Interview: Janet Kavandi
we get into the specifics of this particular flight, tell me a
little bit about yourself. Why did you want to become an astronaut?
been a subject that's intrigued me since I was a child. I've always
been interested in space and astronomy. In school whenever I had
a choice of subjects to write about I'd always pick something
to do with space or astronomy, black holes or quasars or something
like that. Then all the space launches I watched as a child, especially
the moon landing, fascinated me. So growing up it was something
that I thought would be fascinating to be able to do. Of course
at that time, being a young girl, there were no girls in space
yet. But as we got into the space shuttle program and they started
taking women and scientists instead of all test pilots, that's
when I decided to try my hand at it and send in my application.
me about your career that got you to this point. Give me a little
bit of your history.
I have a
Ph.D. in analytical chemistry. I went to the University of Missouri
in Rolla. I also went to the University of Washington in Seattle
and that's where I got my doctorate. I worked at the Boeing Aerospace
Company in Seattle for almost eleven years and worked on power
systems and electrochemical power systems, mainly batteries, for
spacecraft and missile applications. I also did some research
on aerodynamic properties using a chemical porphyrin paint that
we painted onto aerodynamic models, and we used that to help NASA
provide continuous pressure maps of aerodynamic models and wind
tunnels. That's what I used for my doctoral dissertation. Then
during that time frame I applied to NASA for the astronaut program,
was selected in 1994, and showed up in 1995.
for me, if you would, what you will be doing during the flight.
What are your primary responsibilities?
I will be MS2, Mission Specialist number 2, which is new to me
and which relates to a flight engineer on a commercial aircraft.
I've accepted this new role, and I've learned the shuttle systems
very well. Mainly the job involves backing up the Pilot and the
Commander in their roles during the ascent and entry phases. In
addition to that, I'm the lead extravehicular activity person.
Should we have to go out on an EVA, I'd be the lead EVA crewmember.
This could be to fix anything that might happen to the shuttle
or to the payload. In addition, I'm one of the Mission Specialists
responsible for the payload itself. I will be with Gerhard on
the on-orbit checkout portion of the flight right after we get
up into orbit. At that time, we need to power up the payload and
extend this long mast that we have that will come out of the payload
bay. That all has to be done expediently so that we don't lose
any data takes for this mission.
is this flight important? What more is there really to learn about
the surface of the Earth?
to imagine that we have better three-dimensional maps of other
planets like Mars and Venus than we do of the Earth, but we do.
So this mission is to accomplish a three-dimensional topographical
map of about eighty percent of the landmass on the Earth which
we do not have today. We have small sections of the planet that
have been mapped with aircraft, but we do not have a three-dimensional
map of the surface of the Earth. So that's our prime objective
on this mission.
Shuttle Imaging Radar-C, or SIR-C, and the X-band Synthetic Aperture
Radar, or X-SAR, flew on the shuttle in April and October of 1994.
Can you tell me what innovations for SRTM separate it from those
Space Radar Lab missions?
On SRTM we
have the capability to add the three-dimensional aspect of the
mapping of the Earth. The way we do that is we have a long 200-foot
boom that will extend out from the payload bay from a canister.
On the end of this boom we have a second set of radars, a SIR-C,
SIR, C-band and an X-band radar, and we can do simultaneous radar
measurements with both booms and thereby get the three-dimensional
aspects of the Earth surface.
kind of resolution do you expect, and how does this compare to
other forms of spaceborne imaging?
We hope that
if everything aligns right we should get at least 30 meters horizontally
and at least 16 meters vertically. This is far better than anything
they have been able to do in the past.
flight has a special piece of hardware with the mast. Can you
explain the process of the mast deploy? Tell me what happens and
how long it takes.
is the boom that I was referring to earlier, and it's very similar
to the mast or the booms that would be used on space station where
we deploy these out. It's a very ingenious way of folding up 200
feet of material into a six-foot canister and then deploying it
with a couple of motors that we have. Should these motors all
function properly, it would take about seventeen minutes to unfold
the mast and lock each individual bay in place as it comes out
until it fully extends the 200 feet or 60 meters out.
happens if the mast does not fully deploy? Could you do an EVA
to fix the problem?
on the failure, we have a fairly high confidence that we could
fix that. We have had the capability of using space station power
tools to interface with the motors on the canister, and we can
disengage the motors from the outside then put these power tools
on and extend the mast manually with the power tool. We could
also do it manually if we had to by cranking it out by hand. That
would take some thousands of turns, so we don't want to do that
if we don't have to. Hopefully, the power tools will work fine
and the batteries will hold up. We can deploy the whole mast if
we had to with those power tools.
the mast need to be fully deployed for acceptable science to be
gathered? Can you get any sort of information at all if it only
I think it has to be fully deployed - the resolution depends on
its being fully deployed. I think it's something like one or three
millimeters accuracy within the length of the boom to make sure
that all the data is accurate.
is the fly cast maneuver, and why are you using it?
The fly cast
maneuver is needed to keep us at a constant altitude above the
Earth's surface. We have to do this twice daily, otherwise, we
will start drifting back into the atmosphere slowly, and we will
be at different altitudes when we are taking data. Then the data
won't be as accurate. We need to maintain about 126 miles as best
we can. This fly cast technique was developed so that we don't
damage the mast while we're pulsing the jets on the shuttle. It
is so long that when you apply a pulse it will cause this mast
to sway back and forth and it will ring out eventually. Some smart
people in Mission Control Center have developed a technique so
that when you apply the first pulse the mast will swing back and
then the second pulse will hold it there during the burn. When
you turn the jets off, the mast will want to swing back to its
original position and then you pulse it one more time to stop
it there. That way you avoid the ring out.
me about the process of mast retraction. Is it just simply the
reverse of the deploy?
it is. You just put it in reverse for the most part and we'll
retract it back in. Then the latches will have to latch at the
end there to safe it for landing.
can be done if there's any trouble with the retraction? What if
it gets stuck?
could go out [on an] EVA potentially depending on the failure
and disengage the motors and retract it back in with the power
tool. If that should fail, and we don't have any other option,
or we run out of time and consumables at the end of the flight,
we do have the option of jettisoning the whole canister with the
mast in it. Thereafter we close the doors.
you have specific mapping targets on the Earth's surface such
as the SRL missions did?
we're just going to try to cover all landmass. We're not going
to select specific ones, although, for instance, we will target
several islands out in the ocean. But the objective is to cover
all the landmass that we can see on this mission.
mentioned going over the oceans. Is the radar on for the entire
It is not
on over ocean passes where there is no landmass. However, if we're
coming up on Hawaii, for instance, we can turn on the radar, image
the islands, and then turn it back off.
is the data being recorded instead of downlinked live?
We just have
far too much data to downlink it live. So we will take passes
where we can downlink portions of the data, not all the data at
once. They will take portions of the data in playback mode from
the recorders and look at that to make sure everything's being
type of tapes are you using to collect the data?
larger 19-millimeter format. They look similar to a VHS tape only
a little bit larger.
long will it take to process this huge amount of data?
it's going to take at least a year of processing time to process
the whole thing.
the X-band data and the C-band data processed in a similar manner?
they are. The X-band will be processed by the Germans as the DLR
is the one that's taking the data for the X-band. The United States
is using the C-band data, and it will be processed here, but I
believe the processing is similar.
two ASTRO astronomical observation flights used the Star Tracker,
and SRTM uses it in a new way. Tell me about the Star Tracker
and how you are using it.
We also have
the Star Tracker on the shuttle. The Star Tracker's function is
to identify individual stars in space and thereby orient the reference
of the shuttle, or the payload in this case, to the stars, thereby
producing their inertial reference for the position of the payload.
We also, of course, have to know the position of the outboard
antenna. We're using GPS receivers to help us identify the location
of that in addition to some optical alignment systems that we'll
be able to use to make sure everything is properly aligned with
each other. With a combination of all those things, we'll have
an exact knowledge of where we are and how we're oriented with
respect to the Earth's surface.
will we learn about the Earth from the data acquired on this mission?
For example, what kinds of applications are there for this technology?
a wide variety of applications. Everything from urban planning,
ecological evaluations, earthquake studies, measurements and fault
line shifts. Something that my husband has particular interest
in since he's a commercial airline pilot is the application to
ground proximity warning systems. We'll have a much better database
to give to airlines to put in their airplanes for conditions where
they can't see the ground because of the weather. We can use this
better terrain map to avoid running into mountains and bad things
a volcano erupts or there's some other sort of natural disaster
while you are up there, will you be able to pay any sort of special
attention to it?
we're moving so fast across the surface of the Earth, if we know
in advance that we're coming up on a site like that we can take
photographs of those types of things. And, of course, we'll be
doing radar images of that area as we pass over. So in that respect,
we can pay some special attention to it, but you don't have a
lot of time to spend on one particular area because you can't
slow down once you're going up there. You just always pass over
the Earth about 5 miles a second so you don't have a lot of time
to take a look.
the payload is functioning properly, the crew kind of slips into
a regular routine. Do you think the work could ever get boring
or tiring up there?
I don't think
it would ever get boring. I think we'll have to be careful later
on in the flight after we've been doing it for several days not
to become overconfident that we've got this routine down and that
we wouldn't have to be so careful. I think we'll have to always
monitor the data takes very carefully throughout the flight to
make sure the hardware's recording when it's supposed to and to
compensate for anything that goes wrong in a timely manner so
that we don't lose any important data.
mentioned earlier the role of the Germans in this flight. This
mission does include international partners. What are they contributing?
Space Agency is contributing the X-band radar system, so we'll
have X-band on both the inboard and the outboard portions of the
for me if you would the nature of the relationship between NASA
and the international partners. What's it been like working with
them on this flight?
enjoy working with international partners, and it's been very
good on this flight. We've worked with them in simulations, and
we've worked with them at JPL before we started training at JSC.
I think they're very good people to work with; it is a very good
is the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and how are they involved
in this flight? Describe for me the relationship between NASA
NIMA is the
government agency that does the mapping for our country. They
have a huge database of all types of images of the Earth, and
this will greatly increase their database for all the Earth within
the areas that we are covering. This will give them their first
three-dimensional coverage of the whole Earth. They use this information
for our country as far as defense goes, and also they are then
able to disseminate this information to the airlines and the other
people that need this information as well.
NIMA get digital topographic data from their own satellites? Why
do they need this flight if they do?
I'm not aware
of all the information NIMA gets from their satellites. I think
if they had already been able to get this, they would not need
this mission. I'm assuming that this is the only way they are
able to get this information and that's where we fit in.
me about EarthKam. What is it and is it comparable in any way
to the flight's primary payload?
is something that we've set up as an educational program with
middle schools throughout the country. We are able to place a
35-millimeter camera in the overhead window of the shuttle, and
we let students throughout the country select sites that they
want to photograph and study. Then those sites are programmed
into a computer, and the camera automatically takes pictures at
the appropriate time of these particular areas. Then the students
can access the data almost real time, in a very timely manner,
while we're still up in space. They can get their images back
and then talk about what they see and do comparisons of earlier
images of the same area.
would you characterize the long-term importance to science of
the work that you and your crewmates will be doing on STS-99?
I am very
happy that we're able to contribute this amount of information
to the world. In fact, we'll provide the best surface map that
we've had to date of this Earth. We should be able to help people
throughout the world in planning agriculture, preventing airline
crashes, and providing better planning for urban development.
I think it's a great mission.