NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Staunton, Virginia – 18 November 2004
Wright: Today is
November 18th, 2004. This oral history is being conducted with Dr. William
B. Lenoir for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project in
Staunton, Virginia. The interviewer is Rebecca Wright.
Thank you again for letting me come into your home and visit with you
this morning. I would like to start with you sharing with us some information
about how you learned that NASA was opening up the second class of scientist-astronauts,
and why did you decide to apply.
an interesting story. Let me back up a bit from there. I went from high
school to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts]
as a freshman in the fall of 1957; subsequently got a bachelor’s
degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering
and joined the EE [Electrical Engineering] faculty as an assistant professor.
After ten years of being at MIT continuously, my intent was to be a
university professor and continue my research and continue my teaching.
My research had been in the remote sensing of the Earth’s atmosphere
from satellites, which in 1964, when I was doing it, was all theory;
none of it was fact yet. My intent, as I said, was to continue with
that career, but after ten straight years at MIT, it was obvious that
it was time to get some broadening and go spend a couple of years somewhere
else, and my intent then was to come back to MIT.
So I looked at what the opportunities were, and the Earth Resources
Institute at the University of Michigan [Ann Arbor, Michigan] was one;
the Goddard Institute of Space Studies [New York, New York] was another;
and there were several other universities that were after me to come
join their department. I was communicating with them, filling things
out, and one day, thumbing through Science magazine, back at the back
there was a little bitty coupon that said NASA was looking for applicants
for science-astronaut; “Send in your name and address, and we’ll
send you some more information.” [When] I thought about it, and
I said, “Gee, you know, my research deals with this sort of thing.
Let me see what this is all about.” Honest truth is, before that
instant I had never thought about it. Was not a close follower of the
space program. People are disappointed to hear I didn’t grow up
wanting to be an astronaut. I had given it no thought.
It was like magic, though, that one little probably one-inch-by-two-inch
coupon turned into a ream of paper that came back, “Here, fill
out these forms.” I joke about what I call the “have you
ever hads,” the medical history. It was pages and pages of three
columns, both sides, of “have you ever had” this, that,
or the other. I think I took the first six or seven seriously, giving
them a lot of thought, and then I quickly went into the “if I’ve
never heard of it, I’ve probably never had it” mode, and
filled it all out. But that’s how I thought about it. That’s
how I got the information back, and I filled all those forms out, and
I mailed them back.
I’ve forgotten how many people applied; this was in the group
that came on board in 196. I’ve got a vague recollection it
was ten thousand, but it might have been more and it might have been
less, I don’t know. But their process was they took all of the
applications, along with why you were applying, all of your references,
your résumé, etc., and they sent them all over to the
National Academy of Sciences, who sent back a list of those that they
thought were very well qualified scientifically, and I think that was
a list of seventy people.
Then they took the seventy of us—I think it was ten at a time—to
San Antonio [Texas] to the Air Force’s [Brook’s] School
of Aerospace Medicine for a physical, a six-day physical that was the
darnedest thing I’ve ever been through. In retrospect, I realize
now it was about a three-day physical, and they stole another three
days’ worth of baseline data from us that had nothing to do with
selection. But in those days you could get away with that, and they
did. It was interesting. I was fairly naïve about the whole process.
I made no attempt to game it, to learn about it. To me it was just one
of several possibilities, and I went into it fairly naïve.
I remember at one point where, after a series of X-rays of everything,
the surgeon came in—neurosurgeon, I later found out—and
asked was I unconscious when I broke my face. And I said, “You’ve
got me confused with somebody else.”
He said, “You’re Bill Lenoir?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He says, “Well, were you unconscious when you broke your face?”
I said, “I never broke my face.” And then he told me about
on the left side of my face in three spots where it had been broken.
I thought back, and I said, “Oh yeah. I was playing intramural
hockey as a graduate student, and I took a check and I hit the ice real
hard with my face right there [gestures],” and I told him, “You
know how in comic strips how you see the black with the stars in it?
That’s what I saw immediately, but I got up and skated off and
actually finished playing the game.” I wasn’t unconscious.
I went to the infirmary the next day, because it was obvious that my
eye had no white; it was all red, and my face was black. They said I
had a concussion; “Go home and sleep it off.”
So I went home; I slept it off. Two days later I was playing a hockey
game. I never gave it another thought.
He said, “You’re very lucky, because usually they don’t
heal that well.” I later found out I was also very lucky because
I didn’t realize had I said, “Yes, I was momentarily unconscious,”
I would have been immediately eliminated, because I knew nothing about
if you were going to be a pilot, you could never have been unconscious
Anyway, so they did that, and they took a bunch of X-rays and tests
of my kidneys, because I had had a kidney injury when I was in college,
playing intramural football; no problems there. They put me in an altitude
chamber—these were all extra tests—and ran me up to 43,000
feet with a rapid decompression to make sure that this face thing hadn’t
constricted any passages, and so all that worked out fine. I thought
it was all fun and didn’t think much about it. On the debriefing,
they told me I had a hernia that was minor, but it was there, and they
pointed out I had a black mole on my back they didn’t like the
looks of, and so on.
So [I] went on home, and the next step was, everybody that took the
physical was invited to Houston [Texas] in the same group for interviews,
three days’ worth of interviews. In our group of ten at San Antonio
I met—I wish I remembered his name—Morefield, I think, something
like that; was an M.D. at Mass[achusetts] General Hospital in Boston,
and others were from around the country. So I got to know him.
When I went back home, one of my classmates was at the Harvard School
of Medicine [Cambridge, Massachusetts] and doing quite well, so I called
him up. I said, “Hey, Jerry, here’s what they said. What
do I do?”
He said, “Let me get back to you.” He did, and he says,
“Here’s what I recommend. You want to go over to MGH [Massachusetts
General Hospital] and have it fixed.” He says, “I could
get you the Chief of Surgery to do it, if you would like, but to be
honest, I’d recommend the Chief Resident.” He says, “The
Chief of Surgery is probably the best guy there, but you’re hardly
going to get any attention of his. The Chief Resident is an excellent
doctor, excellent, topnotch, just getting started; has virtually no
private patients, so you can get all of his attention.”
I said, “Sounds good.” So I went over and had the operation
and talked to him and told him, “While you’re at it, take
the mole off my back.” So he did.
An interesting sidelight of that was that when I went in, the way they
did things then—I don’t know anymore, because I hardly ever
am sick, and I don’t think I’ve been in a hospital since—they
gave you the sedative, the succinyl choline, the curare that relaxes
your muscles. It makes it so you can’t move, and then they knock
you out with the sodium pentathol. Well, they got me totally relaxed,
and then they gave me the sodium pentathol and wheeled me in. The problem
was, they didn’t give me quite enough, and so I wasn’t out
when they started.
Afterwards I was telling the surgeon this, and he obviously wasn’t
believing me, and I repeated a couple of the jokes they told, and his
immediate comment was, “I’ll send the anesthesiologist right
in.” But I had the illusion that I was trying to communicate,
and I couldn’t. I had the illusion I could move my right big toe,
and so in my mind I’m wagging hell out of my big toe, but nobody’s
noticing, and I don’t know how—it felt like it hurt, but
it probably hurt as much because I knew what they were doing as anything
else. But anyway, so we got that fixed.
Then I think I’m out of the hospital like a day or two, and it’s
time to go to Houston for the interviews. I’ve just had the stitches
out; I can hardly move; it hurts. So I flew down, and you did three
things there, probably four. There’s probably record checking
and all that stuff, but you had an interview with the selection board
that was chaired by “Deke” [Donald K.] Slayton. You had
a medical debriefing of your San Antonio experience. And then you had
a backseat ride in a T-38. Again, I was naïve. Had no idea, didn’t
try to game anything, didn’t give it any thought.
It turns out that the intent of the backseat ride was to see how you
did and if you had any problems with that. It was fairly random as to
how you were scheduled. They had no idea I had been in the hospital
or had anything fixed, and so the first thing up for me was the T-38
ride. Thank God, as newcomers, they already had the parachutes in the
airplane, because I’m not sure I could have carried mine out.
I walked around with the test pilot, and he showed me some things, and
then I climbed up the ladder, doing my very best to look casual and
not at all in pain. Got strapped in, and the crew chief was leaning
over, helping me, and I strapped it in real tight, just like he said,
and that wasn’t hard, because that felt really good, strapping
everything down tight.
Then we went out, and we had an hour-and-twenty-minute flight, pulled
a whole bunch of Gs, flew upside down, and I had a great time; I loved
it. I realized afterwards that when the pilot reported back on me, he
must have had some good things to say, because I was just looking, and
when we were upside down doing a loop or something out over the Gulf
[of Mexico], I noticed there was a regatta going on, and I called it
to his attention that, “Hey, they’re racing down there,
and so-and-so’s ahead. Looks like they’re rounding that
turn,” just holding up a casual conversation. All that finished,
and I loved it. That was great.
Then the next thing I had was the interview, and Deke Slayton chaired
it. Chuck [Charles A.] Berry from the medical world was on it. Alan
[B.] Shepard [Jr.] was on it, and Owen [K.] Garriott, who was on the
previous science-astronaut class, whom I didn’t know, and I knew
nothing of any of them. If you had asked me, I probably didn’t
even know we would have been the second group; I don’t know. And
probably one other I don’t remember, but we were going down the
list, and Alan Shepard was summarizing. He was the Chief of the Astronaut
Office. Deke was the Director of Flight Crew Operations at the time.
But Alan was going down, summarizing the case, and he was telling me,
“Let’s see, and from the physical it says you’ve got
And I said, “Not anymore. I had it fixed.”
And he says, “Oh, when?”
I said, “Five days ago.”
He says, “Oh, wow. Maybe you shouldn’t do the T-38 ride
I said, “Too late. I did it this morning.”
He says, “Oh, you should have told us.”
I said, “Well, I didn’t want to tell you. I wanted to do
it.” In retrospect, I realize, boy, I’m really playing to
this fighter-pilot mentality without even having a clue.
He said, “And there’s a mole on your back.”
I said, “No, I had them rip it off while they were there.”
The other thing they didn’t tell me—I didn’t find
out probably for ten years—was in that report from Brooks [Air
Force Base], there was a summary from the psychiatrist, and we did a
bunch of that, definitively recommending that I not be selected because
I was dishonest and couldn’t be trusted. What was behind it was
that I was asked a question, if I knew my best friend was cheating on
his income taxes, would I turn him in. I said no, and that was the end
of the conversation, we went on to something else, but it was based
on that. Had I known that was in there, I’d have been terrified.
Had I known it was in there, knowing what I know now, I’d have
thought it was great, because you’d be hard-pressed to get a better
reference to a fighter pilot than a shrink saying, “Don’t
take this guy.”
Then we went through the interview, and we talked about some things,
and Alan said at one point they hadn’t decided about the airplane,
that the T-38 flying was either going to be required or optional. And
I said honestly, “Well, in my case, then, it’s the same,
because if it’s optional, I’m going to do it, and if it’s
required, I’m going to do it, so I don’t have anything to
think about; there it goes.”
We went on, and then the medical interview, and then went on home. There’s
probably more stories around that that were interesting.
Then at one point in the early summer I’m sitting in my office
at MIT, and I get a phone call and it’s Alan Shepard. Having sat
on subsequent boards, I realize I should have known immediately, it’s
Alan Shepard; it’s good news. Other people call the ones that
don’t make it. But I didn’t know, and he told me I was selected,
and I said, “I accept,” and so on. I went down and I told
my boss, Alan [H.] Barrett, who’s a professor of physics at MIT,
and we immediately went out and had lunch with a beer or two.
I went home and I told my wife, my first wife, and she said that was
great, and then she asked a very practical question. Since I said we
were going to move to Houston, she said, “How much does it pay?”
I said, “You know, I don’t have a clue. It never occurred
to me to ask. I’ve accepted a job. I assume they pay.”
Then we moved. So that’s the “making a short story long”
answer of how did I find out about it. I set out to do a two-year sabbatical
away from MIT somewhere and wound up with an astronaut career, and learned
a lot along the way about myself that that was much better fit than
academia would have been, although academia would have worked.
Wright: Tell me
about arriving to Houston and what you found and how your training started
to prepare you to become an astronaut.
Lenoir: We moved
sometime in the summer of ’67. I’d like to think it was
August; could have been as early as July; I don’t think it was
as late as September, but it was still summer. Of course, Houston summer
runs till about November, anyway. But I was born and brought up in Miami
[Florida] so I was used to hot, humid weather, not to be confused with
We were new, and it was still in the pre-Apollo times. As a matter of
fact, the Apollo fire happened in the middle of my application process,
and it’s interesting, in retrospect, that it made no difference
whatsoever. I never even thought about it as being a factor in whether
I applied or not. So, very much heroes. People want to know astronauts;
they’re heroes in the Houston area. The area around NASA Johnson
Space Center—it was called the Manned Space[craft] Center then,
MSC—was fairly new; several new subdivisions. First thing we did
was we spent three weeks in a motel right across from NASA; I forgot
what it’s called now; it was a Ramada then, I think. We bought
a house in El Lago [Texas], first house that we bought, and people helped
us out along the way.
One of the stories I like to tell was I got to know Paul [J.] Weitz
pretty good. He was in the pilot class right ahead of me, and he was
talking about when he came down. Same story, staying in a motel. In
those days motels didn’t always have TVs, and his didn’t,
so he went out to buy a TV one Saturday. Went up to the shopping area
that had—it’s the Foley’s shopping center, I think
of, that had only Foley’s in those days. There was nothing else
there, but somewhere on an intersection right by the interstate there,
there was a little TV shack. He went in there and he bought a TV, and
he was getting ready to leave, and a Texas downpour comes, and there’s
water collecting under the underpass.
So, Paul, being fairly smart, decided not to go out in the rain, and
so he’s chatting with the owner, who asked him, “Where are
He says, “I’m from Whidbey Island [Washington]. That’s
up near Seattle [Washington].”
And the owner says, “Oh, Seattle.” He says, “It rains
a lot there, doesn’t it?”
Paul looks out the door and looks back at him, and he says, “You
kidding me? It’s rained more here in the last hour than it rains
in Seattle in a month.” But that was typical of the kinds of things
that we ran into. And like I said, people went out of their way to help
I remember our first pilots’ meeting, all pilot meeting, where
the astronauts met every Monday. The first one we went to, we all went
in, and Deke was there, ostensibly to welcome us. I’ll never forget
Deke’s comments—and if you’ve talked to others from
my group, you’ve probably heard the same thing—[what] he
said, “Well, we didn’t need you, we really don’t want
you, but welcome aboard.” He was literally that blunt, and that
was the wonderful thing about Deke. A nicer guy never walked the face
of the Earth. He never lied to you. I mean, he always told it to you
right up front.
So there we were. We immediately christened ourselves XS-11 since there
was eleven of us, and we were all going to go off to flying school.
Only one of us was a private pilot, and that was Story Musgrave. The
other ten of us weren’t pilots at all. Story wasn’t jet-qualified,
so we all had to go. Don [Donald L.] Holmquest was still doing his medical
residency, so he was going to do it later. That left ten of us.
Because of the Vietnam War buildup, the Air Force didn’t want
to do it the way they had done it with the previous class, everybody
at one Air Force base, and so we went in twos to five different Air
Force bases, and the choices were Williams Air Force Base in Phoenix
[Arizona]; Vance Air Force Base in Enid [Oklahoma]; Reese [Air Force
Base] was in Lubbock [Texas]; Randolph [Air Force Base] in San Antonio;
and Laughlin [Air Force Base] in Del Rio [Texas]. San Antonio and Phoenix
were the ones that everybody wanted, and we got together and decided
what’s your first, second, and third choice, and we went and said,
“Oh, gee, everybody wants Phoenix and San Antonio.”
We got together and decided, “Okay, Bill [William E.] Thornton
ought to get Randolph in San Antonio, because he just came from there
and he owns a house there, so that makes sense, and the rest of us,
we’ll figure out how to deal with it.” Phil [Philip K.]
Chapman and I played a hand of draw poker, best hand wins first choice.
Phil won; he went to San Antonio.
I lost and went to Del Rio, Laughlin [Air Force Base], which was very
fortuitous. It was a great place to learn to fly. None of the distractions
of San Antonio. Great bunch of people. Tony [Anthony W.] England and
I went there, and we were each put in a different whatever they were
called, squads, class, or whatever, but we were the class of 69-06,
and there were two halves to the class. They did that so that it wasn’t
quite so unwieldy, and that way one class flew in the morning, did class
in the afternoon, and the other class did it the other way around, and
then after six weeks you swapped back and forth. So we were in different
classes and didn’t run into one another.
Because of the notoriety, we had a meeting with the wing commander,
a full colonel who was the ranking Air Force person on base, and being
military, of course, they had to do everything military-wise. We’re
not military; how do they treat us? Well, we are civil servants. What’s
our GS [General Schedule] rating; they look it up, and so they told
us that Tony England was the equivalent of, I think, a captain, and
I was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. In that regard, I was
the third-ranking guy on the base. The colonel was telling me, “This
could be a little bit embarrassing.”
I said, “I don’t know why. I’m just here to learn
how to fly. I’m not going to do anything stupid. Treat me the
same as any other student pilot. I’m probably not going to be
real anxious to do all the Mickey Mouse, but I won’t embarrass
you. Just treat me like a student pilot and ignore me.” And by
and large, they did.
What I found in flying school was that I wondered how I ever lived without
this. I took easily to it. I wound up finishing first in the class.
At graduation they gave out four awards, and I got three of the four.
The one I didn’t get was best officer, but I remember just beforehand
when Colonel Goade, the wing commander, called Tony and I in to see
how it went, and he told us that I was going to get the best flying
award, the best academics award, and also the Commander’s Cup,
which was the big silver thing for everything.
And I said, “You know, Colonel, that probably doesn’t make
a lot of sense. To be honest with you, none of that’s going to
mean anything to me in my career. The Air Force invented that so you
can encourage your students to take another step up, to reach out, and
so on. Why don’t you just say that Tony and I are anomalous here,
and we’re ineligible, and give them to the next guys.” He
thought about it, but said no, they were going to do it this way. So
I got those, and to this day, I still think there were a couple of Air
Force second lieutenants, or first lieutenants by that point, that should
have gotten an award that didn’t.
But I loved flying, and came back and checked out with the NASA T-38s
and started flying them around, and had a lot of fun doing that.
Wright: What was
some of the other training you had? You also went through jungle training
and desert training. Do you remember much about those?
Lenoir: Yes, just
after we came back from flying school—oh, let me back up a minute.
When we first got to Houston, we had six months to kill, because the
Air Force wasn’t ready to take us, and so we had a big bullpen
kind of office. We were all ten of us in there, and we got introduction
to this, that, and the other, and we kept our research going on the
I remember at one point we had a party for our group at my house, and
Brian [T.] O’Leary, who was from somewhere, I don’t remember,
was talking to me right in front of the fireplace. I had a foot up on
the hearth. He was renting an apartment over in Nassau Bay, and he was
asking me about the house, and I told him. He said they were renting,
and he wanted to rent until after flying school to make sure that he
graduated, and it just stopped me cold, and I just looked at him, and
I says, “You know, Brian, the thought of not making it through
just never occurred to me.” There’s probably a lot of future
look there, because I went through very well, and O’Leary discovered
he didn’t like flying and resigned right after his first solo,
and so there was probably something there.
But just after we got back from flying school, then they sent us off
to various survival schools, the idea being that if you were in an Apollo
capsule and had to make an emergency letdown, you could be anywhere
in the world, and it might not be accessible for several days to the
rescue crew, so you had to survive. And the idea for us was that we
were brought on board for what was then called the Apollo Applications
Program, which was a lengthy post-Apollo program of Space Station-like
activities. It subsequently got a lot smaller and became Skylab, but
that’s what that was all about.
So the first thing we did was we went up to, of all places, the area
outside of Spokane, Washington, for desert survival. I don’t think
of that being a desert, but it is. It’s a desert; they grow some
potatoes up there. We spent some time there, and like most survival
schools, you spend a couple of days in class being lectured as to what
you do, this, that, and the other, and demonstrations of this, that,
and the other, and then you go out in the environment and survive.
One of our interesting stories was, as we were driving to the desert
for the survival on an old converted school bus, the sergeant that was
taking us out there, who was in charge, was up front, and as we neared
it and went through a gate where we’re going to get off the bus
and go on to four-wheel-drive pickup trucks to take us in, there’s
a couple of picnic tables and a bunch of people, and I guess he knew
What happened was the local farmers had heard that there were astronauts
coming, and so they’d set up a picnic and a bar, the whole nine
yards, and the sergeant takes one look at that and says, “Oh,
gosh. I wish they hadn’t gone to all this trouble, because these
guys are not going to go out there and drink alcohol, with what we’ve
just told them about going into the desert.”
Of course, to a man, we got off the bus and went right to the bar and
started drinking. I was talking to one of the farmers, and he said,
“Hey, anything we can do for you?”
And we had big, heavy parkas and stuff, because it was going to get
cold at night, and I said, “Gee, no.” I says, “Well,
wait a minute. You got a case of beer?”
And he says, “Yeah.”
I says, “Here. Wrap it in this,” and I put it in the back
of one of the pickup trucks and got on the pickup truck. There were
three of us; actually, there were five of us, and we were going out
to two different sites.
They dropped the first three off somewhere, and then Story Musgrave
and I were going to be the next two, and the sergeant that’s in
the back with us said, “You’re up here around the corner.”
I says, “Where?”
And he turns around to point, and I threw the beer off the truck. So
we got set up there, and I went back and I got the beer and applied
the number one lesson that we learned, and that was I got the highest
rise I could find, got on the north side of it, dug down till I got
to cool sand, cool, damp sand, and put the beer in there. We drove them
crazy. They would come through every now and then to check. We’re
sitting there drinking beer.
“Where did you get the beer?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
And at one point, we decided, “You know, this is too much Mickey
Mouse,” and so we just got up from the campsite that they had
set us into, and we wandered off into the desert, and again drove them
crazy. We could hear them. They’re trying to find us; they couldn’t
find us. So we just survived on our own. They chewed us out, probably,
a little when we were done, and then we got done there.
Then our next survival school was Panama, jungle, where, same story,
you spend a couple days being briefed. The equivalent of the farmer’s
thing was the Governor General of the Canal Zone hosted a dinner for
us on his boat as we cruised up and down the Panama Canal. The very
first day, we walk in and sit down, and the sergeant that starts briefing
us starts off by saying, “Which one’s Lenoir?”
I said, “Me.”
He looks and he says, “I heard of you.” It turns out survival
school instructors apparently are a tight-knit group. So that was all
that was said.
We learned about stuff, like what’s one of the things I learned
in the jungle, and that is that when I was in Miami as a kid, I had
eaten rattlesnake. That’s pretty good. In the jungle training,
what I learned is eating boa constrictor is a little bit like trying
to eat rubber bands. So we learned all that stuff, and then we go off
and we get in a helicopter, and we’re hovering about ten, fifteen
feet over the Chagras River, and we have to jump out—splash—and
then we’re supposed to swim over to a little area where we congregate,
and they do the final briefing, and then we break up into three different
What they didn’t tell us, that we all figured out very quickly,
was that after we had done all that—and a couple of the guys were
not too wild about the water, and so it was troublesome to them. We
tried to take care of them as part of the group. I was brought up in
Miami; you know, I probably swam before I walked. But what I wasn’t
used to was after we got out of the water, you have to stop and get
the leeches off of you, because there’s leeches all over you.
So then we went, and they said that the game was that we were going
to do the same Air Force survival, and the game is, you are supposed
to survive. You had been given a map, which we learned didn’t
fare very well once you got it wet, and you’re supposed to get
to a place downriver within two days, three days, whatever it was, and
you meet on a dock. You’re all wearing these floppy hats, and
you’re supposed to avoid and evade the locals, the local Indians,
like you would if you came down in Vietnam, something like that. And
you need to know that they’re paid a dollar a hat for getting
your hat, and so your objective is to show up with your hats.
We were assigned three different routes. They said, “Now, in the
real world, you’d go down the river, but we don’t want you
to do that. This group, you’re going to go down here. This other
group, you’re going to go up a little. And the third group,”—that’s
Story and me—“you’re going to be the furthest away
from the river.”
So we’re talking to them and I’m thinking about that, and
I say, “You know, there’s mountains and stuff around here.
The further away you get from the river, the more you’re going
to go up and down. With the drainage things, and up and down, up and
down, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. These Indians probably
aren’t dumb. They’re staked out. They know exactly where
we’re going to come.”
So just as he said, “Okay, now head out,” the heavens opened
up, and it rained.
So we walked out; we rounded a corner, and I pulled Story into the bushes,
and we sat there for a while, and I said, “Let’s let everybody
settle down and get away,” and then we swam across the river to
the other side. And I said, “They know exactly where we’re
going to be over there. Let’s see if they can find us over here.”
So we went over there, and some of the things that happened was, one
night in our camp, apparently a couple of big wild pigs came rooting
through. Boy, they raised hell. Another night, I’m lying in my
homemade sleeping bag, which was made out of a parachute, same as our
tent, when I felt across my feet a spider that must have been this big
around [demonstrates] walked up and over one foot and up and over the
other foot and kept going. We had toucan soup one night when we got
a toucan and ate him. Had iguana; great stuff.
And a little bit early, we got down across the river from the pier where
we’re supposed to meet them, and nobody’s there yet, and
we didn’t want to sit out in the open there, so I walked up a
little further and run across a guy fishing. And I’m talking with
him, and he’s telling me that he’s the vice president of
a local country club, which is just downriver a little bit.
And I said, “Oh, okay,” and then it hit me. I says, “You
got any beer in your country club?”
He says, “Yeah,” and I told him the story of Spokane. He
says, “Come with me.” We went up there, and he got us a
couple of six-packs of beer.
So we swam back across the river, and we were the first people there.
We were the only two that arrived with our hats, and when the sergeant
and his group come on a boat down the river, there we are sitting on
the pier, dangling our feet, drinking beer, waiting for them, and, boy,
did that make our reputation. That was something else.
Then we also did a sea survival; actually, two different ones, one at
Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, which was not very far from my
home. As a matter of fact, the big B-52 hangars in Homestead Air Force
Base I helped build. I used to be an ironworker when I was in high school,
and so that was kind of like going home. We did all kinds of water stuff,
get towed behind a boat on a parachute up to about five hundred feet,
release, and then parachute down; and swim underwater and go down—all
kinds of water stuff, which to me was kind of like Disneyland. “Hey,
this is fun. This isn’t work.”
Then we had a different kind of survival at Pensacola Naval Air Station
[Pensacola, Florida], which dealt with if your airplane goes in the
water, how do you get out of it, and things like that. The memorable
part of that was the “Dilbert Dunker,” where you’re
in like a seat, and you’re strapped in, and you’ve got your
mask and helmet on, and this goes down a set of rails into a deep pool.
It goes down about, I don’t know, ten, fifteen feet and then flips
upside down, and then at that point you’re supposed to unstrap
and get out. A couple of the guys that weren’t really comfortable
in the water were really spooked by that. I went first, because I didn’t
mind the water, and to me, it wasn’t bad. You went down there,
and you got upside down, and you stopped, and you thought about it,
and “Oh, look at this,” and you unstrapped, and you came
up and said, “See, guys? It works.”
So those were our survival schools, which were a lot of fun. We kept
trying to tell them that, “You know, there are times in the year
when there’s winter, and we could be coming down anywhere. Shouldn’t
you send us to survival school at Aspen [Colorado] or Vail [Colorado]
or something like that?” We could never sell that one.
do that one? It’s a good idea. Once you completed training, what
were some of the first duties that you were assigned?
Lenoir: The first
thing that I was assigned, I’m not sure whether there was a temporary
one or not, but the first long-term thing I was assigned, to follow
the design of the airlock module for Skylab, which was then still called
the Apollo Applications Program, along with Bruce McCandless [II], who
was the older astronaut that was doing that. Most of the rest of my
group, I think maybe all of it, was assigned to be support crew for
Apollo, which meant that they weren’t in a flight profile, but
they supported. They did the odds and ends from an astronaut perspective,
and then they talked to them during a mission as CapComs [Capsule Communicators].
I think because of my engineering background; most of the rest were
either doctors or scientists, real scientists. I was an engineer, but
I was assigned to engineering duty of watching and overseeing, from
an operations perspective, the design of the airlock module.
Then a short while later, the multiple docking adapter got added to
that list, and at some point, it might have been a year later, the workshop
module, built by Douglas [Aircraft Company] out on the West Coast, was
added, which then wound [up] completing all of the Skylab modules, except
for the command module that was going to be a part of it.
So that was my job, so I got off the track from the rest of the guys
and spent a lot of time flying to St. Louis [Missouri], which is where
the airlock module was built. Got a lot of experience flying the T-38s
in and out of St. Louis, and subsequently in and out of Denver [Colorado]
at Martin [Marietta Corporation], who was doing the multiple docking
One of the stories I tell about Denver was on one of my trips there—these
were back in the days when a little bit more—I don’t know
whether it was legitimate or not, but a little bit more was done entertaining
astronauts. I think there was both the desire and it was okay, and I’m
sure somehow it was allowed as a business expense. But they took a couple
of us skiing. I had learned to ski in New England in college and had
only skied in New England. And I’m going up on the chairlift at
Winter Park [Colorado] with one of the local engineers who is just as
apologetic as anything, apologizing over the terrible conditions this
day. He says, “You know, the ice, everything is just terrible.
You should be here on a good day.” I think he’s kidding
me. I’m looking around, and all I see is powder. He’s calling
it ice. What he means by ice is there’s a real light crust on
top, and I tell him after our first trip down, that he just doesn’t
understand ice. Ice is thick stuff that’s an inch thick and it’s
blue. It’s the reason you’ve got the sharp metal edges on
your skis, and that’s New England. But that was my introduction
to skiing in the Rockies, which is the best place in the world to ski,
as far as I’m concerned.
But those were my assignments, was to do the engineering oversight,
from an operations point of view, of those three subsequently Skylab
modules. At some point in the middle of it, the program changed from
what used to be called the wet workshop to the dry workshop. The idea
with the wet workshop was that it would be launched on a Saturn I, and
the Saturn IV-B upper stage would be used, and after it was used, you
would set up shop inside the hydrogen tank, which would be your workshop.
The dry workshop decided to use the extra Saturn V that was left over
when the Apollo Program got shortened, and launch that S-IV-B empty,
so you could outfit it and didn’t have to haul all that stuff
in. And about that same time frame, the name got changed from Apollo
Applications to Skylab.
So that’s how I got into the Skylab business; how I, other than
as an observer, had very little to do with the Apollo Program. I felt
comfortable about it, because Skylab was the reason our class was there,
and I figured that ultimately we’re going to fly in this thing,
whereas the guys that are supporting Apollo are never going to go to
the Moon, and so this was more fun, and it just seemed more fun to be
out in front doing some engineering work than it did to be kind of on
a third- or fourth-tier crew helping others get their job done. Although
they had a lot of fun and did a lot of good work, especially supporting
the lunar science.
Wright: You were
named as a science pilot backup for Skylab 3 and 4. Tell me about that
announcement and your thoughts and then what your duties were in those
Lenoir: There were
three different Skylab crews, and interesting, if you go back, you can
get confused in history, because NASA at first called the first launch
Skylab 1. That was the dry launch of the workshop, and as I recall,
that was the Arabic numeral one. Skylab 2 was the launch of Pete [Charles]
Conrad [Jr.] and his crew for twenty-eight days. Skylab 3, [Arabic]
numeral 3, was the launch of Al [Alan L.] Bean and his crew for fifty-six
days, and then Skylab 4, [Arabic] numeral, launched Gerry [Gerald P.]
Carr and his crew for fifty-six days with the understanding that it
was likely to be extended maybe as much as eighty-four. Subsequently
they’ve gone back and renumbered the manned crews, one, two, and
three, with Roman numerals, and so you can get confused.
But the assignment, I was still naïve and had no idea how it all
worked. Deke Slayton came down off the mountain and made an announcement
and then crawled back up on the mountain, and to me it made sense, because
I’d been working Skylab, which seemed to say that, hey, I was
right about that was the better place to be than Apollo. There were
only two from my group; that was myself and Story Musgrave. The first
crew that was announced was Pete Conrad, Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin, and
Paul Weitz. Joe was a Navy flight surgeon; he was a doctor; and it was
felt important, because nobody had ever been up that long before, and
you needed to have a doctor. Story was his backup, so if anything happened,
he still had a licensed M.D. on board.
The third crew was Al Bean, Owen Garriott, and Jack [R.] Lousma, and
I backed up Owen Garriott. The fourth crew, or third, depending on how
you want to look at it, was Gerry Carr, Ed [Edward G.] Gibson, and Bill
[William R.] Pogue, and I backed up Ed Gibson, and so we only had two
backup crews, even though there were three. The first crew, because
it was different with the M.D., had one crew, and then Vance [D.] Brand,
Don [L.] Lind, and myself backed up the other two. It made sense.
It was a bit of a problem, because shortly after the announcement of
those crews, Deke announced that the other nine of us were going to
be released; you know, fired, RIF’ed [Reduction in Force], or
whatever, because, frankly, with the programs being cut back, Apollo
ending, Skylab being down to three missions, there was no need for them.
So Story and I got to stay, and the other nine guys had to go. Never
really understood what happened there, other than, obviously, there
were some politics. Somebody who was connected and some congressman
or senators or somebody complained, and that firing never went to fruition,
but basically they had two extra years of hiatus than I had, because—well,
actually, it’s more than that because of the training—and
so I got deeply involved.
Basically, in those days the premise was that the backup crew is as
ready to fly as the prime crew as you can possibly make them. Obviously,
if you get into a bind and there’s a priority problem, the prime
crew gets priority. But we didn’t have any of those, so we were
basically as ready to go as the prime crew; in theory, right up to the
end, the problem being that as you get close, you can’t substitute
just a crew member, because then you break up the crew camaraderie.
If you’re six months before flight, well, sure, you can develop
it again. Before the missions, I couldn’t get either Owen or Ed
to take up my offer of an all-expense-paid ski trip, figuring maybe
they can break a leg or something, but they didn’t bite, and so
we did all the training that they did. It was interesting; it was a
lot of fun.
It was different than Apollo, because you weren’t training for
a short mission, where basically every minute of every day has something
in the flight plan. We were training for a longer mission, where it
was admitted that we don’t exactly know what we’re going
to be doing in weeks two and three and subsequent, and how it will work
out. So we had to train with that in mind and learn how to deal with
that, and then also we were in a much bigger spacecraft that you just
couldn’t build a simulator around, and so we had a makeshift simulator
around the walls of a room, that had the control panels that weren’t
in their right geometric configuration at all, because you just couldn’t
get there from here. It worked out well.
Wright: Did your
training change at all from the first manned Skylab mission before Gerry
Carr’s group went? Was anything handed down from Pete Conrad’s
crew that changed your training?
Lenoir: Yes and
no. As you probably recall, the first unmanned launch didn’t go
as planned. Part of the meteoroid shield deployed prematurely and was
immediately ripped off by the airstream. Actually, both of the solar
arrays deployed early. One of them got stuck with some of the metal
that was from the meteoroid shield, and it didn’t fully deploy.
The other one did deploy, and it got ripped off, and so here’s
this sick bird with no power up there, and no Sun shield, and so that
was the thing. Originally Pete was supposed to launch the next day,
and that was put off for five days. Everything went in five-day cycles,
because the orbit that it was in precessed around once in five days,
and so things were in five-day cycles that way.
So they waited five days, and I don’t remember whether they launched
in five days or in ten, to be honest, but in the meantime, there was
a whole bunch of different teams put together to deal with all kinds
of things. The first was, how can we get it cooler in there, how can
we shield the Sun. There were three different schemes. One of them was
to use a scientific airlock that went out the Sun side and basically
deployed a big umbrella. I wound up working on that. There was another
one that once they got up there, they would put a big shield over it,
and to be honest, I’ve forgotten what the third one was. I worked
on what was called the parasol, as the crewman doing it, working on
that engineering team, and my job, obviously, was to make sure that
it was doable by the crew. Pete and his crew were very busy doing their
stuff, and so they basically had no insight into all the different things
Subsequently it was decided that the parasol would be the prime thing,
the first thing that we would do, and in helping with the design and
making sure it was doable, I had also worked to build the flight procedures;
how do you do it. They had never seen the hardware, had never done it.
I had done it a bunch of times in the simulator and on the 1-G trainer,
and then I went to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] and briefed them on
it, took them pictures. Actually, in my pod I actually took the flight
hardware, which there wasn’t time to obey all the right rules
for how you’re supposed to do stuff, and how do you get it there.
I was going to the Cape in a T-38. I could put a pod on it and take
the flight hardware, and I did. And so a crew from the launch center
met my airplane, and they put it in bonded storage right away and took
it out and loaded it, and I went into the crew quarters and briefed
Pete and Joe and Paul on it and how it all worked, and answered their
questions, and that was my support in that time frame.
One of the big lessons—and it didn’t all come from Pete—was
in learning how to deal with longer-term space flight and crew adaptation.
It was a well-kept secret that about half of the crews got sick, or
whatever you want to call it, in Apollo. Not even the astronauts always
knew what happened; that was considered a medical, private thing. When
Pete and his crew went up, there were no expectations of them, because
their workshop is broke. It’s not even clear they can salvage
it, so anything they do is great, and they’ll be heroes. They
got the parasol up and that worked, and started to get cooler in there.
They did some EVAs [Extravehicular Activities] and pulled the other
solar array loose, which got a lot more power, because up to that point
the only other power was on the arrays that were on the multiple docking
adapter. So now they got half of the lab’s power going, and then
they did some experiments as well, which included the medical experiments,
which is why Joe was there. But they were a raving success because they
saved the machine.
When “Beano” and his guys came up, the mentality tends to
be continuous on the ground, and so Pete and his guys saved the machine.
You know, they didn’t do a hell of a lot other than that that
we had originally intended, and so again there’s not a lot of
expectations and a lot of pressure on Beano and Owen and Jack. And they
got up there, and in retrospect, they started nice and slow, and they
got into it. They stayed ahead of the ground as they developed, and
right up to the very end, the entire ground team could not keep them
busy. Didn’t matter how much you sent them, they did it, and they
pioneered some things, like whatever it was called, the work bin, where,
“Okay, here. Just send us up the list of things you’d like
to get done at some point, and if we can fit it in, we could.”
And at the end of every day, they were done; the bin was empty.
Unfortunately, that same mentality on the ground carried over for Gerry,
and Gerry and Ed and Bill were expected to hit the deck running and
be just like Bean. They weren’t given the time that Beano and
his guys were to get slowly up to speed, to get over any discomforts
that they had. Bill Pogue got sick. There’s the infamous story
where, unfortunately, on the recording of the intercom [intercommunication
system], he and Gerry are conniving how they’re going to throw
it all away, because one of the Skylab experiments dealt with the metabolic
take-up of astronauts, and for three weeks before the mission, all during
the mission, and for I forgot how long after the mission, you were restricted
to the Skylab diet. Everything that you took in was measured, and they
knew what was in it, and everything that came out of you was saved for
later analysis. So by the rules, this bag of puke is supposed to be
brought home, but they didn’t want anybody to know that Bill had
been sick, and so they apparently threw it into the trash airlock, which
went then into what was the oxygen tank, and it was gone forever. But
unfortunately, they talked about it over the intercom, which they had
forgotten was recorded, and so Alan Shepard had to formally reprimand
They never did get on top, because the ground kept waiting for them
to be just like Bean. I recommended that we give them a few days off,
because I was part of the support crew on both of those, taking my tour
as a CapCom as well as supporting some of the other things that you’re
going to ask about later. I recommended we give them a couple of days
off, and every time I recommended it, it was agreed, but before we could
execute it, it got, “Yes, but we need this, that, and the other,”
and pretty soon it’s all full again.
So they never got on top of it, but that was one of the things that
Pete brought back was that you need some time to get adapted. He brought
back some very practical information about the EVAs and the need to
be restrained, commented on some of the screws that had backed out,
and in zero-G, screws tend to back out, but torquing them down doesn’t
always lock them in. So there was a bunch of engineering things, but
from a crew perspective, it mostly dealt with how do you work for the
longer term and how do you grow with it.
was a twenty-four-hour operation. How did that affect your ability to
do your job? Were you on call the entire time the crews were up?
all three of the missions had three people on board at a time, and they
were all on the same shift, and their shift was sunk to Houston mostly
for the convenience of Houston, so that their nominal workday was eight
to five or six, although an astronaut’s workday is a lot longer
than that, and they would sleep at night.
Then on the ground there were three different teams in work at any time.
There were actually five, but they took different times. There was the
execute, there was the planning, and then there was the late-night shift,
so stuff was going on all around the clock.
During Skylab , Beano’s flight, I was also still training as
a backup for the next mission, so I supported that as a CapCom, talking
to Bean and the guys, helped be an interface for the solar science community
in talking with primarily Owen about the solar science, and then also
talking to Owen and Jack about the pictures of the Earth they were taking
as part of the Visual Observations Program.
At the same time I was in full-time training to be a backup for the
next mission. During the last mission, of course, I was no longer training,
and so I was more or less full-time supporting that. Then I took up
all three of those things again. CapCom; I spent a lot more time working
with the solar scientists to make sure that we could get what they learned
into it so that it wasn’t always predestined.
One of the things we learned on the very first Skylab mission was, there
were two X-ray experiments, one of whom came into it with an anti-manned
bias and built everything automated. Another came in, and he had listened
to some astronauts who said, “Hey, we can intervene,” and
he had automation, but everything could be intervened. You know, it’s
kind of like a camera now that’s automated only, or you can get
in and change the settings. What we found when we got up there was the
Sun was a different animal than we thought in X-rays. It was a lot hotter.
The guy that had everything automated didn’t get nearly the data
he could have, because he had guessed wrong. The other guy was able
to make all the changes and have the crew redo things and do some things
manually, and so there was a lot of interacting with them of what have
we learned, what do we want to do differently, what do I need to tell
the crew so that they really understand what you’re thinking.
Then during that mission we also pioneered actually having one of the
scientists—they had a term that they called a czar, and I forgot;
I think it was for a week. I think there were six PIs [Principal Investigators],
and they had to work as a group, and they sometimes had competing requirements.
They got together and decided that they weren’t going to ask NASA
to adjudicate their differences; they would do it themselves. They had
what they called a czar. One of them was final say for a week, then
another, then another, and so they took turns, but that was the final
say, and he was the boss.
So the ground team had grown up distrusting the scientists and not allowing
them to talk directly to the astronauts, and we set it up so that I
think it was once a week, but I forget, where the czar would come online
and talk to the crew for a pass or two, and this was back in the time
frame before the TDRS, Tracking [and] Data Relay Satellites, where you’d
have anywhere from five to ten [to] twelve-minute passes as you went
over specific ground sites, so you could talk for that long, and then
you can’t communicate. So we set that up, and then on the Visual
Observations Program, I would brief Ed, and Bill Pogue on the last mission,
on what it was we were trying to do, what we thought they were going
to come over. None of this was an official program, but we would send
them up a list of sites and when they were going to come over, “If
you got a chance, get this kind of a picture. Tell us what you see about
this, that, and the other.”
There were a variety of different things that we were looking for to
take advantage of the viewpoint from space and the fact that there’s
a human there. It’s one of the things that we had learned what—I’ve
forgotten who called it; I think it was Gerry Carr—“the
picket fence effect.” You know, if you stand outside a solid fence
that the pickets don’t quite touch, what do you see? You see a
fence. If you’re driving by it in a car, what do you see? Well,
you see right through it, because your eye and your brain integrate
the picture looking through those little slots, and eventually you get
to see everything. If you take a picture of the Earth, you see a hazy
Earth. If you go over it with eyeballs that are continually looking
at it, you see much more clearly, because it’s like the picket
fence effect; you’re looking through it better.
And so we were trying to take advantage of that. We were trying to study
the oceans. We were looking for some geological features, and we had
three different scientists that were working with me on it. Bob [Robert
E.] Stevenson was at the Naval Research Institute; actually, it’s
Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] in La Jolla [California]. He was
looking at it from a Navy perspective, studying the oceans.
One of the interesting things that he had seen earlier was what looked
like what he called a backwards eddy. You get eddies where, you know,
you flush a toilet and things go around, and it looked like there were
a couple cases where there some going the wrong way, and he wanted to
know more about those, because they had some interesting implications
to the Navy, in that if that was true, then you were going to have a
zone where sonar didn’t penetrate; i.e., a submarine could hide.
So we set up a big program to find those, and we had trained on that.
Then two geologists, Lee [Leon T.] Silver, who is played up real highly
in all the Apollo stuff, and Bill [William R.] Muehlberger at the University
of Texas [Austin, Texas]. Lee Silver was at Caltech [California Institute
of Technology, Pasadena, California]. And they worked with me, picking
out geological things to look at. So that was that program, and that
was pretty much where I did it.
Now, on the last Skylab mission, it was eighty-four days long. I went
into it without really thinking ahead, and I got myself in a bind where
I had a critical job, or so I felt, and there was me. I didn’t
have a backup. I worked eighty-four straight days, sometimes twenty-four,
thirty-six hours straight, just because that’s the way it jammed
up, and I loved every minute of it. I felt like I was doing something
worthwhile and, you know, I was part of it. Then, unfortunately, that
program ended, and there it was.
Wright: What were
your thoughts at that time, knowing you were working in a program that
was ending? Did you have curiosity?
Lenoir: To be honest,
I didn’t think much about the ending. I tend to get engrossed
in what’s going on and not think too deeply into the next step.
I didn’t develop those abilities until later, and so right up
to the very last day I was trying to get in as much as we could on Earth
observations and to squeeze in the last solar work. There was going
to be plenty of time to think about it later, because there obviously
wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to do.
One of the things you had asked was about the potential of a rescue
on the middle mission, and my role on that was to get out of the way.
Basically the idea was that there was a backup command module, so that
we needed three, and we had four. One of them, the other one that was
never used—it might have been used for the Apollo-Soyuz [Test
Project], I don’t know. Otherwise it’s in some Smithsonian
[Institution, Washington, DC] somewhere.
It had three couches, and underneath the couches there was some deck
where you could get. In order to make room and have the weight and center
mass and everything right for returning three crewmen, it was decided
that a crew of two would go up and do that. The center guy, which was
me, would not go, and his couch would not go, and so whenever there
was training for rescue, Vance and Don did that, and I went off and
did something else, so that was real easy to support; it’s just
kind of get out of the way. Luckily, that never happened, although as
crewmen, I’m sure both Vance and Don had mixed feelings about
that. You don’t want anything to go wrong, but you sure do want
Wright: When you
were at MIT, you said that one of your areas was remote sensing. Did
you feel like some of the theories and some of the areas that you had
thought about, you were able to apply to your Skylab experience?
Lenoir: In a general
sense, yes. Specifically, no. At MIT I was in the Radio Astronomy Group,
and I was doing radio astronomy just like everybody else. The only thing
is that my subject was a lot closer than theirs. I was doing theory
around radio astronomy of the Earth from orbit, whereas they were doing
radio astronomy of Venus, stars, and other things, and so I was looking
to how do you look back in radio spectrum at the Earth and infer what
the temperature is as a function of height, way up, and if you have
a map of what that is over the Earth, then you can really make much
better predictions. It took, I think, fifteen years before the ability
of the hardware to be built caught up with what that was. But the idea
of sensing the Earth, in general, was what drove that whole Visual Observations
Program, and I felt like I was very much in the middle of it.
I had maintained my connections to MIT. I had resigned as principal
investigator on two things that were going to fly on Apollo Applications,
and became a co-investigator; let somebody else pick up the principal
role, since I didn’t have the time. But I was a co-investigator
on a whole handful of remote-sensing programs, some on manned spacecraft
and many on Nimbuses and things.
thing that you mentioned was that the investigators worked out their
issues and had this czar that took turns. Were there issues that had
to be worked out between what the PIs wanted and what the ground crews
wanted and what your Skylab crews wanted to do?
Lenoir: Not very
often. Occasionally there was a disconnect between what the PIs wanted
to do and what the ground team wanted to do. Some of the things required
reorienting the spacecraft. The solar experiments were lucky, because
since the spacecraft had solar cells, it was oriented to always point
to the Sun, and so obviously we pointed the solar telescopes in the
same direction, so the Sun was always out there. The Earth experiments,
if you weren’t going to have a person look out the window, but
you were going to take high-quality stuff out a very high-quality window,
well, then you had to reorient the spacelab [Skylab] so it pointed toward
Then there was the discrepancy between not just the orientation, but
crew time. One guy can only do one thing. He can either do solar science;
he can do Earth science; he can do some medical experiments, or he can
do housekeeping things as mundane as eat dinner or clean up, because
with only three people, everything that happens up there, happens by
one of those guys. There’s nobody that’s going to come in
after you and clean the restroom or any of that, and so it just takes
a lot of time. So usually it was around crew time.
I’d say the teams worked together very well, especially the Flight
Directors. There was Don [Donald R.] Puddy and Neil [B.] Hutchinson,
Chuck [Charles R.] Lewis, Milt [Milton L.] Windler, and Phil [Philip
C.] Shaffer, and when Chuck Lewis got sick with some gut problems for
a while, Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz came in and subbed for him for a while.
But those guys, in their heart, wanted it all to work, also, and the
only reason it was up there was for doing these experiments, so they
bent over backwards to try to make it work, and it was a good team.
The key thing usually was getting whoever thought they had a disagreement
together, so they could talk to each other and understand what each
other’s needs were, and why what you wanted to do was really going
to mess me up, why what I was going to do was going to mess you up,
and if I could understand yours, then maybe I can think a little bit
about mine. “Well, if I do it differently, then you can do it.”
It almost always came to a decent outcome.
We discovered that letting the PIs actually talk to the crew worked
out just fine, that it wasn’t a problem. It took a while on the
first mission. That’s one of the things that Pete learned that
the ground hadn’t learned that, “Hey guys, I can either
do the work you want me to do, or I can talk to you; but I can’t
do both. So every time we get a ground contact, don’t call me
and make me talk to you, because I’ve got to stop what I’m
doing and talk to you.” It took a while, but eventually they caught
on. What really helped was when Beano and his guys got so far ahead,
was that the attitude in the control center was, “Hell, let him
run. They’re doing better than we are.”
Wright: How did
you transition from your Skylab duties when they, of course, went away
because the program went away, to your duties to be part of this NASA
Satellite Power Team?
Lenoir: The first
thing I did was coming out of there, there was a NASA summer study at
Snowmass [Colorado], which is right next to Vail. It was summer, so
you don’t have to get suspicious; it was summer. I told them they
had the wrong time of the year. Being an Earth observer, I went and
I gave a talk, and I think it was a two-week summer study, and I had
a couple things that I was presenting. I took my family—my wife,
my son, my daughter, and my dog—and we drove out, rented a place
in Snowmass for a month, and so I worked for two weeks, which was really
nice, not bad work, and then stayed for another two weeks, just us.
My dog was a white German Shepherd, and at one point he got into a skunk
and learned what skunks were. I saw it happen. He saw it, he ran up
to it and grabbed it and gave it one shake, and then he threw it down
and then he yelped, and then he went running around the blacktop trying
to scrape his nose. Everybody said tomato juice is what you use. Well,
that dog was pink when we were done.
Wright: But was
the smell gone?
Lenoir: Yes, mostly.
As I’ve learned with another dog after that—but whenever
they get damp, the smell comes back for months.
And then I gave what was called—I called it a dog–and-pony
show. Everybody wants to always hear from the astronauts, and so for
the local community I talked for a couple hours on Skylab and showed
some slides and stuff, and I had referred to it at home as dog-and-pony
show, and somehow my daughter picked that up as its official title,
and she wanted to go see the ponies. No, it doesn’t work like
But that was kind of in the interim right after Skylab, and then I thought
I was going to do just like everybody else, which was sit around the
office without much to do, get back more deeply into my research. At
that time I was still officially an assistant professor of electrical
engineering at MIT, on leave. It wasn’t till a couple of years
after that I got a phone call from the head of the department wondering
if I was ever going to come back, and I said, “Gee, I don’t
know.” And he told me something I hadn’t realized, and that
was, did I realize that I used up a slot; that the department only has
so many slots, and by being on leave, I’m filling one of them.
And that afternoon, I resigned. I said, “Hey, that’s not
fair. You need more people,” and so I resigned. I hadn’t
realized I had done that to them.
So I anticipated getting more deeply back into the research, because
I’d gotten out of it pretty much, when Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt
called, Jack, who had been one of the last on the Moon, and then had
gone to NASA Headquarters [Washington, DC] to be Assistant Administrator
for Energy Programs. This was in the time frame of that first big Arab
thing with the oil, and everything’s expensive, and we’ve
got to do this, that, and the other. In my group, Joe [Joseph P.] Allen
had gone to Headquarters as Assistant Administrator for Legislative
Affairs, a job he was really good at. Joe was really good with people
and could work politics in a way that I couldn’t. I don’t
even think it right. I’m just an engineer, basically.
Jack called me and said that there was a bunch of people that were talking
about satellite power, getting a satellite up, big satellite with solar
cells, turning it into electricity, turning that into microwave energy,
beaming it down to the Earth, receiving it, detecting it, and then turning
it into AC power and putting it out on the grid, and he was putting
a team together to look at it. Would I lead the team for him? I said,
“I don’t know. Let me come talk to you.” Another excuse
to fly to Washington. It was the flight, not Washington.
So I flew up, and I talked to him about it, and I agreed to do that,
and I put a team together that had—golly, I’ve forgotten
names now. Somebody from Lewis [Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio], who
were into the solar cell stuff and some of the microwave; a guy from
Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama]; Hugh [Hubert P.]
Davis from JSC. What was his name? Somebody from [NASA] Ames [Research
Center, Moffett Field, California]. Gosh, I’m terrible with names.
He was crippled. Because they worked on some of the power sides of it,
also. I don’t think I had anybody from the Cape.
from Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland]?
Lenoir: No, I don’t
think so. Basically, the whole concept was there’s a satellite
with solar cells. Okay, so I need somebody in the solar cell side. Then
there’s the detection of that and turning it into microwave energy
and beaming it down and then receiving that, so I need somebody on the
microwave end of it. Then there’s the receiving and turning it
into regular power; well, any engineer can deal with that. Then there’s,
hey, look at all this megatons of stuff that has to go up; that’s
Houston and Marshall.
We met for two years, and we looked at that, and it was really interesting.
I started it fairly naïve, with no idea how to proceed, and kind
of figured it out as we went along. We involved Boeing [Airplane Company],
who were doing some systems studies on their own; Raytheon [Company],
who were doing systems studies; Spectrolab [Inc.], who made solar cells,
were part of the Raytheon team doing studies. What was his name at Rockwell
[International Corporation]; was a forward thinker. He’d done
some pontificating on it, and we talked with him.
Then we met and we just hammered some stuff out and looked at it from
a perspective that said if the end result is we want to put power on
the grid for people to use in their home, then the key measure is cents
per kilowatt-hour, and it’s real easy today to find out what’s
competitive. We can look at various projections as to where it may be
going, and do high, medium, low, and all that.
Then the question is, how much would this cost? Well, what would it
look like? How would you get it there? And so we put all that together.
We identified what we knew. We identified what we didn’t know.
We did a real rough sketch of programs that would let us learn what
we didn’t know but needed to know, and then we took some optimistic
guesses at what things might cost and projected that it would cost—I’ve
forgotten the numbers—so many cents per kilowatt-hour, which wasn’t
immediately competitive, but it wasn’t out of the question. But
we had obviously made some very optimistic assumptions along the way,
and we had said that.
We wrote three reports, submitted them. I was called up to testify to
the House and the Senate, which was a brand-new thing for me. It was
a big deal for NASA, because they wanted the program to go forward,
because they didn’t have anything. They had Shuttle coming and
nothing else, and so they wanted it to go forward, so it mattered to
them. Jim [James C.] Fletcher was the Administrator, and George [M.]
Low was the Deputy, and when Jack said I was going to brief the Senate,
because they wanted to be briefed, immediately Fletcher and Low got
in the loop, because they wanted to—so I had to dry-run this thing,
and I hate dry runs.
I’m reminded of a friend of mine, the same Jerry Grossman who
was my college classmate, who was at Harvard, who advised me medically.
He was drafted by the Air Force on the Berry Plan, so that he ducked
it initially, but eventually he had to go in. This was around the Vietnam
[War] time frame. Jerry was both an engineer and a medic, and he was
real big in computer-aided diagnosis, so he did a whole bunch of computer
stuff for the Air Force, and in some cases it was leading-edge. At one
point he had to brief the Secretary of Defense, and Jerry was one of
the least military people you can imagine, and it terrified everybody
in his chain of command. “My god, we can’t have him talk
“He has to. He’s the only one that understands what he’s
Everybody from him up had to have a dry run, and he was telling me afterwards—I
had dinner with him once when I was in flying school—he was saying
that the first thing he would do is, he said, “I don’t really
understand why I’m doing this dry run for you, because you have
no assurance whatsoever that what I’m about to tell you bears
any resemblance to what I’m going to tell the Secretary.”
Well, that didn’t make them real confident.
Then he gets up to Washington to brief the Secretary and finds out he
needs a certain uniform, dress blues. He doesn’t own a set of
dress blues, and so somebody arranges for him to borrow. It’s
a little bit big, but he’s doing it, and they’re waiting
around in the outer room for the Secretary, having coffee. Jerry excuses
himself to go to the bathroom. He goes to the bathroom; he stands to
the urinal, and he’s going to the bathroom, and he realizes he
doesn’t hear anything. He looks down, and he has peed all over
the front of his coat. At that instant somebody comes into the restroom
and says, “Come on, the Secretary’s ready.” So he
goes to brief him. [Laughs] So I’ve always thought about that
when I did all those dry runs, but I never had the guts to do it.
It was really interesting, because at one point they were really adamant
as to, “You’re going to brief the Administrator, you’ve
got to follow our rules. We need all of your stuff the night before
so we can make the right viewgraphs. You can’t do it on other
stuff.” So I sent them up, and I got them back the very next morning;
a couple of them are wrong, and so I didn’t say anything, I just
substituted my own home-done one that didn’t have the right overhead
or anything, but it was right, and I briefed them.
The interesting thing was, that I learned then, it’s very difficult
to brief both Jim Fletcher and George Low, if you do it the way I did
it, because I sent my charts up the night before. I start talking. Jim’s
the lead guy; he’s looking at it right now for the first time,
and he’s hearing me talk. George has read everything the night
before, and he’s got six detailed questions he wants to ask. Trying
to deal with both of them was really interesting. But I really respected
George. He’s one of my heroes.
We got all done, and George had some questions, and he pointed out some
things that weren’t quite the way it ought to be, and maybe if
we did this or that. He was also paying attention to keeping it right,
doing it with integrity, but seeing it this way instead of that way.
Why don’t I go home and think about that, and let’s talk
about it again in the morning.
So I came back the next morning, and Fletcher wasn’t there. Low
was, and I went through the stuff very quickly with him, and one of
the proudest moments was when I was all done—he hadn’t said
much when we went through. When I was all done, he just looked at me
and he says, “Outstanding.” And that was all he said.
Then I was off to brief the Senate, which was interesting, and the House.
That was the first time I had ever done that. And that was the upshot
of that, and to this day, I think what we said—and I probably
somewhere in some crate somewhere I have a copy of those reports—was
still true. Most of it is still unknown, and it’s probably not
very practical, certainly not with today’s cost of launch, and
we had to assume that we could get the price down, way, way down. I
always thought about it, as an ex-radio astronomer, that you look up
at the night sky, and it’s wonderful here. You know, if you had
a whole bunch of these things around the equator, you’ll look
up at the night sky and you’re going to see these, and they’re
going to block stuff, and I’m not sure we really want to do things
But anyway, that was an excellent mix of engineering and management
for me, in an unofficial way, where I was in charge and had to figure
it out as I went, without the slightest idea of how to get there from
here when I started, and it went out pretty well and got well received.
like it. Before we move into the areas of how you impacted the Shuttle
and that era, let’s take a break and change out some tapes and
just stop for a few minutes.
like to start this tape by asking you how your tasks and your assignments
were transitioning into the new era of the space agency, which was the
Shuttle era. How were you involved, and what were you learning about
how you were going to be involved with the Shuttle Program?
Lenoir: Okay. Let
me back up a minute in order to tie this together. One of the things
that I’ve been trying to do as I go through here is mention people
by name. Unfortunately, sometimes I forget the names of those that I
wasn’t real close with, but I try to do that because I think,
outside of the astronaut corps and some well-known people, Flight Directors,
John [W.] Aaron, etc., the people that are the real heart and soul of
the program don’t ever get any credit for it and hardly anybody
knows them by name, and all of them have names and they’re real
people, and so whenever I cross paths with them, I try to mention them
Way back in 1969 when I got back from flying school, shortly after that
in the Astronaut Office on the third floor, back by the coffee, a guy
came in and says, “Hi, I’m Dick [Richard H.] Truly,”
and he stuck his hand out, and sure enough, he had on the yellow badge,
and it said “Truly,” and I probably said some joke like,
“Truly?” We shook hands, and that’s when I found out
about the MOL, the Manned Orbiting Lab, astronauts coming from the military,
and met Dick and all of his cohorts, which included Al [Albert H.] Crews
who was too old to have been an astronaut, but he was out at Aircraft
Ops [Operations]. Subsequently, Dick Truly and Bob [Robert L. “Crip”]
Crippen became my very best friends to this very day. I wanted to go
back and mention that that’s when I first crossed paths with them.
I did a lot of work with Dick Truly around the Orbital Workshop. He
and I were both the engineering guys on that.
I worked with Bob [Robert F.] Overmyer on the airlock module with me
as well, and then subsequently Bob and I flew together. But in this
time frame, coming now into the real Shuttle Program out of the Satellite
Power Team—and this was in 1986; I did the Power Team from ’84
to ’86—we’re beginning to get a little bit more serious
about the Shuttle, and the astronauts are having a bigger role. I was
If I’m not mistaken, at this point George [W. S.] Abbey was the
Director of Flight Crew Operations. We went through a variety of things
here after Deke retired. We had Kenny [Kenneth S.] Kleinknecht for a
while, and then somebody—I’ve forgotten whom. Somewhere
along the line, George came up, and they invented this god-awful thing
of George and Gene being parallel and Cliff [Clifford E.] Charlesworth
being over them, and George and Gene never did get along.
But anyway, so I was assigned; I think I was assigned. I was the type
that if I wasn’t assigned, then I assigned myself something. I
don’t want to sit around here and wait for somebody to call and
not be doing anything. Where can I add value? And I know of at least
one of those where I wasn’t doing anything, and I asked Crip,
I said, “Hey, where can I add value?”
He says, “Hey, I’ve been working on these CRT [Cathode-Ray
Tube] displays. Why don’t you give me a hand here.”
But one of the things I got into then was the Spacelab, and I don’t
know whether that was ever an official assignment, but I took it on,
and my mentality said it makes a lot of sense for me to do a little
bit of stuff around Spacelab, because I have just come off from Skylab,
and I have a lot of experience, short of being on the crew myself, but
none of them are available right now, and so it makes a lot of sense.
So Joe Kerwin and Paul Weitz were also follow-on. It turns out that
Ed Gibson, who had flown eighty-four days on the last Skylab mission,
had retired, and he was under contract to ERNO [Entwicklungts Ring Nord
Organization, Space Division of Eum, VFW-Fokker-Mannheim] in Bremen,
Germany, for working on the Spacelab Program.
So I worked with that and tried to envision operations there and how
some of the discrepancies between the way they were doing it their way
and we were doing it our way in the Shuttle, which ones could we live
with and which ones couldn’t we live with. I remember getting
embattled in something around a computer, and I can’t even tell
you I remember what the issue was, but I was dead set that we were right
and they were wrong, and of course, they didn’t want to listen,
so they wanted to do it their way.
We went over to a preliminary design review that was real interesting.
It was, I think, two or three weeks. We started in Nordvik, Holland.
We rented a car and got around there, and then we drove from there to
Bremen, and then we drove back, and then we went back to Bremen and
back to Nordvik and home from there. But in one of the Bremen things,
the German computer software designers were fighting us because they
didn’t want to do it our way, and at one point they got to, sitting
there at the table, just talking back and forth very quickly in German.
[Imitates] Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, as though
we weren’t even there, and when they finished, I said, “Excuse
me, I need to go to the bathroom.”
And so one of the guys on our team, Gunter Sabionski, came too, and
I said, “Gunter, what did they say?” He’s excellent
in German, so he told me everything that they had said, and I said,
“Okay, we can’t live with that,” and so we went back.
We wound up prevailing, and to this day I think it was the right thing
So I saw that through the preliminary design review, and then did a
first rough-up of how would you activate it in an engineering sense,
you know, how you use it depends on what it is, and—let me get
the order right. Then I think is when I helped Crip around some displays,
and I’ve sort of picked up the SM, the system management, set
of software, to dig into that. Found a couple things I didn’t
think were right; wrote some change requests; defended them to Glynn
[S.] Lunney and convinced Glynn we needed to do those, and then those
Then I think it was in 1978—might have been ’7, but ’78,
when George asked me to follow the remote manipulator arm in Canada.
Don Lind had been following it, and Don is a—basically, he’s
a scientist; he’s a physicist. He’s not an engineer; he’s
not a practical operations person, which is what I’m all about.
So when I started that, that was quickly my conclusion, was that, “Nice
idea here, but this isn’t the way to implement it.”
I think the Canadians, by and large, liked me. There was a couple of
areas where we crossed paths, and one where I just couldn’t get
them to agree with me, and I wound up ramming it down their throat,
and it was the way they implemented their eight-ball, which was different
than the way the Shuttle did its. I told them the way they did it is
absolutely right for a crane-type operation. My problem was that if
we had eight-balls that were different; it was yaw, pitch, roll versus
pitch, yaw, roll, if you know what that means. That was a training problem,
and it was also a potential safety problem where in the heat of the
moment, a crewman might think wrong; think the other one and do something
wrong. They’ve just both got to be right, and there’s no
way in hell we’re going to change the Shuttle. Therefore you’ve
got to be pitch, yaw, roll. They didn’t agree. We wound up going
all the way up to whoever it was, Lunney or Charlesworth or somebody,
and they went our way. So it got rammed down their throat. They did
it. They resented it for a while, but I think, by and large, they appreciated
the new approach, where we were looking at, from an operations perspective,
and I helped them with some of their engineering things.
“How do we certify this thing? Let’s don’t just certify
it as a piece of hardware, but let’s certify it as a complete
system that’s got the human operator inside, so we’ve built
the procedures and everything.”
The first trip I made up there, I went with Lou [Louis V.] Ramon, who
was in the Flight Crew Support Division, dark, bearded person, Middle
East descent, which I have to pay attention to in order to even think
it, because I don’t notice things like that. One of the stories
I tell was, I’m very active in MIT alumni activities, and when
I was President of the South Texas Alumni Association for MIT, we had
a meeting and one of the new graduates was there, a fellow named Sam
Denard, and we talked and got into a whole bunch of stuff, and later
I was talking to somebody about Sam, and he was saying, “Yeah,”
and he said something about him being black. And I said, “Black?
We’re not thinking of the same guy. Sam’s not black.”
Well, turns out Sam’s black as the ace of spaces, and I hadn’t
noticed. So normally I don’t notice things like that.
But anyway, so Lou was with me. We had to make a connection in Chicago
[Illinois] to Toronto [Canada], and this was way, way back when. Well,
Lou, even at that, set off all kinds of alarms in their mind, and we’d
almost be strip-searched; and he always would. After the first time
I went through with him, I said, “Hey, we’re going through
one at a time. I’m going to pretend like I don’t even know
you.” And I decided, “This is dumb. We’ll lose a lot
of time connecting in Chicago; can’t get there from here. We’re
going to take T-38s.” And so I came back to Aircraft Ops and says,
“How do I work this? Don’t have a clue.” So I got
them to help me some.
I worked it with the U.S. State Department and the Canadian equivalent
of the State Department, and finally got an agreement through where
we could, on official government business, fly T-38s into Toronto, Montreal
[Canada], or Ottawa [Canada], all three places where they had some space
things. What I tried to sell was, “Hey, we’re government
employees on official government business. We’re flying airplanes
that don’t have long ranges. Especially in the wintertime, I want
the guys returning—especially since it’s going to be me
a lot of the times—to be able to focus on where’s the weather
the best, not where is Customs. So what if we just waive Customs, and
we’ll promise you that we’ll shoot anybody that breaks the
law?” Canada went along; the U.S. couldn’t.
So still, the very first hop down, you have to clear Customs, and people
have pointed out that—you know, when you fly in and out of Toronto,
you clear U.S. Customs there. My answer is, “Yes, you do, but
the airplane you fly in clears when it lands.” And so I was told
yes, I could clear, but I’d still have to do Customs for the airplane
when it first landed. But we got the deal going. We go in and out of
Canada like we didn’t exist; they don’t care. But we still
have to do Customs, and so we made a note of where the bases were, where
you could get Customs, and which ones were fast, and which ones weren’t.
Sometimes we’d bring back beer, and I was always honest. You can
bring back the equivalent of a six-pack, or wine or booze or whatever,
and I always told them what I had. A couple of times there would be
two or three six-packs of beer in the pod; gets it nice and cold. And
I’d tell them which was over and supposed to—nobody ever
made me pay duties. They said, “Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead.”
But anyway, that was one of my big contributions, was getting the ability
to use the airplanes so that I didn’t have to go the commercial
One of the times when I did do a commercial flight, though, I was making
a connection in Atlanta [Georgia] on the way home, and I sat, I think
it was, with Lou Ramon, I’m not sure. In Atlanta we had several
hours to kill in the bar, and on the little cocktail napkins in a ballpoint
pen roughed out the first set of flight procedures for the RMS [Remote
Manipulator System]. Drew the little pictures of how the talkbacks would
change and everything. When I got back from that trip, I handed them
to the procedures guy for the RMS and says, “Here’s the
first cut. Why don’t you pull these up and let’s see what
it looks like.” Somehow those have gotten lost to posterity. I
wish those napkins still existed.
But we did tests up there. We learned some things; learned how it works,
how it doesn’t work. We certified it for its use in their simulation
environment and looked at the flight hardware, and in the process, in
1978 we had the Thirty-Five New Guys come on board. John [M.] Fabian,
Sally [K.] Ride, and Norm [Norman E.] Thagard were assigned to me, and
so I got them involved in some of the RMS activities in Toronto. They
were really good guys, and it’s interesting that when their group
first flew the STS-7 with Crip, those were the three on their group
that flew on that flight, and so I always felt pretty good about, “Well,
it can’t be too bad to have worked for me.”
But the RMS came along. It was a really good machine, and it has behaved
well, and to the best of my knowledge, is still doing quite well and
still pretty much under the same procedures as we had back then. I’ve
occasionally gotten a question from a current astronaut; “Lenoir,
somebody told me to call you. Maybe you know why it’s this way.”
At one point I was asked, “You know, there’s a limit to
the minimum clearance you need on either side. Why is that?”
I said, “Well, that’s because that’s what it was certified
And, you know, “Well, why that?”
“Because when we were doing it, I thought that was a good number
and it would pass, and so we picked it. We made a mental note that it’s
probably better, and it probably is, but you’d still have to certify
it to that.” There’s a lot of corporate knowledge that’s
gotten lost along the way.
That segued into the In-flight Tile Repair Program. Prior to the STS-1,
there was the issue of the tile and whether it would stay on and what
do you do if it doesn’t. I’m going to run up against one
little issue here that’s probably no big deal now, but I treat
these whole things seriously. There’s some classified information
in here that I’ll skirt around and you can decide whatever you
want about it.
So the question was what do we do about it; what can we do about it.
There were three concepts. One involved the Manned Maneuvering Unit
being built by Martin Marietta; another involved the RMS; and then a
third involved a combination of ground sitings and MTV, Maneuverable
TV, a Max [Maxime A.] Faget kind of a thing.
Basically, all those were melded into one from a crew perspective, and
I was in charge because of the RMS activity. So I transitioned from
being purely an RMS guy to now spending a lot of time in Denver on their
simulator, doing it with the Manned Maneuvering Unit. We pulled that
whole thing together. I kept Crip and John [W.] Young involved. We had
procedures. We did things on the zero-G airplane that tested the material,
tested your ability to attach, and all of that.
Basically had a program, and that’s one of the examples I use
of how a program ought never be run. There was a long period of time
where the official contract documentation and reality at Martin were
180 degrees out of phase, where the program is contractually cancelled,
and we are full steam ahead working on it. The contract is fully up
to date, and we’re full speed ahead, and we have stopped, and
it’s always because the contract lagged reality. I’ve forgotten
what it was; it’s like thirty-something people were employed full-time
by Martin just to keep the paper chasing around; not adding any value
to the program. That wound up going away when at some level it was decided
we’d accept the risk, and that worked out fine.
At some point around there, the assignment of the first six flight crews
to Shuttle was made by George, then that’s because the first six
were considered the Orbital Flight Test. The ALT, the Approach and Landing
Tests, had happened somewhere in that same time frame, and I was only
peripherally involved with that because Dick Truly was, and he was a
good friend of mine. I used that to scrounge some flying time and some
touching near it and things like that.
At that time, and I assume they still do, for flights or anything where
there’s risk, a crewman is assigned as—handholding might
not be the right term, but is assigned the spouse of one of the flight
astronauts to take care of and, in good times, to make sure that he
or she understands what’s going on and how it’s going, and
in bad times, is there to help get through the issues. Dick’s
wife, Cody, was not the easiest person for some people to get along
with, but we were good friends, and so whenever Dick flew, I was the
person that would work with Cody. And we’d joke about it and have
a good time.
So I managed to go out and see some of the ALT things while I was doing
these other things. But once the crews were announced, the first six,
as I said, were considered Orbital Flight Test, with the premise being
that it’s operational after that. Then, obviously, things change
as you go. The first four were two men in Columbia with ejection seats
up front. The fifth flight was also on Columbia, but it was the first
four-man crew. The ejection seats were still in, but they were disabled.
Then the sixth flight was the first flight of Challenger; four men with
no ejection seats.
The assignment to the fifth crew was Vance Brand, Hank [Henry W.] Hartsfield
, Joe Allen, and myself, so Joe and I were the first two from our group
to be assigned flight assignments. Subsequently when Fred [W.] Haise
retired, before STS-3 where he was to command, Jack Lousma moved up
to command, and Gordon [C. Gordon] Fullerton moved from four to three,
and Hank Hartsfield moved from five to four, and Bob Overmyer moved
from six to five. So our crew, in fact, was Vance, Bob Overmyer, Joe
Allen, and myself, and Joe and I were the first mission specialists.
I got into a debate with Vance around the ejection seats. They were
going to be disabled; were, in fact, disabled, I think, and were not
going to be used, and Vance was comfortable with that. My take was,
why the hell should you lose four people if you could only lose two?
If I’m one of the two that you’re going to lose, I’m
going anyway. Why shouldn’t two of you get out? But Vance was
never comfortable with that, so we flew with hot seats, but there were
no procedures or plans to use them.
Then we trained as a crew, and subsequently, parts of our mission were
called the first operational flight, because we, in fact, did operational
things. We launched two satellites that were paying money for it. Back
in those days, the Shuttle was going to be the be-all and end-all launch
vehicle for everybody’s everything, and a lot of the reason it’s
the way it is today was for some of the military launch requirements.
So our two big things were to launch two satellites and to perform the
first spacewalk, and then we had a bunch of other “dogs and cats,”
as I call them, and some student experiments; a whole bunch of engineering
tests to run, data to take, and so on.
The training was fairly straightforward, and we were clicking down the
flights. Crip and John did their thing, with the big unknown there of
nothing’s ever been done before. Will the tiles stay on? Rockwell
had a hell of a time getting them to stay on on the ground. Will they
stay on with the rigors of space? And the answer is, fine; that worked.
Wright: Where were
you on that first Shuttle flight?
Lenoir: I was just
an observer, kind of just like I was on Apollo 11. I was in the viewing
room in the control center. Had gotten into some loops based on some
classified data that gave us a little bit of insight into what was going
on, and I was in that loop only because of the In-flight Tile Repair
Program, so that I was supposedly smart about some of that stuff. But
there were no issues.
Then Joe [H. Engle] and Dick did their thing, and Jack Lousma and Gordo;
of course, they landed at Northrup [Strip], at White Sands [Missile
Range, New Mexico]. Nobody’s done that since. I guess Columbia,
when she went recently, still had some of that [gypsum], I’m sure.
They never could get that out.
The memorable thing about Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly [II] and Hank Hartsfield
was that they landed on the runway, on the hardtop, at Edwards [Air
Force Base, California], and the President [Ronald W. Reagan] met them,
and one of Ken’s comments was that he didn’t like that kind
of a thing, because you’ve been in space, you’re a little
bit disoriented. You’re going to walk down the stairs, and the
first thing you’re going to do is shake the hands of the President
of the United States, and he was worried that he was going to walk down
and just fall flat on his face. Hank’s comment to him was, “Well,
then there’s only one thing you can do.”
“Well, what’s that, Hank?”
And so he says, “Nice shoes, Mr. President.” [Laughs] So
we used to joke about that.
Then our turn came, and unlike the others, we launched to the second
of our intended time that was picked, I think, like a year ahead. We
didn’t have any delays; we just, you know, click, click, click,
click, click. Boom, off we went.
Help me get started on that, unless—is there anything up before
that that I should have talked about but missed?
Wright: We can
talk about it while we talk about your flight, because I want to talk
about the EVA training that you went through and some of the simulations.
Lenoir: I should
go back, because in that same time frame with the RMS, I also became
the lead astronaut for EVA, that Rusty [Russell L.] Schweickart had
been, and then he retired after Skylab. He was the backup to Pete Conrad.
He retired somewhere in that time frame, and then I picked up the lead
EVA for the Astronaut Office; I don’t know why. I had trained
for it in Skylab, for one thing, so I had the training and everything.
One of the stories I like to tell was we had the big water tank back
in Building 220 in the back of JSC, and you had to be qualified there,
and I remember for a requal [requalification] at some point after a
long down period, I was scheduled for the requal there. I’ve mentioned
I was brought up in Miami and I’m very comfortable in water. So
I went there, and I was told that—I think it was fifteen feet
deep, maybe twenty; I don’t remember—okay, everything’s
down on the bottom, that you dive in and you go down there and you don
your scuba gear down there. Then you do all your exercises and stuff,
and then when you’re all done, you doff it down there and then
you come back up and you come on out.
But before I start, when I jump in, I’m supposed to tread water
with my hands out of the water for a half hour. All right, I’m
easy to get along with, so I do that, and then we start the whole thing.
I go down; I get it. I get the stuff on. I do my stuff. I interact with
them, and we’re all done, and we’re debriefing, and I asked
them, “What was that all about?”
He said, “Oh, that’s just to get your heart rate up, because
we don’t want you to come in there real cold. We need to get your
heart rate up.”
I said, “Oh, I probably should have told you that I came here
from having just run ten miles.” [Laughs]
And he said, “Yeah, you probably should have.”
So I was the lead EVA person, which meant that primarily I worked up
the procedures for the emergency cargo bay door closure. That was the
only emergency EVA we had was if they didn’t close—they’ve
got to close for you to come home—then you go out, and basically
you winch them closed and you tie them down. I worked up those procedures
and spent a lot of time in a water tank doing that, and so to that extent
it was natural for me to do the first EVA, but the real reason was that
we wanted to do an EVA as soon as we could so we got all the things
done before we needed to do an EVA, and we could do some engineering
tests on it. But we weren’t comfortable doing it before we had
a crew of four, and so logically, the first crew of four, whoever they
are, are going to do the EVA, and that happened to be Joe and me.
Of course, as it turned out, we didn’t do an EVA. We had two unrelated
suit problems that made his suit inoperable and mine questionable. His
had a problem in the pump, and there’s a single pump that moves
both the oxygen and the water, and the Hall effect switch in his pump
circuitry had gotten wet and it wasn’t working, so he was clearly
no-go. I think, as I recall, the space suits are supposed to hold 4.3
pounds per-square-inch pressure, pure oxygen. Mine was holding 4.1,
and it was rock solid, and it was solid there, which is safe. The ground
did what was the right thing to do, which was to say, “We don’t
understand this. We don’t have to do this EVA, so let’s
Of course, we tried to talk them into it. It was made more difficult
by Joe being inop[erable], because now I’m trying to talk them
into not only are we going to go EVA with a suit that you don’t
really understand, but there’s only one person going to be out
there, so you don’t have a buddy system, so clearly that didn’t
What we did was we put me in the airlock and closed the door and we
did a partial decompression, trying to see what was going on with my
suit, so I got in near vacuum, although I was never outside, and the
suit held lock-tight. Subsequently, post-flight we found out that there
was a spacing washer, spacer, in the pressure regulator that had been
omitted, and so instead of holding to 4., it was holding to 4.1.
It would have been perfectly safe there. Knowing what the problem was,
there was no issue; but not knowing, there was, and so that’s
just the way it worked out.
As an engineer, I can say after the flight that it’s a hard thing
to admit, but we learned far more from Joe and me not doing that EVA
than we would have if everything had gone well. The problem with his
Hall effect switch and the circuitry we found early. We could have found
it on a mission that we needed an EVA. The quality-control problem around
mine, we could have found when we needed to do an EVA, and we probably
would have done it, but a lot of people would have lost a lot of sleep
about that. So we learned a lot more, but that wasn’t the most
comforting way to do it.
Our main thing was launching the two satellites. That was one of my
main jobs. The other job was to invent the mission specialist role for
the ascent and entry portion of the flight, that clearly two people
can get a Shuttle into orbit and back, because they had proven it, and
they had done it four times. On the other hand, if you’ve got
another set of eyes and ears and a brain, you’d be stupid not
to use it. The seating is such that there’s the two forward seats
with the commander and the pilot, and then the two seats behind them
are skewed a little bit so that the left of the after ones is actually
between the commander and the pilot. On the STS-5 configuration, that
was the only other seat. There were only three seats on the flight deck,
because there wasn’t room for the fourth with the ejection seats
in there, because they’re huge. Subsequent missions, you do have
four seats up there.
So Joe and I agreed that I would do that seat on going uphill, and he
would do it coming downhill, and so that that way we both got it, and
we didn’t have to have somebody else tell us how to do it or who
was going to do it. I took the lead in inventing the role from the ascent
perspective, and a lot of that carried into the descent perspective.
Joe was a very excellent scientist and also a very good person for dealing
politically with people. Less so was he an engineer, whereas I was,
I thought, a very good engineer. Not the world’s greatest scientist,
although I’ve got my union card from MIT, and, God knows, I’m
the last person you’d send in to deal with something politically.
I used to take advantage of that when I was at Headquarters. In our
meetings I’d say something outrageous just to make sure the lawyers
would be uncomfortable ever having me go testify or go to court, and
I’d do it intentionally.
So I did the ascent and basically invented that role, along with Vance
and Bob. They’re going to do their thing; how can I help? Well,
the obvious thing is I’ve got a checklist, and I read and tell
them what to do and look over their shoulder and make sure that it did
happen and help them interpret the feedback from that, and in the event
of off-nominal caution, warning, or whatever, immediately get out the
book and work us through the malfunction procedures and help us get
through other things, so that I would try to back them up, which meant
that I needed to learn their systems so I knew how they worked.
As an engineer, I always liked to do that. It’s like I tell my
wife; we go out to buy a toaster, and most people are looking at it
for how it works. Well, if you leave me alone for five minutes, I’ve
got it apart, because I’m going to figure out how it breaks and
then how do you deal with it.
[Officially I was MS (Mission Specialist)-2, and Joe was MS-1; however,
we reversed roles for entry with Joe performing the MS-2 Orbiter duties.
MS-2 was MS with Orbiter duties (flight engineer) during ascent and
entry. We jokingly called me the MS-2/1 and Joe the MS-1/2.] So we invented
and then performed that Flight Engineer role, if you like. We launched
two satellites and didn’t do an EVA.
The satellite launches went off wonderfully. That was another case of
never been done before, hasn’t been invented, and so preflight,
we had to look at the schematics, work up the procedures, work with
the customer for how it goes. I can remember my clients at Satellite
Business Systems. Subsequently that was a part of MCI [Inc.], but he
[Mike Lyons] was the Vice President of Engineering. It’s interesting,
when I got to Headquarters, I hired him. So he was the guy I dealt with,
and the thing was that in those days—again pre-TDRS—I think
we only had communication with the ground something like 15, 20 percent
of the time. We never had communication with the ground crossing the
equator. These things were going to get launched crossing the equator.
By definition, we are not in communication with the ground, so when
I coined the term Orbital Launch Director, that person really was the
Launch Director, the final say for whether you launched it out of the
Shuttle or not.
We would go through simulations, and I knew, I think, more about the
system than the trainers did, and so I spent as much time training them
as they spent training me, and I helped Sim Sup [Simulation Supervisor],
oh God I went blank for a minute. Chuck [Charles W. Shaw]— Air
Force major who was one of the Sim Sups putting in the malfunctions,
and I would tell him the things that I thought we needed to look at,
and sure enough, we’d see them, and not too surprisingly, I’d
But one of the things was in the mission rules was the temperature of
the solid rocket. This thing that’s back there spins. It’s
spin stabilized; it has a solid rocket, and you point it right with
the Shuttle, and then its spin table spins it up, pushes it off on a
spring, and half an orbit later, it lights off. Its ignition sequence
got initiated when it left, and you can’t turn it off, so you
want to be gone. But it’s got to be pointed right, and one of
the mission rules was the temperature of the rocket engine needed to
be, I don’t know, 55 degrees, plus or minus 5, or it’s no-go.
“Mike, how did you get that number?”
“Well, that’s what analysis says it’s supposed to
Says, “Well, you realize if it’s 56 degrees, when launch
time comes, I’m not going to launch it,” and we won’t
get a shot again until day three, cause you’re on day one. TELESAT
is on day two. Your second chance, and their second chance, also, comes
up on day three. Who knows if we’ll still be in orbit?
“Let me think about that. Okay, Bill, yeah, we’ve got new
numbers. It’s 65.”
“Roger, Mike.” If it’s 66 degrees—we did this,
I think, three or four iterations.
Finally in the last iteration, he said, “Bill, launch. It doesn’t
matter. If it’s off-scale high, launch.” So I had to pick
on those things that they had decided, based on nominal analysis, what
it should be, and they then translated that to those are our limits.
I say, “No, what are your real limits? Beyond this, it won’t
work right. That’s what it’s supposed to be.” So some
of our training was training them how to deal with their own equipment.
We got up there, and everything was perfect, and it went off just fine.
Then Joe was the Launch Director on the next day’s one, and so
I supported him from the background. Then the EVA was going to be on
day three, if we didn’t need to do a backup one of those. On our
mission, I think as early as day two, Bob Overmyer wasn’t feeling
good, and he admitted it, and, you know, he filled a couple of bags.
I never stopped giving Bob credit. We had a bunch of engineering tests
to do. Sitting up in the pilot’s seat, taking data, doing this,
that, and the other, he never missed a step. He didn’t feel worth
a damn. He’d puke his guts out, and he’d get back to work.
And he felt crappy for two days.
About a half a day or a day after he started, I felt bad, and talking
later to Bill Thornton, Bill was saying that he thought what happened
was I had myself so psyched up for the two launches that I didn’t
let myself get sick, and that as soon as the second one was gone, I
relaxed, and my body said, “Wait a minute. We don’t like
this,” and so I got sick is the only way to call it. The real
way I describe it is for about a day and a half, I felt like I had a
low-grade hangover. Just like Bob, I could do anything, but I really
didn’t want to do anything other than “curl up on the couch”
and sleep it off, and basically that’s what happened. We postponed
the EVA for a day. I just kind of sacked out in the middeck, and then
we gave it a try on the fourth day for the EVA, and that didn’t
Both Vance and Joe had slow days, but they didn’t have days like
Bob and I did. Vance had an early slow day or two, where you could just
tell, this isn’t the same Vance. And Joe kind of ran himself out
of gas the last day, because he wasn’t sleeping real well, and
some combination of that and he was making adaptation, and he needed
to get some sleep, because I remember at one point he says, “Hey,
Bill, take over.” He was doing a student experiment. “Here,
finish this for me.” He says, “I’ve just got to get
“Okay.” And so it was an interesting thing—I’d
never seen it before; and maybe I could figure it out. So it worked
out fine. But that was interesting, and it was consistent with data
all the way back through Apollo that said about half of the crew will
exhibit some kind of a transition. You can call it being space sick,
space adaptation syndrome, you know, all kinds of names that it’s
had, and basically, it’s just your system’s got to get used
to it. Your brain’s getting data from your eyes as to where things
are; it also gets data from your ears, as to which way’s up and
what’s going on; and for a while, in space, those aren’t
telling it the same thing.
Even today I have days where I realize this is a day where my brain
won’t listen to my ears, and at least I’ve figured that
out, and I don’t close my eyes a lot in the shower when I’m
standing on one foot. So you go through that. No big deal once we learned
it, and that’s what had hit Bill Pogue on Skylab , but we hadn’t
learned as much. I think that that’s consistent with what the
Russians have learned. I’m not inside of what’s going on
now, but I can’t for a minute believe that’s not the same
thing that’s still happening, because humans are humans.
Anyway, that was pretty much our mission. It was pretty much as planned.
We launched, like I said, to the second on November 11th. We landed
five days and a couple hours later on the sixteenth, and came home.
Wright: Any thoughts
you’d like to share on the launch and the landing? I mean, you
waited fifteen, sixteen years to fly.
Lenoir: I tend
to be fairly relaxed. I sleep easily; I can sleep anywhere, anytime.
In the Skylab training, when Vance and Don and I were doing a command
module test at the Cape for—I’ve forgotten whether it was
for Bean’s crew or for Gerry’s crew. It was a suited test
in the command module in a vacuum chamber. The vacuum chamber is pumped
down, so the command module is in a vacuum, and the engineers outside
are taking a million measurements. And then we’re supposed to
evacuate the inside of the cabin, and they’re making a million
measurements. We don’t do a damn thing. Well, when you don’t
do a damn thing, I go to sleep. The flight surgeon called and made Vance
wake me up. I used to run a lot before I got a bad hip, and my heart
rate was getting into the thirties, which they don’t like, and
the flight surgeon tried to cancel the test. They talked him out of
it, but only if Vance would keep me awake, because then he’d make
me move and do things, and my heart rate would stay in the low forties.
So I tend to be fairly relaxed.
When we got strapped in on the pad, we were not in space suits. We were
not in what they do today; we were just in our blues. We strapped in,
and “Ox” [James D. A.] van Hoften strapped me in. A story
on Ox was, much later, when I was at Booz Allen [& Hamilton, Inc.]
and consulting, Ox worked for Bechtel [Corporation]. As a matter of
fact, he was the senior VP [Vice President] that was in charge of putting
in that new Hong Kong [International] Airport [Hong Kong, China], and
one of my senior partners [Bruce Pasternack] was in charge of consulting
for Bechtel, from Booz Allen, and he met Ox one day at a big senior
management meeting, and Bruce went up to him and says, “Hey, maybe
you know a partner of mine, Bill Lenoir.”
And Ox looked at him and says, “Know him?” He says, “I
strapped him into the Shuttle.”
But Ox strapped me in, and then as soon as he got out and they closed
the door, and we’ve got two or three hours to kill, I unstrapped,
curled up, and went sound asleep. Vance woke me up a half an hour or
so before launch. I strapped back in, talked him through the checklist,
and based on previous history, I fully expected we’d get up somewhere
close, and we’d wave off; we’ll try it again tomorrow. We
counted down, and you could feel the—just like the crews before
us said, you can feel the main engines when they come on. You hear them.
Actually, at five minutes you feel the hydraulic pumps come on, and
then you feel the main engines come on, and just like it’s supposed
to, the stack rocks over and then rocks back, and when it gets right
there, [indicating vertical], is when the solids go. That’s why
the main engines light at seven seconds before; it’s because that’s
a seven-second period, and it will keep going. It will do that for a
while till it settles out, but you catch it right here, point it straight
up. Then you blow the bolts, light the solids, and sure enough, there
was this bang, and off we went, and it was a rough ride, is the best
way to describe it.
I remember at one point Overmyer said to Vance, because the crews before
us hadn’t commented on how rough it was, and Bob said, “This
is really rough.” I mean, it would shake your teeth. Bob said,
“This is too rough, Vance. I’m afraid we’re going
to come apart.”
And on a whim, I just said, “Relax, Bob. No use dying all tensed
up.” You know, I’m the scientist and he’s the test
pilot, and he was reminding me of that later. And sure enough, in two
minutes it all got quiet and peaceful. The solids went away, but they
were a really rough ride. Then riding on the mains, the [ride] was like
an electric engine [imitates sound], and you don’t feel it. People
say, “What about the G-load?” The G-load’s nothing;
you pull more Gs than that in an airplane. The Shuttle won’t take
more than 3 Gs, and if you fly an airplane the way I fly it, you’re
out there intentionally pulling 7 or more Gs a lot. It’s not like
Apollo, where on reentry you might pull 10 Gs.
So that’s very nice, and we got up and, boom, main engine cut
off right on time, and so now we’re in zero gravity, and we’re
coasting toward our first OMS [Orbital Maneuvering System] burn to circularize,
and my first reaction was, “Uh-oh, something went wrong. I’m
not in zero-G.” I’m firmly in my seat and everything. I
took the checklist, and I held it out in front of me and I let it go,
and it just stayed there. I says, “Well, it’s okay after
all.” I’d strapped in so tight, it just felt like I still
had G on me.
Then we got organized and went into our “Okay, let’s secure
things. Let’s make sure that we’ve got the pins in the seats,
and all that stuff is taken care of, and we don’t do anything
dumb, and we get ready for the burn and secure things. Get the doors
open after the burn.” Then we moved right into the first sequence
for the first satellite deploy, and that was good to get that off successfully.
Then we had dinner and went to bed.
There were four of us, and there were official places to sleep, and
we told them we didn’t need all that stuff. Bob slept in a real
sleeping bag that was designed for that purpose. He did it to test it
out for the engineers. Vance didn’t like moving around a whole
bunch, so he would tether himself with a little clip or something to
a handrail so he’d be right there, and one night he scared hell
out of himself. When you’re relaxed in zero-G, your arms are up
here [gestures]; they’re not down by your side, but they’re
up here, and I’d learned in all of my EVA training, because one
of the reasons I did so well at it was that—a pressurized suit
has a certain shape whether you’re in it or not. That’s
the zero-energy shape. Don’t try to relax the way you want to
be; relax the way the suit wants to be. But Vance was sleeping, and
he kind of woke up in the middle of the night, and here’s something
right out in front of his face, and it scared the hell out of him. It
was his own hands.
I got myself in a little zone in the aft part of the flight deck, up
over a panel, where there was a side panel end. It was actually the
RMS place, where the RMS would have been, but we weren’t carrying
one, that you could bend it [yourself] just a little bit, and you’d
fit right in, and then you relax out. But if you were relaxed, you didn’t
fit back out the opening. So I just kind of freely bounced around in
there, being real careful that I wasn’t going to hit any switches
or anything, and that’s where I slept. Joe was comfortable just
wherever he was; he’d just go to sleep. He might wake up in a
totally different place, but that didn’t bother him. So that’s
how we slept and did that the first night.
The food was the food. After having been back up on Skylab with that
awful mess, the regimentation was worse than the real stuff there, but
the food was good, not great, but good; but then just like flying an
airplane. You don’t fly airplanes for the food; to get somewhere.
We weren’t there for the food.
I think you or somebody is always asking about spare time. Well, in
five days, we didn’t have any. I still maintain to this day the
main thing that you need for using spare time is a window where you
can see the Earth, and you can amuse yourself for months, just looking
out at the Earth and watching it go by and seeing different changes
and everything. You don’t need a deck of cards or anything like
that. But we spent some time looking out. We took a lot of pictures.
I still had my old Earth observations mentality and had some specific
things that we were going to try to get.
Some of the things that we did way back in Skylab we specifically went
after. I remember we went after Lake Chad in sub-Saharan Africa, because
we’d documented that pretty good back in Skylab, and then ten
years later we look at it, and it’s obvious that the water in
that area is going down; it’s decreasing. So you could see some
very interesting ten-year differences there.
But that’s pretty much it. We didn’t have a lot of spare
time, and then it was time to come home.
Wright: How was
the landing? Was it what you had prepared for?
Lenoir: Oh yes.
We landed on the concrete at Edwards. At least I think—yes, we
did. I was in the middeck, and Bill Thornton had talked both Joe and
I into doing some tests for him both on ascent, on orbit, and on entry,
where he was monitoring how your eye movements go and how you react
to that, so he had sensors on. You’ve probably seen some pictures
of both of us looking rather stupid with this thing out in front that’s
going back and forth, up and down, and we’re following it with
our eyes, and I was really concentrating to do Bill’s thing right,
because I had a lot of respect for him as both an engineer and a medical
doctor, and thought that he was really on top of a lot of the problems,
whereas the medical community, I thought, were out in left field on
some of them. So I was concentrating on that.
The only thing I was aware of was it got a lot warmer in the middeck
than I had anticipated it would. It really got warm in there, and I
could hear them on the intercom, but I wasn’t watching anything,
and Vance really greased it on. It was one of those—no jokes.
“Hey, tower. Are we down?” And then one of our tests was
to do a maximum braking test, and so Vance really got on the brakes,
you know, smoked the brakes. But we were supposed to, and we landed
nice and sharply, and got off and it was over. We walked down the stairs
and “machoed” it out of there.
Wright: After that
flight, you worked on mission development. Can you share what that task
the Astronaut Office, at any given time you’re divided up into
sections. You’ve got a bunch of people that are assigned to flights
or backups that are training. Then you have other people that are taking
care of things that astronauts have to get dealing with. Nowadays, or
at least in those days, there was two other parts. One dealt with the
piloting aspects of it, and then the other dealt with the mission aspects
of it. The piloting dealt with getting to and from orbit, and the mission
aspect dealt with what did you do when you were in orbit.
So I led a small group of astronauts that followed the various things
that we were being asked to do or to deal with in orbit. I was the directorate
member of Leonard [S.] Nicholson’s Control Board for Mission Development
that had the vote for FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate] as to
whether that’s right, wrong, or indifferent, and I tried to take
it seriously and worked real hard at it. I got other opinions, and I
think I developed a lot of respect, that unlike some of the people before
me, I wasn’t just coming in shooting from the hip with no knowledge.
Things were well thought out, and I’d give them answers when they
needed answers, and everything worked well.
But it was making sure that as the missions got integrated, they got
integrated from the flight crew perspective as well, so that it was
a workable thing and that they didn’t interfere with one another
or involve something that’s not the right way to do it. It was
fun and interesting and got me a little bit into the NASA management
scheme of things.
Wright: In September
of 1984 you left the astronaut corps. Can you tell us why you made that
Lenoir: Yes, I
had been assigned as the lead mission specialist on the Spacelab D-2
mission, the German mission. Bonnie [J.] Dunbar was another one, and
had started taking German at my request. We had some ideas in the Astronaut
Office that weren’t always popular, and in some cases, in retrospect,
weren’t always right. But in that time frame, we were concerned
about the people that wanted us to be off somewhere else doing a lot
of training, long times in your flight, where some of the mission specialists,
in particular, needed to be part of the launch crew and couldn’t
be gone for that long.
So we drew a line in the sand—John Young was the director of the
office then; George Abbey was the head of FCOD—that said three
weeks was the longest continuous time that it was okay for an astronaut
to be away, and in particular what we were thinking of was the Spacelab
missions where you would be in Europe, that we just didn’t want
somebody to have to go over there for six months and then go native
on us and come back and not really be an astronaut anymore. That got
all the way up to the Control Board, with Glynn Lunney presiding, and
I made the pitch, told them what the answers were from our perspective.
And to this day I’ll never forget it; John Young and George Abbey
were there, sitting behind me, letting me make this whole thing, and
Glynn looked at them and said, “What do you guys think about this?”
And George’s answer was, “We can deal with it anyway.”
So Glynn disapproved it, and I decided that, based on principle, that
I really believed what I was saying, so I went to George’s office
and asked him to take me off of the D-2 crew, that I really felt like
I had said the right thing, and he ought to take me off that crew, and
I’d go on a subsequent crew.
But at the time I knew George well enough to know that—well, there’s
an old Army term, that I had just shit in my mess kit. So I was forty-four
and already aware that if I’m going to have another career, it’s
not getting easier by waiting, and so I had begun to think about what
am I going to do next. In retrospect, I think if I had stayed, I would
have flown again. George would have rubbed my nose in it somewhere along
the line, but I would have flown again. I didn’t want to be like
Story and fly seven or eight times and retire there.
Then out of the blue I get a phone call from a headhunter who said he
was representing somebody in the consulting business who was looking
for an astronaut to run a business, and I said, “Who is it?”
And he said, “Well, I can’t tell you until we get any further.”
And I says, “Well, then I guess we don’t go any further.”
He said, “Well, then I can tell you. It’s Booz Allen.”
And never being one that obeyed rules very well, I asked him who it
was, who was the contact, and I called the contact; basically worked
directly with him. The headhunter got his money when it was all said
But it was Booz Allen. They were looking for somebody to come up at
the principal level and start a space business for them. I interviewed
with them twice. They offered me a job, and I accepted it. It was one
of those “I take this now, or this isn’t going to stay open,”
because they’re not going to be able to stop. And it seemed to
fit with where they wanted to go and the capabilities I had, although
I didn’t know how to get there.
So I accepted the job, and then I left NASA, and I went into the consulting
business. Again, fairly naïve from a business perspective, and
first thing I discovered was that there had been a small space business
there that they wanted me to take over and build, and it took me a year
to finally deal properly with that. The answer wasn’t to build
that; the answer was to get rid of that and build the right space business.
They were into what they called space commercialization, and they had
a couple of contracts with NASA Headquarters, going around talking to
companies, GEs [General Electric Company], 3Ms, etc., trying to sell
this to Shuttle, that you should be doing research in space, and trying
to help facilitate all that.
I told my boss, a senior Vice President named Pete Wood, that, “Pete,
I really believe in commercial space. I really believe in it, but not
this decade, and we don’t have the patience to wait. That’s
not the right place to take this business. The right place to take this
business is around what I call space operations. There’s a whole
bunch of people that deal with engineering, all kinds of contractors,
consultants that are under contract to NASA, all around engineering.
Nobody is helping them deal with the operational issues, and that’s
what I’m all about.”
He disagreed with me, and we decided, in a friendly way, to take it
up to his boss, who was Gary [D.] Mather, who was the president of the
technical side of the company at the time. Gary agreed with me; decided
that Pete wasn’t going to be behind it enough to really nurture
it right, so he reorganized and had me report directly to him.
Several months later, Pete Wood retired and left, and the first thing
I did then was I had ten people I had to get rid of, because they were
the wrong people. They didn’t have the skill basis I needed. A
couple of them were not easy to get rid of; some of them were. One of
them was a female, who was not very good, to put it bluntly. There was
a couple of males that weren’t very good, either, but they were
easy to fire. Females weren’t that easy to fire in 1984. She was
one of these “New Agers.” She wanted to do her thing and
wasn’t always kept under control, and so I came up with what I
thought was a very innovative way to deal with it, after having talked
once with the lawyers and concluded, “God, I can’t deal
with this.” I transferred her to one of my principal colleagues
named Joyce [C.] Doria. Joyce tried to make it work, and Joyce fired
her. That worked out fine. There weren’t any big issues there.
One of the guys I fired, helped him find a different job within Booz
Allen, in contracting, and he subsequently several times came back and
thanked me. I had two of them thank me for firing them, because they
were really in the wrong job and I told them that, and then they went
in a different direction and succeeded.
So then I started to rebuild and went out to build a business, with
no idea how to do it, but what I discovered was my instincts around
business were very good, and that even though I didn’t have the
school learning, my instincts were pretty good for how to compete, how
to build things, how to get there from here. I had my sights set pretty
high. At one point Pete Wood, before he left, and I went, just after
NASA announced the Space Station Program. Reagan had approved it. Phil
[Philip E.] Culbertson at Headquarters was the new Director.
An interesting side on Phil Culbertson was that Phil was the NASA Headquarters
person around Earth resources. Back in ’74 when I went to the
Earth Resources Conference right after Skylab at Snowmass, when that
was over, Phil took a hike, camping hike, and he climbed up into the
mountains and camped and hiked and fished for a day, but was going to
need a place to stay when he got back the night before he flew out,
and we were talking over a beer before he left about this. I says, “Hell,
I’ve rented a place that’s got more room than I know what
to deal with. Come there.” So he hiked up, and he slept there,
down in like a bunkroom with our daughter, who was three or four at
the time, so we joke about that.
So I got an appointment with Phil, and we went over and talked to Phil
and his guys, and right at the end—we’d spent about an hour
or two there—Phil said, “And NASA’s decided to do
the SE&I, the System Engineering and Integration, itself in-house.”
I said, “Excuse me?”
He said, “NASA is going to do the SE&I in-house.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks, Phil.”
We went out side and I said, “Pete, that’s the best news
“That SE&I in-house.”
He says, “Why is that? There’s no work then.”
I said, “That’s going to fail. They can’t possibly
do that. But it’s going to take them long enough to admit that
they’ve failed before they reach out for help, that we’ve
got enough time to get credentials so we become a real player.”
And that was the strategy behind my business building. Pete never understood
it. He left.
I hired Hal Emigh from Rockwell, who was the head of their Payload Ops
Group that I had worked with, as a principal to help me build business.
He was a great business builder. We got a bunch of small jobs, real
small jobs, a little here, a little there. Admittedly, the only reason
we got them was because the prime company wanted the astronaut, and
so I was making them pay for that, but in the prospect, I got a subcontract
with TRW [Inc.] on a military contract that was studying space assembly,
maintenance, and servicing, because the military was looking at doing
a lot of that stuff. It was just a small $15,000 thing, but I got into
the water tank at McDonnell Douglas and did some stuff for them. TRW
loved me; the Air Force loved me. And when you wrote up on your quals
[qualifications] that Booz Allen had this contract, it didn’t
say $15,000; it just said that we had this contract on space assembly,
maintenance, and servicing, and our role was—and I touched almost
everything. So it wound up looking real good.
We built up a whole bunch of those. They put out a RFP [Request for
Proposal] for a Headquarters support contract. We bid as a prime and
won, and that was the first real thing that made our business, and then
they announced defeat on SE&I, and I had told Pete way back in ’84
that what would happen is it would take them a while, but they would
finally admit defeat, and there were two things they could do, since
they had the four work-package contractors. They could pick one to be
the prime contractor, like we had done in Apollo, and the others would
be under them. Or they could say none of them could do it, and it would
be somebody totally different. The right way to do it is the former;
therefore the way they’ll do it is the latter. But to be honest,
that won’t work, either, but that will run five or so years, and
then they’ll go to the other. And that’s exactly how it’s
When they announced they were going to get an SE&I contractor, the
obvious players were TRW, Lockheed [Aircraft Corporation], were the
two big ones, and Grumman [Aerospace Corporation] was the third one,
kind of a dark horse. Rockwell, Boeing, Martin, who else—they
couldn’t compete. So I went out and I marketed TRW and Lockheed,
and they were both very interested. I brought something that no others
had, which was the space operations aspect, and they were very receptive.
Then I remember I got a call from the guy at TRW. At this time Ed Gibson
was working for them. It was Ed’s boss, who said that he really
wanted us on the team. I said, “Oh, great. That’s really
good. And we get space operations, right?”
And he says, “Well, there’s a problem with that.”
I says, “What’s that?”
He says, “Well, we’re going to team with Lockheed, and they’ve
got that, and they won’t give it up.”
I said, “Well, then we don’t have a deal, because that’s
who we are, and you’ll want us on board, a little here and a little
there, and I know how that’s going to play out, so I’m not
interested in these other things.” Ed told me that I was making
a big mistake. I mean, TRW and Lockheed are teamed, the two best SE&I
places in the country.
Grumman called and said they wanted [us] on the team, and I said, “Well,
let’s talk.” So I went up and I talked to them. By that
time they knew that TRW and Lockheed were teaming, and I told them that
TRW wanted us on their team also, but I didn’t tell them I’d
turned them down. So they wanted us, and I said, “I want space
And they said, “Okay, you’ve got it.”
And then I said, “And I have a partner who’s really big
in the computer world, and so I want the TMIS, the Technical and Management
Information System, as well.”
And they said, “We can’t give you that. Grumman Data Systems
is going to do that.”
And then I bluffed. I said, “Well, then we don’t have a
deal,” and I went home
The next day I get a phone call, and he says, “Okay, you get them
both,” because they recognized they needed us in space ops. I
had somewhere along the line here made partner at Booz Allen, so my
other partner was very thankful that I had gotten him this job.
And so we worked with them to write the proposal. Fred Haise was the
lead of it, and Dick [Richard L.] Kline was his deputy, and I had known
them both. Dick Kline had been, oddly enough, one of the people way
back who was at Grumman, connected to Raytheon, back on the satellite
power stuff, so all these guys I had known for a long time.
I sat on the red team, and I sent Bill Brooks up there to lead, and
admittedly maybe Grumman had gotten the impression that they were going
to see a lot of me, like every day, and I had a business to run. I couldn’t
be there, and so I sent Bill Brooks up there, and I would keep getting
these phone calls. “Lenoir, where are you?” Okay, that didn’t
work. So I sent “Tucker” [Henry J.] Pierce up. “Lenoir,
where are you?” So I brought Tucker back, and I sent Bill [William]
Bastedo up there, who was much lower level than them. They were principals,
and Bill was an associate that I had just hired away from Sy Rubenstein
at Rockwell. And they didn’t call; I said, “That worked.”
So one of the very first review teams, red teams, I was up there for
with Fred, they were presenting their thing, and they’re presenting
the overview of what the proposal’s going to look like, and they’re
talking about how this is systems engineering and integration and why
Grumman is the best job for this, the Grumman-Booz Allen-Ford team,
and he finished, and I says, “Excuse me. I’m in the wrong
Fred says, “What are you talking about?”
I says, “This isn’t SE&I. This is about manned space
operations. That’s what NASA needs here, is about manned space
operations and integrating and operating the Space Station. It’s
not SE&I. TRW and Lockheed will have us for lunch around SE&I.
This is manned operations. It’s more important that you build
airplanes that land on boats than that you build unmanned spacecraft.”
And so we built that into our theme. We said that’s what this
was all about, and we sold it to NASA. We had a good set of orals, and
we won. The biggest single job that Booz Allen had ever won, I had just
won, which was in ’87, so that was three years in; it was about
the right time.
Got that going, and hired Ed Gibson. Ed gave me a call to congratulate
me. The way I had built the business was that in building up to that,
I would promise myself, and then when we won, I would try to hire somebody
that could actually do it, and they wouldn’t complain that they
didn’t get me. They still got me, but not as much as they thought.
Certainly here was this thing, where our role was built around me, and
I needed to move on and run the bigger business. So Ed called to congratulate
me, and I asked him if he was interested in a job. He said yes.
I says, “Get on an airplane, and let’s talk about it.”
So he came over, and I hired him. He moved to Reston [Virginia], and
took over lead of that part of the contract. I ran the whole contract,
which had both of the pieces, the information system and the ops. Ed
ran the ops and one of Steve Gottlieb’s guys ran the information
systems. Then [I] subsequently hired Bo [Karol J.] Bobko to do the Houston
stuff, and I hired Luther Powell in Huntsville to build Huntsville business.
That didn’t pan out, and Luther left after a while. I guess that’s
how that fit out.
But we wound up with about a hundred people working on that before too
much longer, and that was going great guns. I had a big business, self-sustaining,
within Booz Allen, one of the largest businesses. Very profitable, doing
very well, with a five-year strategic plan out in front of me that had
how we were going to grow the business, anticipating what was going
to happen. Remember what I said was one of these days NASA was going
to get to the right answer, which was that one of the primes needed
to run it, and that we needed to make sure that we didn’t get
clobbered by that.
Then in ’89 I got a phone call from Dick Truly. Parallel with
all of this, in ’86 Challenger blew up, which was an unfortunate
thing. I felt that much more than Columbia, because except for the two
payload specialists, I knew all five of the people on board very, very
well. Judy [Judith A.] Resnik and I were very good friends. El [Ellison
S.] Onizuka had worked for me for a while. So had Ron [Ronald E.] McNair,
for that matter.
Coming out of that, NASA did a whole bunch of reorganizing, because
the senior management was all screwed up. Jim [James M.] Beggs was on
leave because he was under indictment. There was no Administrator. Bill
[William R. Graham], who was from the spook world, was the Deputy. He
didn’t have a clue what it was all about. Jess [Jesse W.] Moore
had been the AA [Associate Administrator] for Space Flight. He had just
moved to Johnson as the Center Director. It was just all turmoil.
Reagan brought Jim Fletcher back as Administrator, and Fletcher brought
Dick Truly over, who had retired from NASA, gone back to the Navy, and
had been the first Commander of Naval Space Command, and he was living
in Dahlgren, Virginia—I had visited him a couple of times, he
and Cody, there—and had set up Naval Space Command, so he was
brought back to be the AA for Space Flight, and his job was to get the
Shuttle flying again.
Partly for some money and partly just as a friend, I did a lot of work
with Dick, some consulting and then a lot of just discussions over beer
with Dick by himself or Dick and Crip, Jay [F.] Honeycutt and some others,
around what they were doing to get back into flying. Dick asked me if
I would be on a committee. They were putting a committee together that
was going to look some stuff over and give them some advice, and he
was a little bit afraid of it, and it couldn’t have any NASA people
on it, but it sure would be nice if he had a friend on it, and so I
was on Al [Alton D.] Slay’s committee that looked at all the safety
aspects and did that.
Then in 1989 just after George [H. W.] Bush was elected, George Senior,
Dick called to say that he had been asked to be the new Administrator,
and would I be interested in going up to the White House with him to
be sworn in. I said sure, and so I came on over and went up, and he
was kind of briefing me that the President would be there, probably
the Vice President. The President’s whatever you call his horse
holder, Chief of Staff, John Sununu, would be there, and he’d
introduce me, and I didn’t tell him anything about that. So when
we went in there, and then the President and Sununu came in, Sununu
walks into the room and says, “Bill, how are you?” Comes
over and shakes my hand, and I hadn’t told Dick that I used to
play lacrosse with John at MIT. John was from MIT. And so we were reliving
some old lacrosse stuff. Neither one of us were very good.
Dick got sworn in, and in the car going back, he told me why he really
had asked me. He wanted me to come over and be the Associate Administrator
for both Station and Shuttle, and to combine them; at that time they
were in two different things. And I told him, “Dick, I can’t
possibly. I’m just getting to the point now where I’m starting
to make some money, and I’m starting to save. You know, I don’t
have much for retirement. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Then he called again, and at some point the President’s Office
got involved. It’s like I tell people, when that level asks you,
there’s only one question. It’s, “Yes, sir. When do
I have to start?” So, boom, there I was.
Because of the way it was set up, I came in immediately as the emergency
AA for Space Station, and Dick had the authority to make an emergency
appointment into the SES, which he did—Senior Executive Service—as
the AA for Space Station. [James B.] Odom had left. Jim Odom from Marshall
had been the Administrator. Dick clearly wanted the two combined, and
I totally agreed with him that it would be like taking the Shuttle Program
and trying to put half of it off over here and half of it off over there,
where anytime they disagree, it’s got to go to the Administrator
for resolution, that didn’t make any sense.
At the time, George Abbey, as Deputy AA for Shuttle, was the Acting
AA for Shuttle, and the big picture was that Dick needed me to get in
as AA for Space Station, because I think two days after my first day,
the House was slated to vote it out of existence, and so I immediately
went up to the Hill, unpolitical me, and talked to God knows how many
people and did what I later have referred to as the annual “It’s
time to save the Space Station” trip. But we won a narrow vote,
and so I did save the Space Station.
The jobs that I agreed with Dick to take on when I took it was, I said,
“There’s a couple of conditions. One is, I want some objective.
I don’t want to just come on and do it.” There were three
of them. One was save the Space Station. The other was to get the Space
Shuttle under schedule control, so that we could fly so many times a
year; and to get the Space Shuttle under cost control, because cost
had not been an issue with him getting it back to flying status, and
it just kept going up and up and up and up, and it was out of sight,
and it had to get under control.
I said, “Okay, and another condition is that you have to be willing
to fire me if it’s the right thing to do, either because I’ve
screwed up, or because it’s the only way you can keep something
from getting to you is hang it on me and throw me overboard.”
And he said okay. I didn’t really believe him, but he said okay.
Because I think that’s important.
So I came on. We saved the Space Station. We went through the rigmarole
of getting into the regular SES, and for reasons that I didn’t
totally understand, you can’t transition from having been an emergency
appointment into the real SES from that job, and so we invented another
job at the SES level that was an assistant to Dick that I filed my paperwork
for, and to nobody’s surprise, he selected me, and so I got into
the SES. Came in as an SES-6, which wasn’t too surprising, since
that was a third of the pay that I was getting before I came. Took a
bit of a pay cut. Then he made me the AA for Space Shuttle as well as
Space Station, and so at that point I have two hats, and one of my first
jobs was to put a staff together and generate the paper that turned
that into one hat.
I hired Mike [Michael] Mann away from Tommy [Thomas] Campbell over in
the Comptroller’s Office, because Mike was an analyst over there
who knew more about Code M, Space Flight’s budget, than anybody
in Code M did. So I said, “I can’t live with the Comptroller
knowing more about my finances than I do,” so I went over and
talked to Mike and convinced him to come over. Great guy. So he became
kind of my comptroller, if you like, and started building a staff.
I hired Dick [Richard H.] Kohrs to run the Space Station as Level I,
and Leonard Nicholson to run the Space Shuttle as Level I, and let them
run their own business and would get with them strategically and make
sure they were headed the right direction, but I didn’t want to
get into the nitty-gritty of that. Hired Mike Lyons away from now MCI
to head the group that had the unmanned launch vehicles and stuff like
that in it, since he’d done a lot of work there, and then Mike
[Mann] ran the financial side of the house.
Along about in here, I had to ask George Abbey to go away. Dick had
asked me if I would give it a try with George. One of the things that
Dick had done when he first came in as AA that I really respected was,
unlike recent history and some other natural tendencies on NASA, the
first thing he did when he became AA was he assigned some responsibility
and fired some people over Challenger at the Center Director level,
so that Jess Moore was gone, [William R. Lucas] at Marshall, Dick [Richard
G.] Smith at the Cape, and put some new people in. He removed George
as being Director of Flight Crew Ops, but brought him up to Headquarters
to be a special assistant or something, and ultimately became Deputy.
George is an enigma. George is an extremely smart person, very sharp.
Very good team player as long as it’s his team and he’s
in charge. Not a good team player on anybody else’s team, and
I could never get him to play by my rules, which were, “We’ll
talk everything out in the open. You must talk. You cannot walk out
of here with an opinion you didn’t say and then later bring it
up. And then once we decide, you support it, or in good conscience,
if you decide you can’t support it, you quit. But you don’t
try to undermine it.”
Now, Forrest [S.] McCartney at the Cape was another one that I had a
lot of problems with, but Forrest bought into that, and I have to say
Forrest was absolutely the right integrity. He often didn’t agree
with me. Often we did things the other way. Never once did he work out
of channels around it. George was always working out of channels, so
I asked him to go away. I fired him, but I did it in a way that says,
“Why don’t you find another job within NASA or without.”
So Dick helped him find a role on Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford’s committee
that was doing some special study or something, and I asked Tom [Thomas
E.] Utsman to come up from the Cape and be the Deputy.
We did a lot of good work, I think. We put a good management team in
place. One of the things that used to bother me when I was an astronaut
and I would support the various control boards, was I would hear things
like, “The board decided this; the board decided that.”
I’ve never been in the military, but apparently I have a military
bent to me, because my reaction would always be, “The board didn’t
decide a goddamn thing. The board discussed an issue in front of the
chairman, offered some opinions, said what they thought, and the chairman
of the board decided something.” But the chairman of the board
is accountable. You can’t hold a board accountable; the chairman
So I reinvented the Management Council for Space Flight, and that involved
the Center Directors. There were four Centers that report to the AA
for Space Flight. That’s the four you would guess; that’s
Kennedy [Space Center, Florida], Johnson, Marshall, and Stennis [Space
Center, Mississippi]. The four Center Directors, their Deputies, the
Director of the Space Shuttle Program, and the Director of the Space
Station Program, and me and my Deputy, is the Space Council. I make
the decisions. I’m only saying this because just the other day
I read something in Av Week [Aviation Week] about how “The Space
Flight Management Council decided such and such,” and I [said
to Craig Couvoult at Av Week], “Goddamn it, Craig, that’s
not the way it happens.” We would discuss things.
I remember once Jay Honeycutt had been a good friend of mine when he
was George’s horse holder, and then he went off to run a part
of the Shuttle thing at the Cape, and when [J.] Wayne Littles—he
was the Deputy at Marshall—when he went to the Harvard fourteen-week
thing, I put Honeycutt over as Acting Deputy at Marshall, as a way of
broadening Jay, and he thought that was great. But that allowed him
to come to one of these meetings, and he’d been to a whole bunch
of meetings, and he had commented to me afterwards, he said it was the
damnedest, most profitable thing he’d ever been to, that it really
did stuff, and it wasn’t like he’d seen before.
We’d talk about strategy. “What are we going to do in two
years?” “Aaron Cohen, you’re the Director of JSC.
Who are your top three candidates to replace yourself, and what are
you doing to grow them so that when the time comes, it’s really
hard to make a choice? The next time I’m down there, I want to
meet your top twelve people, comers, and I want to meet some youngsters
that are comers. I want to talk about how are we going to develop the
next generation, rather than letting it happen. How are we doing things?”
Never once in three years did anything that we discuss ever leak, and
so that really worked.
At one point I went to Dick Truly and I said, “You’re right
about the Shuttle and costs. I want to institute not just let’s
get it under control and cap it where it is, but I want to take cost
out, and here’s my plan.”
And he said, “Hmm, okay. You’re sure you can do that safely?”
And I said, “Yeah, and my chief cohort in making this work is
going to be Mike Mann. He’s the only other person, other than
you, that knows what the real issue is here, and I’m going to
proclaim a program that we’re going to take 3 percent a year out
of the Shuttle cost for five years. In fact, the second year I’m
going to up the gain to 5 percent, but I think that would give people
so much heartache right now that it would be hard to get people on board,
so we’re going to go for 3.”
Leonard almost quit over it. As a matter of fact, probably would have,
but I had to tell him that he didn’t have an option to not do
this. He could stay and do it or leave, but it was going to get done.
I had talked with Mike Mann, because I had done some consulting at Booz
in the aerospace industry, and I said, “What’s going to
happen is everybody’s going to fight us tooth and nail, and we’re
going to beat them up and make them do it. Then they’re going
to start seeing some early results, and then they’re going to
get to be a believer. Then our role has to change, because they’re
going to want to go too fast, and so we’re going to push, push,
push, and then we’ve got to get out in front and try to slow them
down.” And that’s exactly what happened.
So we started taking some money out. We had it controlled, and just
to make sure nobody was going to be hollering, my instructions to Crip
were to take so much money out and demonstrate that he made it safer
along the way, so nobody could say, hey, we’re going to make it
unsafe. Well, it’s hard to demonstrate that it’s safer,
but—and I learned something very quickly, how it doesn’t
work. You don’t take processes and make them simpler and think
that that’s going to matter, because the contractors all have
a list of things, and when things get happening sooner, then just other
things happen, but you still spend as much money. You get them where
it really matters, and you say, “You don’t have as much
money this year as you did last year. Let me know how you’re going
to spend it.”
We did that, and it worked, and I’m convinced we did, in fact,
make the Shuttle cost less. It was, I think, four billion and going
up, and it was about three billion a year, operations, when I left.
No, it got to three billion a couple of years after I left as part of
that, and it got safer, because we made sure that we paid attention
to things like that. And some of it was just in getting back to flying,
you did whatever it took. Sometimes you’d do things so many different
ways in order to provide redundancy that the danger is that they’re
going to overlap in a way that is not good, and so by simplifying you
actually do make it safer.
My last full year, we flew eight times, which was the first time that
we’d ever met the eight. We did six the year before, which was,
I believe, the first time we ever flew as many as we said we were going
to fly. Because that was one of the other conditions with Dick when
I came on. I think at that time we were claiming twenty-four flights
a year was what we were going to build up to, and I said, “Dick,
you and I both know that’s absolutely BS. I won’t take the
job unless my first trip up to Congress, I can tell them the real number’s
eight. I don’t want to go from twenty-four to twenty to sixteen
to twelve to eight. You and I both know the answer is eight. Let’s
tell them it’s eight. If we need it to surge, we could do ten
now and then, but eight’s the answer.”
So he said, “Okay.” So I went up and we took one big step
down to eight, which we actually got to the last year.
Wright: Let me
get you stopped just a second, because—
Wright: You were
telling me about the challenges of being an AA.
Lenoir: Yes, and
in describing it, I’m probably going to keep going back and retracing
some steps. It’s not as easy to do it chronologically. Being an
astronaut is largely at any instant in time fairly unidimensional, in
that you’re focusing on one thing. Over a career, you touch a
lot of different things, but in any instant, you’re training or
you’re following a design or something of that nature.
Being an AA is multidimensional all the time, and at any instant you
are constantly working multiplicity of problems, all simultaneously.
So if you take a train of thought and run it through, then there’s
a whole bunch of other things that were happening in those same time
frames that you have to go back and talk about. So I’ve kind of
talked at the high level of starting as an AA and then getting into
the Shuttle, in taking on both the schedule and the money things and
getting that under control and a little bit of that.
A reflection is that that’s a very tough job. As a matter of fact,
it’s in the Prune Book, whatever—you know, The Fifty Toughest
Jobs in the World [The Prune book: The 60 Toughest Science and Technology
Jobs in Washington by John H. Trattner]. The AA of Space Flight is one
of them, or at least it was then. And I believe it, because you touch
so many different things. At that time I had 50 percent of the NASA
employees reported to me, and 60 percent of the NASA budget I spent.
In my three years I spent $25 billion, and I’d like to think we
got our money’s worth, but there are days when I’m not so
It’s a hard job. I think in one way I’m probably fairly
typical, in that I was at it for three years. I think that’s a
fairly typical time. It’s not enough. If you’re trying to
change anything that touches the culture, in engineering terms, you’ve
touched something that has a three- to five-year time constant, or in
physical terms, has a half-life of three to five years, which says that
you don’t just edict something and it happens. And I’ve
made a lot of money in corporate America doing the same thing. A really
good change program takes three to five years to pull it off. You have
to not only decide what you’re going to do, but you have to know
how to do it. Then you have to get the people on board so all the who’s
are there, too.
That’s the hard thing. NASA’s got a whole cadre of mid-level
civil servants who, rightly or wrongly, feel threatened whenever change
comes in, just like any company feels. These people inherently don’t
like change and will fight it, because they feel threatened by it. It’s
fairly natural. You have to make them see it. You have to make them
feel less threatened by it, and get them on board, and that takes time.
Three years isn’t long enough, especially if you come in as cold
as I did, really not having a clue how the hell to do this job or even
what it is.
Basically, I’m an engineer. To spend the majority of my first
year up on the Hill talking to congressmen and staffers isn’t
something that I would have thought I could do. I found out I was good
at it. I was good at it because I didn’t lie to them; I told them
the truth. If you’ve heard the name Dick [Richard N.] Malow, he
in those days was the Clerk of the House Appropriations Committee that
dealt with space. He was a Democrat. The Democrats were in the majority
then. He was hated and feared by everybody at NASA. I developed a rapport
with Dick by telling him the truth. Hardly anybody realizes it, but
my last two years, Dick and I met monthly at the McLean [Virginia] Hilton
over a beer. We took turns buying, since neither could buy the other’s,
and we would talk things. I would tell him some bad stuff coming up.
He would tell me the budget hit coming up. I never lied to him about
things. He would tell me when he vehemently disagreed, and I would tell
him when “That’s tough, I’m doing it anyway,”
and I think we respected each other, and I never had problems with Dick.
Kevin [F.] Kelly, who was the Senate counterpart, who was the Chief
Clerk for Barbara [A.] Mikulski in the Senate, was pre-law. He went
to law school and got a law degree, but he was technically challenged
turning on a light in a room. I could not communicate with Kevin. He
got the impression that if I opened my mouth, I was lying, somehow.
He and Dick Kohrs got along great. It didn’t take a rocket scientist
to figure out working the Hill, I’m going to work Dick Malow,
and Dick Kohrs is going to go talk to Kevin Kelly. On the other hand,
Stephan Kohashi, who was Jake Garn’s guy on the Republican side
in the Senate, was a very reasonable guy and easy to get along with
and technically could understand. Dick Malow’s problem was that
he thought he was the Chief Engineer of the Space Station, and he was
a fairly decent engineer, but still.
There was just so many different dimensions to work, and I came in fairly
cold, not really understanding how it all worked. It took me a year
or so to figure out how it works. Then it took me another year to figure
out how to deal with it, which only left me one year to actually do
anything, which isn’t long enough if you’re trying to change
a culture that you’ve got to stay with for three or five years.
So I started and pushed in a direction far more times than I actually
succeeded in pulling something off, and oddly enough, the Shuttle Cost
Control Program was something that lived on beyond me, because we did
it right. We recognized that people were going to get on board; how
to get them on board; how to keep them under control.
In retrospect—personal opinion—later I think they stopped
paying attention and they took too much out. They had to put some back
in, and they’re hovering around, and you have to be aware that
you’re never right; you’re never exact. The best you can
do in a management sense—this is Lenoir theory—is to oscillate,
or if you sail, tack around the middle line and never get too far away
But from a NASA perspective, if you’re dealing with a flight safety
issue, you don’t ever want to get on that side of the line, so
the game is to tack and get up near it, but never cross it. Unlike management,
where, okay, well, we had a bad year; we lost some money. You can maybe
survive that. Having a bad year and losing some crew is not something
that you want to take. So it’s a little different, and you have
to offset it, but nonetheless, you’re never stable. Things always
need to be different than they are or different than they’re headed.
If they’re headed in one direction, you need to be working to
turn it around and get it headed in the other direction, because you’re
going to keep doing that.
It took me, like I said, two years to figure all that out, to get my
team together. Mike Mann was a very good member of the team. Dick Kohrs.
Bob Crippen was the Shuttle. Toward the end I asked Forrest McCartney
to leave. To this day I think Forrest would tell you that he doesn’t
like me at all. He didn’t think that was the thing to be done;
didn’t see why he needed to go. I told him it was absolutely no
prejudice. I’d get him another job. He could work for me. I felt
that strongly about him in a favorable way, but my personal opinion
was that one of the issues that we had coming out of Challenger, was
that Center Directors and other key people had been in their tenure
for so long it was hard to tell the difference between Dick Smith and
Marshall. They became one and the same. Therefore my rule of thumb was
five years is all you get, and then NASA ought not be done with you.
You’ve got a lot that NASA can get, but it’s time for somebody
else to pick up the ball and run with it, maybe tack a little bit, do
it a little bit differently. I was having those conversations with Aaron,
also, when I left, and I noticed shortly after I left, Aaron also retired.
The others I had named. Roy [S.] Estess. I didn’t actually name
Jack [Thomas J.] Lee; Dick did just before I got there, but I named
[J.] Wayne [Littles], his deputy.
So I fired Forrest, in his words. I asked him to move to another job.
I actually offered him one up in Headquarters, but he refused it and
did retire, and appointed Bob Crippen in his place.
So that was part of that whole thing of okay, now, what’s our
succession plan here, and how do we plan for it. We got that started,
but we never did get far enough with that, and I don’t believe
it held. Certainly when George Abbey got back into the picture, that’s
not the thing that George wanted. George wanted to make sure there was
nobody to take the place of key people, and that’s one of the
problems today—personal opinion—is that JSC doesn’t
have the depth of senior management talent that it should have. The
talent is there, but the experience and the growth isn’t. So we
The key thing I noticed when I got back, I took on a Space Station problem.
I had been the Vice President at Booz Allen who had opened the Reston
office to support the Level II Space Station work at Reston. Well, Reston
was the wrong answer. Remember my earlier story. Well, now—a little
bit like Jim Fletcher. In Jim’s first term, when Skylab was up,
there was an opportunity to try to get a Shuttle flight early to reboost
the Shuttle, and we used to joke that, well, the easy answer is, “Hell
with it. It’s not going to reenter on my term.” Not your
first term, Jim, but it did reenter on your second term. So here was
my comment about how this was going to play out, and now suddenly I’m
the AA, and I’m already smart enough to know this is the wrong
In summary, Reston was a stupid idea from the beginning, and always
was. It was not the right way to do it. We could not get the right level
of engineer. The only people that you could coerce to move from Houston
or Huntsville to Reston were mid-level engineers that you promised a
two-step increase. Hell, those aren’t your lead engineers, and
so you wind up with your mid-level engineers at Level II supposedly
leading the show, with your really chief engineers back at the Centers
supposedly being led by people that they rightly ought to be looking
down at. So I moved to close Reston.
Learned an awful lot about politics. Luckily, I had learned some of
it early. One of my first things was that I told Dick [Truly] that I
had a different idea for how to deal with budget problems than he and
others did. The typical NASA thing is you ask for x; you get 90 percent
of x. So you take all of your programs and you give them 90 percent
of what they asked for. I told him my philosophy was I’ll ask
for x. If I get 90 percent of x, I’m going to reexamine my programs.
I’m going to prioritize them; I’m going to start at the
bottom, and I’m going to cancel them until I’ve killed 10
percent. But everybody else gets funded full. It became real when I
went to him one day, and I says, “Dick, orbit maneuvering.”
Was it orbit maneuvering vehicle or orbit transfer vehicle? I forget;
one—OMV [Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle]. “I’m going
to terminate the program for the convenience of the government.”
“Okay.” And he said, “Why?”
I said, “Well, (a), I don’t have the money; (b), it’s
a program I just reviewed a review—I’ve forgot what review
it was [requirements review]. Hell, it doesn’t even have a firm
set of requirements, and we’re supposedly going to be off cutting
hardware. That’s a prescription for disaster. That’s going
to cost us billions more than we think. It’s a billion-dollar
program. I need the money. It’s not well founded. I’m going
to terminate it.”
So, naïvely, I terminated it, and interestingly, you know who the
President of that part of TRW was, where that was terminated? A fellow
named Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin, who never forgot.
The lashing I never forgot was the next day I was asked to come up to
the Hill and talk to Judge [Howell T.] Heflin, the senior Senator from
Alabama. This was a contract out of Huntsville. He gave me hell in sort
of a nice way, and basically, he didn’t say it quite so crudely,
but his message was, “You’re just an engineer, and you don’t
understand politics. This is not how you cancel a program. I don’t
find out about this in the newspapers. You need to come talk to me,
preferably before you’ve done it so I can either be in the loop
or feel like I have been in the loop.”
“Yes, sir. This will never happen again.” And it didn’t,
but I learned a lot there about how to deal with some future things
and how to cancel stuff.
The other thing that I ran into when I first touched the Shuttle, when
we made me the AA for Shuttle instead of Abbey Acting, Dick had gotten
it back to flying, and I believe he flew four missions; maybe it was
only three. The Flight Readiness Review for the next one I was in on,
and I went down to chair the Flight Readiness Review. At the time, and
I don’t know how it is now, the hierarchy is that the Flight Readiness
Review, two weeks before a Shuttle mission, is chaired by the AA for
Space Flight, and he is the accountable government official that approves
that flight for performance, and at that point, subject to whatever
conditions there are, you empower the Program Director to proceed and
execute the mission he just talked to you about, assuming no more changes.
I went down there, and I was absolutely appalled at the level of engineering
discipline that I saw, that in the time I had been gone, the engineering
had just sunk.
I’ve stayed, over the years, involved at MIT, and even though
I’m a EE grad, I’ve done a lot of work with the Aero[nautics]
and Astro[nautics] Department at MIT, including five years ago helping
them reinvent themselves, and I’ve talked with them about a lot
of stuff. At the time I was aware of one of their issues that they had,
and that was that we’re teaching kids how to be engineers, and
that includes using the computer-aided design techniques for engineering
now that everybody can use. A friend of mine then, who subsequently
became the department chair, told me one of his concerns was he didn’t
think that the graduate engineers really understood what was going on
under this stuff. They knew how to do it, and they knew, okay, the answer
is this, but they didn’t have a good feel for it.
And that’s what I saw, was guys who would come down there and
they would describe a problem, and they’d tell me, and, “It’s
okay,” and, “We’ve run the analysis, and it says this.”
I’d ask them a question about it, “Does it feel right to
you?” and they’d just give me a blank look.
“Feel? What does that mean?”
One of the examples that I have used several times was somewhere on
about the second or third flight, we had a military mission, DoD [Department
of Defense] missions, as they were called, that was high-inclination
daylight. It launched into a 57-degree orbit, which meant that coming
out of the Cape, you went pretty much right up the coastline. What that
means is that Air Force C-130s had an easy time staging out of somewhere
in North Carolina and New Hampshire somewhere, to stay under it and
basically to film the entire ascent. What came back was that the body
flap, the back flap on the Shuttle, appeared on the film to be oscillating
thirteen degrees. Spec [specification] says three. So there’s
a problem. Obviously—this was, I think, the third mission [for
me as AA], something like that—you don’t fly the next mission
until you understand it and have approved it for flight. So my question
of Rockwell was, “Well, what’s your take?”
And the answer is, “Well, we don’t think it’s real.
We think it’s an artifact, looking through the plume of the solids.”
And so my reaction now was, “Oh, okay. That sounds credible. What’s
your analysis say?”
“Your analysis.” Hadn’t done any. So I said, “Do
Next time I talked to them, they still hadn’t. Now I would give
Bob Minor a real hard time, and I’d try to embarrass him publicly
around this, and at one point I said, “You know, Bob, this just
isn’t that damn hard. If you guys don’t do it, I’m
going to get co-op student to do it. It’s not that hard.”
Very shortly I got a call from them; said that they had done the analysis.
They’d made all the worst-case assumptions about the solid plume
being a lens, etc. The biggest thing you could do is to create a half
“So what’s your conclusion?”
“What, do you have any more?”
“Yeah, and it’s always been real. We’ve always been
“Well, Bob, you’ve got a different problem now.”
“Well, you’ve either got to fix it so it doesn’t oscillate
more than three, or you’ve got to certify it for thirteen, because
we ain’t going to fly until you’ve done one or the other.”
And apparently they’d gotten out of the habit of doing that stuff,
and they’d wave their arms, and you’d just go off and fly.
So they certified it for thirteen. Concluded that yes, it’s okay
after all. But it was that rigor.
We had some things around launch winds. “What’s really happening
on the pad?”
“Well, the limit says this, but it’s 2 knots over that.
We’re still go.”
“Why are you still go? Tell me about it. Show me your analysis.”
Hell, the people talking didn’t understand what it was you were
trying to do. It’s got to do with that twang at the start, that
it’s not that the wind’s going to blow you over, it’s
that it’s going to affect it in such a way that when the mains
light, you go over—you don’t come back. You’re here
[gesturing] when the solids light. Well, you’d like that not to
be the case.
So I just thought that the engineering was not rigorous, and that’s
another failure on my part was, I tried to start it [a fix]. I got a
Chief Engineer at Headquarters; hard to get. I got Chet [Chester A.]
Vaughan to come up from Houston. Good guy; did good stuff. I put him
in a lot of stuff.
We had a problem somewhere early in there with the infamous hydrogen
leaks. We were doing a tanking for a mission, and hydrogen was leaking.
The sniffer sniffed hydrogen all over the pad. They shut down, secured,
and we waved the launch off. Then I was at the Cape for the launch;
went back home. Got a call that they got it all figured out, and they
fixed it. They’re going to do a practice tanking; tell me about
“How did it go?”
Second time, pretty much the same thing; still leak. I picked up the
phone, and I called Bob Swinghammer at Huntsville, and I says, “Bob,
get your butt on an airplane, go down to the Cape, and lead them through
it. Help them figure it out, because they’re just shotgunning
At that point, there probably weren’t six engineers in all of
NASA that I had a lot of respect for. That doesn’t mean I hated
the rest, that just meant I either didn’t think they were very
good, or I didn’t know them, in most cases. But Bob was one who’d
been around since I was an astronaut who I really respected. Chet Vaughan,
Henry [O.] Pohl. Max [Faget], of course, was gone by then.
So I sent Bob down there, and he did it rigorously, got out the fishbone
idea, the fault tree, whatever you want to call it. Walked them through
it. They’re in a meeting, and they’re identifying all the
things that, if something happened on this branch, what would it look
like? Does that look like what we’re seeing?
Then at one point, they got to one, and said, “Yeah, that would
look like it.” At that point, a junior Rockwell engineer in the
back row raised his hand and said, “You know, just before all
this started, we replaced a seal on that joint.”
“Well, maybe we ought to go look at that.” So they took
it apart, and sure enough, it was a stainless mesh seal. Part of it
had folded back over. Click, click; now we’re off and flying again.
But it was that lack of engineering rigor that to this day still exists,
and that was one of the key things that I learned, which I didn’t
like, but again, three years, taking a couple of years to come to your
conclusions, wasn’t enough time to solve it. I would do it a lot
Wright: Was there
talk of bringing in more international partners with the Space Station
while you were still there, specifically the Russians?
Lenoir: I inherited
the team that was ESA [European Space Agency], Japan and Canada, and
while I was there, I signed the agreement with Italy. Some people don’t
know that Italy has two roles; part of ESA and a separate one that built
whatever we wound up calling the mini-modules that they built. There
was a mini pressurized logistics module.
Wright: I think
Leonardo. Maybe that was it.
gotten more important as we’ve gone downstream. But I negotiated
and signed that agreement with them. What happened was one of their
Ministers, Bertusi [phonetic] or something like that, came to me and
said that the government wanted to beef up that industry, and they had
a half a billion or a billion dollars to spend; could I use it?
“Can I use it? Let me get back to you. What if we built one of
these. It ought to be about that much.” And so we put it together
and signed it.
Brazil came after me. There was a couple of times when our international
group came to me and said that we were under pressure from the State
Department to include the Russians, and my answer was always fairly
adamant, said that “I don’t have enough time to deal with
that. I think I know how that was going to go, and that’s going
to cost me money. I don’t have any money. If they want us to pursue
it, tell them to send money.” And it went away, and so they didn’t
get on board when I was there. As soon as I left, they came on board.
Now that it’s fully integrated, it’s clearly the right answer.
We’re behaving about right. The first five or so years, it was
a disaster, I think, but now it’s gotten to where it’s a
good answer, so it probably was worth the five or six years of hell
Wright: When you
first took this job with Dick Truly, you told him that it would be for
a specific time. How did you know when you reached that time?
Lenoir: I told
him there was a couple of things that were going to matter, was I wanted
some objectives, and clearly fulfilling them would be enough reason
that I could leave. I’d promise him three years. I would also
promise him that I’d consider up to two more, and that because
of where I was living and what I was doing and the pay cut I was taking,
I was going to be living on a negative cash balance. I was willing to
spend my savings for my country, so to speak, but I was really hesitant
to go into debt. Therefore, when I went broke was another reason to
Well, it turns out I met the goals, three years came up, I went broke,
and Dick Truly got fired, all pretty much at the same time. So I had
begun to think it was time to go back, what am I doing to do?
I guess it was actually January when I got the call from Dick saying
that he had been fired. I had worked with Dick as a part of the U.S.
Space Council from the NASA perspective, where we worked with the Air
Force. When we were working one-on-one with the Air Force, that was
a great arrangement and things went well.
When we got into the Space Council, I never liked that. That was always
political. It was all about politics and not about space. Mark [J.]
Albrecht was the lead staffer. Dan [James D.] Quayle was the Vice President
in charge of it all, and it’s all about politics, and I never
liked that. As a matter of fact, I have smelled March Albrecht’s
hand in this earlier incident that I was talking about in Quayle’s
book. We were never political. I mean, Dick was—I don’t
even know if he considers himself Republican. I consider myself an Independent.
I’m really apolitical. But we were working for what was best for
NASA. We don’t think that was opposed to or contradictory of what
was best for the country. It might not have always been what was best
for the Vice President, and we’d be first to tell you we didn’t
give a damn. And that probably didn’t help us.
But Dick got fired, and I told him, gee, I’d been thinking of
going, anyway, and I suggested that as a show of support and that we
weren’t just going to take this sitting down, I would immediately
announce my resignation, which I did and then found out that that wasn’t
the smartest thing I ever did. If I had hung on for a couple of months,
it would have made a difference in retirement and stuff like that. But
I said, “Hey, come on. We’ve got to do what’s right.
I don’t like the way this has panned out. You brought me here.
I’m leaving.” So I announced before he left, and if I’m
not mistaken. No, he left before I left by a little bit, and Dan Goldin
came on, and that seemed anomalous to me.
I’ve never been a big Dan Goldin fan. At one point before I left,
he came over and talked to me for a couple of hours, and I told him
what I’d learned; I told him about inertia and culture and time
constant and how much inertia there was in the NASA Headquarters, how
hard it was to change direction, etc. He thanked me profusely and said
it had been a most interesting discussion. He wanted to come back and
talk some more, and I said, “Absolutely. Anytime.” And he
never called back. And I left and never looked back.
I went back to Booz Allen and went into a totally different area. That
was in ’92. I didn’t touch space again until ’97.
Learned that I can do financial consulting, I can do international consulting
in Latin America, and then eventually came back to aviation and space.
So that’s how that all played out, and when I look back on it,
I tend to look back more on the Headquarters as a job that was clearly
undone and in work when I left, and unfortunately, most of it didn’t
go to completion, and there’s a lot that needs to be done there
that unfortunately probably won’t get done.
If we want to get somewhere—the thinking and the mentality that
got us to the Moon in Apollo doesn’t exist anymore. The humans
that did it don’t exist anymore, by and large. But the talent
that’s available is the same thing. It’s there. It could
happen, but the setup will not let it happen. Can you imagine today—do
you remember Apollo 12, got struck by lightning going uphill? They got
into orbit basically with all the circuit breakers popped and dead in
the water. They tried a few things. John Aaron did his famous “SCE
[Signal-Conditioning Equipment] to Aux[iliary],” etc., and it
all worked. They did a quick checkout, and within a few orbs [orbits],
they lit off for the Moon. Can you imagine the NASA today doing that?
So anyway, I think back on that, and I think the biggest accomplishment
at Headquarters that I think I’m the proudest of, it’s probably
got to do with getting the Space Shuttle under cost and schedule control
and on firm, solid engineering footing and management footing. It hasn’t
always stayed there since, but it was on pretty solid turf at that time.
Then as an astronaut, it’s hard not to think of having invented
the mission specialist role. That’s something that has left a
lasting footprint, that’s still done pretty much like we invented
it, and really mattered, as opposed to doing something that is very
enjoyable and very much fun, but doesn’t leave a real lasting
been reviewing my notes and seeing if there was any other areas, and
I don’t really have any. Do you have any other thoughts, or do
you want to take a moment and—
afraid to look at my notes here, for fear that I’ll—
what else you want to reflect on?
on for another several hours. Let me just take a quick look here. Probably
not. There’s all kinds of war stories. You know, the old pilots’
adage, “They get better every time we tell them.” That,
and the other one was, “The first liar doesn’t have a chance.”
They’re two of the sayings.
But there’s a whole bunch of people. We’ve mentioned Don
Puddy, that I wish we could capture what’s in his brain before
that’s gone, and others. One of the challenges that the Shuttle
has even today, even as old and seemingly obsolescent as it is in a
lot of people’s minds, is that there’s a lot of corporate
knowledge that is gone. We do things such and such a way. Why? Well,
we’ve lost track of why. In some cases it really matters; there’s
a lurking danger that this is circumventing. In other cases, it was
fairly arbitrary and we picked that because we had to pick something.
And not knowing the difference can be a little bit scary if you’re
trying to expand things.
Wright: I have
a loosely related question to that. I did have a note of that earlier
that I was going to ask you. All of the things that you learned during
your training with Skylab and working with that, were you able to apply
that when you were looking at Station as a manager? Did any of that
come back to help you?
Lenoir: We did
some. I did some work most recently on a review committee for Booz Allen,
who did some cost work for Bill [William H.] Gerstenmaier, when the
Space Station all went to hell around the budget, and that was one of
my conclusions, was that all of those Skylab lessons learned, 99 percent
of them are going to have to get relearned, because in a way it’s
like bringing up kids. You bring up kids, and you learn something by
experience. It sure would be nice to tell your kids, so your kid didn’t
have to go through that turmoil, but it doesn’t work that way.
There’s a lot of that in the management of the space program,
too, is they just can’t listen and deal with—let’s
don’t plan it out to the minute. For God’s sakes, let’s
give them a list and let them figure it out. Let’s give them some
time up front. Let’s understand adaptation to space. Let’s
understand how to work with the PIs. There’s a whole bunch of
things that are Skylab lessons learned, and somewhere there’s
books that literally are titled Skylab Lessons Learned, that have gotten
away from us.
The thing I think that bothers me most is that when we developed Shuttle,
that happened largely in the seventies, and you remember that Mercury,
Gemini, and Apollo was a sixties program, that when [John F.] Kennedy
said we’re going to go to the Moon and back, no American had ever
been in space. Talk about guts. The experience that developed Mercury
and then Gemini and then Apollo, all to support the Apollo goals—because
those first two steps were needed to learn so we could get there—that
experience and those people were the very senior people that led us
into the Shuttle. Like I said, that was in the seventies. We’re
now in what I call the Os, which is thirty years later. None of the
people that developed Apollo are still around and available in a meaningful
way. Virtually none of the people that developed the Shuttle are around
and available in a meaningful way.
Whenever we do whatever it is that we’re going to do next, it’s
going to be with a blank sheet of paper, starting all over again, and
it’s going to be important to budget it, both time and money,
understanding that there’s a whole bunch of lessons that are going
to have to get relearned, and that the way we’re talking about
it now in some of the going-to-Mars studies just strike me as not very
well informed and not working the real issues.
We’ll continue the NASA thing. We don’t have enough money,
so we’ll do a system study, and we’ll outline what it is
we’re going to do. For God’s sakes, why don’t we identify
the technologies that aren’t good enough yet, put money into them,
and maybe one of these days they’ll be far enough along. If we
had the money that we’ve spent on studies over the years, had
instead developed it in technology, we’d be another generation
into a couple of things.
But I worry about that, and that’s partly the agency has ossified.
The people with experience are gone, and the people that are there now
just aren’t the same. And it’s not that they couldn’t
be, it’s they’re not the same because they didn’t
have the same set of experiences. They didn’t deal with the Apollo
12. They didn’t launch STS-1 for the first time, hoping like hell
that the tiles stayed on. Those people just aren’t going to be
Wright: It will
be a very interesting time the next few years to watch and see what
Lenoir: Yes, and
there’s not enough money, anyway, and so it looks to me like we’re
going to do—I’m a pessimist—we’re going to do
the same thing we did under [George W.] Bush’s dad, and that is
we’re going to announce a program to Mars. I mean, we put one
together. Dick set up a whole program around it when I was there. I
told him I didn’t want anything to do with it, because there wasn’t
any money in it, and the same thing’s true here. We’re going
to kill a couple of trees, write a couple of books, and do nothing.
We’re going to talk more about the Shuttle being obsolete, and
we’re going to edict it gone by a day when there won’t be
any other way to get there, so of course, it will keep flying. We’re
not doing anything different. One of these days, we will.
Wright: I guess
till then we’ll look forward to that day.
Wright: Thank you
again for all the time you gave me this morning.
Lenoir: Well, it’s
been interesting. It has been interesting and fun, and it will be interesting
to see how it turns out and whether it looks like it makes any sense
and has any degree of coherence whatsoever.
Wright: I think
you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
[End of interview]
to JSC Oral History Website