Interview: Bill Shepherd
International Space Station Expedition 1 Crew Interviews with
Space Station Commander Bill Shepherd.
before we talk about the specifics of your mission, let me take
you further back in time first. Talk a little bit about why you
wanted to become an astronaut and the course that led you to this
really kind of a strange circumstance that I find myself working
this mission, even being at NASA, being an astronaut. I was a
Navy diver…, still active duty Navy. I've served for twenty-eight
years as a Seal, and I went through college. I went to the Naval
Academy, and wanted to be a pilot, but fortunately couldn't, unfortunately
could not pass my eye exam, so I became a diver. And I always
thought, kind of in the back of my mind, there was a lot of correlation
between being in a spacesuit and some of the activities that you
do when you're diving. But until about 1978, when the shuttle
program really got going, I didn't really think about it. I applied
to be an astronaut in 1980 [and] didn't make it; I applied again
in '84 and was selected and the rest has just been fifteen years
here working at Houston. And that's why I'm here.
you remember what it was that pointed you in the direction of
the Navy in the first place?
I guess I
was one of those kids that, …you know, you kind of take a
direction when you're really young and sometimes you stay with
it, sometimes you leave it and go back to it, but ever since I
was really small I always liked boats, being around the water.
I lived very close to the water growing up as a kid. And I always
thought that the Navy would be a pretty cool thing to do, and
I kind of left that idea for awhile, but as I finished high school
I decided that's what I was [going to] do so that's how I went
you remember any specific people-singular or plural-that you think
may have been instrumental in pointing you in that direction,
in making you interested in the Navy?
dad was a Navy veteran; he was a flyer in World War II and I think
he was probably the strongest influence in my doing what I'm doing
today and also joining the Navy.
a number of years now, you're closing in on a long-anticipated
mission as a member of the first crew to the International Space
Station. Can you give us a sense of what you think it will mean,
symbolically, to finally put a crew onboard that outpost?
been waiting since the early '80's, when President Reagan proposed
the space station program to get this thing done. Even putting
a crew on is really just the first step in finishing the construction
of this really huge station in space. To me, I think it shows
that our country has the commitment and the leadership to carry
out a very complex enormous scientific and research project, and
get it done. So I'm glad to see that we're finally making it happen.
talk about space stations for a moment: why do you think it's
important that this country, or any country, build orbiting space
stations have been an idea that's been around since the turn of
the century. We've had serious planning in the States since the
mid-'50's to look at the technology of how to do it. But what
it means is a space station is a place where people can live,
essentially, off the planet on a nearly permanent basis, and that's
what this space station [will] be about. It gives us unique access
to the space environment where we hope we can do very interesting
and productive research, but it really means we [will] develop
a lot of the capabilities and technology that'll allow humans
to go elsewhere away from the planet. So, if we don't have this
progress with this space station, it means that humans in space
are pretty much destined to stay close to the Earth, and I don't
think that's what humans are about.
that for a moment; it sounds as though you're supposing that without
a space station to begin with that we won't go back to the moon,
or to Mars, or to anywhere else.
Well, I think…if
you looked at the space station and said, OK, its primary focus
is on research but what's the technical fallout, what are the
byproducts of this? Let's take a mission to Mars: it [will] be
a very large vehicle, probably bigger than space station, maybe
by several factors. It [will] have a construction that's so complex
that it can't be fully built and checked out on the ground. It
[will] have to be launched in pieces, assembled in low Earth orbit
like the space station; it'll have to have probably much higher
levels of electrical power, certainly certain resources like closed
loop life cycles, and for environmental control. All these things
are characteristics that'll either be part of this space station
or will be tested on this station. So I think if you're serious
about having an expedition that [will] go a ways away from the
Earth it [will] take a fair amount of time; the character of that
will be shown in part by what's developed on space station.
sounds as though part of what's important, or maybe what's most
important, is the maybe longevity, is the question-is that what
makes space station tougher than, say just flying shuttles up
is a hard word to evaluate. I think any time you put humans into
orbit because of the energies involved, it's very, very risky.
It's a very serious business, so getting anything up into space
is not simple. …certainly a vehicle that [will] be up in
space for months or years at a time [will] have to be pretty self-sufficient;
you [will] have to be able to make do with what you [have] and
fix what's broken. I think this is what separates it in large
part from shuttle operations, which are more like long airplane
flights. And the station's much more a ship at sea that's away
from its base and it [has to] take care of itself.
a good comparison for how a space station project would differ
from a space shuttle project; are there any specifics about this
space station project that make it a tough project, make it, give
it unique challenges?
Yes, I think
the biggest one is that I like to think of the space station as
kind of a federated technical project. We have seventeen different
countries involved in building and supporting what's going on.
Each of them have a different approach to doing things; most notably
are differences between Russian technology and U.S. or Western
gear. Making that all run as a harmonious unit, I think, is a
been involved in this project since, what, since early 1993?
it's been a learning experience for all of the international partners
that have been involved. From your point of view, can you talk
about how those international relationships have changed, how
they've evolved, during that time?
Well, I think
that our relationships in the space station partnership are good.
Some are great, some are not so great but on the whole we're getting
the job done. To me, the biggest thing that I think I've learned
personally is [that] we can find means to understand each other
technically. We can exchange drawings, have various tools and
things that we use to understand one another in a technical sense-but
the hardest thing that we have got to do is to appreciate the
other person's, the other country's, technical culture and why
they've approached a problem a certain way. It may not be the
way that we'd do it, we may initially not like what their approach
is, but we have to learn how to evaluate it and if it's beneficial,
adapt and use it. And I think that's been the biggest challenge
in my mind in making space station a functional whole.
heard it said that it would be easier for the United States to
go about this project all by itself, cost issues notwithstanding.
Do you think that in the long run it's more valuable for NASA
to be doing this in partnership with other countries?
I think without
a doubt. Another aspect of a large expedition away from the Earth,
I think will be a multinational character. Space station is somewhat
a model for that; I wouldn't say it's a perfect blueprint, but
it's working. I think it's essential that we carry on with space
station and make it really productive if we're [going to] do follow-on
things that are more expansive and more complicated.
your mission, specifically, that trip away from the planet begins
with a two-day ride on a Soyuz spaceship with Yuri Gidzenko and
Sergei Krikalev. What do you do during that two-day ride?
main job on ascent-it's kind of funny-as the Expedition Commander,
it's kind of interesting, I try and stay out [of] the way. We're
in a very cramped capsule; I run the radios and some of the life
support equipment in the Soyuz. Yuri does all the flying and Sergei
runs all the rest of the Soyuz capsule hardware.
at the end of that two-day ride, Yuri Gidzenko will dock to the
International Space Station and the three of you will go onboard.
Do you know now what'll be the very first thing that you do when
you go onboard that station?
very first thing we're [going to] do is turn the lights on. It's
kind of like getting into your house: the first day we're [going
to] try and we have a backup computer panel that we're [going
to] fire up and make that sure we can talk to the computer. Then
we're [going to] go around the house and turn the utilities on,
and we're [going to] want to get at the fresh water [to] be able
to heat it and make food; turn the toilet on-it's got some assembly
that goes with it-configure some radios. And if we get all that
done the first day, we'll count it as a success.
tasks you described, is that something that takes a matter of
a couple of hours, or is that a full week's work?
I think it's something that we can do in the first day. But you
[have to] remember that our timeline will be such that by the
time we get onboard we'll be toward the end of a fairly long day,
with getting up, configuring the Soyuz, getting in our spacesuits,
doing the rendezvous, getting out of our suits, equalizing the
hatches, making sure everything is right environmentally, and
then getting inside, so that process will probably take at least
four hours…four to six hours by itself.
a well earned night's sleep onboard the station, you will turn
to activating its systems and getting it set up, making it ready
to be your home. Describe for us what those tasks are for the
first couple of weeks. You've mentioned some systems; tell us
about others, and in the different modules of the station, what
sort of work still will await you?
of the biggest challenges we've got is finding everything. Right
now, we have the FGB, the Functional Cargo Block, basically filled
to the gills with bags of gear. We also have a fair amount of
equipment in the Node. Much of this stuff is to be installed in
Service Module, so one of the first jobs that we'll have is locating
the parts and equipment and tools that we need in the FGB and
the Node, bringing them into Service Module and starting to set
things up. We want to get right away, want to get the life support
system up and running so that we have a means to absorb carbon
dioxide that we make through metabolism, and also to produce oxygen
by breaking down water. We have a Russian device called Elektron.
It's [going to] take probably a whole day just to set that up
and make sure that it's functional. Our CO2 system is called Vozdukh
and if we get Elektron and Vozdukh running it'll probably take
a whole day, maybe two days, to make sure those units are happy.
Then we're [going to] go around to various systems in Service
Module-we have computers to install, radios to put in-just probably
several days' to a week's worth of bolting things down, wiring
things up, and punching buttons to make sure that they run right.
location that you're doing this work is anything but ordinary,
but I would guess that because you're going to be in space for
a number of months rather than just a number of days that you've
got to develop what might be called a more regular routine of
life. Can you give us a sense of, at this point, what you think
a "regular" day onboard the International Space Station
would be like?
it's not [going to] be as compact as the days we have on shuttle.
On shuttle everything is fairly carefully orchestrated because
we don't have a lot of time during the mission, so the planning
is very precise about what you're doing almost every minute; we
won't have that on station. We'll get up every morning, look at
the message traffic from the ground, try and figure out what the
last minute changes have been to the day's plans. We'll have a
short conference with Mission Control to discuss this with the
flight directors, then we'll get into the day's work. Part of
that will be assembly and checkout of various pieces of station,
maybe some tests on some gear that has been installed previously
that we want to look at. It is a very serious requirement onboard
to get some exercise every day. Everybody's got two hours each
day to run on the treadmill and do some other stuff because it's
very important to stay healthy because when you're weightless
the effects on your body can be pretty negative if you don't work
out. Between that doing some Earth observations and we've got
a couple science experiments onboard. We have a space walk planned,
and we have shuttles coming and going all the time, Progress vehicles
to load and unload, and we'll stay busy.
the template for life fairly similar, is it evolved from that
which the crews on Mir used?
I think the
tenor of life on space station will be very much like what we
had on Mir; I think Mir's a pretty good model. I think living
on station is much more like being on a ship, or maybe a submarine,
than flying in an airplane.
made reference to the fact that…as the first ones up there
Expedition 1 might be looked at as kind of a shakedown cruise
for the new station. How well do you think it's [going to] work?
Are you going to spend a lot of time fixing things?
Well, I think
the station, as far as I know, in the development and testing,
will work well. But…and this is kind of a test program and
the first that you do in a test program is go into some nooks
and crannies of the hardware and software that you haven't been
able to look at before and make sure that it's functional. For
instance, the photovoltaic system and the thermal control system,
these are two key parts of space station that you really can't
test exactly the way they're [going to] be operated in space with
any facility on the ground. We have over forty computers just
in the U.S. side of the station complex. There's a lot of software
in there. There's a lot of things that people have put together
in code that we think are [going to] work a certain way and I
think it's up to us, working with the folks on the ground, to
go look and make sure that the day that we need to do some attitude
adjustment for some emergency or we have some automatic response
to some problem, that that software is [going to] run the way
that we want it to before we need it. So I think that's part of
our job up there.
alluded to the fact that there is at least a space walk planned,
if not more, for the station crew. Who's doing space walks, and
what are they for?
We have one
EVA, or extravehicular activity, planned which is to move a docking
cone from the front of the Service Module and put it in the nadir
docking port. Right now my thinking is to have Sergei and Yuri
do that; they've both had this experience before on Mir, so I
think they're the right two guys to send outside and do it. We
have other contingencies that could come up, other things that
might be added to our flight; we'll just have to see. I think
the chances are good that we'll find something else that we [want
to] go outside and do, and all three of us have pretty equivalent
training in tools, techniques and capabilities, and we'll make
that call in real time about who the right two folks are to go
out outside and do something else.
hoping that you're [going to] get the call on one of those?
really like to do it; it would be kind of a highlight to my career
to do a walk, but we'll just have to see.
also referred to the fact that you're [going to] have some number
of shuttle visits to the station during your time onboard. They're
bringing new pieces to add on to that station. Talk about what
some of the significant tasks you anticipate going on during shuttle
visits [during] your time there.
biggest job that we've got…we've got some key assembly flights:
flight 4A is [going to] bring up our first solar array. Brent
Jett and his crew [have] a very complex task with the robot arm
to manipulate that and lock it down and it's a lot of EVA work
outside to hook everything up to make sure that's [going to] run
right. Inside the station, we're [going to] be watching all the
station systems to make sure the station doesn't do anything strange
in that period, and that we're there ready to backup the shuttle
crew on anything they need to have help with. I think it's just
a pretty critical assembly. The follow-on shuttle flight after
that, 5A, will bring the Lab up, and that's in the same category,
too-it's the cornerstone of the U.S. part of space station. It's
a very complex, hugely expensive piece of gear. We have to treat
it right and make sure that it works.
think you said that while they're doing this, you're watching
station's systems. Can you go in to that a little bit more --
the work that you and Yuri and Sergei will be doing onboard while
strangers and visitors are crawling around the outside of your
photovoltaic array is a good example. It has it's own data requirements.
It connects to our electrical system, it has its own thermal conditioning,
but all these things interact in some way with space station.
And certainly while people are outside doing space walks or doing
anything with the RMS, the shuttle's robot arm, we've got to be
very careful that we're in the right attitude and that we're not
moving around. So, that's mostly our job on space station, to
control how the station's reacting and as these systems are hooked
up making sure that the space station part of the electrical system,
for example, is in the right configuration while we do this.
is my understanding that during docked operations with shuttles,
the hatches between the shuttle and the station are [going to]
be closed much of the time.
can you tell us why that is, and second, how you think you'll
feel about having somebody so close and yet so far?
again it's almost a technical culture question. It kind of rolls
back to different designs for spacesuits. The Russians have a
suit that runs at a little higher pressure than ours does. With
that higher pressure and the protocol the Russians use to get
ready to get in it and go outside, they don't have a requirement
to spend any significant time at a pressure less than standard
sea level atmosphere. So the whole Russian hardware is set up
to be at 14.7 p.s.i., or 760 millimeters of mercury. The shuttle,
on the other hand, has a suit that's geared to run at the lowest
possible pressure which is just around 4 p.s.i. In order for astronauts
to get in that suit and go outside with low risk of the bends,
they have to spend some time at cabin altitude about like Denver,
which is about ten, [a] little over 10 p.s.i. So, in this period
where we're [going to] have EVA activity outside of the station
for folks coming from the shuttle, the shuttle will be at 10 p.s.i.,
and the station will be at 14.7, so for that reason, we've [got
to] have the hatches closed off.
it seem odd to have somebody brand new show up that you can't
shake hands with?
will. We'll be able to talk to [them]. We'll have a brief period
where we can exchange things that we need-some goodies will go
back and forth across the hatch-and we'll close the hatches off
and get down to business. …I think after we do it once or
twice that we'll get used to it, so it won't be a big deal.
with visits from space shuttles, you're going to have a number
of Progress cargo ships come to the station during your Expedition.
Talk a little bit about how you manage those ships in terms of
arriving cargo and the departing garbage. Does it help or hurt
when it comes to trying to cut down on clutter inside the station?
a challenge. I'd say it hurts, and the reason is because it's
kind of like what you might have in your house around Christmas
time. You know, you've got all this stuff under your Christmas
tree, and it's somewhat tidy, it's all been packed up and put
in a certain configuration, and about two or three hours after
you start going through it all, it's a significantly bigger pile
of stuff. And that's kind of how Progress is: as we unload this
thing, things kind of expand out of their containers and get put
where they are most useful. Progress is a long, narrow cylinder,
and we're hopeful that it's packed up in such a way that what
we need is not at the bottom of it when it shows up, but unloading
that thing, distributing everything, and then filling it back
up again-it's a big logistical challenge.
the time it's time for the three of you to pack up your own stuff
and look at coming home, what critical tasks will you look at
and say, we had to do this, this, and this to make Expedition
1 a success?
job is to get the station where it can provide significant amounts
of its own electrical power where it has a laboratory for folks
to go and do some research. That's the guts of our mission, and
we'll just have to see how those assembly flights go in concert
with the shuttle folks to make that all work. Beyond that, I think
it's very important for the first crew to have a good handover
to the follow-on crew that's [going to] show up. The process of
signing over the station to the next rotating crew I think is
[going to] be an important difference in how we operate on station
that we haven't really seen before on shuttle.
first can often be a challenge, to do something that's never been
done before. In Phase 1 of the International Space Station program,
Frank Culbertson said that Norm Thagard probably had a harder
time because he was first, and things that hadn't been considered
suddenly were there and were real. What do you foresee as being
the unique challenges of being the first crew on ISS?
Well, I think
we've already seen much of what that significant difficulty is
and that is that the first crew is the first, in almost all the
spheres of crew and management activity, to see a problem and
say, hey you know, the Russians are planning to do this, and the
U.S. is doing this. And, you know, Europe's over here and we can't
work this way, we've got to pull this together. And often we are
way in front of this problem and we're talking to folks on the
ground that just can't appreciate why that's a concern to us,
and why we want to go fix it, and this has just been the legacy
of how we've been working for our several years of training. I
think it'll continue and the first part of our mission [will]
influence our operations onboard, too, and to me this is the hardest
part, to try and share that concept, that vision, that problem
point of view with people on the ground and try and get some meaningful
me ask you to share a bit of your philosophical insight. You are
preparing to lead the first Expedition to a brand new space station,
in a brand new millennium; what are your thoughts about the impact
of having human beings in space? Why do you think that it's important
that we're there, and that we continue to be there?
a pretty wide question; I could give you lots of answers.
One of the
more interesting things I've been involved in is looking at computer
displays, and how you represent something to somebody that may
be from a different country, may not speak your language, may
have a different cultural approach…we always look at switches
on the wall and if the switch is up it means it's on; if it's
down, it's off. But there are places where that's different, you
know, they have switches that twist. So how do you, you know,
does "up" mean "on" to somebody from one of
these, living in one of the circumstances? Maybe not. …I
think fifty, a hundred years from now, some of the things that
we're developing with these displays, the terminology, the symbology,
the way we're doing drawings, the way we're representing things,
will be embedded a part of any manned space program, and they
are things that we're developing and deciding now on space station.
You know, long-term, I think that's what's important. You could
say, well, it's very difficult to do something with humans in
space; come back with a product, produce something, that really
pays the freight. There's very little that comes back from space
that you could definitively say today pays the mail…you know,
at least directly. About the only thing in that category, we're
starting to make some headway on pharmaceuticals, and certainly
communications satellites are very beneficial. But the thing is
that these technical demands that we have-flying in space, keeping
humans healthy and able to do work up there-have huge side benefit
to the way that we live and the style of life that we enjoy. I
think it's critically important that we have a space program if
only to fulfill this need for a technical society to face challenges,
surmount them, and move on. I think that's why humans belong in
space; I think that's why having a space station is somewhat an
evolutionary step in where we're going in this next millennium.
what do you think about the role that Bill Shepherd gets to play
in all of that?
really hard to, you know, to see that in any kind of long-term
context. Let me put that this way. I always thought, you know,
the most exciting part of a space flight was [going to] be the
liftoff and certainly on shuttle you're kind of slammed back in
your seat for eight-and-a-half minutes. It's kind of like a big
afterburner climb, and it's a very exciting and enjoyable ride.
But, I think on subsequent missions the thing that most people,
at least in my group, look at is having a good landing, a successful
wheel stop; the orbiter comes back home safe and sound, with a
good mission behind you, and that's what I'm thinking about now.
What I want out of this flight is for people to say that the first
crew did a good job, and they came home safe, and they left, you
know, a good ship in orbit.