Interview: Ed Lu
International Space Station Expedition 7 Crew Interviews with Flight
Engineer Ed Lu.
Our Expedition crew interviews continue with Expedition 7 Flight
Engineer Ed Lu. Ed, to start off with, why did you want to become
an astronaut? What was it that inspired you to want to become interested
in human spaceflight?
A: I can't
think of a bigger adventure than getting to be an astronaut and
going into space. I sent in an application one day, and here I am.
about to embark on a very different type of mission than you had
previously trained to carry out aboard the International Space Station.
First of all, tell us how you [found] out about the Columbia accident,
what your reaction was, and how that in the past weeks has changed
your training template to prepare for this very different type of
a month ago, early on the morning of February 1st, the phone just
kept ringing and ringing and ringing. And, it turned out it was
Eileen Collins, who was to be the Commander of STS-114. And, she
told me the news. And, I rushed right into the office; that's how
I first heard about it. So, a lot has changed since then. Two weeks
after that, here I am, with a totally different mission, trying
to do something that no American's ever done before, which is launch
essentially as a Copilot of this vehicle back here. And it's been
a tremendous challenge. We only had nine weeks from that point until
launch. And, typically this training takes in the order of nine
months to a year-and-a-half. So, we're running at sort of about
five to ten times normal pace, which means I'm in class with a simulator
seven days a week, morning till night, and hit the books after that.
It's been quite an adventure!
you think it's going to be like to launch in a Soyuz vehicle? You've
obviously seen other Americans do it. But for you, you had not expected
to do this,-
you had trained just in generic terms for a Soyuz systems type of
activity. What do you think it's going to be like to ride in a Soyuz
looking forward to it. It's going to be totally different than,
again, than a shuttle, which is this big, giant thing. But my understanding
is, from talking to folks like Bill Shepherd and other people that
the ride isn't really that much different because the acceleration
profile is actually pretty similar. What will be different is the
fact that I'll be riding as the left-seater; I'll be the Board Engineer
and the Copilot. And, that means a whole lot more than riding in
the right seat, which is essentially the passenger seat. So the
folks that I've spoken to, Americans, they said, "Well, we're
just along for the ride." So, my responsibilities will be a
little bit different than theirs.
if everything [goes] as it appears it will with the shuttle downtime,
you likely will ride a Soyuz home to a landing in Kazakhstan. What
do you think that's going to be like?
heard all kinds of stories. And again, now in this case, it's totally
different than a shuttle, unlike the launch, where the g-profile's
fairly similar. Because here, you're coming in down in a capsule,
kind of like the old Apollo and Gemini guys did. And coming down
on a parachute. And, my [understanding] is, it's quite an interesting
ride, especially when the first braking parachute comes out. I understand
it really…the vehicle really moves around.
talk about the mission a little bit. You're going to spend six days
during a handover period with the Expedition Six crew on orbit.
That is slightly less than you normally would see during a shuttle
crew rotation-type of flight. How tough is that going to be to gain
the wisdom on hands-on experience as you hand over the reins from
the Expedition Six crew over just a six-day period?
pretty confident about that handover time. I correspond with the
crew that's up there right now by e-mail all the time. They've actually
tried to phone me a couple of times this weekend using the phone
that's on the station. As it turns out, I wasn't in. It's interesting
to receive a message on your answering machine from space. But we're
actually going to talk them quite a bit before we actually go up
there. So, I'm pretty confident that the six days will be enough.
Or four days. Whatever it happens to be.
you anticipate six months on the station with just one crewmember
to be like? Performing the work that was designed for three people,
and it's only going to be two?
to be more of a challenge, obviously. But, I think we'll have a
really good time with it. That's our plan.
was it for you to find out that your Expedition Seven crewmate,
your original crewmate, Alexander Kaleri, would not be part of this
crew? You had trained as a three-man crew for so long; now, what
was that like for you and Yuri Malenchenko?
it's tough. You get…you bond with your crewmates. But, this
is actually not our first crew change-out. We actually had a previous
crewmember. And, I've actually previously had the experience of
being on a crew that was broken up on a shuttle flight, the old
STS-101 flight, which I was originally assigned to and then became
the STS-101 and -106 flights, and half of our crew went to one,
and half of our crew went to the other. So, it's actually, it's
[kind] of like déjà vu all over again! So, I've seen
this before. As it turns out, Sasha's going to fly right after that.
And, I'm happy for him. He's training to be now the Commander of
the Soyuz. And I think he's going to do just great. I obviously
will miss him in space, because he's quite experienced. He's among
the most experienced cosmonauts in the world. And so we're going
to miss having his knowledge around on space. But, I think we'll
get by without him. We'll try and pass on what we learn to him when
we see him on board.
your Commander, Yuri Malenchenko, are certainly no strangers to
one another. You flew together aboard Atlantis on STS-106 in 2002,
and you conducted a space walk together. What is Yuri like to work
and live with in space?
He's about the steadiest guy…you've ever met. Nothing ruffles
him. And folks who know him on the ground say, "Man, you know,
that guy's pretty even keel." And…he's a total professional
in space. It's going to be easy, I think.
Do you think
it's going to be a tough increment, however, Ed, in lieu of the
fact that the consumables will not be there in the same abundance
that they would have been had shuttles been flying? That…you're
going to be asked to conserve on clothing and water consumption
and those types of things. Is it going to be more like a camping
trip type of expedition than the full-up E-ticket that you had expected
when you thought you were going to fly the normal mission?
all part of the game, I suppose. No one ever promised that the whole
experience was going to be, you know, living in a luxury hotel.
And, the original mission wasn't either. I mean, the space station
is not meant…to be, you know, living in a five-star hotel.
And, we're going to even more so have to conserve things, which
I think is going to make it extra more interesting because we don't
have the luxury of having a shuttle come up and bring up extra things,
or of having a shuttle or Progress bring up spare parts as things
break. So, we're going to have to probably have to improvise with
the help of the ground quite a lot more than other crews have done.
And, I think that's going to make it much more challenging. So,
in the end, it actually turns out I think our mission has become
much more challenging than our original mission simply because of
that. Challenging and also you're going to be called upon to use your
creative resources, I guess.
going to have, I suppose, the same numbers of personal items to
be able to carry up, at least at the outset of your increment. Can
you give us a sense of how Spartan it's going to be for you on board?
Well, I don't
really know for sure. They're still arguing about how much room
we have of things to bring up, although we do know it's not very
much. So I won't be able to bring too many personal things up. There's
a lot of things on board, creature comforts on board that other
crews have brought up there and left up there. And…there's
books left over. There's some movies and video tapes. There's CDs
and music, that sort of stuff. So, I'll listen to whatever the previous
folks listened to or looked out the window to. But I think we're
not going to be bored by any means.
the whole gamut, Ed, from politics to psychology, how important
is it at this particular time to maintain a human presence on board
the International Space Station and press ahead with the work that
is required to keep the station going and productive in a scientific
sense until shuttles can resume flight?
I think…it's quite important. Because there's a big psychological
thing about continuing it. It's always harder to start back up after
stopping than it is to continue. And, I think that's also true in
a technical sense. Because we have, once you shut the place down,
it is much, much more difficult to bring it back up than to keep
it running. And, our job is…to keep this place running until
such time as we can finish the construction.
planned on an increment that amongst other things was going to see
the delivery of arrays, major hardware, the start of a complex reconfiguration
of power systems on board the station. And, that's obviously not
going to happen during this increment. Was it disappointing for
you or as you said earlier, is that just part of the game, where
if you're an astronaut, a cosmonaut…you're trained to be as
flexible as possible?
Yeah, in the
end, I think, we're going to have plenty of new challenges. And,
like I said, I actually think that this increment has the potential
to be much more challenging than the original version of this increment
simply because of the fact that we don't know what we're going to
be doing. There's many more unknowns now. And, that's part of the
fun of it.
history writes the legacy of this trying time in human spaceflight,
how will it treat this period keeping the ISS manned, the strength
of the partnership, working together to press ahead in the wake
Well we shall
see, you know, in ten or 20 years when we look back at this. I think…I
hope they say, "Hey, they did a really good job keeping this
going. And in the end, look at what they made out of this."
That's kind of our real goal here as this increment is to keep that
thing moving. Keep our momentum going.
time that you floated into the Mir space station on your very first
flight to now, where you're being asked to basically take a flight
plan and improvise to a certain extent to continue human spaceflight,
how would you view that progression for you personally as an astronaut?
it's a great challenge. And, we wouldn't be in this business if
we didn't like big challenges. I mean, that's what the whole program
is about: doing something that's difficult. And that's why I'm really
looking forward to it.
on board the International Space Station: obviously there will be
some new science that will be brought up in June on the Progress.
It's not all that it had been expected to be. But the expectation
is to continue a productive science program during your increment.
What do you expect you'll be able to perform in terms of maintaining
and progressing the scientific program on the station?
I've heard people say this before, that the science program will
be reduced. And, in some sense it is. But, really I think that the
most exciting results so far we've had on space station will be
continued. And, that is that it does seem possible to reduce or
even eliminate possibly the calcium loss in bones from astronauts.
One thing that we're doing differently on ISS than, say, on Mir
or on Skylab is that we now [have] the capability to do heavy weightbearing,
weightlifting-type exercises that we did not have before. And, interestingly,
on the first six increments thus far, we found that you can very,
very much reduce the calcium loss in bones by doing heavy weightlifting
things such as squats, dead lifts, exercises like that. And, this
isn't rocket science. We kind of know this on the ground, that you,
to build bone and muscle mass, you need to do heavy weightbearing
exercises. Athletes have been training this way for hundreds of
years. And well, even in the last ten or 15 years, we've [understood]
that this same technique works for elderly people who are losing…bone
mass. And in particular elderly women, we found that a program of
weightlifting can be very, very useful. And, we've also found the
same thing on board. To me this is by far the most interesting scientific
thing we've found so far in the early stages of space station. And,
what we will be doing is trying to continue that. We are changing
our exercise protocols, and we will be switching to as many of these
sort of heavy weightbearing-type exercises as we can. And, if we
can show that some of the previous results we have aren't a fluke,
I get more data and show that there is a real trend there, and we
think that there is, that I think is tremendously important. Because
if you want to fly on long, extended missions across the solar system,
as we do someday, you have to solve the problem of bone and muscle
loss. And, we may have actually essentially solved that. Or, come
very much of the way towards solving that. So, it's going to be
kind of interesting on board. One of our jobs will be to keep the
station operating, obviously. And, the other one is basically work
out like a fiend! Now, and it turns out it doesn't need necessarily
that many hours a day of working out. But, it's simply the fact
that you're using lifting near your maximum strength. You're doing
sort of full-strength-type exercises, which we had not done before.
And, those seem to be very well correlated. The number of those
that you do with your lack of bone loss. And so, I'm actually very
excited about that. I mean, I'm kind of getting…paid to live
in space, work in space, look out the window when I can in my spare
time, and work out.
follow-up as a final question to that: do you think the fact that
you'll have a two-man crew instead of a three-man crew might, time
will tell, of course, but…that it might be serendipity to enable
you to have some more time for science because of a modification
in your overall work program?
Well, I don't
really know how much time we're going to end up having. Because
it all depends on what might break on board, or what resources…we
end up limited by. And that, I don't think anyone really knows too
well right now. So, we're kind of prepared for whatever might happen.