital decay as every pass goes by. And so, if we launched ourselves and put that space station up there and we did nothing, over years the orbit would slowly decay to the point that it would eventually reenter the atmosphere if we did nothing at all. So, we can't obviously leave it like that. And what we don't want to do is, if it's not required, we don't want to waste the propellant of the station itself to do these reboosts and push it a little bit higher. And so, every time that a shuttle visits the station, we have the opportunity to do a little bit of housekeeping and to figure out how much we need to reboost. And then, we can use the shuttle prop to go ahead and be mated to the station and boost the orbit of the space station just a little bit so that we keep it from having to waste its own propellant to do that. In order to do…excuse me…in order to do that Taco and I will be in a position to go ahead and run a procedure and fire some of our RCS jets and slowly boost the entire altitude of the stack.

It's something that's a series of firings as opposed to-


-one big push?

Right. What we want to do is one of the things that we're still going to be collecting data on as well - we're going to be collecting data on how the station responds to impulses. Because, even though, you know, people always think of things as being weightless in space, and that's true, but things still have tremendous amounts of mass, which is true regardless of whether you're on the Earth or in space. And because of that and the way that these things are put together, you worry about the dynamics and the oscillations that this entire large structure is going to take if you fire some jet. So, if you push on this thing and give it a good pulse, you worry a little bit about what kind of vibration things might see. You don't want to damage anything. So, we will do this in a series of structured pulses to try and impart as little as possible on the components of the station as we do it.

There is still more equipment to be installed on the outside of the Lab during the second of the space walks on this mission, starting with the Pressurized Mating Adapter that you had left attached-


-to be the Z1 truss. Describe what happens on the day of the second space walk. What different tasks are to be done then?

Well, first off: Everybody's going to be having a pretty big smile on their faces if we're going outside to put PMA-2 back on the Lab for EVA 2. Because then we know that the hardest part of the mission is behind us. PMA-2, of course, does need to go back on to the forward end of the Lab because that's now where the following mission, STS-102, is going to dock. So, that's going to be sort of motion in reverse. Marsha will now take the arm, go up and grapple the PMA. Tom, instead of using his drill to go ahead and drive the latches to capture the PMA will now drive them open. Marsha can now take the PMA and move it from the structure up top on Z1 to the forward end of the Lab and attach it to the Lab, again using CBMs, or these Common Berthing Mechanisms. And that's the primary task that they'll be doing there. However, as you pointed out, there's a lot of outfitting that will be going on outside. And on that EVA in particular, the main component that we're going to add is something we call the PDGF, which is the Power and Data Grapple Fixture. And it looks like a large, round, cylindrical object, about that deep, with a big pin coming out of it and a target. And we will put that on the Laboratory and mate its connections so that future missions will be able to grapple that. Because, remember: In future missions, we're going to be taking up the space station robotic arm. And that will have the ability not only to just grab on to a pin, but will enable it to get data through the fixture as it grabs on to it. And that's why it's important for us to get this thing safely docked and have all the power and data connections hooked up. And then something that is really important to a lot of us up there is going to be the fact that we have a beautiful window at the bottom of the Laboratory on the nadir side of the Lab. And as we launch it, it's going to be covered with a fabric that we call MLI to go ahead and protect it. But what we're going to do is we have a window shutter, and it's going to be inside our middeck; and we're going to take that out. And on this day we're going to go ahead and take it, install it on the Laboratory so that we can then remove the MLI and then go ahead and open and close the shutter as required by the members that are onboard the Laboratory or onboard the space station.

So, PMA is put back in place. The Power Data Grapple Fixtures, that's the second EVA. There's a third EVA coming up after you get a day, all of you, a day to rest. What then is left for the tasks of the third space walk of the mission?

There is a third EVA. And the third EVA right now is scheduled to do the primary task of moving something we call SASA, which is an S-band antenna. S-band is one of our primary ways that we communicate with the ground right now, going through a satellite we call TDRS. We have an S-band antenna up there already. And what we are going to do is we're going to take a spare up there so that we can leave it on the station structure, up on Z1, so that if there are future failures with an S-band, we have a replacement unit already there. It travels in our payload bay, and we will take it from the payload bay and then, while attached to the arm, Beamer on this day will be handling the SASA as Marsha flies him up to the Z1. And then both Beamer and Tom will go ahead and put it in a temporary stowage location on the Z1. When that is complete, then they will go and clean up some tasks on PMA-2. Now that we have PMA-2 actually physically mated to the Laboratory, we still need to go ahead and hook up all of the electrical connections from the PMA to the Lab. And there are both a primary and a redundant set of these connections that need to be made. And so, again the two of them will go make those connections; and then whatever the cleanup steps that we have left will be done on that one. And I'm sure there'll be things that get added to it, as they always do.

After the third EVA is complete, you've got more time with both crews together back inside the station. What's on the agenda for that last day before you close the doors and consider undocking?

Well, again, we're fortunate in that, with the original timelines, we didn't have as much time going inside and being with the crew. I think on the original schedule, we only had about 8 hours inside for the entire mission. So, this is really nice to have the extra day to go in. What I anticipate is going to happen is, whatever we don't get accomplished we'll go ahead and finish up. And of course, there're always going to be things, as you said before, that maybe didn't work out, work out quite right or we have a few workarounds. So, I'm sure that we'll be cleaning up some tasks that did not get completed. But other than that, and getting whatever final stowage transfers that need to be done, I'm hoping that we have a chance to do a little bit of relaxation and just look around and enjoy the work that we've accomplished on the mission up to that point.

After that point, it'll be time for Atlantis to leave the International Space Station. So as has been my custom, I want you to tell us about the events that are going to happen that day-the undocking day-and about what you'll be doing and what you hope to see as you back away from the newly enlarged International Space Station.

Well, we'll go ahead and say goodbye to Shep and Sergei and Yuri. And we'll close the hatch. And I'm sure right at that point, Taco will do a really good count and make sure that we have everybody that we brought up and no more, no less. And we'll get set for the undocking. And traditionally speaking the Pilot gets to do the undocking and the fly-around. So we're no exception to that and I'm really looking forward to a chance to fly the shuttle. And so, what we'll do is: Again, we all have our various roles. And, I'll be at the aft flight station. And when we finally disconnect from the station, I'll fire the jets a few times to establish an opening rate from the station. We will slowly back away and get ourselves to about 4 to 500 feet away from the station. And then we'll go ahead and start to do a 360-degree orbit around the space station. And, hopefully, we will be in a position to take a lot of great shots. Because, again, every mission, the shuttle, excuse me, the station is going to look different. So, we'd like to go ahead and get as much photo documentation as we can to bring back for the next crewmembers who are going to go visit it. And so, right now, we're timelined to do one. And hopefully, if the time works out, maybe we can do a second one. But, I'll be very happy to get a chance to do just one.

This would be the first time you'd get to fly the shuttle. That's got to be exciting-

Oh yes.

-for you. What, how exciting was it the first time, well, not the first time. But, I mean, when someone came to you and said, "Okay, you got a flight assignment." How exciting was it to know that you were going to fly in space and to know that you were going to get to actually fly the shuttle when you did it?

You know, to be perfectly honest: I don't think I really comprehended what I was going to be doing on this mission. I was just so thrilled to be chosen for any space mission. As you know, one of the great unknowns in life is how you're going to get assigned to a mission. And so, you really don't know until your name gets called. So that was just a thrill all in itself. And then to find out that you're going to go ahead and get to do some EVA work, do rendezvous, get to fly the undocking, go to the space station you know, it's really a very daunting task. And so, I think that probably my first reaction after the initial excitement wore down was to say, "I've got a lot of work to do. And I've got a lot to learn," because you know, more than anything else, we all want to make sure that we don't do anything wrong. So I really felt like there was a lot out there to go ahead and pick up before I was going to be ready to do these tasks.

You're getting ready to fly at a time where the pace of Station assembly has picked up dramatically. To conclude: Tell me what your thoughts are about the significance of the expansion of this complex at this accelerated pace, and about how the United States and the Russian elements seem to be blending together to become truly an international space station.

I think, you know, it's been a long time coming. We all know that our original plan was to be a little bit further along by this time. And so, I think that you know, now's the time that everybody is realizing that, "Okay, now that we've got rid of our major obstacles and these roadblocks are out of the way, it's time to really, you know, knuckle under and do some hard work." And people have been working extremely hard, all during this time. But especially now that we are launching back-to-back. You know, we'll be here talking about this, and the next day STS-98 will be over and we'll be looking at the next mission and the one after that. So, we don't have a lot of time to sit back and say, "Look at what a great job we did." There's a lot of work to be done. And I'm just really impressed with how much hard work, how much competence there is out in the entire team, here, when I travel to Russia, when I go visit the contractors. You know, everybody [has] really got a lot of pride in the work that's being done. And, they realize the significance. They realize the risk involved. And so, I think that this is really ushering in a fantastic period in this whole program.

Image: Mark Polansky
Click on the image to hear Pilot Mark Polansky's greeting (WAV file 338 Kb).
Crew Interviews

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