Return to Human Space Flight home page

Expedition 8: Home
Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Flight Engineer Pedro Duque
Click on the image to hear Flight Engineer and ESA Astronaut Pedro Duque's greeting (447 Kb). Also, listen to Duque's Spanish greeting (630 Kb).
Preflight Interview: Pedro Duque

The International Space Station Expedition 8 Crew Interviews with Flight Engineer Pedro Duque.

Q: The International Space Station Crew Interviews with Pedro Duque of the European Space Agency, Flight Engineer on the seventh Soyuz flight to ISS. Pedro, you're about to begin a ten-day trip to the International Space Station. Tell me, what are the goals of your flight?

A: The goals are multiple, as we normally have on these spaceflights, because spaceflight is a dangerous and expensive issue, and you have to use every minute. We have the goal of, first, replacing the Soyuz that is up there and has, which has reached the end of its guaranteed lifetime, so that is the first goal. Of course deliver the new crew to the Space Station, and by doing that, then in the time that it takes to exchange the crews then I take the opportunity for eight days to use the Space Station as a laboratory with some experiences and other activities that have been waiting in the queue of the European Space Agency for so long for the launch of the Columbus module.

You're the fifth European Space Agency astronaut to go to ISS, and of course the first from Spain. How important is it to the ESA nations and the partner agencies these days to have a European astronaut who's going to go on board the station that they're helping to build and to operate?

It is important. The people need to see…steps being taken and goals being attained. In this case, we are going to launch the Columbus module as soon as the Space Shuttle returns to flight, and the rest of the necessary pieces of the Space Station are there and from then on we will be using the Space Station as a full partner in a permanent basis. From this moment till then, it is important to keep the experimental teams working and to give them opportunities to already obtain some results from the Space Station.

Well, as you alluded to, the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew have postponed your mission. Now, for many people the danger of spaceflight hasn't ever been more clear than it is right now. But, you are aware of it: you're an astronaut, you were an astronaut classmate of three of the Columbia astronauts, and you've flown in space before-you understand the dangers. And here you are, ready to go do it again. Tell me why you think the rewards that we get from flying in space are worth the risks that you're going to take.

Many things that people do are risky, and they believe that they have a reward and they're doing it for a good cause and for helping others, or whatever it is. I mean it is dangerous to go to space-there's a certain percent probability that we're always told that we may not come back from it. But the other people who do other risky things on Earth, we on our side think that the knowledge that we can bring from space and the first little steps that we are putting on human exploration are a good reward for what we are doing, basically. Everybody wants to leave something done at the end of their days. Other people think that going to Africa and with elementary medical equipment and cure the children there is enough reward for them to get into zones that are in war, and that is more dangerous than what we do. And I…there are certain things that you have to do that well, are have a trade-off.

Let's talk about why you feel this trade-off is worthwhile: why did you want to become an astronaut?

Yes, I don't know, really. It's one of these things that happened little by little that or, let's say, coming and going, when you're a kid. And I remember seeing the lunar landing and thinking that these guys were doing something very important for everybody, that I would like to be there; this is normal for children with a sort of, some interest in science and technology that they have these kind of feelings. But, of course, for somebody born in Spain that wasn't a real possibility in the 1960s or even the '70s or the '80s. But then the European Space Agency started to participate in Space Station and Spain, as part of ESA was also, and other countries was proposed to send astronauts. And suddenly it became real again, and it was more or less a quick decision: yes, we can-I can-try to, I can try to get in there.

But you must have, whether you realized it or not, been laying the groundwork for becoming an astronaut even before you got to that point. How did…for you, what was the path? What did you do in your education and your early career to be somebody who was qualified to become an astronaut?

Yea, you…people never, you can never tell people exactly what is it that qualifies you to be an astronaut because there's a big element of luck, a big element of who do you meet during the path of your life that may give you a good hint one day, and so even though it is not a, completely a path to follow, then what I did was I studied engineering, aeronautical engineering, in Madrid, I finished in '86, and then I started working for a company that did orbit determination, orbit calculation software, and I worked in our Mission Control Center in Germany for five years before becoming an astronaut.

As you look back now-and as you say, you never know what's going to be important or who you're going to meet that's going to influence you-look back now, who do you think are the people who've been the most influential in the path that you've taken in your life?

Well, before becoming [an] astronaut, well, I have of course friends and family also always encouraging me to have good marks and study and leave me alone to be able to do it, and all those things that a kid and a youngster needs in order to make the best out of his or her own potential. And this I have had a lot in my parents and my brother, and and then after becoming astronaut I've been for quite a number of years, like a sponge that tries to extract all the little knowledge from all the people who have been in space and I have been in contact with. I was selected at twenty-eight years of age, so I looked up at the fifty-years-old people that have been several times in space with awe and with a lot of wish to know what they knew. So, I can't name too many people. Ulf Merbold told me a lot about how to work in a Spacelab in a efficient mode; I remember one day Gennadi Manakov told me how to wash yourself in an efficient manner. I don't know-Steve Lindsey…how to work and have fun at the same time; John Glenn, how to deal with the press afterwards, you know, there's so many people.

And over the last few years you've also been working on the European components that are going to be added to the International Space Station in the coming years. Tell me, so tell us some about the Columbus module and the other ESA contributions to the Station that are going to be coming along in the next few years.

Yes. The main, the centerpiece of the contribution of ESA is a laboratory module that we call Columbus. It is not very different from the United States' Laboratory: it is, it has the same number of experimental locations where you can put experimental hardware; it is shorter because the U.S. Lab fulfills many other functions as a central piece of the Space Station, so it has to accommodate much more hardware, but in essence it's about the same as the United States' Laboratory. The…inside the Columbus module we will have, we have developed very sophisticated experimental equipment for metallurgy or fluid science biology, and other kinds of science in which ESA is a specialist- nobody does this racks, that we call, or wardrobes, full of equipment better than the European industry. This will launch with the Columbus module whenever, of course we get to it. And the other piece of the contribution is an Automatic Transfer Vehicle, or cargo vehicle, that would, will dock automatically to the Russian side of the space station. It will fulfill, more or less, the role of the Progress spacecraft today that everybody, I think, know but it is like three times bigger so with one of them we will cover about three launches of Progress in terms of cargo, fuel reboosting or lifting the Space Station capabilities in all these things. The, a cargo ship is supposed to go on the end of this year, it doesn't depend-the end of next year- it doesn't depend on the Shuttle, it, it's actually complementary, if you want to look at it. And of course, the other contributions will wait for the return to flight.

Do you think the fact that you will have been on board the Station is going to be a benefit to ESA and to the program after you come back home to help finish preparing Columbus?

Yes, I hope so. I went to integrate myself into the engineering team of Columbus more or less right after the flight [STS-95]-six or seven months after-and I felt that I could contribute a lot to…well, ESA is just starting operations in space with systems and everything. We have done the Spacelab many, many years ago, which is part of the Space Transportation System, or was part of it, from the early '80s to the late '90s it was the only laboratory that was used in Space Shuttles. So we have some experience and some people experienced some building laboratories, but operations in a continuous basis, we are all learning. So I thought that I could contribute a lot during this three years I was in Columbus. And, the other people who have been in space, in Space Station before me for ESA, are also contributing already, so I think when I come back I will have something to help, I will have some knowledge to pass.

Now you had some experience at this-on your first spaceflight you were also part of a multinational crew that completed dozens of experiments. In that case, you and your crewmate, John Glenn, were the primary human subjects for research into how people are responding to being in a weightless environment. Has that whole experience benefited you as you've prepared yourself for this flight?

Yes. That experience and other, two others that I had when I was doing backup crewmember, so during, let's say, this is then the fourth time that I trained for a spaceflight and that has, well, I think it is…you can't deny that every time you do something you have to do it better, and in this case I think it has benefited a lot, in particular, of course, doing really the spaceflight has benefited me to be more confident of what's going to happen there, what's going to be my reaction, and how to deal with other people in small spaces. So you approach, of course, the second flight with an enormous quantity, or enormous level, of confidence, much more than the first.

On the other hand, you're going to be starting your second flight quite differently than your first, this time in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft rather than the Space Shuttle. Describe for us what takes place in the Soyuz during the launch and during the two-day trip to the station. And talk about the responsibilities that you will have as a member of that crew.

The Soyuz rocket, that carries the Soyuz capsule or spacecraft on top of it launches-as probably everybody knows already-from the steppe in Kazakhstan near the Caspian, Aral Seas in that region of the Earth, and takes, like the Shuttle, eight-and-a-half minutes to arrive to orbit. What is maybe special about this is, of course, it's [an] older-style rocket with different phases, a first phase, second phase, the third phase. In the whole trip of the rocket the crew has almost nothing that they can do, because they are inside the rocket, and they can't operate any of the systems, so the rocket, it operates automatically. After separation, the crew has to make sure that they are in a stable orbit, and then during the two days, forty-eight hours, it takes from then to docking to the Space Station, they have to raise the orbit, chase the Station, and there's a lot of responsibility given to the crew in such a small spacecraft. It is small, it is, it has a lot of rocket power to move from here to there, to turn, and that makes all operations rather quick. And that means that the ground control cannot be in charge of everything, because that's too quick for them to react. So the crew has a lot of responsibility. In particular, of course, the Commander has a lot of responsibility in the overall, and I am given the responsibility in the functioning of all the systems that support his duty on taking the spacecraft where it's supposed to go.

That's, you are, have the job of Flight Engineer; what does that consist of?

It is the job of the person who cares that all the different separate systems of the Space Station are working correctly. Of "Space Station," I said-of the Soyuz rocket are working correctly; there's another Flight Engineer on the Space Station…


…in this case. But the job is to have everything working well so that the Commander can take decisions on whether to take the docking automatically, manually, and, of course, support the decision taken on the spacecraft.

After your arrival, as you've mentioned before, during the handover period by the two Station crews you have a science program of your own. What are the scientific, different scientific disciplines that are represented, that are in your research program? What are the goals of the scientists who've come up with these experiments?

Well, there are various areas of science. We normally take examples of each area, of this very long queue of experimenters who are waiting for the Columbus module to go up. We have, we are building materials that do not form really in space for special molecular filters that are needed by industry, and then they study the result on the ground and try to mimic the result on the ground facilities. We have biology; we are studying genetics expression of genes. Now, of course since the genome of humans is almost decoded and the genome of several simpler beings is fully decoded, then scientists have gotten a lot of questions, much more questions than the answers that they got, but that is the normal thing in science. We have physiology experiments for the astronauts themselves to, I mean, give blood at certain moments depending on things that you are doing and considering the differences about what the reaction of the body is in space and on ground. And fluid physics, and we are also taking some materials to produce educational videos of, we hope, quite a high level of education, so the laws of physics in very detailed form; of course, that has, as NASA has been doing for a very long time, that has two goals-first, to show what can only be shown in zero gravity, but second, to have the interest of the students in science just because it's being done in space.

You mentioned that one of the areas is finding out how people respond to being in space. What in particular are you going to be doing during your research time in that area?

Yea, there are several research projects that deal with the human body or mind. There's one about orientation, so you have electroencephalogram and electrodes and everything, and you're presented a sort of visual cue about orientation, going to the left or right, and you have to guess, more or less, what has happened without looking anywhere else. And that is totally different in ground or, as in space. And by that they're hoping one day to know much more detail about how this works, really, on humans on ground. Now maybe, people who are ill of the systems, the equilibrium system, can be cured by having much more knowledge. We have some studies about chromosomes, about whether chromosomes of, again, parts of the genome are more activated in space than on ground and by that, we start building, little by little, on the knowledge of what each of these genes that now we know does. There are others about cardiovascular effects, about what happens when you go to space and suddenly the blood doesn't pool anymore in your feet.

You also mentioned that there's an area of research that some people call microgravity science or physical sciences. Would these be the kinds of experiments that you were referring to before that are a particular area of expertise for ESA scientists?

Yes. The…well, ESA scientists I mean, Europe is very large, they are in all kinds of…there are people who are expert in all kinds of areas. What I was saying is that ESA as an organization is very expert on building hardware and facilities for science, and we have done this since the Spacelab times and we have sent, for example, the biggest experimental facility now on the Space Station, the glovebox, you know, with all of its different devices, is fully built in Europe. So, that, that's what I'm, and I'm going to be using this glovebox for the experiments. In the sense of physical science, yes, well, there have been several experimental groups that have been on the forefront from ESA on this part, in this particular area.

Some of your experiments, then, as you say, will be using the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox; that's in the U.S. Lab. Are your experiments taking you from one end of the station to the other?

Yes, and that's, I am very happy that this happens. I would like to see how the U.S. Lab works, and then that has given me the opportunity to refresh all the training that I have for how the American segment works. And well, also, it's just a small but significant element of pride in being, using the glovebox that, it has been built by the European industry completely. And but of course, I'm doing experiments on any kind of the station is, I mean, we do it in any kind, in any part of the Station, mainly because this mission is going to be a little bit different than the others: they are going to be doing the handover, and during that time I will have to try to not be in the way because they will be traveling a lot along the Station, showing the old crew showing the new crew the state of the Station.

Well, as you referred to that, you start your mission launching with Mike Foale and Alexander Kaleri, but you'll be ending it, coming home, with Yuri Malenchenko and Ed Lu. Describe for us the trip back to Earth, as it takes place in a Soyuz as you've trained for.

You are in your spacecraft, and at the time you're still docked to the Space Station, check that all the hatches of course don't let any air out because when you detach, of course, that is the main thing that you want to know; put on your spacesuit that will help you in case that the whole atmosphere of the vehicle is lost, even in that case; and detach from the station. Talk to ground control, they beam up the parameters for your automatic firing of the rocket, retro-rocket firing that we know since the Mercury era. And then you take care of your systems and make sure that everything is working. There are certain checkpoints along there that you have to be very aware of that that's a moment in which this, the Flight Engineer has to be very aware of not, fuel leaks and other things that may happen because of the dynamics of the de-docking. And then afterwards the automatic firing of the rocket occurs: if everything works then you have to do nothing; if, as in the simulator, everything breaks, then you have to work a lot and bring back all the systems and so on. And, in about forty minutes from the firing of the rocket you're down on Earth on your parachute.

The Soyuz landing this past April, which was the first of the new Soyuz model, the TMA, was rougher than normal and it was off target. What was the, what was it that's been determined was responsible for the ballistic landing of the last Soyuz? Any concerns about the spacecraft that you're going to be coming home in, which is also a Soyuz TMA, from that operating according to plan?

It has, we have been very lucky in the sense that all suspect blocks and devices that could have caused the error returned to Earth in the capsule. I mean, if they would have been lost with the retro-rocket or anything they would have never known. So, they have put all of them in the laboratory and they have restricted the, all, the possible failure to only one of these blocks-this is analog amplifiers, and switches and latches. Exactly one like this is up there now. They have said that the laboratory has proven that the probability of this signals occurring at exactly the same time, which is exactly what, what happened it wasn't foreseen, and maybe one millisecond or something of probability in, in every second the probability is very low. So, concerns: first of all, we will be watching for it. We can't do much because this is an automatic block that it either works or not. But we are not concerned for our safety because the landing even if it's rougher, it is, it happens in a controlled way, and it happens in a way that is foreseen. You land off target but they, the target, I mean, the area in which you land has also been computed as being suitable for landing. And…and there's yet another possible mode-even if this thing would fail a second time, there's still another mode in which you can land safely in the same target, and it's also computed. So there's no safety concern, and the concern of landing maybe anywhere and taking some time to find us has been removed by putting more equipment in the Soyuz, more communications equipment, location equipment, so that we will just make a regular phone call to the ground control as soon as we land.

Calling for a taxi?

Yes, calling for a pizza.

What will be next for you after this flight? Do you have any designs on being a long-duration Station crewmember?

Yes. Well, everybody has in the European group. We don't have a Shuttle, we don't have a Soyuz; our thing is to be partners of the Space Station and use it permanently. So, we started in 1992 with this goal in mind: we are going to build a Space Station. And, Europe is part of the project who wants to be a crewmember of the Space Station. All the rest of the things, this is just a path towards it. So we are hoping that in about two years from now Europeans will go permanently to the Space Station, one after the other, and I'm in that queue, of course.

The ISS is a very ambitious project. It's got designs on achievements in engineering, in science, global relations, as well as just the future of space exploration itself. Pedro, what do you think is the most valuable contribution that can come out of the International Space Station program?

It is very difficult, as you said to give more priority to one of the three areas, one of the either your international cooperation in difficult times, technological advancement, science, exploration. I think what, the most important thing that we get from the Space Station is, if put in one word, is knowledge. So either with the science or with the technology we develop, or with the experience that we're gaining, for then go to other places as humans, then what we're getting from the Space Station is knowledge and that, that should help us in not many years to accomplish even more difficult goals.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 09/12/2003
Web Accessibility and Policy Notices