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IMAGE: Pedro Duque
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Pedro Duque's greeting (1.5 Mb wav).

Preflight Interview: Pedro Duque

The STS-95 Crew Interview with Pedro Duque, mission specialist.

After waiting in the wings and training for many years, you're about to fly in space for the first time on a very historic mission. What are your thoughts on the flight and your personal feelings as launch time approaches?

Well, the thoughts have been many, but I can say that I always tell everybody that I have won the lottery many times in a row for this, but only I get to fly in space. Which is a little bit more complicated for European and Japanese and Canadian people because the shuttle is not our vehicle; so it's always a matter of international cooperation. Not only that, then we fly with an enormous amount of science that we are doing. Also, there is John Glenn flying with us, so we get to know all of these things of how it worked before; the feeling is one of total joy. I mean whatever they ask from me, even if we are too busy, there's absolutely nothing I can say negative about it.

What first made you want to become an astronaut, what provided that inspirational spark?

I would say those first black and white images of people landing on the moon, who were Americans and have their flag there; and for us, for a child, it was an experience that was tremendous. You see that moon out there and that's the only time that you really think of it as not a circle but a sphere -- and you start thinking about "what is space?" and "what can people do there?" That prompted the interest, that these two people first, and then several others, went to the moon. And I can say, although I was only six, I think I remember where that TV was located and where I was that day. And then ,of course, I had to wait until the European Space Agency really got involved into the manned space program to really seriously be able to think about being an astronaut, which was about the year 1989 or so when they started working on that.

You'll be the first Spaniard to fly in space, if you don't count Mike Lopez-Alegria, who was born in Madrid, I believe, but was an American citizen; what does that honor mean for you personally, and for Spain, for you to represent your nation on a flight of such an historic nature like this?

Well, for me it's a great responsibility and a big honor to be able to in some way represent Spain. It's exactly 100 years since we lost that war around Cuba with the United States, and Spain really decidedly started to go down in the consideration of the world, and everybody started to think of Spain as a very small and not very important country. So, we're celebrating in some way this hundred years, taking into account that now Spain is back -- a country that joins the front and is no longer in the tail of the group. I think in Spain, we the people there who do the space business are going to try to use these and other facts to be able to give a little bit more confidence to the country. We are doing great things, there are companies who build parts of the Ariane rocket or satellites, and we will be building parts of the space station in Spain, so we have to be a little bit more confident of ourselves.

Your crew is a multinational crew, the science comes from a variety of disciplines; it's almost as if your flight is a space station flight. Is that the way you and the crew view this, as an emulation of space station operations?

We view it a little bit personally too -- but I think, objectively, the fact that the space station got a little bit delayed and the fact that our flight is carrying so many experiments, which in principle, many of them were slated to go in the space station, that fact is showing that the scientists all over the world are really wanting the space station. And they really had to push a lot to have their experiments flying this mission, as they were promised some time ago to be doing them in the space station. So there is really an interest in the scientific community around the world to have the space station, and to do the science we say we're going to do. Because of that interest NASA and ESA and NASDA got together and assembled all these packets of science because they couldn't withstand the pressure from the scientists anymore. That means there really is a need for the space station.

You've lived and trained at Star City, Russia and your crewmate, Scott Parazynski, last year flew aboard the Mir space station on a shuttle docking mission. Your flight seems to have rolled it all into one nice, neat package; the end of one program, to the start of space station operations. What are your thoughts about all of that?

I can say I have seen all the training that the Russian Space Agency gives to their astronauts, or they were giving to the astronauts at that time, which was 1994-95. One thing I saw when I came here, I thought the way that NASA trains people is extremely efficient, the way they fly. But for the space station that might be different because people are too tired they are trained in such an intensive way, and to follow exactly the procedures and to know so much when they launch. Then you start forgetting, but at the end of about sixteen days, which is the longest space shuttle flight, you still know a lot. But if you go for four months you have to train a different way, and I remembered the way the Russians were doing it. Now I see, of course, NASA has thought about it and they are implementing an adapted training for the space station which means, to me, they have been talking and there is really a cooperation between Russia and NASA on that and on many other things. I have many friends in Russia and I was really delighted when I saw that Russia came on board the space station program; I think we are going to do a really great job there.

You're going to be spending quite a bit of time back in the cargo bay called SPACEHAB, chock full of experiments. Can you give us kind of a flavor of what types of science you and Dr. Mukai and Scott Parazynski will be involved in during the course of this nine-day flight?

There is every kind of science that, to be successful, needs microgravity conditions. Almost all of these types are represented in the SPACEHAB. For example, we are carrying protein crystallization apparatus and facilities, six or seven of them, all of which represent the cutting edge of microbiology at this moment. These are the facilities that are supposed to be able to design, by computer, medicines to really cure all of those diseases that have been so resistant to vaccines and to medication up to now. The flu virus, HIV, and all kinds of other diseases that we want to get rid of, by studying human proteins. We also have the part of science that explores how fluids behave as a whole in microgravity, which is important. Also metal the way to really know exactly what happens inside metal furnaces and how metals solidify and how to make better pieces of equipment, that is also studied in the SPACEHAB module. All in all there's just barely room for the two of us.

How complicated is this busy timeline from the crew's perspective? How accurate do you have to be in every procedure in order to maintain this timeline day after day for the mission?

It's the biggest challenge of the mission, that there's almost too much there to be done in nine days. There are five, six, seven things that will be going on at exactly the same time, so we're going to have to help each other to make sure that everything gets done exactly right and nobody misses any important steps on the procedures. But most of the time it's going to be just one person doing one thing, so that's the challenge so much science, and so much that has to be done; it's going to be difficult.

A lot of the attention, from a science perspective is going to be focused on some of the experiments in the aging process that Senator Glenn will be involved in. In terms of the science, for Chiaki, Scott and yourself, what are we trying to learn? What kinds of experiments will Senator Glenn be involved in that you all will have a hand in terms of learning more about geriatrics?

I understand that the process of aging resembles the process of long-term spaceflight, so when astronauts come back it's almost as if they are many years older. If we can prove that this is exactly the same process in the body, and that these are reversible, the much shorter span of time makes it easier to do science and research on these symptoms, because you don't have to wait forty years for your results. If you have a short model that duplicates a very, very long process, then science can go faster.

Thirty-six years has passed since John Glenn wrote his name in the history books as the first American to orbit the Earth. What were your thoughts when you were selected to fly with Glenn, and your thoughts on what this mission is going to mean from an historic perspective?

I don't remember exactly how the sequence of events went. We all wanted to meet John Glenn, to be able to work with him, and learn all these things that someone that age has to teach and being a senator makes it all the more rewarding, to work with him. Most famous people are not very fun to be around. I think he can teach us a lot about how the astronaut program was when it first started, who were the big guys, how did it actually work. And also how does the Senate of the United States work it's always very interesting. The other side, of course, is we immediately saw this was going to be really a lot of work, the science, and the attention of the media of the whole world -- but we do it gladly.

You trained in Russia, and as you know a Soyuz capsule is almost like a Cadillac compared to the Mercury capsule that John Glenn flew in back in 1962. Does it ever strike you as amazing that we actually launched a human being in this thing, and now you're getting a chance to fly with him?

Yes, and the two really amazing aspects of all this is that it was almost impossible for somebody to actually go to space in the early 1960's and come back alive. It took a lot of effort from all the best engineers, and they had to devote lots and lots of resources in a very short margin of time. The other thing is our profession is the only one in which you can say that you are an astronaut, and you can work with one of the first. One of our colleagues is a doctor, and he said, "Well, it's like if I were able to cure people or operate on people alongside Hippocrates; imagine that!"

When you lived in Russia and trained at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Yuri Gagarin is to Russia what John Glenn is to the United States, and now you're going to fly with John Glenn. Do you feel a kind of linkage to the very origins of human spaceflight, because of that?

Yes, exactly. Of course, the best thing would be to have Gagarin also with us put in an eighth seat and be able to really talk to the first ones. Yes, we feel like we are privileged. Max Faget and many others who were among the first come to Houston and talk to the astronauts when they are selected, and it's really amazing when you realize we are still in the infancy of it all.

The focus of the entire world is on your mission. How much pressure has that placed on you and your crewmates to keep focused on the training, which is so involved and so complicated?

Sometimes it's not easy, to separate all the cameras from the training, which is so compressed and we have so many things to cover. We sometimes find ourselves training twice -- once for real and once for the cameras. But I have to say it has been well managed, never too disruptive. There has to be that public relations, but also making sure it doesn't impact on training, and that's a very difficult balance to make. We have to thank hundreds of people who organized all of this.

John Glenn is now 77 years old; are there any concerns at all for how he will fare on orbit once he gets up there?

Well, being older doesn't really make such a big difference, once you pass all the medical exams and they know that your heart's still working perfectly and everything. I personally don't have any special concerns although I'm not a doctor. Going into space is something that places a big stress on the human body and mind anyway -- I'm 35 years old and we are concerned about everybody. But I don't sense there's any special concern.

Can you summarize for us what your primary responsibilities will be this mission, so that we have a good understanding of exactly what you're going to be involved in day to day?

The largest part of my time will be devoted to all of these experiments that we are flying in the SPACEHAB module. I will be changing the samples on biological experiments, exchanging the metals in the metal furnace, or flipping on and off from one to two and things like this continuously because there are dozens and dozens of experiments. Aside from the science, I will more or less be the help desk for computer operations, which includes nineteen different computers with different things inside. Just the laptops alone will prove quite a challenge. And finally, if there is the need to go outside and do a spacewalk, I will be partnered with Steve Robinson; we will be the two people who will do it.

You're going to be flying a group of instruments called HOST out in the payload bay to test their response in space for the next Hubble servicing mission; can you give us a brief overview as to what that's all about?

The main objective is you could say severalfold. First, whatever we put in the space telescope has to be really good, because Hubble is a major science source for the whole of astronomy throughout the world. So we have to be extremely careful with everything that we put in the space telescope. Second, the space telescope orbits quite high, into the harsh radiation environment of space. So we're going to be taking several pieces that will be put in the Hubble Space Telescope later, the main computer for example, and then they will run statistics about how it performs, subjected to the radiation of outer space. And there's also a cooler for a specific infrared detector, and the new radiators. Everything has to be thoroughly tested before installation into Hubble. And that's what drives the whole design of the orbit we are flying at. So we are very high and at the low inclination, just like the space telescope is.

It's interesting that you're going be in orbit just a couple of weeks before the first components of the space station are launched. Do you all, as a crew, view your flight as the stepping-stone to the International Space Station?

Yes, of course. As we were training I would say three-fourths of the experiments were smaller, or preliminary versions of research that will later take place on a larger scale aboard the space station. All of them had an equivalent experiment for the space station. We did have a category of flights that were called precursor space station flights; the same hardware, because we're so close to space station. So, maybe just as we are testing the HOST, the new hardware for the Hubble Space Telescope, we're also testing all the new scientific hardware for the space station.

You've trained for a long time to fly in space, and here it is, you're ready, it's your turn. What are you looking forward to the most?

It's probably the fact that I will be out there really seeing the Earth. Of course the first priority is to do the work, come back with a good feeling that you were able to perform all these experiments. And after maybe a year, when all the scientists have gone through all the data and you go to their meeting and they say, "We got good data"; that's the moment when you think you really flew in space for something which was valuable. I'm looking forward to the moment when we turn off the engines and start floating -- like in one of those parabolic airplanes, but it will not last twenty-two seconds but days and days and days. And again, just to see the Earth from up there I've been a fan of looking at maps since I was able to open an atlas. So it will be like seeing a 360 degree map of the Earth, sixteen times a day; all the continents together and I don't know, it's going to be a tremendous experience.

If you were an author or a journalist, how would you record the significance of this mission and all of the history that will accompany it?

I would point out all of the science that is being done, and all the work from hundreds of different people in more than fifty different institutes around the Earth. They really think that bringing science into the realm of space is the way to go, to advance science, and only by doing these kinds of missions can you demonstrate that that is true. And I would point out that this is the second flight of the first American to orbit the Earth, in another spaceship which is more modern, with the focus not being whether we could do it or not, but for something profitable to all mankind. Hopefully John's participation will increase public interest about space and space science, and that might be the beginning of something new and exciting.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 01/21/2003
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