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Astronauts see influences of Arthur Clarke, past crew members on-board space station

The combined STS-123 and Expedition 16 crews pose together for a crew portrait aboard the space station. (Photo: NASA)
March 24, 2008 — The crews of the International Space Station and the visiting space shuttle Endeavour spoke from space Sunday night to reporters gathered at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

During the event, collectSPACE asked the astronauts to reflect on the influences of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who died March 18 at age 90, and of the previous visitors to the space station.

Set to undock from the outpost on Monday, Endeavour's crew spent nearly two weeks adding a Japanese module and a Canadian two-arm robot, nicknamed Dextre, to the station. STS-123 mission specialist Rick Linnehan made three spacewalks to assemble and deploy Dextre, which drew humorous comparisons by spectators on the ground with Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey" computer, "HAL".

"Well, I am a big Arthur C. Clarke fan and I have to say that Dextre just isn't as smart as HAL," stated Linnehan, inspiring laughs by his fellow astronauts. "But, he's built to be braun and not brains and he's going to serve a big purpose up here in terms of moving a lot of hardware around from point 'A' to point 'B'."

Endeavour's STS-123 astronauts float together for a photo. Rick Linnehan is at the 8 o'clock position. (Photo: NASA)
"My all-time favorite movie, I have to say is '2001' and it's fun to draw analogies to this. When I look at different sci- fi epics like that, when I was a kid I watched them on TV or at the movies, actually there are a lot more similarities than you would think," he continued.

"I mean, here we are up on an international space station, we're inside it and I remember in '2001' they built one out of von Braun's [ideas], a little bit different perhaps in design, but for the same purpose," he said, recalling the role German rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun played in influencing the look of director Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation of Clarke's story.

"So, the robot Dextre will a very useful addition to the station. It won't be performing highly complex computing and command functions such as HAL did, but never the less, it serves an important purpose," clarified Linnehan.

Assisting Linnehan on the first spacewalk and at Dextre's controls later during the flight was Garrett Reisman, who launched on Endeavour but transferred to the station crew upon arriving. During the approach to their ISS, Reisman said the score to '2001' had come to mind as the suitable soundtrack.

"All we needed was 'The Blue Danube' playing in the background and it would have been just like the movie," he said during an interview held earlier in the mission.

STS-123 mission specialists Mike Foreman, Bob Behnken and Rick Linnehan add their insignia to the station. (Photo: NASA)
When he finally entered the space station, his home for the next two months, Reisman was noted as its 150th visitor by a NASA commentator.

"I think I share that distinction with Dom because we crossed the hatch at the same time. I'm not sure who [was first], who won by a nose, but we were bumping into each other and the walls so much that it really doesn't matter," Reisman told collectSPACE, referring to Dom Gorie, Endeavour's commander.

Whether number 150 or 151, Reisman said he'd noticed the impact that the 149 earlier crew members had upon the station.

"Previous crews have left their mark not only with stains of tropical punch on some of the walls near the galley, but also suggested in some of the mission patches that have been left behind," he described.

"There is a sense of history, especially on the Russian side in the oldest parts of the station. They are well lived in and you realize when you are sleeping in those kayutas, the sleep stations over there, that there is a long line of people who have gone before you in those," said Reisman. "There's a whole history of space flight in just that one module."

STS-123 mission commander Dom Gorie shows where he and his crew added their patch and autographs to the ISS. (NASA)
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