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Crew Interviews
IMAGE: Steve Lindsey
Click on the image to hear Pilot Steve Lindsey's greeting (419 Kb wav).

Preflight Interview: Steve Lindsey

The STS-95 Crew Interview with Steve Lindsey, pilot.

This is your second flight in a year; discuss for a moment, if you would, your thoughts on this very historic mission -- its complexity, and how your first mission may have better prepared you for this one.

Well, it is a very complex mission. At last count I think we had over eighty experiments on board; life sciences, microgravity sciences, you name it, we have it on board. So from an individual experiment standpoint, there's a lot more going on than my last flight. Probably the best thing that is going to help me on this flight from my last flight is understanding how to work in the microgravity environment. Just little things, like knowing where to put things so they don' t float away; how to design an experiment so you can efficiently get it done in the time allotted without spending a lot of time searching for parts and having things float away from you. So from an organizational standpoint, being able to look at an experiment here on the ground while we're training it, and knowing whether the procedure will or will not work in space, is probably one of the bigger benefits. Also there were a lot of the unknowns, about how I would react to microgravity as well as how the payloads I was working on would react that, before my first flight I didn't know. I think I can project better into the actual "on orbit time" during my training and prepare better that way.

The SPACEHAB module in the cargo bay will be the venue for a lot of scientific research. Talk a little bit, if you would, about the multidisciplinary nature of this mission in terms of science and its goals.

Well as I mentioned previously, we have many, many different experiments, a lot of microgravity experiments, a lot of materials science experiments, as well as life science experiments. In terms of microgravity and the SPACEHAB specifically, this is, I believe, the first flight where the SPACEHAB is flying a full-up scientific mission. They not only have all the SPACEHAB full of experiments, but also about two-thirds of our middeck experiments are coming from the SPACEHAB folks as well. Just some examples; we have a number of crystal growth experiments that are looking at protein crystal growth for medical applications, a lot of microencapsulation experiments, which has to do with designing drugs for cancer, attacking cancer cells and things like that, as well as some crystal growth, and a lot of space-related applications in terms of how to best cool spacecraft and cool spacecraft components. We have a glovebox on board in the SPACEHAB, which is the same glovebox we had on our last flight, and we also have a number of experiments going on in that. So, without going into a lot of detail, we have just about everything you can think of in terms of experiments on this flight.

This mission is going to have a particularly tight timeline and your flight is constrained in the number of days you can stay on orbit because of power requirements; how do you manage a time like this? How will you and your Commander, Curt Brown, choreograph all the work that's ongoing?

Well, a lot of the work is being done right now as we train. What we're doing is we actually do what are called timeline training exercises, where we'll take a slice out of the flight plan, a particularly busy slice, and we'll actually sit down and we'll do each one of the experiments with the different crewmembers participating as they're required. We'll look at that and we'll time it, and we'll add a little fudge factor because we know it takes a little bit longer on orbit; and by doing that we can get a pretty good handle on how long each experiment's going to take, and we can make sure we have a realistic timeline going into it. It's a very success-oriented timeline in that we need everything to go well. If things don't go well, and we have a problem -- let's say, with an experiment, what typically happens is the Flight Activities Officers on the ground, mission control, will look at that and re-plan the mission and adjust accordingly to get everything done. However, I am confident that we'll be able to get everything done within the timeline because we're working so hard on the timeline right now.

In all deference to the science back in the SPACEHAB, the primary objective of this mission is the deployment and retrieval of the SPARTAN solar science satellite. You were on board Columbia as its Pilot last November when the same spacecraft was deployed and it did not quite go as planned. Recount for us a little bit about what happened back on STS-87 wit SPARTAN.

The way the deployment sequence goes is first of all, we send a number of software commands to the satellite while it's berthed in the payload bay to activate the satellite for deploy and get all the systems going, making sure everything's working OK. We then put in what's called a VGS position, or Video Guidance Sensor position, the Video Guidance Sensor being an on-board sensor. Then we actually pull the satellite out with the robot arm, putting the satellite in what's called a deploy attitude, and that's the attitude we'll be in when we actually release it from the arm. When deploy time comes, we release it off the arm and it has to do what's called a pirouette maneuver; a slow rotation, stops, and rotates back. And by doing that we know that the satellite is working OK and then we'll separate from it and the satellite will be in the science mission. On STS-87 what happened is when we released the robot arm from the satellite, the satellite did not do that pirouette maneuver, and so it was a dead satellite sitting there. When we went to retrieve it, it was accidentally tipped by the robot arm, and because it was a dead satellite with no control system to keep it there, it started spinning. And it was spinning at too high a rate for us to retrieve it, and that forced us to come back a couple days later and actually grab it through a spacewalk.

What measures now have been incorporated since STS-87 to either provide the crew greater insight into how SPARTAN is, predeploy, or what then can be done procedure-wise to possibly help facilitate the regrapple should a similar problem occur?

After STS-87, of course, we did a thorough investigation into all the things that happened to cause this, to try to prevent it when we fly it again. Let me start with the software; on STS-87 it did not give us any feedback. In other words, when we sent a command to activate certain functions of the satellite, the software would not tell us whether we'd actually done that, and if you went back and looked at the screen a little bit later you couldn't even tell if you'd sent the command. Well, since then the software's been modified, not in how it operates with the satellite, but the feedback it gives to us. So now, when we send a command, it tells us that we did send that command and we can actually go back to the screen later and verify this. And so these checks are throughout the software, and when we finally get to the step where we're ready to pull it out and ready to deploy SPARTAN, we will have something on the screen that tells us "Yes, this satellite is 'go' for deploy -- all the actions have been done that need to be done to make this thing go." As far as crew training, we've changed slightly the roles of the back-up arm operator, which is what I was last time. Instead of focusing on a particular display, which I was during the deploy and retrieve, the back-up arm operator will be looking out the window this time and helping the primary arm operator watch things; the distances, and things like that. So that's a little bit of change, I'll be acting as kind of a second back-up arm operator to check those displays while Steve and Scott actually do the deploy. As far as the regrapple, if the satellite fails to pirouette like it did before, the release position of the arm itself has actually been changed. Whereas before it was kind of an off-angle such that when you go in to regrapple it you get a lot of arm dynamics, and the arm bounces it around quite a bit; now it's in more of an orthogonal or a square position, so that we go straight in. So a number of things have been looked at, we've tried to minimize everything we can; obviously we're training it very hard, and we're confident that it's going to go well this time.

Give us a little bird's eye view, if you will: what steps you'll take following the deployment, at the point where you're ready to separate from SPARTAN, and how far away do you get from it ultimately?

Well typically, what happens is once we get a good pirouette at a certain predetermined time, Curt will go ahead and back the vehicle away -- pulse with the thrusters and get us some separation. We'll separate out to about ten to twelve miles initially, and there we're going to kind of hold in position. We have a new experiment on this as well called the TEXAS experiment. It's an RF system that allows us and the ground to communicate with it while it's deployed -- receive telemetry from it, and command it. This is something new to the SPARTANs, so it's kind of an increased capability of the SPARTAN. So we'll be testing that, and we'll probably hold for about six orbits at the predetermined distance away; eventually we'll back out to about thirty to forty miles, and we'll stay there for a couple of days until it's time to retrieve it.

What is the point of SPARTAN? What is it designed to do, basically?

Well, the purpose of SPARTAN is to study the sun's corona, the area around the sun. And it has a number of different instruments; a white light coronograph and a UV spectrometer. It's measuring the sun, which is in a twelve-year solar cycle, and sun spots, basically, are explosions on the sun that generate energy our way. And why that's important to us, first of all, is the sun controls all of the chemical reactions here on Earth; we obviously can't live without the sun so it's real important to understand it. The other thing that happens with this sun spot cycle, is when it gets real intense, if those radiation emissions come and hit the Earth, it will take out satellites, essentially shutting them down. If you remember a few months ago, we had a communications satellite go inoperative that shut down everybody's pager. So that's very, very important; the more we get involved in space, and the more commercial space applications we have, the more we need to understand how that cycle works.

After a couple of days of its independent science studies it'll be time for you all to return to SPARTAN; give us a little Pilot's view here of rendezvous and retrieval, and what do you do with SPARTAN after that?

Well, when it comes time to retrieve, and that'll be about forty-two hours or so after we deploy it, we'll do what's called a posigrade burn. That takes us higher and slows us down so we can get behind the satellite. We'll go to a point behind the satellite, where we'll do another burn, the retrograde burn, which will lower us, causing us to accelerate ahead of the satellite. Then we come up to a point right underneath the satellite and drive straight up something called the R-bar it's just a location directly above the satellite with the Earth below us, and us in between. We'll drive straight up and the next thing we're going to do is test the Video Guidance Sensor, which I mentioned earlier. That's an automated docking system, where we fire lasers at some reflectors on the satellite and it provides us with precise measurements of how far away we are, how fast we're closing or opening from the satellite, and some other information. So we'll go to about 300 feet or so underneath the satellite, hold there, and then we'll do a series of roll maneuvers and yaw maneuvers. We're going to see how well that sensor can maintain lock as we roll the orbiter and see how well, how narrow the field of view is of the sensor. We'll test that for a while, close in to about 200 feet, wait through orbital night, which will be about forty-five minutes, and then we're going to back out and do a max range test. We'll back out to about 600 feet and see at what point that sensor breaks lock. And then once the sensor breaks lock, or we get to 600 feet or so, we'll close in for the final rendezvous. And the way we'll do that is we'll just close right up this R-bar, like I mentioned before, until we have the satellite right over the payload bay and right in the end effector camera of the remote manipulator system, the robot arm. At that point, Steve Robinson will take over with the arm; he will fly the arm onto the grapple fixture of the satellite and grab it with the arm. Once we have grabbed it with the arm, he'll put it back in the payload bay, latch it back down and reinitialize it.

Another major payload out in the cargo bay is a suite of instruments that are being tested for the next Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, called HOST. Give us a little insight into what this is all about, why test these instruments before they go fly for real.

Well, it has four experiments on it and it's designed for the Hubble Space Telescope. The main reason that we're going up to 300 miles, which is pretty high for a shuttle flight, is that's where the Hubble Space Telescope is. Out there we are further out of the Earth's atmosphere and the radiation effects of space are much more strong. If you take a typical computer up into those kind of altitudes, they don't work very well; they'll get little radiation hits and the computers will shut down and things like that. So what we want to do is test the components that we're actually going to put on the Hubble in that environment before we go up on the next servicing mission, here in a couple years. As I mentioned, we have four experiments on the HOST platform. One of them is a new computer that we're going to install on the Hubble that will give it a lot more capability; and again we want to test it in that harsh radiation environment, make sure it works OK. We also have a fiber optic cable we're going to test, which will be a data cable. We have a new cooling system; the Hubble has some infrared sensors it uses for when it does a lot of its astronomy, and for these infrared sensors to work well, you have to cool them down. Well, right now it has a cooling system that's going to run out of gas here pretty soon; the new cooling system doesn't rely on a cooling gas, and so the tank will never run out.

What is the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker experiment all about?

The IEH is a suite of payloads, studying the ultraviolet spectrum out in space. We're going to be looking at some stars, Jupiter, and at the sun a lot; places like that. And we're studying the spectrum there in ultraviolet to more characterize the universe. It's also being used to characterize the sun; it almost ties in with SPARTAN, some of the same kind of things. It's basically an astronomy science experiment, trying to understand how our universe is formed; what kind of light sources are radiating and at what intensity from various places in our solar system and the galaxy.

What was your reaction when you found out that you were going to fly with John Glenn on this mission?

Well, just to be assigned to this flight was a complete surprise to me. I had no inkling this was going to happen. So I was surprised to be assigned, and then when I found out I was going to fly with John Glenn I feel really honored, that I'm getting the opportunity to do this. I know this is an opportunity of a lifetime for me; I never thought I would even meet any of the original seven astronauts let alone get a chance to fly with one. So I feel very privileged to be a part of this crew and a part of this flight -- and I certainly feel privileged to get to know and work with Senator Glenn.

What are your thoughts on the reasons, the rationale, behind John Glenn returning to space?

Well, having trained here for a while, and talking about the payloads that we talked about earlier, the one thing I would say is this is not going to be a joy ride for Senator Glenn. He is very, very heavily loaded with lots of experiments; the number of life science experiments that he's participating in is just unbelievable. He will be participating every day; you name it, they're going to be doing it. To talk about the research a little bit, I know there's been some question about that. They're doing just about everything. They're a lot of things that happen to us in spaceflight that also happen to people as they get older things like bone loss, problems with sleep, calcium turnover, protein turnover, those kind of things -- osteoporosis; all those kind of things, in a different way, happen in spaceflight. We lose bone mass, we lose muscle mass, sometimes people have trouble sleeping. So we're going to be testing all these things on Senator Glenn because he's older, as well as on some of us, to get another data base. A lot has been made about the fact that we only have one subject: but you know, you have to start somewhere, and I think there will probably be others that follow in the future. Getting back to the historical tie, between shuttle and Mercury, and us flying with the Senator, you know, there's obviously a historical tie between Mercury and the shuttle. He started the program, he's one of the pioneers of the program, he's the reason that I'm sitting here today doing what I'm doing. It is him and others like him that really went out there and risked it, and started this program, and started this whole country's space program. So that's the tie to the past, but he's also a tie to the future because, I know that sometime in the future, and I don't know when that is, we will fly in space like we fly on commercial airliners today, and someday everybody will be going to space. I don't know when that is; a lot of technology hurdles'll have to be overcome before we can make it affordable, but that will happen. So in a way, he's not only a tie to the past but flying with him is a tie to the future, because he's representative of that -- someday we will be flying everybody into space. And before we do that we needed to understand, besides the technology, we also need to understand the physiological effects of people of all ages, not just young astronauts.

Do you all feel, as a crew, that your flight represents a stepping-stone to the International Space Station?

In a way we are. If you look at all the shuttle flights over the last several years, they've all been kind of small stepping-stones on our way to the space station. You know, we started out with Mercury, with the Cold War origins of that whole thing, we went on to the shuttle, a Space Transportation System, and now we're taking the next step, which is to the International Space Station. And if you watch what's happened on each flight, it has slowly transitioned from the earliest days. Which was, if you talk to Senator Glenn and were to ask him, you know they didn't know things like, would you be able to see in space, would you be able to eat in space; now we're to the point where we're getting ready to go to station where we're going to be doing lots and lots of science. If you look at our manifest and our payloads, you'll see that we have international payloads from all over the world; a lot of European and Japanese payloads, collaborators from universities, as well as commercial companies from all over Europe and Japan and different parts of the world. And if you look at our compliment of payloads, they are very diverse, from life sciences to microgravity; robotics research, studying the sun, a lot of astronomy and things like that. When we go to space station, that's what's going to be doing. You're going to have crews, and they're going to be working on all these different things all at the same time. So if you take our training template and our flow, it's a lot shorter than the space station; but in terms of having to be able to do all these different things, at the same time, our mission is very much a tiny subset of what's going to be going on on the space station.

With the Senator on your crew, the focus of the world is on your mission; there's just no question about that. Has that placed pressure on you and your crewmates in terms of being under the microscope? How has it effected your training?

Well, it's been interesting; it's been a little different flow than I've experienced before because of the media attention Curt's doing a great job of managing it. Really, he's had to deal with this probably more than any of the rest of us because he has to carefully manage that. But what we've looked carefully at is making sure that we can get all the training done we need to. And at those times when we need to really focus on training, and we believe the media or cameras might be an issue, then we don't have cameras for those. So, let me reemphasize that the publicity is great, and I firmly believe that this is great for NASA, this is great for the world to see what we do in space. But our focus is on our mission, our focus is on our experiments, our focus is coming back with a hundred percent successful objectives, and we train that way. When we get in to train, we forget about the cameras that are watching us: we focus on the mission, we focus on the crew, and getting everything done that we're supposed to get done.

When Senator Glenn resumed his training, and as the training developed and matured, was there a feeling that he almost had never left being an astronaut -- that he just picked up where he left off, three decades ago?

What amazed me when I started working with him was that he was coming off the street, he'd been in the Senate for several years, and he'd been out of the space program for quite a while but he walked back in and, as you mentioned, he just -- he knows the business. He was here in the beginning, but the business has changed quite a bit, the technology has advanced. But he's kept up with the technology, he understands the basics of space, so when he walked back in, it did feel like he's been here the whole time. You could tell he's been an astronaut, and you can tell he still is an astronaut. And, you know, his training has been going great, he's just been doing a great job. So I was very impressed with that.

Will you, and Curt in particular, feel a special burden of responsibility that not only do you have an American legend climbing aboard with you but a member of the U.S. Senate a distinguished official?

Well, as you know, the commander and the pilot, our job really doesn't change. I feel a responsibility to all my crewmates; our job is to get them up there safely and get them back home safely, and I wouldn't call the Senator a burden. I would call him a privilege to fly with, and I don't think that I will feel any more burdened with him there, because once we get in there and get strapped in, we pretty much focus on what we need to do. All those butterflies that you might feel beforehand pretty much go away once the engines light and you're working on your job. So I would say that I think about it, but I think of it as more of a privilege to fly with him than a burden, certainly.

What does the Senator bring to this mission that will make him a unique member of this crew?

Probably the first thing he brings is historical perspective. He brings the lessons that he learned in Mercury to the shuttle. He brings a wealth of experience, in a lot of areas he's very well versed in, like aging. Actually he bridged a lot of areas for me between what happens in aging and what happens in spaceflight, areas that I didn't realize before, maybe had never even thought about. He won't just be doing the testing we talked about, the medical experiments, he's also doing a number of other experiments on board. As I mentioned before, we have so many payloads and our timeline is so packed -- he's doing a lot of the other experiments too, so he's not just coming on board to be, as some people say, the guinea pig. He's doing all those other things too, so he's going to be a very busy member of this crew during this mission.

What first inspired you to become an astronaut, to fly; does it go all the way back to Mercury, perhaps to Senator Glenn himself?

I was inspired probably first by the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, because at the time when that happened I was eight years old; when Senator Glenn flew I was, I think, one or two years old. Like everybody at that age, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, I was inspired by that. But I also knew the history of Mercury, and certainly John Glenn was one of the big heroes in my mind as well. So I would have to say probably the two big ones in my mind were, were Neil Armstrong and John Glenn.

Is it almost like living out a fantasy on this flight?

Well, if you'd have told me five years ago, or two years ago, that I'd be flying with John Glenn, I would've said, "oh, that will never happen!" Sometimes I look back and think, boy I really wish I was around during those early days and flying then, but, you know, I'm really glad to be where I am now because I never thought I'd have the opportunity to fly with the Senator.

The Senator is 77 years old, we've seen him train and he's in great shape, there's no question about that, but he is 77; any concerns for him during the mission?

To be honest, I'm not concerned about anything for him; I think he's going to do a great job. I'm certainly not concerned with how he'll do on the experiments and everything, because he's already shown that he knows that stuff, and I don't think I've ever seen anybody more motivated when they get here to work on our flight than he is. He's very, very motivated and working hard; he takes work back to Washington with him, and we keep kidding him that he needs to get rid of that Washington job and just hang out with us. I have no concerns with how he will do up there. Physically, to be honest, I don't have any concerns either, because he is in just fabulous shape. He's gone through all the egress drills that we go through, all the emergency egress type drills that require physical labor. We did some post-insertion, de-orbit prep classes, where we have to take apart seats and put seats back and do a lot of hard physical labor, and he does great at all that. So I think he will do fine during the flight, and I'd be willing to bet he'll be walking around after landing without any trouble at all.

Here's a man whose space capsule is in the Smithsonian Institute, in the Air and Space Museum, and you're getting a chance to fly with him, etching your name in history. Your own personal feelings on all that.

I'm just thankful to be along for the ride, to be a witness to history-making once again. A few weeks ago we were in the Smithsonian with Senator Glenn, and we were standing by his Mercury capsule, and I was standing there next to him. He was pointing out all the controls and the switches, where he even had tape markings on some of the gauges where he'd marked certain things, and telling me how each switch worked I was just standing there going "I can't believe that I'm standing here with him doing this, and we're going to go do it again." So, to me personally, it's just a really neat thing to think about.

If you were a journalist or historian, writing the history of your mission and its significance in the space program, how do you think you'd portray this mission given its unique qualities?

Well, I know there's a lot of focus on the historical significance and having a Senator on board, but I hope some attention gets placed also on all the things we accomplish. The science that we did, the benefits; hopefully someday a lot of new medical innovations and things like that will be traced back to what we did on our mission. How to understand, and maybe even prevent or slow down the aging process and things like that, I hope some of that is traced back to our flight. I don't really want the focus to be on me, I want it to be on what we did as a crew.

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