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Drew Feustel, Astronaut, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

NTB: This will be your first mission into space, correct?

Feustel: That’s right.

NTB: Considering it’s the last Shuttle mission to Hubble, what does being part of such a historic mission as this mean to you on a personal level?

Feustel: It’s pretty special, and the closer we get to the flight and the more excitement there is about it just makes it that much more important for myself and for my family and friends. The best part about it is being able to share it with those people and allow them to see aspects of the space program and the excitement that surrounds this mission.

You know, Hubble itself has provided some amazing scientific information, as well as the beautiful images that it returns of the cosmos. We’ve learned so much more about space that we would never have known if it hadn’t been for Hubble and its discoveries. And really, just creating new questions for us as scientists in the world community to try to answer for ourselves, and how that all relates to our civilization.

NTB: This mission was formally announced in October 2006, which means that if all goes well it will be roughly two years from the time you first learned you were going until the actual launch. A lot can happen in two years that is out of your control. How difficult is the waiting period on an astronaut?

Feustel: I waited six years before I was even assigned to my first flight, so waiting another two is pretty insignificant for an astronaut who has been with the program since about 2000. We are accustomed to waiting a long time. We understand how the program is designed, how many flights we have left, and what the flight rate is, so it’s not hard.

I think there’s a little bit of an expectation when you come into the program, at least with us and the classes that have followed us, that you will be waiting for a longer period of time than you may have waited in the early 1990s before you get an opportunity to fly. Flying in space is really the icing on the cake; what’s important about this job is being excited about what you do day-to-day and just loving the job itself, while looking forward to the flight opportunities that come later.

NTB: What kind of a training regimen does one have to go through to prepare for a mission like this?

Feustel: We train regularly. As you said, we will have been assigned for almost two years and we’ve been training, slowly getting more and more intensive in it. The last eight months to a year have been pretty intensive and involve a lot of simulations for the Shuttle flight itself – the launch, the entry, the orbital phases. And then, of course, we train on a monthly basis at the neutral buoyancy lab for the EVA (extravehicular activities) space work. Here at the neutral buoyancy lab in Houston, we have mock-ups of the Hubble Space Telescope and we train in our spacesuits under water for those tasks we’ll be carrying out during EVAs.

NTB: Shuttle missions are normally launched into an orbital trajectory that allows them to rendezvous with the International Space Station in the event of an emergency, but because Hubble is in a different orbit, that won’t be possible with this launch. That makes it a little more risky. Does that concern you at all?