NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Washington, DC – 16 November 2011
Today is November 16th, 2011. This interview with Pam Melroy is being
conducted for the JSC Oral History Project in Houston, Texas. The
interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Rebecca Wright. Thanks
again for taking time to meet with us. We certainly appreciate it.
I thought we’d start today by talking about what it was like
to be a female astronaut in the Astronaut Office.
Well, it’s interesting, because I’ve certainly talked
to some of the earlier women astronauts and I’ve talked to a
lot of the male astronauts about the women astronauts. It’s
pretty extraordinary, I think, how culturally tough it was for women
in the original group of women and early in the corps. I think that
was very reflective of our society. It was reflective of a military
culture that was in so many of the leadership positions in the Astronaut
So I’m fortunate in my life that I came into the Air Force as
a pilot just at the time that women were being integrated. I think
they started in 1976. I went through pilot training in ’85.
That was pretty significant, because by the time that I went through
pilot training women were just achieving a position of middle management
in the Air Force as pilots. But there were still no senior women managers,
of course. You didn’t see the 20-year colonels. So I had enough
experience, and I came in at a time when the military culture was
already starting to change, because women were in the military as
So I would say that as a military pilot there was no question that
I had a lot of issues with credibility. A lot of it has to do with
my physical appearance, which I’m very proud of. I tell kids
all the time. Do I look like an astronaut? The little three- or four-year-olds
[say], “No!” Their teachers are all horrified. I like
to remind them it’s not what’s on the outside that matters;
it’s what’s on the inside. On the inside, I’m an
astronaut. I always knew I was going to be an astronaut, from being
a little girl. To me you have a lot of choices about how you handle
I accepted and bought into the fact that people looked at me and they
were like, “Oh my God, she looks like my kid sister!”
You’re going to have some credibility issues with that. That
was okay with me because from my perspective if I try to behave more
masculine, not only was I not going to be true to myself, but you
never ever get across the real point, which is you actually don’t
have to be a man to fly an airplane.
So that was very much a part of who I was even when I showed up. But
I will say that going through test pilot school and as a test pilot,
it’s like, “Oh, I spent all those years as an operational
pilot, getting my place, being an instructor, a senior instructor,
and getting the credibility, and starting all the way at the bottom.”
I truly expected the same experience would happen at NASA. It totally
did not. That really surprised me.
The one thing that was clear to me from the beginning was that the
smarter people in the office—and believe me, astronauts are
nothing if not smart—figured out pretty darn quickly that because
I was a pilot, someday I was going to be a commander, likely, and
potentially their boss. It really changes the dynamic in my opinion.
It’s an interesting situation when you come in with that known
quantity. I would say, especially because Eileen [M. Collins] came
in ahead of Sue Still Kilrain, that really helped a lot too and then
the fact that Sue and I came in together. So the office went from
one woman pilot to three women pilots overnight.
Sue and I used to kid about it. There’s still some things. When
you’re out flying, there’s so few women. It was so funny,
it happened to all of us. We’d go out to go fly, and the maintenance
guys would make some comment about a broken jet or coming in late
the other night. You’re just looking at them going I have no
idea what you’re talking about. We began to realize they just
mixed the three of us up all the time. It was like there was a woman
You all look the same.
Yes. Sue used to joke about it. She would say, “I didn’t
have the brain that day. I gave it to one of the other two bodies.”
It was so funny, it really was. Of course it’s a little different
now. There were more women in the office later. A mission specialist
was just as likely to be talking on the radio as a pilot, because
you trade those duties off. At Edwards [Air Force Base, California]
that was a huge deal. You just didn’t hear women’s voices
on the radio at all. So if you made a goofed-up radio call, everyone
was teasing you about it in the club that night.
It wasn’t that bad here in that regard; it was just a little
funny that people mixed us up. But I never got a sense of that credibility
gap from the moment I walked in the door at all. It was just a very
very different place from the military in that regard. I think that
reflects the number of people in the office, the fact that Eileen
went ahead of us, and that she bore the brunt of being the first one.
So by the time Sue and I got there, I think people expected there
to be a lot more women pilots after Sue and I.
So people were like okay, this is just how it’s going to be.
I really never felt an issue with that. That was great, because as
time went on one of the things that that liberated me was to evolve
my leadership style.
One of my first experiences in the Air Force, from a leadership training
perspective, was being shown the movie Twelve O’Clock High.
This is military leadership, you come in, and you hammer them, and
you’re tough, and they respect you. When people start performing,
then you can back off and be a little bit of the nice guy. I’m
rolling on the floor laughing, going “Ugh yeah, might work for
him. Wouldn’t work for me, at all.” If you tried that
kind of tough behavior as a woman, it just doesn’t fly. It really
doesn’t. You end up losing your credibility and just becoming
someone who is not rational.
It’s so interesting. This behavior that was acceptable in men
is irrational when it comes from a woman. It was something that became
a little bit of a topic of interest for me, especially in the military,
trying to understand why there were differences between the way men
and women led; not difference inherent in me, in the person, inherent
in the society in the way that you had to be successful. It took me
a long time to really understand that leadership has a cultural and
a social dimension. It’s how people expect you to behave in
There’s a great military book by John Keegan, a famous military
historian, called The Mask of Command. He talks about the different
leadership and behavioral styles of leaders, all the way from Alexander
the Great to [George S.] Patton, and talks about how individual styles
would never have worked in the cultures if you mixed the culture.
That person would have disappeared. You would have never heard of
them, because they would not have been this charismatic amazing leader.
Because it wouldn’t fit, it wouldn’t fit the needs culturally.
So that was a great experience for me to understand that, because
I thought, “Oh my gosh. One of these days I could be a charismatic
leader even though I’m a woman.” I’d come to this
conclusion long since before, [that] because I wasn’t six-foot-four
and didn’t have a deep voice and didn’t look like everybody’s
vision of a great military leader, I could never be charismatic.
I can’t honestly say that I ever have been charismatic, but
I can also say that there’s no doubt that in certain situations
that social dimension allows you to be more natural and to evolve
your personal leadership style. So for me, what I was able to do was
to become more of a Pam leader, not a woman leader or copying a male
leadership style. I was able to be more individual and authentic.
That’s actually a really important part of leadership, is to
be who you are.
People ask me a lot [about] women’s leadership styles and this
kind of thing. Trust me. There’s dimensions to that. The social
dimension is very important. If you can get beyond it, you can really
evolve to a much higher level. For me this was a place that I could
do that, which was really cool, because I didn’t have to worry
about that stuff.
I guess I have tried. I have really tried to pull stories out of things
that people said to me or whatever times that I felt uncomfortable,
and I just haven’t been able to do it. Also, the other thing
is if anybody ever said anything that made me uncomfortable, I thought
it was dorky, I’d just laugh at them, or I’d call them
on it right on the spot. It just doesn’t happen again after
that. It really just doesn’t when you’re in that situation.
So that was a terrific experience for me [in the Astronaut Office].
I know it’s substantially different than the earlier women,
and I want to acknowledge that. But it was great for me.
I think it’s interesting how you emphasize that you maintained
your femininity. That was so very important to you, and you’re
a test pilot. What’s interesting is you also talk about those
early women. My understanding is that they tried to maintain this
gender-neutralness, to try and be just like the guys. That’s
what they wanted to be, was just like the guys. So you weren’t
one of the guys when you came on board, and said I’m a woman,
and a test pilot, and an astronaut. Is that how you envisioned your
That’s a good question. I think it’s really just trying
to be true to yourself, because I will also tell you that I have a
lot of traditional male personality traits. I think that I am extremely
comfortable pursuing loud and dangerous things. Oh my gosh, one of
the greatest things that just happened to me, I went over to Russia
for the Association of Space Explorers conference. We have a community
day where you go out and give talks. I went to St. Petersburg. So
they have a howitzer that they shoot off at noon every day in St.
Petersburg. It’s how people set their [clocks], especially before
digital things. It’s like the whole city lives on time, when
the cannon goes off at noon, that’s the time. So they offer
it to dignitaries if they could do it.
I had so much fun. My interpreter is just cowering. She’s this
sweet little lady, four months pregnant, and she’s just cowering.
She’s like, “It’s going to be really loud.”
I’m like, “Yes!” So I have to say that I didn’t
have any trouble mixing and blending with men, because I was truly
interested in a lot of the same things and really have a lot of those
perspectives. I think it’s more about just being true to myself,
every piece of me. Not just the piece that liked flying and is proud
of being a warrior in the military and those things. I take those
things really seriously. So those naturally are the things that are
easier to talk about. If you’re talking about flying and those
kinds of things, it’s very easy to blend with men.
But I would never hesitate or pretend that, “Hey guys you’re
going sightseeing but there’s a really cute shoe shop right
around the corner, I’ll see you later. I’m heading off
over there,” and not worry about whether somebody would say,
“What’s up with that?”
It’s the parts that are traditionally feminine; I’m not
trying to hide them or camouflage them or pretend to be a different
person. It’s really about being as true to myself as I could
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Some of what you’re saying suggests to me that you are.
Yes. I don’t know why people think it’s a bad word. I
guess yes, I absolutely do. In the sense that I think I guess maybe
in a sense I’m a humanist, that we all have the right to be
who we are, for whoever we are. To me that’s what feminism is
about, is being true to who I am.
You also mentioned something that I find interesting about the Astronaut
Office, about the fact that you were coming in, and at some point
people recognized that you would be a commander. So there seems to
be a status within the office for the mission specialists and the
pilots. Can you talk about that hierarchy?
Oh you truly can’t have never heard about that before. Yes,
it really is shocking. It took me a long time to understand that it
is human nature that you have this very narrow slice of the human
race. What do we do? We organize ourselves into stratums and layers,
not cliques, but categories and criteria and who’s a better
astronaut. It’s so complicated, because people have these different
personalities, and these different backgrounds, and they all bring
something different to the table. It’s really human nature,
you just do it. If you get people in a room together, and it is very
logical, and it made perfect sense to have the pilots be the commanders
on the Space Shuttle. Really there’s really no way you can not
have that. As a result though having military experience was so highly
valued, and for good reason.
The teamwork and the leadership training that you get in the military,
there’s a given when you meet someone and you know that they’ve
had at least some of that. It doesn’t mean they’re great
at it automatically. One of the challenges that NASA has had I think
is the fact that the military leadership style is really again only
a narrow slice of all the possible styles that you can have. You’re
trained in that style to be successful in that specific situation.
Some of the risk aspects really carry over. So having those leadership
traits and skills really helps, but so many of the things that you
do aren’t similar to the military. Then you’ve got civilians
who have a very different perspective, both on themselves and the
team and the mission.
So you have to dig a little deeper into your leadership bag and not
just pull out the same response or the same tools that you would use
as a military officer. That’s been tough. I think that because
the leadership of the office for so long was military, and they were
pilots, there certainly was some kind of a status difference, without
I know you’ll hear it from the mission specialists. From my
perspective it was really about evaluating somebody’s past experience
and how much leadership experience they had, and operational experience.
You don’t put somebody who’s got 50 hours in a light airplane
in the front seat of a T-38; you just don’t do it. It’s
not a smart idea.
As mission specialists are in the office longer and they pick up those
operational skills—and certainly with the leadership programs
that NASA has in place now—I’ve seen some terrific, terrific
leaders in our MS [mission specialists] corps. Peggy [A.] Whitson
is a great example of that.
Tell us about those first few days when you came down here, and you
were a candidate. Do you remember those meetings?
Oh. It was great. It was so much fun. It was a really good class.
I think I interviewed with a bunch of them, so I already knew them.
We just had a great experience. It was a very blended class. We had
a lot of internationals. We had a lot of women. For me having Sue
in the class was great. We hit it off right away and became really
close friends, which we still are. It was a terrific experience. I
think again the big thing is how to stop treating mission specialists
like, “You can’t trust those guys.”
It’s really funny. Watching us organize even things like the
Christmas skit, and who you put in charge of what. I always had this
really strong sense when I looked around the Astronaut Office. “Hey,
we are going to be the leaders of the office in about five or ten
And sure enough, it’s the case. You find yourself sitting around
at the morning meeting, where all the branch chiefs are at the table,
and all the rest of the astronauts are sitting out in the chairs.
Only the branch chiefs sit in the middle table. Looking around and
seeing that three quarters of them were my classmates. I knew from
the moment we came in that that was going to happen, and that our
ability to bond was going to reflect how well we were going to lead
the office together in the future.
What were some of your first assignments when you came in?
Well, I was training. Then I went to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida]
and worked as a Cape Crusader. Mike [Michael P.] Anderson was with
me. That was so great. Mike was such a wonderful guy. So that was
just a really wonderful opportunity to be with him. He just is such
a great person. We had so much fun, and we were learning everything
together. Oh, talk about nerve-racking. The first time you go inside
the Shuttle and you’re working on stuff and getting it ready,
and you’re just so nerve-racked.
I’m trying to remember the mission. It was the Tethered Satellite,
I know that. Scott [J.] Horowitz was the pilot and I think Andy [Andrew
M.] Allen was the commander. It was my first mission. One of the Pc
meters, one of the meters that told you that the engines were performing,
dropped to like 50% on liftoff, or after they lifted off and they
throttled back. It didn’t throttle back up. The engine was actually
working fine, but the meter failed. So Mike Anderson and I of course
were standing on the roof of the LCC [Launch Control Center] and listening
to this. We both had the same thought at the same time. We looked
at each other when we heard this. We’re like, “It wasn’t
something I did, was it?” We were both so scared, “Oh
my gosh, I was in the cockpit an hour ago, did I do something?”
Very funny. Very funny. That was an amazing experience to do that.
It’s also really special to spend time with the people in Florida
[Kennedy Space Center, KSC]. They are so intimately bonded with their
hardware. Their rhythm, their patterns, very different, but I learned
to be very respectful of that. I also loved the intimacy of spending
the last couple moments on Earth with the crew. That was definitely
my favorite part of that job, was that last 45 minutes before you
close the hatch because the crew has got a million things on their
mind. They have to do com [communication] checks. So they actually
rely on the Cape Crusader to help remind you, “Say this, and
don’t forget the person you’re talking to, her name is
Roberta. So it might be nice if you said, ‘Good morning Roberta.’”
You hear it all the time, you hear astronauts [say], “Good morning,
Roberta; how you doing, Jim?” In some cases they really do know
them that well but rarely. There’s someone coaching them and
reminding them, “Hey that’s who is on the other end of
the line.” So to do that, to spend those few minutes helping
them get through that preflight and looking around. Any last tweaks,
you want me to move that a couple inches to the right; you want me
to take that down, is really really wonderful. The same thing with
bringing them home, being the first one into the cockpit and seeing
How do you train for that position? Is there a lead Crusader?
There’s a lead Cape Crusader who trains you. You have to go
in shadow mode for multiple experiences before you can actually lead
and be prime is what we called it. That was great. I got to prime.
I think I primed four or five times.
One of the times it was not my turn, but Mike Anderson came down with
a dreadful cold two days before we were all supposed to fly to Cape.
So even though I hadn’t been working with this crew I ended
up priming and strapping them in anyway. Not that I didn’t love
it; I loved every minute of it. It was so cool. It was just great.
One of my favorite memories actually from that was Bill [William F.]
Readdy. That was STS-81. It was his last flight in space. He’d
gone to Mir. It was already a special flight because Marsha [S.] Ivins
was on it. She was the one who was the lead Cape Crusader who taught
me to be a Cape Crusader, starting a long friendship between us. So
it was really special I think for both of us to have me strap her
in as prime. That was a neat experience.
Everybody at the Cape knows her so well, because she’s done
that so much. There are all kinds of special jokes and little inside
jokes that we had going on. So helped everybody out of the seat. Then
it was only Bill left to get out of the left seat after the landing.
I said gently, “Bill, I’m ready to take over now.”
He was like, “I just want to think about it for a minute.”
Okay. So I sat down in the pilot’s seat, and I said, “What
you thinking about Reads?” He said, “That was cool.”
He started telling me a little bit about going to Mir, and how much
landing the Shuttle meant to him.
He left to go up to [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC] shortly afterwards.
It was really clear he knew this was his last time in the Shuttle.
Just to be able to sit with him for a few minutes in the right seat
and let him talk about that, because he wasn’t ready to let
it all go yet. At that time, when you haven’t flown yet, it
was just like magic. You felt like you were this far away from being
in space. You were so close to it. You could smell the ozone. It was
right there. For him to share that with me, especially as a young
new astronaut who had not flown, that was actually really special.
Sometimes we talk about it, when I’ve seen him since then, and
how nice that was to share that moment. All kinds of funny stories.
I’ve got a lot of funny stories from the Cape.
I can imagine. I understand that’s one of the prime jobs, I
guess, in the astronaut corps.
Oh it is. It’s so much fun. Yes, but it’s hard. It’s
operationally very rigorous. So it’s very comfortable for me
as a military pilot. Nothing that isn’t comfortable to a professional
pilot in terms of the rigors and the checklist following and some
of those other things. For some of our folks who are not operational,
it was actually hard and gave them an opportunity to learn more about
an operational environment. So I think more stressful perhaps for
them than it was— although I was pretty stressed whenever I
strapped a crew in, don’t get me wrong. You’re on a timeline.
I can imagine. Then you also did some CapComing [Capsule Communicating].
I did. I CapComed. Let’s see. That was between my second and
third mission. I trained as an ISS [International Space Station] CapCom.
It would have been fun to have been a Shuttle CapCom. I think I would
have enjoyed that, but that training flow is very intense for ascent
and entry. They were in a lot of demand, and I frankly didn’t
have time to spend doing that. So I could only really do it part-time.
But I did get to be the lead for STS-115, Brent [W.] Jett’s
flight, delivering the solar array. That’s a great experience
That’s a different kind of thing. You really go through everything
with the crew in the simulator and on orbit. I really enjoyed that
too. You even get to know their families a little bit that way as
well. They give you the wakeup music. You’re in charge of all
that stuff. That’s a really interesting experience, because
you’re sitting next to a flight director who is in charge and
telling you what to say. But how to translate it to the crew and how
to guess in your head what it is they’re doing at that exact
moment and in the shortest number of words can you give them the flavor
of the situation. Also recognizing everyone in the world is listening
on air-to-ground. It’s a hectic thing on a Station assembly
flight to be a CapCom. There’s always drama during the spacewalks
so you’re really trying to rack your brain all the time. What
are they doing? What do they need from us? How long should we talk
Probably some of the most rewarding time I spent on console was when
Bill [William S.] McArthur was in space as an Expedition crew member,
because I’d flown with him on my first flight. I knew Billy
Mac well enough that he was probably a little lonely. He’s pretty
social. So I knew him well enough to know he was probably a little
lonely on orbit. So I always tried to talk to him like I was sitting
right next to him in the simulator. I’d call him Billy Mac,
his other nicknames, Number Two and all this other stuff. Sometimes
heads would turn in mission control. Everybody’d be like, “What’d
you just call him? What’d you just say to him?”
Nothing unprofessional but just with a certain level of friendship,
the intimacy that comes with friendship. Shannon [W.] Lucid and he
had flown together. He said it was always great when Shannon or I
was on console, because it was like he was talking to us in the same
room. So that was a great experience, I liked that.
What did you take from your first mission that you applied to being
That’s a great question. It is not impossible to be a CapCom
before you’ve flown. A lot of people have done it and done a
very good job. But in the end you’re really restricted in your
ability to truly understand what’s going on in space, and how
much time to give people for certain things. What they might need
to know immediately versus what they’re probably not very worried
Because unless you’ve done certain things, like postinsertion
or rendezvous and docking in the simulator from the crew side, it’s
really hard to know what’s going on. Where if you’ve flown
you’re like, “Oh yes half the crew is downstairs having
lunch. This is a good time to call them; they’re not busy.”
You know that. You just know that pace and that rhythm. I think that’s
the one thing that you carry forward.
What were some of your other assignments before you were given a flight?
Well, I went off to work CRV, the crew return vehicle, with Rick [D.]
Husband and that was also a fantastic experience. Talk about another
tremendous human being. Rick was so much fun. He always used to say,
[when] I’d [say], “I don’t understand this.”
He would say in that deep voice, “Well don’t be feeling
like the Lone Ranger.” It always used to make me laugh.
So we just worked side by side on all kinds of things, everything.
One of the memories that I actually treasure—somebody recently
sent me some pictures from it—is once we flew out to California
and met Pete [Charles] Conrad and talked to some of the folks that
had the DC-X experience that were looking at working on another vehicle
for the Air Force. They wanted inputs on display design, which was
a big thing that Rick and I were doing. So that was a great experience
to just go out and give a little consulting, tell them what we were
thinking about. As a test pilot in the Air Force you don’t work
a lot on developmental stuff. You work on things after the design
period, and you’re testing it to see if it’s operationally
suitable. You know enough as a test pilot to understand what has gone
into it, and what the basic principles need to be. But it’s
a very different thing starting with a blank sheet of paper. That’s
not something that they teach you much about in the Air Force, and
that was what we were doing.
It was fun. Rick and I flew everywhere. We went to talk to the folks
who were designing displays for UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]. This
was like in 1996 so it was a long time ago. It’s all these secure
facilities. We flew up to the Phantom Works in St. Louis [Missouri].
We flew to Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base, Ohio]. We flew to Pax
River [Naval Air Station, Maryland]. We went everywhere together on
each other’s wing. That was a lot of fun. It was almost like
being assigned together, because usually pilot and commander fly everywhere
together on each other’s wing. You really get to know each other
that way through flying.
Rick was on my wing when I lost an engine coming back from El Paso
[Texas] one night. Great stories there. It was a lot of fun.
Tell us about that story, about losing an engine.
Oh, it was a bad night. There were thunderstorms. We realized we had
to divert to San Antonio [Texas]. Air traffic control was horsing
around giving us approval. We were up at like 41,000 feet, and I had
to make a pretty hard turn. It is very well known in those engines
that at superhigh altitude, especially in unstable air, they are prone
to flaming out. So I got it restarted, but it’s in the dark,
in the weather, in the middle of a divert. Rick was great. He obviously
couldn’t keep up with me. We had to separate, but he was flying
around me and staying nearby. We were both talking to air traffic
control. He’s helping me with the checklist. I got the engine
restarted and came back in and landed in San Antonio. We went in and
said, “Holy cow!”
We had to spend the night in San Antonio. They made me fly back in
his backseat because they didn’t want me to fly the airplane
home. It’s fine. It just happens. The engine doesn’t do
well with that. It was a nice thing actually to hear his voice in
the dark as I’m flipping through the checklist with a handful
of jet in the dark at night in the weather, to have him there. It
wasn’t earth-shattering. It’s dangerous in that it’s
distracting and more difficult. The airplane flies fine. You just
need to follow some rules. You’re doing a procedure you don’t
do very often so the potential for making a mistake is very high.
I think that’s what makes it dangerous, [it’s] not inherently
dangerous to fly without an engine.
It’s interesting that you both took planes. How come you weren’t
just taking one plane with you?
Great question. Pilots, we need our flying time. You’ve got
to get it in the front seat. You have to have that experience, a minimum
number of hours. So that was why. That’s why I did that all
the time with my pilots too when I was a commander and when I was
a pilot for my commander. If you have an MS that wanted to go but
believe me, flying an STA [Shuttle Training Aircraft] at El Paso until
11:00 at night is not exactly their idea of a good time and a great
way to get their flying time. So a lot of times when you were flying
those STAs out there on a night range nobody was in your backseat,
because nobody really cared. They didn’t want to go with you.
Oh, that’s too bad.
Yes I know. But they were still getting their hours.
How many hours did you have to fly as a pilot in the office?
Fifteen hours a month. The typical flight time is about 1.3. So it
works out to be 11 or 12 sorties a month. So when you think about
that, that’s two and a half a week kind of thing, something
like that. That’s a full day of flying.
Did you ever practice something like emergency landings? Or was it
pretty much just flying?
Oh no, no, absolutely. In fact it would be deathly boring if you didn’t
do some of that stuff. Usually what we did, we’d fly formation
together, which was challenging. Always have to get a certain number
of instrument approaches, either in real instrument conditions or
under the hood, which isn’t very much fun. It’s flying
in the backseat. Actually I really liked it. I shouldn’t say
that because I’m a little bit different. I always liked instrument
flying. I found it challenging and fun. The only hard part is usually
you didn’t end up landing from the backseat, because landing
in the backseat of the T-38 is pretty squirrelly so the instructors
did that. When you were flying under the hood you flew in the backseat
and you literally pull the hood. It’s dark. It’s pitch-black
in there like you’re flying in instrument conditions. Then you
pull the hood back at the right altitude, but you don’t actually
usually land. So you got to get a certain number of those kinds of
hours so you’d fly to local bases and shoot approaches. A lot
of times we would get our flying time going to and from our STAs or
flying to and from the Cape.
Good heavens. When I was a Cape Crusader and I worked Columbia reconstruction,
I was going out there once a week. So I was getting all the flying
time I needed. There was not a problem with that. I almost always
had somebody in my backseat who needed to go to the Cape for something.
Those are better.
I personally really enjoy pattern work. So I like to go around the
traffic pattern and do an engine-out landing and a no-flap landing
and a single engine go-around. I enjoy that. It’s fun.
Do you miss flying the T-38s?
I do. I really do. It got hard at the end when I was working as a
branch chief on Orion. I was going to so many meetings and I was so
interested in the programmatics, I really wanted to learn about program
management, that I scheduled myself very tightly. I found myself getting
into places where I’d schedule one day for the week to go fly
and go get all my flying time for the week, and then the weather was
bad, or they didn’t have a jet for me. Then that really was
tough because then I was flying at night and on the weekends, and
I was just trying to get flying time. The last year or two was not
that much fun because I was just grinding all the time. It’s
always great. Walking out to the airplane, flying it was always fun.
But I always felt like I was under so much time pressure that it wasn’t
the best use of my time at the moment. So now I’ve been gone
for a couple years I really miss it.
Tell us about being selected for that first flight and hearing the
news that you’re going to be on a crew.
Well, it was tough because I wasn’t the last person in my class
to be assigned, but I was the last one to fly, because we were waiting
for the Russian Service Module to get launched. So that was tough.
It was so exciting to be assigned, but we were assigned for almost
three years. The rest of the crew loved it. They’re having a
ball. They know that being assigned to train is like the best place
to be in the Astronaut Office. It’s really the best it gets
in a lot of ways. So they were all having a blast, but I just wanted
to go get my first flight. It was hard watching all my classmates
go fly and waiting for my turn. I was very anxious but what an amazing
There’s a couple of observations that I would make about astronauts.
One of them is that they’re very very competitive people. They
would not be where they were if they weren’t competitive. They’re
perfectionists. They like the hardest thing out there. Real challenging
for a commander, because everybody wants to do the hardest thing on
board and nobody’s worried about who’s running the computers
and stowage. You have to have those little jobs that are less fun,
and someone has to do them.
You’ve got all these really smart people. Then you’re
starting from scratch. You don’t have to break someone’s
culture, because it’s a new crew. You’re not trying to
change things. You are trying to create a new culture. So what you’re
really limited by is the willingness of the people to merge into a
team, whether they really value that or not.
I believe that. On the STS-92 crew, you want to talk about some extremely
diverse personalities and backgrounds, it was a very diverse crew
from a personality perspective. But everyone wanted to merge. Everyone
wanted it to be close and fun, to know each other’s families.
We spent a huge amount of time socializing together. We used to go
to Molly’s [Pub] after simulators or after flying over just
off El Camino [Real] over there. After we flew they put like a roof
over their little outside picnic tables, which is where we always
sat. We’re like, “Ooh, STS-92 must have paid for that,”
because we were there almost once a week. After a simulator or after
flying together we would all get together.
That was extraordinary because it gave us a place where we could talk
about things that had not gone well in training or knotty problems
that we had to face. It gave us this very relaxed social environment
to work out those issues. The only issue that we had really in the
end was that we were so close to each other that we had so many inside
jokes that no one had a clue what we were talking about. Somebody
would say something, we’d all respond, and then everybody would
laugh. People were like, “What?” So in that regard we
were almost a little closed ecosystem of our own.
Brian [Duffy] is a fantastic leader and taught me so much. A lot of
it is that his leadership style is very different than mine. That’s
a fantastic experience, because when someone’s leadership style
is very similar to yours—and I would say that Jeff [Jeffrey
S.] Ashby, my second commander, my classmate, we really had a lot
of things in common. The way we approach problems, the way we think,
the way we solve problems, which made us a very harmonious team in
a lot of ways. The way the information flowed from him to me was that
he would tell me about his thought process or relate experiences that
he was considering when he was making a decision. So it’s about
the information. He was transferring experience and information to
Brian on the other hand rarely did that, which was frustrating for
me initially because I just wanted to know. I wanted to hear the stories.
I wanted to know what the answer was. Brian instead is someone who
would rather have everyone in the room think it was their idea. So
he never tells anybody what to do, or very very rarely. Instead he
creates an environment where questions get asked. He knows how to
make things happen without making it appear that he had a hand in
it. So it really is such an evolved form of leadership. A good leader
is someone who everybody says, “That’s a good leader;
she’s a good leader. Look at what she just did, that was a good
leader.” Brian is the kind of leader where everyone says, “Aren’t
we a great team? Didn’t we do such a fantastic job on that?”
It’s only if you know all the mechanics that are going into
it behind it. He did amazing things by just making a phone call or
just asking a question in the right place that directs everyone’s
attention to the core problem and gets everyone else and all the levers
moving. He is a master at organizational dynamics. He would call one
person and ask a question, and stuff that really needed to happen—that
you could have spent hours or days trying to work up a chain—it
would just happen naturally. Everybody thought it was their idea.
It was amazing to watch. He’s really an extraordinary leader
in that regard.
As you can tell, obviously somebody who has absolutely no ego whatsoever
and is about getting things done. I think for him, the joy was really
in the social relationship and the fact that we did work together
so well, and we had so much fun doing it.
We flew the first IMAX 3D camera. That was a great part of the mission
for me. I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Here I am. I’m an
astronaut.” I thought it was the coolest job in the world. I
get to direct my own scene and film for an internationally released
movie. How could this be happening. How cool is that when your name
rolls in the credits, and you’re sitting there watching this
in this movie? It was so cool. It was terrifying too. The film costs
like $12,000 a foot. We agonized over everything with it. It really
made me fall in love with photography to do it, to really have that
Rats. I lost what I was talking about. It was Brian and IMAX. It’ll
come back to me. But there’s a story there. There’s so
many stories about IMAX I can’t even remember which one it was.
Sorry, got off in a ditch.
Not a problem. Do you want to tell us about that scene, the scene
from the IMAX movie that you directed?
We had one [camera] in the back [of the payload bay] so I ran that
most of the time. There were some really great scenes from the payload
bay. But the ones I think that mean the most to me are the ones that
we filmed [using the camera] inside, because we actually had to measure
the light, measure the distance. We had a little light meter. Then
you’re driving this camera. Which no kidding, it had handles
on it because it was that big. It was about two and a half feet across
and about a foot and a half high and maybe two feet deep. The rolls
of film were about the size of a large pizza, double, like that. One
of the things that scared me the most was changing the film.
We practiced it on the ground, but it wasn’t easy. It had this
clocking thing to it. This giant thing that I could barely get my
hands around the roll of film. Trying to get it in. It had a very
specific clocking. Even here on the ground doing that in a dark bag
up to your armpits was very very tough to do. It was a real act of
courage on orbit when I said, “Yep, I’m going to do it.”
I stuck my hands in that bag, and I’m like, “I’m
not coming out until I get it done.” We actually have it in
the crew movie. My face just lights up when I finally got it into
place, but it probably took me 20 minutes to do that, of fooling around
with it to get it in there. It was pretty nerve-racking. After about
15 minutes I’m thinking, “What’s going to happen
if I can’t change the film?” That was fun.
I was the baby on that flight. Everybody else had flown in space.
We waited so long to fly that I had worked myself into a complete
frenzy, because I was so afraid that I was going to do something wrong.
I was going to let my crew down. I was going to let our nation’s
space program down. I just needed to go fly.
There’s so much you don’t know. You don’t know if
you’re going to get sick. You don’t know if you’re
going to be able to use the bathroom. You don’t know if you’re
going to make a mistake that will ruin your career that you’ll
never fly again. It doesn’t happen often, but it does occasionally
happen that people really just don’t take to it and can’t
handle the stress of the environment very well. We got up on orbit.
I started not feeling good after a few hours, which is pretty typical.
I tried everything so they left me upstairs while they were getting
the downstairs ready. One or other of my crew members would come up.
“Okay, try sitting on the floor with your back against the wall,
and your feet pressed against the pilot’s seat,” all these
little tricks that people learn. “Sit here. Do this. Try that.”
Finally I’m sure I just looked totally woebegone. So Brian said
right then, “We’re giving you the shot.” “Okay.”
So they gave me a shot of Phenergan. I was super sleepy because it
makes you sleepy. I was having a problem actually with that. I talked
about it to the doctors when I got back. I’d never heard of
it before. It’s called the sopite effect. It’s a reaction
to motion sickness that makes you really sleepy. It’s like your
brain pulls all the circuit breakers, says I don’t have a clue
what’s going on here, and you’re so [sleepy]. I was like
through peanut butter—everything. I was so tired.
Then they gave me this shot which completely knocked me out, and they
stuffed me into my sleeping bag. The next morning I woke up, and it
was a whole new world. I slept through it. My brain had adapted. My
body had adapted. I was just like, “How cool is this?”
I was going head first, which is a big no-no if you get space sickness,
from the flight deck down to the middeck. It’s just a hole.
There’s a ladder there in gravity. But you don’t worry
about that stuff.
One of the ways that you try to keep yourself from getting too sick
is maintaining orientation with up and down. This is the ceiling,
this is the floor, it just helps a little bit. I was shooting head
first down into the middeck. I felt great. I felt great for the rest
of the mission. That was a wonderful thing. I remember Mike LA [Michael
E. Lopez-Alegria] said to me about six or seven days into the flight.
He’s like, “Whoa. You have gone from not knowing how to
brush your teeth to you could probably command. You could figure this
out.” It was great, it was just great. It was such a supportive
environment for me to go through that.
When we waved off it was even better, because we were all so tired.
We’d done four back-to-back EVAs [Extravehicular Activities]
attached to the Space Station—not from the ISS airlock, which
didn’t exist. There was no one on board the Station. We were
the last crew to visit before people lived up there. It was a little
bit like going into a hotel room. You open the hatch, you spread out;
you go in and hang out. So it was a very different experience from
my other two flights to do that.
We owned the Station as much as anybody did, at that time. We had
had a very rough undocking day because we had some issues and problems.
We had an electrical bus short the day we were supposed to install
both the Z-1 Truss and PMA [Pressurized Mating Adapter]-3. That was
an amazing experience, because I had seen many of the malfunction
scenarios, but I’d never seen all of them at once.
The caution and warning, it was off; it was pages, pages and pages
and pages of them. I had no idea what was going on. Then they told
us we’d lost payload bus 3 because of an electrical short, which
later they determined was because of the Space Vision System. We powered
it on early the night before, per the direction of the ground, because
they wanted to monitor it. It was so critical.
This camera system was absolutely critical for installing these two
pieces of Space Station. What did it do? It shorted itself and the
whole payload bus 3 which had our attachments to the Station and all
kinds of things. That’s why we got all those warnings. It was
pretty funny. Later when we talked about it we said we used absolutely
every piece of flight data file we carried. That’s really unusual.
A lot of times you carry books that you never touch. They’re
there in case of an emergency. We used every single book, including
malfunction books. So we pulled that out and did a merging of two
IFMs (in-flight maintenances). I read the checklist and started that
There’s a really great picture of Billy Mac and Koichi Wakata
and I working together on rewiring the Shuttle electrical system.
At the very end we had to literally rewire a cable with pins. Looking
at these teeny tiny little pins. [N.] Wayne Hale was the flight director.
He called up, and he’s like, “Are you guys about ready
to plug that thing in?” I’m like, “Wayne, I’ve
checked it about seven times. I think I’m ready.” He was
just laughing. He’s like, “Yes, I know what you mean.”
So we did, but it took us a while to recover from that. It took us
like four hours down on the timeline and that just rippled through
the whole mission. We had a lot of other great experiences on the
flight. A lot of stories with the spacewalks, especially testing the
SAFER [Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue] for the first time where Jeff
[Peter J.K.] Wisoff and Mike LA got the opportunity. They were hooked
by a loose tether but they were floating and flying using the SAFER.
We’ve got great video of it. It had to have been an amazing
Not like Bruce McCandless going way way out but still pretty darn
cool. Flying a little jet pack around. It was a great mission, but
on the last day it became clear that we didn’t have time to
back out of the Station. There’s procedures, and there was nobody
on the other side. We had steps we had to follow.
So we just said okay. They sent us up. So I’m reading the morning
mail. I’m getting the sense that we might have a lot to do before
what was essentially about 10:00 in the morning body clock. At the
time, because there was nobody aboard the Station to back us up for
punching us off in case something happened, we had to undock over
a Russian ground site. So we had a five-minute window that we had
to undock. I said to the crew, “I’m a little worried about
how much time we have.”
They were like, “Okay. Well maybe we’ll get started now.”
So it was like, “Good.” I wasn’t doing any of the
back-out stuff. I was doing all the stuff in the Shuttle cockpit.
Me and Billy Mac were getting the Shuttle part of things ready.
So we’re all working through that. I’m calling down. Now
I’m hearing the ground calling them. I’m hearing Brian’s
voice starting to get stressed for the first time I’ve ever
heard it. They’re really down in the timeline. I’m looking
at what they have left to do in procedure and how much time we have.
I even said to Brian, “Maybe we should wave off a rev,”
and he was like, “No. We’re going to get it done.”
So it was really tense. I mean really really tense trying to get everything
done. I could hear them. I went down there a couple times. Koichi
was doing stuff, and Brian was like, “Next. Next. Next.”
That was pretty funny. Then we all got up into the cockpit with like
five or ten minutes to spare. The ground called us up to do something.
Billy Mac said—I went to reach for the switch that they called—he
said, “Stop!” We all froze and looked at each other and
said, “What? They called us and told us to throw the switch.”
He said, “If you throw that switch it’ll invalidate the
leak check.” I went, “Okay.”
So he grabbed the mike, and he called the ground. I’m looking
at Brian and going, “What do we do? They told us to do it.”
There was this long silence from the ground. They’re like, “Yep
Bill you’re right; thanks, good catch.” So we weren’t
the only ones who were feeling a little stressed. I think everybody
was pushing it.
Now that I think about it, this was a pretty amazing mission. It was
also the mission that—I don’t know if I should tell this
story. It was so funny. It was so funny. It was the funniest thing
that I have ever seen in space. This is my best dine out story.
We had a problem with the toilet. It would not sweep. It’s a
mesh bag. It’s got a metallic bottom, and it’s got a sweeper
bar so you can sweep all the poop over into the corner and make it
open. Otherwise it just floats in there. It gets a little crowded.
You start to worry about it floating out when you open the toilet
You have to sweep it about seven or eight days into the flight so
Jeff and I got out the tool to sweep it. We’re cranking on the
crank. It gets about halfway. Rr. Rr. [Imitates cranking] I’m
like I’m going to overtorque this. Rr. [Imitates cranking] We
called down to the ground. They were like, “Hm okay.”
They said, “Get out the opera gloves.” The opera gloves
are something that you carry on every mission. It’s what it
sounds like. They’re rubber gloves that go all the way up the
arm. They are exactly for this purpose, because you got to get your
hand down in there and scoop poop off to the side. Break the clots
or whatever it is that’s causing it to not move.
Well, oh my gosh, this just broke Jeff’s heart in like five
different ways. First of all, we never found the opera gloves. They
found them when they destowed, but he and I tore the place apart looking
for the opera gloves. Finally we had to face the fact. We couldn’t
find the opera gloves. What are we going to use in its place?
So we had a big conversation, and the ground is suggesting maybe using
a Ziploc bag, big Ziploc bag. We’re like well. So finally Jeff
had the idea that we would use an elbow bag. In the toilet, there
is a place where you tuck your toilet paper, because it doesn’t
go down into [the toilet]. The bag has a little crook in it. It’s
in the wall. So you stick it down in. It’s called the elbow
bag because it’s got a little bit of an elbow. It’s got
a little flat bottom on it.
So he’s like, “Yes, let’s use the elbow bag.”
Great. So we had this plan. We had everything out. I start getting
out extra Ziplocs, because we realize it’s going to be a toxic
mess. Then Jeff starts gibbering. I’ve never heard Jeff gibber
before. “Jeff, why are you gibbering?”
He’s like, “Can’t -- we’re not -- you.”
“What? Spit out, Jeff, what’s the problem here?”
Finally after like partial sentences, I suddenly realized that Jeff
Wisoff is too much of a gentleman to let a lady stick her hand down
the toilet. It’s my job; I’m the pilot, it’s my
job. So I’m laughing. I’m going, “Okay Jeff. You
can stick your hand down the toilet,” whatever.
We dress-rehearse everything: how he’s going to pull his arm
out; I’m going to be there with the Ziploc bag; I’m going
to get it; then I’m going to roll it down and tie it up, just
to keep it from being a mess. We’re ready to do this.
When you open the toilet lid it’s got a little bit of suction
just to keep everything in and keep it from floating out. That’s
a little ssk [imitates suction] on the bottom of the thing. He gets
down in there. He’s scooping things around and moving it out
of the way. He’s like, “Yes, this is working. It’s
going to be fine.”
Suddenly he stops. He looks at me. I’m like, “What? What?
What?” He goes, “The bottom of the bag is stuck flat on
the bottom.” So those little suckers had gone ssk. [Imitates
sound] He was pulling and pulling and pulling. He could not get the
bag back out.
So he’s like this, looking at me. [Demonstrates] Koichi was
doing something else in the middeck. Everybody else was over in the
ISS doing something. I’m thinking to myself I really don’t
know what to do. I’m looking at him. We’ve definitely
got some tension. Koichi is like, “What’s going on?”
I’m like, “Well he’s stuck. The bag is stuck to
the bottom.” So Koichi goes, “Should I get the camera?”
Both Jeff and I looked right at him and at the same exact second said,
“No!” Although now I wish I hadn’t. But at the time
we were both really clear on the fact—no cameras.
So I’m like, “Okay we’re going to have to call Brian.”
I think Jeff said, “Call Brian, he’ll know what to do.”
So I get the microphone, and I’m just calling through intercom
over to the ISS. I’m about ready to key the mike and I’m
looking at Jeff, and he’s looking at me. That was when it hit.
We both started laughing. We were hysterical. I keyed the mike. I
said, “Brian, you got to get over here, we really need you.”
On the other end he hears this. He’s looking at everybody, and
he’s like, “What’s wrong? Is she crying?”
So they were like, “Something’s wrong.” Brian is
flying through the Station to come back to the Shuttle. What does
he find? He finds me and Koichi rolling, rolling in little balls around
the middeck. We’re laughing so hard the tears are coming down
our eyes. Even Jeff with his arm stuck in is hysterical; we’re
all hysterical. So we finally get the point across to him that we’re
laughing, we’re not crying, and that we need his help.
He and I got on either side of Jeff, and we did like a one two three
and grabbed the upper edge of the bag, and pulled with all our might,
and got it out. We got the thing. Then got this and then we finally
did the thing with the torque and got it swept and all the other stuff.
Then I had to get on the radio. I grabbed the microphone. I was looking
at Jeff and looking at Brian and thinking I have no idea what to say
to the ground. So all I said was, “It’s fixed, and Jeff
is more of a hero than I think anybody will ever know.” That
So we were telling this story, not all of it, but a piece of it during
our landing party on the ground. Jeff Wisoff got up and said, “Yep
life of the astronaut. One day your hand is in an EVA glove. The other
day it’s down the toilet. It’s just how it is.”
It was a great story. It was the funniest [event]. It was the most
I ever laughed, ever in my whole life. I was really helpless. I was
so hysterical. It was pretty funny.
I was very happy to land on that flight. We diverted to Edwards, and
we waved off a couple days. We all had time. We were very rested when
we came in to land. Edwards was where I had been a pilot. It was the
best flying there of my whole life. So when we rolled out on the runway
there, and I looked at this place that meant so much to me, and I
realized I’d made it all the way through the flight without
screwing anything up—too badly anyway—you couldn’t
touch me for like a year.
You couldn’t make me mad. You couldn’t upset me. You couldn’t
make me sad. I was as happy as I had ever been. It was a really great
One of the things that the first flight teaches you is that you can
do it. What you also learn when you get into your second training
flow is all the things that could have gone wrong. When I got ready
to fly STS-112 with Jeff Ashby, that was a different crew. Jeff had
flown twice in space as a pilot. I’d flown once. We also had
Dave [David A.] Wolf, but Dave’s last flight had been to Mir.
He hadn’t flown as a Shuttle crew member for like ten years.
We had three rookies: Sandy [Sandra H.] Magnus, Piers [J.] Sellers
and Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Sandy and Piers have never been close. They weren’t close when
they were classmates. Fyodor, really I think he felt like he had a
lot to prove as a first time flier. So it wasn’t the same experience
at all. Jeff used to say Mom and Dad and mean Uncle Dave take the
kids to space. That’s what he used to joke, because Dave was
like “suck it up” all the time. Jeff and I really had
such a close relationship. I think partly that always happens with
pilot and commander. You just go everywhere together. Your whole training
flow is together, but we really had such a compatible sense of how
things ought to be done.
I think that was just a great experience for me, because he just transferred
huge amounts of knowledge to me. I think that was very important.
It was a really stressful flight for me because I was IV [Intervehicular
Activity person]. We suited the crew up, and then I talked the spacewalks.
That was actually a fantastic experience for me. I loved it. I loved
being right there with them all the time. With the checklist and talking
to them and feeling like I was as close as I could be to right out
there, but it was so much work.
It was so much work. I didn’t send any e-mail. I felt like I
never got any rest for about the first five or six days on the flight.
It was really hard. It was much harder than [STS]-92 in that regard.
I had so much more responsibility. I really felt it acutely because
of the rookies. I vaulted from the protected baby—lots of people
available to show me how to do things, and to help keep me from failing,
to feeling like failure was around the corner every minute and that
it rested on me to make sure that it didn’t happen in the things
that we were doing.
Sandy and I are really close. I was just talking to her this morning.
We’re really good friends too. So that was another great friendship.
Dave and I actually got really close on that flight as well. So there
were friendships, and it was fun. We had our crew jokes, and we had
a great time. It was probably very much like an average crew, where
there’s a lot of great feelings, and a great camaraderie, and
that’s great, and that’s about it.
That was fine, actually. I didn’t feel the loss, because I felt
so crushingly overwhelmed with all this work to do. So it was different.
That was really a grind. It was just tough. I can’t honestly
say I had a great time on orbit the way I had on STS-92. There were
moments. There were flashes. One of the things that I did enjoy the
most—other than being IV—was that I was also in charge
of photo/TV. I had so much fun with that. I really enjoyed it.
One of my favorite pictures from that flight was when I was setting
up the crew for their crew photo, and Dave Wolf grabbed the camera
and took a picture of me. I had a video camera going, and I had four
cameras set up for different lenses and different shots, and I was
holding a camera. He had just taken another one away from me. Over
in the photo/TV area they had that picture for a long time. I called
it my paparazzi shot, because I’m just surrounded by cameras.
In fact, most of the pictures that you see of me from that flight
I had a camera with me. I was either carrying it, it was around my
[neck], the earphones, the holster, it was somewhere on me. I just
absolutely adore photography, and so for me that was a great part
of the mission. But it was tough; it was really hard work.
After that experience I felt very ready to command and eager to command.
Rommel asked me—Kent [V.] Rominger, the chief of the Astronaut
Office—he asked me if I would take over as the lead Cape Crusader
to train the new Cape Crusaders. Now how am I going to say no to that?
That sounds like a blast. So I finished up my postflight in January
of 2003 with the STS-112 crew. On February 1st I was in Florida on
the runway ready to unstrap the STS-107 crew to get my refresher for
unstrapping the crew. Of course they did not come home so that was
really hard. It changed a lot of things.
I talked about some of that actually in the other oral history. What
happened then was that the guys in Florida were tasked to do the reconstruction.
So they called the chief of the Astronaut Office and said, “Well
during Challenger [STS-51L] we had a separate room for all the crew
module stuff. We’re going to do that again. We need an astronaut
to come help us with that.” So who else is going to do it but
the lead Cape Crusader? You’re the liaison to Kennedy. That’s
how I ended up dropping into that. It was completely by accident.
It’s not like somebody handpicked me. I didn’t even have
a safety or mishap investigation background. I would not have been
the person picked to do that, but it just so happened to be my job
assignment at the time.
Obviously it evolved and had a pretty big impact. Afterwards, I worked
some other job assignments. I was working Shuttle upgrades, the cockpit
avionics upgrade. For a while I was working on the Orbital Space Plane
source board as the chair of the ops committee. I was the lead for
Astronaut Appearances, kind of a crap job in the office. But it needed
to be done, and I actually liked that. I felt like making sure that
that was handled correctly, that astronauts were going to the right
events, doing the right things. I got the opportunity to work a lot
with Headquarters because they’re very interested in that. So
I developed some relationships at Headquarters then.
When I was working on the investigation, we had people on the team
from JSC Engineering, Safety, MOD [Mission Operations Directorate],
some of the flight docs, Life Sciences. We consulted hugely with Biodynamic
Research Corporation in San Antonio [Texas], a world-leading bioengineering
investigation company. A friend who’d worked on the Columbia
accident investigation, who was both a doctor and a PhD engineer out
at Stanford [University, Stanford, California], Dr. Greg [Gregory
T.A.] Kovacs. Got a lot of help from the materials science people
So I had an experience that not a lot of astronauts get, which is
that I interfaced in a very deep way, and in fact supervised the activities
of a lot of people from different parts of the Center. It really exposed
me to a lot of project management things, but also the different cultures,
the different styles, the different capabilities, the different approaches
of all the different organizations at JSC and at NASA.
That was a great experience for me because it really opened my eyes
up to the world beyond the Astronaut Office. The world was not just
about this small group of people flying in space. It is true that
I saw them when I worked in Florida. People do work on technical teams
with folks, but they come and go. This nearly three years, I think,
that we ended up working on the report—and the work that we
were doing was very hard and took a huge amount of time—really
gave me a huge sense of confidence going into the mission as a commander.
I really felt like I had both the experience in space but also the
experience on the ground, because being a commander is not just about
landing the Space Shuttle. A lot of people think it is. But it really
isn’t. The flying is an important piece of it, and you have
to train. But the commander is responsible to work with the flight
director, the lead flight director. You participate in the IPT, (the
integrated product team) that brings together everything. There’s
stowing so the stowage issues are addressed there. Any issues with
installation of payloads or other things.
It’s a much broader community. I had relationships with those
broader communities and had a pretty big perspective on that. So I
felt very confident going into that. I knew that again it’s
the most fantastic leadership position in the world in that you get
to start your own culture. That’s good and bad. If you screw
it up that’s bad, but really you don’t have to worry.
Most leaders, most positions that you come into, you’re not
starting with a new team. You’re taking over as the head of
the team. It’s very rare that you’re in the position where
you can start something. As a commander you get the opportunity to
I think one of the things that Brian taught me was that I needed to
let the crew be themselves and that I shouldn’t dictate the
style to them. I needed to know who they were, without me telling
them what to do or what my standards were. That didn’t go as
well initially. We went off to National Outdoor Leadership School
[NOLS]. We went off to Alaska. I think certainly a couple of the crew
members were uncomfortable, because they really wanted me to like
be in charge and tell everybody what to do and to set my expectations.
It’s an interesting leadership training because you rotate the
leadership on a daily basis. Two people colead every day. When people
are making leadership decisions they really expose their thinking
to everyone. So that was a great experience. I think it was hard for
some of the folks on the crew because they just wanted to know who
the boss was, but I wanted to know who they were without me and to
let them be themselves.
What I found about the crew was that they were comedians, not everyone.
But that was a huge part of the culture of that crew, comedy. They
had all the movie lines going. When you’re looking at guys like
Dan [Daniel M.] Tani and Doug [Douglas H. “Wheels”] Wheelock,
those guys can just do stand-up comedy forever. They’re really
funny funny people. That was clearly a critical part of the crew dynamic.
It was also a special crew in that like the 92 crew they were all
very committed, very deeply committed, to bonding each and every one
to each other. Yet we didn’t have so much time that we became
out of touch with everyone else. In a lot of ways I really look back
at that as kind of the perfect crew. I don’t mind saying so
myself. It really wasn’t about me, it was about them. We had
just enough time to bond together.
One of the places that I did put my foot down was the way we interacted
with the people that we worked with in mission control and the training
teams, that we would never be a high-maintenance or a high-overhead
crew. That we would be respectful of the roles that everybody else
played and didn’t carry any special requests or demands too
far; we weren’t difficult to work with and cooperative. I think
that paid off. I have had people tell me that we came across that
way. So I think that that was very successful.
One of the toughest parts about being a commander too is knowing that
when you’re in space you can’t possibly be there for all
the critical moments. You’re just not. You can’t be in
every place at every time. So building this culture is incredibly
important, because it’s like when you’re raising children
and you know that they’re going to have to make their own decisions
at some point. What is their point of reference? They go back to what
they were taught about what’s right and what’s wrong.
So you have to work a lot up front at setting expectations for where
the boundaries are. “We’re not doing it that way. Do anything
you want but when you hit that wall I’m going to let you know.”
So that’s what happens in training. You set that culture and
you set the expectations.
“We’re going to always follow this rule; we’re never
going to deviate from it, that’s just not a rule that’s
open to any flexibility.” Those kinds of things. Yet try to
keep it as open as possible, especially for the humor. The only bad
part about that for me was that they leaned on me to be the person
who said, “Okay we’ve had enough fun, we need to get to
work.” I’m very tolerant of that. We could kid around
the entire time through a tough scenario in a simulator, and as long
as we were getting everything done it didn’t bother me. But
there always comes a time when you have to stop kidding around. You
got to talk about something, for example. It’s not like you
have to stop, or anything bad has happened. You’re like okay
we need to take a few minutes to talk about this, or we got to go
somewhere else now. Those kinds of things.
That’s always tough, because you’re like the, “Oh
Mom.” You can enjoy it but you also know that you’re the
safe boundary for everybody, because they know that they’ll
stop you when it needs to be done. Then they don’t need to worry
about it, they just have fun. You can tell them when it’s time
to go home.
That was the only hard part about that. Just a fantastic crew; I really
felt that we were all very well prepared to go in space. We did have
one hiccup. We had a problem with a crew member who had a medical
issue that had not yet been resolved. We knew that when we got assigned.
I was told that, but it wasn’t being resolved. The doctors wanted
more data. They wanted to wait a little bit longer. So after really
bonding—through NOLS and training—Mike [Michael J.] Foreman
slipped off our crew to a later crew. That put us into a very difficult
position. At the time it was like November, and we were scheduled
to fly in August.
So I really had to have somebody who had prior experience. At the
time we didn’t realize how robotics-intensive the flight was
going to be. That was not a big focus of our attention initially.
Then it became clear that it was very intensive. Looking at the crews
that had flown recently and their robotic experience it was really
obvious to me that Stephanie [D.] Wilson was the person who needed
to come on the crew, and so she did. Even though she came late, she’s
a sweet gentle spirit. She’s the cutest thing in the world when
you get her laughing and she can’t stop, which Dan and Doug
did all the time. She blended very nicely with the crew and brought
that key robotics skill which turned out to be so important on the
We had five spacewalks planned. This was a monster mission. It was
a monster. Delivering Node 2 and moving P6 and holy cow. It was great.
We were all so excited when we got up there. I enjoyed the experience
so much more than STS-112, because as the commander your job is really
not to have too much on your schedule. It’s to be with everyone
and to make sure that you’re keeping track of the timeline.
You pitch a hand in where things are falling behind. I knew how great
the flight was going to be from liftoff. On my first mission aaah
all this noise and vibration and you’re reacting, that’s
all you can do is just react to all this incredible stimulation. On
the second flight I fought really hard to keep up with the vehicle.
I knew where we were; I knew what was coming next but just barely.
On my third flight all the noises weren’t scary. The feelings,
they were like, “Okay. This is going to happen. We’re
about to have SRB [Solid Rocket Booster] sep [separation] and everybody’s
going to go, ‘Ooh.’ All the rookies will go, ‘Ooh,’
when the SRBs and the pyros light, and it’s a little pyrotechnic
show in the cockpit.” They went, “Ooh.” I went,
“Yes, they were surprised.”
The moment we hit MECO [Main Engine Cutoff] I just said to them, “Welcome
to space.” You don’t need to say more, but you need to
say something to them at that time to acknowledge what a huge thing
it is. The temptation is to jump right into the checklist, but you
have to take the moment to acknowledge it. I knew that that was going
to be great. It was great from the very beginning. Great crew; had
no issues adapting to space. Just the normal stuff that you have to
work through for the first few days: not feeling good and figuring
out how to brush your teeth.
I was extremely happy. Everything was going really well. One of the
funny stories that I do have to tell—of course Peggy and I started
to get excited. We were together on [STS]-112 because she was on the
Station. We didn’t spend a lot of time together because usually
Station crew members have their own stuff going on, but we’d
spent enough time. She and Sandy are real close. We have a great picture
of the three of us from 112. So I knew Peggy well enough. When you
fly in space with somebody, even if you don’t spend a lot of
time with them, there are a lot of things you get to know about them.
When the missions changed and slipped and the dates slipped, and it
was clear that Peggy and I were going to be on orbit together, we
were like, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” We had the
opportunity to talk quite a bit before she went in space, and we shared
a lot about each other’s crews. Talked about some things. Talked
about some of these culture issues.
For me I was just really looking forward to going in space, but the
funniest thing happened about a week before launch. Of course I mentioned
that I was photo/TV for 112. One of the videos that I really liked—and
we used it in the crew movie—was Jeff Ashby shaking hands with
Valery [G.] Korzun through the ISS hatch. I filmed it, and I was very
happy with it. It really tells the story of the greetings so I’d
filmed it on video.
Somebody asked me in a preflight media so how’s this going to
be. Said, “I’m really looking forward to that first moment
of shaking hands through the hatch with Peggy.” Well they picked
up on it, and it was in the paper. George [D.] Zamka, my pilot, he
was photo/TV. So it dawns on him he’s going to have to get that
picture. He came to me and he said, “We’ve got to get
that picture; you’ve been talking about it. What happens if
we don’t get the picture?”
I’m like, “Oh. Okay. We’ll do this. We’ll
call the photo/TV guys up and we’ll ask them for help in setting
up this shot.” The photo/TV guys have a hall of fame and a hall
of shame. The hall of shame is much bigger. That is a presentation
that they do where they talk about all the things you can mess up
on orbit. They have the funny shots where the light is half across
someone’s face and it’s just horrible. Or the up-the-nose
shot or up-the-floating-shorts shot, where there’s just a little
too much leg showing.
That’s their hall of shame, but they have a hall of fame too.
We called them up and said, “Hey we really need to get this
picture. We’d like some advice. Can you show us some previous
pictures like this from other missions so that we can get a sense
for framing and positioning?”
They showed us a shot from like, I think it was STS-. It was the
first Mir mission. Hoot [Robert L.] Gibson [was the commander]. I’m
like, “What, you’re joking me. We haven’t done it
right since then? The last time was on Mir?” They were like,
“Well it’s really dark in there.”
I was like, “Yes, I know. But I got that video.” They
said, “Yes, but the video camera is much better with low light
than the camera is.” So it’s like, “Oh, you’re
kidding me.” We spent a lot of time talking about this. It was
of course a flail on orbit. We had a big light. We had to get it there.
Didn’t have a cord that was long enough. Getting cords ready.
Everybody’s freaking out as we’re trying to get the shot.
Well, [George] got the shot. I think of him every time I look at it,
but I didn’t know how much it meant to him until after we landed.
We were doing crew PRs [Public Relations]. It’s always a great
moment because you find out what everybody else thinks about the mission.
Somebody asked him was there a moment, was it doing robotics or something
you were really proud of. He’s like, “I’m really
proud of that picture.” He should be, because it was hard to
get. It really is a wonderful photo. So that was a little funny thing
about us being together. We didn’t spend a lot of time thinking
about it. Obviously other people did. So that was our one bow to that,
to make sure that we got that shot.
Peggy and Dan and I had trained to deploy the P6 solar array, which
we had moved over between EVAs 2 and 3. So at the same time there
was a separate drama going on. Think it was on EVA 2. They’d
noticed some vibrations on the Station that they were not really sure
where they were coming from. They got to the point where they started
to worry about the Solar Array Rotary Joint [SARJ], one of the two.
They thought that there might be potentially some vibration coming
So Dan Tani went out there and pulled back all the thermal blankets
and sure enough, there was some kind of contamination over the little
teeth that grind around each other. It was not a pretty picture. We
were all like, “Yee.” So he took a little tape and dabbed
it on the contamination. Obviously a very precious thing to bring
back, to try to figure out what was going on.
In the end, that turned out to be a very big deal for the Station,
resulting in about a year and a half’s worth of maintenance
efforts, multiple EVAs to fix it. They had to add a different kind
of lubricant and to do some other things. At the time it was just
the first clue that, “Hey there really is something wrong with
the SARJ.” Huge deal. So on the ground they’re going,
“Well let’s jettison EVA 5 and let’s just plan for
them to go out there and really pull all the blankets back, unbolt
some things and get a really good look at this thing.”
Oh my gosh. First big hiccup. This is all going on on the ground.
They’re talking about us getting ready to look at the SARJ and
do this stuff. Scott [J. Parazynski] and Wheels were on their way
back in from the EVA. Dan and Peggy and I—I wish we had video
of it, I didn’t think it was going to be very interesting—were
unfurling the P6 solar array. We had a lot of problems, because the
angle was the highest beta angle we’d ever flown to the Space
Station. Typically the really high beta angles means that the Sun
is coming in at a very high angle. That can be a problem for the solar
arrays collecting power.
They just opened up the tolerance on that a little bit and let us
fly at a higher beta angle. It also meant that one side of the Station
was always very warm and the other was very cold. So that was something
the spacewalkers had noticed, when they were in the Sun it was hot
and when they were in the shade it was really really cold.
All this was going on in the background. The camera angles were tough
with that high angle. I was getting a lot of glare. In fact I had
to call an abort at one time, because I was watching the big picture.
I was in charge of the cameras and everything looking right. Peggy
was on the PCS [Portable Computer System] laptop with the commands.
She was looking very carefully for when the fully deployed command
was there. Then she would send the stop. Dan was counting bays. It’s
a backup way of knowing how far it’s gone, because they didn’t
have a special marker. You actually had to literally count them as
they came out to make sure that every single one was really out to
know where you were. So he was counting bays. Peggy was there. I was
looking at the big picture.
I called an abort because I was like, “Look, it’s too
much glare. I can’t see anything.” So we let the Sun angle
change a little bit. Then we picked back up, and we got the first
half of the solar array out. Then we went to the second half. We got
it about two thirds of the way out. There was this big glare again.
I was just at the point of going I can’t stand this and then
it came out of the glare. Then I saw this rip.
I knew right away that something was wrong. It looked really bad.
So I called, “Abort. Abort, abort, abort, abort, abort.”
Peggy’s going like this on the PCS. [Hitting keyboard] She’s
not even looking. She’s hearing my voice as I’m saying,
“Abort, abort, abort, abort.” She’s going like this
as fast as she can. So then we’re looking at it. It was a lot
of glare. It was like we can’t really tell.
You couldn’t zoom in too much. So we zoomed over to the Shuttle
side and got into the commander’s seat where you could look
out at it, and got the binoculars, and oh my gosh, oh my gosh. At
that moment the whole crew was like we can’t even imagine what
we’re going to do about this. There was no way to get out there.
The whole thing is electrified. Spacewalkers are told not even to
get within X number of feet of it because you can’t touch it
because it’s 120 volts DC. There’s no way to get out there.
There’s nothing to hold on to.
So we had to shut it out actually, because we’re being uplinked
procedures for us to get ready to go do the big SARJ contingency EVA.
We’re like, “Okay. I guess we’ll go off and think
about that.” Then they moved the solar arrays more to point
at the Sun. So we couldn’t really see the rip very well after
that, because it was on the outboard array, not on the inboard. The
inboard array blocked it.
We went into overdrive getting ready for the SARJ. We set up all the
tools and worked all that stuff and got a whole day’s work done
when they called us and said, “Well, maybe we’re not going
to do the SARJ contingency EVA.” Everybody’s like, “Aah,
we’d spent all this time on it.” They said, “We
really think something’s got to be done about the solar array.”
So we had a long talk with—gosh we talked to everybody. They
were so good to us on the ground. We talked to the chief of the Astronaut
Office. We talked to our flight director Derek Hassmann several times,
and Rick LaBrode was our Shuttle side flight director. That was, I
think, a great moment when all those relationships on the ground really
played out perfectly the way they needed to. It paid off that we’d
worked so hard on them.
It was also critical because usually on the Station, the Station crew
helps you do things like get ready for spacewalk. They know where
everything’s stored, so it’s really great to have somebody
there who’s helping you to suit the crew but then they go on
their merry way. They’ve got their own assignments. They’ve
got lots and lots of work to do on the Space Station, as we well know.
They’ve got their own experiments and things going on.
It was a moment when we realized that was just not going to happen.
We had to all come together as a single crew. I think the fact that
Peggy and I knew each other so well from having flown together. I
have to say Peggy and I have real different styles. I’m much
more touchy-feely than she is. But at the same time she is really
one of the most kindhearted people that I know. So there’s never
any issue of generosity. It’s not a competition. She’s
not stern or anything. She just sets very high performance standards.
I like that about her a lot.
The ground just basically tossed both of our flight plans out. Everybody
played a part. The Russian crew members were helping set up. They
had to go find Kapton tape. Used up every piece of Kapton tape on
the Shuttle and about half of what the Station had because we had
to wrap every tool and everything that was metal on Scott’s
When they first called up the plan and said, “Yes, we’re
going to use the Shuttle boom and attach it to the Station arm,”
I’m like, “Wait a second. That’s going to kill the
cameras,” because the sensors can’t go unpowered more
than an hour by the flight rule. So I’m thinking, “Oh
my gosh what are we going to do for the inspection?” Because
we have to do an inspection after we undock. So I was thinking, “Okay.
All right. We’re throwing the whole book out on this one.”
Then they’re telling me, “Yes. We think he’s going
to be about 45 minutes away from the airlock.” I knew from being
an IV 30 minutes is the inflexible rule. You start to realize all
these things are going out the door.
I certainly understood that undocking was going to cause the solar
arrays to probably rip even further if we didn’t do something,
because the Shuttle thrusters as they fire would cause that to happen.
There was also a snarl, and we were very afraid that one of the vertical
cables that is part of the structural integrity that keeps it stiff
was snagged. The concern was this fully electrified cable—if
it snapped, if there was a problem. If you just let it free-unwind
without the tension of the solar array anchored at the top, they were
pretty sure it was going to damage the mechanism permanently. But
you also had this electrified cable that could just float away and
God knows what was going to happen to it then. So there were so many
things that were bad about this.
Worrying about whether they were going to have enough power for the
Japanese lab and the European lab sitting in Florida ready to launch.
It was obviously the right decision. We didn’t have any issues
with it, but there was so much at stake. For me, my biggest concern
was for Scott’s safety; without any doubt, it was really about
worrying about Scott. Scott is such a high performer and so driven.
One of the things that worried me was whether he would go so far as
to do something that would hurt himself in his effort to achieve the
mission. I wronged him in that. I found that out a year later when
he climbed Mount Everest and turned back within a few hundred feet
of the top because he injured his back.
I realized then that Scott had it in him to turn around when it was
stupid. Because I knew he certainly wanted to climb Mount Everest
as much as he wanted to fix the solar array, which he then proved
by going back and doing it again the next year, and successfully achieving
the top. So I wronged him in that. It’s when you feel the burden
I also knew from working in mission control how little you can actually
really see there. You think when you’re on the Shuttle, “Oh
they can see all the same video we can, they hear,” they can’t.
Your situational awareness is not the same. There’s a time lag.
There’s capability of the cameras and the flexibility to move
them around. There’s com dropouts and all those things. So for
me I think the realization was that if anybody was going to call it
off and say we’ve gone too far, and we were going to hurt somebody,
and we weren’t going to be successful, and we needed to stop
what we were doing before something bad happened, I really felt it
was going to be me, that that was really the ultimate, “Oh Mom,
At the same time knowing how critical everything was, and really wanting
to trust my crew, and trusting them. One of the best moments on the
whole flight for me though was we had one big massive net meeting
together with the EVA and robotics folks. We all crammed ourselves
into the airlock looking at the screen.
The whole crew?
The whole crew. Yes. The airlock is pretty big. There was actually
room for everybody. The hardest thing is that there’s just one
screen. It was nice to have that face to face. They were talking us
through the whole scenario: what they were going to do with the arm,
what the concerns were with the boom and the spacewalk. I had my crew
notebook open. As they’re talking through the scenarios I’m
checking, “Okay. We got to do this. We’re going to have
to do a dress rehearsal with that. We need to ask them for this file.”
I had this list of things that needed to get done as we’re going
through this. The meeting ended and then the crew started to talk.
I floated back up into the upper corner of the airlock, and I watched.
There they were. They were talking about everything on my list. Everything
I could think of, and a few things I hadn’t thought of. They’re
all firing at each [other], like, “We’re going to go do
this. We need to go do that. I’ll send an e-mail down and make
sure we get this file.” It was all happening. It was that perfect
moment when you realize all that stuff you invested on the ground
to set the culture and the expectations. They didn’t need me.
That’s actually what Brian taught me. That’s the ultimate
moment as a commander, is when all the right things happen without
you being there because it means you set the culture right. All the
work that you put in up front is happening. It’s all happening
perfectly. I don’t want to take credit for that because it was
But at the same time the fact that the up-front investment had paid
off made me feel fantastic, just fantastic. It was really one of the
best moments. So I just watched them do their thing, and was incredibly
proud and amazed and thrilled.
The only thing I really still was worried about was Scott’s
safety, so I had a long talk with the doctors. They reassured me.
They said, “Look it’s not a lethal dose. 120 volts DC
is nasty, but it’s not lethal.” I’m like, “Thank
you very much.” I’m thinking about my poor spacewalker
out there at the end of an arm, which if it gets electrocuted and
shuts down, how are we bringing him back? Doug is shinnying up the
boom to go rescue Scott? Certainly I’m thinking about all this
stuff. Going okay, “Well we’ll deal with that if it happens.
Let’s hope it doesn’t.”
I sat down with Scott privately too, and I told him that I was nervous
enough about the spacewalk that I wanted to IV for the actual activities.
I know that was hard for Paolo [A. Nespoli]. He was our IV. It was
hard for me to take that away from him. Although actually at the time,
when we actually were doing it, he appreciated having a little bit
of a break and was very supportive and helpful. But I think on some
level it was a little bit of a relief too. I just felt like if Scott’s
life potentially was in my hands that I needed to be right there with
him. It needed to be my voice that he was hearing on the radio. I
spent a lot of time up front setting up my little nest. Had video
cameras. All that photo/TV experience. Video running. A little row
of tapes all ready to go and two different lenses out there. One really
tight focus, one for more of a wide shot. Binoculars. Then George
was running the helmet views.
Watching Scott go further and further away. Just little tiny thing
out the window getting further and further away from us. I had the
binoculars out. They turned the solar array back round. I said to
Scott, “Dr. Parazynski.” Something like “I hope
you’re ready for your surgery.” He said, “The patient
is prepped. Let’s go.”
He got out there. We saw the rips and the snarls. The fact that the
wire was very frayed. So the plan was he was to cut it. But because
of that problem with the rewind, Wheels had to be at the base of the
solar array. He had a clamp, a pair of pliers that he held on to the
bottom of it. It had a high-tension reel at the bottom. He was holding
it. So when Scott cut it he then would release it just a couple inches
at a time. It would very gently and slowly reel back in. So that solved
that part of it.
That’s in fact what they did. That worked out successfully.
That was a big relief when that got in. A perfect example of what
I mean by everybody in the crew had to get involved. Peggy and George
had turned Node 2 into a machine shop. They had constructed the cuff
links that Scott used to stitch it up with wire.
They had to cut out of sheet aluminum the flipper bar that would go
through the hole and lock in place to very precise numbers. It had
to be a certain distance. Also the length of the cuff link had to
be exactly right as well because if it was too tight it would cause
the solar array to rip. If it was too loose the solar array would
not have structural integrity. So that’s what you’re trying
to do, is add that structural integrity that that one wire was supposed
to have in place.
Then they had to wrap the metal with nonconducting tape and then hook
it all together and tie it in really tight knots. So Peggy and George
did that. They spent most of a day constructing the cuff links to
the specifications that the ground had done for them. So obviously
there was a lot of sidebar conversations. I think it might have been
Don [Donald R.] Pettit, who actually constructed them on the ground
for us, so that they could then confer with him about the building
Scott got out there, and he went to shove the first cuff link in.
So we’re all [tense] [demonstrates] watching his hands as it
shoves through the hole. What we didn’t fully appreciate was
going to happen was that when he pushed on the solar array—now
he wasn’t allowed to touch it. So he had one hand holding a
tool we called the hockey stick. It was a piece of plastic shaped
like an L that was wrapped in Kapton tape. That was his stay away
from me, and don’t touch me. He also had a pair of like pliers
to pull things towards him. Like he was able to pull the thing before
he clipped it. He had a clipper.
Then of course he had the cuff links. It was way too much for one
person. We really needed a second pair of hands out there so it took
him a while because he had to untether, tether everything, every time
he needed to change a tool. So he couldn’t actually quite reach
it. But the arm was at maximum extension.
Thank God we had Stephanie with us, Madam Robotics Expert. She and
Dan, they were real-time moving that arm to try to get that last little
inch out of it. In the end [Scott] had to grab [the solar array] and
pull it towards him, because he couldn’t reach it. So he shoves
the cuff link in. What happens is that causes a billow to go all the
way down to the bottom.
So Wheels, who was sitting at the base of the solar array shivering,
because he was so cold, it was really cold down there. He could have
been so distracted and like, “What am I doing here? I finished
my thing, so now I’m just watching him.” He sees this
billow start going back up toward Scott.
He sees that it’s poofing out. He’s like, “Scott,
look out!” So Scott looks down, sees this big thing coming at
him. He holds the hockey stick out as far as he can. He leans all
the way back. Of course I’m looking straight on so I didn’t
see this until he called it. Then I’m looking through the helmet
camera. I’m like, “Oh my gosh!”
So this thing comes up. Goes like this [demonstrates] around the hockey
stick. Hits the top, then it slowly slowly gradually settles down
again. Then it’s like, “Oh my gosh he’s going to
do this nine more times,” and he did. By that time, it had taken
us some time to get him out there, to figure out what’s going
on, and really understand the rip and all that other stuff. The ground
is starting to get worried about the duration of the EVA, because
we still have to unfurl the solar array.
They’re like, “Okay, it’s time to get going.”
So Scott had to pour it on. With all this, he and Wheels had to figure
out real-time how to communicate because every time you put a cuff
link in that happened. Wheels had to tell him when things were getting
crazy and to settle down and lean back and look out. They made it
Then we pulled him back away from it. Then, one bay at a time, opened
it up. I was so relieved when it went all the way out. Everybody was
congratulating, “Oh my gosh, wow!” Scott is saying, “Great
work on the arm!” Dan and Stephanie are going, “Great
work of the spacewalkers. It’s awesome.”
Mom had to say, “Guys, we will celebrate when Scott is back
inside. So let’s keep going. We got to get him back to safety,”
because he was still 45 minutes away, and they had a big robotic maneuver
to do. Actually a lot of people have commented to me after that about
that statement. But that was my job on the crew, to be party pooper,
so I was the party pooper. I was so worried about Scott. Somebody
asked me recently so when did you feel good and know that it was over.
I said when the airlock door opened, and I could throw my arms around
both of them. Because spacewalking is very dangerous, and it ain’t
over until it’s over, and even the repress and depress of the
airlock has its dangers. For me the actual declaring success on the
solar array didn’t happen until I could be with them inside.
It was great.
I remember just hanging out and talking with Peggy. It was a great
experience to work with her on this. We each had moments where both
of us were too busy to make a joint decision for both crews.
It was simple stuff like, “What order are we going to do this
in. Should we call everybody together now for the farewell ceremony?
What night do we want to have dinner together?” If one or the
other of us was just too busy to make the decision or just didn’t
even want to think about it, we’d say, “I don’t
know, whatever, you tell us. You tell me when you want to do it. I’ll
make sure we’re there.”
That was the kind of fluidity of the leadership between us. You can
imagine that saying goodbye and leaving Dan up there, after all this,
and after the crews had come together like this. Oh my gosh. It’s
hysterical. We were all crying the whole time. Even George was laughing
about it later. He was like, “Yes, it was a really moist event.”
He’s a Marine pilot. It was too funny, but it was also really
really special too. It was really amazing. You can’t top that.
After we’d undocked and we were doing inspection, I was sitting
up on the flight deck of the Shuttle. I was floating looking out the
window with the Earth and listening to the sound of my crew doing
their job. Inspection is pretty busy, and there’s a lot of moving
the arm and getting the cameras ready. By the way, the cameras worked
just fine. Yay! That was a great outcome, that they didn’t in
Thinking to myself, “Is this okay if I don’t do this again?
Thinking yes. I’ve got all these memories. They’re pretty
much burned in there now. I think it’s okay if I don’t
do this again.” So couldn’t top that. Could not top that
flight. Came back in on a beautiful day to KSC. It was fun. We knew
it was a big deal.
We also knew what kind of chaos was going on on the ground, because
we’d been there. Remember there was a flight where the Station
kept going out of control because they kept having a loss of attitude
control. So [we knew] they’re calling every single person in.
No one’s sleeping at JSC on the ground. We knew that had been
going on. They’d planned no, not one, two contingency spacewalks.
One of which, the SARJ, we never ended up doing. Knowing that everybody
on the ground had done that.
When you’re standing on the runway and everyone is there—people
who don’t [normally] come out, Shuttle Program [Manager], ISS
Program Manager, you’re like, “Wow!” It was a really
good feeling. What’s really fun now is several people on the
crew have flown again since then. Whenever somebody from our crew
flies, [they] always take a picture of the cuff links and the solar
array and send it to everybody down on the ground and say “Looking
good.” So at the time it was considered temporary. But I just
don’t think there’s anything that they can do that’s
It’s providing energy. It’s a fantastic story. Can’t
It’s great. It’s like your own little mini Apollo 13.
Apollo 13. It was exactly like that. It was the same thing. “We’ve
got to do this spacewalk. We got to stitch things up. What are we
going to do?” You dump the box on the table.
One of my favorite things is there was a piece of white paper from
one of those flip charts, the original concept of the cuff link. They
presented it to Scott after the flight. The engineers who’d
come up with the idea. That was neat.
Yes that is. Did I see that George [W.] Bush met you guys when you
Oh yes. Yes, yes, that’s right. Back here. Forgot about that
part. Pretty neat.
So we’re just about there. That was actually the stuff that
I wanted to talk about. So is there anything? Let’s see. Peggy.
I think you asked a question about Halloween. Of course, I place a
very high priority on certain things like that. So one of the things
that on my second flight I did was I took up something special for
every single crew member.
By special I mean something that would be meaningful to them personally.
Sandy loves Tigger. So I took up Tigger stickers for Sandy and stuck
them on her crew notebook, surprise to her. So there was always room
for that. I brought up a little pumpkin, a little Halloween.
I also actually brought up one of those foldable turkeys, because
Thanksgiving was coming. So you can see it actually in a couple of
our pictures. I presented all that stuff to the crew. Yes, it’s
always important to mark those moments and make their home more of
a home. I think that was the only other question.
The only other question that I had, just because I’m working
on this article about the media and these first six women. What was
the media interest like in this flight, being that you were the second
female commander? Or was it not a big deal by that point?
No, I think there was some interest. I think less so. Certainly much
less so than for Eileen, which is good. But it generally came up.
One of the strategies that I had though was to really try to make
the crew more accessible to the media. In our media teleconference
I told a little story. Sometimes humorous. Usually humorous in a sense
that I said Paolo was our MacGyver. No doubt if we need to fix the
Space Shuttle with paper clips and glue, he would be the guy who would
figure it out.
So that actually really helped. I think several people from the media
have commented to me how much they enjoyed that press conference and
also my crew. Gosh. What? I was just giving them a platform. Once
I made a little joke, I just sat back and let them entertain the media.
So that was wonderful for me because it really deflected a lot of
attention from me. It just made it about the crew, which was really
good. I liked that. We didn’t have any issues.
Well, Rebecca, do you have any questions for Pam?
We definitely covered everything.
All right. Thank you very much.