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Episode 154: Dan Tani Interview 2: Life as a Newbie Astronaut

Table of Contents

During the previous episode, NASA introduced its largest ever astronaut class. Let’s hear about what life as a newbie astronaut is like from someone who was there: Dan Tani! Buckle up because this interview is over an hour long!

Episode Audio>

Episode Audio #


Photos #

This is one of the few times I get to use one of my own photos for the podcast! Thanks for sitting down with me, Dan.
Dan does his best sardine impression.
Astronaut Class 16, "The Sardines". Dan Tani stands in the back row and has his head circled.
The Sardine class patch.


Transcript #

NOTE: This transcript was created by using OpenAI’s tool Whisper which is pretty good but is still artificial intelligence transcription, so expect errors. Also, it can’t identify who’s speaking, so the entire interview is just sort of smooshed together, but it’s better than nothing. I could go through this line by line and fix it but I figure I’ll just wait until the AI transcription gets better. That said, if you notice any mistakes, feel free to shoot me a message and I’ll fix it.

Hello, and welcome to The Space Above Us. Episode 154: Dan Tani Interview 2: Life as a Newbie Astronaut

Last time, we floated down to the Atlantis Middeck, over to the airlock, and across the Docking Module with Shannon Lucid, kicking off her six month stay on Mir. We learned some of the quirks of how Russia trains people for spaceflight, the power of food when living in a flying tin can, and why you shouldn’t try to send a watermelon to space. And if nothing else, I can say that this podcast taught me how to spell the name Onufriyenko.

Today we’re going to be doing something a little different. Because today, rather than learning about spaceflight history from old documents and books we’ll be getting it straight from someone who was there: Dan Tani. We first spoke to Dan about a year ago, when he told us about his involvement with the STS-51 mission in 1993. Back then he was working as an aerospace engineer helping to bring the TOS upper stage to fruition. A malfunctioning spacecraft separation system added a little extra adrenaline to Tani’s life back then, but it made for a great story for us.

It’s been a year for us, at least if you’re listening to the podcast as the episodes come out, but almost three years has passed in the narrative. During that time, Tani applied to a particularly interesting job offered by the federal government. On May 1st, 1996, he and 43 of his classmates were announced as Astronaut Group 16, later known as The Sardines. Dan was gracious enough to agree to speak with me again, so today we’ll be hearing about what the experience of applying to be an astronaut is like. We’ll also be learning about the day to day life of an astronaut early in their career, before being assigned to a mission. I later joked with some of the folks on the The Space Above Us patreon discord chat that hopefully I have a good read on my audience because I realized that this interview was essentially “don’t talk about flying in space, tell me more about all this paperwork you filled out.”

But don’t worry, what I’ve got for you today covers a wide range of topics that offers an incredible glimpse into astro-life in the 1990s. Including some sage advice from the great John Young.

This interview is also notable because it’s the first time that I’ve ever done an interview in person! And with that comes a little note about the audio. I suspect most folks wouldn’t think twice about this but I like to set the bar pretty high for myself and I’ve got some audiophile friends who will call me out if I don’t acknowledge it myself first. In an attempt to guarantee high quality audio in an uncertain situation, I brought along three different recording devices to the interview and they all did OK but none of them really nailed it. The one I’m going with should be perfectly easy to understand but between our distance from the microphone and a slightly echoey room it won’t have the same sound quality as my usual at-home setup. Oh well, now I know better. Maybe lavalier mics next time.

I also want to mention that if this interview sounds a little raw, you’re right. I had a few people comment on my first interview with Dan, saying that I could have tightened it up a bit with some judicious editing. This is just my personal preference, but I actually like having an interview that has as few edits as possible, even if that means it’s a little rough around the edges. It makes it feel more authentic because, well, it is. So you’re pretty much just going to be a fly on the wall for our entire conversation.

And now that I’ve drawn far more attention to minor audio flaws than they deserve, let’s get on with the interview and remember why I usually read from a script!

Oh and before I play the interview, one more quick disclaimer. There’s not really anything that warrants having a disclaimer, but since Tani and I both work for NASA (him directly and me through a contractor) I’ll mention that neither of us are speaking in an official capacity and are just speaking for ourselves, not our employers. OK here we go.

All right, so let’s start off basically, like, I mean, you’ve heard how I introduce people on the show, so like, what was your kind of education background, and like, you know, went to the US Naval Academy, so like, you know, what was, how’d you get into that path? Sure. So I’m a product of public schools in the suburbs of Chicago, and elementary school, junior high, and high school. And I graduated high school thinking I would study math and went to the University of Chicago and started studying math, and boy, it got hard really fast. So at Chicago, my first year at Chicago, I had a guy that lived on my floor, he transferred from MIT, I’d heard about MIT, and I knew its reputation, but never, it was just never something that I considered, but talking to him, especially about engineering, and I don’t, it’s hard for me to believe that I made it to 19 years old and really hadn’t, didn’t really understand about what engineering was. And so, got turned on by the idea of building stuff, and University of Chicago is a great theoretical place, but does not have an engineering degree, so thought I should, sounds like that’s really what I want to do. So applied to MIT, and got accepted, so transferred to MIT, actually after two years at Chicago, and started mechanical engineering, because I get how things move, and I get forces, that is easier for me than stuff I can’t see, like chemicals or electrons, stuff like that. So really enjoyed it, because there’s a design aspect, and you get to build stuff, and you get to learn how tools work, and so, mechanical engineering degree. My real passion was, kind of is, continues to be, consumer products, or things that people interact with, and the way they are designed. So really thought that I would come out and design stuff, toaster ovens, pens, stuff with a human interface. But one of the things you do, at least at MIT, your senior year, is you look at the people that are interviewing for jobs, and you find out where you’d like to go take a trip, and so you do a geography-based interview strategy, and there’s a company, Hughes Aircraft, that was coming to town, and they’re in Los Angeles, and I remember leaving, this is right during spring break, leaving Boston in a snowstorm, and landing in Los Angeles, it was 75 degrees, and spending the day after my interview at the beach thinking, you know, I could probably do this, and I was, at that point, still wondering whether I’m going to go to grad school or get a job. So I got a job offer at the old Hughes Aircraft company in Los Angeles, and they used to be one of these big, giant manufacturers of satellites, and joined them. So really joined aerospace, not out of any true love for space, I mean, I thought it was really cool, and I liked the things that go high and stuff, but that’s how I got into the space industry. While I was there, they had, Hughes had the misfortune of having a stranded satellite in orbit, the LESAT satellite in orbit, and I worked for the, I just happened to work for the department that was tasked for building the tools and stuff for the astronauts to go salvage the satellite. And so got to build some tools, got to meet the astronauts, they came out, it was a big deal when they came out. And that’s the first time I met some astronauts, and again, you would think this would occur to you before you’re 20-something years old, but they’re just people, and they have a great job, but they’re fun to hang around with and hear their stories. And that was a light bulb moment where I thought, well, that’s pretty, they have this great job, it’s not impossible that I could get that same job, but still really never pursued it as a thought. But I remember that being a moment where I remember thinking, wow, these are just real people that had another job and then got lucky enough to get this job. So this wasn’t like a childhood dream kind of situation? No, not at all. No. I say that, I liked rockets, I built model rockets and stuff, but never had any, and I also, I was nine years old when we landed on the moon, eight years old when we landed on the moon, and everybody was playing astronauts. So we were all pretending to be astronauts, but as a real career goal, absolutely not. So yeah, so then let’s see, I went back to grad school, and then thought I had left aerospace engineering and got a call from my old boss at Hughes, he had joined a little company I’d never heard of in Virginia, and he asked me to come to interview, and I said no, and he said, well, come on down and we can have lunch. And so a couple months later, I joined this startup called Orbital Sciences that nobody had known anything about at that time, and when I left I was really impressed and I thought, I remember thinking, I wonder what the hundredth employee at TRW was doing right now. Now at that time, TRW was a huge aerospace giant, they’re not anymore, but that was the impression I was going to get. The impression was that this Orbital Sciences Corporation was going to be significant and it would be good to get in the starting gate there, and it’s turned out to be true, they’ve done very, very well. And so I joined them and got back into aerospace and met more astronauts, of course, in that job. Because that was the STS-51. Right, that was the TOS, the Transfer Orbit Stage on STS-51, that was the first mission, first project that I worked on. The TOS was the first product that Orbital Sciences, it was the reason they were created. And so I got to work with them and that’s how I got, and during that time, they started taking applications for the astronaut program, as they do every couple of years, made a call for applications and filled it out and just got lucky. So that’s sort of my surreptitious path, or circuitous path I should say, to getting the best job in the world. I think that’s super interesting though, I think it’s almost more interesting that you see some of these people who are very laser focused on this one goal, I think it’s cool that you kind of discovered it on the way and went, hey, this is interesting, and took a step, hey, this is also interesting, and took a step, and all of a sudden you’re getting strapped into a space shuttle. Right, that’s how it felt, right. And I’m always impressed that there are people that knew they wanted to be an astronaut when they were six years old that became an astronaut, because it’s so hard, there are a million reasons, there are a million off-ramps to that path, and to know which one to take at the right time, or get lucky enough, I would say of course. And when I talk to kids now who want to be astronauts, you tell them it’s a great job and it’s a great goal, don’t count on it because there’s so much that’s out of your control. But the things that are in your control are more things that can take you out of the game. I mean there are decisions that you can make that will eliminate astronaut as a choice, even when you’re 15 years old or 20 years old, and so you’ve got to make sure to make the right decisions and not get into trouble and not do the stupid things, and stay on a good path. Like you said, astronauts are just people, so you don’t have to be the literal Eagle Scout track, but also it’s like, hey, you’ve got to have a certain amount of having your stuff together. Right, yeah, no, exactly right. But yeah, that’s really interesting, because you’re right, you could be totally perfect, but you’ve got to be lucky at the same time. I think about in the early days, I forget which round it was, but they got more applicants than they expected, so they just divided it into three groups, and they liked somebody in the first group, they just dumped the entire third group without even telling them, and I think some people came back and applied again, but it’s still like, oh my god. Yeah, well, and so I’ve been on the other side of the selection process, I’ve been on the selection committee, and it’s overwhelming, the thousands and thousands of applicants that you know you’re going to hire a dozen or so, and to be honest with you, those applications are outstanding, they’re all outstanding. And so it’s hard to narrow it down, and I’m sure there’s a great deal of luck, but also what’s the agency looking for at that time? You may have a great specialty, you may be the geologist, but the agency might not need geologists for the foreseeable future, or whatever, or that may be exactly what they’re looking for. So, you’re right, there’s a great deal of luck, that’s how I would say it. Yeah, it’s kind of like when they shifted over to shuttle, all of a sudden, the pilots, it’s like, okay, well there’s two pilots, or two people flying the thing for each flight, and there’s five in the back, so which side are you going to be on, and increase your chances. And all of a sudden, that completely flipped around. Right, you’re right, and now, I guess we’re still hiring pilots, NASA’s still hiring pilots, you still have a pilot sort of person in the capsule, but the skill set is not what you think of as traditional hand and stick, stick and rudder pilot. For sure. All right, well, so, I guess, as you know, we like to get into the, I’ve described, one thing I like to do on the podcast is, don’t tell me you landed on the moon, tell me what buttons you hit, and what order, and why. So, how did you apply to become an astronaut? What is the physical process like? Did you call someone? Do you have to get the mail, or how does it work? So, as I said, we were sitting in the bullpen, the engineering bullpen, we were at the Kennedy Space Center, we were TDY, all TDY, we lived in, our office was here in Virginia, but six of us had moved down there, because we were building this thing, integrating it at the Cape, and so we were sitting in our bullpen, and somebody said, hey, they just put a poster on the bulletin board, a literal bulletin board, that said they’re looking for astronauts that are doing an astronaut selection, and we looked at each other and laughed about, like, wouldn’t that be cool? Did you rip a little tag off the body and, like, call this number? No, but we did call information, and from that phone in our cubicle, and to get the Johnson Space Flight Center, the general information number, called them, asked for the astronaut selection office, talked to somebody there, and said, hey, can you mail four applications out, because at that time, it was just paper that was mailed to you, there was no downloading or anything. Right, yeah. And so, they mailed four applications out, we spent, you know, the four of us guys spent, you know, a couple days filling them out, and I remember it was due on July 1st, I remember FedExing it to them, because, you know, because why do something early when you can procrastinate and do it at the last minute? Don’t tell me that lesson. But I remember having to FedEx it out, and get it there on time. And so, it’s the SF-171, it’s the same government application you fill out if you want to be a postal worker, or FBI agent, or whatever, anything working for the government. There were a few specific, astronaut-specific sheets, but it was mainly medical, and flying, so what’s your flying experience, and then what’s your medical, basically, history. And so, pretty simple application, you know, what are your last three jobs, responsibilities, stuff like that. It is funny they ask you what salary you would be expecting if you were going to be an astronaut, so you think, you know, it’s basically, you don’t want to say free, you don’t want to be too high, you know, it’s easy to overthink. I don’t think anybody looks at that, but it is a funny number that you have to write in there. Yeah. Game theory problem. Right. Yeah. Right. So, you send it in, physically, back then, this is 1993, so you fill it out on the typewriter, and then you send it in, U.S. Mail or FedEx, that time, and then you wait, and that’s in July, that was 93, they were going to do a selection for a class of 94, and they ended up not doing a selection that year, so then they put the selection off for a year, and so a year later, I got a card that said, we are re-running the selection, so here’s a blank application, please fill in any updates from your last application. Do it again. Filled a few out, it was actually just the deltas, so just the changes. So filled a few out, had a few more flight hours or something, and sent it in, again, in July, and then heard nothing, heard nothing, and had heard rumors that the selection’s going to be made, and so they did announce a class in 95, a class in 95, and then I think I had to call, or I can’t remember if I got the card, but basically, thank you very much, but no thank you. Oh, I did get a request to go get a class three physical, an FAA physical. I didn’t realize where that put me in the process. I knew that they weren’t going to give everybody $75 to go get a physical, but they paid me $75 to go get a physical, so I figured that put me at some level of selection. I found out much later that, yeah, I did well to get that far. Did they give you any sort of feedback on, like, hey, I guess, you can answer that, but like, hey, you were close, or like, hey, why don’t you maybe apply again next time, or just like, hey, thanks? Yeah, no, zero feedback. Zero feedback. In fact, you just get a, first of all, my memory is that I saw the press release that they announced a class in 95, and then I got a letter saying, yeah, thank you, you’ve not been selected, but then they turned around and did another selection the very same year, so they started another selection, they announced a class in 95, they started another selection, they were going to do a class in 96, so fill out another, send another blank application. I literally had no updates to my previous application, so I signed blank, I signed the bottom of blank application forms because I had no deltas, sent it back in, and again, I thought, you know, I really had no hopes, and then got the, but did get a request to get another physical, so scheduled that up, and I remember the physical was early October, and it was at three in the afternoon or something, and the phone rang at, I don’t know, 11 in the morning, and she said, hey, this is Teresa from the astronaut selection office. I said, hey, I’m just about to get the physical, it’s scheduled today, and she goes, no, that’s okay, I know it’s coming, but I wanted to know if you’d like to come down and interview for the position, and so I said, the stupidest thing that you can say, which is, well, hold on, let me look at my calendar, and I’m getting my, you know, the old paper calendar out, and as I’m getting it out, I’m thinking, what am I doing, like, oh, yeah, there’s only one, turns out, yeah, no problem, oh, yeah, there’s no problem, that’s a nice, clear week, so I went down last week in October to interview, and so now the machine is just, you know, rolling, I mean, now the train’s leaving the station, you jump on, and you hold on, right, and I think what was really valuable for me, I think, in my opinion, is that I didn’t have a lot of time to, A, research what was supposed to happen in the astronaut interview, or worry about it. So you couldn’t really metagame it, you know, you just kind of went into it. I didn’t have the opportunity, there was just no time, there was pre-internet everywhere, and so it certainly wasn’t as easy googling, you know, astronaut interview. I had a friend, I used to work with Janice Voss, and she got selected in 92, and so I called Janice, and I said, hey, I got the interview, and I got a little bit of advice from her, but it was, I think, a benefit to me to go into the interview week pretty cold, not knowing too much about what it was going to be like, because I think you could really overthink it, and get stressed out about it, and over-prepare, it’s one of those things I think you could really over-prepare. So I flew down, it’s a week, so this is early 90s, it’s changed format now, but it used to be a one-week process with 20 people in your interview class from Sunday morning until Friday afternoon or Friday morning, and you show up on Saturday night, Sunday morning, they come and pick you up, and then you see the 20 of you all in one room, and you’re looking around, and it’s really a fun time. Trying to size everyone up? Kind of, it’s sort of, it was really, first of all, mentally you’re looking at the 20, and mentally you’re trying to figure out where you are in that 20, and mentally everybody puts themselves around 18th or 19th, and then it only gets more depressing the better you get to know everybody, because everybody’s so nice, and everybody’s so talented, accomplished, and I recognized one of the guys in my interview class, which is amazing, Mike Massimino, he got to pick together, and Mike and I were in the same lab at grad school, and it was kind of weird to look across and recognize him, I kind of remembered him, and he did a thing, and yeah, so anyway, you show up Sunday morning, you get a whole bunch of psychological tests and standardized tests you do, you spend the day doing tests, but then you get to spend the week with these 20 people, and it’s really fun, and it’s really, really enjoyable. I still remember virtually everybody in my interview class really well, we got really lucky in the 20, we got nine selected in my year, yeah, we were the best represented interview class, and it’s a week of physicals, mainly medical physicals, physical evaluations, a one hour panel interview with the selection committee, a couple hours with the psychiatrist, it’s a little different now, nowadays they do more, some skill assessments, and some coordination assessments, and they break the weeks, they break up into two weeks, so that there’s a cut, you come down for a couple days, they make a cut, and some get invited for the second week, so you have a little bit more insight into how you’re doing through the process, so after the week, they tell you, okay, we’ll let you know in March or April or something like that, and you sit on your hands, and you fret, and you stay in touch with your friends, and you hear some rumors, and then I got the call in April, I can’t remember, April 12th or something like that, and I remember hearing that if you get a call from the chair of your panel, which was John Young, you would get, you’re in, if the call is from Dwayne Ross, who’s the head of the office, used to head the office, then you didn’t get picked, and so, yeah, so I picked up the phone, and it was David Lietzma, who was the chief of the, yeah, actually, he was chief of FCOD, which is a little higher than me, he’s the chief of the astronaut’s office boss, and so I pick up the phone, hey, this is Dave Lietzma, and I’m thinking, I don’t know what, how to think, I don’t know, I’m waiting for this call, I’ve been thinking about, it’s not supposed to be you, right, I’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen during this call, and you know, they picked 35 of us that year, so there were a lot of calls to make, so they had split up the calls, but I remember hanging up, because it’s as classic as the stories you hear, which is, they say, hey, do you want to come and work for us down here, and you go, yes, of course, thank you, and they go, okay, great, we’ll be in touch, and you hang up, and the word astronaut is never spoken, right, and so you hang up, and you think, I wonder what job I just accepted, they could throw any job at me now, and I just accepted whatever job they wanted me to come down to Houston and do, but it is a bit of an out-of-body moment to get that call, so. So can we take one quick step back, I’m curious about, I mean, could you talk a little bit more about what all the psych tests, and all that, the reason I ask is just because I think a lot of people have this image of like, from the right stuff, and then stuff parodying the right stuff, like the kind of Mercury days, which I understand that like, you know, it’s more involved than like, going to like a normal doctor physical, but like, it’s not quite the Mercury days anymore. Right. So the written exams are all those personality tests, and I think you’d probably take all of them, and it’s those tests that are, you know, would you rather read a book, or squish a bug, or would you rather, you know, cook soup, or, you know, these things that seem you’re not sure exactly what they’re looking for, and you’re sure it probably puts you on some place on the matrix, and you just sit down, you do them, and, you know, and I remember thinking, after I was done with them, that there was a lot of trust questions, you know, and a lot of, I guess I remember taking it and thinking, I think they want to know here, do you basically believe that everybody’s trustworthy, or people are not trustworthy. I remember coming away thinking that was one of these metrics that one of these, they put you on some scale there. Okay, so, so those are the written tests. And then the medical tests are almost anything you can imagine, echocardiogram, where they sonogram your heart, EKG, they do an abdominal ultrasound, so it’s all medicals, but really you go into some room, you take off your clothes, they do something to you for, you know, half an hour with some machine, and then you go put your clothes back on, go to another room, do the same thing, over and over again. So it’s like every medical test you’ve ever had, but in one day. Yes, in three days, right, on a schedule, and you have to be here or there. There are the, the one thing that I’d heard about that, that we got was they zip you up in a little bag, and they sit you there for 20 minutes. It’s a claustrophobia screen. But it’s a opportunity to take a nap. Yeah. That sounds great. It was, it was, it was hard to stay awake, because you’re so exhausted from the week. There was zero, none of the spin you around, stress you testing at that time. I don’t think they do anything like that now, but, so there was none of the, yeah, bring into altitude in a chamber. There was none of the, again, you know, that three axis spinning around or centrifuge. None of that. That’s interesting. They don’t do that. That’s not, I think they found that, you know, your ability to withstand spinning in three axis and then throwing up or not throwing up has no dwelling whatsoever how you’re going to do in zero G. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s where they’ve come to that. Yeah. Because I remember reading that, like, you know, it was like, especially as they’re really trying to nail down what it was, they were just surprised. It’s like, we’ve got this like test pilot who’s like, you know, like can do anything to him on the ground and he’s like sick out of his mind up there. Whereas like, you know, someone who just, you know, like someone in a lab, no problem. Right. Yeah. I think my memory when I was there at least was there was no correlation between motion sickness and space sickness and it was not predictive how well you’re going to do. So no need to shake you up. There’s no needs, right? So if you’re not going to, if there’s no correlation, then if it’s just luck plus almost everybody, even if you’re really sick on day one, it feels great on day three. So right. Right. People, people get through it. Let’s see, any, I’m trying to think of other things that, that happened that week that are, that are of interest. The, you know, it’s the panel interview is the, the, the high, high stress moment of the week. And you go in and it’s 12 people or so, 10 of them are astronauts, generally people, you know, fantastically famous people that you knew, you know, I was honored to have John Young chair my panel and, and other astronauts that I’d, I’d heard of. And then, um, and it’s a conversation that you have with them and it starts, uh, just like, just tell me a story. And, and, uh, it was, uh, simple in the fact that it was a conversation and, and, uh, stressful in the fact that you realize that this is your only opportunity, this is your big opportunity to, um, to show them who you are and what’s important to you. Yeah. I guess you can speak to this on the other side, but it seemed to me like that part is always like, you know, we know all of your numbers, we know all of your background, but like, we’re going to try and just get a sense of like, what’s going on in your head just by kind of poking at you a little bit. And that’s, that’s your opportunity to show what’s in your head, I guess. Yeah. Kind of. I think it’s, you know, I’m going to say it’s, I would. It was my experience. I’ll just speak, speak for me, my experience that it was more like speed dating. You have an hour, you’re going to, you’re going to meet this person. You’re going to come away from that. You’re going to come away because everybody at that point, if you’ve gotten the interview, you are fully qualified in terms of, you know, you pay your accomplishments and what you look like on paper. And the question is, can I sit with this person for, uh, 15 hours flying to Moscow? Can I live with them in a, in a, in a, in an apartment for eight weeks in Germany while we go through training? Or can I live with this person for six months or 10 months, whatever, in a tin can orbiting the earth. And so there’s this hard to define or, or, or hard to tailor personality type or, you know, ease of, you know, somebody that can, you can get along with easily and be enjoyable to work with. And that’s this intangible. That’s really difficult. It’s difficult to describe. It’s difficult to change. So you know, you can tell what people are trying to put it on. And I’d say it’s a lot like dating you some, some, it’s something clicks in, in, in, in you. Uh, when you, when you interviewing that person and you know, you have a great conversation or you learn something funny or you learn something interesting or, um, and so that’s the, this one hour conversation allows that, that to come out and, uh, yeah, you get to learn about what makes them tick, what’s important to them and, um, but more importantly, you just sort of what, what, what are they like and you know, is that, is that what I’m looking for? And then we can talk about it as a panel. Is that what we’re looking for? Interesting. Wow. That’s interesting. But I think, you know what? I think most job interviews like that. Yeah. It’s just that this is a hype. This is, you know, very high profile, very high stress. And so, but I think that, and, and the estimate office has the, uh, has the, uh, benefit of having a zillion applicants. So we can be really choosy. Um, but, uh, but I, you know, most job interviews are like that. Your resume gets you in the door, uh, and then, you know, the ability for you to fit in or be part of a team, uh, that’s interviewing, uh, you is probably what gets you selected. Cool. All right. So you, now you’ve gotten the call for, uh, that like, Hey, you’re coming down to work for Houston. Right. Like, you know, what happens next? I mean, obviously you moved to Houston, but like, how do you actually, what is like the first few days on the job? Like, yeah, so, um, let’s see, in my case, I went down, uh, you know, a month before or so start looking for a place to live maybe as a couple of months. And so while you’re down there, um, uh, you meet with a realtor and you start looking for houses. Sure. Yeah. But while you’re down there, they scheduled out for some other things. And so there are these things that, uh, as a civilian or as a, as a non-astronaut, you, you, you just find them interesting. So I had to go get my feet measured because one of the things they start is they’re going to make you a custom made set of flight boots for flying T-38. All right. You get a custom made set. So they come and they trace your feet and you’re right, and you, you do the thing. Uh, and then they, um, they measure you for flight suits, right? So you’re going to get a flight suit, but that’s just a basic measurements. They don’t tailor custom make a flight suits for you. Um, and, uh, Oh, they get a measurement, uh, because they’re going to get a helmet for you. You’re going to, you’re going to go down, you’re going to fly T-38. So that’s the first thing you’re going to learn how to do is fly these airplanes. So you need all the personal equipment for that. So you get a helmet, you get your flight, flight boots and all that stuff. Um, and so, uh, that’s the stuff that gets done ahead of time. And then you come down and it’s your first day. You go to the, you go and you go to building one. And the first thing they do is swear you in. If you’re not already a federal employee, you were becoming a federal employee already. That’s my day. First day of becoming a federal employee. So you have to get sworn in to, you have to take the oath as a, every federal employee must. And, uh, uh, so half of us were not, or we’re not new to the federal government. So, uh, you know, we got sworn in and then it’s, uh, it’s sort of a first week of job. I’m going to say fairly typical that has an orientation for a group of people that are coming in. Um, and so you do, you know, you get, here’s how to fill out expense report. Here’s where the cafeteria is, all that stuff. Yeah. Um, the group of, Oh, I was just saying the night before our first day, we got together as a class for the first time, got to meet each other, met at one of the, one of the guys houses. He hosted, um, all of us over there and it was fun to, fun to walk in this room and big party seat. These people, we’ve got pictures before we raised, got the press release and we got pictures, but, but, uh, hadn’t met each other. And, and, uh, it was a moment like maybe your freshman year in college where you show up and you see these people and you realize there’s going to be important people in your life. And, uh, this is the first time you get to meet them. And I remember, uh, that and, uh, and then, so now you’re a group, now you’re a class, there’s a class leader, somebody selected as a class leader. And so you meet every day as a class and you start working the logistics of how you’re going to work as a class. And, you know, uh, just like any other group of a class of 35 people actually were 44 people because we had nine internationals with us. And, uh, so it’s a big group, lots of logistics, who’s gonna, you know, got a calling tree back, you know, back then, cause he needed a calling tree and who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that. Um, and, uh, I, my, the first week was just, uh, orientation here’s, here’s how to, here’s how to work at the Johnson space flight center. And then, uh, pretty soon you start doing trips because, uh, one of the things you do is ask hands or called ask hands, not candidates. One of the things you do is ask Kansas, go visit all the NASA centers, get to know, get to see, and be at all the nest centers. And, um, uh, you pay homage to the centers and they get to, they get to get the pictures of the astronauts coming through. And, um, so it’s, it’s, it’s called ask and training. You’re just learning at that time, you learn everything you can about the shuttle, uh, about how NASA works a little bit about station at that time. And, uh, they start putting you in Sims pretty soon, uh, because there’s, uh, they, they, NASA Johnson space flight center needs the astronauts to do these things like, uh, staff Sims, so simulations, right. They need crews to sit in the shuttle and sit in the, in the, in the station to do a mission simulations. So, so, um, uh, so that’s important. And then, uh, probably the most important thing you do is an ask hand class when it went, because we started usually starting in August, late August, early September, um, uh, biggest thing that on your docket is to, uh, the ask hands, uh, have to provide the entertainment at the Christmas lunch. And it becomes clear to you soon on, uh, pretty soon that, uh, that’s a big responsibility. The previous class has been waiting for you to show up, so they don’t have to do it anymore. And, uh, and so you provide an hour of entertainment at the Christmas lunch. I assume this is still tradition and, um, and you have to strike the right balance of, uh, the reverence, uh, but, uh, but you can’t cross the line, right? So you, you, you try to, you, you figure out who you can insult gently and who you can’t. And it’s fun. And, uh, um, but that is a responsibility you have until, until the new class comes along. And, uh, uh, so you start worrying about that pretty soon, pretty, pretty soon in early test. It’s an early test. It’s right. Um, so I’m curious, you know, I know that especially like as an as can, you would go through learning all about the basics of all this stuff. Do they ever talk at all about like the history of that? Like, would you learn about lessons learned or stuff from like Gemini or they just like, you know, be like, Hey, listen, we’ll, we’ve applied that, you know, you’ll get that inherently through shuttle training. I’m just kind of curious about like an average astronaut going into this, will they come out knowing much about like, you know, stuff like on Gemini nine, a, you know, no, certainly not to that level. Certainly not to the level of, uh, of the missions. And I, just because of the kid way I was raised, I knew all about the Mercury and Gemini. I knew about human space flight because I was sort of that kid. I think there were people that were, became astronauts that had no, no knowledge of history. I don’t know how they learned because we did not get specific, uh, knowledge, uh, specific lectures or anything about it. We did have, uh, speakers, um, Al Bean came and talked to us and, uh, but he talked more about painting than about going to the moon. Um, but, uh, but he did talk to us. So you get these little history lessons by, by seeing the real, the real deal. Gene Kranz actually came and talked to us, um, uh, and, um, we, it was amazing. We got Neil Armstrong to come, he was here for some other reason, but he came and spoke to our class and, uh, that was, that was something else too. So we got a lot of the history, um, from the stories of the people that were invited to talk to us that were, and that was fantastic. That’s a good way to get that history. Yeah. I mean, I was, I have, I was lucky enough to be there when John Young was in the office. And so, I mean, John’s so famous for, uh, for, uh, the stories he tells in irreverent ways, but he’ll, uh, you know, and that boy, there’s one guy who, when he was walking around and he was Gemini, he was Apollo, he was shuttle and, uh, and a story would come out about, you know, on MI eight, I was blah, blah, blah, and you think, wow, this is, you know, firsthand account of, uh, of what happened. And, um, uh, so, you know, we, we, I think all of us were smart enough to get our history, uh, uh, about John, uh, so that we knew, you know, the basics of his flight. And, uh, and so when he came out with a story, it was relatable to us or we understood what’s going on. Actually, that’s perfect. One thing I specifically wanted to ask about was if you ever had any notable John Young moments since I know a number of astronauts have had that moment of like, Oh no, um, I liked John a lot. Uh, I had the privilege of flying T3 with him, uh, several times I went to the Cape with him. He, he used to love to go to the Cape just for two hours, walk around the, uh, the, uh, OMB, uh, just to kick the tires and talk to people, talk to folks, scare everybody. Well, he was great. I mean, it was really amazing, you know, you’re, here’s these guys that are gluing tiles onto the bottom of the shuttle. And here comes John Young, just wants to say, hi, how you doing? And find out how things are. He was, he understood the value that he had to the workforce morale. And he took his job, he took that responsibility seriously. I really respect that, you know, his just to walk around and shake hands and, uh, and be Mr. Uh, Mr. Shuttle, uh, there, but, uh, but my favorite saying he had two sayings. One was, uh, one was, uh, uh, never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom because you never know when the next one’s going to be. So I always think that’s John and, uh, Hey, Johnny, you want to, you mind if I hit the head? Nope. Of course. Nope. Never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom. Um, and the other is, uh, somebody would say, Captain Young, uh, did you walk on the moon? He goes, Nope. I worked on the moon. Yeah. Yeah. So I like that, but, uh, I, I don’t have any specific stories other than, I mean, I just remember him in Monday morning meetings. Uh, uh, he would sit quietly for an hour and then the chief of the office would go around the room getting any last comments and, uh, John Young would be the last person you, you would ask. And so he, he’d go around and then chief of the office, he had him or her say, Captain Young, you have anything that you want to add? And, uh, John would just stand up. He’s got his notes and he’d go, I’m just a stupid pilot. You know, I don’t know much about this and that. And then he would come out with some, uh, either, uh, some incendiary remark about, uh, something or about, about some design that he thought was stupid or, or something or some really insightful thing that nobody had thought about, um, uh, or some aspect of, uh, it was generally safety related, some flight safety thing that, that he had been thinking about just waiting for the time to, for, to get the, to get the floor. He was great. He was, uh, he was the astronauts, astronaut, everybody, everybody respected him. I, I, uh, I think he was everybody’s hero there. I think I’ve mentioned this quote on the show, but my favorite John Young quote was, um, when some technician was asking him like, you know, how he wanted something displayed on the, um, the orbiter displays during an RTLS abort and he said, it doesn’t matter because if we’re doing an RTLS abort, I’m going to be covering my face and screaming. Because the, the, the movie, uh, uh, was the one before dream was alive, um, uh, hail Columbia. Yeah. All about the first STS one. And there’s a, there’s a, uh, a scene where it’s a press conference and, uh, it’s John and Krip, uh, sitting at the table and a million reporters. And, uh, somebody looks at him, says, uh, uh, Captain Young, uh, do you, do you think it’s going to, how do you think it’ll work if you have to use the, the, uh, uh, ejection seats? Cause right. You had these ejection seats in, in, on a shuttle, which had to, which I don’t know the details of, but of course you have to create a hole in the cockpit above you, all the wires and all the panels. So that had to go, I don’t know how that worked and then, and then seats that are going to come out of the thing. But you could tell that John was livid. He just was, he was, you could tell it was really angry about having to answer this question about the ejection seats. Because I think the question was more like, you know, you know, are you going to be man enough? Or I, I don’t know what the question, but, but if you see it, it’s hilarious. Wrong way to ask a question. You can see him seething right as, as he, as he looked at the guy and he goes, you just pull the handle. Yeah. That sounds great. Nope. You just pull the handle. Yeah. I’m going to check that out. That sounds great. So let’s say that you’ve gotten through your year of ASCAN training and you’re a full-fledged astronaut, but you’re not, you know, you’re not in assigned to any particular mission yet. What’s kind of like a day in the life if there is a typical one? Yeah. So I tell people that as astronauts, we are either training to fly or we are supporting our friends that are training to fly. And so the astronaut office itself has to do a lot of work and make a lot of decisions. And as an example, uh, you know, there’s a tool that’s being developed, uh, for an EVA and, um, uh, you either don’t know, or you can’t get the time for the actual EVA person to come and say, yeah, this tool is right or it’s wrong or it doesn’t work. So, so, uh, I was assigned to be, to be the EVA tools rep. Um, and I would go to meetings all over the center about these various tools that are being developed and my job would be to be the voice of the crew office. And it’s, it wasn’t solely my opinion. I would, I would, if it was important enough, I would have to bring it back and get a consensus from the astronaut office, but that was my job. We were, uh, we, we had representatives to the medical community and to the payloads and to the, uh, EVA and robotics and all this stuff. And so you had a job, you had a, I’ll call it an engineering management job. So like maybe you’re not the, you know, the last word on it, but it’s someone that they can easily access to run something by. You’re the belly button. Gotcha. You’re the belly button. Right. Right. Here’s a tool review. Who’s going to go? Well, you’re going to go because you’re the EVA tools, uh, person and it’s your responsibility to understand it. And so that when the, when the tool gets used and somebody has a complaint, Hey, who approved this design? Right. Then you’re, then you’re on the hook. But so, so, uh, while you’re waiting for a flight assignment, you are, uh, you’re doing a background level of training. So you’re always in the pool once a month or so during, during, uh, uh, EVA practice or you’re, you’re flying once a week or you’re, you know, you’re, you’re in Sims, um, but you have a technical jobs do that were called technical jobs. And, and as ask hands, you get these sort of engineering kind of manager kind of jobs as you get more senior, you’ll get a branch chief position where you have more responsibility, uh, maintaining a staff, the staff. And uh, so you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re, uh, you’re staffing the astronaut office. So the astronaut office has a voice in all the things that they’re involved in that they’re, that concerns them. Right. Right. Yeah. Okay. So it’s, it’s, it can, it’s sort of a nine to five job. I mean, it’s sort of, you know, you have, you have these technical meetings, your week, first of all, you get this fantastic thing, which is a scheduler schedule. Your schedule is given to you. That sounds like a super fantastic. That’s awesome. Right. Yeah. And so all the meetings that you have lined up or are under schedule plus all the training and all this stuff. So you just, you know, on Monday morning you get your schedule, Oh, here’s what I got to do. Here’s where I have to be. And, and, uh, and so, uh, the nice thing is you not only did you, you know, do the meetings and the technical stuff, but the, the overhead astronaut stuff is fun. It’s you know, you get to go flying, you get to go, um, uh, you know, underwater, you, you get, you know, two hours of gym time, you know, uh, spread out, uh, get that, uh, it’s assigned, you know, here’s your, here’s your gym time. Um, and so, you know, it’s, uh, I would say very few days are identical, um, uh, but it’s all pretty fun. So before you’re even assigned to a flight, are you doing any kind of like specialized trainings? I know you went into EVA later. So like, were you already kind of like focusing more on EVA or is it just kind of like, Hey, everyone gets a piece of EVA? Yeah. I was there at a break point. Uh, before I got there, uh, they, they were, they were, uh, uh, tailoring people to EVA or robotics or payloads, something like that. And uh, and then they realized, I think, or once station era was coming up, you needed, you needed, uh, generalists, you needed everybody pretty good at everything. And so, yes, everybody went through, uh, the EVA training, everybody went through robotics training. Everybody, uh, got payloads training. Um, I think it’s, it was clear, it is clear that, you know, some people are just better at one or the other, uh, things, um, but, uh, to make it easier on the people putting the screws together, you don’t want to be stuck with only, okay, I need an EVA, I need two EVA people. And here’s my, the only six EVA people we got over here. You want to be able to, you want to be able to pick wide. So, um, uh, in my era, uh, everybody went through the standard EVA, um, uh, basic training. Um, and I think that, you know, I, you would get identified, I think, as a, as a likely candidate, but everybody would, everybody would have, would, would go through and, uh, try the attempt is to have everybody proficient at everything. That’s the goal. Right, right. Uh, so, so one thing I’m curious about is I know that, um, you know, early on, and there’s a number of, uh, attempts that eventually succeeded to capture satellites from the shuttle on these like really complex EVAs that kind of didn’t turn out at all, uh, expected that kind of improvise and apply. So I’m curious, like, it seems like one of the big lessons learned from that was like, Hey, whatever we’re doing for this training is insufficient in some way. So I’m curious if you got to see any of the, uh, like the, those lessons being applied by the time you were training for it, like, Hey, you know, the one I could think of is, um, in fact, I think this was Lee sat where they want to grab it and it moved away and they’re like, Oh my God, the SIM didn’t do this. It’s like, well, yeah, the SIM didn’t, didn’t have six to off motion. Right. Um, I don’t, so the, the fidelity of that kind of, kind of training, uh, grew, I think by the time we got there and, uh, we were never, we were never pointed back. We have this training because it wasn’t sufficient. But, um, one of the fantastic labs at JSC, um, uh, gosh, now I’m trying to remember the name of the lab, uh, but it’s a, a, uh, uh, uh, augmented reality lab. The product is called Doug, but they do, they make the virtual fly around visual of the whole station inside and well outside, certainly cause you use it for EVA. And then they created a force thing where, um, uh, with pulleys and motors and servos, you can put a VR headset on, you could hold what looks like a satellite by, by holding these and you can, you can pull it towards you and then your partner who’s sitting back to back for you, uh, the thing that he’s holding is being pulled away from him. Right. And so, and then they can, they can make it, let’s make it a 3000 pound, uh, thing so that it has the inertia of a certain, so, so the, the, the, the mathematically they can make this thing feel like it’s a 50 pounds or 2000 pounds. That’s right. And so, and, and yeah, it really is cool. It’s really amazing. And so, and you can, you can pull that handle and you can turn your hand and you can see through the VR headset, your body being twisted around because you’re, you’re less massive than the thing you’re holding. So it’s really cool. Um, uh, it’s killing me now. I can’t think of the name of the lab, but those guys were geniuses and, uh, they, they, this virtual reality stuff was really fantastic. This was, this is, uh, it’s really complicated. It’s uh, it’s strings to, around pulleys to servos. And so you can move it, you can move this thing and it’s made to do satellite capture that kind of stuff or, or EVA handling where we’re going to bring out an MBSU, a big box and we’re going to hand it off to each other. And then you’re going to hold on and I’m going to come around and grab it. And so you can, you can practice it, really feel what that feels like. So the, I know the fidelity that was, was fantastic and it did, I would, you know, from my memory, it really did feel like we were moving that thing around and, uh, it, it gave you that sense. Yeah. That’s incredible. That’s, that’s the greatest. The, the lesson though, from like when I’m thinking of, of LESAT and the Westar Palapa, the, the, the other, the HS-376 rescue missions were the, for on the MMU where he went on the MMU. Oh yeah. With the stinger. The stinger. Yeah. Is, I mean, that, my memory of that is failure of, um, interface testing. And uh, they thought they’d, they built these tools, they thought, and you know, they thought it would be, they would work exactly and, and uh, for whatever reason, Murphy’s law, it just doesn’t. It doesn’t fit right, or the thing is just out of tolerance or the one that you used on the ground to make the tool isn’t exactly like the one that’s in orbit. And uh, and so I think the, the, what was learned there or, you know, what, what we take forward is you have to have a plan B and a plan C, probably a plan D, uh, because you think you’ve got a great plan A and something’s going to happen. Right. And a great plan A and then, you know, next day you’ve got three guys out in the payload bay, one, two, three, grab it. Right. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. That’s right. Amazing. Huh? They, they, uh, that three by EVA. That was just wild. Yeah. Yeah. Um, I guess, so, uh, is there anything you could say about like the early years in the job? What are some of the biggest surprises? Cause I mean, imagine you had a pretty good idea of where you’re getting into, but were there any aspects that really kind of caught you off guard in either a positive or negative way? Let’s see. So, um, one of the things that, uh, I remember is, uh, you know, you, you become, you interviewed to be an astronaut, you get the interview and then you get it and you’re, you feel like the king of the world and, um, and you go down to Houston and I’m an astronaut and you’re not cocky, trust me, you’re not cocky about it, but you do realize you, you feel you’re in the bubble, in your bubble, uh, you, you, it carries a lot of clout and, and you, you forget that, um, well, you forget that you’re in Clear Lake in outside of Houston where you can’t throw a, you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting an astronaut. So first of all, uh, you know, your kid goes to school, my dad’s an astronaut. Well my dad’s an astronaut. And so, uh, there was a, there were moments of humility where either people don’t care that you’re an astronaut. It’s not, it doesn’t make a difference. Um, uh, or it’s almost embarrassing that you’re an astronaut and you made this stupid mistake or whatever, you know? Yeah. Yeah. So, so it takes a little while to wear the astronaut suit, uh, metaphorically to feel the, the, the, the, to get the right level of, because people love meeting an astronaut. So, so you want to give, you want to give people the pleasure that really will appreciate it. Like, oh, he’s an, I heard he’s an astronaut. Oh yeah. You give them that, give them the pleasure of, of meeting an astronaut, but you don’t want to, you don’t want to brag about, you know, you don’t want to put it in people’s face. Yeah. Yeah. So I remember, um, again, I’ll say how to, how comfortable I am in the astronaut suit and how to, um, how to walk the balance between, uh, uh, giving people the pleasure of meeting somebody that’s, you know, going to fly in space or flew in space, um, uh, or, or annoying people that, you know, oh, here comes the astronaut. Right. So I remember that sort of as a, something that I hadn’t thought about that, that, uh, you know, you have to learn every, and every, each person has to learn their own style. Um, it’s funny, I feel like before, you know, I would have been surprised or maybe confused by that answer, but now I’ve had the tiniest version of that, which people say, what do you do? I work at NASA. I go, what? You know? So I can’t imagine, oh, I work at NASA, I work at NASA, but up there. Yeah. That’s my general rule, and my kids know this too, that when people ask me what I do, I’ll start with, I work at NASA and then I, I, I, I like to have them ask me a couple questions in before I’ll tell them about the astronaut thing, because A, they might not care, but B, if they really want to know, that’s fine, but I don’t want to feel like I’m, you know, you know. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s sort of a little surprise or an adjustment, um, I’m trying to think of the, the, you know, I guess it’s sort of related. You know, I work, you come down now, all of a sudden I work for the federal government and the government comes up a lot of paperwork and bureaucracies that, that, uh, you know, it’s famous for. And so, uh, you know, you, you, um, so even being an astronaut comes with a lot of administrative stuff that you just sort of forget that, oh yeah, that’s important. My favorite is the, um, expense report that you fill out after you come back from space and uh, because it’s a, it’s a business trip until you fill out the expense report. And uh, and I’ve still got my expense reports for both, both my flights and, and it says, you know, from traveled from Houston to the Kennedy space flight center on government air, uh, because we got to fly T38s and then, you know, lodging is, is supplied, is provided because you get to stay in crew quarters and, and food is, is, is provided. And then, uh, and then Kennedy space center center to low earth orbit on government transportation, uh, meals provided, you know, lodging provided. And so that’s kind of, uh, I, I hadn’t thought about that, but I really enjoyed, uh, the aspect of, yeah, it’s just a business trip. And uh, and administratively it’s treated just like a business trip. Uh, that actually leads to a good, uh, leads to a listener question. Uh, Amanda B asked, um, what percentage of the job is desk work? Uh, you know, well, you know, for astronauts, 99%, 95% of the job is on the ground, uh, because you don’t get to fly as much, uh, as, as you would like. And then, uh, of the time that you’re on the ground, um, you look like a general engineer or manager, I would say 50% of the time. So I would say 50% is, is, is desk work because you’re at a meeting or you’re doing, uh, you’re answering emails, you’re doing the stuff that, you know, workers, most jobs have to do. Uh, and the other 50% of the time, uh, you get to do, uh, astronaut training kind of specific stuff and that’s, uh, you know, we’re really privileged to, uh, working out as part of our job description. So going to the gym is, is work time, uh, flying T-38s, uh, doing robotics simulations or- Rappelling down the side of an orbiter. Yeah. Yeah. Right. Well, that’s flight specific. Yeah. Uh, the egress training. Um, so, uh, but you know, I would say half the time you look like, especially if you’re not assigned half the time is, is desk work. Once you’re assigned to flight, then, then you’re, then the job changes, then you’re all, then it’s all training. And, you know, you still have to do some administrative work, but, but it’s all training. All right. So, uh, speaking of desk work, uh, one thing that I’ve noticed, uh, is that a lot of NASA documents are pretty voluminous. Uh, like for instance, I was looking over the generic shuttle flight rules and it’s like 2,200 pages long. So just put it bluntly, do you guys actually read through that? Are you expected to know it all or it’s expected to know how to navigate it quickly or, you know, how does that work? Yeah. So, well, you know, that specifically the flight rules, which are every one of those flight rules has been negotiated and thought out and, and if anybody reads them, they’ll, what’s really pleasurable about them is you read the rule and the rule is, I don’t know, there’s some rule. And then there will be a justification and then backup text to explain how that decision was made. So if your life was so organized to have a set of rules that you could follow that as good as these flight rules, it would simplify a lot of your life. Um, uh, so those, fortunately for the crew, crew is not expected to know any of the flight rules because the ground does that. That’s a ground job. The ground job is to make sure that we were running, they were running the flight per the flight rules. So the flight directors are the really smart ones that have to know that back and forth. The crew, uh, is, is expected to know how to operate the vehicle. And so, um, you know, there’s a scout shuttle, it’s called the SCOM, I can’t remember what it was, but basically think of it as an owner’s manual for the, for the space shuttle. And, um, and it’s, it’s your, it’s our reference document for, uh, how the thing is wired, how the computers work, all that stuff. And we’re supposed to understand that, um, and so that when we are helping troubleshoot an issue, um, we understand how it works. But all those procedures, all of the procedures that we’d be expected to run have been collated into a set of, uh, flight procedures and, and those are the ones we carry with us. And, uh, so the systems have been boiled down to a set of procedures and we’re supposed to know those procedures, uh, very well. So that when we get asked to run them, oh, shuttle crew operations manual, the SCOM, right? Right. And that’s a big binder. Um, and it’s, uh, every switch and every, not every wire, it’s not, not, it’s not to the engineering level, but it’s to the user interface level. Um, and, uh, uh, so, but we all have our SCOM, uh, at our desk and, and something will come up and we’ll pull it out and, and, uh, figure out what was going on and what, uh, you know, especially if there’s a flight up and they’re having a problem, we’d all research and figure out what they should be doing. And I imagine that it’s not like a matter of sitting down like, okay, I’m going to read through this. So you just kind of, some issue comes up and you’ve got day to day training and piece by piece you fill it in. Right. Right. Gotcha. Yeah. No, the geniuses there are the flight directors. They’re the, they are the geniuses. They know that they know that those machines inside now and the, and the rules to operate them. And, uh, it’s really, it’s really amazing to watch them go through the flight rules and say, you know, 47 J sub a, you know, it says we’re supposed to remove power, but, you know, so it’s, it’s really cool to watch them operate. Every once in a while, Wayne Hale will like one of my tweets and it always makes my day. Yeah. Well, he’s, he’s a, he’s a, he’s a great example of a really outstanding flight director. This question might be impossible, but I’m going to ask it anyway. So one thing I always hear about is a lot of the training is finding and balancing the strengths and weaknesses of a crew to kind of get like an overall well-balanced crew. And I’m curious if it’s even possible to quantify it. Like what are some general strengths and weaknesses you see among the people you work with that you’d have to know? Like, like I, I struggled to even ask the question cause I’m not even sure what it would be like, Oh, Hey, this person’s not good at this thing, but they’re good at this other thing or, you know, what are some of the general skill sets that you have to develop that half the crew has to have in total? Yeah. So that’s a, it’s a great question and it’s applicable to any team that you work with. So if you think of any, any group that you interact with a baseball team or a, or a hiking group or something. And and so as I, as I, so what I’m, what I’m thinking about now is cockpit crews because those are the that’s one example. That’s probably the most visible example of this teamwork. And so you’ve got a commander usually very experienced pilot, you know, very skilled and usually one flight maybe or his first flight and then a couple of MSs in the back and the four of you have to, you know, launch and land and do everything that the pilot crew, the cockpit crew has to do. So it’s, rather than think of it as weaknesses and strengths, you just, I think of it as, you know, the personality of the crew and like any high intensity group, you know, that one person likes to work more quietly than others maybe. And so you learn that communicating with them, talking to them, it has to be, you’ve got to be precise or you’ve got to think about it because they would prefer not to talk. Or if you have one person that does like to talk and, and you, you can see, you know that they think better as they talk through the process. I like to say, I like to almost say everything I’m doing and everything I’m looking at. And so that’s my style. And so one of the reasons we practice over and over and over again is we are learning each other and learning what, so if, if, if on my first flight, Linda was MS1, I was MS2 and usually, you know, Linda would be talking about the switches she’s looking at, making sure that this is that. And if she’s not, then I’m, you know, then I’m aware of either she’s overloaded or, you know, I, I’m just wondering, that’s not normal. And I, I’m looking over. So I, I, I don’t think of it as strengths and weaknesses or compensating. I think of them as we all have personality, we all have our different characteristics of how we work and it, it’s a pleasure to spend so much time practicing because you really get to understand the mechanism of your team and the peculiarities of, of the mechanism that is your team and when to slap it on the side and when to shake it and when to just leave it alone because it’s going to, it’s going to do better if you just leave it alone. I, I rarely, rarely thought working with any crewmates that, that, you know, I wish they would do it differently or better or anything. NASA does a great job of selecting highly qualified people that are good operationally. And so it’s just, you know, finding everybody else, everybody’s personality and making sure how to, how to mesh with the other personalities. So I’m glad I asked because that was a great answer. I realize we’re going to take a little bit of time here, so I’ll move on to some listener questions that hopefully maybe Michael R asks, what’s your best T-38 story? Well, what’s my best T-38, first of all, flying in a T-38 is fantastic. I loved it. Coming from a single engine prop background where you have to worry about performance, the pleasure of moving a throttle up and watching your speed increase proportionally to the amount of throttle that you apply to it all the way up through three, 400 knots is just fantastic. So, so learning how to fly, okay, so, you know, you get to fly with these really hot shot pilots and you’re, we are backseaters, we mission specialists in general are backseaters. So, and some are learning to fly for the very first time. And me, I had a couple of hundred hours as a private pilot. So I had some knowledge of how to, how to fly. But pretty soon, pretty early, what, one of the things you get to do is you get to fly formation, which is cool. And and so you’re, you know, you’re going out to El Paso, which is a straight line flight. And there’s two of you, maybe three of you, but usually two, two planes. And, and for fun, you’ll go in formation, you’ll go, let’s just go formation. Sometimes they’ll split. They’ll just, they don’t have to worry about each other. Sometimes that’s going formation. Okay, great. You lead. I’ll, you lead out. I’ll lead back. Okay, great. And, and so I was, we were, I remember flying wing and, and so we’re at, we’re at cruise. So we’re, we’re, we’re 38,000 and we’re just going straight out to El Paso. And the pilots, I’m not flying, I’m doing all the nav and stuff, but, and the pilots were on not fingertip, which is, you know, six feet away, but we’re, you know, 20 feet away, pretty close. And and, and my front seat pilot goes, okay, you want to take it? I go, yeah, I’ll take it. All right. He goes, okay, your plane. And the moment he says your plane, the, the lead decides that he’s going to go up and then faster and then slow down and go down and, and I’m going, this is not fair. Like how, first of all, how did he know that the moment that, that I’m going to get the plane for him to, for to speed up? Well, of course it’s not, it’s that I’m supposed to control, you know, I’m, it’s my job to control the airplane to be in formation with the, the other one. And it is much harder than you would think. And the moment it was, so what I of course realized much, much later is that, you know, the pilot is making continuous changes to throttle and to stick to stay what looks like stationary to the, to the lead. And as soon as he said, okay, your airplane, he of course stopped making those adjustments. And what, when you don’t make those adjustments, you’re all over the place. And so all of a sudden the guys 200 feet in front of me. So I just speed up and then I overtake him. And of course you can hear him laughing. You can hear the lead pilot laughing because the new guy is trying to fly formation really, really hard. So, so you think about that and we’re at, you know, again, probably maybe 50 feet tip to tip, you know, and, and the technique is you look heavy up, you have a piece of your windshield and you try to line up your piece of the windshield with, with some air part of the lead airplane and, and, and you start to learn how to jockey the throttles. And I never got really good at it, but I got competent, but it’s hard work. But then, then you look at like the blue angels and they’re flying three feet apart and eight of them or six of them and upside down and doing barrel rolls. And it gives you an appreciation for how hard that is. And, and to like, Oh my goodness, if I had to turn, because now, you know, the whole idea of formation is that you act as one body. And so, especially if there’s bad weather. And so if you get in the clouds, you, your job is to keep your eye on the, on the lead and then there might be somebody on you. Yeah. And, and so if you’re turning, doing a turn to, to, to get lined up with the runway or something. So my, my appreciation for the skill of these military pilots grew exponentially, but the funny story that I remember is thinking, how did that pilot, how did the lead pilot know to speed up as soon as, as soon as I got the airplane? That’s not fair. That’s great. Melanie H asks, what training or guidance do you received specifically towards speaking in an educational setting and leveling instruction for age groups, as in not how to be a good public speaker, but anything on how to tailor what you say to what that specific audience can understand? Yeah, that’s a really good question. The answer is we get none other than getting thrown in the deep end. And I would say for, for almost all of us, the real, one of the real pleasures of the job is going out and talking to the public, especially kids, and it’s really fun. And and you know, we do get some media training and we get some public speaking training and we get some advice on how to put our story together, our slide deck together. But the first time you go to speak to a class of eight year olds, that’s the first time you’ve spoken to a class of eight year olds. And they don’t have a VR sim, you don’t go to the pool. As frightening as it is, as death defying as it is. And so, so I can, I can only speak from my experience. I don’t know what they do now. Maybe they do do some training now. But but you’re right, you and you learn early on when you start your speech that you’ve developed for adults, and you are a minute and a half in and you have eight year olds that are wiggling in their seats and not looking at you because the things that you’re saying are not appropriate or not to the level of an eight year old’s interest. It becomes pretty clear to you that the message that the level of your message has to change or the vehicle of your message has to change. And and so you’re it’s very perceptive question. I don’t think that that and I would also say that most of us get really good at it. Most of us get really good at going into a group of five year olds and then and then 10 minutes later to a group of parents and teachers and being able to adjust how we convey the information differently, even though the information is largely the same. So it’s a great it’s a great question, and we struggle with that in the NASA organization I work with now because we reach out and we want to encourage and inspire five year olds and and and senior citizens. And we have to make sure we understand and use the vocabulary and the the the the illusion that’s appropriate to our audience. Another question here from Michael R. asking, what are the EMU boots like? We hear so much about the gloves and little about the boots. Are they are the boots pretty normal aside from the pressure barrier? Are they heated or cool? Do your toes get cold? Why do they have heels? Well, that’s quite that’s that’s a great question. The boots are, as you say, sort of nondescript. They are they have to be a little bit tight because we have interfaces where we can click our boots into a plate and that gives us a stable platform to, I’ll say, stand on. But that’s that ties us to structure. And so you want to be able to you need to be able to maneuver the boot so it locks into these fittings and then it stabilizes you. It has to be tight enough to stabilize you. In fact, on the most recent episode I did, Linda did an EVA around Mir and kept slipping out of the restraint on the foot restraint. Yeah. And I was there like, oh, like we got to make the smaller boots taller. Ah, OK. So right. It’s and that was not an APFR. That was maybe the old PFR. So I can’t in the old Mir days, but but now the in my time, we had a real problem with the boots in that. You’re right. They’re custom made, certainly, and they’re not form fit. And we had a couple of instances where a sock would get folded over or the fabric inside the boot get fold over and then create a fold of fabric on the top of your foot, which starts out OK. And then at the end of two hours is excruciatingly painful. And there was a guy that he almost wanted to quit his EVA, go inside and fix it. So we went through a whole process of putting on the boots specifically to pull out any fabric folds. And so there was this downside of, OK, we thought these boots are going to be just basically almost one size fits all. I think there are two different sizes, two size fits all. But but because they’re so sort of simple, the unintended consequences is that the fabric could fold over and your sock get caught, stuff like that. So why do they so why do you need them? Well, again, they are they are a great restraint piece. If you can get a foot restraint at your worksite, it’s a great it’s so it’s so handy to click into this foot restraint and then you get both your hands free. You can use your legs to swing back and forth. You can get closer to the worksite when you want or farther away. So you do want them. But but it’s a good point. They’re not they’re certainly not as custom as the gloves that I think there’s just two sizes and you get to pick the medium or the large. All right. Well, one last simple question here. Josh W. asks, What’s your favorite Star Trek series? And I will add on to it. Please explain why. Steep Space Nine. OK, here’s my confession, which is not really not really at all a Star Trek fan. In fact, not really a science fiction fan. So it’s I’m I get embarrassed and a little intimidated when we get into conversations about science fiction. So I apologize, I have no favorite alien or character or episode. Sorry. Fair answer. And one last thought here is I asked a friend’s five year old son, Ben, if he had any questions for an astronaut. And he thought for a second and he said, and this was last Saturday, he said, Happy New Year. Oh, so I thought I would pass that along. Thank you very much.

And there we go! What better way than to wrap up with a “happy new year” from a 5-year-old.. at the end of February. As always it was an absolute blast talking to Dan and getting to pick his brain about the minutia of astronaut life.

Believe it or not I actually have one last question that I forgot to ask Dan when we met, so I followed up via email. I asked: how did the Sardines get their name? Dan wrote back:

“So we were named the Sardines (the name is given by the most recent class) because we were 44 strong (35 US and 9 internationals) that then had to squeeze into the offices on the 6th floor of building 4S - the astronaut floor at JSC.  We were squeezed in like sardines!  We embraced the name - we have patches, a logo, etc.”

Thanks again, Dan! If you’re not sick of me yet, you can count on another interview when we get to STS-108, if not sooner.

Next time.. what does a Coca-Cola machine, SPACEHAB, an inflatable antenna experiment, and Space Shuttle Endeavour all have in common? I don’t know! I haven’t done the reading yet! But they all work into STS-77 somehow, so tune in next time and we’ll find out together.

Ad Astra, catch you on the next pass.