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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Navy Reserve Lt. and Astronaut Jim Reilly

Interview with Navy Reserve Lt. and Astronaut Jim Reilly
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2007
Navy Reservist and Astronaut Jim Reilly was flying high in his third space mission in June as part of the STS-117 crew of seven servicing the International Space Station. STS-117 was the 118th space shuttle flight, the 21st flight to the station, the 28th flight for Atlantis and the first of four missions planned for 2007.

Reilly, with a doctorate in geosciences from University of Texas-Dallas under his belt, served as a mission specialist and lead for the extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalking crew. An experienced spacewalker and veteran of two shuttle flights, Reilly previously flew to the Russian Space Station Mir as part of the STS-89 crew in 1998. In 2001, he was aboard Atlantis as part of the STS-104 team that installed the airlock module for the ISS — for which task he performed three spacewalks.

The space shuttle Atlantis and its crew are home after completing a 14-day journey of more than 5.8 million miles in space. The STS-117 mission successfully increased the power capability of the International Space Station, preparing for the future delivery of European and Japanese laboratories.

CHIPS talked with Astronaut Reilly about his upcoming flight May 15 and 23, just weeks from STS-117's flawless launch June 8.

CHIPS: Has excitement been building as the launch date gets closer?

Reilly: Last week and this week are our heavily loaded weeks. Last week we worked about 70 hours — this week probably 50 or 55 hours. It is hectic with all the training events. It is not the exciting part yet. When everything is right that is the point where you get more excited.

CHIPS: Can you be specific about what you are doing? I see from the NASA Web site that the Navy dive team is assisting in the training.

Reilly: We are doing three planned space walks on our flight so we are in the process of going through all three. On Monday [May 21], here in the mission-launching lab [Johnson Space Center], we walked through all the tasks and everything we will do to set up the work sites. We were getting the assembly of the solar arrays completed as part of the first EVA. That took us about six hours in the water; it will take us about seven hours in orbit to do the same tasking. [Practicing mission assignments in water simulates some of the conditions encountered in space.]

Today, we are practicing the second EVA with our second team of Patrick Forrester and Steve Swanson in the water. They are releasing all the launch locks that will allow the solar arrays to track the sun and pitch. The other task we are looking at is retracting the solar array on top of the station called the P6 array. They had problems with it on the last flight so we are expecting problems with this one.

On Friday [May 25], we do our third EVA, with Danny Olivas and me in the water. We are completing all the tasks left to get all the activation and checkout steps done for the starboard truss and solar array segment known as the S3/S4 and the remainder of the retraction for the two 2B, the starboard solar array.

CHIPS: This is your third mission. Is this one different or more dangerous?

Reilly: It is more demanding. My first mission was to Mir [Russian space station]. That was a demanding mission from the logistics side of things. The second one was when I did my first spacewalk on STS-104. We put the airlock aboard the station [International Space Station] and did the first EVA from the station in 2001. That was demanding because of the activities we had to do to get the airlock installed and set up for operation.

This one is more challenging because there is so much more to do. The truss is more complex as far as the tasks that we do on the spacewalk than the airlock was. The airlock was a combination of EVA tasks and internal setup and checkout of all the systems. We were very busy, but about two-thirds of the activity was inside the station.

For this mission and the truss, probably three-fourths of the activity will be outside the station. Spacewalking is a lot more demanding.

CHIPS: This will be your third spacewalk. Is it still awesome?

Reilly: It will be, especially where we are going to be. We will be about 80 feet out on the end of the truss looking back at the station. It will be a spectacular view of the Earth below us, the shuttle on one end of the station and the Russian segment with the Soyuz spacecraft (TMA-10) on the other end — for those 10 seconds that we get to look around.

CHIPS: Is there time to appreciate the view?

Reilly: We will make the time. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Yury Usachev, the commander of Expedition 2, on the space station. When I was about to do my first spacewalk, he told me that it was important to focus on my work, but every hour take 10 seconds and look around because those are memories that you will take with you that make all this worthwhile.

He was right. Every hour I set aside 10 seconds to look around. I could look past the tail of the orbiter and see the Earth going by below it 25,250 miles away. That will be a memory I will never forget. That is what I tell these guys, too. We are going to be working hard, but occasionally you need to stop, look around, and get the view because it is priceless.

CHIPS: Would you be interested in staying aboard the space station for six months?

Reilly: It would not be much different from being aboard a submarine for a deployment — but with a better view.

CHIPS: When the mission is complete is there a sense of relief?

Reilly: A little bit of relief and a sense of accomplishment. You are happy you got the job done. There will be also a sense of regret that it is over. When the vehicle comes to a stop on the runway and we are sitting there, there will be a few seconds where everybody realizes, 'Wow, we're done.' At that moment you think that was incredible and have a new appreciation for what you have done. In two or three days, the work starts all over again.

I do not know if I will be flying again. It depends on the rotations and how things go. We have a number of folks that have not flown that need to fly. While I am here, I will be working to get them ready so I will still be involved in missions.

CHIPS: How are the astronauts who stay on the space station for six months selected?

Reilly: There are different qualifications. The anthropometric is probably the most critical — you have to be able to fit in a Soyuz. There are more requirements than we have for the astronaut corps as a whole. I am at the upper end of that limit. I may be too big, and that is yet to be determined.

Before we ever get into the space program, there is some psychological testing. We were selected for both programs [spaceflight and duty on the International Space Station] so that we can be assigned to any mission. The only real limitations are the anthropometric and, in some cases, medical. Some medical conditions may not be critical for space flight on the shuttle but could be critical for long-duration space flight.

Usually the only real criterion is if you are willing to do it. For some folks a three to six-month separation from their family is too much. That is not uncommon for Navy folks, but for civilians it may be something they have never done before.

CHIPS: How did you enter the space program?

Reilly: I put in my application just like everybody else. I was rejected about eight times and then they finally called me for an interview. When I was called, I was lucky. I was surprised when I got the phone call and they told me to come to Houston. The space program was one of those things that I always wanted to do. I was lucky enough to pursue it, and with a little work and a little longevity, I made my way through the process. It has been 12 years in the program, and it does not seem that long at all.

CHIPS: Could you talk about your Navy ties?

Reilly: I entered the Reserves late. I received a scholarship from the Navy in the early 1970s. In 1974 there was a reduction in force, and the Navy and I parted ways — which was not what I wanted to do.

I tried to get into the Reserves in my early 30s, and I cleared all the boards, but I was not accepted into the intelligence program. It turned out as a blessing in disguise because I started my Ph.D. shortly after that. The Ph.D. was more work than I would have been able to handle and do justice to as a Reservist.

Then I was having dinner with some friends one day and they asked me why I was not in the Reserves. I was so old that I could not get in without a SECNAV (Secretary of the Navy) waiver.

They asked if I was still interested. My friends contacted Admiral Richard Meese, who was the commander of STRATCOM, as we left the parking lot that evening. A few weeks later, I was commissioned as the oldest ensign in the United States Navy. I was 45-years-old.

Navy Space Cadre

There are more than 1000 members in the Navy Space Cadre. The cadre includes Navy active duty and Reserve officers as well as government civilians with significant space-related education or experience.

Navy space mission areas include: requirements and assessments, science and technology, research and development, acquisition, and operations (to include space force enhancement and applications).

Navy Space Cadre members use their space expertise to solve Naval warfighting gaps and maximize the capabilities of today's space systems. There are cadre positions at national, joint and naval commands including joint and Navy staffs, U.S. Strategic Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Space Office, Naval Network Warfare Command and NASA.

Lt. Reilly is one of 18 Navy Space Cadre members serving at NASA.

CHIPS: You are part of the Navy Space Cadre, and you are going on active duty after this mission. Is there a particular job that you would like to do?

Reilly: There are a lot of jobs I would love to do. There are several joint jobs where I could work with NASA and the Navy that I would like to pursue. But it will be decided by where I am needed.

CHIPS: You sound tired today.

Reilly: It has been a rough couple of weeks. It is like when our active duty folks get toward the end of workups to get ready for deployment. We are running 'flat out' now to get everything ready and to get all of our procedures in shape. After you finish your normal day, there are several more hours of 'admin' work — paperwork.

CHIPS: Will you get a chance to rest before you leave?

Reilly: It cools down when we go to the cape [Cape Canaveral, Florida]. About three days before the launch, we will fly down to the cape and leading into the launch, it slows down a bit.

CHIPS: Will you miss the camaraderie that you have enjoyed with the STS-117 crew when your mission is completed?

Reilly: The hardest question I had to answer after coming back from the first flight was, 'What was your favorite thing about flying in space?' It took me a while to figure out the answer, but the real answer to what is best about flying in space are the people you fly with.

You make friends and will be friends forever. Yesterday I was talking with the pilot on my first flight, a fellow named Joe Edwards, who works in D.C. for EDS. He was a commander in the Navy, an F-14 pilot. He and I became close friends, and we will be friends forever. Those bonds last a lifetime.

That is the best part about this job. It will be the same with these guys I am flying with now. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can pick up the phone and just start chatting as if we were together yesterday.

CHIPS: Is there anything you would like your Navy colleagues or the American public to know about this particular mission?

Reilly: I have a personal message for the troops. I would like to dedicate the flight to all our troops, Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen that are on the frontlines because they are the unsung heroes. There are a bunch of military folks on this flight. Rick Sturckow is a Marine. Col. Lee Archambault is in the Air Force.Pat Forrester is retired from the Army, and I get to represent the Navy.

We talk about folks out there [troops] and we will be thinking about them while we are up there. We have an appreciation of their efforts and want to dedicate anything we are doing on orbit to those guys out there in the frontlines. They are the ones that do not get the credit they deserve.

I am proud that I am able to do what I do and thankful I have the opportunity to represent our country and represent the Navy, even in a limited facet by flying to the space station.

There is a ship's bell on the space station. We will ring it for U.S. Marine Corps Col. Rick Sturckow when he comes aboard. I think that is my job as the resident naval officer unless Sunita Williams [astronaut and U.S. Navy commander] does it for me. She outranks me so she might do it.

"Altitude: 200 nautical miles; speed: 17, 500 mph; sunsets and sunrises: 18 — every 24 hours."
– Lt. Jim Reilly's observation on space travel

Navy Reserve Lt. and Astronaut Jim Reilly is in the Naval Science and Technology Reserve Program 38, under the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory. Program 38 activities are aligned to organizations or functions. Focus areas generally support one major customer in the Naval research community.

Program 38 Reservists engage in vital work and bleeding edge technologies in support of the warfighter. Examples of focus areas include future warfighting capabilities, improvised explosive devices and urban asymmetric operations.

Under Program 38, Reilly is with the Science and Technology (S&T) 110 Unit in Houston, Texas.

While Reilly was on the STS-117 spaceflight and docked at the International Space Station, Vice Adm. John G. Cotton, Chief of Navy Reserve and Navy Reserve Force, spoke with Reilly June 18 and congratulated him for bringing great pride to the Navy and Navy Reserve.

The STS-117 crew heads to the launch pad in their trademark orange launch and entry suits. On the right (front to back) are astronauts Rick Sturckow, commander; Steven Swanson, Clayton Anderson and Jim Reilly (center back), all mission specialists. On the left (front to back) are astronauts Lee Archambault, pilot; Patrick Forrester and John “Danny Olivas, both mission specialists.
Astronauts Jim Reilly and John "Danny" Olivas (visible among Reilly's helmet reflections), both STS-117 mission specialists, participate in the mission's first planned session of extravehicular activity (EVA), as construction resumes on the International Space Station June 11. Among other tasks, Reilly and Olivas connected power, data and cooling cables between S1 and S3; released the launch restraints from and deployed the four solar array blanket boxes on S4 and released the cinches and winches holding the photovoltaic radiator on S4. NASA photo.
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