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Eyes on Space

Aired February 11, 2003 - 09:34   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're standing by for a news conference. We believe it is about to get under, way with the crew of the International Space Station. They're speaking for the first time since the Columbia disaster. Let's listen.
QUESTION: Bill Horowitz, CBS News.

Commander Bowersox, we were struck by Frank Culbertson's comments after September 11th, a feeling of isolation at a time of national tragedy when you're off the planet. A, I was wondering what you all's reaction was when you got news from Houston, and, b, if you did sense that same feeling of isolation as you were up there so far away and unable to keep up with the flow of the investigation?

KENNETH BOWERSOX, ASTRONAUT: Well, first of all, I would not use the same words that Frank used. We've been getting lots of information and we've been feeling like we've been very well in the loop with what's going on down on the ground.

But one thing we have noticed is that here on the station, our emotions tend to be a little bit amplified, so when we read some of the information, we'll feel a stronger response than we might have felt on the ground.

But as time goes on, that seems to subside a little bit and we move on with our everyday work.

QUESTION: Kathy Sawyer of "The Washington Post."

Commander Bowersox, could you comment on in detail on the training that you are about to get in order to change your plan and come down in the Soyuz, and can you tell me what you weren't trained for that in the past, since this contingency was in the background?

BOWERSOX: Well, actually, a big part of our training in Russia has been operations with -- in the Soyuz for descent and also for moving around the station should that be required, if we had to move to a different dock part. So we are trained and prepared, but because since it's been a few months since we've been in a simulator, we'll do additional training on board if it should be required for us to come home in the Soyuz.

QUESTION: This is Mark Carot (ph) from "The Houston Chronicle."

What's your opinion on whether only two people could run the space station if you were replaced by a smaller crew? Is it possible for two people to run the station, and even would there be any time at all to do any research?

DON PETTIT, ASTRONAUT: If two people were up here, they'd be real busy just maintaining the systems on the space station.

However, there would be time to do some level of research, and by virtue of having people here, you are always doing research on your body itself, looking at the effects of long duration, weightlessness on the human physiology.

So it's important to keep people on station, and by virtue of that, we could continue to collect data and life science data at a data set for 10 or 15 year periods may actually turn out to be one of the more valuable data sets we get.

QUESTION: Kwon Lasalle (ph), Associated Press for Commander Bowersox and Don Pettit.

How much of a chance have both of you had to mourn the loss of your colleagues on Columbia, or have you tried to stay pretty much focused on work at this point?

BOWERSOX: Well, the folks on the ground have been real good about reducing our schedule, and we've had time to grieve our friends, and that was very important. When you were up here this long, you can't just bottle up your emotion and focus all of the time. It's important for us to acknowledge that the people on STS-107 were our friends, that we had a connection with them, and that we feel their loss, and each of us had a chance to shed some tears.

But now, it's time to move forward and we're doing that slowly. This press conference today is a huge step that's helping us move along toward our normal objectives and fulfilling our mission here.

PETTIT: And grieving is, the way you grieve is sort of a personal thing and myself, I like the privacy to grieve in the quiet surroundings that we have here on the space station.

QUESTION: Bog Hager (ph) from NBC for Commander Bowersox and Don Pettit. You said that your emotions are amplified in space, but what were those emotions when you first heard, and how did you hear it? And what shouts raced through your minds at first?

BOWERSOX: Well the first thing that happened was we were scheduled for a normal planning meeting on a Saturday, and General Howell, director of the Johnson Space Center, came in and told we lost a vehicle on entry.

My first reaction was pure shock. I was numb, and it was hard to believe that what we were experiencing was really happening. And then as reality wore on, we were able to feel some sadness. It's the classic grieving responses that our psychologists have warned us about. You feel sad, you feel angry, all those things, and now as time goes on, we're able to put those aside and focus a lot better on our work, although we will be going through the process for probably until we get home, or much after. PETTIT: And when I first heard, at that point, it was not known what the condition of the crew were in and so, we were hoping that there were going be survivors, and then as it unwound, we learned that there were no survivors, and that's when the magnitude of the event really hit me.

QUESTION: Lisa Stark, ABC News.

I know do you have the Soyuz to come back on, but I'm wondering, do you feel isolated at all? I mean, not isolated, but stranded in a sense up there? And I'm also wondering how disappointed you are that you won't be coming back in March.

BOWERSOX: Well, let's handle the second part first. We are enjoying our mission up here. We enjoy the environment on the space station. And we're going to enjoy the next two and a half, three months here.

So the extra stay is not something that we consider a negative. In fact, for us, it's a positive. We actually volunteered to stay longer. We've told our management that if they need us to stay a year, that's fine. We've got blanket approval for that. If they want us to go longer than a year, please, just give us a couple months' notice. So we like living on space station, and we feel comfortable that we have a way home. We have complete confidence in our Soyuz vehicle and the ability of our Russian partners to operate that vehicle and get us home safely.

QUESTION: Traci Watson, "USA Today" for the commander and Dr. Pettit.

Do you think that this will fundamentally how you will view your experience on station, the fact Columbia went down while you were onboard. Will you still look on it as essentially a good time?

PETTIT: Most certainly, I will look at our experience on space station as a good time. It will certainly change the way you think about space flight.

For myself, I had always imagined the launch phase to be the dangerous part, with the pucker (ph) power through it, and now, it's made me rethink that all that energy that those big boosters put into you on launch has to be taken out by the atmosphere when you re-enter, and that's a lot of energy, as we so patently are aware of now, and it just made these things a bit clearer in my mind in terms of where the risks really are.

QUESTION: This is Kelly Young at "Florida Today" for Dr. Pettit.

Do you have any health concerns in the back of your mind, radiation, bone loss, or otherwise, since you may be staying in space as long as seven months?

PETTIT: No, I don't have concerns for these, simply because we have been studying these long enough to know how to deal with countermeasures, to minimize or reduce these maladies, and we are working hard at our exercise program. We spend about two hours a day exercising, and that's been one of the root benefits of exercising, is reducing the bone loss, and we are prepared to have stayed on space station up to a year, as Commander Bowersox mentioned earlier. And these effects, I believe, are all with in the realm of what we can expect.

QUESTION: This is Brian Cabell from CNN.

There is -- this is for Commander Bowersox. There is a debate here on Earth about the future viability and safety of the shuttle program. I'm just wondering what you might have to say to those who question the value of the shuttle at this point.

BOWERSOX: Well, let's just start with the last part of that, value of the shuttle program. The shuttle provides us a way to learn about the hypersonic environment, the difficulties of getting back and forth to orbit, and move tons and tons of people and cargo back and forth to our space station. It's a unique vehicle, and it's something that will take billions and billions of dollars to replace.

It's perfect to work with our space station, because it brings one of the things we need, which is water. Water is a byproduct of the electrical power generation system of the shuttle, and so on a normal shuttle mission where you don't go to a space station, you have to throw it overboard. When you come to a space station, you can leave it here, and it's a resource for the crew. So it's a tremendously valuable research-and-development asset.

As far as the safety, we need to look into the cause of the last accident. We need to understand it. And once we've evaluated that, then we'll be able to make a much better comment on that question. And I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say that everything is just fine, because we need to know, we need to look, and I promise you, the folks at NASA are going to understand this thing completely before we fly shuttles again.

QUESTION: Bruce Nickles, "Dallas Morning News" for cosmonaut Budarin. What adjustments would be required up there to stay longer and what adjustments in the relationship between the three of you have already occurred because of this event?


ZAHN: For those of you joining us, you are looking at the three folks who will possibly be at the International Space Center as late as June. Ken Bowersox, Nikolai Budarin and Don Pettit of America take questions from reporters down at NASA. Most of the questions so far have dealt with their emotions surrounding the Columbia disaster.

They have said they did mourn the loss of their colleagues. That was important them to do that in privacy. It was important for them to acknowledge the loss of their friends.

And now they're taking some tough questions about the future of manned space travel, and the future of the shuttle program in particular. BOWERSOX: ... and that their understanding if we need to stay longer.

As far as dealing with the extra stress of a longer mission, one of the things we notice that really helps is exercise. It's incredible how it seems to sort of even out your nervous system and just put you in a better mood, no matter what's going on around you on board.

And so we're lucky, it turns out that exercise is one of our countermeasures that helps prevent losing as much bone calcium, and keeps our hearts from weakening, so we get plenty of time to crank away on our exercise bike, run on treadmill and work out on our weight machine, our resistive exercise bikes.

QUESTION: This is JSCPAO, and for Sox, if would you like to offer anecdotal translation of Nikolai's answer for the media here that would be appreciated here before to toss it to KSC.

BOWERSOX: I thought you guys had interpreter support on the ground, I'm sorry. Let's see if I can summarize it quickly.

Nikolai said we have a great attitude amongst the crew, we're ready to stay as long as we need to, but that our Soyuz does have an expiration date on it, it needs to go home around the end of April or May, and so it would make sense that if that -- when the crew comes to replace the Soyuz that we might be replaced with them. Of course, there are no decisions that are made yet, and we're willing to stay while the managers on the ground talk about it and make the right choice.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Sox and Alpha. This is JSCPAO. Please stand by for questions from KSCPAO.

QUESTION: Alpha, this is Kennedy PAO, good morning, how do you hear us?

BOWERSOX: We've got you loud and clear.

QUESTION: Yes, Commander Bowersox, this is Seth Bornstein with "Knight Ridder" (ph) newspapers. I know you said you are prepared to stay longer. Somehow I'm trying to get what your preference is. Would you preference to go early when the Soyuz -- or just to stay until you have a shuttle, and why is that your preference?

BOWERSOX: Well, let me just say that over the last five or six years, I've been going through a lot of training, and my sense of time has sort of changed. I can't describe why, but I've gotten to a point where I don't worry so much about weeks or months, and I just worry about where I am and what I'm doing, and that it's meaningful and enjoyable. I like life here on the station. The only thing I could imagine that would make it better is to be able to bring my family and friends here. Some day that will happen, but we're not at that point yet, so we'll have to do this alone.

But I would consider it a positive if I got to spend an extra six months or nine months here.

For some reason, there is a limit out there of about a year in my brain. I think it's because I put it there before flight. That's why I asked management for a little warning if we go past that. But the three or four months we are talking right now as the likely extension now, actually sounds pleasant to us.

QUESTION: This is "Toachan (ph) Earth News" and I'm writing for both the Silverton and Bedford hometown newspapers for you guys, so this boasts (ph) for the Diggery Dewplayer Ansox (ph).

Something I've wanted to ask you guys for about three weeks, how was your space walk? How did you enjoy it? What was so fascinating about it? And especially for Don, what was the smell of space like when you finished the space walk? And sorry you're not going to get to finish your chess game.

PETTIT: Well, the smell of space, as you probably are aware, I wrote about in one of the science chronicles, so that hasn't changed. It still reminds me of sweet welding fumes. And it may not actually be the smell of space, it may be off-gassing from the space station structure, but I take enough poetic license to label it as the smell of space.

In terms of the EVA, it's amazing to be immersed in the vacuum of space. The panoramic views that you have through a helmet are different than what you have through a window. It's about the difference between looking at mountains while you're sitting on the runway, say, at Salt Lake City Airport, where you look at the mountains through window of an airplane as opposed to standing outside on the tarmac looking at the mountains, and being immersed in space, while you're in a spacesuit gives you those kind of panoramic views that the human brain can take in that you just can't replace looking through a window.

BOWERSOX: I have to echo those sentiments, just the wideness and deepness the colors that you get looking through the thin glass of the helmet visor versus the thick glass that we have on the other windows. It's really wonderful outside on an EVA.

QUESTION: Phil Long, "Miami Herald," for the commander.

Was there something in particular, some way that did you to commemorate and celebrate the lives of the astronauts aboard the Columbia? And do you have any particular concerns about your return to Earth?

BOWERSOX: Well, first of all, as far as ceremonies up here, we sat in by radio for the memorial service that was held at the Johnson Space Center, and at the conclusion of that memorial service after the bells had rung on the ground and the P-38s had flown by, it was very quiet onboard, and we rang our ship bell seven times.

And at that point it was very, very quiet on board the International Space Station. We spent 15, 20 minutes in silence, and then we moved on and had work to do. We needed to unload our progress. And at that point, we started thinking about good things. We pulled out the fresh fruit, the oranges, the mail that we got from home, and it gave us quite a lift after the memorial service.

QUESTION: This is Chris Criedler (ph) from "Florida Today" for Don Pettit.

Don, can you talk about what you said to your family and what they've said to you about the possibility of you staying longer? And do you have enough Saturday morning science to occupy you for maybe nine more months?

PETTIT: In terms of the Saturday morning science, an orbiting environment is rich in discovery, and I cannot fathom a moment when there wouldn't be some new investigation or observation to make.

So, I wholeheartedly agree with Sox, in that we could stay up here a year and not have any trouble about feeling lonesome, no trouble about feeling isolated or no trouble about being bored.

Now, in terms of family, I could not be here if it wasn't for the support I get from my wife, and we communicate as often as we can via e-mail and through the NASA arranged family conferences, and the support you get with this kind of contact is -- gives me the fundamental strength I need in order to stay up here, to continue on with the work for our mission.

QUESTION: This is Brad Liston from Reuters with a question for Dr. Pettit.

How important was it that you were receiving news, the bad news from Earth, more or less in real time? And if could you imagine yourself on a deep space voyage where the communications lag might be hours or even days, what difference would that make?

PETTIT: It was important to us to receive information as it was known, and conclusions are often hard to draw when the raw facts are coming in, so there was not a whole lot of conclusions at the time we were receiving the information.

And I'm one that I do not like to jump to premature conclusions when you have a incomplete facts, so the fact that the conclusions were slow to come in, that doesn't bother me at all. Facts came in as fast as folks on the ground could feed them us to.

For something like this, if you are on two to three trip to Mars with a 20 or 30 minute lag time in terms of radio link, I don't think the radio information known would be any faster than your radio link via your spacecraft, so I don't see how this would be a problem if something similar were to happen while you were on a trip to Mars.

QUESTION: This is Grayson Calm (ph) with Central Florida News 13.

After everything that's happened, many Americans looking ahead to the future of our space program, not just the shuttle, as we've talked earlier, but broader goals for the next 20 or even 30 years. What are your thoughts on the options for our future, including possibly more time in Earth orbit with unmanned missions, or reaching out for a more ambitious mission, like a trip to mars?

BOWERSOX: We talk about that a lot here. I think that what we're doing here in low Earth orbit is meaningful and very important for expanding our reach out into the solar system and on into our galaxy and universe, but I think all of us would love to see us go back to the moon and go back to Mars, or go to Mars, and we'd like to see us go some place with land, some place where we can walk, some place where we can reach down and heard the dirt in our hands, and has gravity.

QUESTION: Dan Billlow with WASH (ph) TV. I'll address this to Don Pettit. Any of you might wish to chime in.

You are all, obviously, willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the space program. Could you talk a little bit about what you are doing over the next few weeks to do that? What sort of things are you giving up on, conserving, using less water, for example? Talk a bit about the preparations you're making to stay up there a bit longer, and is it tentatively in your mind pretty much that you are coming home on a Soyuz around may timeframe?

PETTIT: I'll address a little bit about conservation. Some things like water, which is one critical supply item that we have on space station, there is not a whole lot we can do to conserve, because we don't use water wantonly on station in the first place. Just as an example, I probably use three or four ounces of water every time I take a shower, which is unheard of if you're used to turning on a faucet at home and used to having gallons and gallons pour out. But it really doesn't take much to take a sponge bath, and that's what we do up here.

You could say, let's not take showers. Three or four ounces a day doesn't buy you that much. And if you look at the water, the big water usage is in our food, and it's not wise to crimp on your hydration level if you want to maintain body health over a long period of time.

So if you look at water as one of our resources, there is not a whole lot we can do to change our consumption rate on that.

Other things, for example, batteries, we've got -- detectors up here that use special batteries, and I went through the stack of dead batteries this morning and sorted through them, and found batteries that were changed out, still had a little life in them, so that way, we can use those for less critical measurement.

ZAHN: We dip out of the International Space Station news conference to say goodbye from the whole AMERICAN MORNING crew here. Thank you all for joining us today.


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