Special Interest

Rick and the Astronaut

Astronaut Scott Parazynski took a moment out of his busy schedule to have a photo taken with me, Rick Stonebraker. Scott is assigned to Space Shuttle mission STS-120, which will deliver an Italian-built module to connect to the ISS (international Space Station). This will allow for future ISS expansion and increased power generation. Flight STS-115 is destined for September 2007.
Most of the astronauts train at the NBL (Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory) to get used to work in a weightless environment. Especially those astronauts that will be working outside of the Space Shuttle in orbit; either to repair, inspect or install.
Many of the upcoming missions include going to the ISS to erect new equipment like antenna arrays and adding additional modules. At the NBL, astronauts don suits that are almost identical to the ones they will wear outside the Space Shuttle and will spend many six-hour sessions training underwater.
The NBL pool measures 101 ft. by 202 ft. by 40 ft. deep and holds 6.2 million gallons of water. Although the pool is big, the ISS at 350 ft. x 240 ft. (when complete), will not fit inside the NBL pool. Full size modules exactly like the ISS and replicas of the Space Shuttle cargo bay sit on the bottom of the pool. Safety divers assist the astronauts as they maneuver their bulkiness around the various components.
Neutral Buoyancy describes something that has an equal tendency to float as it does sink. Articles that are configured to be neutrally buoyant seem to \\\”hover\\\” underwater. Large, neutrally buoyant items can be easily manipulated much like in orbit. Although there are differences and limitations, neutral buoyancy is currently the best available method for EVA (Extra vehicular activity) training. Extravehicular means outside the confines of the ISS and Space Shuttle i.e. walking in space.
The previous 16 years, I worked at JSC (Johnson Space Center) and dealt mainly with hardware destined for space flight.
I worked many different and diverse areas ranging from manufacturing, thermal and vacuum testing, pyro technic explosive bolts, arc jet plasma simulation, and medical life sciences. It was unique and very interesting.
One of the elements of this new position deals with the human element – and that is primarily astronauts. They are intelligent people who must be experts in all of the many systems on board the space shuttle. Many of them are very friendly and are excited about what they do.
Being part of the Quality Assurance department, we work closely with everyone at the NBL and on occasion, get to chat with the astronauts before or after the training sessions. Particularly during de-brief where they discuss issues that occurred during a training session.
A recent highlight of the job came when the NBL received a phone call from the ISS. The conversation was piped through the intercom system. The American crew thanked everyone at the NBL for their assistance in preparing them for their difficult mission.
Another bonus came when astronaut Joe Tanner gave us a presentation of the most recent mission STS-115. STS stands for Space Transport System. Joe showed slides and video of some incredible views of the mission.
(Editor’s note: Tyrone native Rick Stonebraker will be on hand at the Tyrone-Snyder Public Library to give a special presentation entitled “Journey Into Space” on Friday, March 23 at 7 p.m. The presentation will include the STS-115 mission visiting the International Space station to deliver supplies and install a solar antenna array. He will also show how the shuttle is assembled with the external fuel tanks and the solid rocket boosters. The public is invited to attend what is sure to be an exciting presentation.)