Miles O'Brien: Space station crew interview
Miles O'Brien is a prime time co-anchor of CNN Headline News and space correspondent for the CNN News Group. He joined the CNN.com chat room in Atlanta, GA, to discuss the recent shuttle mission to the international space station Alpha, and his live interview with three returning space station crew members, cosmonaut Yury Usachev and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Miles O'Brien, and welcome.
MILES O'BRIEN: Hello everybody! Did you get a chance to see the astronauts just a moment ago, live on CNN?
CNN: Please tell us about your interview with the returning Alpha Crew?
O'BRIEN: I had a chance to talk to all three members of the Expedition Two space station crew, and they seem in great spirits. They said what they missed the most are little things, like grass, trees, and fresh air. They say they never felt claustrophobic, and they say they feel like they're in pretty good condition, that they've been really good about doing their exercises. You know how those astronauts are! Not a slacker in the bunch!
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Miles, how long is the delay for talking to the shuttle or space station?
O'BRIEN: It's about two seconds up, and about two seconds down. If you think about it, we dial a phone line to Houston, Houston has dedicated lines to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and they are linked to a series of ground stations all over the world that communicate with the tracking and data relay satellites that NASA uses to communicate with the shuttle. So, you do the math on the number of hops involved in that deal. Even moving at the speed of light, there's a lot of wire and distance to travel between us and them.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Miles, what sort of things will the astronauts have to do to fully recover from the effects of being in space for 5 months?
O'BRIEN: Well, the first thing they tell you is to take it easy. Right from the outset, they'll be returning to the earth's atmosphere in recliners - I'm not sure they're Barcaloungers - and they'll lean back with the remote in their hand [laughs]. They'll be carried off the shuttle in the prone position. What happens is that your heart sort of takes a vacation while you're outside the earth's atmosphere. So when you return, it takes a little while for it to get back up to speed, if you will. I'm told that it can take several weeks before you lose that sensation of vertigo and dizziness. The one description that really struck me the most is that someone said it's like having sea legs, after you've been on a ship for a long time, only it lasts a lot longer. So, they'll take it easy, and slowly work their way up to exercising. They'll be good as new, I'll bet!
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Miles, wasn't it funny that they knew about your trip to the Mars Camp last month? You even have fans in space.
O'BRIEN: That really caught me by surprise, that they were aware we had gone up to the Arctic Circle! This brings out an interesting point. The first long-term mission, aside from Sky Lab, was Norm Thagart [on space station Mir] and he spoke often after the mission of feeling very isolated from the world beneath. NASA listened, and they've done a lot to ensure that the astronauts are able to stay abreast of what's happening in the world, the news, current events, whether silly guys like me are going up to the Arctic Circle. It goes a long way to helping them endure the mission without feeling completely cut off.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How many people will be on the ISS routinely, once it's fully functional?
O'BRIEN: That's a very, very good question. As it stands now, the limiting factor is the number of seats on the lifeboat. You don't want to create a Titanic situation up there. Right now there are three seats on the Soyuz, which is attached to the station, and is the emergency escape vessel. NASA right now does not have the money to build an additional crew return vehicle, which was part of the original plan, and would have been able to carry six or seven astronauts down to earth in a prone position autonomously and quickly. So, until they figure out where to get the money for that, or just start buying additional Soyuz capsules from the Russians, the Station will remain a three-person operation.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Hi Miles: What does NASA intend on doing with the space trash that Discovery is hauling back to earth?
O'BRIEN: One word comes to mind: eBay! NASA might want to start thinking about that, to pay for that crew return vehicle! First of all, some of this stuff is not accurately described as trash, there are experiments coming down, and the scientists working hard on them will be hurt if we call them trash, because they'll be learning things from its time in space. But the rest of it, I don't know if there's a rule that says they have to keep all the space station flotsam and jetsam. I expect that if it doesn't have additional further use, it will go into the Kennedy Space Center dumpster.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: If an astronaut gets ill, what kind of medical facilities do they have?
O'BRIEN: They have a pretty sophisticated medical station, and each full time crew has a medical officer, if you will, trained in emergency response kind of medicine. It includes stuff like a defibrillator, and all kinds of medicines, syringes, bandages. The key here is if somebody really needs a doctor's attention, yes, they'll attend to them right away, but at the same time they'll be preparing to jump into the return vehicle and get back. They'd try to stabilize someone, and get the person back. They can be back on the ground in about 90 minutes time from when they undock from that space station. They can fill the hatches, and be back quickly.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: the levels of radiation embedded into the "trash" are high... how safe is it to handle?
O'BRIEN: That's a relative term. I don't think it's anything that would rise above medical waste you'd see at a medical center. I'm not familiar with the disposal procedures, but I think the protocols are similar to a hospital.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much training is involved before you can space walk?
O'BRIEN: Well, for every hour that a spacewalker is out there doing the real thing, he or she spends 10 hours inside that giant swimming pool in Houston, practicing. That's not the only kind of practice they do. They also use virtual reality, and a thing that's a slippery floor that allows you to practice moving objects in a way they might respond in space. Think of those air hockey games you play. It's kind of like that, and it gives you a sense of how things will respond without gravity. Training is a big problem for NASA right now, because they have about 125 space walks left before the Space Station is done. Each space walk is about 8 hours, and multiply that by 10, and you come up against real numbers.; It's a real challenge to get everyone trained, when you consider how many spacewalks lie ahead.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
O'BRIEN: Thanks for watching, and make sure you join us tomorrow for the landing of Discovery, which CNN will carry live. It's scheduled now for 12:46 eastern time, and believe it or not, the weather actually looks good right now, which means, of course, they will scrub! :)
CNN: Thank you for joining us today.
O'BRIEN: Thank you!
Miles O'Brien joined the CNN.com chat room from the chat studio at CNN Center in Atlanta, GA, and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Tuesday, August 21, 2001.
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