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Shuttle crew takes break for CNN interview

Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon
Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon

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Columbia lifts off, carrying the first Israeli astronaut, on an expedition dedicated solely to science. (January 16)
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Space shuttle Columbia is set for liftoff toward a science mission featuring Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon (January 15)
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(CNN) -- While working around-the-clock on a 16-day science mission in orbit, members of the space shuttle Columbia crew took a break this weekend to talk to CNN Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien in Atlanta. Following are highlights from the long-distance chat.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take just a few moments to say hello to the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, now traveling above the Pacific at 17,300 miles per hour, 150 miles above us. Let's give you an idea of who's who. This is Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli ever to fly in space. Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist, on her second mission. Rick Husband, the commander, second mission. Laurel Clark, another space rookie.

Commander Husband, let's talk first of all about how everything's going. You've got a menagerie of animals up there. Too many scientific experiments to enumerate here, but generally speaking, how's it going?

HUSBAND: Things are going really great, Miles. We're having a great time up here. We had a great ride to orbit, and all the activation of the experiments went extremely well. And we've really got our space legs up and up running.

O'BRIEN: Send it over to Colonel Ramon, please. Colonel Ramon, I'm curious what it was like when you had that opportunity on one of those early passes to look down at your home country in the Middle East. What were your thoughts at that time?

RAMON: To tell you the truth, it was pretty fast. It was actually today [Saturday] and it went too fast. It was partly or mostly cloudy. So I couldn't see much of Israel, just the north of Israel, and, of course, I was excited.

O'BRIEN: What are your thoughts now that you're in space about what it represents to your nation?

RAMON: It's an opening for great science from our nation, and hopefully for our neighbors in the Middle East.

O'BRIEN: Was the launch what you expected?

RAMON: The launch was really exciting, yes. A lot of noise, shaking, but after about a minute or so, and it went really smoothly.

O'BRIEN: Security was very tight. A lot of concern before you ever fired off those solid rocket boosters. Did you ever -- how aware of that were you, how much of an added concern was that for you?

RAMON: Well, since NASA security [was] unbelievable and helpful, I didn't have any doubt that everything would go really good, and so it did. And I was aware of it. I got there with my family, and I knew exactly what was going on there.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, when you consider the risks astronauts take, to be concerned about that on top of everything else.

Send it over to mission specialist Chawla. I'm just curious if you could share for us a moment of what it's like being in that space hub? It's a scientific juggling act, isn't it?

CHAWLA: It really is. [I'm working on] four experiments simultaneously. But it's a lot of fun and we are enjoying it. The module is quite big, roomy, and we were able to put it in very good configuration for our work on the very first day, so it's been working out really well.

O'BRIEN: And let's send it over to Laurel Clark. Laurel, are these experiments working? You have 80 some experiments. They couldn't all be working as planned.

CLARK: Things are going very smoothly. As expected, there are some minor glitches, and the eight minutes that it took us to get to orbit, we trained months and months for, and didn't have to use any of that preparation, other than being aware and ready.

As for our science experiments, on the other hand, it's very fortunate that we've had such thorough training, we've had an excellent team on the ground. With the minor glitches that have occurred, we've been able to take care of them. And the teams on the ground are getting tons of incredible data.

O'BRIEN: Let's close with Colonel Ramon. I have an e-mail question for you, colonel. This comes from Great Britain. "Don't you think it would have been a powerful evocation and image of humanity if you had flown with a Palestinian or an Arab crew member?" And he wishes good fortune to you. Have you thought much about that?

RAMON: Well, as you probably know, an Arab man already flew in the '80s. So I am not the first one from there. And I feel like I represent, first of all, of course, the state of Israel and the Jews, but I represent also all our neighbors, and I hope it will contribute to the whole world, and especially to our Middle East neighbors.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to have to leave it at that. The crew, or at least a portion, the awakened crew of the Columbia. There are some of them asleep right now. Three of them in bunks in the mid-deck. Thanks very much for taking a little bit of time while you are in orbit to visit us from the flight deck of the space shuttle Columbia. We wish you well on this space marathon.


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