Schlegel won't discuss illness but says he's fine now
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 12, 2008
German astronaut Hans Schlegel, a 56-year-old father of seven who was replaced on a spacewalk Monday because of an undisclosed medical problem, told CBS News today he's feeling fit and ready for a spacewalk Wednesday to service the space station's cooling system.
In an interview that was scheduled before launch, Schlegel, Atlantis commander Steve Frick and pilot Alan Poindexter said they were pleased with the progress of the mission and the successful installation of the European Columbus research module Monday, a day later than planned because of Schlegel's illness.
"It's been an interesting mission," Frick said from the shuttle's flight deck. "Every flight always seems to offer new challenges, it never goes quite the way you plan it. But I've been really happy and excited we were able to do a little replan and still get EVA-1 (spacewalk No. 1) off very successfully. The Columbus module is out that way about eight feet or so and the station crew and Hans have been busy all morning opening it up, activating it, getting it going."
Asked if Columbus had "that new car smell," Schlegel said it "definitely has it."
"It's just a huge volume that we have now," he said. "We couldn't be happier. But of course, you don't forget, we still have a lot of activation to go."
Because of medical privacy concerns, NASA managers provided no details earlier in the mission when Schlegel became ill. The mission's first spacewalk was delayed one day, from Sunday to Monday, and Schlegel was replaced by astronaut Stan Love. It was the first time a U.S. spacewalk had been delayed by a medical issue since the fifth shuttle mission in 1982.
Today's interview was the first chance reporters had to ask Schlegel about what happened. Frick, however, answered the first medical question, saying "every space flight is different and a lot of times crew members have temporary conditions that are an issue for a little while and they clear right up."
"We were just really happy we always have backups trained," he said. "You know, Alan Poindexter here is trained on all my tasks so if anything happens to me he can do everything I'm trained to do. And all the EVA crew members have trained to do everyone else's tasks. So it all worked out and we were able to get EVA-1 off and get all our major tasks done. Hans will be going out tomorrow on EVA-2 to get our next most important task done as we work through our mission."
Asked for a direct response about how he felt, Schlegel said: "I feel really great right now. I'm, of course, a little bit anxious because tomorrow will be my first EVA. I fully respect the decision (to put Love on the first spacewalk) to make the most success out of our mission so far. Nobody could have been happier than me when we finished EVA-1 with the major objectives all done. That's all I want to say because medical issues are private."
Asked how disappointed he was to miss a spacewalk after years of training, Schlegel said "that must be your point of view, but I've been training as a mission specialist since 10 years and I worked several missions as a CAPCOM (spacecraft communicator) and a lead CAPCOM. And the major thing is our big mission. And it's not NASA's mission, it's a mission of the international community and no matter who does the job, main thing is it has to be done and done in the right way and I think we, the two crew members outside and here inside and the ground teams, did an excellent job during EVA-1. And of course, personally, I don't, how do you say it, I don't deny it's a little bit bitter when that decision is the best decision, but that's only personal. The bigger scheme is what's important."
The shuttle-station astronauts spent the day opening up and activating Columbus. Alan Thirkettle, the space station program manager with the European Space Agency, said engineers encountered a few minor hiccups, including a computer that did not initially synchronize with a backup and a water pump in the cooling system that indicated possible problems. NASA flight controllers, meanwhile, ran into problems of their own getting the new module hooked into the station's primary cooling system.
But Thirkettle characterized the problems as typical of what could be expected when activating complex systems for the first time.
"We can echo the happiness everyone else has alluded to," Thirkettle said. "We are very pleased indeed to see crew finally inside the laboratory. They're doing the first thing that the crew does, which is to make a complete mess of what was a beautiful piece of clean hardware inside! But that's to get access to all the things that are going to be useful for the module."
Schlegel said Columbus represents "the beginning of manned space flight for Europe."
"We have all the sudden the opportunity to do experiments around the clock, throughout the year, we have a control center in Germany, a European control center close to Munich, which is operating around the clock to do many experiments and control the systems of Columbus," he said. "And even more, you know, we have also gained obligations. From now on, we have to participate in the costs and the operation of the international space station. And (next month), we'll launch (the first) ATV, the automated transfer vehicle, from a European Ariane 5 and that clearly marks that Europe is as engaged in human space flight as it has never been before. We are looking forward to it."
Schlegel and astronaut Rex Walheim are spending the night in the space station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 psi, part of a so-called camp-out procedure to help flush nitrogen from their bodies to prevent the bends after a spacewalk in NASA's low-pressure suits.
If all goes well, they will float outside around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to replace a nitrogen tank used to pressurize the station's ammonia coolant lines. Thirkettle told reporters today NASA and the European Space Agency were in agreement about the original decision to replace Schlegel with Love for the first spacewalk and the decision to let the German astronaut proceed with the second.
"As far as I know, everybody's looking forward to Hans doing this," he said. "There's not an ESA-NASA conflict over this, there never has been and I very much doubt there ever will be. Hans is looking forward to this. ... I think we're all in synch on this."