NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 2 August 2004
questions in this transcript were asked during an oral history session
with Dr. Guion S. Bluford, Jr. Dr. Bluford has amended the answers
and a few questions for clarification purposes. He has also added
a few questions for readability. As a result, this transcript does
not exactly match the audio recording.
Today is August 2, 2004. This oral history with Guy Bluford is being
conducted in Houston, Texas, for the Johnson Space Center Oral History
Project. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Sandra
Johnson and Rebecca Wright.
Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, Dr. Bluford.
It’s good to be here.
Thank you. I’d like to begin by talking about your career in
the Air Force. If you could, give us a brief outline of your career.
I went to Penn State [Pennsylvania State University, University Park,
Pennsylvania] to get a degree in aerospace engineering and went into
the Air Force ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] Program. I graduated
in September of 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering
and a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
In January of 1965, I went to pilot training at Williams Air Force
Base in Phoenix, Arizona. In February of 1966, I graduated and received
my Air Force pilot wings.
Upon graduation, I received my assignment as a fighter pilot to fly
F-4C Phantoms in Vietnam. Over the next six to seven months, I attended
several courses in preparation for my new assignment. I went to the
Air Force Survival School at Stead Air Force Base in Reno Nevada.
Then I went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, for
three months of radar and intercept training in the F-4C. After that
I went to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Florida for flight training
in the F-4C Phantom.
In October of 1966, I went to Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Vietnam, and
served as a F-4C fighter pilot in the 557 Tactical Fighter Squadron
of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing. From October of 1966 to June of
1967, I flew 144 combat missions throughout Southeast Asia. These
missions included combat air patrol, close air-to-ground support,
and air superiority flights throughout North and South Vietnam as
well as Laos.
In June, 1967, I was assigned to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita
Falls, Texas, as a T-38 instructor pilot. For the next five years,
I taught both American and West German students how to fly all flight
phases of the T-38 aircraft as part of the Air Force Undergraduate
Pilot Training Program. This included takeoffs and landings, instrument
flying, navigation flying, and formation flying. I served as an Assistant
Flight Commander and Executive Support Officer to the Deputy Director
of Operations of the 3630th Flying Training Wing. I got over 1,200
hours of IP [instructor pilot] time in T-38s and was awarded the West
German Luftwaffe wings by the West German Air Force. Many of my German
students went on to fly F-104 aircraft for the German Air Force and
my American students went on to fly various aircraft in the U.S. Air
While serving as an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base, I
sought several opportunities to become an aerospace engineer within
the Air Force. Unfortunately, the Air Force was critically short of
pilots at that time and thus needed my skills as an instructor pilot
versus as an engineer. The Air Force also indicated that I would need
to get a master’s degree in aerospace engineering if I wanted
to serve in that career field. In preparation for going back to graduate
school, I decided to take several advanced mathematics courses from
the University of California, Berkeley, by correspondence. I elected
to do my preparatory course work that way, because there were very
few educational opportunities in Wichita Falls, Texas. In 1971, I
applied to the Air Force Institute of Technology for the master’s
degree program in aerospace engineering. In June of 1972, I was accepted
into the program and was assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology
(AFIT) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This was
the break I needed in order to get into the aerospace engineering
When I arrived at the school, my goal was to get a master’s
degree in aerospace engineering and find a job in the Air Force which
utilized both my flight skills as well as my technical skills. I was
initially assigned to get a master’s degree in AFIT’s
Air Weapons Program, however, I was able to change my major to aerospace
engineering. After three semesters in the master’s degree program,
I had an AFIT professor recommend that I stay on for the Ph.D program.
He said “You’re doing so well in the master’s degree
program, you should stay on for a Ph.D.”
I said, “Sounds fine with me.” While in the master’s
degree program I was somewhat frustrated by the fact that there was
a limit on the number of aerospace engineering courses I could take.
By going into the Ph.D program, I was able to take more aerospace
engineering courses, and thus take full advantage of the opportunity
being offered me by the Air Force. Thus, I applied and got accepted
into the Ph.D program at AFIT while still completing my master’s
degree requirements. I dovetailed some of the Ph.D course work among
my master’s degree courses so that I could complete the course
work for both programs in two and a quarter years. In March, 1974,
after completing my Ph.D course work, I took my doctoral exams and
then was assigned to the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base to complete my dissertation. I worked with Dr. Wilbur
Hankey, Dr. Joe Shang and Major Scott McRae in the Aerodynamics and
Airframe Branch of the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory doing
research in computational fluid dynamics. Major Roger Crawford, who
served as my sponsor for my master’s degree thesis, was also
chairman of my doctoral committee. He was a major influence in my
success at AFIT. I also served as the Deputy for Advanced Concepts
for the Aeromechanics Division. In that role, I was responsible for
identifying, planning, and coordinating various aerodynamic research
projects. My boss was Major Kitowski, who had been an instructor at
AFIT and who was serving as Branch Chief. For the next two years,
I did my research and began writing my dissertation
At the end of that time period, I was selected as Branch Chief of
the Aerodynamics and Airframe Branch. I had completed my research
for the Ph.D. program and was in the midst of writing my dissertation.
For me, at the time, being Branch Chief of the Aerodynamics and Airframe
Branch was a job that I had always wanted. It was a great opportunity
for me to use both my technical skills and my flying experience in
developing advanced technologies for future aircraft. I led an organization
of forty-five to fifty engineers, who were doing basic aerodynamic
research, in such areas as forward swept wings, supercritical airfoils,
advanced analytical aircraft design techniques, inlets, axisymmetric
nozzles, and computational fluid dynamics. It was a great job and
I was really enjoying the work.
In 1977, the Air Force informed me that I needed to return to a flying
job. As an Air Force pilot, I needed to complete nine years of flying
in the first eighteen years of service and I had only completed six
years of flying. I needed another three years of flying in order to
continue to receive my flight pay.
So I started looking for a flying job in the Air Force. My flying
background was primarily in tactical fighter aircraft and training
aircraft. I wanted to return to the fighter pilot business with a
job flying F-15 or F-16 aircraft. The Air Force wanted me to return
as a T-37 instructor pilot. While I iterated with the Air Force about
what flying assignment I would eventually go to, I spotted an ad in
the newspaper for the Space Shuttle Program. NASA was starting to
look for astronauts to fly the Space Shuttle and they opened up the
opportunities for scientists and engineers (i.e. mission specialist
astronauts) to be astronauts. This looked like a great opportunity
for me to fulfill my flying requirements in the Air Force, utilize
my technical skills, and expand my technical knowledge all at the
same time. I could do it as a NASA astronaut. What a deal! So I applied
in 1977. In the meantime, I was still writing my dissertation with
plans on completing the document by the end of 1978.
Although I knew that there was going to be a lot of competition to
be a NASA astronaut and that the possibility of selection was small,
I decided to apply anyway. In 1977, I submitted my paperwork for the
astronaut program within the Air Force. The Air Force had established
a selection board and they were collecting applications from officers
interested in the NASA astronaut program. More than 1000 officers
applied for both the astronaut pilot and mission specialist jobs.
I applied for both positions. The Air Force selected approximately
100 officers, for consideration as NASA pilots and NASA mission specialist
astronauts. I was selected as one of those officers for the NASA mission
The head of the Air Force selection board was Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford,
and I still remember a conversation I had with Tom Stafford many years
later about my astronaut application. He said, “Yeah, I ran
that board and I remember seeing your application.” He was impressed
with my credentials and thus supported my application to be an astronaut.
After the selection process was completed, the Air Force sent our
names to NASA to be included with the applicants from the Army, Navy,
Marines and eight thousand civilians. So through the summer of 1977,
I sat around wondering if I was going to make it or not.
As NASA proceeded through the selection process, they started sending
out notices to people who were eliminated in the competition. They
also, in the middle of 1977, started selecting astronaut finalists
in groups of twenty. NASA selected ten groups of twenty astronaut
finalists and asked them to come to the Johnson Space Center for a
week of physicals and interviews. Because NASA hadn’t selected
any astronauts in over ten years and because this new group of astronauts
would include both women and minorities, there was a lot of public
interest in the selection process. The requirements to be an astronaut
were not limited to only test pilots, but were open to scientists
and engineers. NASA was looking for not only astronaut pilots but
also astronaut mission specialists. So in the summer of 1977, there
was a lot of public interest and newspaper articles highlighting those
selected as astronaut finalists.
On Wednesday, in mid October, 1977, while on government travel in
Washington, D.C., I was notified by NASA that I had been selected
as an astronaut finalist. Someone from the Johnson Space Center (JSC)
tried to contact me in Washington, D.C. They arranged to have a note
left on my hotel room door asking that I contact them. I returned
their call that evening and was notified that I had been selected
as an astronaut finalist and that NASA wanted me to report to the
Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Sunday. My travel plans
had me returning to Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday and I wasn’t sure
that I could get permission from my boss to travel to Houston on that
Sunday. I indicated to the caller that I would have to check with
my boss before I could commit to traveling to Houston on such short
notice. On Thursday, I spoke with my boss, Col McKelvey who gave me
his permission to go on such short notice and he arranged for my travel.
I confirmed with NASA my travel plans, picked up my tickets on Saturday,
and flew to Houston on Sunday. It was my first trip to Houston.
When I arrived in Houston, I discovered I was in the ninth group of
astronaut finalists. There were quite a few members of that group
that were eventually selected for the astronaut program. I think Judy
[Judith A.] Resnik, John M. Fabian, Terry J. Hart, and Steven R. Nagel
were in that group. From what I later learned, there were more astronauts
candidates selected from that group than from any other astronaut
During that week in Houston, we all received thorough physicals and
interviews with two psychiatrists. We were briefed on the Space Shuttle
Program and we got to meet some of the current astronauts. It was
an exciting experience. During that week, NASA did not disclose any
information on how we were doing and if we passed or failed the physical.
NASA also promised not to reveal the results of our physicals to our
parent armed services. This was done as a protection to the military
pilots. Since my Air Force flight physical was scheduled in November,
I asked NASA to notify the Air Force if I passed my annual flight
physical to preclude my taking two physicals in a short period of
time. NASA eventually did that in November and I found out that I
passed both the Air Force and the NASA astronaut physicals. During
that week, I was also impressed with the competition and I knew that
NASA would have no difficulty finding the type of talent they were
looking for to serve as NASA astronauts.
One of the nicest experiences during that trip was the opportunity
to meet NASA astronauts. I had never met any astronauts and I was
thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with John W. Young, T.K.
[Thomas K.] Mattingly II, Mike [Michael] Collins, Vance D. Brand,
and Alan L. Bean. I found all of them easy to talk to and they were
all highly dedicated to the NASA space program. I was particularly
impressed with the opportunity to talk with Joe H. Engle, an X-15
During the visit to the Johnson Space Center, we were required to
write an essay on why we wanted to be an astronaut. Our essays were
read by a number of senior managers just before we were interviewed.
The interviews were conducted in a conference room by a group of 10
to 15 people. The group included Mr. George (W.S.) Abbey, Vance Brand,
Carolyn Huntoon, Joe Atkinson and many others. I did not know any
of these individuals nor did I know what roles they played in the
selection process. I was asked why I wanted to be an astronaut, and
they asked me about my academic performance at Penn State University.
I explained how I got interested in airplanes and spacecraft as a
kid and why I decided as a youngster that I wanted to be an aerospace
engineer. It was a nice, friendly conversation with me doing most
of the talking.
As the week came to an end, I had no idea how I did. I was impressed
with the NASA organization, and I found myself even more interested
in participating in the space program. I had wanted to speak with
the NASA engineers on the aerodynamic characteristics of the Space
Shuttle during my visit to Houston; however, I found very little time
for that. It was a great experience, and I was hopeful that I would
eventually be one of the thirty-five finalists out of two hundred
to be selected for the astronaut program.
Let me ask you, do you remember what you wrote in that letter “Why
I want to be an astronaut”?
No, I don’t remember what I wrote.
When did you learn that you were selected for the astronaut program?
In January, 1978, NASA announced their selection of the astronauts
for the eighth astronaut class. I heard about the announcement over
the radio as I drove to work one Monday morning. I assumed that I
had not been selected for the program when I heard the news. I made
the assumption that NASA had already notified the finalists of their
selection, and they were about to make the selection public. However,
after arriving in the office, I received a call from Mr. George Abbey,
who informed me that I had been selected. Mr. Abbey was head of the
Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD) at JSC. He told me not to
divulge my selection to anyone until after NASA made the announcement
to the press at 12:00 EST that day. I later discovered that NASA had
called all two hundred finalists that morning and told them of their
decision. Unfortunately, January was a bittersweet month for me. My
mother had called me earlier in the month and told me that she was
ill and that the doctors had given her only six months to live. As
promised, I kept the announcement to myself, except for calling my
wife to let her know of NASA’s decision.
I also had an interesting problem. I was still writing my dissertation
and I had given myself until the end of the year to complete the document.
NASA wanted me in Houston in July and thus I had to expedite the writing.
I later learned that both Sally K. Ride and Kathy [Kathryn D.] Sullivan
were also in the same situation with their Ph.D dissertations. I defended
my research and completed my dissertation in June of 1978 just before
I left for my new assignment as a NASA astronaut.
As a matter of fact, we sold our house in Dayton and the family left
for Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] in early June while I remained behind
to finish up the dissertation. I eventually completed the document
in late June, made six or seven copies of it, dropped it off on my
dissertation advisor’s desk one Sunday evening, and left for
Philadelphia to pick up the family. Although I had worked on the dissertation
at nights and on the weekends, while serving as Branch Chief, I had
a lot of support from AFIT and the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory
in completing the project. I considered, earning a Ph.D from AFIT,
one of the many crowning achievements of my Air Force career.
I went to Philadelphia and picked up the wife and kids and we drove
down to Houston, where we had a house waiting for us. The wife and
I had gone to Houston in April of 1978 and purchased a home and it
was ready for us when we arrived in July. I wasn’t in Houston
more than a week when I got a letter in the mail from AFIT indicating
that my dissertation had been accepted and that I had completed all
the requirements for my Ph.D degree. That was a great moment, since
I had been working on the project for more than two years.
In February of 1978, NASA arranged to have our group come to Houston
for a series of orientation meetings. During that visit, I got to
meet my fellow astronaut candidates for the first time. It was a stellar
group. NASA had selected fifteen test pilots and twenty mission specialists
as part of the first class of astronauts dedicated to flying on the
Space Shuttle. The class included six women and three African-Americans.
We were slated to join approximately twenty-eight other astronauts
who were already training in the astronaut office. We received a warm
welcome by the people in Houston and during our visit we were measured
for flight suits and T-38 flight helmets. I was thrilled to be there,
and I was looking forward to working with my fellow astronauts as
NASA continued to prepare for the first flight of the Space Shuttle.
In July, I reported to work in the Astronaut Office. Each of us in
our class was assigned an office which we shared with a fellow astronaut
on the third floor of Bldg 4. I shared my office with Don [Donald
E.] Williams, a Navy test pilot. Two weeks after beginning my training,
my mother died. I knew she was proud of my accomplishments and my
acceptance into the astronaut program. I promptly returned to Philadelphia
for the funeral and to help close out her estate.
Why don’t you tell us about the training period that you underwent
as an astronaut candidate.
When our class arrived in Houston, there were approximately twenty-eight
astronauts in the Astronaut Office. Most of them were actively involved
in the test and development of the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle
Enterprise was being prepared for Approach and Landing Tests at Edwards
Air Force Base [California]. The Space Shuttle Main Engines were being
tested at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The flight
software for the Shuttle was being developed at JSC and at Rockwell
International Corporation in Downey, California. A scheduler and training
coordinator was assigned to our group to facilitate our training.
The role of the coordinator was to insure that all of us received
the training we needed in order to qualify as NASA astronauts. We
were considered astronaut candidates or AsCans when we arrived and
it was assumed that we would need two years of training before we
earned our silver astronaut pins. Astronauts are given silver astronaut
pins when they complete their astronaut training, and they receive
their gold astronaut pins when they fly in space.
The training consisted of classroom instruction, simulator training,
flight training, Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) training and field
trips. The classroom training included courses in aerodynamics, orbital
mechanics, materials science, physiology, biology, geology, astronomy,
and Space Shuttle systems. Orbital mechanics was taught by a professor
from the University of Texas at Austin. Geology training included
a field trip to northern Arizona. Astronomy training was supplemented
by several visits to the Houston Planetarium. Space Shuttle systems
training was provided by the engineers at JSC. The classroom training
provided the foundation for all of us to do the many things astronauts
are required to do. There were lots of viewgraph presentations, wiring
diagrams, and schematic drawings provided. However, there were no
Space Shuttle training workbooks. At times, the training seemed haphazard,
even though a lot of effort was provided to give us the technical
knowledge that we needed.
We got simulator training in several different Space Shuttle simulators.
These included the Single System Trainer or SST, and the Shuttle Motion
Based (SMS) and Fixed Based Simulators. We learned how to use the
Space Shuttle flight data file. This included the various checklists
and cue cards used by the astronauts to fly the Shuttle. Simulator
training gave us valuable exposure to how the Shuttle flies in space
and how the Space Shuttle systems work. Mission specialist candidates
were also trained in the RMS [Remote Manipulator System] simulator.
This trainer was in Bldg 9 and it was used for procedure development
and camera coordination. The best RMS training occurred in the SMS,
in which the RMS was simulated by computer graphics.
All of us were checked out in NASA aircraft. The astronaut pilot candidates
were checked out as pilots in the NASA T-38s as well as the Shuttle
Training Aircraft or STA. The STAs were Gulfstream aircraft that were
modified to fly like the Space Shuttle during approach and landing.
Mission specialists were trained to fly the T-38s only. For those
mission specialists who had graduated from military flight school,
we were trained as pilots in the aircraft. For me, flying the NASA
T-38 as a pilot was a great responsibility and a great privilege.
I had been a T-38 instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita
Falls, Texas, six years earlier, so it was easy for me to transition
back into the aircraft. I accumulated over 4,600 hours of flight time
in T-38s during my NASA and Air Force career.
All the mission specialist astronauts were trained in spacesuit operations
in the NASA NBL facility. This was a large water tank facility where
astronauts could practice and develop their EVA [Extravehicular Activity]
skills. To qualify to work in the NBL, we were given scuba training
and were required to maintain our scuba proficiency as mission specialists.
Our class made trips to NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. and to
all the NASA Centers, including JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
California], in order to become familiar with NASA and its operations.
We also visited the Rockwell International Corporation in California
and got to see the Space Shuttles in construction. In December, 1978,
our group went down to Cape Canaveral, Florida (the Cape) to watch
a rocket launch. Unfortunately, I missed that trip. I took my family
to Dayton, Ohio, to attend my Ph.D graduation from AFIT. Personally,
that was a great day for me.
As we trained as AsCans, there was a lot of activity going on in the
Astronaut Office. There were more requirements for astronauts then
there were astronauts to fill them. It became very apparent that the
Astronaut Office needed the AsCans as soon as possible to support
the flight preparation for the first Space Shuttle flight. After one
year of training, John Young, head of the Astronaut Office, declared
that we were astronauts and we were given our silver astronaut pins.
Thus we began to support the efforts in the Astronaut Office full
During the first year of training, I worked with Bob McCall, the artist,
to develop a patch that represented our class. Bob had designed the
flight patch for STS-1 and I asked him to do the same for our class.
He came up with a design which highlighted the Space Shuttle, the
thirty-five members of our class and 1978, the year that we arrived
in Houston. As AsCans, we called ourselves the “TFNGs”
or “Thirty Five New Guys” and Judy Resnik came up with
a T-shirt design that illustrated that identity.
Ross-Nazzal: Let me go back. I wanted to ask you a question. You said
that you were able to actually fly the T-38s. Were you given the opportunity
to teach some of the mission specialists how to fly? I know that some
of them had acquired pilot’s licenses after they became astronauts.
No. The astronaut candidates were checked out in T-38s by the support
pilots in Aircraft Ops. Very few of the old astronauts participated
in checking us out in NASA aircraft. I once had a training ride with
T.K. Mattingly; however, I finally was sent solo by an aircraft ops
You just mentioned the fact that the Space Shuttle astronauts had
to play an essential role in sort of finishing up the Space Shuttle
so that it could actually fly. You had a number of positions after
you participated in training. You worked on the RMS; you worked with
the Shuttle systems and the Spacelab 3 experiments, in addition with
working with SAIL [Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory] and the
Flight [Systems] Laboratory. Can you tell us more about what you did?
After a year of training and a strong demand for our talents in the
astronaut office, John Young decided to put the AsCans to work. Several
jobs were parceled out to us as the Johnson Space Center prepared
to fly the Space Shuttle for the first time. My first assignment was
to work with Bill [William B.] Lenoir on the Remote Manipulator System.
Bill was working with the Canadians as well as with the JSC Engineering
Directorate to understand the operation of the RMS. This meant not
only understanding the mechanical operation of the RMS but also the
software and firmware that was used to operate the arm. A lot of time
was spent in Toronto, Canada at the SPAR Corporation learning about
the RMS. I worked with Bill Lenoir for about six months before I was
transferred to support Don L. Lind in his support of Spacelab 3.
Frequent shifting of jobs among the AsCans was the normal way to expand
our knowledge and experience base in the astronaut office. I supported
Don Lind for about 9 months as we flew around the country talking
to Principal Investigators (PIs) about their experiments. We gave
them suggestions on how to improve the design of their experiments
in order to maximize the scientific return of their experiments when
flown in space. Working with Don Lind gave me insight into payload
preparations, Spacelab operations, and how experiments are integrated
into the Space Shuttle. As we got closer to flying STS-1, I was sent
to work in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.
SAIL was an engineering mockup of all the avionics and electrical
components of the Space Shuttle. The SAIL contained a high fidelity
Shuttle cockpit that was used to check out the flight procedures of
the Space Shuttle. For me this was a great job. I flew various ascent
and on-orbit flight scenarios verifying the nominal and off-nominal
operations of the Shuttle. I became very familiar with the nominal
and off-nominal flight procedures as well as the flight data file.
I flew multiple ascents and various ascent abort modes with numerous
malfunctions to verify the performance of the flight software. I also
flew on-orbit scenarios with simulated payloads, including the RMS.
My job was to verify the performance of the flight software in preparation
In addition to working in the SAIL, I was also assigned to work in
the Flight Systems Laboratory (FSL) at the Rockwell International
Corporation facility in Downey, California. This facility was used
to verify the flight software for deorbit burns, entry, and landing.
As part of that job, I was also checked out to fly simulated Shuttle
approaches with T-38s on the White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) range
in New Mexico. NASA put large speed brakes on the T-38s so as to simulate
Shuttle approaches. This was done to help train pilot astronauts.
This was an exciting time for me, because it gave me an opportunity
to see and verify the flight software for all flight phases of space
operations. I would spend a week in Houston flying Shuttle ascents
in the SAIL and then the following week I would fly a T-38 out to
El Paso, Texas, fly simulated Shuttle approaches on the White Sands
Test Facility range, and then fly to Downey, California, to fly Space
Shuttle approaches in the FSL. I did this for several years as we
prepared for the first four flights of the Space Shuttle.
Let me ask you about STS-1. You mentioned STS-1 a little bit ago.
I understand that everyone was helping out for STS-1.
Yes. Most of the NASA manned space effort at the time was dedicated
towards getting the Space Shuttle ready to fly on STS-1.
What was your job during the STS-1 mission?
Before the mission, my job was to help develop and verify the flight
software for STS-1. We ran a lot of nominal and off-nominal flight
simulations in both the SAIL and FSL in order to fully understand
the operation of the flight software. We would then provide that information
to the flight test engineers and to John Young and Bob [Robert L.]
Crippen as they prepared for STS-1. Also, the lessons learned from
flying the SAIL and FSL were directly fed back to the flight simulator
folks so as to enhance the astronaut training for the first four Space
During the STS-1 mission, I was assigned to work with Frank Reynolds
of ABC News out at Edwards [Air Force Base]. My job was to provide
technical support to the network during the final phases of the flight.
I went out to Edwards a couple of days before liftoff and followed
the mission from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center [Edwards, California].
The launch was delayed a couple of days. The liftoff was successful
and the entry and landing were spectacular. You could see Columbia
come in overhead, and then circle around to its final approach point
and then fly down final, with the chase aircraft following it. Columbia
made a spectacular landing on the lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base.
I was on the TV set with Frank Reynolds during the entire broadcast
coverage of STS-1’s landing. I was out of sight of the TV audience
during most of the broadcast. As Frank Reynolds wrapped up the TV
coverage of the event, I appeared with Frank on the set and we finished
up the broadcast together. It was an exciting day for all of us to
see John Young and Bob Crippen bring the vehicle home and confirm
that the Shuttle was a safe and viable vehicle to fly.
That evening, I got to meet both Chuck [Charles E.] Yeager and Dan
Rather of NBC News for the first time. I was also on Ted Koppel’s
Nightline that evening. There was definitely a lot of celebration
that evening among news people and NASA folks with the successful
completion of the STS-1 Space Shuttle mission.
How did you learn that you were selected for STS-8?
I found out about my selection early in 1982. After the normal Monday
morning Astronaut Office meeting, John Young, head of the Astronaut
Office, came up to me and said “Mr. George Abbey wants to talk
with you and you need to go over to George’s Office. Be over
there by eleven o’clock.” John did not indicate what the
meeting was about, and so I assumed that Mr. Abbey wanted to talk
with me about a new assignment or some aspect of what’s going
on at SAIL or FSL.
As I was walking over to Mr. Abbey’s office in Bldg 1, I ran
into Dale [A.] Gardner. I discovered he was going to the same meeting.
I asked Dale, “What’s the meeting for?” He said
he didn’t’ know. We both speculated back and forth as
to why Mr. Abbey wanted to talk with us as we headed to his office.
When we arrived, we found Dan [Daniel C.] Brandenstein sitting outside
of Mr. Abbey’s office. He had been invited to the same meeting
and he didn’t know why we were there either.
After a few minutes of waiting, the door to Mr. Abbey’s office
opened and he motioned for us to come in. He had been having a conversation
with Dick [Richard H.] Truly in his conference room and the three
of us joined both of them. After some small talk, Mr. Abbey said “You
know, you guys have really been doing a nice job in supporting the
Space Shuttle flights; Dan, you have been working on the various flight
data file items. Dale, you’ve been working software issues,
and Guy, you’ve been performing tests in the SAIL and FSL. I
know you guys really enjoy what you’re doing: however, I need
some astronauts to fly on STS-8 and I was wondering if you guys were
interested in flying on STS-8?” We all responded with a resounding
“Yes.” We definitely wanted to fly on STS-8. In our excitement,
Dan Brandenstein asked who the commander was going to be on the flight.
At that moment, Dick Truly looked over at Mr. Abbey and said, “George,
can I fly on STS-8? Can I fly with these guys on STS-8?” George
sort of looked over at him and said, “Yeah, why don’t
you fly on STS-8 as well.” So that was how we were notified
that we were going to be the crew on STS-8. It was an exciting moment
for all of us as we left Mr. Abbey’s office. Later that day
NASA made the announcement for both the STS-7 and STS-8 crews.
We started out with a crew of four. Dick Truly had flown with Joe
H. Engle on the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests and as a
pilot on STS-2. Dan and Dale were astronaut classmates of mine. Dan
was a naval test pilot who was ascent CapCom [Capsule Communicator]
and a member of the astronaut support crew for STS-1 and STS-2. Dale
was a naval flight officer and served as a member of the STS-4 support
crew. The mission required a night launch, and a night landing which
had never been done before in the Space Shuttle. Dan Brandenstein
was designated the pilot of the flight and Dale was MS-1 [mission
specialist]-1. I was selected as MS-2 and thus served as the flight
engineer for the mission. My job was to sit between the commander
and pilot during ascent and entry and assist them in all phases of
flight operation. For me I felt very comfortable in that role since
I had quite a bit of simulator time in the SAIL and FSL and was quite
familiar with the flight data file and flight procedures. The EVA
crew members for our flight were Dick Truly and Dale Gardner. Dick
had been the EVA crew member on STS-2 and thus decided to keep that
role on STS-8.
The mission required a night launch and a night landing because of
the orbital requirements of the Indian satellite called INSAT 1-B.
This was a weather and communication satellite with a Payload Assist
Module (PAM) rocket that would boost the satellite into a geosynchronous
transfer orbit. We were also manifested to carry a Tracking &
Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) on an IUS [Inertial Upper Stage]. Our
payload was to weigh over 65,000 pounds. It was going to be the heaviest
Space Shuttle flight to date, with very little weight growth margin.
One of the challenges for the flight was to develop the procedures
and techniques for launching and landing the Space Shuttle at night.
Dick Truly and Dan Brandenstein spent a lot of time with the NASA
aircraft ops people at both the Cape and at Edwards Air Force Base
looking at various ground lighting configurations for supporting a
Shuttle landing. Numerous approaches and landings were made in the
STA to determine the best lighting configuration for our flight. Several
flights were flown in the NASA 707 aircraft in order to give the flight
crew some experience in heavy aircraft operations. After a lot of
trial and error, a lighting configuration was established, which best
supported our mission. This included flood lights on the approach
end of the runway and additional lights along the sides of the runway.
Although I was the flight engineer for the mission, I spent very little
time in this evaluation project.
During the training, Dale and I made several trips to Boeing Aircraft
Corporation in Seattle, Washington, to learn about the IUS. We were
becoming well versed in the operation of the IUS when an IUS malfunctioned
on STS-6. During that flight, the IUS put the TDRS-1 satellite into
a stable but wrong orbit. Because of that, NASA decided not to fly
the TDRS/IUS on our flight until after the mishap was investigated.
As a result of that, our manifest was changed to carry the Payload
Flight Test Article (PFTA) and the Canadian RMS. The purpose of the
PFTA was to evaluate the dynamics of the RMS while handling a large
payload. Dale and Dick Truly were responsible for operating the arm
with the PFTA, while I was responsible for deploying the INSAT-1B
satellite. In addition to the PFTA/RMS, the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis
System (CFES) was also added to the manifest. The purpose of the CFES
was to separate out living cells with an electromagnetic current.
Both Dale and I were trained to operate this system by Charles D.
Walker, a McDonnell Douglas test engineer. Charlie later served as
a Payload Specialist on STS 41-D, 51-D, and 61-B, to specifically
operate the CFES experiment.
About four to five months into the training, we added Bill [William
E.] Thornton to the crew. NASA had noted that several astronauts were
suffering from space adaptation syndrome (SAS) or space sickness and
they wanted to investigate this problem. Thus, they assigned Dr. Norman
E. Thagard to STS-7 and Bill Thornton to STS-8. Bill came onboard
as MS-3. Bill brought a lot of additional equipment with him to study
the physiological changes associated with SAS. We all participated
in some of Bill’s experiments. I discovered on this flight that
I did not suffer from SAS.
Twelve Getaway Special (GAS) canisters were added to our flight, eight
of which carried specially-stamped postal covers. These postal covers
were consecutively numbered with the President of the United States
receiving postal cover number one. After the mission, the postal covers
were sold, by mail order only, from the Postal Service’s Philatelic
Sales Division. Many of these postal covers were subsequently sent
to us by people who wanted our autographs on them.
Training for the flight went very smoothly. We concentrated on flying
night launches and night landings in a darkened Space Shuttle Simulator.
We learned to set our light levels low enough in the cockpit so that
we could maintain our night vision, and I had a special lamp mounted
on the back of my seat so that I could read the checklist in the dark.
The only thing that wasn’t simulated in our launch simulations
was the lighting associated with the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) ignition
and the lighting associated with the firing of the pyros for SRB and
External Tank (ET) separation. No one seemed to notice this omission
until after we flew.
Although there was a lot of interest in my participation on the mission,
I focused my attention on making the mission a success and stopped
doing PR [Public Relations] events during the last six months of training.
Dick Truly ran the team and worked with the scheduler assigned to
our flight to insure that we received all the training we needed.
As a crew, we were put in the same office early in the training and
we learned to work well together as a team. We designed our crew patch
as well as a “joke patch.” The “joke patch”
was shaped like an eight-ball with the front of the Shuttle on it.
Dick Truly was depicted as half asleep looking out one of the windows
while the rest of the crew was shown “wide-eyed” looking
out of the other window. An Aviation Week article on our flight highlighted
the “joke or eight ball” patch when they described our
mission. When we finished training, we felt well prepared to fly.
What was it like to fly in space on STS-8?
About a week to ten days before flight, we went into quarantine and
began to shift our circadian rhythm. This would be the first of three
times I would have to shift my circadian rhythm by twelve hours in
preparation for flight. It took us about a week to get comfortable
with living at night and sleeping in the daytime. Some of the crew
members slept at home while others slept in crew quarters at JSC.
We ate food prepared by the food people on the Center and we practiced
in the simulators at night. About three to four days before launch,
we flew to the Cape in T-38s for the final launch countdown and liftoff.
During the last few days in quarantine at the Cape, we relaxed and
did some last minute reviews of flight procedures. The families came
down to the Cape several days before launch and we spent some time
with them at the KSC [Kennedy Space Center, Florida] Beach House.
Because of the interest shown by the public, NASA leased an airplane
to fly dignitaries to the Cape to witness the launch. A party was
held for the invited guests and dignitaries the evening before the
launch, and my son ran around and took pictures of some of those who
attended the party. My family escort was Jim [James] F. Buchli, who
did an excellent job supporting my family. I was most concerned about
my wife who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa. Jim did a great job
in handling my wife’s night blindness situation and made sure
that she had a good view of the launch. Ron [Ronald E.] McNair called
me the evening before launch and wished me well on my mission. I greatly
appreciated his comments and encouragement.
On August 29th, we were awakened at 10:00 P.M. We had breakfast and
suited up for the mission. We put on our NASA blue flight coveralls
and then headed downstairs for the van ride to the launch pad. As
we climbed into the van that evening, I noticed it was raining. There
was lightning in the area and there was some concern by the Launch
Control Center (LCC) about our safety as we proceeded out to the launch
pad. Dick Truly discussed the safety and weather issues with LCC,
while we rode out to the pad. Finally, LCC left it up to Dick to decide
if it was safe for the crew to go to the pad. Dick made the decision
for us to proceed and we went out to Space Shuttle Challenger. As
we climbed into the vehicle and completed our preflight checks with
the Launch Control Center, the rains began to subside and the clouds
began to clear away. Our launch window extended 34 minutes from 2:15
A.M. EDT until 2:49A.M. EDT. Because of the weather, we launched 17
minutes late at 2:32A.M EDT. The ride into orbit was really exciting.
We had darkened the cockpit to prepare for liftoff; however, when
the SRBs ignited, they turned night into day inside the cockpit. Whatever
night vision we had hoped to maintain we lost right away at liftoff.
The ride up on the SRBs was noisy and bumpy as Challenger lifted off
and rotated to align us to a 28.45-degree inclination. The Orbiter
pitched down as we headed down range, upside down. Approximately,
2 minutes and 15 seconds into the mission, we jettisoned the Solid
Rocket Boosters. There was a large momentary flash of light in the
windows when the SRB pyros fired. We continued our ride on the three
Main Engines of the Shuttle for the next six and a half minutes and
then jettisoned the External Tank at 8 minutes and 45 seconds into
the flight. Once again, we were startled by the firing of the ET pyros.
We made two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) burns, one at 10 minutes,
19 seconds into the flight and the other at 44 minutes, 49 seconds
into the flight. This put us into an orbit of 160 nautical miles above
the earth. It was a great trip. I still remember seeing the African
coast and the Sahara desert coming up over the horizon. It was a beautiful
sight. Once we completed our OMS burns, I unstrapped from my seat
and started floating on the top of the cockpit. I remember saying
to myself “Oh, my goodness, zero-G.” And like all the
other astronauts before me, I fumbled around in zero-G for quite a
while before I got my space legs. However, it was a great feeling,
and I knew right away that I was going to enjoy this experience. We
finally completed all of our ascent checks, configured the Orbiter
for on-orbit operations, and then had lunch. For the next six days
we were busy accomplishing the planned timeline and enjoying the view
out the window. For the rookie astronauts, it was a fabulous adventure.
For me, most of my planned activities were accomplished in the first
several days. We successfully deployed the INSAT-1B satellite on flight
day one. Forty-five minutes after deploying the satellite, we ignited
the PAM which rocketed the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer
orbit of 22,300 miles above the earth. Ground control took over command
of the satellite and fired its onboard solid propellant kick motor
to circularize the orbit. During the rest of the mission, I performed
some of the CFES experiments and helped Bill gather some physiological
data. For the next several days, Dick and Dale operated the RMS with
the PFTA on it, while I took pictures out the windows. The view from
on-orbit was spectacular as we circled the Earth. I also tried to
capture some of the crew activity in the cockpit on film. We were
having a good time in space.
We had a telecom with President Ronald Regan during the flight. He
praised us on our accomplishments and wished us well for the remainder
of the flight. We also had daily messages from the families and the
CapComs kept us appraised as to what was going on, on the ground.
During our flight, the CapCom kept me abreast on how Penn State was
doing in football and how the Philadelphia Phillies were doing in
baseball. Each morning we were awakened by a school song. The Penn
State song was played on flight day four. During the mission, we were
informed about the shooting down of the Korean airliner over China.
This was good for us to know, as we prepared for our on-orbit news
conference with the press. During the mission, Dick Truly told me
he was leaving the astronaut office after this flight to become Commander
of the Naval Space Command, and my wife sent me a message saying that
we had termites in our house. Overall the mission went well and we
accomplished all of our flight goals.
On flight day five, we configured Challenger for the flight home.
The mission seemed to go faster than we had wanted it to and all of
us were hoping that we would have the chance to fly again. We rotated
the vehicle so that it was flying backwards; we performed the deorbit
burn, and then we rotated the vehicle so that it was facing forward
and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. As we re-entered the
Earth’s atmosphere, we began to feel the effects of gravity
and see the fiery plasma of hot air burn outside the front windows
of the Orbiter. Dale took pictures of the hot plasma as it enveloped
us during entry, and he would occasionally hand me the camera. I could
feel the camera getting heavier and heavier as we got closer to home.
Dick flew us home, and we landed at Edwards Air Force Base a little
after midnight on the sixth day. There was an enthusiastic crowd to
greet us at our brief post flight press conference. We joined up with
our wives, who were waiting for us, and NASA flew us back to Houston.
Did you fly any personal items into space on STS-8?
I flew my Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings, my gold astronaut
pin, and 20 silver and gold STS-8 medallions. I used the medallions
as Christmas gifts at the end of the year. On later flights, I also
flew mission medallions.
Can you tell us about your post-flight PR trips?
After the mission, NASA Headquarters assigned Mary Weatherspoon to
work my PR agenda. Mary was a public relations specialist from NASA
Headquarters who had lots of experience doing PR support for the NASA
Administrator. We worked together to determine which events we should
do and how best to support all the speaking requests. She handled
all the transportation and logistics for each PR trip and she served
as my escort at many PR functions. We worked well together as a team.
From October to December of 1983, we made three to four trips a month
to various parts of the country. We tried not to spend a lot of time
crisscrossing the country, but tried to focus on a particular area
of the country on each trip. In several cases, we convinced people
to change the date of their events in order to best accommodate my
schedule. Between trips I would spend a lot of time answering the
mail and preparing for the next trip. On each trip, I talked about
my experiences of flying on STS-8, the importance of the space program,
the need for more scientists and engineers in this country, and I
tried to acknowledge the role of teachers, parents, and role models
in my life. I used the PR trips to thank the American people for giving
me the opportunity to fly in space and tried to show my appreciation
to those organizations that helped me the most in life. I particularly
focused my gratitude on Penn State University, the City of Philadelphia,
the United States Air Force and the Tuskegee Airman. It was a wonderful
I went back home to Philadelphia for four days in November and rode
in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I met with Mayor Wilson Goode of Philadelphia
and Governor Richard Thornburgh of Pennsylvania. I visited the University
of Pennsylvania’s Children’s Hospital and several schools
in Philadelphia, including Overbrook Senior High, my alma mater. I
spent time at the Franklin Institute in downtown Philadelphia talking
with school kids about the importance of studying math and science
and I participated in numerous press conferences. It was a busy four
I went to Hollywood [California] and joined up with Bob Crippen to
do a TV special on the 25th anniversary of NASA. Bob Hope hosted the
event, as we highlighted some of the many accomplishments of the Agency.
I also attended an awards program for the NAACP [National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People], and received the NAACP Image
Award. Miss America’s Vanessa Williams also received the same
award at this event. I had an opportunity to meet Billy Dee Williams
who was in the midst of filming several Star Wars movies. He seemed
as excited to see me as I was to meet him. I also met Johnny Carson,
Redd Foxx, Jim Brown and many other Hollywood celebrities on the trip.
It was an exciting experience.
In October, my wife and I went to Washington D.C. to attend several
events. We attended a ceremony in the Pentagon, hosted by the Chief
of Staff of the Air Force, General Charles A. Gabriel, who presented
me my Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings. John Fabian also received
his Air Force Astronaut Wings at the same event. There was a small
reception, after the ceremony, with quite a few flag officers. From
there, the wife and I went to the Smithsonian National Air & Space
Museum to join President Reagan. The President gave a speech recognizing
NASA on its 25th Anniversary. I participated in that event with Sally
Ride, several other astronauts, and with the NASA Administrator. NASA
donated my STS-8 spacesuit to the National Air & Space Museum
for permanent display. Finally, that evening, the wife and I went
to Blair House, across the street from the White House for a dinner
and a reception with Frank C. Carlucci, Secretary of Defense. We got
to meet Colin Powell and his wife as well as some ambassadors and
several senior military officials and their wives. It was a remarkable
day for both of us in the Nation’s capitol.
By the end of the year, I decided to get off the PR circuit and return
to my normal duties in the astronaut office. Although I enjoyed my
experience giving speeches and signing autographs, I felt it was time
for me to support some of the other astronauts who were getting ready
to fly. I had accumulated a lot of memorabilia on these trips as a
reminder on how the country felt about me and the NASA space program.
However, I had one more surprise that occurred after the Christmas
and New Year’s holidays. Among the mail that I had received
during the holidays there was a letter from the Undersecretary of
Defense for Personnel. In the letter, he congratulated me on my accomplishments
and officially notified me that I was promoted to full colonel. The
Department of Defense had decided to re-initiate an old policy of
promoting astronauts when they flew in space. I was authorized to
wear the new rank, as the Air Force got approval from Congress for
my promotion. It was a great gift from an organization that I felt
very proud of.
In January of 1984, I was assigned to be a “Cape Crusader,”
in the Astronaut Office. I was going to be one of the astronauts working
at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, monitoring the flow of payloads
and the work on the Space Shuttles. However, before I could get started
on my new job, Mr. Abbey assigned me to fly as the payload commander
and mission specialist on STS 61-A. He wanted me to leave for West
Germany in the next couple of weeks for six to eight weeks of training.
I would be teaming up with Bonnie J. Dunbar and three European astronauts
for payload training. Once again, I was ecstatic as I began training
again for my second spaceflight.
Were you assigned to the mission because you had previously worked
No, I don’t think so. Although I was a flight instructor for
West German Undergraduate Pilot Training students and had been awarded
the West German Luftwaffe Wings, I don’t think this had any
effect on Mr. Abbey’s decision.
Why don’t you tell me about training and working with the PIs
The STS 61-A crew was selected in segments. Bonnie Dunbar and I were
selected first from the Astronaut Office to join the team. The rest
of the flight crew was to be selected at a later date. This was going
to be Bonnie’s first spaceflight. She was a first-rate engineer
with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ceramic engineering
and a Ph.D in mechanical/biomedical engineering. She had been a payload
officer/flight controller at JSC since 1978 and became an astronaut
in 1981. She was a welcomed member of the team and I really enjoyed
training and flying with her on STS 61-A.
Early in 1984, Bonnie Dunbar and I went to Europe, on the first of
many trips, to join with our European payload specialist astronauts
for training on STS 61-A. This mission, called “Deutschland
Spacelab Mission D-1” was the first of a series of dedicated
West German missions to fly in the Space Shuttle. This mission was
managed by the Federal German Aerospace Research Establishment (DFVLR)
for the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (BMFT).
Bonnie arrived for training slightly ahead of me. I got delayed by
Lt. General James A. Abramson, the NASA Shuttle Program Manager, who
wanted me to speak at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. before
I left. Once I completed that PR event, I joined Bonnie Dunbar in
Porz Wahnheide, Germany at the DFVLR Astronaut Office.
We teamed with three very capable payload specialist (PS) astronauts
who had been training for some time on the experiments for this Spacelab
flight. Ernst Messerschmid (Ph.D) was a research physicist from Reutlinger,
Germany; Reinhard Furrer (Ph.D) was an assistant professor from Worgl,
Germany; and Wubbo J. Ockels (Ph.D) was a backup payload specialist
on Spacelab 1, from Groningen, Netherlands. These payload specialists
were to be the prime operators of the European Space Agency (ESA)
space experiments. Bonnie Dunbar and I were responsible for managing
the Spacelab and its systems as well as performing a variety of experiments.
The Spacelab D-1 Mission Manager was Hans-Ulrich Steimle and the Operations
Manager was Hans Joachim Panitz. The training team was very fortunate
to have Ulf Merbold (Ph.D), ESA payload specialist on STS-9, to serve
as Crew Interface Coordinator (CIC) for the mission. Dr. Merbold participated
in the entire D-1 training as a backup payload specialist.
Our primary training was conducted at Porz Wahnheide, Germany, a small,
very picturesque town south of Koln, Germany. This European Astronaut
Office housed the ground training units for several Spacelab experiment
modules. These included: the Werkstofflabor (WL), a materials science
and space processing facility; the Prozesskamer (PK), a materials
processing chamber; the Biowissenschaften (BW), a life science experiment
package; and the Biorack (BR), a biological glove box and two incubators.
The Vestibular Sled training was conducted at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bonnie Dunbar and
I trained on Spacelab systems at Marshall Space Flight Center [Huntsville,
Alabama] and Space Shuttle procedures at JSC. While in Europe, all
of us trained at several locations. These included the European Space
Technology Center (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, Holland, the University of
Paris in Paris, France, the University of Tubingen in Reutlinger,
Germany, and the University of Bremen, in Bremen, Germany. Bonnie
Dunbar and I spent about six months in Europe, three to four weeks
at a time, training on the experiments. In addition, we made several
trips to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to train with Dr. Larry Young and
his team on the vestibular sled. Our Astronaut Office scheduler and
training coordinator insured that the Europeans had a training plan
and syllabus for us to work from for this flight. He also made sure
that when we went to Europe or to MIT, our time was productively used.
We served as experimental test subjects on several of the experiments
while at the same time learning how to perform the experiments. We
also trained with the PIs and CICs at the German Space Operations
Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, near Munich. In addition,
Bonnie Dunbar and I took Berlitz lessons in German. Although all spaceflight
operations were conducted in English, learning to speak German helped
us in working with our European partners.
Late in the training, we picked up the rest of the crew. Hank [Henry
W.] Hartsfield [Jr.] was named as Shuttle commander, Steve Nagel was
named as Shuttle pilot, and Jim Buchli came onboard as flight engineer
and mission specialist MS-2. Hank Hartsfield was a test pilot who
had been the backup pilot for STS-2 and STS-3, the Shuttle pilot on
STS-4, and Shuttle commander on STS 41-D in August, 1984. Steve Nagel
was an Air Force test pilot, who served as mission specialist on STS
51-G and Jim Buchli was a naval flight officer, who had flown as mission
specialist MS-2 on STS 51-C. The team was complete and thus we began
to train together on Shuttle and Spacelab systems. On several occasions,
the entire team came to Europe for orientation and training. Hank
Hartsfield was our leader, who was also fluent in German.
STS 61-A was a unique mission. We had two mission control centers.
The Mission Control Center in Houston was responsible for managing
the total mission and all the Space Shuttle and Spacelab systems.
The German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, was
responsible for payload operations. The payload crew worked with the
PIs and the CICs in the GSOC and the flight crew worked with the CapComs
in Houston. We spoke with both mission control centers during the
flight. Since we were going to operate the Spacelab around the clock,
we broke the crew up into two teams called the Red Team and the Blue
Team. The Blue Team consisted of Hank Hartsfield, Steve Nagel, Bonnie
Dunbar, Reinhard Furrer, and Wubbo Ockels. I was on the Red Team with
Jim Buchli and Ernst Messerschmid. Late in the training flow, we started
training as separate teams. This gave us an opportunity to become
familiar with our own CapComs and CICs. For my team, Ulf Merbold was
our CIC. After eighteen months of training, the STS 61-A, D-1 team
was ready to fly.
Ross-Nazzal: Tell me about the STS 61-A flight
STS 61-A was the first flight to carry a crew of eight. The planned
launch time was noon, EST so as to give maximum TV coverage to Germany.
The Red Team of Jim Buchli, Ernst Messerschmid, and I had to do a
twelve hour circadian rhythm shift, so for us, the launch was occurring
near the end of our work day. While in quarantine at JSC and at the
Cape, one team was up while the other team was in bed. A new lighting
system had been installed in the crew quarters to facilitate the shift
in circadian rhythm. The new system made the shift easier and less
painful for the Red Team.
The activities, the day of the launch, were normal. As MS-3, I was
in the Orbiter middeck during ascent with the three payload specialists.
Once we got on orbit, the Blue Team activated Spacelab while the Red
Team went to bed. We had four soundproof bunks to sleep in while the
Blue Team was at work. The two shift operations worked very well on-orbit
with both teams up at the same time during breakfast/dinner when we
transferred Spacelab operations. The simultaneous transfer of responsibility,
both on-orbit as well as on the ground, went smoothly as we exchanged
information and updated our flight data files. Each of the crew members
shared a sleep bunk with a crew member from the opposite team. Only
Hank Hartsfield had a sleep bunk to himself, which gave him the flexibility
to work on either shift. The payload crew worked almost non-stop in
the Spacelab, while the flight crew worked in the cockpit. For the
commander, pilot, and MS-2, there seemingly wasn’t a lot to
do so they took quite a few pictures of the Earth and performed all
of the routine housekeeping functions. The coordination between the
CapComs in Houston and the CICs in Germany went well, even during
shift handover. Ulf Merbold was our CIC and he did an excellent job
supporting us on-orbit as well as working with the PIs on the ground.
For me, it was a great pleasure to work with both Ernst Messerschmid
and Ulf Merbold. They were true professionals.
During Red Team shift operations, Jim Buchli and I had to work a persistent
cabin leak problem. We had cabin leak alarms on a couple of days in
space. We discovered, later on, the leak was due to one of the experiments
inadvertently venting into space. We also had a false fire alarm go
off on us during flight. This occurred on STS-8 as well and both times
we had to turn off the sensor giving the false alarm. Both teams had
to do in-flight maintenance (IFM) on several experiments which required
a lot of coordination between us and the GSOC. The expert knowledge
that the payload specialists had of the different experiment modules
was crucial in resolving several of these problems. During my shift,
Ernst and I got to speak to the head of Bavaria. The conversation
was conducted in German with Ernst doing all the talking. Although
the mission was conducted primarily in English, infrequently, the
PSs would revert to German during on-orbit discussions. Each payload
team worked twelve-hour shifts in the Spacelab. We were so busy on
the Red Team that Ernst and I would have to rely on Jim Buchli to
fix our meals. There was a lot of communication between the payload
crew and the PIs and the CICs on each shift. We conducted seventy-six
different experiments during the flight. Discussions with the CapComs
in Houston were kept to a minimum. The working environment was very
comfortable for both teams during the seven day flight and the mission
was very successful. On the last day of the mission, I gave Ernst
some time off so that he could enjoy the view out the windows. We
had been so busy on this flight that there was little time to savor
the experience. We closed up Spacelab and readied the vehicle for
entry as the Blue was getting up. I rode upstairs in the cockpit,
next to MS-2, as we came home. Hank Hartsfield and Steve Nagel flew
us home, and we made a safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Once we got on the ground, we met up with our wives. My wife, Linda
was standing there on crutches. Her knee had collapsed on her, while
waiting for us at Edwards Air Force Base. She eventually had to have
her knee operated on to correct the problem. We all flew back to Houston
and dropped everybody off, except the payload crew, who then flew
to the Cape for several days of ground testing. We were guinea pigs
on this flight and one of the mission requirements was to look at
how we adapted to zero-G and also how we adapted to one-G on our return.
We spent several days in crew quarters at KSC, doing post flight specific
experiments for the scientists. The mission was a total success.
After the mission, DFVLR invited us and our wives to Germany to attend
a technical conference highlighting the results of our mission. It
was a proud moment for all of us as we learned the results of some
of the experiments that we performed during flight. The trip also
gave me an opportunity to tour Europe with the wife and show her some
of the sights that I had seen while training there. After all the
STS 61-A post flight activities were completed, the PSs were assigned
to various spaceflight operations positions within DFVLR and ESTEC.
STS 61-A was the last successful flight of Challenger.
Where were you when you heard about the accident?
I was at home at the time of the accident. My wife called me from
work and said, “Hey, I heard we had a problem with 51-L, this
I said, “Huh?”
“They had a problem with the launch of 51-L. Have you heard?”
I said, “Hold on, just a moment,” and I put down the telephone
and ran into the den and turned on the TV. There, on all the network
stations, they were showing the accident over and over again. I could
tell immediately that we had a serious problem.
So I returned to the telephone and said, “We’ve got a
real problem. I need to go into work right away.” I hung up
the phone, hurriedly got dressed and went to work. As I wondered around
the Center, I could tell that people were in shock. Meetings had been
cancelled and everybody seemed stunned at what had happened. I could
imagine the challenge the astronaut family escorts faced standing
next to the families when the accident occurred.
That evening, the STS 51-L families returned home to Houston. NASA
flew them back to Ellington Field [Houston, Texas] on NASA aircraft.
I knew that NASA was going to face some real challenges ahead as we
prepared for an accident investigation. No one knew the cause of the
accident at the time, and I knew that we would have to find the cause,
fix the problem, before we flew again.
What sort of assignments did you have immediately following the accident?
I had just completed flying on STS 61-A and thus was the astronaut
most current in Spacelab operations and the associated payloads. So
I worked payload safety issues in the office. Safety became a number
one issue at NASA as the Rogers Commission began their investigation.
Astronauts were assigned to various functions associated with safety
and reliability through out the Agency. Besides working payload safety
issues, I was also assigned to the safety investigation board associated
with the External Tank. I spent quite a bit of time at NASA’s
Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, going over the
fault trees to determine if the ET had anything to do with the accident.
I knew the next few years were going to be difficult years for NASA.
The Rogers Commission investigation uncovered both the primary and
secondary causes of the accident. Management processes and faulty
management decisions were key factors in the cause of the mishap and
it was obvious that NASA was going to have to change. More focus was
needed by all on the safety and operational aspects of flying in space.
Astronauts were needed in management positions throughout the agency
to help insure that operational as well as engineering considerations
were included in management decisions. The nation was disappointed
with NASA, and they demanded that we get to the bottom of the problem
and fix it. President Ronald Reagan came to Houston for the memorial
service and the Nation mourned the loss of our fellow comrades.
What effect do you think that the accident had on the astronaut corps?
I think all of us in the Astronaut Office wanted to help the families
who lost loved ones in the accident, and we were determined to fix
the problem. Many of us were assigned to various safety boards; others
were tasked to review processes and procedures on all aspects of spaceflight
operations. Some of the astronauts left the program, not knowing when
they would ever fly again. Some of us, like me, felt it was even more
important that we stay and fix the problem so that others may safely
fly again. There were four members of my astronaut class that were
killed in the accident. They were Judy Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka,
Francis R. “Dick” Scobee and Ron McNair. I dedicated my
efforts to them to insure that those that follow them will fly a safer
In the Astronaut Office, we had mock keys for each of the different
Space Shuttle vehicles. Our team had the Challenger key, and I maintained
the key for our crew. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance
to turn the key over to the STS-51L crew before they flew. After the
accident, I continued to display the Challenger key in my office as
a reminder to all that flying in space was dangerous and that we needed
to be vigilant if we were going to pursue this profession safely.
You mentioned you worked on general Spacelab issues and then payload
issues. Aside from that, what did you do until you were assigned to
your next flight?
For some time, I had felt it was important that I prepare myself for
a life after being an astronaut. Although, I really enjoyed my experience
in the Astronaut Office, I knew that one day I would most likely leave
and pursue other challenges. In an effort to prepare myself for that
change, I had started taking preparatory courses at the University
of Houston-Clear Lake for a master’s degree in business administration.
During this hiatus in the space program, I accelerated my efforts
towards getting an MBA [Master’s of Business Administration]
and thus completed those requirements in 1987.
Why don’t we talk about your next mission, STS-39.
After the successful flight of STS-26, the Astronaut Office got back
to the business of flying multiple missions in space. During the accident
investigation, we all concentrated on the accident investigation and
its aftermath. Now it was time to fly again. As a result of the accident,
all the flight teams that were assigned to fly after STS 51-L had
been disbanded. Payload specialist training was cancelled. Now, it
was time for us to select new flight crews and make new support assignments.
As a result, I was teamed with [Charles] Lacy Veach to work with the
Air Force in developing their manned payloads for the Space Shuttle.
Most of that effort was focused at the Air Force Systems Command,
Space Systems Division (SSD) and the Aerospace Corporation, in El
Segundo, California. The Air Force started developing their cadre
of payload specialists to support various military payloads on the
Shuttle. Lacy Veach and I were assigned to work with the SSD folks
on their Air Force Program 675 (AFP-675) and with the Strategic Defense
Initiative Office (SDIO) on their Infrared Background Signature Survey
(IBSS). The AFP 675 was a collection of experiments designed to measure
background infrared and ultraviolet emissions, identify contamination
in the Orbiter environment, and demonstrate X-ray imaging. The five
AFP 675 experiments included the Cryogenic Infrared Radiance Instrument
for Shuttle (CIRRIS-1A); the Far Ultraviolet Camera (FARUV); the Uniformly
Redundant Array (URA); the Horizon Ultraviolet Program (HUP); and
the Quadropole Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (QUNMS). The IBSS was
an experiment designed to collect infrared, ultraviolet, and visible
data for use in the development of ballistic missile defense sensor
systems. Phenomena to be observed included OMS and RCS [Reaction Control
System] engine firing exhaust plumes, the Orbiter environment, the
Earth and its background, chemical and gas releases, and celestial
calibration sources. IBSS was mounted on a deployable Shuttle Pallet
Satellite (SPAS-II) platform. Two elements of the IBSS, the Critical
Ionization Velocity (CIV) experiment and the Chemical Release Observation
(CRO) sub experiments, were mounted in the cargo bay. The CIV consisted
of four canisters, containing different gases. These gases would be
released into the payload bay and would be observed by the deployed
IBSS. The CRO was three sub satellites, containing different chemicals.
After CRO deployment, these chemicals would be released by ground
command and observed by the IBSS. The secondary payloads for our flight
were the Space Test Payload (STP-1) and a classified payload in a
Multi-Purpose Experiment Canister (MPEC). The STP-1 was a collection
of five diverse experiments mounted on a Hitchhiker payload carrier.
Major Robert “Rob” Crombie, an Air Force PS, was assigned
to work with us on these payloads. He was an Air Force Academy graduate
with both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering.
He had extensive experience working at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton,
Ohio, and at SSD in developing flight hardware. Together, we developed
the flight procedures and malfunction procedures for the AFP-675 and
IBSS payloads. Lacy Veach and I would fly out to the Lockheed Martin
Space & Missile facility in San Jose, California, two to three
times a month, to work on this project. Lockheed had a Space Shuttle
cockpit simulator with payload controls and CRT monitors where we
could check out the payload procedures and train for the flight.
Lacy Veach was a great guy to work with. He was a former Air Force
fighter pilot and member of the Thunderbirds. Lacy had left the Air
Force, joined the Texas Air National Guard, and flew as a NASA support
pilot when he was selected for the astronaut program. Once this payload
was designated for STS-39, we were selected as mission specialists
for the flight. Once again, the crew was selected in segments and
we didn’t know for quite a while who the other crew members
During this initial phase, Lacy Veach and I would go out together
to San Jose, California for training on AFP 675 and IBSS. Later on,
we decided to do the training separately, in order for each of us
to better grasp the material. During the procedure development phase,
Lacy had to take three to four months off to go to McConnell Air Force
Base in Wichita, Kansas, for training in the F-16. We adjusted his
training flow to take that into account and Lacy never missed a beat
when he returned. Through all of this, Major Crombie served as our
crew representative when we weren’t in California. His efforts
were critical to our success. The Air Force designated him as our
backup, and he did a great job in supporting our efforts. Lacy and
I also did training on the CIRRIS at the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory
at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, the URA at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory in New Mexico and the FARUV at the Naval Research
Laboratory in Washington D.C.
Eventually, Mr. Abbey selected the rest of the crew for STS-39. Michael
“Mike” L. Coats was named commander of the flight; L.
Blaine Hammond was named pilot; Gregory J. Harbaugh was selected as
MS-1; Donald R. McMonagle, was chosen as flight engineer and MS-2,
and Richard “Rick” Hieb was selected as MS-5. Lacy Veach
was designated as MS-4 and I was named as MS-3. Mr. Abbey had selected
a great team for this flight. We had two experienced astronauts, Mike
Coats and I flying for the third time, and five astronauts who were
flying for the first time. Mike Coats was a naval test pilot who was
a pilot on STS 41-D and commander on STS-29. Blaine Hammond was an
Air Force test pilot; Gregory Harbaugh was a senior NASA flight controller;
Rick Hieb was a NASA engineer; and Don McMonagle was an Air Force
test pilot before becoming astronauts.
Because of the demands of the flight, the crew was broken into two
teams, the Red Team and the Blue Team. The Red Team consisted of Blaine
Hammond, Lacy Veach and Rick Hieb, while the Blue Team had Greg Harbaugh,
Don McMonagle and I. Mike Coats was free to operate on either team;
however, he was mostly a part of the Red Team. Each team would work
twelve-hour alternating shifts. RMS operations were assigned to Greg
Harbaugh and Rick Hieb, while Lacy and I performed the payload operations
of AFP-675 and IBSS.
The training syllabus was particularly demanding. We had to do rendezvous,
multiple translational maneuvers, extended station keeping and deployment
and retrieval of the SPAS with the RMS. This involved precision Orbiter
maneuvering, IBSS/SPAS commanding, CIRRIS and IBSS observation sequences,
and multibody management in a very intensive timeline. A lot of coordination
was required on the flight deck, synchronizing Orbiter and SPAS maneuvers,
and documenting key events. There was approximately thirty-six hours
planned for rendezvous and proximity operations. Lacy Veach and I
commanded the IBSS; Rick Hieb and Greg Harbaugh operated the RMS;
and Mike Coats maneuvered the vehicle. All of this had to be done
simultaneously. It was quite a challenging flight plan and training
Four months prior to our original launch date on March 9, 1991, I
came down with a herniated disk. I had been having intermittent problems
with my back for quite a while. When I complained about it to the
flight surgeons, they would send me to a physical therapist for treatment.
That seemed to work well. However, when I had back problems during
STS-39 training, a closer look indicated that I had a more serious
problem. I started sensing numbness in my right shin and found that
I couldn’t stand for any longer than thirty minutes before my
leg started aching. I could relieve the pain immediately, if I sat
down. The NASA flight surgeons grounded me and indicated that I would
need an operation to correct the problem. There was some concern from
the training folks that I might not be able to complete the training
syllabus in time for the flight. Mike Coats altered some of the responsibilities
on the crew, so that I could be operated on and still make the flight.
The operation took place on a Friday afternoon and I was out of the
hospital on Sunday. I convalesced at home for a week and then returned
to training. The flight surgeons cleared me for flight a month after
the operation. If I had missed the flight, Major Rob Crombie probably
would have replaced me on STS-39. He would have done an excellent
job, if the circumstances dictated. However, I recovered, the mission
was slipped, and we flew on April 28th.
Prior to each mission, the official crew photo is taken. In our photo,
I was positioned at the far right side of the crew. I was still suffering
the effects of the herniated disk and needed to stand near a chair,
which was out of sight of the camera. In addition to our official
photo, we had a humorous photo taken of the crew. It consisted of
the five “new” astronauts standing in Houston Rocket basketball
uniforms with me dressed as a referee and Mike dressed as the coach.
Although the training was demanding, I really enjoyed working with
this team. After almost two years of training, we were ready to fly.
Ross-Nazzal: What was it like to fly on STS-39?
This was a two-shift operation. I was on the Blue Team and we had
to shift our circadian rhythm almost twelve hours. The crew quarters
at the KSC and JSC had been modified with large overhead lights to
ease the transition. So, while in quarantine, my team made the shift
to nighttime operations. That meant, that we were launching at the
end of my day and that our team would be going to sleep once we got
We had an uneventful early morning launch and the Red Team started
the mission by initializing and checking out the AFP-675 and the IBSS.
The STP was activated and the Orbiter was put in a Group B power down
mode to save energy. On flight day two, we did AFP 675 operations
and unberthed the IBSS/SPAS payload but kept it attached to the RMS.
The next two days we deployed the IBSS/SPAS and made numerous observations
of OMS and RCS plumes, and CRO and CIV gas releases. The Red Team
captured and berthed the IBSS/SPAS on flight day four and we resumed
AFP 675 operations. Later on in the mission we conducted additional
observations with the IBSS/SPAS berthed in the payload bay and attached
to the RMS.
During the mission, Greg Harbaugh and I used the CIRRIS to capture
some data on a passing satellite. That was a challenging and exciting
experience for me, since I knew that was going to be a difficult task.
On flight day eight, I deployed the classified MPEC payload alone
from the flight deck. Only Mike Coats and I were privy to the classified
nature of the MPEC payload. The STP operated continuously throughout
the mission and we took pictures and collected data of the Southern
aurora. It was a challenging and exciting mission. However, on the
last day of the flight, we were all exhausted and we were ready to
Our planned landing site was Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The spouses went out a day early to meet us when we landed. However,
on the day of landing, due to weather, we ended up landing at KSC.
We met the wives when we were both flown back to Houston.
Overall, Mike Coats did an excellent job leading our team and our
customers, SSD and SDIO, were very proud of the mission results. Because
of our efforts, we were recognized in 1991 by the Aviation Week &
Space Technology magazine with the Aerospace Laureate Award for the
Okay. Why don’t we talk about your last mission.
After flying on STS-39, I began to consider leaving the Astronaut
Office. I really enjoyed the work in the office and the camaraderie
with my fellow astronauts, but my problem with my back just before
STS-39, reminded me that it may be time to leave. I had no specific
plans about leaving, when I got a call from Don [Donald R.] Puddy,
the Director of FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate]. He assigned
me to fly on STS-53. STS-53 was going to be a classified DOD [Department
of Defense] mission. I would get to work in the classified world,
an environment that I had only briefly seen on STS-39. The other crew
members on the flight would be David M. Walker, commander, Robert
D. Cabana, pilot, and James S. Voss and Michael Richard “Rich”
Clifford as mission specialists. Dave was a Navy test pilot who had
been pilot on STS 51-A and commander on STS-30; Bob Cabana was a Marine
test pilot, who had flown as pilot on STS-41; Jim Voss was an Army
officer who had flown on STS-44, and Rich Clifford was an Army test
pilot who was flying for the first time. This was a great team.
In order to make training an enjoyable experience, Dave Walker decided
that we would be called the “Dog Team.” He assigned everybody
on the crew dog names. He bought a jalopy and painted our dog names
on the side. The trainers and support people in Mission Control all
had dog names. We would drive around JSC in the “Dog Mobile.”
Dave had red hair, so his dog name was “Red Dog.” Bob
Cabana was a Marine, so his dog name was “Mighty Dog.”
Jim Voss was an Army guy, so we called him “Dog Face,”
and Rich Clifford, was an Army aviator, who was flying for the first
time, so we called him “Puppy Dog.”
What was your dog name, if you don’t mind me asking?
My dog name was “Dog Gone.” I had been in Europe on a
PR trip when Dave handed out the dog names, so I was called Dog Gone.
We even had a paper dog mascot stored in the lockers, which we took
into space and hung up, in the Orbiter middeck. Although we had a
lot of fun with our dog names, we took our tasks seriously when we
trained. The training flow went well with most of the training occurring
Our primary payload was a classified payload called DOD-1. With the
development of the Space Shuttle, DOD was directed to shift more of
its payloads from expendable boosters to the Space Shuttle. STS-53
represented the ninth and last mission dedicated to DOD. After the
Challenger accident, the DOD reversed course and returned to expendable
boosters. However, there were still some payloads in the pipeline
manifested on the Shuttle and we carried the last of the DOD payloads
into orbit. In addition to DOD-1, we carried a bunch of unclassified
secondary payloads both in the cockpit and in the payload bay. These
included the Shuttle Glow (GLO), the Cryogenic Heat Pipe Experiment
(CRYOHP) and the Orbital Debris Radar Calibration System (ODERCS)
in the payload bay. The primary in-cabin secondary experiments were
the Battlefield Laser Acquisition Sensor Test (BLAST), the Fluid Acquisition
and Resupply Experiment (FARE), and the Hand-held Earth-oriented,
Real-time, Cooperative, User-friendly, Location-targeting and Environmental
System (HERCULES). Additionally, we operated the Cosmic Radiation
Effects and Activation Monitor (CREAM), the Cloud Logic to Optimize
Use of Defense Systems (CLOUDS), the Microencapsulation in Space (MIS),
the Radiation Monitoring Equipment (RME), the Space Tissue Loss (STL),
and the Visual Function Tester (VFT). Most of our training was done
at JSC with support from a Detachment of the Air Force Systems Command,
Space Systems Division, in Houston.
During one of our training trips to the Cape we got to ride on the
“Crawler.” This is the vehicle that takes the Space Shuttle
stack out to the pad. We spent most of the day riding the crawler
carrying the Space Shuttle Discovery with our payload out to launch
pad. It was a wonderful ride.
Tell me about the flight
We launched in the daytime. I didn’t have to do a twelve-hour
circadian rhythm shift. That was a wonderful experience. We deployed
DOD-1 on flight day one and activated CREAM, RME, GLO and CROHP. The
rest of the mission was devoted to operating the secondary payloads.
Jim Voss and I operated HERCULES and I worked with Rich Clifford on
FARE. We attempted to operate BLAST; however, we failed to get it
to work properly. Rich Clifford deployed the six metal spheres from
ODERCS on flight day three. We took lots of pictures and thoroughly
enjoyed the experience. Flying with the “Dog Crew” was
a lot of fun.
The day prior to landing the wives went to KSC on a NASA aircraft
to meet us. However, due to weather, we deorbited and landed at Edwards
Air Force Base. For the second time in a row, I rendezvoused with
my wife when we were both flown back to Houston after the mission.
What did you do after STS-53?
Once again, I had to seriously decide what I wanted to do with my
career. I loved working in the astronaut office; however, I felt it
was time for me to pursue other challenges. After some serious thought,
I decided to talk with Hoot [Robert L] Gibson, head of the Astronaut
Office, on the subject and told him not to schedule me for another
spaceflight until after I make up my mind about what I really want
to do. I felt it was important for me to evaluate the other opportunities
I had and then make a decision about my astronaut career versus not
doing anything at all. Thus, I prepared a resume and sent it out to
perspective employers in search for other possible opportunities.
In February of 1993, Mr. Abbey called me from Washington D.C. and
asked me about my future plans. I told him that I had no specific
plans and that I was trying to determine what I really wanted to do.
He arranged a meeting for me with the NASA Administrator to talk about
other opportunities within NASA. I flew to Washington D.C. and talked
with Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin on the subject. He suggested several opportunities
that I should consider and offered his help when I decided what I
really wanted to do. It was a cordial meeting with Mr.Goldin. I left
the meeting feeling that I could still contribute to NASA in many
different ways. However, I got a job offer from a fellow high school
classmate of mine, which eventually led me to taking a job in Cleveland,
Ohio. I was going to be Vice President of the Engineering Services
Division of NYMA Inc. and Program Manager of the SETAR [Scientific,
Engineering, Technical and Administrative Related Services] contract
at the NASA Lewis Research Center [Cleveland, Ohio].
You did some work with the CAIB [Columbia Accident Investigation Board].
How did you get involved with the CAIB?
Admiral Harold W. “Hal” Gehman called me in April of 2003
and asked if I would be willing to come to Houston to provide some
support to the CAIB. He needed somebody, right away, to work with
the Board and help prepare the final accident report. I had some commitments
that summer, so I knew that my participation would be limited; however,
I agreed to help. I had been following the efforts of the CAIB in
Aviation Week, so I had a general idea of what was going on. He needed
somebody to replace Theron Bradley, NASA’s Chief Engineer, who
was returning to NASA Headquarters. I was free at the time, so I agreed
to support him for two months.
When I arrived, I immediately reported to Admiral Gehman to find out
what he wanted me to do. He gave me a warm welcome and indicated that
he wanted me to work with the writers and try and get a first draft
of the accident report written before I left in June. I joined the
Board Members as a support person and attended the daily briefings
and monitored the testimony of the witnesses before the Board. I knew
some of the Board Members, including Sally K. Ride, John M. Logsdon,
and Sheila E. Widnall. Admiral Gehman had put together a first rate
team determined to find the root and the secondary causes of the accident.
I went down to KSC with some of the Board Members to examine the debris
of Columbia. It was laid out on a large hangar floor in a pattern
of the Space Shuttle Orbiter. Over 84,000 pieces were recovered, representing
38 percent by dry weight of the Orbiter. In an enclosed restricted
area in the hanger, pieces of the cockpit were collected and stored.
I had an opportunity to see some of those cockpit remains, including
the crew helmets. Marsha [S.] Ivins, the astronaut assigned to the
recovery team, helped identify and catalogue the cockpit debris. Of
particular interest to the investigators was the debris associated
with Columbia’s left wing. A three dimensional reconstruction
of that structure was being assembled to better understand what happened.
Besides the downlink, one of the key sources of information about
the accident came from the Modular Auxiliary Data System (MADS) recorder.
This was a recorder originally used to capture data from hundreds
of sensors implanted throughout the vehicle during initial flight
testing of Columbia. The data from those 800 sensors, recorded on
9,400 feet of magnetic tape, provided investigators with millions
of data points of information, including temperature and pressure
readings in the left wing. This data was crucial in unraveling what
happened during the last few seconds before vehicle breakup.
I sat in on the testimonies of several witnesses before the Board,
some of whom I knew. One of the most telling witnesses was Dr. Diane
Vaughan, Sociology Professor at Boston College [Boston, Massachusetts].
She had written a book on the Challenger Accident [The Challenger
Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA] and
indicated that one of the contributing causes of the Challenger accident
was due to “normalization of deviation.” She indicated
that the same thing occurred again on the Columbia accident. NASA
had not taken the warning signs associated with foam coming off the
External Tank during launch seriously enough. The pressure to fly
the Space Shuttle to meet requirements of the International Space
Station seemingly took precedence over numerous safety concerns.
I worked with Lester A. Reingold and Christopher M. Kirchhoff, the
writers on the report, during my two months with the Board. We helped
compile data; we drafted a rough outline and we gave writing assignments
to various Board members, before I left the team. After gathering
testimony from the witnesses and collecting results from the impact
tests at the Southwest Research Institute facilities in San Antonio,
Texas, the Board moved to Washington D.C. They finished up the report
at the ANSER’s Headquarters facilities and released the document
in August, 2003. I felt very honored to have played a small part on
the team and to have served with Admiral Gehman, a fellow Penn State
classmate, in this investigation.
How did you get involved with the Columbia Memorial Trust Fund?
After the Columbia accident, Elliot Pulham, President of the U.S.
Space Foundation, in Colorado Springs, Colorado called me one day
and asked if I would participate in the Columbia Memorial Trust Fund
activity. A group of individuals led by Richard Gelfond, Co-Chairman
& CEO of IMAX along with Frank L. Culbertson, Kathy Sullivan,
Charlie [Charles F.] Bolden [Jr.], and many others wanted to develop
a trust fund for the families of those killed in the Columbia accident.
The goal of the effort was to raise a million dollars for each family
to cover expenses not covered by insurance. We were eventually able
to raise over $3 million from corporate and private donations, which
we distributed to the families, tax free in 2004.
What do you think was your most significant accomplishment while working
as a NASA astronaut?
I was very proud to have served in the astronaut program and to have
participated on four very successful Space Shuttle flights. I also
felt very privileged to have been a role model for many youngsters,
including African-Americans kids, who aspired to be scientists, engineers
and astronauts in this country. For me, being a NASA astronaut was
a great experience for which I will always cherish.
We thank you for coming in today and spending time with us. We very
much enjoyed it.