Scientifique travaillant à la NASA depuis 1980 comme météorologiste spécialisé dans la dynamique des fluides.
Il collabore à la mise au point de plusieurs expériences qui seront emportées à bord de Spacelab 3.
Il est aussi le responsable d’ expériences emmenées à bord du KC-135 Zero Gravity de la NASA (Fluid Interface and Bubble Experiment).
Il participe à la mise au point d’expériences pour le Spacelab J qui seront transportées à bord de STS-47.
Il coordonne la mise au point des expériences emportées par USML-2 (United States MicroLaboratory) ce qui lui vaut d’être sélectionné en 1994 comme Payload Specialist pour la mission ST-73 qui emporte ledit laboratoire.
Il vole à bord à bord de Columbia pour la mission STS-73 du 20 octobre au 5 novembre 1995.
Fred Leslie est un passionné de parachutisme et en février 2011, il décide de sauter en même temps que le lancement de STS-133 et le dernier vol de Discovery. Un bel hommage. La photo fera le tour du monde.
Interview réalisée en 2011.
Q : How many years were you connected to the space program prior to your flight ?
A : I began working for NASA in 1980 as an atmospheric scientist and was involved in a number of projects.
One of my assignments at the Marshall Space Flight Center involved a geophysical fluid flow experiment being developed for the Spacelab program.
The instrument was eventually manifested to fly on Spacelab 3 in 1985 and my duties included training the payload crew how to operate it.
It was during this time that I realized I could perform those activities myself should the experiment ever fly again.
So, when the experiment was manifested for reflight on STS-73, I applied to be a payload specialist and flew with it in 1995.
Q : How did you feel prior to the flight ?
A : After a year and a half of training, I felt ready to fly.
Our crew had spent weeks in quarantine waiting for launch issues to be resolved.
When I was strapped in for the third time I had two hopes: that we would launch without another delay and that I would do a good job for the tasks assigned to me.
Ready to go !
Q : What kinds of sensations did you experienced during take-off ?
A : This is no doubt one of the most exciting parts of the mission.
At about 6-1/2 seconds before launch, the three Main Engines ignite and the entire Shuttle vibrates. A T-0 the Solid Rocket Boosters ignite and the Shuttle is released.
The noise and vibration increase and you feel the acceleration skyward. However, the ascent is not so violent that you cannot communicate through the headset.
As the Shuttle picks up speed through the thick lower atmosphere, pressure on the Shuttle increases.
The Main Engines are throttled back to reduce the aerodynamic loads. Then the engines throttle up. After about two minutes, the boosters burn out. When they leave, you see a flash of light in the windows from the small rockets that push the boosters away.
Then the ride smoothes out as the Main Engines alone continue to push us upward.
At this point the acceleration reaches its maximum of 3 g and stays there until Main Engine Cutoff.
Q : What does weightlessness feel like, and what did you think about during the flight ?
A : A number of things are different.
In the absence of gravity's effects, fluid that normally pools in the lower part of the body shifts upward.
Initially this makes your head feel a little full like when you do a hand stand. It was noticeable but not annoying for me since I did reduce my intake of fluids just before the flight.
After a couple of days, I didn't really notice it at all.
The feeling of orientation also changes. Even though the body cannot detect up or down, my mind determined orientation.
Since I had trained in mockups of the orbiter in the landing position, the floor seemed to be "down" for me.
The Spacelab tunnel has no obvious top or bottom, so I often felt like "down" was where my feet happened to be. Eventually, I could even trick myself . For example, I could put my feet on the ceiling and in a few seconds would suddenly feel like the ceiling was now "down."
Q : What were some of the problems you encountered and how did you fixed them ?
A : Most of the problems occurred before the flight with mechanical and weather issues.
Once we launched, the flight went smoothly.
There was a few anomalies with some experiments and one with the Spacelab, but we fixed them without much effort.
Q : What did you eat, and did it taste real ?
A : Much of the food I had was dehydrated and stored in plastic bags.
To prepare it, I took it to the galley (in the middeck on the port side) and placed it in the rehydration station - basically, a special water fountain. A needle penetrates a septum in the bag and you just dial in the amount of hot water you want and hit the hot button. The bag fills with hot water and you let it soak it up for a few minutes.
Drinks are prepared in a similar way with cold water.
Some food was in sterilized packages and just needed heating in the oven below the rehydration station.
Before the flight, our crew met with the NASA dieticians and tasted just about everything that can be flown. We individually ranked each item and came up with our own personal menus. The dieticians reviewed this and worked with us to ensure that we had the necessary nutrients and calories for each of the 3 meals per day.
In reality, of course, once you get up to space, you do what you do at home. We'd open up the food containers and just take what seemed good at the time.
Q : What was re-entry like ?
A : The re-entry was rather smooth, not as depicted in many movies showing high g's and vibration.
From my seat on the middeck I could see the plasma through the window in the hatch. It appeared as an almost continuous glow once we began atmospheric entry interface.
As we descended, the plasma waned and the black sky transitioned to dark blue and then the familiar sky blue.
Q : Were you glad to be back on Earth, or did you feel you could have spent the rest of your life up there ?
A : On the last day of my Shuttle flight (day 16) I was not quite ready to return to Earth.
Space is such a delightful place to live and I tried to capture enough memories to last a lifetime.
Perhaps someday spaceflight will be more routine so that everyone will have the opportunity to experience it.