The shuttle Discovery fliers: A crew of seasoned pros
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 20, 2011
Commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Al Drew, Steve Bowen, Nicole Stott and Mike Barratt have flown previous space missions, making them one of the most experienced astronaut teams to ever launch aboard a shuttle.
What's more, Stott and Barratt served as long-duration residents aboard the International Space Station, something their Discovery's crewmates say is a big advantage for the upcoming mission.
"They're intimately familiar with space station," Lindsey says, "and so they know the ins and outs and it's very valuable. That will help us a lot on this flight."
"I liken it to trying to go up Mount Everest without a Sherpa," Drew adds. "These guys, the folks know where all the trails are and how to get to places and so I think that that it was just a coup that we decided to start re-flying space station veterans on space shuttle missions because they're so much more efficient onboard the space station when they get there."
Lindsey, born in a suburb of Los Angeles, is a 50-year-old retired Air Force colonel with over 6,500 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft. He has flown on four space shuttle missions and later served as NASA's chief astronaut before being selected to command this final Discovery voyage.
Having accumulating 50 days in orbit, Lindsey was pilot on the STS-87 science flight of Columbia in 1997 and the STS-95 mission in 1998 aboard Discovery that featured John Glenn's return to space. His first command came in 2001 as Atlantis' skipper on STS-104 that launched the Quest airlock module to the space station. He then led Discovery's STS-121 test flight in 2006.
"The space shuttle is an incredible vehicle," Lindsey says. "I'm still amazed at the technology to build something that could carry this much payload into orbit and takeoff vertically, land on a runway, serve as a rocket ship, an orbiting laboratory, a docking ship, a robotics platform and land like an airplane. That's pretty incredible and I consider it an honor to be a part of it, to be involved essentially with the last half of the space shuttle program."
Pilot Eric Boe grew up in Atlanta and became an Air Force colonel with combat and flight test credentials. He arrived at NASA in 2000 and flew on the Endeavour mission in 2008 that outfitted the space station's interior with equipment needed for doubling the size of its resident crews.
"The things I remember most from my previous spaceflight," Boe says, "was getting the chance to see the Earth and I'm really looking forward to it on this flight again, it's amazing, kind of like when you go on a vacation and you come back, things kind of fade over time and so I'm kind of interested to see the colors, the vividness of the planet. You can really see that the Earth is alive and also you kind of get an appreciation for how big the Earth is and at the same time how small we are as compared to the rest of the universe as you're orbiting the planet and you start thinking about the stars and other things around there and also the chance just to see, the world without borders."
Astronaut Al Drew, originally from Washington, D.C., was an Air Force helicopter pilot and flew combat missions in Panama, the Persian Gulf and Northern Iraq during his military career before coming to NASA in 2000.
Drew's one earlier spaceflight occurred in 2007 aboard shuttle Endeavour's STS-118 assembly and resupply trip to the space station. He will serve as Discovery's mission specialist No. 1 during this flight that delivers the Permanent Multipurpose Module and the Express Logistics Carrier No. 4 to the International Space Station, plus conducts a pair of spacewalks.
"If this were a home or a structure on the ground...the analogy would be we're putting a new walk-in closet permanently attached to the space station, this Permanent Multipurpose Module, and we're going to put a new storage platform or deck out there, the Express Logistics Carrier, carrying a spare radiator (or) a spare air conditioner for the place. Those are the big objectives and everything else we're doing outside for these spacewalks is repair. This is two six-and-a-half-hour episodes of 'This Old Station' fixing up things that have gotten old in the ten years they've been up there in space."
A recent substitute added to the crew is Steve Bowen, who was tapped to replace the injured Tim Kopra as the mission's lead spacewalker. Kopra was hurt in a bicycle accident and now can't make the flight.
"Tim and Drew had put together a great plan," Bowen says. "I literally told the EVA team don't change a single word of the plan I'm going to follow what he wrote, I've been watching the videos of what Tim did in the (training pool) and I've been talking to Tim as well and learning how to do these EVAs."
Bowen, the only submarine officer to become an astronaut, hails from Massachusetts and has degrees from the Naval Academy and MIT. He visited the space station on the Endeavour mission in late 2008 that saw him conduct three spacewalks and flew on the most recent shuttle flight last May that included two more EVAs to his credit.
Mike Barratt has spent 199 days in space but he's never launched aboard an American spacecraft. A medical doctor born in Washington state, he worked as a NASA flight surgeon before being selected as an astronaut. Then came the opportunity to spend a half-year living aboard the International Space Station in 2009, launching aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket and returning to Earth in the tiny capsule.
"It think flying in space is a wonderful experience for anybody no matter what their background, but as a space medical specialist my flight experience was like a dream come true," Barratt says. "We saw the transition from three people to six people as a permanent crew so that was very interesting, but also very fortunate for me, I saw twenty-two other people during my flight experience besides myself so I was able to personally look at my own adaptation process, both physiologic, what the body does in response to zero gravity and behavioral, how you learn to operate and perform in zero gravity and then I saw that in various other people as well, people who had had rich flight experiences, people who were doing their first space flights and being there only for a short period of time and all of these folks had, I think, a fairly wide envelope of performance capabilities and flight experiences, all of them very successful."
Nicole Stott, another previous resident of the International Space Station, is taking a second trip the orbital laboratory. Born in Albany, New York, and raised in Clearwater, Florida, she attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before going to work as a structural design engineer at Pratt & Whitney. Stott then became a Kennedy Space Center worker on space shuttles and station hardware on the road to becoming an astronaut.
"For me this literally a dream come true. I thought, while I was working at Kennedy Space Center, how can it get any better than this? How can physically here working on the ground with these magnificent vehicles, how can it get any better? And then just every step of the way, it's gotten better," Stott says.
"This is a vehicle that I don't think will be rivaled for a long time, really and truly, just a masterpiece kind of vehicle and I hope that in this time of retiring shuttles we're really taking the opportunity to celebrate how accomplished they have been."