Astronaut Leroy Chiao is a veteran of four space missions, recently acting as Commander of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station. He has logged over 229 days in space - over 36 hours of which were spent in Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or spacewalks). He served as a member of the White House appointed Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee.
Dr. Chiao left NASA in 2005 and is involved in entrepreneurial business ventures and works in the US, China, Japan and Russia. He is a director of Excalibur Almaz, a private manned spaceflight company. In addition, he is a director of InNexus, a biotechnology/pharmaceutical development company. Active as a consultant and public speaker, he also serves as the Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute User Panel, which is attached to the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Chiao is a director of Challenger Center and of the Committee of 100. He is also an advisor and spokesman for the Heinlein Prize Trust.
Question: What qualities make a good astronaut?
Leroy Chiao: I think the most important thing about an astronaut is you have to take, first of all you have to take for a given a person's done pretty well in school, has the intelligence and all of that to learn new systems and new things. But after that, the most important thing I think is being able to get along with others. Flexibility and teamwork, those issues because as we fly longer and longer in space, those are really important factors, even on short shuttle missions, those are important factors, to put a crew together that can work together effectively as a team, that can get along. So, I think for an individual, I think the most important thing is being able to work with others.
Question: Is conflict among astronauts an issue in space?
Leroy Chiao: Well, you know, NASA interestingly hadn't done that much until fairly recently because we'd always flown short missions and we are all professionals and the thinking is, well, everyone can get along for a two-week mission, right? So, and everyone can. So, it hasn't really been a problem. The Russians have been flying long duration crews since the early '70's. And in the early days, they've ended at least two missions early because of conflicts within the crew. So, they learned early on the importance of studying this and making sure you put the right crew together.
Since we began our work together on the International Space station with the Russians in the early 2000's, NASA has started to learn the importance of this kind of work, and so, NASA is looking much more into it and funding more work into this through both NASA as well as through the NSBRI. And so, I think it's important work and we are not fully onboard and recognize it as important.
Recorded on December 16, 2009