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Preflight Interview: Scott Kelly-STS-118


Preflight Interview: Scott Kelly


s99-05705 -- STS-118 Commander Scott Kelly *Q. This is our interview 
with STS-118 Commander Scott Kelly. Thanks for joining us.*

Image at right: STS-118 Commander Scott Kelly. Photo Credit: NASA

A. Itís good to be here.

*Letís get right into the mission. How would you describe STS-118 to the 

STS-118 is a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station. 
Itís whatís considered an assembly mission which means weíre going to 
bring up a piece of the space station and leave it there and weíre going 
to connect a small piece of the truss to the station. Weíre also going 
to bring up some supplies for the crew members on board and, and spare 
parts, and also another component that allows us to keep more external 
spares on board the space station called the ESP3. At one point it was a 
crew rotation mission, but the decision was made to fly Clay Anderson, 
who was previously one of the 118 crew members and is going to be the 
long-duration crew member after Suni Williams. The decision was made to 
move him to the previous flight, so weíre no longer a crew rotation flight.

*What has to happen for you to consider 118 a success?*

To consider this flight a success, I think, certainly we have to get the 
shuttle to the space station and back safely and make sure all the crew 
members return safely. After that we need to install the truss element 
that weíre carrying to the space station. We also need to install ESP3 
again, which is the external spare carrier that weíre going to install 
not during an EVA, but robotically. And then, we need to get the cargo 
weíre bringing to the space station transferred. And, I think if we do 
all those things, have four successful spacewalks, bring everyone home 
safely, Iíll consider the flight a success.

*This flight is timelined for three spacewalks originally. And thereís a 
piece of equipment that, if it works as we expect it to, will extend the 
mission and enable that fourth spacewalk. Can you tell me about that 
piece of equipment?*

We're going to be the first flight of whatís called the 
station-to-shuttle power transfer system. Itís also known as SSPTS. That 
allows the shuttle to use electrical power from the space station. The Ö 
space station has solar arrays that produce electricity; the shuttle 
uses fuel cells that require cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen to produce 
electricity. But with the SSPTS system, itís essentially a system of 
cables and power converts that allows the space shuttle to use space 
station electricity. And, by doing that, we can extend the duration of 
our mission. Without SSPTS, we are likely a, going to be an 11-day 
flight, and assuming that it works, weíll be able to, to fly a 14-day 
mission so we, we can add three days to the flight.

*So, itís kind of a long extension cord of sorts.*

Yeah, itís a long extension cord with some power converts to convert the 
space station voltages to the voltage that the shuttle can use.

*Great. Youíre also taking SPACEHAB with you. Why is the SPACEHAB module 
flying on this mission?*

The SPACEHAB is flying on this mission because we have a, enough room in 
the cargo bay to fit it. It allows us to carry more cargo; about 5,000 
pounds of supplies and spare parts, science experiments, things like 
that, to the space station and then bring home an equal amount of cargo, 
stuff that is no longer needed or, in some cases, actually even garbage 
back from the station. We can put that in the SPACEHAB.

*Part of the reason you have more room in the payload bay is because the 
truss youíre taking is shorter. Can you talk to me about S5 truss and 
what capability that gives the station?*

The S5 truss is simply a spacer element. Itís small. It allows us to 
connect S4, the S4 truss solar array segment to the S6 truss element 
that will be brought up on a later flight, about a year after we fly, on 
STS-119. So, itís, you know, really just a piece that doesnít have any 
of its own electrical components. Itís just a connecting element that 
allows you to connect one of the solar array elements to another one 
thatís going to come up on a later flight.

*Letís talk about the mission a little more specifically. What does it 
feel like to launch aboard a space shuttle?*

Itís very exciting. My first flight was in 1999, STS-103, and Iíve only 
flown once before. But Iíll certainly never forget the launch. The 
shuttle weighs 5 million pounds on the launch pad, and it has 7 million 
pounds of thrust initially. And you know, it seems like you can feel 
every pound of that thrust. When youíre watching the shuttle launch as 
a, as a spectator, it kind of looks like youíre lifting off the pad 
slowly. But when youíre inside, it doesnít seem very slow. It seems like 
youíre really getting up and going in a hurry. You know youíre going 
somewhere; youíre not exactly sure where; but you know youíre not coming 
back to Florida. Itís quite a wild ride.

*What do you need to do to catch up with the space station?*

We do a series of rendezvous burns firing engines on board the shuttle 
to adjust our orbit so we can catch up to the space station (I guess you 
could call it). And weíll actually rendezvous about 48 hours after we 
launch. And the way we do that is by burning engines at different times 
throughout the first couple of days of the mission until we get closer 
to the space station. When we get a few thousand feet away, Iíll start 
flying the shuttle manually to complete the rendezvous.

*There are a few tasks before you dock. Can you tell me about the things 
that you need to do before you actually reach the space station?*

Well, the first two days of the flight are, are very, very busy. Once we 
get on orbit, we have to configure the shuttle from a rocket to a, kind 
of a spaceship. It takes a lot of work. We have computer networks we 
have to get set up; photo TV equipment that we use that needs to be set 
up; we have to get into the SPACEHAB module; we have to reconfigure the 
whole tunnel system and the docking system that allows us to dock. A lot 
of that stuff is done on the day we launch. The next day we do 
inspection for which we use the space shuttleís robot arm and a boom 
that is attached to it to inspect the thermal protection system of the 
shuttle for any damage that may have occurred on ascent. And then on the 
third day (itís really about 48 hours after launch though), is 
rendezvous day. We get up early and we do a series of burning the 
orbiter maneuvering system engines and reaction control system jets to 
close in on the space station.

*Will you turn the back flip?*

Yeah, all flights now are doing whatís called the rendezvous pitch 
maneuver which we do when weíre approaching the station from below. And 
when we get to within a range that you can get some, some good pictures 
of the, of the bottom of the shuttle (between 500 and 1,000 feet away), 
what weíll do is using the shuttleís digital autopilot weíll command a 
series of pitch maneuvers that basically allows the shuttle to kind of 
pitch up and kind of flip around as weíre approaching the station. And 
the guys on board the station will take pictures thatíll later be 
analyzed on the ground to kind of further inspect the integrity of the 
thermal control system on the bottom of the space shuttle.

*Can you tell me what you do right before you dock, that last approach 
and rendezvous? Whatís your job during that time as commander?*

My job is kind of to be the overall, you know, person responsible for 
flying the orbiter during the rendezvous. Thatís obviously my main task 
during that specific phase of flight. And as we get within several 
thousand feet of the station, Iíll actually start flying it manually by 
looking at some camera views on some monitors, but also looking out the 
window. Weíll come up from beneath the space station. And inside of 
1,000 feet, weíll do this rendezvous pitch maneuver where the shuttle 
flips around. And then once thatís complete, weíll get the vehicle 
stabilized below the space station, close in a little bit further, and 
then start a fly-around where Iíll fly the shuttle 90 degrees to whatís 
called the V-bar (itís really the velocity vector). So, Iím flying in 
front of the space station as we both kind of head around the same orbit 
and then close in from there. And basically you fly the vehicle manually 
using these camera views and out-the-window views until you get about 
two inches away, and then you push a button and the autopilot fires a 
series of firings to kind of complete the last part of the contact to 
make sure that you have the right contact parameters where youíre 
actually connecting the two docking systems.

*Once youíve docked and you open the hatch, youíll get to meet up again 
with someone youíve trained with quite a bit and, and the other ISS crew 
members. Can you tell me what it will be like to meet up with Clay 
Anderson again?*

You know, my first flight, we repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. So, 
itís not like we actually went to a specific place, and obviously we 
didnít get to see any other, other people. So, Iím kind of excited about 
that part of the flight, visiting another vehicle and going inside and 
seeing people that you havenít seen in a while. For us, itís somewhat 
unique in that Clay was really a part of the STS-118 crew until just 
several weeks ago, about three months before our flight. And then, he 
was moved up to the previous mission. So, he was trained to do a lot of 
the mission-specific tasks with us. Heís doing a lot of the robotics 
operations, and heís also doing two EVAs. In some ways itís kind of an 
advantage in that, when we get there, Clay will have been in space for a 
couple of months already. Heíll be very comfortable. And although his 
training wonít be very recent or, you know, as recent as our training, I 
think that is going to be OK because his experience and his comfort in 
space will make up for that. So itíll be great to see him there as well. 
I think itíll be a very fun time to get see him and Fyodor and Oleg. We 
havenít trained with those guys in a while. They launched in April (I 
think). So, they, they will have been on board for quite some time by 
the time we see them.

*In the seat that Clay Anderson is not in, you have a new crew member. 
Can you tell me what Alvin Drew adds to this mission?*

Alvin Drew actually adds a lot. You know, there are certain parts of the 
flight that were a concern. As an example: We have a lot of stuff to 
transfer, and we donít have enough time to do it. By adding Al, itís 
allowed us to pick up some of that transfer time. So instead of me being 
concerned that we might not get this done or weíre going to overwork the 
crew to get it done, it provides me with a little bit more sense of 
security that, that weíre going to be successful at getting this stuff 
transferred because we have him to help with it. And there are other 
examples like that. These missions are very, very complicated. The 
timeline is very, very full. Itís really a big advantage to us to get 
this seventh crew member to help offload a lot of the, a lot of the 
extra work that we put into these timelines. So although he doesnít have 
specific, high-profile responsibilities like doing an EVA or the 
robotics operations, the stuff heís doing is very, very important to our 
mission success and Iím very happy to have him on this flight. So far, 
heís been doing a great job, and I expect great things from him on orbit.

*You have a role related to the, to the spacewalks. Can you tell us 
about that?*

The spacewalks are very complex. Obviously, there are the two guys 
outside doing the actual tasks in the suits. But you know there are a 
lot of other people that, that play a role -- not only on board but also 
on the ground: the engineers and people that trained us; the flight 
controllers that work in Mission Control that are monitoring what weíre 
doing and making, in some cases, real-time decisions in how we should 
proceed. But there are also other crew members onboard that help. 
Specifically Tracy Caldwell is whatís called the IV crew member for the 
tasks. She is kind of the choreographer of the spacewalks from inside 
the space shuttle. Sheíll be talking to Dave and Rick and Clay, kind of 
keeping them on the timeline. You know, they canít have notes out there 
and itís a lot of stuff to remember. So sheís kind of helping them with 
what they need to do next and keeping track of what theyíve accomplished 
and working with them if thereís any kind of contingencies. The other 
part of that job that Iím doing is actually getting them into the suits. 
The suits are fairly complex pieces of machinery. Itís a fairly 
complicated process to get someone out of the hatch. Itís much more 
complicated than just putting on the suit and going outside. It takes 
many, many hours of preparing the suits and then actually getting the 
crew members in them, making sure theyíre checked out and ready to go. 
Theyíre kind of their own little spacecraft. So they have a bunch of 
life support systems and things like that that need to be checked. My 
role before the EVA and after the EVA will be whatís called the suit IV, 
the person thatís kind of responsible for getting these guys in and out 
of the suits. During the EVA my responsibilities I think are more in 
trying to maintain the big picture about whatís going on outside, making 
sure weíre doing things safely and making sure the other things that are 
going on during the EVAs get done as well. So, it's trying to keep, I 
think the big picture on the timeline and keep track of everything 
thatís going on.

*Some of your crewmates have been to the space station before. Your twin 
brother has actually been to the space station twice. Have you gotten 
any pointers or advice from them about flying to the space station?*

Yes, certainly. We have a lot of experience in our office. You can 
certainly learn things from people that have done some of these things 
already. Charlie Hobaugh and Rick have already been to the space 
station. Itís great having them on board. They have certain areas of 
knowledge that I donít have because I havenít been there yet. So itís 
great to have some experience on this crew. Dave Williams has flown 
before, though it wasnít to the space station. So he brings a certain 
level of experience. And then and I certainly talk to my brother a lot 
-- certainly not only about work. But he is a good source of information 
for me if I have any, any questions that only someone whoís kind of been 
there and done that could answer.

*Will you have any free time on this flight?*

We have some off-duty time. I think that is more time to catch up on 
stuff that you havenít been able to accomplish and to rest. These 
timelines are very busy. This is going to be the longest flight to the 
space station to date. One of my concerns is that because itís 14 days 
long, it doesnít mean we have more time to do the same amount of stuff. 
You just pack more stuff in there. So certainly fatigue is a concern. 
So, any off-duty time hopefully we can use that to just kind of maybe 
rest and kind of recharge our batteries.

*Whatís been your greatest challenge or reward from working and training 
with your crewmates for this mission?*

I think the greatest challenge in working on one of these flights, at 
least when weíre in training, is making sure that we get trained to an 
appropriate level to do the mission. Thereís so many different 
complicated tasks we have to do. So making sure that everyone, including 
myself, is at the right level of training is certainly I think the most 
challenging aspect of it.

*Iíd like to talk a little bit about your path that, that you took to 
get to this point in your career. You started off as a military aviator, 
and you still are. What drew you to that?*

When I was younger and in high school, college, I had a desire to fly in 
the military. I chose the Navy because I thought landing on aircraft 
carriers would be kind of the most challenging type of aviation in 
high-performance jets, which I wanted to fly. And I was right: Flying 
around the aircraft carrier, especially at night, is a very challenging 
piloting task. When I was at the end of my first fleet tour in a fighter 
squadron, I decided that maybe not more challenging but kind of a 
different challenge would be being a test pilot. And then, when I was at 
Pax River as a test pilot, in Maryland where most of the Navy test 
flying is done, I decided that Iíd apply to the space program. I was 
lucky enough to get an interview and also lucky enough to get accepted.

*How old were you when you decided that you wanted to be a pilot?*

I think being a pilot for me was a lot like how kids want to be a lot of 
different things. So, itís something that I thought about growing up. 
But, it wasnít like it was a single-minded goal that I had. The same 
thing with, with being an astronaut. Itís something that certainly 
interested me as a kid, but not something that was this life-long, 
single-minded goal that I had and as a kid never thought I would 
actually have the opportunity. Itís quite surprising to be here.

*And, when did the idea of being an astronaut become tangible to you?*

I think being an astronaut became tangible to me when I was working as a 
test pilot in Pax River. The commanders and pilots of the, of the 
shuttle are typically military or former military test pilots. So, 
having had that background kind of made it much more likely that I would 
be considered for the job. It wasnít until just a few years before 
getting accepted that it actually became something that was more real to 
me than just some kind of abstract goal.

*In your military career, did you know other people who had become 

Yeah, I did, especially in the class that showed up here just a year 
before us. A lot of the, the pilots come from the Navy Test Center at 
Patuxent River, Md., or at least they were there in one point in their 
career -- whether it was test pilot school or working as a test pilot. 
So I did know a few of the guys that were down here already.

*Were they the ones that inspired you to apply to the corps? Or, was 
there something else?*

It wasnít really a specific person that inspired me. It was more just 
kind of the concept of flying in space and taking flying to the next 
most challenging level that inspired me. Certainly the Apollo Program, 
being a kid during the moon landings and having a memory of that, was 
always in my mind. I thought it would just be a very challenging and 
exciting job. And I was right.

*Who inspires you to continue in this career? Is it just a love of, of 
the spaceflight program? Are there particular people that inspire you to 
continue this?*

Well, I think for me itís more that itís a very interesting job. Itís 
very challenging. You get to work with very dedicated people -- not only 
the people that have the privilege of flying in space, but all the 
people that train us and the engineers that work on the program, and 
just everyone involved just has such a love for what they do. Itís kind 
of contagious. And so I think I get my inspiration from the organization 
as a whole.

*Have you had a chance to meet the ground support personnel that work on 
this flight or talk to some of the people who help put this flight 

Yeah, Iíve been assigned to STS-118 since December of 2002. So Iíve had 
an opportunity to meet a lot of the people here and at the Kennedy Space 
Center, the guys that work on the vehicle and get it ready for launch. 
Itís really great to be able to meet them, especially the folks at the 
Kennedy Space Center that feel like they own the space shuttle and take 
so much care to do the work and then get it prepared for launch and get 
it right. Itís really a privilege to go and fly it for them and bring it 
back and, hopefully, return it to them in good shape.

*How do you feel about being part of continuing the human presence in 

Iím proud to be a part of this organization. I think thatís the way I 
would answer that question. I think having a permanent human presence in 
space is important for not only the country but the rest of the world. I 
think if weíre going to continue as a species eventually, far in our 
future, weíre going to have to find another place to live. And, this is 
just a small stepping-stone towards that goal. I think the space station 
is very important for us to learn to live and work in space -- not only 
just from a human aspect, but all the equipment we have that operates on 
the space station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We need to know how 
to build and operate that stuff if weíre going to ever venture farther 
away from this planet, like going to the moon and on to Mars or 
somewhere else after.

*After your crewís jobs on the spacewalks are done and itís time to 
undock and go home, whatís your job and what, what needs to happen 
before you land?*

We will close the hatch between the station and the shuttle the night 
before we undock, that's our plan. When we wake up the next morning; 
there are some things we need to do with the tunnel to get it ready to 
undock. And then through the docking system we command the undocking and 
some springs will push off the shuttle at a specific rate. The pilot, 
Charlie Hobaugh, is actually doing the flying during the undocking. 
Heíll back away to about 600 feet and then he will manually fly the 
shuttle -- very similar to what we do during the docking when we go from 
underneath the space station to in front of it. But heíll fly the 
shuttle all the way around, probably a full lap (360 degrees). We do 
that to take photo documentation of the outside of the space station 
just to make sure that itís as we expect it to be. And then once we do 
the 360-degree fly-around, weíll do another burn thatíll kind of take us 
above and behind the space station. After we do that, we do a whole 
other series of inspecting the thermal protection system on the bottom 
of the shuttle, just like we did on the second day of the flight, weíll 
do that a couple of days before coming home. And, we use the shuttleís 
robot arm attached to the boom that we carry up in the payload bay, and 
we again do another whole, almost exactly the same as we did on the 
second flight day, series of inspections. If we see something during 
those inspections that we donít like, there are several things we can 
do. One is do nothing, if there is damage thatís OK to land with. The 
other is we could potentially send our EVA crew members out to repair 
it. Or we could go back to the space station and dock and use that as a 
safe haven for the crew. After that day we use the next day to get the 
shuttle back configured from kind of a spaceship to a re-entry vehicle. 
Thereís a lot of work to be done there. We check out the flight control 
system. We check out the reaction control system jets, make sure theyíre 
all working OK. And then the very next day we come, come back and thatís 
landing day.

*Are you looking forward to sharing your experiences with the public 
once youíve returned?*

Yeah, certainly I look forward to talking about the mission and trying 
to relate what itís like to be a crew member for one of these missions.

*Whatís your favorite part of spaceflight?*

There are a lot of things that are great about having the privilege of 
flying in space. Certainly the ascent is an unbelievable feeling of 
energy that is getting the vehicle and you accelerated to 17,500 mph. 
The microgravity environment is fun and makes certain things easier to 
do. A lot of other things it actually makes harder to do. Looking out 
the window is a fantastic experience. But personally, for me, I think 
the best part about it is working with a really great group of people, 
both the folks on the crew and the thousands of people that are 
responsible for making these missions a success. Working with this very 
dedicated group on something that is really, really complicated Ö. to me 
it seems like itís one of the most complicated things we do as humans is 
flying people on these, on space shuttles, on these very complicated 
space station missions. So working hard on something like that, with 
that kind of goal, and then being successful and the feeling of 
satisfaction I get from that makes that the best part of being part of 
this mission for me.

*Scott Kelly, commander of STS-118, thank you for talking with us today.*

Youíre welcome.

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