STS-117 In Their Own Words
February 29, 2008 9:18:37
Danny Olivas
By Angela Posada-Swafford

 

Astronaut John D. (Danny) Olivas Photo Credit: NASA

A few weeks after his eventful first spaceflight in STS-117, Danny Olivas speaks gently, but with a beautiful soft-spoken passion. Just as he did the first time I heard him in  1998, when, after ten consecutive years of knocking on the doors he was finally admitted into NASA, and undergoing his training. And just as he had, a few years later, when I spent the afternoon with his family at his youngest daughter’s baptism, back at his mom’s house in El Paso, having a dish of mole poblano. And then again, during a KC-135 flight of mine with college students, when he agreed to come to Ellington Field and give them a couple of tips on materials science as performed in zero-g. And finally, words from space, through an exacting, yet sensitive pen.  

From the very first moment, something in Danny made me think of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Something unwavering in his conviction to explore space, enduring no matter what, brought the words “we all have our own White South” to my mind. As right as he was about this “polar madness”, the great Shackleton was wrong about his assertion that Antarctica “is the last great journey left to man”. For Danny Olivas that journey is out there still left to be done, and one could say that it has now become his own Black Space. 

So, Danny, what was it like to suit up and finally launch in the shuttle?

Words have a hard time being able to explain. The things that you experience in space, that you train for, are very similar to what you experience in training. Everything has become second nature to you. You get up there and you execute those procedures or tasks without much thought. The things that really surprise you are the things that you really can’t train for. Things like working in a zero-g environment and the sensations that you have, not only going uphill, but also when you get into orbit, and even the most mundane things like eating and sleeping, and general housekeeping, which you don’t think a lot about until you get there and you realize it is surreal, it’s different. Up there are different sights, different sounds, different smells, different textures. 

Talking about sounds, how are the noise levels in ISS? Pretty high?

For me up on station it really wasn’t too bad; we really didn’t work very long or very much in the  FGB which we only used to move things back and forth, and which I understand is the loudest in the space station. But in reality I was not uncomfortable at all. The ambient noise level in the lab wasn’t either. Not uncomfortable at all.  

How was sleeping in the airlock?

The airlock was a great night’s sleep. The suits were there too but we were not wearing them. So we took our sleeping bags and personal items with us and we hung there like bats, doing the 10.2 psi campout [the rest of the station remains at normal sea-level atmospheric pressure of 14.7 psi] and it was comfortable, especially on flight day 7, the day before we went out to repair the OMS pad blanket. Because of the power-down, CO2 levels were starting to increase a little bit and you could feel it in your head, you felt very stuffy and a little bit of a headache, so going into the airlock and breathing 100 percent oxygen for the time that we did, plus spending all night in an isolated facility that had CO2 scrubbing was great. It was absolutely the best night ever. The minute I got there my head cleared and I felt fantastic and slept so well that night. 

Cramped Quarters - crewmembers take a moment to pose for a photo while working various tasks in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station during flight day five activities while Space Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the station. Pictured at left are astronauts Patrick Forrester (foreground), Jim Reilly, both mission specialists; and Rick Sturckow, commander. On the right are astronauts Steven Swanson (foreground) and John "Danny" Olivas, both mission specialists. Photo Credit: NASA

What about the roominess of ISS: how did you experience the cramped quarters?

Because you are moving around in all three dimensions as opposed as when you move in two, as you do on Earth, you don’t really notice how tight the quarters are, how cramped they are. You knew space is an issue on ISS because there is stuff all over the walls, and stuff tucked in their little corners. But all that is pretty much out of the way of the translation path, so there is definitely nothing in the way of being a potentially unsafe issue associated with that. But on the same token, when you are getting ready to do an EVA, you pull all the extra gear out of the airlock, so you have plenty of room to move and suit yourself up. And it is incredible, but that almost becomes so much room that you lose things! You put your procedures down and then you go back to get them and you can’t find them, and turns out they have tucked themselves behind the EMUs, or perhaps in the back of the crew lock, so you lose things very quickly in space. 

Did you lose anything?

No, I kept my notebook and everything I had tethered to me all the time, so I did not lose any gear. What I did keep getting misplaced was the procedures, and this is a fairly thick book of 8 by 11 sheets of paper bound by 3 rings. So I would be reading these procedures and have to use both my hands to manipulate some of the hardware and the next thing I’d knew I’d look back and the booklet would be gone, and I’d be looking up and down and all over for it and spend a couple of minutes looking before being able to go back to work. 

Those procedures had a life of their own.

They certainly did! 

How was your experience with the food on board?

Let me tell you, the first 5 days when I was in orbit, I had a real hard time getting an appetite. The food, which on the ground I had no problem eating, in space it was just not very appetizing at all to me. And also the look of the food didn’t help. Because most of what we have is in some sort of sauce and sauces in orbit, you know, they don’t lay on the spoon the way they do on the ground, so what happens is that they look almost like a jell-O and for some reason I had this vision of jell-O meat or jell-O soup or jell-O rice or whatever. It is just that the texture, the visual texture to me made it very unappetizing. A couple of days later it all went away and I was eating just fine. 

Any particular smells that were interesting for you? Does it smell like anything special?

You know, there is definitely a distinct odor. There are different kinds of odors. The food smells were much more poignant in my opinion. Also, you’ve heard many times about the smell in the ISS. There is definitely a distinct odor when you open up the crew lock after it’s been exposed to vacuum and you open up the hatch to bring in the EVA walkers and there is a very distinct odor. I was trying t capture it, and for the life of me I can’t. It doesn’t smell charred, it doesn’t smell like polymers. It is a very unique, almost maybe like a tin smell very metallic odor, if you can have a metallic odor…very bizarre.  

Like hydrazine, perhaps?

No. Definitely not hydrazine. I don’t know what it was. It just had a very unique odor to it. It wasn’t unpleasant. After you open up the hatch the smell goes away very quickly. So it is a very fleeting smell also. It disappears right as soon as you open up the hatch and after a few minutes it’s all gone.  

Will the memory of this smell stay with you for a while?

Yeah. It definitely will. Unfortunately it is one of those things you can’t continue to smell. If you could take another whiff maybe you could characterize it. I only smelled it twice, plus it happened at times when you are very busy, you are trying to get Pat (Patrick Forrester) and Sweney (Steven Swanson) out and you have to work fast because there are so many things to get done. So you can’t take time to reflect and digest it and run it across your nasal palate like a wine connoisseur, which would have been cool to do. 

Now, the other thing that really surprised me was the sound of space. 

The sound of space?

Spacewalking At Sunset - Astronauts Jim Reilly (out of frame) and John "Danny" Olivas (partially obscured, center), both STS-117 mission specialists, participate in the mission's first planned session of extravehicular activity (EVA), as construction resumes on the International Space Station. Among other tasks, Reilly and Olivas connected power, data and cooling cables between S1 and S3; released the launch restraints from and deployed the four solar array blanket boxes on S4 and released the cinches and winches holding the photovoltaic radiator on S4. Earth's horizon and a crescent moon are visible at right.Photo Credit: NASA

For me, the sound was…you obviously don’t hear the sound when you are outside. But when you are inside, what you do hear, are the spacewalks! You hear the clunking around of the hardware banging up against the structure and all that resonates inside the lab, and so what you hear, it sounds like mice in your attic, but big, loud clunky mice. It is metal on metal. I never, for the life of me, even imagined that’s what you would hear! But, sure enough. So the first time, when we put Pat and Sweney up there I said to them, ‘that doesn’t sound right’. And Sweney said: ‘No,  space is really noisy’. And I can always tell when they are ready to come back to the airlock because the clunking gets more and more pronounced until you see a head with a helmet pop up through the airlock. And sure enough, sound for me was a total surprise, and very unique! 

Coming out of the airlock: What was going through your nerves?

You know, it was almost like it didn’t matter. Because in my mind I was really thinking about what we had to do and how much work needed to be accomplished in that first EVA. There was so much in the way of things that needed to get done before the second EVA and it was my first space walk, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time reflecting what it really meant and what the sensation was. I just wanted t get it done and I really didn’t want to mess anything up. And so when I came out I was very focused on that.  

But I do remember coming out, actually when Jerry (James Reilly II) opened up the hatch I could see the Earth’s shine into the airlock and it was this beautiful powder blue. And I looked at my feet and I could see the Earth below me just whizzing on by. And when I came out we were over the ocean and it was breathtaking. Beautiful. I remember commenting about that, but then I said, ‘OK, focus on getting back to work’. And that’s the way I did. 

One thing I’ll tell you about that was very unique: Whenever a sunrise and a sunset happens, it is the most wonderful thing to be observing at that time because you’d be outside working. Even when you are inside the space shuttle and you are looking at the payload bay and you know that you are getting ready to come into a sunset, what happens is that at first everything around you is colored with a very brilliant white reflecting off the thermal blankets. It is very brilliant white with the sun reflecting off of it. But right before sunset this brilliant white becomes this beautiful golden color. The whole ISS is bathed in a gold light for a few seconds and then it becomes copper and then powder blue and a very faint light. It is just beautiful. And then, a few seconds later, you are in complete darkness and your helmet lights are on and when you come back for sunrise it is the opposite. It can be perfectly black and then you see the powder blue and then the gold and copper and then boom! You are in bright light. It is gorgeous. 

Radical! And do you feel the temperature changes?

Oh yeah! (laughs). I was working on the 2B solar array retract and I had one hand on the hand rail of the mast canister and the other hand was fluffing one of the solar rays to unstick some of the hinges, and the hand that I had the hockey stick in was in the direction of the light and the  hand on the mast canister was in the shade, and while I was doing that, for a period of maybe 10 seconds, I thought the temperature in my arm was so hot, while on the other side it was frozen, so I thought this is very interesting being burning on my left side and freezing cold on my right side! Very unique and surreal. 

Wasn’t it surreal that here you are on your fist EVA, your first flight, your first everything, and there is a computer crash and they tell you to go out and make repairs? What a first mission!

Absolutely. I could not have asked for a better first mission. We had an outstanding crew. Very professional. We all got along very well and relied enormously on one another and everyone delivered. For me, all the things that happened and they reason I enjoy doing the work that I do is that space exploration and exploration in general is never an easy thing. If you are going to explore the other side of the world, you think it’s just a matter for getting on a ship and going out there, but actually you will face many unexpected things and problems you never dreamed about. And because NASA is the team that it is, each one of those challenges that came up to us we faced.  

I mean we had a torn blanket, we had an MEM card failure, we had a loss of attitude control of the ISS. Three computers shut down. We couldn’t properly point the station to recharge the batteries of the solar panels. We were in a power-down mode, CO2 levels were rising. We were looking to potentially rationing our meals for up to 45 or 60 days in case we had to stay inside the ISS. We were about 12 hours away from abandoning the ISS. One thing after another. But then, by the moment it was time for us to leave, everything was back OK again. Between the flight crew and the ground flight control team all the issues were resolved, and we left the ISS in better shape than when we got there. And we learned a lot in the process. So for me, I couldn’t have asked for a better first mission. And if it is the only mission I ever get, I surely can’t complain because it was an awesome experience. 

On Orbit Repairs - Anchored to a foot restraint on Space Shuttle Atlantis' remote manipulator system (RMS) robotic arm, astronaut John "Danny" Olivas, STS-117 mission specialist, moves toward Atlantis' port orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pod that was damaged during the shuttle's climb to orbit last week. During the repair, Olivas pushed the turned up portion of the thermal blanket back into position, used a medical stapler to secure the layers of the blanket, and pinned it in place against adjacent thermal tile. Photo Credit: NASA

What was it like to perform the repair of the thermal blankets? Holding all these instruments, etc?

I was very excited to have the opportunity to have worked in the area of repair for so many years, even though this one at hand was not the repair area that I had been working in. In fact, no one at NASA had been working on that because no one ever considered that a thermal blanket would ever need to be repaired. To me it was very nice to have the opportunity, although I will tell you that all of the members of the crew would have been equally qualified and would have done an equally good job. When I went out there I wasn’t worried at all about the performance because the repair procedure that was brought up on board was adequately simple enough that we knew that we would be able to do it. 

Now, getting out there was a bit of a challenge. Getting the repair done was a bit of a challenge. The repair was supposed to take about 90 minutes and it took closer to 3 hours. But of course I was just being slow and methodical and trying not to mess anything up. You know, we were using tools that were very much improvised. There were never designed to be handled in an EVA. And everything worked out great. I’m very happy for the tremendous ground effort to pull that procedure. They did a tremendous job of testing and evaluation of it and of keeping it nice and simple.  

So how was that repair done?

We first went out and took a bunch of photos to get the ‘before’ image. Then we tucked the blanket in and after, we used these staplers, which are used like sutures when someone has been cut or opened up. These staplers are used to hold the skin together, so they are very sharp, designed specifically to be inserted. We had 8 of these little cartridges, 5 from station and 3 on shuttle medical kits, so we got them configured for the EVA and I had to do a row of staples half way down the blanket thickness after it had been tucked in. And then another row of staples along the top, and then we used 22 pins (they look like a head pin), except the wires are very flexible, not stiff as normal pins. And that was the most challenging part for me: that the wires were very flexible, so that I had a hard time inserting them without them bending on me, so I had to take them out and put them back again, because every time I tried to jab them into the blanket, they tried to bend. The blanket itself is a fiber glass-woven cloth on the exterior, and the interior has this fibrous silica material, and penetrating through the blanket itself with those pins proved to be probably the most challenging part of it. But when we got back we took a look at the repair and all the staples held, we only lost 2 of the 22 pins that we inserted. 

At some point they asked you, ‘Danny look at your gloves’. Does that mean that when you are outside you have to keep looking for small tears, right?

Yes, right. Myself and JR (James Reilly) we never had a problem with it. The only thing that ever happened was that I kept getting a little bit of a bright coat in the material that covers the tips of the fingers. That is something you get when you work around the bolts with these gloves. But my gloves came back in good shape, and so did JR’s. I think Pat and Swaney had a little bit of rtv damage to their gloves, but that s typical of a spacewalk. 

How about how easy or hard was it to manipulate small things? Aren’t gloves a bit cumbersome?

They are very cumbersome. It is like trying to work with a baseball mitt on (laughter). They are very clumsy and it is very difficult to hold small things. I was very concerned. I was worried because, you see, the stapler dispenser, after it dispenses the first staple, it leaves two protruding sharp things for the next staple ready. And I was concerned that I would accidentally drag the sharp end of the next staple across my glove and potentially damage it. These things luckily were rounded off at the edges, so they are fairly benign against the glove, but just the same… 

We also had to do all these pin work by hand without any kind of tethers, and I didn’t want to lose any pieces of hardware. That was a big concern for our mission because previous missions had lost tools and it was kind of our goal we had not to lose any tools in this one, and I thought, ‘boy, here I am ready to go out and I don’t have any of these pins tethered’. But everything worked out fine and I didn’t lose any tools, didn’t cut he glove…” 

That is also because you kept your calm, were very cool.

It is truly easy to get overwhelmed, I think, in that environment. I have read accounts of people having experienced vertigo and not having been able to let go off the handrail because they were concerned that they were going to fall, or become focused on the wrong things and made bad decisions, do things that they regretted later, violating procedures of safety. For me, I was more concerned about being slow and methodical about everything instead of thinking ‘OK, what do I have to do next, and let me think about what I have to do after that’. My mind was set in ‘right now let me worry about the task at hand’. I didn’t try and think too far in the future, after I knew that Pat Forrester would be there to tell me what was next. So, I didn’t have to memorize everything, I basically said, ‘OK, I’m done with this aspect, what do we have to do next? Give me the details, so we can do it effectively’. 

So you didn’t feel sick or vertigo or anything?

No, I felt very comfortable. 

Packing Up The Array - Astronauts Jim Reilly (on robot arm) and John "Danny' Olivas join up forces with their colleagues inside the shuttle and station and flight controllers in Houston to complete the delicate process of folding an older solar array so that it can be moved from its temporary location to its permanent home during a shuttle mission this fall. This was part of the 7-hour, 58-minute spacewalk by the two mission specialists, who successfully worked through a very busy agenda. Photo Credit: NASA

Did Neemo give you a special edge?

I think the edge came from at least understanding that when you go in a mission like this you are playing for real. So you can’t mess anything up or hurt yourself or hurt your buddies. So, because of those experiences I had previously, I knew, coming onto this mission, the things that I was going to have to work on. Things that, on a personal level I knew I needed to do better. Weather it was just tending to my own gear more effectively, or making sure I was taking pictures of other people during the expedition, or just little things. And they all go towards enhancing the experience not only for yourself but for everyone else.  

So I tried to focus on…you know, trying not to irritate people (laughter) and that’s a big thing! Sounds like an easy thing to do, but when you are cooped inside something like a can for 14 days with the same 6 people and there’s all this stuff going on, the last thing you want to do is get on someone’s nerves, or have someone get on your nerves. You learn how to cope. Not that we had any problem like that. But those are the kinds of things where I think those previous expeditions teach you how to manage so that when you get in the flight environment you have permanently good control of yourself. That is what I think it really teaches you. It teaches you more about yourself. 

Editors Note: NEEMO is an underwater laboratory located off the Florida Keys. It is owned by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA uses it to practice long duration space missions.

When you went to Neemo you were beginning to scuba dive yourself?

Yeah absolutely. A good experience, too. 

How do you compare both environments? Staying there and going out into EVAs in the water?

The comparisons are similar in that the environments are extreme and that the hazards are real. The details of each excursion are hugely different, weather you are in the water or in space. But during both of them you are really keyed into the fact that when you scuba dive you recognize that if you don’t take care of your buddy and yourself, you can put yourself in a really bad situation. The same thing when you are space walking, you have to be in constant communication with your buddy and the guy inside, and you have to understand what your consumables are, you have to understand your gear, you have to understand the task that you have at hand, and the reality is that neither environment, the water or space, neither environment is suitable for human beings. And so, working in those environments makes a challenge and you just need to learn how to cope. 

What goes on in the shuttle after hours? You guys have some time off?

There was really very little time. The little that we had we would go to the galley and get something to eat, or if someone else was on watch in the flight deck you made them lunch because you knew that they were going to be making you lunch when you got real busy. And you tried to grab your camera whenever you could and you tried to just really make use of the time that you had on orbit. I won’t say that it was all work and no play because whenever you had a free moment you always tried to catch a glimpse of the Earth and try to snap a picture for your mind that you could remember later. And I do remember doing that several times, and that doesn’t take a long time to do. Occasionally, especially after the end of the mission, when we had the first wave off our deorbit burn, that day after we reconfigured the vehicle for one more night on orbit, I spent a lot of time on the flight deck looking at Earth, looking at the night sky, just taking it all in. 

Or sending an e-mail to your friends. Thanks for mine!

Exactly! (laughter). 

What was your most memorable moment the whole mission?

Ahhh… no doubt, the most memorable moment for me was the second to last day that we were on orbit. It was at nighttime, and I was on the flightdeck and we had the middeck access door closed and that means we were looking out on the back of the space shuttle and we were just looking at the stars and trying to make out with our naked eyes some of the features of the night sky, like the Orion nebula. Then I looked over and could still see the space station far away and then all over my right shoulder I could see the Milky Way. Then I saw, over the starboard wing two clouds… in space! So I thought, ‘clouds in space? That doesn’t make any sense!’ Then Jerry and I were talking and I said, ‘you know, what if it were a galaxy?’ So we pulled out our binoculars, and sure enough, we were sitting here on the space shuttle, at the end of the Milky Way, looking out the back window, peering into a neighboring galaxy and we are looking right into the Magellanic Clouds, which to me it just blew my mind away! 

And then on that same view, I could still see space station far away and by now it had become just a little dot in the horizon along with the many other stars, and I thought, ‘boy, here you have the epitome of what mankind can do. This represents the very best in exploration, from the earliest explorers to present day rocket scientists. The space station is the best that we’ve been able to do since the beginnings of mankind. And yet, against the backdrop of the universe, against the backdrop of the Earth itself, it’s just a small, an almost insignificant fraction, a blimp in this thing we call the universe. And it makes you feel proud of how much we have been able to accomplish, but it also makes you recognize how small and insignificant we are, and how much there is left to be explored. 

We are all stardust.

Exactly… For me that was the moment that made me reflect back on my life and how many times I have wasted my time here on this Earth doing things that are truly insignificant, and never recognizing the framework that we are operating in. We human beings think that we know a lot, that we can do a lot, that we are these wonderful little creatures that are running around here on Earth and we tend to be really full of ourselves. You know? The reality is that we have to be very amusing to God because (laughter) he’s gonna look at us and think to himself, with all these cities created around for us to explore, here we are, and we’ve done so much but yet we’ve done so little. 

Flying In The Shuttle - Astronaut John "Danny" Olivas, STS-117 mission specialist, occupies the commander's station on the flight deck of Space Shuttle Atlantis during flight day 12 activities.  Photo Credit: NASA

What was it like landing the shuttle? Sounds, the smells, the vibrations?

The vibrations are not nearly as pronounced as you might think. It almost seems like you are experiencing some light turbulence on a commercial flight. You can feel it kind of buffeting, like people jumping on the wings, some very minor vibrations. You can really feel when the vehicle is banking, though. But the thing that was most noticeable was the sensation of the onset of gravity. As gravity begins to take hold of you again, every part of your body feels like it’s been just bolted to the floor with a tremendous amount of force. Your head feels very heavy, your arms feel heavy, you feel like it is pulling you down, and the g-load is not high at all, the maximum reported I believe it’s about 1.6 g’s. And when you do that you really feel like you are working hard just trying to stay upright. Even once the shuttle stops you still feel very heavy. Your head feels like a 20 pound bowing ball. Your arms feel like tree limbs and it takes you a while to get over that sensation. Not terribly long, but 45 minutes to an hour. And then after that the world feels like you are on a ship in the ocean. For me, during the first 6 days or so, the world continued to rock back and forth. We arrived on a Friday. By the morning of the following Thursday the sensation finally left me, where I could walk around and I felt fine. But if I was sitting down or lying down or not moving I didn’t have that sensation.  

Did you lose a lot of weight and bone mass?

I lost about 12 pounds of water weight. But I quickly recovered that. We went out to eat Mexican food, so I quickly recovered it. What better way to fill up the void of 12 pounds of water than filling it with chips and salsa (laughter)! 

Why do you need to rehydrate with the salty water before reentry?

Well what you are trying to do is replace some of those fluids that you have lost and give your body an opportunity to recover and you know, the fluid prescription that you get is based on your weight, and for me, I didn’t really have a problem with it, it’s just a lot of water and salt tablets. For me it was 48 ounces of water and 6 to 8 salt tablets, something like that. 

Why do you lose fluids up there, anyway?

What happens is that when you walk around on Earth the blood pulls in our low extremities, like our legs. When you go into space there is a fluid shift which occurs, and so all that blood which is been pulling in your legs comes up into your chest cavity and your head and that’s why everybody looks like their face is kind of swollen. But after a couple of days you eventually evacuate an excess of fluid out of your body, and you stabilize in orbit. But then, coming home, if you don’t have that extra fluid in your body, what happens is that when that fluid shift occurs again you become light headed and are more prone to passing out. So we provide countermeasures to the fact of having been on orbit. 

How’s that little astronaut’s cottage at the Cape ?

It’s a very plain vanilla beach house. Primarily it is there for everyone to get together and have something to eat before the mission. So mostly, people spend the time there on the beach because it is beautiful. You find wonderful shells. My kids went out there with me and any older son found the skull of a turtle, which I thought was kind of cool. My wife and I didn’t have our swim suits with us, so we just got into the water with our clothes on. It was unforgettable. 

That same house was used by astronauts from all those past missions… must feel nice.

It does. You recognize you are in the process of some level of historical significance and, for me, you come to appreciate the gravity of what you are about to embark on. And you appreciate the sacrifices that others have made to bring it to this position, weather those are personal sacrifices within their life. And you certainly, I think every astronaut that’s in the office recognizes the responsibility that’s given to them by the US tax payer and everyone executes their mission with that knowledge, that they are not into it for themselves, but they are representing the entire US in what we do. 

You are working now in what capacity?

I am now in the capcom (office), and I’ll be the lead capcom for Expedition 16. I’ll do that probably until my next assignment. 

Is there a way you can know now if you are going to be in one of the 14 flights remaining left?

When I got back I was told that I had performed satisfactorily. That I would probably have another opportunity to fly on a future shuttle flight, and it will be a function of mission requirements and timing and who’s available and the crew makeup, and a lot of things go into it. Not just how you did before, and if you are qualified, because everyone in the office is qualified, and I think people who haven’t flown in space before, if they have been working at this office they understand how to work in space, so there is less of a dependency on having someone with experience, and you can have someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience making it very well up there. So I will just going to continue doing what I am doing and I am happy to help out in this capacity and I’ll do this until at some point in time when the office needs me or has something else for me to do.  We’ll see. I’m not going to count my chickens before the eggs are hatched. 

What about your family?

You know, I think everyone has had time to assimilate it. Flying in space has a lot of aspects associated to it. There is a very public aspect, but then there’s also another part which is not nearly as public and it is how it affects your personal life and learning how to deal with that and cope with that. Because there is a life change that occurs, certainly with regards with public recognition, I think my family has done really well in coping with the change and eventually things will get back to normal, but in the interim everyone has been doing it very well with things like people whom you don’t know very well keeps coming to ask you for autographs and pictures and what not. 

The Home Planet - The International Space Station's Canadarm2, or Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) and solar array wings are featured in this image photographed by a crewmember on the station while Space Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the orbital complex. The blackness of space and Earth's horizon provides the backdrop for the scene. Photo Credit: NASA

In closing, anything you want to add about the significance of this monumental job you just pulled off and continue to pull, and about NASA, Mars, space  exploration?

The only thing I would offer is that exploration is going to rely on future generations. What we are doing now, today, is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a vast universe out there waiting to be explored that is exciting, as we explore we will learn, we will bring back things that we can’t even imagine today. If we consider where humanity was 40 years ago and what it is today, a significant portion of that was driven because of people’s fascination with space and space exploration. And even if those individuals would not make their way into the NASA program, or never flown in the space shuttle or Apollo or Mercury or Gemini, these individuals were inspired to pursue careers in engineering or science or something that fascinated them, and ultimately, these people went off and did a bunch of other things. And now, as we step into a new age of commercial space flight, there will be even more opportunities for people to get involved into space exploration, and it is our future. 

When you turn around and you look at where we are today, the future lies in front of us, not behind us. And the future is out there, it is in the universe, in exploring and learning and understanding more. As the kids begin to think about what they are going to do with their lives, there’s lots of things to do involving space exploration, weather it is as a journalist or as an astronaut, there’s plenty of ways with which being involved without it having to design a rocket. 

We are inexorably tied to exploring space. There is no way around it, then?

Absolutely. 

So I guess I probably should let you go talk to the ISS, no?

(laughter). I probably should, yes. Look forward to meeting and chat some more in the future over beers. 

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