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Aboard Columbia: Duane Carey

'The anxiety primarily is about the unknown'

Duane Carey:
Duane Carey: "Probably the closest parallel I can make is was when I was deployed to the Middle East, getting ready to fly in the Gulf War."  

(CNN) -- An aerospace engineer and former military test pilot, Duane Carey is piloting the space shuttle Columbia's Hubble servicing mission on his first flight into space. Carey is also shooting video and still pictures on the mission and serving as one of two mission medics.

Before his departure, he spoke with CNN Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien.

Here are some highlights of the conversation.

CNN: Great first mission. I imagine of all the first missions, it would be fun to go to the space station. But going to Hubble -- is that anything special to you?

Duane Carey: Yes, actually. I've always been kind of a space buff myself, even when I was flying fighters in the Air Force. I followed the Hubble deployment mission very closely. I was very excited about the types of science that Hubble was going to do and then when it finally got up there and it had the problems with the optics, it just broke my heart.

The space shuttle Columbia blasted off early Friday on a mission to renovate the Hubble Space Telescope (March 1)

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CNN's Miles O'Brien reports on NASA's mission to upgrade the Hubble telescope to reach astonishing distances (February 27)

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I just felt so bad for everybody who'd been involved in it, really felt bad for the country and the world. We were all looking forward to all this great science.

And of course a few years later, they were able to go up and install the corrective optics and get this thing back online.

I have two teen-age children who have grown up with Hubble images and Hubble images in the schools, so it's been fascinating to me to follow Hubble's progress through the years.

And now to actually be flying up there and have a chance to make this thing even better. To me it's a dream-come-true. To me, it's a very significant mission and it'll have impact 100 years from now, folks will be benefiting from the types of things we are doing with Hubble.

CNN: I guess we take for granted, or don't pay enough attention to realize it truly is a golden age of astronomy we are living in.

I suppose when Galileo was doing his thing a lot of people didn't know about it either, but nevertheless this is a great moment in time to be a part of keeping that going.

Compared to the last mission, this was supposed to be one big mission. It kind of got split. Last time there was a great urgent need to get it going. What about this time?

Carey: On the last mission, Hubble needed attention and it was a rescue mission. It was a lot better when they left it. They fixed it up, but right now Hubble is doing great.

It's doing great science. It's doing a good job and there's no urgency to get up there real, real quick to do what we're going to do.

In my way of looking at things, that actually adds to the pressure of the mission because when we arrive up there in orbit, we're going to arrive at a perfectly working telescope that's doing everything we asked it to do. And we're just going to try to improve it.

Now there's only one way to win that scenario and that is to walk away with all your mission objectives accomplished.

If it's not broken ...?

As pilot on this mission, Duane Carey's work may be most demanding at launch and landing.  In-flight, he serves as an on-board medic.
As pilot on this mission, Duane Carey's work may be most demanding at launch and landing. In-flight, he serves as an on-board medic.  

CNN: So the bar is kind of higher, in a way, because it is working.

Carey: That's the way I see it. There are many things that can happen -- a few of them good -- and that's what's going to happen.

CNN: Every astronaut tells me that what he or she thinks of is, "God, don't let me screw up."

Carey: Sure, you just want to do the job that you're trained to do. I won't be touching the telescope. I'm not going to be flying the orbiter, when we actually go up and grab the telescope.

But I have my jobs to do, too, to enable everybody to do their jobs. And if we all do our jobs as we were trained to do, it's going be an even better instrument when we fly away from it.

CNN: Give me a sense of what you've had the most anxiety about as a rookie. Obviously you can't fully understand what to expect, since you've never been through this. But what causes you any additional level of concern?

Carey: Probably the closest parallel I can make is was when I was deployed to the Middle East, getting ready to fly in the Gulf War. I think what worried a lot of guys going into combat for the first time there was that there was only one person in our squadron who'd seen any combat at all, and that was our squadron commander -- and he'd seen combat in Vietnam.

What most guys were afraid of the most was themselves, because they didn't know how they were going to react.

I do believe I'll be effective in the tasks that I've been trained to perform. But the anxiety primarily is about the unknown and being in an unknown environment -- the weightless environment -- and physiologically how your body is going to handle that. That's probably the biggest thing I worry about because it's such an unknown.

You talk to all the veterans and they tell you, but until you are there you just don't know.


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