Cheers and shouts were heard throughout the Space Center as Endeavour, carrying the STS-118 crew, roared off the launch pad into the late afternoon sky to begin the 22nd mission to the International Space Station on August 8, 2007. The flight placed seven astronauts, a space station segment and 5,800 pounds of cargo and supplies into orbit on the way to the International Space Station. The 11-day mission calls for attachment of the space station segment, transfer of the cargo and supplies and a test of a new power transfer system. If the system works, the mission would be extended to 14 days. Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan will also conduct several educational programs during the flight.
Below are questions and answers from a pre-flight interview with Barbara Morgan about the STS-118 mission.
Question: How would you describe STS-118 to the layperson?
Answer: An exciting mission would be my first words. We are actually part of one of many stepping-stones, many good stepping-stones, to get on to the moon and Mars. We are an assembly mission, which means we’re going to go to the International Space Station, dock with it, and help complete its construction.
Question: This mission will also be the first flight of a shuttle that has the station-shuttle power transfer system on it. What is that? What does it mean for station assembly flights?
Answer: Well, what that is in simple terms, is a way of using some of the energy on International Space Station and converting it over for us to be able to use it on shuttle so that the shuttle can stay attached to the station for a longer period of time. The shuttle’s energy comes from cryogenics. It’s basically fuel. You can only take up so much with you. You don’t want to run out before you come home. But that limits how long you can stay. Being able to tap into the station’s energy allows us to stay longer so that we can get more accomplished during the mission. It allows us to do four spacewalks for this mission in, instead of three, and it gives us more time to transfer lots more stuff over. It’s interesting to me because while we’re tapping into station energy, the things that we’re doing to help build the space station are actually to provide more energy to the station. So it’s kind of a give and take.
Question: What types of things are you transferring from the shuttle to the station?
Answer: We’re taking up quite a bunch of stuff. In fact it’s about 100 hours’ worth of transfer time and many, many, many bags. These bags come in the size of -- I can kind of show it to you -- about a couple of feet by one foot all the way up to what we call five, we call it a five MLE bag. That doesn’t mean anything, but it means that the bag is big enough to hold five of these small bags, and lots of equipment. Some of the equipment we’ll actually be using on board. For example, two of the very large bags have two very large metal structures that are like stanchions that our two spacewalking crew members are going to take and add to the outside of station. It will hold the boom that we take up on the shuttle. The boom is a tool or, or a big piece of equipment that’s used for us to do inspections of the bottom of the orbiter for hits or holes in the thermal protection system. So these two pieces will help hold that boom in its stowage location. We’re also taking up things like communication equipment, spacewalking tools and equipment like that. We’re taking up food; we’re taking up clothing; and we’re taking up some of the medical kits to refurbish the medical equipment that they have on board the station. So, those are just examples of the many kinds of things that we take up. Basically, it’s what the crew needs to get the work done, and to live.
Question: Let’s talk about training for a bit. What’s been your greatest challenge during training for this mission?
Answer: Oh, gosh! Probably (laughs) my greatest challenge, not just for this mission but, but all through astronaut training and spaceflight training, is that it, literally there is so much to learn that it would take many, many lifetimes to learn it all. And so you just have to realize you only have x amount of time, just like in anything that you do whether you’re teaching school or whether you’re training as an astronaut or whether you’re a student, you put all you can into it and that’s how you get the most out of it. And, that’s how you’re able to give the most. And so that’s what you do; but you also at the same time realize there’s no way you can learn it all. So, you know, don’t worry about that.
Question: Let’s talk about the path that you took to get to this point in your career. You first came into the public eye as the backup to the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe. Can you tell me about that? What inspired you to apply to become a Teacher in Space?
Answer: Well, if I can answer that first part first that being able to train with Christa and the Challenger crew was such a lucky, wonderful thing to get to do, and I learned so much from them. I wanted to fly with them. And those lessons that I learned I carry with me every day in everything that we do. And as far as the Teacher in Space program goes, I had come home from school one day and was watching the evening news. My husband and I were sitting on the couch watching the evening news like we did every day. And President Reagan was on, and he announced that, that they wanted to send a teacher in space. And I remember sitting up, really bolting up, which was kind of funny because at the same time as I was ready to say “Gosh, I’m that. That’s amazing. I’d like to find out more about this.” My husband, who really thinks through everything that he says and beat me to it, which was unusual, said, “Why a teacher? Why not a writer?” Because he would have loved to have done this, too. But anyway, the opportunity came up and being a schoolteacher … what we teachers do is look for opportunities to bring the world to our classroom, to further our own knowledge and our own learning so that we can do a better job making, making learning relevant and exciting and interesting in our classes. So I applied and along with many, many, others. I mean just many, many fantastic teachers. And, one of the best parts of that program was being able to meet teachers from all over the country who were doing a dynamite job. Every single one of us knew we were just representing hundreds and thousands of great teachers across the country. And that was, that was really one of the best parts of that whole program.
Question: Barbara, tell us about the education payloads on this mission.
Answer: That puts a big smile on my face! First, our education goals for this mission: we want to engage as many students and teachers as we can in actively participating in the Vision for Exploration, actively participating in moon, Mars and beyond. So our education payloads that we’re taking up are in support of that. It’s really all about what kids and their teachers and their scout leaders and museum directors, are doing on the ground and what we do on orbit. We call it kind of the icing on the cake, too, to support what they’re doing on the ground. We’re taking up a couple of small growth chambers, and we’re taking up … I like to say a kazillion -- many, many, many, many plant seeds. And, the seeds we’re going to take up and most all of them we’re going to bring back down. I’ll tell you about those in a minute. The growth chambers we’re going to transfer over to the International Space Station where Clay, where Clay Anderson, once we leave, will get those growing. The idea is that all of this is ongoing. Nothing really starts and stops. We want our young people to have a sense of that, too -- that the education payload that we have will be up on station and continue long past when we, when we come back.
Question: It’s not just a one-shot deal.
Answer: Not just a one-shot deal. All of this is just a small part of what we see happening in the future. So we first tap in to kids’ curiosity. As a teacher, you want to start with what it is your students already know and what it is that they want to learn. And we hope that, and know that they have lots and lots of questions and curiosities about spaceflight and about space exploration and where we go into the future; where they go into the future. So, we start with their questions. And, we’ll be doing some uplinks and downlinks and answering, answering their questions from on board -- some of the questions anyway -- and making those connections for them real time. But we want them to know that we all have many, many questions, too, and many questions that have to be answered to be able to do long-term exploration on the moon, on Mars, and beyond. Right now we’re working on designing the vehicle. Well, the kids who are in our classrooms today, even the high school seniors, by the time they get through college, undergraduate and then graduate years, that work will already be done. But, there is so much that needs to be considered and planned for. As I mentioned, answers need to be found for way into the future. Our idea is to engage kids now in those kinds of things that they will be doing. Kids aren’t motivated by doing things that the adults have already done and taken care of. They’re motivated by doing things that they get to do, that are new for them. So, that’s open-ended. What we’re taking up, these plant growth chambers, are to get them thinking about one of many, many questions that need to be answered, which is: How do you sustain life for long duration on the moon or on Mars and beyond? So, we would like them to think about what kinds of plants are the best to grow? How are you going to grow them? What are the things that you need to consider to grow them whether you’re in the environment of the moon or the environment of Mars, or on a spacecraft that’s going to take you there, or on the International Space Station? And, we’re going to have an engineering design challenge for them where we would like for them to design a-, and build a model or a working prototype of a plant growth chamber. What we’re going to do with the little chambers that we take up is just use those as one of many examples that can be built for a, an environment like the International Space Station. But It’s really to get them thinking, considering, and brainstorming all the kinds of questions that they’ll need to ask and try to find answers to in order to do their own designing. We would love to see their designs. And the seeds that we’re taking up we’re bringing back down for them. It’s both real and metaphorical to get something literally physical into their hands that says, “Go do the stuff that we get to do.” You know, “Go do exploring, experimenting, and discovering. We’re not going to tell you what to do and how to do it. They’re yours to do just like we do.”
Question: So, the students will have a chance to touch these seeds and to try to look at them first hand and interact with them?
Answer: Absolutely. They will be seeds that will have flown in space. They'll not just touch them and look at them; but figure out what it is they want to study with them, and also use them for their own chambers that they’ve designed and built as a test bed.
Question: How do you feel about being part of the continuing a human presence in space? Are you excited about that?
Answer: I’m really excited about that. I feel really fortunate and lucky to be able to be involved in something that is so much bigger than all of us put together. Especially as a, from, from being a teacher and being able to bring eyes and ears and hearts and, and mind of teachers into this to see how we can best take these experiences and not only help contribute to the future of it through moon and Mars, but through the people who are going to make it happen -- the kids sitting in our classrooms, working and studying and learning in our classrooms today.
For more interview questions and answers, please visit the following websites:
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