Meeting Capt. Scott Altman

Scott “Scooter” Altman. Easy-going, friendly and, most of all, humble. A Top Gun, in every sense.

Why do we love the Hubble Space Telescope? Nobody can deny that it’s a machine with a ‘certain something’,  but is that certain something because Hubble was the first major optical telescope put into orbit above the Earth’s atmosphere and therefore by removing the planet’s atmosphere from the telescope’s line of sight, astronomers were able to see fainter sources of light, with better focus, than they could with telescopes on the ground? Possibly. Is it because of the breathtaking images of galaxies, gas clouds and nebula’s that have captured the public’s collective imagination, and vastly increased scientists’ understanding of the universe? Revealing thousands of galaxies in regions of space once thought to be empty, providing evidence that the universe is not just expanding, but also accelerating, which scientists now believe to be the result of dark energy? Probably.

“Hubble doesn’t just belong to the astrophysicists and the engineers. It belongs to everyone. It belongs to the teachers, and the students, and the families on Earth.

NASA Astronaut Michael Good

Michael Good was a crewmember on the STS-125 space shuttle mission in 2009, which was the last NASA mission to service the Hubble telescope. In preparation for my meeting with Commander Scott Altman, I re-watched the IMAX film ‘Hubble 3D’ that beautifully documented the crew of STS-125 during their mission to repair Hubble, and I am struck by their camaraderie. But, now having met him, I’m not surprised; the Commander sets the tone for the crew.

For the STS-125 mission, Commander Scott Altman offers a case study in leadership. He gave motivational pep talks to his crew, and displayed a calm confidence as the Commander of this historic mission, the last and final human mission to the Hubble telescope (at the time of writing). He let his crewmates shine, as mission specialist Mike Massimino testifies in his book; ‘Spaceman: An Astronauts unlikely journey to unlock the secrets of the Universe’, which is a well recommended read if I do say so myself.

Scott D. Altman was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy following completion of Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, in August 1981. Following training in Florida and Texas, he received his Navy Gold wings in February 1983 and was ordered to Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar in San Diego, California, to fly the F-14. Attached to Fighter Squadron 51, Altman completed two deployments to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. In August 1987, he was selected for the Naval Postgraduate School-Test Pilot School Coop program and graduated with Test Pilot School Class 97 in June 1990 as a Distinguished Graduate. After graduation, he spent the next two years as a test pilot working on various F-14 projects such as the air to ground separation effort, and aft center of gravity flying qualities evaluation, as well as the Navy evaluation of the Air Force F-15 S/MTD technology demonstrator. Selected to help take the new F-14D on its first operational deployment, his next assignment was to VF-31 at NAS Miramar where he served as Maintenance Officer and later Operations Officer. Altman was awarded the Navy Air Medal for his role as a strike leader flying over Southern Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Shortly following his return from this six month deployment, he was selected for the astronaut program. He has logged over 3400 flight hours in more than 40 types of aircraft.

Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994, Altman reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as an astronaut candidate.  He has completed a year of training and was initially assigned to work technical aspects of orbiter landing and roll out issues for the Astronaut Office Vehicle Systems Branch. He was the pilot on STS-90 (1998) and STS-106 (2000), and the mission commander on STS-109 (2002) and STS-125 (2009).  Following two years as Shuttle Branch Chief for the Astronaut Office and lead for the Cockpit Avionics Upgrade, he was assigned on temporary duty to NASA Headquarters as Deputy Director, Requirements Division of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.  On returning to Houston, and following STS-125, he served as the Chief of the Exploration Branch of the Astronaut Office.  A veteran of four space flights, Altman has logged over 51 days in space.  Altman retired from NASA in September 2010 to join ASRC Research and Technology Solutions in Greenbelt, Maryland. His four missions:

STS-90 Neurolab (April 17 to May 3, 1998);  During the 16-day Spacelab flight the seven person crew aboard Space Shuttle Columbia served as both experiment subjects and operators for 26 individual life science experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous system.

STS-106 Atlantis (September 8-20, 2000);  During the 12-day mission, the crew successfully prepared the International Space Station for the arrival of the first permanent crew.

STS-109 Columbia (March 1-12, 2002);  STS-109 was the fourth Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission. The STS-109 crew successfully upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope leaving it with a new power unit, a new camera and new solar arrays. HST servicing and upgrade was accomplished during a total of 5 EVAs in 5 consecutive days.  STS-109 orbited the Earth 165 times, and covered 3.9 million miles in over 262 hours, culminating in a night landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

STS-125 Atlantis (May 11-24, 2009); was the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission.  The 19-year-old telescope spent seven days in the Shuttle’s cargo bay undergoing an overhaul conducted over five back to back spacewalks.  The crew overcame frozen bolts, stripped screws, and stuck handrails to complete all mission objectives.  The refurbished Hubble Telescope now has four new or rejuvenated scientific instruments, new batteries, new gyroscopes, and a new Command and Data Handling computer. The STS-125 mission travelled over 5.3 million miles in 197 Earth orbits, and ended with a day landing at Edwards AFB following two days of wave offs due to poor weather in Florida.

Since leaving NASA, Scott has made no secret of his desire to speak with youngsters at every opportunity. His modest ambition is to inspire them, as Neil Armstrong and others had inspired him, to ‘Reach for the Stars’. He chose to share his adventures with Space Lectures in Pontefract.

Returning to the 17th century hotel that is set in 20 acres of gardens and grounds in the beautiful Went Valley in West Yorkshire that was the venue for our meeting, I entered the room which hosted the pop-up studio of which Scott Altman was in full flow greeting guests and having his photograph taken. And then I saw my photograph.

image credit: pcdphotography

Shot at NASA’s John F.Kennedy Space Center in Florida, upon first seeing Atlantis, a space shuttle that’s been to space and back 33 times, it’s not uncommon to gasp – or cry. The retired orbiter is displayed at an angle, with its cargo bay doors open and robotic arm outstretched, and it seems to be just barely out of reach. The sight is arresting, to say the least. Yet Scott has had his own, unique view from inside, from the Commander’s seat. I step forward and introduce myself and I’m immediately cut-short in my introduction to ‘Scott’;

“Please… call me Scooter. There are hundreds of folks around Johnson Space Center who have never heard of Scott Altman, but everybody knows Scooter!”

Scooter compliments me on a wonderful photo, and that he was pleased to add his own anecdote to his signature and begins telling me how he in fact broke off a knob and that it had subsequently wedged itself against a cockpit window. Engineers had to assess any damage it caused and whether it had nicked the window’s pressure pane, if it had, the innermost of three panes, might need to be replaced, therefore delaying the flight. The notched steel rotary knob, used to fasten a work light to a bracket, had wedged itself between the shuttle’s dashboard and one of six forward windows. NASA was worried that some removal techniques, potentially including taking apart the dashboard, could cause more serious damage to the window. Technicians’ attempts to loosen the crescent-shaped knob using dry ice failed. But it was freed after technicians pressurised Atlantis’ crew cabin, causing it to expand slightly and ease the knob’s grip. The knob was first chilled with liquid nitrogen and showed some movement. It came loose minutes after the cabin pressure was raised to more than 17 pounds per square inch. Scooter has that knob in his office.

image credit: Proffoto Professional Event Photography

My photograph was later auctioned for £350 with all proceeds going to UNICEF.

Close to a hundred guests joined Scooter, his wife Jill, and the Space Lectures team at the gala dinner event, and the majority confirmed they would be at his lecture the following day. Entering the room to a standing ovation, Scooter began addressing the room full of diners before the first course was served. Before dessert he proceeded to mingle, going around the room speaking with each guest individually, even just to shake their hand when not offering a joke or two, or answer a question. Scooter was slick, informative and comical in equal measure.

The next day, the lecture began with a photoshoot for guests that hadn’t been at the dinner, and an opportunity for them to purchase images for the subsequent autograph session. Having heard of Scooter’s enthusiasm talking to youngsters in schools around the North-East of England during his visit, the lecture he gave was the lengthier, more detailed, full-fat version.

Here it is:

“It’s a real thrill for me to be here, I just want to talk a little bit today about the journey, about how I got to be different places, and some of the lessons learned along the way, that I hope you find interesting and answer your questions. As astronauts we attend talks even from the beginning of being accepted at NASA, before you had even flown in space, where you’d find yourself talking to an audience where someone would raise their hand and say, “Have you flown in space?” And you’d say, “Well, not yet,” and then the person would go ‘Oh’… so now I come back and I’ve flown my first flight and I think ‘Yeah, now I got it’ I go out, talk about my flight, talk to people and a hand goes up ‘have you flown in space?’ and I go ‘yes I have’. someone over here puts their hand up, ‘how many times? ‘Well just once’… ‘Oh’. But even a guy like Hoot Gibson who was one of my idol astronauts, flew five times on shuttles, commanded the first rendezvous with the Mir space station, he would go out and do his talks, ‘have you flown in space?” “Yes.” “How many times have you flown in space?” “Five.” And then somebody would say; “have you been to the Moon?” And he would say, “well… no,” and then the person would go… ‘Oh’. But even a person like John Young, practically the ultimate astronaut; flew twice on Gemini, twice on Apollo, twice on the space shuttle, walked on the moon on Apollo 16, he goes out and goes through the; ‘Have you flown in Space?” “Yes I have.” “How many times?” “Six times.” “Have you been to the Moon?” “Yes I have.” Then this person asks; “How many times you been to the Moon?” “Well, just once.” ‘…Oh.’

“So hopefully you’ll understand and not give me too many ‘oh’s’ when we go along with the questions, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about how I got here. You know, going back a little further, growing up in a small town in Illinois, in the centre of United States I wanted to be a pilot from the time I saw this old TV show, SKY KING on TV, I turned to my mum and dad at three years old and said I want to fly, and they said “great, you can be whatever you want as long as you work hard, do your best, and don’t give up.”

“Now something I didn’t tell in my school talks, is something else that was going on when I was three years old, toilet training. So my parents thought they’d use my interest in becoming a pilot to help with that, by putting a chart on the wall, and when I got twenty gold stars of ‘successful missions’ I got to choose between a new pair of cowboy boots, or a flight in an airplane. I picked the airplane ride. My mum only a few weeks ago said “I wonder what would have happened if you’d picked the boots?” But that was my start, I wanted to fly, I had some bumps and twists along the way, until we were watching Apollo 11, when I was ten years old, watching somebody actually walking on the moon. Now this is the only picture of Neil Armstrong on the moon, but it’s not the guy in the front, it’s the guy in the visor taking the picture while buzz was there.

“It was amazing for me to think that guys like that, astronauts, were doing stuff like that. I never thought of astronauts as real people until I got a little further along in my career, but we’ll talk about that in a minute. I wanted to go, I suddenly wanted to be a pilot, growing up in Illinois I thought the Air Force was the right place to go so I studied hard, did well in school, played basketball for my high school team, and somehow got a representative to give me a recommendation to the US Air Force academy. But when I took the physical, they said ‘OK’ your blood pressure’s fine, your eyesight is fine, but you’re sitting height is 39.5inches and our limit is 38.5inches, Altman; you can’t be a pilot. Imagine you’re 17years old, your dream is coming true and all of a sudden it’s not, it’s over. So, I thought what can I do? At least if I study aeronautical engineering I’ll get to work on airplanes, and then I found out that the US Navy, had a different height standard for pilots, so suddenly there was another way to get where I wanted to go than just going with the Air Force. You may remember there was a movie called ‘An Officer and a Gentleman, well the only problem I have with that movie is that the drill instructors were way too nice. I see one of these guys on the street now and I still cower. But I flew Navy, got to fly these F-14 Tomcats out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It was a great time, a wonderful airplane, lots of power, lots of options, it was the Cadillac of jet fighters, beautiful sunsets out on the ocean, and my first chance with international relations…

“…so, the Russians were flying, actually the Soviet Union it was at the time, the Bear Bombers were flying cruise missiles at the time, we had sidewinder sparrows on board when we took off, so if anybody did anything there would be repercussions, so it was a kind of game, but before the start of every cruise I always thought this could be the time, or the balloon goes up and we’re fighting with somebody else, and actually on this very first cruise we were in the sea of Japan and Russian fighters came out, and we would have mini-dogfights with them much like you ended up seeing later on at the beginning of the movie Top Gun.

“Which brings me to what happened immediately after I got back from that cruise. Paramount pictures was in town and our squadron was selected to be the folks who actually flew the F14s in the movie, my skipper picked four pilots who he thought could work with the movie people, and do the things that they wanted us to do without going crazy, theoretically. This is me actually flying in the movie, you can kinda tell because I have the sitting height issue as you can probably tell as my head is almost hitting the canopy, and then I went  flying an F14 at the Test centre after that. We flew low over the mountains of Fallon Nevada, where we did all the air combat manoeuvring, that was awesome, they put camera’s on a ridge line like this and you could boresight it, blow over it at about 10ft, and 450mph. You know what it’s like when a truck goes by on the highway and you get that big whoosh! Well imagine an airplane going by at 10ft at 450mph, the camera guys would dive for the ground and the Director said ‘quit scaring the camera guys we gotta get this footage!’ We shot some of the air combat manoeuvring scenes like that, but this is one of the scenes that I got to shoot that is memorable, they rolled the f14 over the Mig28, and F5 actually, and keep up international relations, if you remember from the movie, the line goes ‘Yes Goose I know the finger’, well, that’s my finger.

“Also, while we’re talking Top Gun, the closest you can get to the tower as you can get as a regular pilot, is called a low transition; where you take off and you keep the airplane as low as possible, you put the gear up, the afterburners are lit, and you get it going as fast as you can before you pull up to get out of dodge. Because we were flying for a movie, they said you have to do a tower flyby, okay. and they said, because we need to make sure we get it on camera, we’d like you to do it nine times, I said okay. So this is the tower at Fallon Nevada with me flying by in the background there as they were filming that. I did actually nine passes and when they filmed they had people in the tower for the first three, and then they told me they evacuated the tower, I mean hey I wasn’t that close!

“Afterwards, I was back on the ship, and they’d actually finished all the filming and about six months later the guys came back and said hey we need to shoot some more footage, we’re putting the movie together, editing it, and mavericks landing doesn’t look any different from cougars landing and we want cougars landing to look more scary, who do we have that’s scary out on the boat? Well, Scooter’s still around, so the sent me out. So when you look at cougars landing on that scene, which they really edited together well because when I watch it I get goosebumps, watching a carrier landing at night, you got a little faster and little deeper and then boom you’re on the deck. Night traps like that you never forget.

“After the film, from there I went from the fleet to Test Pilot school, and became a test pilot, I got to do things like drop the first bombs off the F14, as we worked to clear things it was right during the first Gulf War, so we were trying to clear munitions for folks to use during combat but we were using different flight tests, and one of the things I did at test pilot school was take a field trip to Houston. We went there and I realised two things; Astronauts were actually real people, I don’t think I believed that as I had Neil and Buzz up there as if in some other category of human, but I met guys, they had had a Navy career like mine, they’d gone to test pilot school too, so I thought; that’s interesting. Then we had a look around the centre and we saw some shuttles and everything and we thought wow, this is awesome, I was like a kid in a candy store, and I wanted to get some of that. So I applied, went down an interviewed at NASA, came back, waited for about six months after you’ve had this week-long interview that’s really a physical, where you see yourself from all different angles you’d probably not usually, but eventually you go home and you wait for the call. Now there was a guy who was in charge of astronaut selection named Don Puddy, and then if he called, the word was you were in, and if a regular astronaut calls you, you were probably not in. I was waiting for a call and was actually doing a flight test and when I got asked to do a call into Houston and I was like; ‘Hey this is Scott Altman, I would like to find out what was going on’ and I heard ‘Hold on someone wants to take to you’, and I hear ‘ Hello Scott this is Don Putty’ and I’m thinking I’m in, and he goes “I’m sorry to have to tell you this…’ So elation to depression in a microsecond. But I knew if you want to do something you don’t give up, I went back to the fleet, flew the F14-D on its first operational tour.

“When I got the second phone call from NASA while I was on a ship in the Persian Gulf and they said ‘Hey, can you come down for an interview’ and I turned to my skipper and asked if I could leave the ship, he said let me check with the Carrier Air Wing, and they said OK you can get there. So I hang up, they helicopter me off the ship and the next day I buy a ticket on British Airways and I’m about halfway home when I realise that nobody on the ship talked to NASA but me, I should have pulled this stunt a month ago and gone home! But, I went to the interview, got back, flew and met the ship going through Tasmania and flew until I got home, and in December that year i got the call from NASA and this time they said… ‘yes.’

“At NASA I got to fly the T-38, a great little jet, but this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to fly in space. This pic is called the walkout, you’re in crew quarters, you’re isolated for a week before you fly to make sure you’re not sick, you can see your family on occasions if they’re healthy, otherwise they’re barred, for me it felt like coming down the stairs Christmas morning, I thought this is going to be great, I can wait to open up the presents; this present is launching into space. One of the first places I went on a mission was the International Space Station, we were the last crew to go to station until people went there to live full-time, William ‘Bill’ Shepherd showed up about a month after we left, so I got to do all the things like run the lighting, kind of like the finished carpentry on a house before you move into it. We installed the treadmill, and I got to be a space plumber, I installed the toilet, and I left a little sign on it for them saying ‘sanitised for your protection by the crew of STS-106, I also left a few signs all over the place saying ‘Scooter slept here, things like that’.

“Now this is the crew that I trained with, and what’s really interesting about this shot is Yuri Malenchenko, who’s right next to me on my left in the striped top. He grew up in his country, happened to be the Ukraine, he happened to want to be a pilot, and he eventually became a fighter pilot for his country, and he’s one of the guys that I trained so hard in the F14 for, so hard I thought we’d be going head to head against each other, trying to kill one other. Because of space, we got to work together, we got to go on a common mission, and instead of being an enemy, he was a friend and a crewmate. That meant a lot to me, and I learned how we were more alike than different.

“This is an old picture of my other rocket, back in the history of NASA there had been a history of astronauts owning corvettes and over time that tradition had died down until somebody wrote an article about going out with an astronaut and it said; ‘I was riding in a Toyota Tercel with a half-naked Barbie in the back seat.’ I thought this is the ultimate pit of the astronaut car game, we need to resurrect that thing. So a buddy of mine, and I, went out and bought Corvettes, and eventually we had five corvettes in the astronaut family, trying to raise the bar for the astronaut office.

“Then this was my destination for my final two flights, the missions where I Commanded the missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, an incredible scientific instrument. The main point I would like to point out on this shot is the little blue band that goes around the Earth, it took me days before I figured that out, that was our atmosphere, look at the size of the planet and look at the size of the atmosphere?! It seems like it should be bigger, don’t we need more? That’s where our oxygen comes from, that’s what protects us from radiation. It gave me a new perspective on the planet and it feels fragile, this is our home, we need to take care of it.

“Hubble’s service has been in space for over 25 years but it’s not a 25-year-old telescope, we fit new technology in it with every servicing mission. This is my crew, I get asked quite a lot what type of career must I have to become an astronaut, well there are Pilot astronauts that came through the military like I, but we’re becoming less and less common, the mission specialists who do a lot of the work like Megan McArthur for example, studied aeronautical engineering but then she switched to Oceanography and got her PhD in Oceanography, another Ocean. Andrew ‘Drew’ Feustel on the far right put himself through college maintaining old Jaguars in the US, and he’s a geologist. John Grunsfeld is next to Andrew, he’s a classic astrophysicist, and Mike Massimino on the far left, is an actor. Well, now he’s an actor. He’s been on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ but he actually grew up as an engineer. This is our movie poster, it’s modelled on Ocean’s Twelve, which Jon objected to actually, as he said it was a movie about people trying to steal stuff, I said no, it’s a movie about assembling a team with individual talents and them coming together to accomplish a common goal, exactly what we’re doing. He said ‘yeah nice spin’.

“Before we left we did a trip called outside leadership school, we went to Alaska, and drove kayaks around for 10 days out on our own, we had two instructors, there were eight of us, the seven crew members and our flight director. The idea was to put ourselves in somewhat stressful situations and then get to see how people respond. I thought that was invaluable and it was very similar to having a mission in place where everyday you had an objective and you moved along through the day, until the end of the day when you re-entered society.

“This is my office, this is the simulator, the flight deck of the space shuttle, I sit in the left seat as the Mission Commander, and the PLT or Pilot is in the right, a lot of people think the pilot lands, actually the pilot is a co-pilot, that goes back to the Gemini days when they first put astronauts together, and they said we’ll have one guy be the command pilot and the other be the co-pilot, they said these guys are astronauts, they’re highly trained, they don’t want to be a co-pilot, so they said okay, we’ll have this guy be the mission commander and this guy be the pilot, and he’ll never know he’s really the co-pilot. I figured it out. By the time you launch you know what every one of those switches does, and what your responsibilities are, and what happens if something fails on the right side, how does impact the switches on the otherside.

“One of the other places we train is in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the NBL, it’s a giant swimming pool the size of two soccer pitches, and 50ft deep, and you can fit the whole telescope down there and float. You can’t float anywhere else, you can’t simulate Zero G. There’s two ways to do it, floating in a pool, or in an aeroplane if you do a parabola. But doing the parabola only lasts for a maximum for about 20 seconds, and then you have a two G pull on the bottom, and then you do another parabola, and then another, which is why they call it the vomit comet.

“Training in the NBL you can do it for six and a half hours and match up exactly what you’re going to do in space.

“This is one of our experiments; where you couldn’t take a whole new box along with us, so the classic Hubble repair was pull and old box out and put a new box in, relatively straight forward. Well this instrument had failed, they new the card had failed, and that it was inside and behind that panel. The problem was in order to keep all those cards stable in ascent, as everything really shakes they put 117 screws into it and they were all non-magnetic, which means that if you pulled them out they’d all go floating into space and probably into the worse place possible, inside the telescope. So we had to work out a way to take out 117 tiny screws without letting any of them getting away, so we could pull that panel off, slide the card out, put a new one in, put the panel back on and fasten it down. So this fastener capture plate is what we came up with, and if you look to the right, you’ll see that gold handrail, one on the left and one on the right, the first thing we did was take that off, we have this pistol grip tool that Mass is holding, four bolts, it comes off, that’s the way it always worked in training. In orbit, it’s not the same.

“We were the only mission that didn’t go to Station after the Columbia accident, so we had to have a plan on what to do if our shuttle was damaged on launch, or while we were in orbit. The Cape worked and got two shuttles ready to launch at almost the same time. The idea is the rescue shuttle would have come up a week later, because a shuttle can only stay in orbit for about twenty days, before we run out of all our power. So they had to be ready to go at a moments notice.

“This was our original timeline of things we had to do, then we had a failure on Hubble while we were training and we had another task, the Advance Camera for surveys had to be fixed, so we stuck that in there. this is the final timeline we ended up flying with, and you’ll notice on that middle line it says, ACS Part One, and you look on the next two lines there’s no ACS Part Two, that was because we really couldn’t find enough time to really get it done so we thought if we really can’t get it on the time-frame, we’ll either not come back and finish it, or we’ll drop something else off the flight, and that was a challenge. Before we launched, Charles Bolden, who later became the Administrator for NASA came to me and said; ‘Scooter I know you’re the Commander, and I know you got a lot of concern about everything, but don’t worry, if you don’t get everything done. It’s okay, don’t stress yourself out.’ But you know we all wanted to get everything done that we could on the Hubble.

“This is what we used to know what we’re doing every minute of everyday, when to wake up, when to sleep, eat, EVA prep, going out, what’s going on, that’s how you schedule. Everything is run off ‘Mission Elapsed Time’, from the moment you take off the clock starts ticking, and from that moment on that’s when you know what time to go to bed, when to get up, and what to do when.

“So it’s an eight and a half-minute ride to orbit, the engines shut down and just like that you’re floating in space, first thing you got to do is get the payload bay doors open because they are radiators to eject the heat building up on all your equipment, if that doesn’t happen you don’t begin your orbit operations and you have to deorbit and get home right away. You have a sunrise and a sunset every 45 minutes roughly, that’s why you have to set your clock by mission elapsed time and not the sun, sixteen orbits a day.

“First thing you need to do is find the Hubble, rendezvous with that, you actually hand fly the vehicle from the aft station through an overhead window, I look up and see Hubble approaching getting closer and closer, until it’s floating right outside the window, and we go and grab it with the arm, and put it in a carrier in the back, so we can hold onto it and then use the arm to move an astronaut around.

“This is our number one objective, it’s called the Widefield Camera Three, it as a lot more sensitive than the Widefield Camera Two that was in previously, but when we got outside and were working on it, the central drive through thread that was planned to be loosened at 42 foot lbs, didn’t move with the torque wrench on it at 42, so I said okay, whats our contingency, look that up, dial it up to 48, put a 48 on there and the bolt doesn’t move, it’s not supposed to be that tight. That’s the highest torque setting we had. Because the shaft is designed to sheer if it gets 51lbs of torque, so you don’t get this thing halfway in or out. So okay, 48 isn’t enough, 51 is too much, how do I get between that, I wound up getting Andrew Feustel, the Jaguar mechanic out there with basically a breaker bar where it was all on him to turn that and give it a little more than 48, and a little less than 51. I said okay Andrew you gotta go, and he puts it on there and goes, ‘It broke! .. It… It broke free!’ So I went from being sure that I was going to be known as the Commander of the crew that killed the Hubble Space Telescope, and I wouldn’t be here telling you these stories.

“We actually got it out, put it away, and got that fixed, and then the next day, that little black box that Mike Good is holding there is called an RSU and it’s basically a box that has two gyros inside it that allow the telescope to point so accurately for so long so you can view these distant Galaxies and stars. The old ones were failing we had to take all three of them out. There was some trouble between our trainer and what the Hubble actually was because the new boxes wouldn’t fit. I was trying to get them in and I was like, okay, Day two, no gyros means no Hubble, again I’m back in the doghouse as the Commander of the crew that killed Hubble. But after a much longer than normal spacewalk, we got them all in and successfully had a test on them so okay, we survived another scare.

“Now I’m the arm operator on fastener plate capture day. But things didn’t go as planned, all the bolts came off in training but this time, we stripped one. If it doesn’t come off the plate doesn’t go on. So, we tore it off. It worked!

“That I think is the value of having people up there, along with robotics, to be able to come up with these contingency plans that you didn’t think off before. So we got through all five spacewalks, got Hubble completely retrofitted, and set it sailing again on its voyage of discovery. We actually let go of it, and we sort of fly out from underneath it, and it goes by this window so closely that you feel like you want to duck. But there’s a big crowd that goes to the window to take pictures of it, I’m actually flying the vehicle out of sight down on the left and I push down on the controls as everyone is looking out of the windows over my head.

“And there is Hubble, the last time anyone ever saw her out there on her voyage of discovery.

“Getting to look out at the Earth flying by well that’s always a treat, you see some places everybody recognises, and then you see the place you grew up. At bedtime you strap into your sleeping bags, it’s basically like being on a camping trip, every morning you get up and roll up your sleeping bag, out it away, at night you unroll it, clip it onto the wall somewhere. There are straps on the legs, and across your body to hold you down. Having your arms tucked in together but what happens when you sleep is that your body relaxes and your arms kinda float up and your head goes back, and if you come down onto the mid-deck when people are sleeping it looks like you have a crew full of zombies.

“All good things come to an end, I say its time to go home, I check my watch, and where we were suppose to land, Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Launch Facility runway (SLF), it looked more like what I’m told is a typical English day, a lot of clouds and rain, so we didn’t get to land there, I had to turn left instead of right and we went to Edwards Air Force base. So the one thing about the shuttle is that it’s a glider on reentry, there’s no engines, there’s no going around, no second chance to land. The other thing is while computers fly some of the entry the Mission Commander always takes over at subsonic speeds, at Mach 1 my hand is on the stick and I’m flying it from that point on. We’re trying to hit 200 knots at zero (touchdown).

“We come to a stop on the runway and we get a chance to get out and look at the airplane now. It’s amazing to me because on my first flight its weird being in space but you get used to it, and when we go home it will be just like coming home, it will feel normal and good. Well when you land after being in space it does not feel normal or good. I remember I was going to get out of the cockpit the first thing I had to do was lift my left leg up and I couldn’t lift it. ‘Who nailed my foot to the floor?!’ Then I stand up and I turn my head to the side and my inner ear says ‘ Wow that’s crazy we haven’t felt that for 16 days’ and your inner gyros unbalance, so I’m kinda walking off the shuttle with baby steps. If someone says ‘Hey Scooter!’ instead of whipping my head to the side to say ‘How you doing?’ I turn it slowly, including my whole body. Keeping that frame of reference.

“But what did we do, why did we go there? What’s Hubble been up to? I think one of the big things is that it’s done some great stuff. When we launched it we didn’t know some of the questions that it’s answered. One example; dark energy. Hubble clued us into that, the amazing thing is dark energy makes up 73% of what’s in our universe, and if you add dark matter to that, that’s another 23% so you get to 96% of the universe we don’t know anything about. 4% is you think the matter, the things that we’re sitting on, us, scientists tell us we can only find half of that, so in reality we only know about 2% of anything. I tell my som don’t use that as an excuse when you come home with a bad paper, ‘Hey I only got a 50%, you guys don’t even know 4%.’ The Hubble is a time machine, you think the light that it captures has been travelling anywhere from thousands of years, to millions of years, to billions of years. It’s capturing light that has been travelling for 13billion years. Almost to the edge, to the start of the big bang. It really is amazing, it’s at the apex of its capability, and it’s still going strong, seven years after we left it.

“Look at this picture, it’s the tadpole galaxy, but look at this picture, these are the stars, the ones with the little cross on them, there’s five stars, the rest are galaxies. This is a soda-straw view of the night sky, and they counted them, there are over 1500 galaxies in that soda-straw view of the night sky, behind this one, and you just have to think that each galaxy has over 100billion stars in it, this is a big place. I mean, huge. No matter what you think, there are so many planets, and galaxies and worlds out there, there has to be intelligent life somewhere, hopefully here someday too. But this is the ultra deep field making that same point about how vast our universe is. It’s an incredible universe, Hubble is out there still going strong, we’re not done yet, we’re passing the torch to the next generation, I had my time, I rode on the shoulders of giants, I got to meet one of my heroes, Neil Armstrong. When we flew, my mission was right at the point of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonlandings. So I hope that the next wave is out there coming on right behind me, we’re going on a journey to Mars, it’s not going to be a single country, the US v Russia, it’s going to be an International expedition because it’s going to take the whole world working together to get enough folks to get us that far out. And these are the things we need to do to get us from Earth reliant, into a proving ground near the Moon, then finally Earth independent. Because once you’re headed to Mars, you’re committed, and you need to be able to take care of yourself. The rocket is under development, it’s going to be bigger than anything we’ve flown before, we can compare the Apollo SaturnV to the new SLS, and Orion is the capsule to get us there, and I look forward to the day where we’re going back to the Moon, maybe it’ll be one of the kids I talked to this week, or somebody like that maybe someone in the next generation figures all this thing out, go back to the Moon, on to Mars, flying these new spaceships and standing on a distant planet looking out and realising, wow, we really can reach for the stars. Thank you.”

Scooter finished with a Q&A session from adults and children alike, each of which felt encouraged to follow in his footsteps. He took every opportunity to thank people for coming to see him, sign every autograph, shake their hands, and smile for the occasional picture.

When asked whether he felt he had any ‘unfinished’ business in the Navy:

“I logged 639 trap aircraft carrier landings, the goal for every pilot is 1000, but I did have 15 years of NASA on top of my old Navy guys I guess.”

When asked how his family felt about his NASA career:

“My son Michael, who was five years of age at the time, after watching my Shuttle launch from the roof of the Launch Control Center at Kennedy, after seeing the Solid Rocket Boosters detach, and I was off, he looked at Jill, looked up at his Mum and exclaimed, “OK, NOW can we go to the pool?!”

Ultimately, what meeting Scooter leaves me with, what he instilled when talking to him at the dinner event, and throughout his lecture is that; Firstly as a Strike Leader over Southern Iraq, secondly as a Test Pilot, and thirdly as a NASA Shuttle Commander, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.

Thank you Scooter.

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