NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Hinson and Shirley H. Hinson
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Louisburg, North Carolina – 2 May 2000
Today is May 2, 2000. This joint oral history is being conducted with
Kirby Hinson and Shirley Hunt Hinson in Louisburg, North Carolina,
as part of the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. Interviewers
are Rebecca Wright and Kevin Rusnak.
Thank you for allowing us in your home to visit with you individually
and ending our day by speaking with you as a joint effort since you
have been a couple for thirty-three years in just a few weeks, on
May 31st. We wish you a happy anniversary for that date. But we’d
like to hear about your life together, because so much of it was spent
not just together but as part of NASA. Who would like to tell us how
you met and go from there?
J. Kirby Hinson: Thank you for those good wishes. We’re glad you’re
doing this as part of the other interviews, too. I started work with
the Space Task Group on July 9, 1959. And when? We met one week later?
Shirley Hinson: I started work on June 30th, 1959. I think I saw you at lunch
time on the 9th.
J. Kirby Hinson: I remember the day she saw me. You’ve heard this
story, I guarantee. I walk into the cafeteria, and here are these
two little blue headlights in the middle of the room that you can’t
keep your eyes off, and they remained pointed toward me during the
entire meal. I ended sitting where I was facing her. And you can’t
eat with someone looking that hard at you. [Laughter] We actually
met a few days later and became close. And interestingly enough, we
did not date at work. I mean not at all. Some people thought I was
a myth. Some of Shirley’s workmates thought I was a myth for
Shirley Hinson: They teased me that he was a myth because no one ever saw
us together at work. But one thing he may not know is, the Coke machine
was in Building 104, which is where I was and he was in Building 58,
so every day if he came to my building after a Coke, somehow or other
I ended up out in the hallway. People would say, “He’s
coming after his Coke.”
J. Kirby Hinson: Yes. I knew that she showed up a lot. [Laughter] But
we’d have nice conversations there, but it was conversations
at the Coke machine. I don’t think we ever had lunch together,
Shirley Hinson: We never ate together at lunch time. We did not date at work.
J. Kirby Hinson: There was no particular reason for that. Neither of
us was ashamed of the other. It’s just work was work and dating
was dating. We might make a date at work, but for the most part at
work I was doing my thing and she was doing her thing and loving every
minute of it.
Shirley Hinson: I think one thing nice, though, is we worked in different
areas. I was basically in flight support always, and Kirby was in
systems engineering and flight systems. What made it interesting is
he didn’t know my work, I didn’t know his work, but we
could come home at night and just talk work for hours and hours and
hours. I educated him and he educated me.
J. Kirby Hinson: Swapped perspectives.
Shirley Hinson: So we knew a lot more about the program by knowing each other
than we would have had we not known each other.
First thing, you both met at Langley [Research Center, Hampton, Virginia].
Shirley Hinson: Yes, but we were both from North Carolina. In fact, he had
been right by my house.
J. Kirby Hinson: I went to college at N.C. State, and in my freshman
year I re-met a friend who had lived in Wadesboro, where I grew up.
His father was an Episcopal minister, Bill Latma [phonetic]. The weekend
after hurricane Hazel hit North Carolina—
Shirley Hinson: Which was October 1954.
J. Kirby Hinson: Within a matter of days there, I met him and he invited
me home for the weekend. Well, his dad was now minister in Louisburg.
So we drove right up 401 right past that house. I saw this little
girl out there in shorts, mowing, and I blew the horn and waved, but
I didn’t know who it was. [Laughter] But I came that close to
her once, four or five years before we met, which I thought was interesting.
You said you dated for eight years, is that correct?
J. Kirby Hinson: Dated exclusively for eight years.
Shirley Hinson: Yes, basically. After he bought a car, I never dated anybody
J. Kirby Hinson: And that was a long time. I did not buy a car—
Shirley Hinson: He didn’t have the money to buy a car. He was paying
J. Kirby Hinson: First six months that I worked, I gave a little money
to my family. At the end of that six months, my starting salary was
$5,430 a year, and at the end of six months, I paid back more than
$1,500 in college debts, just wrote the checks and that was it. That
was equivalent to about a year and a half of college. The next semester
I sent my older brother, who had been in the Air Force, I sent him
to school for a semester to see if he could get back into the swing
of studying, and he did and went on to graduate from N.C. State and
become an aeronautical engineer working in the space program. But
I committed to paying for his school for one semester. He spent more
in that one semester than I spent in any one year. All he had to do
was pick up the phone and call and I’d send him a check.
At the end of that semester, he traded cars. At that time I did not
have an automobile, didn’t need one. I was living with two guys
in a person’s home that we had the upstairs and they had the
downstairs. We paid like $10 a week for a bedroom and our bathroom
upstairs. They both had cars, and one of them went everywhere I needed
to go, including dating.
Shirley Hinson: But not often enough. [Laughter] But we did date on the phone
a lot. Sometimes we would talk, and what we talked about now I can’t
tell you, but sometimes we’d talk on the phone four and five
hours a night.
J. Kirby Hinson: Oh, I can tell you. I went in halves with one of my
roommates and bought a guitar at a pawn shop for $30, learned how
to play “Ol' Black Joe” one note at a time, and called
Shirley and said, “Listen to this.” [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: And he did. He played “Ol’ Black Joe” on
the phone. We dated on the phone a lot until we bought a car.
Then your careers started moving very quickly in the sense that you
all had so much to do with the Space Task Group. How did that affect
your relationship, or did it?
J. Kirby Hinson: I think it just kept us alive and keyed up and interested
in all parts of our lives. And still does. Just thinking about it,
it still does.
Shirley Hinson: We get [the Johnson Space Center’s] Space [News] Roundup,
and I’m sorry that e-mail has caused the articles in Space Roundup
not to be what they used to be. I wish they were back to the old paper,
but we still get that and thoroughly enjoy it. I love seeing people
on the move and who's been promoted. It’s a little bit disturbing,
though, that the more and more time that we’ve been away from
it, we don’t recognize the people’s names. But we’ve
been retired now eight years.
J. Kirby Hinson: That’s right. Very few that we do recognize, in
Shirley Hinson: That’s amazing. I’m not that old.
J. Kirby Hinson: We’ve been retired how long?
Shirley Hinson: Eight years.
J. Kirby Hinson: That’s like an engagement.
Shirley Hinson: It really is. We have eight years on either end.
During those eight years quite a bit happened because you both were
traveling and you both—
J. Kirby Hinson: We went to Houston.
Tell us about that move. You weren’t married at the time that
you moved, is that correct?
Shirley Hinson: Let me tell you one thing. I’d go to the Cape, and they
had scrubbed the mission. I would beg for them to send me back home.
And they said, “We may go in three days,” and I says,
“But you can send me back to Langley, and I’ll come back
day after tomorrow.” That's just to see him. I did not want
to stay down there waiting two or three weeks for them to decide when
the mission was going to proceed. Back then, it was like one day at
a time. At midnight tonight, you knew you weren’t going at seven
o’clock the next morning, but every time they scrubbed a mission,
I said, “If there’s any chance that it’s not going
for two or three days, let me go back to Langley.” See, they
ran a chartered plane back and forth then all the time, so it didn’t
matter if they took us back.
As long as there was an empty seat, huh?
J. Kirby Hinson: But I guess neither of us ever had any consideration
of not going to Houston. They moved this wonderful work and all the
people doing it down there, and we just went.
Shirley Hinson: The only reason I really hated to go at the time when I went
is my parents were getting old.
J. Kirby Hinson: I can tell them a little bit about that. When I first
met her in 1959, she would see an old man walking across the street
having a little difficulty, and tear up thinking about her daddy getting
old. And her daddy was at that time fifty-nine.
Shirley Hinson: He was sixty-eight.
J. Kirby Hinson: Sixty-eight years old. He lived to ninety-one, and somewhere
Shirley Hinson: One of the cutest things Daddy said when he went to Houston,
“Would you let her come back every year on my birthday and Christmas
Eve? I’m not going to live much longer. I’m already supposed
to be dead.” Kirby said, “Sure.” Twenty-three years
later, he got to spend Christmas Eve. Twenty-three years later.
J. Kirby Hinson: And the funny thing is, way back then, I told her, I
said, “Shirley, you don’t have to live through that but
once. There’s no reason to do it this early." And he was
spry and active, but he was from the old school that thought when
you retire, like when you get to be sixty-five, that’s it. You
can’t farm vigorously like you used to. It’s time to just
go away, I guess. But he got over that feeling. He stuck around a
Shirley Hinson: But I bought Eastern Airlines as long as they were in existence.
[Laughter] I flew home three times a year. In fact, we had never been
together on Christmas for twenty-three years until after Daddy died.
We have never been apart for forty-one New Year’s Eves.
J. Kirby Hinson: That was one cute thing that we did by moving to Houston.
I never begrudged her coming home on Christmas for a week or so. For
a lot of reasons, I started not doing that at that particular time,
and it was a long time before we spent a Christmas together.
Shirley Hinson: Yes, 1983. From ‘59 to ‘83.
Did you move at the same time, or did someone go to Houston before
the other one?
J. Kirby Hinson: No, close together. Two weeks or something.
Shirley Hinson: You went on the 29th of March and I went on April 13th.
J. Kirby Hinson: I got there on April Fool’s Day. I thought that
was really great. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: One fun thing about the day that I got to Houston is I went
into this airport, and I had this women that was taking care of everybody
that moved to Houston. I guess you’ve heard of her. She put
me in this hotel and put me in a room and the air-conditioner wouldn’t
turn off, and I froze to death. So I called him and told him that
I needed to change rooms, and so they changed rooms. I just assumed
they would change the location if anyone called in. Well, Kirby kept
calling me, and I never answered because they kept giving him that
room number that I had moved out of. And he lost me.
J. Kirby Hinson: I lost her for three or four hours. I was at Ellington
[Field], and she didn’t know a number down there to call me.
I knew she was in that motel, and they would not tell me what room
she was in, and they would not connect me with anything but that room
that she wasn’t in any more.
Shirley Hinson: I finally called them and asked them had I had any calls.
J. Kirby Hinson: She said, “Yes, thirty-seven.” [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: But see, I had no car. I was in a strange town.
J. Kirby Hinson: But I drove up there just distraught. I didn’t
know what was going on. They called her room when I got there. I said,
“Where have you been for four hours?”
Shirley Hinson: Talking about traveling, a week after I got there, Kirby went
on travel for about seven or eight days.
J. Kirby Hinson: Back to Langley.
Shirley Hinson: And left me his car, and I learned Houston. I was never was
lost in Houston.
J. Kirby Hinson: And I never caught up with her. She knew Houston better
than I did for the rest of our lives there. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: The first day I drove to work, I don’t know whether
you remember the freeway you used to come in on Griggs [Road], you
still do come in on Griggs, and we were in the rented buildings all
over Houston. I was in the HPC [Houston Petroleum Center] building
which was at Wayside and Gulf Freeway. I came in from my apartment
and I came in on the left-hand side at Griggs, and I had to get off
at Griggs. I only had one entrance to get off, and it was like three
or four lanes in. I had never driven in traffic like that. But I got
J. Kirby Hinson: But she had plenty of acceleration in that ‘61
Shirley Hinson: But, anyway, I learned Houston in his car while he was on
J. Kirby Hinson: In one week she learned something very dramatic about
Houston that some people never learn, and that is it’s set up
north-east, south-west. It’s not north-south. If you get to
thinking of the Gulf Freeway as south, you will stay lost all the
time. They turned it forty-five degrees. Yet there are some streets
that are north-south, east-west that have names that everybody knows.
That’s really confusing if you don’t realize that.
So at what point in this eight-year engagement did you decide to make
it for real?
Shirley Hinson: I don’t know. He never asked me to marry him.
J. Kirby Hinson: She keeps telling that story.
Shirley Hinson: [Laughter] He didn't. The funny thing about it, and I’m
sure you’ve have interviewed people, but a couple of people
told me, said, “You’re crazy to keep dating him. Give
him an ultimatum. Say you want to marry him or not.” And I says,
“I don’t want him unless he wants me.” But a lot
of people told me that.
Another cute thing got told to me one time. In fact, this was [Eugene
F.] Kranz’s retirement party at the museum. They said, “A
lot of people in flight control would have asked me for a date, but
they knew there wasn’t any need because you were Kirby’s.”
[Laughter] They told Kirby that that night. I thought that was cute.
So you took time off these new careers to get married.
J. Kirby Hinson: Not very much.
Shirley Hinson: This is good.
J. Kirby Hinson: She came back from one of these Christmas trips, and
I was hunting deer at the time, off and on. I had an antlerless deer
tag that I had not used. So, yes, I did, I tied that around her finger,
and I say, “Would this do until I can go shopping?” [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: And then he went on travel again for two months, off and on.
In March, I said, “Are you ever going shopping?” [Laughter]
But he didn’t have time, really.
J. Kirby Hinson: But do you remember what period this was? This was between
the Apollo fire and May when we got married. The other thing that
was going on is that there was really a lot of activity on that paraglider
business at Langley. They had gone out on a contract. What you wanted
me to tell, was that the honeymoon?
Shirley Hinson: Yes.
J. Kirby Hinson: Okay. We go on a honeymoon, and we had reservations
at the Holiday Inn at Stewart Beach, Florida, where we did some really
wonderful fishing. We left there and went over to Fort Myers, basically
right across Florida, to fish for tarpon in the river over there.
I had never ever made an advanced reservation before, but we did it
that day. My officemates knew that I like Holiday Inns. They decided
someone had to go to Langley to review these proposals coming in from
the contractors. So they called me. They didn’t know Stewart
Beach. They just kept calling around until they found somebody that
recognized the name, and they said, “Oh, they made an advanced
reservation there in Fort Myers, Florida.”
So one of the guys that worked for me—and I didn’t have
the power to fire him—called me the morning after we get to
Fort Myers and says, “They’re having a contract review
on those paragliders up at Langley and somebody has to go up there.
Could you go up there?”
And I said, “Are you crazy? I’m on my honeymoon.”
And he says, “I know, but isn’t it almost over and couldn’t
you come back by Langley?”
And I said, “What am I supposed to do with this bride?”
He says, "Well, uh." [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: “Let her go on back to Houston.”
J. Kirby Hinson: They didn’t really have an answer for that except
let her drive back to Houston. And of course I wasn’t going
to do it. I used all the English language that I know, even the French
words, and then we proceeded to pack up the car and come home, because
it just destroyed the trip. No one will ever take responsibility for
the decision to call me, not the guy that called me and not my boss
at the time, who was John [W.] Kiker, who had been asking for five
years, “When are you going to get married? When are you going
to get married?” I must done it too early or something. [Laughter]
But other than that, we had a nice trip. I did not go to Langley.
What else happened? Because when I got back, as I mentioned in our
discussion, Frank Borman was already out at [North American] Rockwell
redesigning all the systems. We got really, really busy on the Apollo
parachute system, fortunately. That was a really hard and joyful effort
all of us were on, I guess. That got me away from the paraglider.
And what did you do when we got back?
Shirley Hinson: I went to work.
J. Kirby Hinson: You went to work.
Shirley Hinson: With two rings on my hand instead of one. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: We planned the wedding from the time I gave her the
Shirley Hinson: In March, I asked him, “Are you ever going shopping?”
because he asked me would that antlerless deer tag do until he had
the chance to go shopping. In March he had not been shopping. Meanwhile,
I had gone downtown and found what I sort of wanted as far as a setting
goes, not the stone, and I told him where it was. So we went downtown
one day, and I drove around the block while he went in the store.
This was in the latter part of March, and all the rest of March goes
by. All of April goes by.
On May 1st, he says, “I need to go downtown today." I think
it was a Saturday. I'm not sure what day it was. Anyway, he said,
"I need to go downtown today." So I figured, “He’s
finally going to pick up something.” Came all that night and
we sat there and sat there and sat there. We watched TV and about
midnight I said, “I've got to go bed. I’m tired.”
About the only time I ever gave you an ultimatum, but I didn’t
give it to him except, “I've got to go to bed.” Finally,
he pulled it out from under the sofa. He had it hid under my sofa.
He pulled my ring out from under the soft and gave it to me.
We planned our wedding in North Carolina. We got married in a little
church about four miles from here and planned the entire wedding by
mail and phone calls.
J. Kirby Hinson: And at that time you had to get blood tests and all
kind of crazy things.
Shirley Hinson: And I had to get a form from North Carolina shipped down there.
I went and asked my sister, “Do I have to have a special form
to get my blood test on?” She wrote back and said, “Yes.”
I immediately sent her a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a seven-cent
air mail stamp on it and says, “Please send me the form.”
But we planned the wedding and got married the 31st. I didn’t
give him a chance to get away. Got married in one month. Got my ring
the 1st and married the 31st.
J. Kirby Hinson: Right. We didn’t believe in long engagements.
Set up house quickly in Houston and was just rolling right with the
J. Kirby Hinson: Absolutely.
Shirley Hinson: I had already moved into a two-bedroom apartment before we
got married. I had moved right across the porch from a one-bedroom
apartment to a two-bedroom apartment so he’d have room for all
J. Kirby Hinson: My airplanes. I was even building airplane then.
We’ve learned from talking with you earlier today that life
was busy. Your lives were busy as individuals and now that you had
decided to put yourselves in a two-bedroom apartment, you were really
busy trying to build your life together. How were you able to work
through the pressures of so much to do with so little time?
Shirley Hinson: We understood each other’s work.
J. Kirby Hinson: There’s an expression that’s common today
called “time-deprived.” We never felt that.
Shirley Hinson: Never.
J. Kirby Hinson: We had twenty-four hours in the day. If we couldn’t
get these things done, we’d just modify what these things were.
I’ve never felt other than that. Busy is just wonderful. The
times that Shirley can get me to do the most things around the house
is when I’m the busiest. She loves it when I work on my little
airplane, because she can come in and say, “Would you glue that
drawer face back in there?” And it’s nothing to me; I
just glue that drawer face back on. It’s the old thing of if
you want something done, give it to the busiest person you can find.
And that’s the way life has been for both of us.
Shirley Hinson: There’s one other thing that we did that made our time
together a very good time, too. If we came home from work and we were
tired, we'd take a short nap immediately and not try to cook, because
I worked just as hard as he did and sometimes harder. But I’d
come home and I would not try to eat supper immediately. We’d
take a short nap and be well rested or watch a TV program or something
like that, and then eat and stay up afterwards. We had quality time
together because of that. We were never tired, never at each other
mad or anything like that. And if I worked late, then he would take
a nap and stay up with me. So we still had our time together, even
though we had weird hours. He would work late on a project or bring
work home, but we still had our time together.
J. Kirby Hinson: There were a few times when particularly I would take
an extended trip, like that trip out to Ames [Research Center, Moffett
Field, California] to that vertical motion simulator. That was probably
Shirley Hinson: Seventeen days. You sent me over an astronaut’s house
to send you some money.
J. Kirby Hinson: That was so great.
Shirley Hinson: You gave out of money.
J. Kirby Hinson: I gave out of money, and Mike Coates was going to fly
Shirley Hinson: This was pre-credit card days, too.
J. Kirby Hinson: He was one of the young astronauts. I called Shirley
and said, “Take the money over to Mike Coates and give it to
him. He’s flying out here.” She called me back before
he got there and says, “You didn’t tell me how good-looking
he was.” [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: He had the most gorgeous blue eyes.
J. Kirby Hinson: Beautiful, piercing blue eyes.
Shirley Hinson: He did. He was a nice-looking astronaut.
J. Kirby Hinson: I think she almost fainted when he answered the door.
Shirley Hinson: So gracious, too.
Sounds like there were a lot of surprises in your marriage over the
years. [Laughter] Sometimes even though you worked on different sections
or different systems and you had both mentioned you never worked on
a project together, was there ever a time when you had information
that for some reason you weren’t supposed to share with anybody?
Did you ever find times where you felt some of the work you were working
on was classified and you couldn’t even tell your partner? Or
did that ever come as part of your marriage?
J. Kirby Hinson: No.
Shirley Hinson: I think the only time I had anything that he didn’t
know was like the Atlas booster and, of course, he probably knew it
but we didn’t talk about it because that booster was a military
booster and all the launch trajectories and everything were classified
and the insertion conditions was classified.
J. Kirby Hinson: In my case, the weight, the landing weight for the spacecraft
could be traced back up to the launch weight and then the people would
know what kind of payload the Atlas could carry. We didn’t talk
Shirley Hinson: But when I would be working on things like Skylab re-boost
that we weren’t supposed to talk about, he was working on it,
too, in our different area.
I’m sure it helped because you were both in the same program
J. Kirby Hinson: We generally were always working on the same program
until the later stages. I think I started on Space Station a bit earlier.
In fact, I guess I tended to start on most of the vehicles a little
Shirley Hinson: But that helped me a lot because he would know what the mission
was going to be and the objectives and everything. And he would teach
me those things.
J. Kirby Hinson: And I really shared what the mission was, too, even
though I didn’t work her part. I really cared what those missions
were. I was fascinated with orbital mechanics. Got a good mathematician
here. But orbital mechanics just drove me crazy. It was so absolutely
straightforward, I couldn’t believe it. So I enjoyed learning
those kind of things and all the way through the program, early just
to know what the missions were, and later for the docking and rendezvous
kind of stuff.
Shirley Hinson: The other thing is when we knew things were being done wrong,
as we perceived them, whether they were or not, we were good soundingboards
for each other.
J. Kirby Hinson: Complained. And all the other words.
Shirley Hinson: If you wanted to vent any emotions, we would let the other
one vent and just take it.
You shared with us, Kirby, earlier, but I don’t believe we’ve
had a chance to get that on tape, about sometimes when you came home
from work, you had a special way of turning on the television.
J. Kirby Hinson: Wasn’t that on the tape?
No, I missed that. Could you repeat that for us now? It was so great.
J. Kirby Hinson: I told them we would come home and watch “Days
of Our Lives,” and I told her we'd complain about the acting,
complain about the writing. We’d complain about the directing,
and Shirley should be a director. She would make an excellent director
in the movies.
Shirley Hinson: The Trench people [in the Mission Control Center] thought
I tried to direct them, too. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: It isn’t you're trying to make people do what
you want; it’s that she has this attention to detail that directors
need. Like, you don’t want your hair parted here and the next
thing parted here and he hasn’t been anywhere. She notices things
like that. Drives me crazy.
Shirley Hinson: John [S.] Llewellyn [Jr.] nicknamed me “Shirley Smart.”
[Laughter] Did he tell you that? He always called me Shirley Smart
because I was always smarting off, I guess.
You kept them all in line. That’s quite a challenge.
Shirley Hinson: I did. I did. I mean, I tried to. They know I tried to.
Did you have other people that you knew in your association with work
that you saw couples get married and have marriages as a NASA couple?
J. Kirby Hinson: I’m thinking.
Shirley Hinson: Clay [Claiborne R.] Hicks and Frances [Hicks].
J. Kirby Hinson: See, I wasn’t real close to them because that
was an association that you had that basically was a work association.
Shirley Hinson: But he was so good. Clay Hicks was just absolutely out of
this world. And Bob Arnold.
J. Kirby Hinson: Yes, I knew Bob. I went to school with Bob.
Shirley Hinson: And his wife was about fifty miles from your home town. She’s
J. Kirby Hinson: And she didn’t sound the least bit hicky. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: Just wait until you hear these tapes. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: I nicknamed her "Corn Flake." They eventually
Shirley Hinson: She was one of those that said I should give him an ultimatum.
I kept telling her that I didn’t want him until he wanted me.
J. Kirby Hinson: And I hate to tell you this, but they’re not together
Was that something that you both watched as your careers went through
NASA? Did you see other people not react to the pressures of the job
as well as you were able to?
J. Kirby Hinson: I think that was not just NASA people, but people in
general. We saw a lot of marriages fall apart.
Shirley Hinson: It became more—
J. Kirby Hinson: Easier to do, I guess.
Shirley Hinson: Well, more socially acceptable for divorce. When we first
started work, if a man was divorced, he was not included anymore.
J. Kirby Hinson: And there was some question about whether a divorced
man could ever be President. You know, it was that kind of thing.
Shirley Hinson: It was not a favorable thing to do.
J. Kirby Hinson: But I’ll tell you, NASA did not put pressure on
Shirley Hinson: It did not. It did some people’s marriage, but I think
they allowed it.
J. Kirby Hinson: I think NASA was an incidental part of that. It was
a personality thing more than anything else.
Shirley Hinson: You can tell for sure that it didn’t unless you wanted
it to by looking at Gene [Kranz]. He had six kids and a good marriage.
You never heard him say anything except something endearing about
his wife and family.
J. Kirby Hinson: All girls?
Shirley Hinson: One boy, I think.
J. Kirby Hinson: Five girls. One of them worked for my office as a co-op
kind of person.
Shirley Hinson: But I think things like that happen only when it would have
happened anywhere. I don’t think it was the pressures. They
may want to attribute it to that, but I don’t think it was that.
I think it would happened anyway.
J. Kirby Hinson: I mentioned my traveling for some extended periods,
if you call seventeen days extended. I do, being away from home that
long. Shirley was more likely to have to work late at night, preparing
for a mission. That might be until midnight, four or five nights in
a row. The only thing that ever caused me to do was to worry that
she was getting overly extended and tired. It never hurt our marriage.
We both had patience with each other in those things.
Were you able as well to share the duties at home?
J. Kirby Hinson: No, I really don’t.
Shirley Hinson: He was taken care of in the old-fashioned way.
J. Kirby Hinson: I was. I was taken care of in the old-fashioned way
and only in recent years have I realized what a—
Shirley Hinson: How hard I worked?
J. Kirby Hinson: No, an inside-out world it is that has two people working.
That’s one part of today’s society that I enjoyed. I mean,
you get two people go off to work and, if anything, she worked harder
than I did, at least more hours, particularly in the mid years, both
having a great time at work, doing really hard jobs. And we’d
come home in the evening, I never would have thought of cooking. I
didn’t think very much of taking her out to eat so that she
didn’t have to cook.
Shirley Hinson: He didn’t know what the inside of a grocery store looked
J. Kirby Hinson: I didn’t know what the inside of a grocery store
Shirley Hinson: Or the dry cleaners.
J. Kirby Hinson: Nor did I want to. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: Or a department store.
J. Kirby Hinson: I did occasionally pick up the dry cleaning.
Shirley Hinson: You did pick up the dry cleaning, if you got off work before
J. Kirby Hinson: There were a very few chores that were mine, like keeping
the car serviced, like these "male macho" kind of things.
Although I’d open the hood and I’d look and say, “That’s
not wheels, tires, and brakes to me. Nothing aerodynamic about it,"
and slam the trunk and take it to the service station. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: One fun thing, five years after we got married, we bought
a home in Clear Lake Forest. I enjoy outdoor work. He says, “I
don’t like to mow the grass. If you don’t want to mow
the grass, hire someone." Never touched the lawn mower. He kept
telling me to put it in the car and go get it serviced. And I never
hired it done.
J. Kirby Hinson: Absolutely sympathetic. You can either do it yourself
or hire it done. It’s not something I want to do. I want to
spend my time another way. Very unfair, I find out later, because
she cannot hire it done the way she wants it done. Period. And the
way she wants it done isn’t that picky. It’s just she
wants it done right, and you can’t pay to get it done right
for any amount of money.
Shirley Hinson: But I enjoy doing it.
J. Kirby Hinson: We’ll show you the lawn mower before we leave,
that we fight over. If I could put wings on that little rascal, I
know I could get it off the ground. [Laughter] Yes, I do the yard
now, part of it.
Shirley Hinson: I think the hardest part of my career—but it never strained
the marriage—was during Skylab when NASA had given me that management
development program where you take course at the University of Houston
and offered me a Ph.D. if I’d go to Colorado. But I didn’t
want to go to Colorado for three months, and they would not do it
at time in Houston. I had to go on site in Colorado, so I turned that
down. But I was doing Skylab, taking a course every semester.
J. Kirby Hinson: Writing a paper for it, which she hated writing papers.
Shirley Hinson: I hate writing papers. That’s the reason I like math,
I think, because you don’t have to write papers as much with
math. You say, “Here it is," and tabulate it. Then my college
professor that I like better than any professor I had, came to see
us and stayed about a week during this time frame. I tried to show
him Houston and everything. I just about died. But I was working fourteen
hours a day, had a house guest.
J. Kirby Hinson: Taking care of a husband.
Shirley Hinson: And taking a course at the same time. That was a tough nine
And it wasn’t the norm back in the early seventies for a woman
to be in such a high position that you were in and then again adding
more and more. It was quite a feat.
Shirley Hinson: I need to tell them what Dr. Reynolds said. I had eight courses
under Dr. Reynolds when I was in college. I took everything he taught
because he was so good. He was the one I was telling you earlier that
says, “If you’re going out to work, you’re going
to need to know this.” And he would teach us as if he had been
to work, and that’s one good thing about if you go teaching,
you will enjoy having experience because you can teach your students,
“You need to know this when you work, and how to do this."
J. Kirby Hinson: You bring something to your students that they won’t
get another other way.
Shirley Hinson: He loved baseball games, and we took him to the Astrodome
every time. Well, you finish telling this. It is so cute.
J. Kirby Hinson: Are you talking about the—yes. Dr. Reynolds at
the time was in his eighties, and we had a lot of talks about how
it is growing old as a man and the way society perceives you. So we
told a lot of jokes back and forth, particularly him telling the jokes
about this little boy was really ogling these beautiful women as he
was walking along in his mother’s hand.
Shirley Hinson: This is in the Astrodome.
J. Kirby Hinson: The mother told the little boy, “If you keep looking
at those women, you’re gonna go blind.” So this really
exceptionally beautiful women comes along, and the little boy says,
“I think I’m going to risk just one eye.” So all
night at the Astrodome, these beautiful women coming by, we were going
like this. [Demonstrates]
Shirley Hinson: At his age it was so cute. But his coming down to see us,
and us being able to take him through the control center, and at that
time the rockets and everything were outside Building 2, I think it
was one at the time. But being able to take people into the control
center when they came to visit, just working there I could easily
do that, was a good thing.
J. Kirby Hinson: It was a really special thing for friends of mine that
visited, that I could call her and she could set up something like
And what a compliment to your professor to see the student.
J. Kirby Hinson: Oh, he loved it. He loved every minute of it.
Your families were in North Carolina, and NASA was such a close-knit
that so many people, that was their friends when they moved, was all
of NASA. Did you find that as well, that it was more of an extended
family in a very close-knit group that you became friends with, with
people that you worked? Or did you also associate with people outside
of that inside the community as well?
Shirley Hinson: The work community was at work, for the most part, very, very,
very close-knit friends sit down and talk one on one, as long we would
work, but we did not socialize much with people we worked with. We
J. Kirby Hinson: Before we got married, we did some, and it was mostly
"boy-type" things at my office, like hunting and all that.
At that time they really would have preferred just me. But we did
socialize with our office people, really before we got married more
than we did afterwards. Part of that was because soon after we got
married, we moved into a house in a housing development where most
of the people did not work for NASA. In self-defense, you make friends
around yourself like that.
Shirley Hinson: I think it’s really good not to socialize with the people
you work with too often, particularly in the same division.
J. Kirby Hinson: You can’t just exclusively do everything with
them. If you do, you really get stilted.
Shirley Hinson: Before we retired, we started going out to eat with a couple
about once every two or three weeks and everything. That was fun because
they worked in a different organization, and we had retired, and it
kept us in the who’s who and who’s doing what and what
bad decisions they were making and what good decisions they were making
and who’s organizationally being put in the right place and
wrong place. We were still interested, and are still interested. I
wish they printed the phone book still.
J. Kirby Hinson: Oh, yes.
We have found those to be a valuable tool in our trades.
Shirley Hinson: I finally threw all mine away, except I kept one about every
three years, just for reference, but I had so many, I threw them away
when I moved.
So much of what you did, you did in your area and Shirley did in her
area, but you never had a chance to ever work on a project together?
Your paths never crossed?
J. Kirby Hinson: Never did.
Shirley Hinson: There wasn’t even a meeting.
J. Kirby Hinson: I can’t offhand remember a meeting that we shared.
Do you have a special memory of a special mission that—I had
asked you both, I believe we were talking about the Apollo 11, were
you ever together for the lunar landing?
Shirley Hinson: We were together when it landed.
J. Kirby Hinson: At home. I rarely had any mission responsibilities.
Rarely. And Shirley rarely had any real-time mission responsibilities,
did you? Unless something went wrong, then either one of us might
get called in. But I watched an awful lot of missions at home on TV.
Shirley Hinson: I watched almost all of them in the control center. The one
time that we almost work on the same thing was when you were doing
the sun shield.
J. Kirby Hinson: And I worked twenty-four hours a day.
Shirley Hinson: He did. He did. I didn’t see him for over a day.
J. Kirby Hinson: On Skylab I was part of the little team that had one
of the possible fixes for Skylab where they had to broken solar array
or something, and they had to put a shield up there to shield part
of the vehicle from the sun. So we had two or three different umbrella
kind of configurations. From the parachute school, it was easy for
me to do a fabric thing and roll it up and put it in a bag. But we
worked night and day on that thing trying to get it ready. I think
we had something like a month to put two or three different configurations
together and get the vehicle up there.
Shirley Hinson: One thing that we had that some people didn’t have is
consideration for the other person, and if we weren’t coming
home when they thought we were, we would always call.
J. Kirby Hinson: And we still have that.
Shirley Hinson: We still do that, and there are people who wouldn’t
do that. “Oh, she’ll know I’m still at work.”
Men who were working late at night when I was working and “Have
you called your wife yet?” “She’ll know I’m
still at work.” We never did that. I’d call and say, “I
think I’m going to be at 6:30, but why don’t you call
me at 6:30?” Sometimes he would, and sometimes I’d say,
“Oops! It’s quarter to seven, and you haven’t called
here.” He was asleep. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: Somebody had to do it. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: But during the time frame that I was working on the costs
control for the control center and the budget area and the hardware
and software area, my division chief decided he wanted to work ten
hours a day, four days a week, and he moved to Sealy [Texas], built
a home, and he came in every Monday morning, and he left every Thursday
night. Well, he wanted me there his ten hours every day. And then
I have work all day Friday, too. But sometimes he would sit there
and it was really good work, but he would do his best thinking after
4:30 when everybody else went home. We played "what if?"
He’d say, “What if I delay this particular piece of hardware
in the control center six months and move this one up because we need
this before we need this?”
I’d sit there and I then put it in that computer and I’d
find out what cost it made to us, what it did to the schedules, and
everything else, and poor Kirby was at home, and I’m sitting
J. Kirby Hinson: Hungry. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: I kept telling him, “You've either got to put Kirby
on a ten-hour-a-day schedule or I’m not going to work this schedule.”
For a couple of years, he never even saw me during daylight because
I’d never get home until seven o’clock. Once time I told
him, I says, “I am going to make back gate every day this week.”
The back gate closes at six. If I didn’t make the back gate,
it was another mile home. I had to go out the front gate and come
all the way around.
J. Kirby Hinson: While we were working—I don't know how to get
into this, except to tell you after we stopped working, I began to
appreciate spontaneity. I began to appreciate, “Gee, if I push
the grocery cart for her, she can be through in half the time, and
we can be home, and we can be able to do something else.” And
I don’t mind that thirty minutes. We started having fun with
it. I mean, we're a cartoon in the check-out line, I can tell you
You put in and she takes out? [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: No. We talk to strangers.
Shirley Hinson: That’s one thing about living in North Carolina. You
don’t stand at a check-out line and just not carry on a conversation
with everybody around you. Everybody smiles. You go in and out of
Wal-Mart, everybody’s just smiling.
J. Kirby Hinson: In the Wal-Mart or grocery store parking lots, if you
look at somebody and have a pleasant expression on your face, you
don’t even have to smile, they will speak. I don’t care
if they’re young or old or black or white or what, everybody
speaks, and it’s a little surprising and you have to get used
to it. It’s very good, but you have to get used to it. It’s
like, “Huh?” but they do speak.
Did you retire at the same time?
J. Kirby Hinson: No, she’s older than I am, so she got to go first.
Shirley Hinson: I got to go first. I spent five months at home before, and
that’s probably the hardest five months I spent working. I tried
to edit and delete what I brought home, my personal papers and things.
That was so hard to do. I didn’t want to throw anything away.
J. Kirby Hinson: You made yourself sick.
Shirley Hinson: I made myself sick sitting in the middle of the floor trying
to throw things away.
J. Kirby Hinson: Gave herself almost a permanent stomach cramp, really.
Really bothered her for weeks after that.
Shirley Hinson: Then I did it again when we moved up here. I did a good job
that time. You would have enjoyed going through what I saved.
J. Kirby Hinson: I did that twice. I could not get ready to leave. I
saw the day coming and I wanted two more weeks. "Please give
me two weeks," but it was just too late. I had made a commitment.
But I did not have time to do what I needed to do at work in terms
of getting stuff in boxes and edited and passed on to people and all
of that. So the day came and we left, and we have been spontaneous
and having fun ever since. And I even try to help her around the house
Shirley Hinson: Somebody asked me one time when did I decide that I was going
to retire at fifty-five years old, and I told them as soon they gave
me that little green and white printed "Your Civil Service Retirement
System" pamphlet that they gave me on June 30, 1959. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: I’ve always thought, in the last twenty years
at least, there should be two careers for everybody. You should not
be able to work more than fifteen years in one really major area like
space. You should then be forced to go some and teach or work in art
or be a museum curator.
Shirley Hinson: But I did that at the same place because I worked in trajectory
J. Kirby Hinson: No, I mean a bigger difference than that.
Shirley Hinson: And then I went into control center.
J. Kirby Hinson: You could have gone into movies. You could have been
J. Kirby Hinson: Still can.
Shirley Hinson: I’m going to tell you. I’m retired from retirement.
One thing cute that there’s a person here in Franklin County
says they had never seen us separated. If one of us goes, the other
one is going to be deep stuff. But they said they never seen one of
us and didn’t see both of us. And that’s about the way
it was at work, too.
J. Kirby Hinson: You mean during work, not at work.
Shirley Hinson: Like I never left the house and went somewhere without him.
I’d go to the grocery store on the way home from work.
J. Kirby Hinson: The only thing you did was come to North Carolina.
Shirley Hinson: I’d come to North Carolina.
J. Kirby Hinson: Which was fine.
Shirley Hinson: I'd come in on Daddy’s birthday and we’d come
back on Mother’s birthday for our two-week vacation and then
I’d come back for Christmas.
J. Kirby Hinson: Her mother’s birthday is the same day as mine.
Which is Sunday. Busy month, but a good month.
J. Kirby Hinson: One thing that was cute is Jim [James E.] Mager, he
was my best manager, one time told me I couldn’t come home.
He needed me down there, and I says, “The only way I’m
staying, you know I take these two weeks every year. Program operating
plans, just stay on hold. They say they need on the 2nd. They asked
for them on the 15th. If you’re still working on them the 15th
of next month, I’ve got my plane tickets. I’m going to
He says, “You can’t go.”
I says, “Buy my tickets.”
He says, “You can go.”
I says, “My work always waited for me. No one ever did it.”
In fact, I started having to tell a little fib as to when I was leaving,
because if I was leaving on Friday, they would work me until Thursday
night at nine or ten o’clock. So I just got where I used to
tell them, “I’m leaving on Thursday.”
J. Kirby Hinson: Yes. My office was the same way about that. I never
planned a vacation for about the first fifteen years I worked that
I didn’t have to postpone it because of some really important
meeting or something which did not take place until after I got back
after slipping the vacation three times. It was just crazy.
Shirley Hinson: I used to tell them if I got run over by a transfer truck,
the place would just keep right on going.
J. Kirby Hinson: Yes, I used that a couple of times. I thought that was
a good one. [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: They're transfer trucks in North Carolina, eighteen-wheelers
to everybody else. [Laughter]
J. Kirby Hinson: But the funny thing about this being home, we had a
new family move in next door that has a little seven-year-old boy.
He was over visiting with us one day. He was fascinated with my drawing
airplanes for him. He wanted to draw women. That scared me. [Laughter]
I didn’t want to do any of that jazz with him. But Shirley started
talking about going home for Christmas, and he says, “I thought
she lived here with you.” [Laughter]
Shirley Hinson: We’ve had a good time.
J. Kirby Hinson: Yes.
Was there ever a challenge that each one of you might have had during
your time at NASA that the other one was able to help you get a difference
J. Kirby Hinson: That’s a wonderful question, and I know you want
to tie this a little more closely to NASA, but it’s awfully
hard for some reason. That question, I can’t immediately think
of an answer. I think it was more general than that for us. It was
more we loved the space program. We loved the missions. We love to
talk about them. That probably cleared our minds, just in general.
But I can’t remember a challenge that I was able to help her
with. Just general support, like that nine months that she had three
things going at one time, all I could do was just not complain. [Laughter]
Sometimes that’s a husband’s job.
Shirley Hinson: He has always handled that real well. Easiest person in the
world to live with. And he’s probably living with the hardest
person to live with.
J. Kirby Hinson: I can’t think of a more direct support for a challenge.
I wish I could.
Shirley Hinson: I think, just listening to us, if we had something going on
at work that we were not happy with, and there were times—
J. Kirby Hinson: There were times.
Shirley Hinson: —he would listen. There was like one time in my life
I was not really satisfied at work, and he listened to me gripe every
night. He finally says, “Get out of it or do something about
J. Kirby Hinson: Well, she can’t stand to be treated unfairly.
She ignored so much of that kind of stuff because it was those kind
of times, unfortunately for her. But I think she came out of it very
strong and made a real contribution. But there were times she was
treated unfairly on a personal basis, like who gets raises and who
doesn’t, that would bring anybody to tears. I sure tried to
support her in those times.
Shirley Hinson: He listened, and that helped. You’ve got to have somebody
to talk to.
J. Kirby Hinson: Like, "Do you want me to call [Manned Spacecraft
Center Director Robert R.] Gilruth?"
Shirley Hinson: "What do you want me to do about it? Do you want me to
call Gilruth?" [Laughter] And then we would start laughing, just
like we’re doing now. It relieves the tension.
It certainly sounds like you were able to do some much for each other,
so much for yourselves, and, of course, so much for the space program.
So it’s quite a role model for people to look back on that you
can do it with good listening skills and lots of consideration.
J. Kirby Hinson: And really caring about each other.
We can’t thank you enough for letting us come and spend the
day with you and in such a lovely setting in Louisburg, North Carolina.
We wish you the best. Is there anything else you would like to add
before we close up today?
J. Kirby Hinson: I don’t think I do, but I’m sure I’ll
think of something after I see you.
Shirley Hinson: And we appreciate your coming. Enjoyed it very much.