NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Jack R. Lousma
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 15 March 2010
Today is March 15, 2010. This interview with Jack Lousma is being
conducted in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral
History Project. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted
by Rebecca Wright. Mr. Lousma begins today by talking about the Skylab
I was first assigned to the third Shuttle flight it was with Fred
[W.] Haise [Jr.]. We were going to be the flight that rescued the
Skylab. Has anybody ever talked about the aborted Skylab rescue?
No. That was actually one of my questions for you.
could start there I guess, because that’s where I began with
the Shuttle Program, aside from having development jobs before that.
Within the Astronaut Office, we were responsible for certain elements
of the design development. I guess at one time or another I was involved
in all of them, because after the last Apollo flight, Apollo-Soyuz
[Test Project (ASTP)], a lot of people left our office. A lot of them
had done what they came to do. They had their flights and didn’t
want to sit around and wait for a long time. I was one of the younger
guys in my group.
I didn’t know if I wanted to wait around that long or not, but
I found some things to do. I was put in charge of controls and displays
for the Space Shuttle after [C.] Gordon Fullerton had gotten that
started. He went on to fly the ALT [Approach and Landing Tests] missions
with Fred. They gave me the controls, displays, and hydraulic systems.
I was in charge of that.
One thing that came along was a head-up display [HUD]. The office
wanted to explore the idea of putting a head-up display in the Space
Shuttle, because they had them in current airplanes, the Tomcat F-14,
A-7, and all those airplanes that none of us had flown. So we really
didn’t know what a head-up display was. We were all “old
guys.” Somebody discovered that a head-up display was being
used in those fighter airplanes and might be of some use in the Shuttle
for landing. You know what a head-up display is? When you see a Shuttle
flight now, near the end they’ll show pictures from the cockpit,
it’ll show some green numbers and information on the windscreen
as you come around to make the final approach. The idea for head-up
display is that if you put all the airspeed and altitude information
on the windscreen, then you don’t have to take your eyes off
I was asked to explore the notion of having a head-up display on the
Space Shuttle, so I worked on that. I went to the various companies
that were making the airplanes that had them, or I went sometimes
to the military bases where they were flying them. Sometimes I’d
fly in the airplane with them, or sometimes I would just fly the simulator.
Just to get an idea of what the head-up display was all about. Now
they had a lot different uses for it militarily than we did for the
Shuttle. I don’t remember that they ever had a real landing
display, but they used them for weapons delivery, air to air combat,
and low-level navigation.
I decided that we could use this for approach and landing because
the Space Shuttle is a glider, and you only have one chance to do
it right. Any kind of help you can get is probably good. I developed
an engineering plan, how to get this involved with the engineers that
had to make a decision on a management plan. I looked at all of the
options that were available on the street. Even the airlines were
thinking about having them at the time. Now they mostly all have them,
but there were different types of head-up displays that could be applied
We even rigged up a simulator over near our office where we simulated
a head-up display and practiced making landings with it to see if
we could do better with the head-up display than we could without
it. We were finally able to sell the idea to management. Management
of course considered it a big expense and also a retrofit because
the Columbia was already built or in production, and it didn’t
have a head-up display. It would have to be retrofitted to the Columbia
and perhaps included in the newer models, the Challenger and so on.
So they finally agreed to do that.
When I flew the Columbia it did not have a head-up display in it because
it was already built, and they didn’t want to go back and modify
it right away. I don’t even know when they started adding it
to the newer Space Shuttles. The Challenger of course was the second
one, and I don’t think it flew until maybe the sixth flight.
The first five or six flights were flown with the Columbia, then later
on when the Columbia went back for modifications of other sorts. I
think that’s when they put the head-up display in the Columbia.
They all had them, and everybody seemed to like them. They managed
to land quite well with them, although we didn’t have them for
the first few flights.
So that was an add-on. About the time that I got to the point where
we sold the idea to management, I was assigned to the third flight
of the Space Shuttle. Fred Haise was the commander, and I was the
pilot. The reason I think I was assigned was because our job was to
go and rescue the Skylab, or effect the next step for the Skylab,
because it was coming down more quickly than anybody thought.
We thought it was going to be up there for a long long time, but we
didn’t really know as much about what’s in space than
we do now. Fred and I were assigned to that third flight, and then
somebody else took over the continuation of the head-up display until
it really got implemented. I think it was Dave [S. David] Griggs as
a matter of fact. He took up where I left off and decided what the
displays ought to look like.
Anyhow, Fred and I were assigned to the third flight of the Columbia.
The purpose was to rendezvous with the Skylab and station-keep on
it maybe 1,000 feet away. Then we had this booster package in the
cargo bay about the size of a truck that I was going to fly over remotely
from inside, like a radio-controlled airplane. It had a docking system
on it so it’d dock where the Command Module had been when we
lived aboard Skylab. It had a television system on it so I could see
to dock it properly. It had reaction control thrusters to maneuver
it, but it also had a booster engine, or debooster engine. We didn’t
know whether we were going to boost the Skylab higher or whether we
were going to use that engine to deboost it in a place where it’d
go in the water and not endanger anyone.
That mission had never been planned to begin with, so the Shuttle
didn’t have rendezvous radar or anything like that on it. Fred
got busy and started getting that implemented and also developing
rendezvous procedures. I worked with Martin Marietta and Marshall
Space Flight Center [Huntsville, Alabama]. I had the lead on the development
of the booster package. We worked on that for about a year. The Skylab
was coming down more quickly than anybody thought. The reason it was
coming down faster was because it was found that there were a few
more particles out there than we had thought, but we really increased
the number of particles when there was a flare in the Sun. So when
there was an eruption on the Sun and all those particles came toward
the Earth, it would cause our atmosphere to swell, get a little bigger.
At the Skylab’s altitude it was more dense.
The scientists and engineers noticed that every time there was an
event on the Sun, the Skylab came down more quickly than it did before.
We learned that there was a lot more out there than we had thought.
Fred and I would come into work every morning, and they’d have
a picture of the Sun and have a picture of where the Skylab was on
the wall. We had a whole history of them. Sure enough, solar activity
was making the Skylab's altitude to decline.
The Shuttle wasn’t getting ready on schedule, and Skylab was
coming down. It was coming down from originally 275 miles. It was
getting to the point where it was clear it was going to enter the
atmosphere sooner than anybody thought. I don’t know if you
remember now, maybe you’re too young, but they had an early
warning system that they were selling on the street. It was a beanie.
You wear a beanie. If something hit the beanie, then the Skylab was
coming down. There was a lot of human interest in this.
Anyway, the Skylab was coming down quicker than they thought so they
moved Fred and I up to the second mission. We thought, well, we can’t
get there with the third, be too late, maybe won’t be too late
with the second. That put Fred and me in a different training scenario
because the first two flights would use all the simulator time. The
third and next would have to wait till the first and others got out
of the way. The Skylab reentered after we had been in the simulator
now for about a year of training, and we were moved back to the third
mission. All of a sudden we’re flying a desk again. That wasn’t
all that exciting.
So you’re doing this in ’78? Is that when you started
work on this effort?
must have been around then sometime. Yes, I guess it was, maybe even
’77. I’m not sure; the first Shuttle flew in ’81.
So yes it was probably ’78, something like that. It must have
been, because I was also—when the 1978 selection of  astronauts
was announced (15 of them were pilots)—I was put in charge of
[them]. [Alan L.] Bean was in charge of the whole scenario of what
was going to be done with the new people, but he assigned me to the
pilots. So I took on the job of getting the pilots oriented and getting
them acquainted around town, around the Space Center. Had them over
for dinner, the new pilot astronauts and their wives. Showed them
around town so they could find a place to live.
I don’t know if that was while I was doing the—maybe that
was after the Skylab was already canceled. I don’t know. I have
to go back and look to see when the Skylab was canceled. I probably
wouldn’t have had a lot of time for new astronauts if I were
really working on the Skylab rescue mission.
When we got put back to the third flight, then they gave up on the
Skylab rescue. The [Mission] Control Center then did something they’d
never planned to do. Up till that time they had forgotten about the
Skylab or just left it up there, kind of being derelict, but tracking
it, noticing it was coming down. They got busy to see if they could
contact it and make it do anything, and so they did. They were able
to talk to it and find out that some things worked and some things
Then there was a question on the management as to “Should we
fix the Skylab and boost it up higher, add some modules to it, or
not, or should we just bring it down in the water?” Nobody ever
figured that out. Nobody ever decided. It was coming down and the
Control Center did a great job guiding it as best they could. If they
pointed it sort of into the wind it wouldn’t come down as fast
as if they pointed it perpendicular to the wind so it would come down
They tried to maneuver it starting quite a long time before it really
came in to understand its characteristics, but they had to predict
ahead by three orbits or something like that, which was hard to do.
Their intention was to put it in the Indian Ocean. They would maneuver
it such that it would hopefully come down exactly at the right time
to go in the Indian Ocean. Well, they got pretty darn close. Most
of it did. A few of the pieces went into northwestern Australia. Didn’t
hurt anybody, but the farmers picked them up and sold them for space
artifacts. That was the end of the Skylab mission and end of the Skylab,
but it was an interesting piece of history because we learned a lot
about what happens to the upper atmosphere when the Sun is active.
We learned also that whatever else we put up there ought to have a
little debooster engine on it, maybe.
Fred and I were sent back to the third mission, where we started.
Fred decided he was going to go off and do something else. He had
been injured in an airplane crash—you probably know about that—when
I was in Skylab. He was burnt very badly and was off flight status
for a long time, got an MBA [Master’s in Business Administration]
at the Harvard Business School [Cambridge, Massachusetts], came back,
and he was I think the Assistant Shuttle Program Manager. He was really
good at that sort of thing. After that, he was assigned to the Skylab
By the time that fell through, I was unclear as to what was going
to happen next. He decided to take a job with Grumman as vice president
of space operations. We had a backup crew at that time, and one of
the guys on the backup crew was [C.] Gordon Fullerton. So they moved
him up to be the pilot. It was his first flight. They moved me over
to be the commander, which was my second flight. Gordo and I trained
for that mission for two and a half years. We flew in ’82. So
in terms of timing, it was probably 1979 that we started working on
When the first STS [Space Transportation System] flight was back,
then we had quite a bit of priority in the simulators. We trained
for the mission. It turned out to be a very successful mission. This
is where we wanted to start. I’ve been very long-winded in getting
No, actually it’s great, because some of these questions I wanted
to ask you. I want to go back and ask you some additional questions,
but we can keep going.
I was thinking there probably wouldn’t be too many folks that
would talk about that. So Gordon and I were training for the third
mission. Our job was to test the Space Shuttle. It was a third orbital
test flight of the Columbia.
If all those four test flights were to be successful, then the Shuttle
would be flown more frequently, and with larger crews, but of course
there were only two crew [men] on the first four flights. We were
also landing on lake beds for the most part at that time. The Space
Shuttle had ejection seats for those first four flights for the commander
and pilot, primarily to be used during approach and landing. If we
weren’t going to get to the right place at the right time, then
we would be able to eject. As far as I was able to ascertain, there
was no good time to use them during the launch.
Our testing of the Space Shuttle mostly had to do with the thermal
characteristics of the Shuttle. We were testing the OMS [Orbital Maneuvering
System] engines and doing other things like that as well, but one
of our primary objectives was to see what happened to the Shuttle
and its heating and cooling systems if you pointed it at the Sun for
long periods of time. I think we pointed the nose at the Sun for maybe
at least three days, maybe four. It was always pointed at the Sun,
to see if the heating system would keep the cold end [warm, and] if
the cooling system would keep the hot end cool. We did that with the
nose for about three days, I think. We did that with the tail to the
Sun for about two days and then another day or two with the cargo
bay pointed at the Sun.
Apparently all the systems worked quite well. We did notice though
that when we tried to close the cargo bay doors, after pointing the
cargo bay to the Sun, that the cargo bay doors wouldn’t close.
The shell had warped a little bit somehow due to the intense heat
in the cargo bay. Then they had us barbecue it so to speak, roll it
to stabilize the temperatures, and then we were able to close the
cargo bay doors.
We did those kinds of tests. We also were testing the arm the Canadians
made to take things out of the cargo bay and put them in space, and
vice versa. The second flight had tested the arm, but we were going
to be the first to test it with something on it. We had a small cylindrical
payload. Of course now it’s been used to put things out that
weigh 40,000 pounds or so, like the size of a school bus or Hubble
Space Telescope, but this was the first time to test the arm with
something on the end of it.
We tested the arm for half a day for four different days. That was
another part of the testing. We could fly the arm either automatically
or manually. We had a preset routine that we were going to do every
day and put it through its paces. The arm worked very well. The package
that we had on the end of it was probably about five feet in diameter
and about two or three feet deep. Just a round thing, but it wasn’t
just a round massive thing. It had some sensors in it to measure the
environment around the Space Shuttle to see what kind of environment
it would be for scientific investigation in the future. So while we
were moving the arm, we were just taking all this data as well.
A few of the things we were testing, one of them was we were trying
to determine what the constituents and the density of this cloud of
particles was that we were dragging along with us, because in the
vacuum of space the materials on the Space Shuttle, especially in
the cargo bay, were outgassing in the vacuum. Would that impair the
scientific investigations in the future?
We were testing the capacitance on the vehicle, the electromagnetic
interference when you use the radios, the electrical charge on the
vehicle, probably a couple other things as well. Whenever we were
moving the arm, we could move the package out over the nose or around
over to the wings and the tail. Not underneath because you couldn’t
get the arm to do that, but after all is said and done, it was found
that the Shuttle was a good platform for scientific investigations.
There was no real interference for that. So that was important.
We also had 15 scientific experiments we were doing. Some of them
were in the cockpit, and some were out in the cargo bay. I can’t
remember all what they were. There was a couple of them that were
studies of the Sun. There was another one, a study of electrophoresis,
how to make new compounds, medical compounds and others, by using
the feature of weightlessness. Ions of these various compounds were
put in some kind of flow with a perpendicular electrical field. That
would make these ions go into different buckets depending on what
they were made of, because they’re all different weights. They
made a production unit later on. I think Charlie [Charles D.] Walker
did that with McDonnell Douglas on some of his flights.
We were doing those scientific experiments. We were going to be up
there seven days so we were really busy folks. This was the busiest
flight plan that had thus far been put together for the Shuttle. We
took some criticism for trying to pack too many things in there, but
we just took them as they came and decided whether we could do them
or not. We in fact got them all done.
We were also landing on lake beds in those days. Our intent was to
land on the lake bed out at Edwards [Air Force Base, California].
We would be the third landing out there. About a week before the mission,
Gordo and I were in quarantine at JSC in trailers inside of that big
house down there. That’s where we stayed for Skylab too, over
by the gym. Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft came in and he says, “Hey,
fellows, it’s raining in California. The lake bed is wet. Next
week when you want to land there it’s going to be muddy. What
do you want to do?”
We talked with him about it for a while, and we decided that there
was only a couple other places we could go. There was a lake bed at
White Sands [Northrup Strip], New Mexico. If we couldn’t land
there we could be the first guys to try the runway at the Cape [Canaveral,
Florida], which was 15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. I wish they’d
made it half as wide and twice as long, but so far it’s worked
real well. We know a lot more about what the Shuttle does when it
comes down than we did at that time, so we were playing it safe. Of
course out on the lake bed you can make a runway that’s six
or seven miles long and crisscross them so if they don’t get
the right one, they can try another one.
We liked that, because we weren’t totally sure that the guidance
system was going to get us back exactly where we wanted to be. I said,
“Let’s try the lake bed at White Sands, because we’ve
done a lot of training out there, and we know the terrain. We might
not have all the navigational support out there, and there’s
only one runway instead of several. If the weather is not too bad,
we can see from a long way out.”
Chris said, “Well, I can’t guarantee the weather, but
if you’re willing to give it a shot with using the Cape as a
backup, we’re willing to go with that.”
I said, “Let’s do it.” We were going to land there
in two weeks. This was only a week or so before we left. They moved
40 train carloads of stuff from the lake bed at Edwards over to White
Sands to get ready for us. They started doing that before we left,
and they were still doing it as we were in flight. They got it done
by the time we had to come home.
One other thing probably before we get into the mechanics of the flight—which
aren’t all that big a deal—we were supposed to be there
for seven days and come back. By the end of seven days, we’d
got all of our mission objectives accomplished. It was a very successful
mission in those terms. We had a few failures, of course, of the Shuttle
like you always do early in a program, maybe 15 or something like
that, 15 or 18. I’m not sure how many it was, but they were
mostly all more minor failures, for which we had redundancy, and for
which we had backup ways to work around, or we didn’t need to
use whatever was broken anyway in some cases. So they let us stay
up there. Mission Control, in their ways of performing all kinds of
magic, they’re the best technical detectives in the world, they
of course helped us with all these things.
We had a little bit of difference then too in terms of communications,
talking about mission control. We didn’t have relay satellites
in those days. We could do like we did in Apollo, just transmit and
listen when we were over a station—like at Madrid [Spain], Guam,
or Australia. There’s Bermuda and others. Of course there are
three of them across the United States that are end to end. There
are some times when you miss them all during an orbit, and sometimes
when you seem to get all of them. That’s the way it was in those
days. There was probably a lot less radio chatter. You hoped things
would hold together until you got to talk to Mission Control again.
We were going to come down on the seventh day. We got everything buttoned
up. We got the cargo bay doors shut. Everything turned off. We got
our launch/escape suits on and got in the seats and got ready to do
the retrofire to come back. They said, “Stop. Wait. Wait. You
can’t come back. Don’t come back today. We’ve got
a bad windstorm at White Sands and the pilots who are flying practice
approaches to the runway are unable to see the runway because there’s
just too much dust in the air.”
The White Sands [runway] is made out of—not the kind of soil
we have around here—it’s made out of gypsum. It’s
very light and powdery sometimes. We had this bad windstorm at White
Sands, and we couldn’t come back and land that day. That was
great, because it was an extra day in our world’s favorite vacation
spot, and we didn’t have any eighth day in the flight plan.
We finally had a chance to look out the window and enjoy being there.
Otherwise we might as well have been in the simulator.
So we had an extra day, but they said, “You’re coming
home tomorrow. You're either going to come in to White Sands or if
the weather is bad you’re going to land at the Cape. Be the
first guys to try that runway.” It turned out that it was a
good day at White Sands the next day. That’s where we landed,
but it turned out to be an eight-day flight because of that.
All that being said, it seemed every day looked like every other day,
because it was a routine, “Do what the flight plan says,”
or however the ground has modified it. We didn’t have much trouble
getting all our objectives done. We were pretty much according to
the flight plan except for odds and ends that would come up.
One of the things that came up, come to think of it, we got out to
the launch pad about two and a half hours before liftoff. We had only
a one-hour delay. In fact we knew about the delay the night before.
We were supposed to go at 9:00 in the morning, and they had some sort
of a delay on the launch pad that was going to delay us an hour. So
we got off at 10:00—I think it was 10:00—anyway got off
pretty much on time. Did on the Skylab too. There was no delay. It
was good for everybody who came to watch. A lot of people came to
see this launch. In fact, it reminded me. There were so many people
there. It must have been spring break or something like that. It was
at the end of March. I think we went around the world about three
times before they all got out of the parking lot. It was a good day
for the launch. We had a few clouds, and then we lifted off.
It was an almost uneventful launch except for all the great things
you enjoy during one of those rides. It’s the kind of thing
you’d like to do every day. When we got towards the end of the
boost, we lost one of our APUs, our auxiliary power units. Gordon
tried to get it back, but it was failed. That then caused us to do
some malfunction procedure aimed at making sure that the engines shut
off on time.
I can’t exactly remember what the effect of an APU failure was,
but it seems like to me it had to do with whether or not the engine
it was controlling would throttle and whether or not it would shut
down on time. We backed that up, but we made it to the orbit we wanted
to get to. The engine worked just fine. We got where we needed to
go. I don’t remember the altitude either. I’d have to
go back and look that up. I’d like to say it was about 200 miles
but it might have been a little bit less. I’m not sure.
After that, the flight was quite uneventful in terms of being different
than the flight plan. One of the things that didn’t work very
well was the john. The commode plugged up. Right away it stopped.
They had a slinger inside there. It stopped working on the first use
so that made eight days of colorful flushing you might say, I guess.
We had to improvise. They made some modifications to it when we got
back, at least on how it was used, to try to avoid some of that. I
haven’t heard of any more failures of it, although I don’t
hear too much about what’s going on anyway. There’s probably
some more history behind that, but that was probably one of the more
inconvenient failures that we had. The rest were more technically
oriented I guess you might say. This one was living-oriented.
We didn’t have all the comforts of home. We didn’t care.
We would have gone in a trashcan if they would have sent us. We just
wanted to go and do this. We didn’t have any hot water. We didn’t
have any bunks. Well, I guess we had one sleeping bag but neither
one of us used it. We didn’t have a special wardroom or anything
like that. We didn’t have the food system they have now. We
had leftover Apollo food, I think, freeze-dried food. We had some
of that. We had military rations. They would come in a sealed foil
container. We had the standard beverages with the collapsible or the
pressurized accordion-shaped bottles.
We just floated around and had a picnic every time we ate. They have
bunks now as I understand it. We didn’t have a bunk.
Do you think things went backwards, compared to Skylab?
we had one sleeping bag, and Gordo tried it, and he decided he’d
rather just not have it, but it wasn’t like the Skylab sleeping
bag. It wasn’t quite as plush I guess you might say, but we
weren’t going to stay a month either. It was just a week. This
is like a camping trip. You can swat mosquitoes for a week if you
know you’re going to be coming home after seven or eight days.
We were just bare-bones. We had a lot of development flight instrumentation
(DFI) in the middeck where the bunks and all that go now. There wasn’t
a lot of room. We had extra water tanks down there. There wasn’t
really a lot of room for all the comforts of home.
We just didn’t care. We’d have a cold water sponge bath
if we wanted one, and we could brush our teeth and shave or we could
just fumble along like you do on a camping trip. We ate our meals.
It wasn’t a real controlled diet like it was on Skylab. Eat
what was there, nothing more, nothing less.
We’d just "raid the refrigerator," take whatever we
wanted to, and just eat what was ever there. That’s what we
did. Now of course it’s equipped for more people with bunks
and a wardroom with hot and cold running water. It’s more organized,
but it didn’t have to be then. We didn’t care. It was
Actually I think it was the development flight instrumentation that
continued to some extent to be used every time the Columbia flew.
I think that’s how they were able to determine why the Columbia
crashed. Well, as I understand it, the pieces were scattered all over
Louisiana and Texas. They found some pieces that had been in the Columbia
somewhere near where that recorder was. They looked in that area,
and sure enough, they found it.
After having hit the ground, everything worked. They were able to
get a lot of information from that, which doesn’t come down
on a normal telemetry loop. That enabled them to determine what the
problem really was. That was very fortunate, but that was the part
of the instrumentation that we had when we flew. It, the middeck down
below, was pretty much filled, half of it anyway. We didn’t
have all the other things it’s been replaced by.
Gordon was the arm operator. He was expert at that. I was operating
the collection of data on the payload on the end of the arm for the
scientific investigation. When we slept, Gordon found a corner to
sleep in, and he wouldn’t move. I just took a little lanyard
with a hook on each end, and hooked it to my belt loop and to one
of the little switch guards on the wall. That just kept me from floating
around. I slept very well. I guess maybe a couple nights I slept in
one of the seats loosely held.
We just loved being up there. We just worked hard and did our job,
took time out to eat, and fixed the john, and that was about the standard
day. Golly, what more can I tell you?
You lost some tiles on that flight.
yes, I was going to say, when we launched we did lose some tiles.
I heard it was about 40 of them but I don’t know for sure. I
looked out over the nose early in the morning of the second day. It
looked like we had lost some tiles up front. I didn’t know how
many we’d lost anywhere else. I also knew there wasn’t
anything I could do about that. So I reported it to mission control,
and I knew they’d work 24/7 [24 hours a day, 7 days a week]
until they figured out what happened.
We also the used the camera that was on the elbow of the arm to look
in some of those places that we couldn’t see from the cockpit,
like around the sides. Sure enough, we’d lost some up front,
on the nose and the side. Seemed like we lost a couple on the OMS
pods that we could see back there. We made that little survey, and
then they went to work to decide if we’d lost any on the bottom.
The ones I could see were on the top where it doesn’t get too
hot, so you can afford to lose them and get away with it.
But you don’t want to lose them on the bottom where it gets
up to 2,500 to 3,000 degrees, and they’re about five inches
thick. So after about five days or so—I’m not sure exactly
how long it was—Mission Control came back and said, “You
didn’t lose any tiles on the bottom.”
Do you think the DoD [Department of Defense] did some looking for
guess they could have if they had wanted to. A number of the tiles
were picked up on the beach, most of which came off around the upper
nose of the Columbia early in the boost. They found more of them down
in the flame trench that came off the right upper body flap surface
when the main engines were ignited. These tiles are mostly air, they’re
80 percent air, and as we went on up across the beach, and over the
water the tiles that came off would float onto the beach.
They said that since each one had a serial number, they had a whole
stack of paper, which was the pedigree for every tile, all 35,000
of them or something like that. You probably remember early in the
program they were flying the Shuttle from the west coast to the east,
and a bunch of them came off while it was on the 747 [Shuttle Carrier
Aircraft], scattered across the country. Then that delayed everything
because they had to take them off and put them back on. They were
stuck okay, but the tiles would shear at the bottom. They had to immerse
them in some solution in order to add more structure to the bottom
of the tile.
I might be wrong on that too. They apparently hadn’t gotten
to all of them before we launched. They did all the ones in the critical
places, especially on the bottom and other places they could get to
them, but they knew the serial number of the ones that came off, and
then being able to track their history, they not all been redensified
yet. They knew that the others that didn’t come off had been
redensified, and that all the ones that were in critical areas had
already been processed. So that made a difference between the tiles
that were critical and didn’t come off compared to those that
did, but maybe there were others that had that had not been processed
that remained intact. I don’t know. At least I was told that
they were able to tell from those serial numbers and the pedigree
that went with each one that these were tiles that had not been totally
I don’t know if I can believe that or not because I would think
that they wouldn’t send anybody until all the tiles had been
processed. It might be hearsay, but there were probably some other
ways they could confirm that no tiles were missing on the bottom.
I understand there was a ceremony for the first couple of flights.
There was a ceremonial key that was given to the next crew that was
to fly. Do you have any recollections of that event?
heard of it, but never had anything to do with it on our flight. I
think maybe some of the new folks came along and incorporated a few
new ideas. That’s good. Some of us are pretty old stuffy people.
Tell us about your crew relationship with Gordo. How was the team
relationship for this flight?
had a great team. Gordo and I have never had a cross word. He’s
having problems, real medical problems right now, you know. I keep
up with him when I’m home on a daily basis, how he’s doing.
He’s making progress, but it’s unbelievable what’s
happened to him. Gordon is an Air Force test pilot. He flew three
of the ALT missions with Fred Haise. Gordon is a test pilot’s
test pilot. He’s a really sharp pilot. He proved that, I think,
on the flight that he commanded, but he is really into details. He
knew everything about the right side of the Shuttle and probably most
of the left. So I thought we were a good combination.
Like on the Skylab flight, Alan [Bean], Owen [K. Garriott] and I never
had a cross word either. Al is more of a detail guy, and I’m
more of a generalist. Big picture person. Gordon is a detail guy too,
and I’m still more of a big picture person so we worked together
real well. He really got into the details. So did I when I needed
to, but he was even more ambitious in that regard. Gordo is a real
pro and also a top-notch character individual. We worked together
On the other hand sometimes you have to let the detail go because
the big picture says we’ve got to do something right now or
it’s going to be too late. I think there’s a need for
both kinds of people on a crew. Both the crews I was on, we had the
detail guy that took care of that side of it. I was doing the big
I got into detail when it was really life-critical, obviously. We
did our things together well. I was just thinking. One of the other
things that we were doing that didn’t work out to my satisfaction
was the approach and landing. One of the things that was different
about our approach was that we had high westerly winds, at unusually
low altitudes. If we did a normal circling approach we would not be
able to get back to the runway if the winds were very high. Of course
most of the flights do the circling approach: come high over the field,
circle, and alter their speed and altitude to manage their energy
as they go around the Heading Alignment Circle [HAC] so they end up
in at the right place at the end of the runway.
We didn’t have that option because we were coming in from the
west, and we were returning in the wintertime when the winds are very
high at those circling altitudes. The jet stream moves south during
the winter. We discovered that they’d been having some real
high winds out at White Sands at about 25,000 feet or so, which is
I was concerned about not being able to make the circling approach.
You couldn’t pull a lot of Gs [gravity force] with the Space
Shuttle; sort of like an airliner. You can’t pull more than
two Gs to turn the Shuttle “around a corner” and get on
the glideslope. If you come over the field and start to make the circle
back, you might not be able to glide back into the wind coming around
the circle. We discovered after we had been redirected to White Sands,
which was really late in the program, about a week before launch,
that if the winds at about 25,000 feet were more than 80 knots or
some number like that, I’m not sure what it was, we’d
have a hard time getting back to the runway if we crossed over the
runway and flew the HAC back to land to the south.
We made a rule that if the winds were more than about 80 knots at
25,000 feet we would instead just make a right-hand turn and land
on the south runway, which didn’t give you as much latitude
in terms of adjusting your altitude, speed, and your energy to be
at the right place at the right time over the end of the runway. Before
we came down on that particular day, it was determined the winds were
too high. We were going to have to just make this right-hand turn
to the runway.
The reentry had to be set up such that we would lose a lot of the
energy before we got there. Otherwise you have too much energy, you’d
be going too fast. The guidance system worked quite well in bringing
us over a ground track that would enable us to lose some of that energy
that we otherwise would manage in the HAC; get rid of it before we
made the right-hand turn to the runway, but there was less room for
adjustments in managing the energy.
That was something that was different on STS-3. I don’t know
if anybody’s ever had to do that since, but that was something
we did. It worked, so that’s a good thing to have ready, but
you would prefer to do the circling approach because you have a better
chance of trading off your airspeed versus your altitude, or if you’re
a little low on energy, just make the circle a little tighter. If
you’re high on energy, just let it drift out a little bit.
There’s actually a display in the cockpit of the Shuttle that
tells you whether or not you’re on the right energy profile.
That’s good. We didn’t have that. We were going by the
seat of our pants. We also didn’t have all of the indicators
on the runway, like the ball/bar that they have now to make sure you’re
on the right inner glide slope. We didn’t have a drag chute
to deploy after touchdown. We didn’t have the head-up display
either that really enables you to fly a perfect approach.
The thing I am getting at is that we were also asked to make a test
of the automatic approach system. The way we flew this during the
reentry was that it was nighttime when we entered the atmosphere.
It was quite colorful. We had the little pinkish glow when we first
entered the upper atmosphere as we were lightly settling in our seats
and then it got more orange and then white-hot. I’ve seen pictures
through the overhead windows of the lightning flashes going off, which
is like a fireball in the Command Module, which was really very evident.
We were looking forward so we couldn’t see those fireworks,
but we could see the bright glow around the windows.
Then we popped out into daylight and couldn’t see it anymore,
but we knew it was still there. It was very colorful. During the entry
we had some detailed test objectives, some DTOs, where I was to take
over manually during the entry and put some small control inputs like
forward stick to neutral to back stick to neutral (on one second intervals),
and then return to auto to see how the control system would respond.
I did that probably about ten times during reentry on cue according
to the timeline. We repeated this sequence in the roll axis, as well
with the body flap at several settings during the descent. That is,
I would take over manually, put the test input in and then put it
back in auto and see how the auto system would recover. I guess there
are some things you can analyze, study, change, test, and simulate,
but sometimes there are things you can’t learn unless you just
go out and do it. That’s what we were doing, so as to improve
the control system for the next flight.
Prior to the mission, we had flown the nominal reentry ground-track
in the T-38, beginning at a coastal crossing point near Santa Barbara
and ending at White Sands so as to familiarize ourselves with visual
ground-based checkpoints as a confirmation of the guidance-derived
ground track. Actually, however, we delayed the entry by one day so
our ground track on Day 8 crossed the western coast of Mexico which
was covered by clouds. We were visual the rest of the way, passing
just north of Phoenix [Arizona] enroute to White Sands.
A final DTO for this mission was to engage the automatic system to
fly the approach down the Outer Glide Slope [OGS at 19 degrees], through
the preflare [1,750 feet], and until stabilized on the Inner Glide
Slope [IGS at approximately 1.5 degrees]. At that point, I was to
take over manually to control the landing and rollout. The final flare,
touchdown, and rollout software had not yet been developed.
With the exception of the entry DTOs described above, the entry was
flown automatically until slowing below the speed of sound, Mach 1.0.
At Mach 0.95, I took over manually and flew the Shuttle to the OGS
and centerline of the south runway at White Sands. I used the speedbrakes
to slow down and maintain 285 knots. The Columbia was easy to fly
and was very responsive to pitch, roll, and speedbrake inputs. Compared
to a large aircraft, it flew more like a fighter than a bomber.
As I had done for switchovers between auto and manual control during
the entry, I used the auto and manual pushbuttons on the left edge
of the glare shield to engage the automatic approach system at about
15,000 feet with two red and two white PAPI [Precision Approach Path
Indicator] lights on the 19 degree OGS, on centerline, and on airspeed
at precisely 285 knots. That was the last I saw of a stabilized airspeed,
although the automatic system controlled OGS well, including the transition
from OGS to IGS.
The auto system made a slight right roll correction to nullify the
effect of the right crosswind at that altitude, but I felt the speedbrakes
close immediately, and we accelerated above 285 knots. Just as I was
about to take over control of the speedbrakes manually, I felt them
opening again and expected them to get us stabilized back to 285 knots.
The automatic speedbrakes, however, over-corrected so as to slow us
below 285 knots, which was also below a software set-switch that would
automatically fully close the speedbrakes at 4,000 feet if the speed
at that altitude were below a certain number whose magnitude I don’t
On a nominal manual approach, we would have closed the speedbrakes
at 2,500 feet so they would not cross-couple with the preflare pullup
at 1,750 feet. In our case, however, automatic closure of the speedbrakes
1,500 feet early caused an acceleration before preflare, as well as
a speed coming out of preflare, that were both well beyond what we
would have seen on the typical manual approach. The automatic control
of wide swings in speedbrake position did not mimic typical manual
pilot inputs of small corrections to maintain constant airspeed.
When stabilized on the IGS at 150-200 feet above the ground, I took
over manually by depressing the manual pushbutton on the left edge
of the glares shield and made the landing. The Shuttle “felt”
differently in the slower landing configuration than it did when flying
it to the OGS.
From the ground, it appeared we had lowered the landing gear low and
late. In fact, however, we lowered the gear earlier than planned at
275 knots versus 270 knots. On the ground, the gear-lowering appeared
late and low because the high-speed entry onto the IGS placed us lower
to the ground than it would have been at the nominal gear-lowering
The high speed also targeted us to land much farther down the runway
than desired, so I flew the Shuttle to a shorter landing position.
This resulted in a faster than nominal landing, but the landing parameters
were within the Shuttle’s landing limitations.
Moreover, the automatic system lined us up slightly right of centerline
coming out of preflare. Due to close proximity to touchdown at takeover,
I decided to accept the slightly right lineup, as it was, without
Nominally, the Shuttle’s nose gear is held up in the landing
position by the attitude-hold control function for aerodynamic braking
until slowing to 165 knots, at which point it is manually lowered
to the runway. In the STS-3 case, the nose began to lower to the runway
immediately after touchdown. To hold it up, I executed a quick pitch-up
input with the rotational hand controller [RHC] but with no apparent
effect. I repeated the same input, and the nose began an unexpected
and rapid pitch-up, whereupon I quickly lowered it to the runway.
The remainder of the rollout to the end of the runway was uneventful
with the exception of a nose wheel steering DTO at slow speed just
prior to wheel-stop. Later, it was reported that a divergence or instability
in the longitudinal control software for the Shuttle landing configuration
caused the unexpected pitch-up behavior.
While the speedbrake control of airspeed was unacceptable for follow-on
missions and resulted in a landing of lower quality than I would have
made without the encumbrances of the DTO, at no time did I feel it
was dangerous or that a safe landing was jeopardized. After all, STS-3
was an official test flight, and it was highly desirable to perform
each DTO within safe and reasonable limits as perceived by the flight
crew. As a result of this test of an automatic approach system, however,
at least two recommendations were implemented as “lessons learned”,
1. For future Shuttle flights, the landing gear would be lowered based
on height above ground, 400 feet, versus airspeed.
2. Development of an automatic approach and landing system was terminated
indefinitely due to the inability to implement an FAA [Federal Aviation
Administration]-like powered aircraft certification program for an
unpowered glider like the Space Shuttle. That is, an automatic system
cannot be reasonably certified for an aircraft without a go-around
capability in the event of an autoland system failure, because the
only recourse in the Shuttle is to land rather than to execute a wave-off
maneuver as in a powered aircraft. The practice of having to salvage
a good landing out of a poor approach is not professionally accepted
3. Further, the STS-3 experience was classified as a “late-takeover”
action in which a failure of the autoland system in even closer proximity
to touchdown could result in an upset too late in the landing phase
to be reasonably recoverable. "Monitoring" the approach
versus actually "controlling" it induces a time lapse in
the mental-to-physical control conversion process which increases
in criticality for manual takeover as the aircraft approaches touchdown.
An automatic failure on the IGS, with no recourse for a wave-off,
would be unsafe compared to a totally manual- controlled approach.
Further observations point to deficiencies in integrating autoland
flight software into training simulators and to validating it prior
to implementing it into the Space Shuttle systems. For example:
1. The STS-3 auto approach software was apparently not implemented
into the Shuttle Mission Simulators [SMS], which was in total violation
of long-standing requirements to incorporate flight software timely
in the SMS. Auto approach training in both the fixed-base and motion-base
simulators never exhibited the unacceptable speedbrake control experienced
in the STS-3 mission. The software in both of those simulators modulated
the speedbrakes in small increments, as a pilot would do, to control
speed very precisely on the OGS. That is, we were led to believe there
were no deficiencies in flight software related to OGS speed control,
so the actual flight behavior in this regime was a complete surprise
to which we were required to react in real time; exactly what pre-flight
training is conducted to avoid! Ironically, the SMS-software programmers
apparently "got it right" whereas the actual flight-software
programmers did not.
2. This deficiency was not uncovered in sessions in the Shuttle Avionics
Integration Laboratory [SAIL], either for reasons unknown or due to
SAIL implementation and evaluation obscurities. We did not notice
the speedbrake behavior described above in SAIL runs from either Entry
Interface [EI] or Deorbit Burn to Final Approach. This could have
occurred due to differences in Shuttle displays and the less obvious
way the SAIL displays the same information. It could also be related
to time we had available to spend with SAIL evaluations because it
had few reset points, making it necessary to spend 30-60 minutes per
run from EI to Deorbit in order to enable observation of the last
minute of speedbrake operation. By contrast, the SMS had many convenient
reset points, including some close to interception with the OGS. Thus,
the SMS was far more time efficient in training for automatic approaches,
and thus more frequently used, than the SAIL for this purpose.
Tell us about preparing for the flight, training, and working in the
simulators, perhaps in the STA [Shuttle Training Aircraft], some of
the Building 5 simulators, and the WETF [Weightless Environment Training
Facility]. I know you were training for contingency EVA [Extravehicular
were training for contingency EVAs, and we had suits on board to handle
that if necessary. The contingency EVAs would be primarily if the
cargo bay doors were stuck, wouldn’t shut, or wouldn’t
latch, and we were able to close them using a block and tackle system.
We could also put latches on the interior by doing an EVA on the inside
of the cargo bay and latching them down either at the centerline or
the ones at the ends of the cargo bay.
We could also disconnect the arm. If we couldn’t get the arm
in with the block and tackle, we could jettison it. We had the same
thing with the S-band antenna on the right side. As I recall we were
able to figure out a way to get rid of that too if it wouldn’t
fold inside the envelope of the cargo bay door. Those are the contingency
EVAs we trained for.
We didn’t have the big neutral buoyancy water tank like we have
now. We just had the round one over in the old centrifuge building.
Gordon and I developed the procedures for doing most of the contingency
EVAs. I guess the first two crews must have had some too. We hoped
never to have to use that training, but if we had to we were prepared.
This was the first time we had a motion base simulator. We didn’t
have it in Apollo. This was pretty slick to have this motion base
simulator. We had a fair amount of time in that for launches and for
reentries, landings, then we had a fixed base simulator that we spent
lots and lots of hours in developing the flight plan and doing integrated
sims [simulations] with Mission Control.
There’s nothing unusual to report about that. The WETF we talked
about. The mockups in Building 9, of course we used those to do stowage
and getting some of the in-cockpit experiments working and so forth,
but that wasn’t a simulator. It was more of a fit and function
type of trainer. Helped us decide where to put the cameras and where
they were and how to do the mechanical parts of spacecraft and do
repairs as well—replacing a computer or some other element.
We could learn to do that in mockups there in Building 9.
What about flying the STA? Did you find that to be particularly helpful?
yes. I think the STA was extremely helpful. Of course since we were
flying a lot of our STA [runs] out of White Sands it helped us to
be familiar out there. We would also occasionally go to the Cape and
fly them too, even though we weren’t going to land there. You
never knew but we might. We also did at Edwards as well even though
we had finally decided to land at White Sands. We had been practicing
at Edwards periodically, but most of it was at White Sands.
The STA was invaluable I think in terms of the landing trainer. It
wasn’t perfect, because you couldn’t land, but you could
come close to it and you could determine how good the landing would
have been if you’d been able to touch down. Moreover, you could
put various conditions in that were not perfect. In fact, we seldom
flew when it was perfect. It was always left to the instructor pilot
to fly either too far away or too close in to the nominal flight path
and having to adjust our airspeeds and our flying technique in order
to get it on the runway. That was really very helpful to understand
the limits that you had within which you could get the Shuttle on
the runway and be able to do it safely. That was good.
We did a lot of T-38 flying at all three landing sites as well. I
think I must have had about 800 approaches in the Shuttle training
airplane. Besides that a lot of them with the T-38 just to get the
sight picture over and over and over again. That was helpful. It’s
better to be flying than sitting at your desk.
Did training change at all after STS-1 and STS-2? Were there any changes
that the crews suggested to trainers?
see. There probably were but I don’t recall. Every crew that
went was asked how it was compared to the simulator. We would determine
what needed to be changed and what not. Of course, there were more
changes after the first and a few more changes after the second, and
a few more changes after the third. Finally got to the place where
it’s been tweaked up pretty good by now I’m sure, but
for the most part there weren’t many surprises.
You use the motion base simulator just for launches and entries primarily.
You can put turbulence in, and you can put weather in. You can put
the conditions that you would expect when you had staging and engine
cutoff. Plus the emergencies that you might have with losing APUs,
losing an engine, flying the RTLS [Return to Launch Site] approaches,
or doing the transatlantic aborts to some airfield either over in
Spain or in Africa. All of that was essential because you had to be
prepared for that on any launch. Fortunately we never had to do it,
but at least we were able to go through the procedures and have the
confidence that if the simulator and the machine flew the same you
could get where you wanted to go. The simulators—I don’t
know how you’d do it without them really.
Did Joe [H.] Engle or Dick [Richard H.] Truly pass along any advice
to you based on their flight?
was the automatic approach. Joe had flown the outer glideslope leg
of the automatic approach. That was part of his mission, down to before
you would make the preflare pull-up. Apparently it went okay so they
extended our flight to go through the preflare and into the inner
glide slope but not the landing. He passed along the word that it
seemed to fly okay. Maybe his software was different than ours because
ours didn’t fly okay, or maybe he took it over manually. I’m
not sure which, but I decided it’s a test flight. Test everything
you can. As long as it was not unsafe, then I was willing to let it
go. It wasn’t unsafe, it was just a little fast.
I’m sure that there were a number of things that were passed
through the training system that they input that I didn’t know
about. They showed up because they put them in, and we were there,
but every flight learned from the one before. Guessing even nowadays
you still learn something new, but in those days just about everything
was new. We tried to inform the crews that came after us what to expect.
The first crew especially had a lot to report.
What did you share with the crew of STS-4 that you had learned from
when they landed at Edwards they didn’t land on a lake bed.
They landed on the hard runway. It was the first landing on a 15,000-foot
runway. I guess we passed along to them that we knew enough about
what the Shuttle does when it gets near the ground. You can probably
get it stopped in 15,000 feet. You pretty well know where it’s
going to land. We got better and better on that as we went through
the first, second and third flights. So other than that I don’t
recall. There were probably some things that we discussed but good
grief, it’s been 35 years or more.
Been a while. I did have a question about the launch. I was reading
that you flew a different launch pattern than the other first two
flights. Do you have any recollection of that?
I don’t know how that was different.
I think that we hit all the highlights of the mission but I did have
some other questions for you about some of the earlier material you
had talked about. Would you mind if we went back and talked about
some of that?
One of the other assignments that I saw that you had worked on were
software issues besides those crew displays that you had talked about.
Were you working with SAIL or FSL [Flight System Laboratory]?
had little interaction with the SAIL except for an unsuccessful attempt
to understand how the STS-3 software for an automatic approach system
was implemented. I had a little bit to do with software development
when it concerned some of the video displays, the CRT [cathode-ray
tube] displays, especially that had to do with the experiments that
we were flying. The ones in the back of the bus were primarily put
on by Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland]. We had to
interface with them. Before the mission, when I realized what they
were going to be and that there hadn’t been much work done on
the displays for operating those experiments I got the principal investigators
together up at Goddard. We went up and took a look at their stuff.
This is where their experimental equipment, the flight hardware, was
being tested before it’d be sent to the Cape.
We went through the flight plan and found out what it was they wanted
to do and made sure the displays were compatible. They effectively
had not done much with displays at all. That’s what cued us
when we started looking at their displays down here in Houston. They
were unsatisfactory for doing the real mission. We went up there and
ironed all that out with several of the experiments that were in the
cargo bay. OSS [Office of Space Science]-1 was one of them; Goddard
was responsible for the test, evaluation, and preparation of most
of the cargo bay experiments.
This included Getaway Specials [GAS]?
don’t recall who managed the Getaway Specials.
You had mentioned that there were different types of HUDs that you
were evaluating. Can you tell us about some of those different types?
the HUDs that were in the fighter airplanes were all a little different
depending on what their mission was. Some were fighters, and some
were attack airplanes. That part of their displays really wasn't applicable
to what we were doing, but it showed me the capabilities that could
be used for what we were doing.
The airlines were looking at a head-up display that was already built
but that was portable that they could install up near the windscreen.
I don’t remember who made that, but it was more like a laptop-size
display; it would project on the windscreen or you could look through
it. Most of them had a projector up front on the glareshield that
would project the numbers up on the windscreen. The primary difference
was a military HUD was dependent on the mission of the airplane, but
none of them really had what I’d call a landing display, because
they’re more interested in the fire control, air-to-ground weapons
delivery, coastline terrain, and mapping. We didn’t have really
need for that.
What we had a need for was the approach phase that turns the Shuttle
around the circular approach and gets it on the runway, particularly
the last part where we use it for the outer glide slope and the inner
glide slope. That’s where it had the most application, but we
added to it such that we could look through the head-up display and
we could see the terrain all around when we were actually coming around
the heading alignment circle as they call it. That was different than
all of the other applications, except for the ones the airliners wanted
to use. Theirs was mostly for doing the straight in approach in bad
weather. It would paint a picture of the runway on the windscreen.
It would have all the sensors in it such that it would know where
the runway was. When you were in clouds it’d see a simulated
runway there and you’d see your ground track to it. It would
give your airspeed, roll and pitch angles, speed brake position, and
other landing parameters.
Actually the Shuttle one does that too. It paints a runway where it
thinks it is, and you hope it’s right. So when you break out
of the clouds and it coincides, why, that makes you happy. The airliner
plans for head-up displays were more allied with what we wanted to
do, but the airliners weren’t using them yet. I called the Air
Line Pilots Association, ALPA I guess it is. I talked with the president
of that. I said, “Are you guys using head-up displays.”
They said, “Well, no. We know of them, but the airlines don’t
want to spend the money for them.” They would have to equip
every airplane with a head-up display. That’s a major expense
so they had not implemented them yet. The landing head-up display
that the airline would use was more applicable to what we were doing,
but we effectively invented our own.
You mentioned that it was fairly costly. Do you recall how much it
was at the time?
was always a lot more than I thought. I don’t have the numbers
for that. I don’t know if there’s anybody who does.
Well, tell us about convincing management of the need for this HUD.
Would you share with us how the process went from, “Let’s
go investigate it” to “This is something that we actually
need on the Space Shuttle?”
I wasn’t going to go into that.
It’s your call.
were not too keen on putting it in. In fact there was a time when
I thought they might not, but this was also during ALT flights. The
last ALT flight had a little dipsy-doodle in their landing. When Rockwell
saw that they thought maybe a head-up display wouldn’t be a
So they agreed with you.
didn’t want anybody breaking their airplane.
You mentioned that Columbia didn’t have this HUD until later.
Did the STA have a HUD? Or you didn’t use a HUD until later?
didn’t have one when I was doing it. No, the left side of the
STA was configured just like the Shuttle we were flying.
Tell us about the ’78 class coming in. You mentioned you were
orienting the pilots, but tell us what it was like when you had women
and minorities coming into the office, and a very large group of astronauts
were no women test pilots at that time so they weren’t in the
15 pilots that I was getting oriented. The 1978 women were all mission
specialists. I thought they really were doing a good job as mission
specialists. Sally [K.] Ride worked on the remotely controlled arm
on STS-3 and contributed greatly in that area. I thought they were
very proficient in what they were doing. I’ve admired what they’ve
Shannon [W.] Lucid on the Mir—she was for a while the most well
traveled astronaut. Shannon is a good friend. I appreciate her company.
She’s still around. I saw her in Mission Control the other day
working on that. We had a Bible study that my wife and I started when
those folks came. She of course is a missionary’s daughter,
with quite a colorful early history. She was a member of that Bible
study as were some others.
Anna [L.] Fisher, I worked with her quite a bit as well, Judy [Judith
A.] Resnik, Kathy [Kathryn D.] Sullivan too on the EVA. They contributed
to the development of things we were doing. They came on, and that’s
the way they learned. Like the rest of us did before. We were in support
crews. They took over that function for us.
Do you think they changed the office in any way?
made it more diverse obviously. No, I don’t think so. I think
they fit right in real well. We just accepted them as any astronauts
we would have. They were all Mission Specialists. I wasn’t there
when the [women] pilots came aboard, but I’ve gotten to know
Eileen [M.] Collins since that time. She did a great job with the
piloting and commanding three flights that she flew too.
Tell us about orienting those new Space Shuttle pilots. What sort
of advice were you giving them as they came on board?
don’t know as it was giving them advice so much as I was helping
them find places to live, who to go see for certain kinds of things,
[where] to get their car fixed, or have them over just to get acquainted
with them. Their wives would come as well. It was just more of a get
acquainted opportunity and giving them a chance to do the things they
wanted to do. If they wanted to go to the Mission Control Center,
I would say, “Here’s who to see to get to do this,”
and helping them get over there. Sometimes we’ll have to go
to the Cape to work, and sometimes you’ll have to go to Huntsville.
Get them acquainted with who was there and how to get around.
Most of them were pretty self-reliant. You didn’t have to paint
much of a picture for them, the pilots anyway. Being a military person
myself, I was able to communicate with them fairly readily and knew
what they needed to know in most cases. They were a confident bunch.
They were used to going to new places and getting reassigned regularly
and figuring out how to get their family settled. I was just there
to assist wherever I could.
You had mentioned, when you were working on the Skylab mission, something
that I wanted to ask about. You were going to be working on that remote-controlled
booster. Can you share with us how you would simulate that and where
you would work on those simulations?
The simulations for the remotely controlled booster were done at Marshall.
They had the lead contract for the development of the booster package.
One of the things that was necessary was to define the power that
was going to be in the control system. We also knew that the Skylab
wasn’t just sitting there motionless waiting to be docked with
but it was actually augering through the sky with a motion that made
the nose of it wobble in a circle. When we designed the booster package,
it had to be capable of being flown so it could match that wobble
of the docking port around a centerline; it was auguring around a
centerline in a circular motion.
I had to fly that booster over there and match that circular motion
and have enough power in the control system to make sure that could
be done. We set up a simulation system over at Marshall. We simulated
known wobble of the Skylab and made sure we could get to that, then
we added to it and made a bigger wobble so we could size the control
system. That was part of the development. The operational part had
to be compatible with what was up there.
That was most all of the docking simulation that we had during that
first year. We had not thought of making a more elaborate simulator
here by the time that the program got canceled, but that seemed to
do the job.
Was that primarily computer-based?
As I recall just a CRT that showed what the Skylab was doing. I had
a simulated docking module that would dock with it and see if I could
make the docking. That’s all it was. We didn’t have anything
more elaborate than that. We didn’t have the two big pieces
physically to dock together; we might have had that later, but it
didn’t get that far. This was adequate; it was only going to
be done one time anyway. We didn’t have to have a simulator
for lots of different astronauts. It was a one-shot deal.
The Marshall Space Flight Center was the head of that contract with
Martin Marietta. I would go to work with the engineers at Martin Marietta,
but we didn’t have a simulator there. We just took the data
that we got off the one at Marshall and made them aware of what needed
to be done.
They did a good job. As long and as far as it went, we really were
able to define what the requirements were and match them with the
final design of the booster package.
You mentioned it was going to be as big as a truck?
was about the size of a dump truck, yes. Sits in the payload bay of
the Space Shuttle. It was quite large. There are some pictures of
it, or schematics of it, around. Perhaps you’ve seen them.
No I haven’t actually. I’ll have to.
have slides at home, but clearly they’ve got them over in the
archives here somewhere.
We’ll have to look and attach them to the transcript. That’d
had a booster engine. It also had fuel tanks on it too, propellant
tanks. It had to be fairly good size to do the job. Nobody ever decided
which way it was going to be used, to go higher or to go lower.
Were you also working on prox ops [proximity operations] and rendezvous
I didn’t work on that. Fred was working on that for this particular
mission, the rendezvous and prox ops with the Shuttle and Skylab,
but I was going to do the part in between. It was kind of Buck Rogersish,
but it was doable. Also made it exciting.
Yes, it sounds really neat. Did you have any specific role in the
maiden flight of Columbia? The first STS flight?
Just went to see it go. That’s about it. Got back here in two
days. So no, I didn’t have any role in the first two missions.
Gordon and I were just training for ours. So two and a half years
before the flight we started training; that included starting with
classes. When the Space Shuttle itself was so brand-new, there was
a lot that was unknown about it, but we worked with the flight controllers,
went to classes, and learned about how the systems worked. We were
ready to get in the simulator. There were some part-task trainers
also that we could get some time in as well before we got in the Shuttle
So let’s see. Two and a half years before that would have been
end of ’79 I guess, but that’s how long we trained for
the Skylab mission with Bean and Garriott too, two and a half years.
Had training changed at all since Skylab?
yes. We had a motion base simulator that we didn’t have before.
We had less experimental training to do for the Shuttle. Skylab had
60 experiments. We had to become solar physicists, Earth science experts,
medical science experts, astronomers, and [experts in] materials processing.
We got into the science of all those things in Skylab. We decided
at the outset that we were all going to learn how to do everything.
The scientists had to become pilots, and pilots had to become scientists.
We were, all three of us, capable of doing anything on the mission
that any other one had to do in case there was an incapacitated person
or somebody was ill for a while, [and we] had to take over.
The things we trained for were quite a bit different in Shuttle than
for Skylab. For STS-3, there was not as much scientific training because
we didn’t have as many experiments. Some of them were just turn
on, turn off, things like the Getaway Special canisters. There wasn’t
a lot to know in some of those things.
I guess the experiments that took the most time in Shuttle were the
ones that had to do with the environment: testing with the payload
on the arm. A couple of the solar experiments required a fair amount
of inside-the-cockpit maneuvering, but we had one in the cargo bay
that was a very complex science experiment. It was based on an electronic
discharge along the magnetic lines that was initiated by an electron
generator. We couldn’t call it a gun, but it was an electron
generator, not an electron gun, an electron generator. We put electrons
into the magnetic field. We had to orient the Shuttle such that the
magnetic field would be perpendicular to the cargo bay to see if we
could elicit some sort of electron glow that would coil around the
Earth's magnetic lines.
Come to think of it, we did discover something there. In order to
do that, we had some very sensitive film that would take good pictures
in dark places. We had to have all the lights down. We had to cover
the windows and have the camera pointing out with a shroud around
it. We never ever detected that electron coil so to speak, but because
the film was so sensitive, it found a glow around the Shuttle, around
the OMS pods and around the tail. It was just a glowing layer conforming
to the shape of the Shuttle. You’d think it’d just be
dark at night, but it wasn’t. That was a discovery that we weren’t
We didn’t find what we wanted to find out, but we found out
something new. That amused the scientists for a while, and engineers,
because that must have had to do with the fact that the Shuttle was
moving through space and it was intercepting and ionizing some of
the very thin atmosphere that was there, the molecules. That caused
a glow. They thought there must be some oxidation on the surface of
the Shuttle, maybe over time that could be destructive.
They pursued that. Frankly I don’t know what they came up with
in the end analysis, but I know that I’ve seen the pictures.
I don’t think that it was anything that was considered finally
to be destructive to the Shuttle, but was some new gee-whiz item that
they ought to keep in mind and see what happens as a result of that,
for example, surface deterioration or coatings to prevent long-term
It’s one of those things that astronauts get into. We train
real hard to understand the physics and the science of the experiments
that we do, whether it’s medical or whether it’s just
astronomy or solar physics. We try to understand the science so we
can do a better job of gathering the data. If something goes wrong
we can come up with a good alternative, if we know the basis of the
Same with the medical things about diagnosing illnesses in long-duration
flights and taking care of those kinds of emergency medicine type
things. You need to know how to do all that and what the causes are
so you can do a better job of addressing the problem. So you go and
you do that. You do your best to get the data. Some folks aren’t
into the science so much, but Skylab was and Gordon and I were too.
We wanted to make sure that we got everything done that the scientists
wanted to get done and that we did a good job of it. So we had to
understand the underlying physical principles.
So we get the data. Then when we get home, we do our postflight report
and a few public appearances, and we go on to the next thing. We seldom
know what the results were of the things we did. That’s the
case with this particular observation. I don’t know what the
end result was of all that. I’d like to be more informed, but
like I say, we go on to other things. Often the principal investigators,
they go on to their things, take their data and do whatever they want
to with it, but we don’t end up being informed of the results.
Some of that was different though on the Skylab missions. Some of
the principal investigators were really good about informing us as
to what they learned, especially in the medical area. I thought that
was good, but some of the other areas not so much.
But this was another case of that. I’m sorry I can’t tell
you more about the scientific spin-off.
You mentioned something that just triggered another question. Tell
us about your postflight tours that you did after STS-3.
of the things we did right away was to go and tell the Canadians what
a great job they did building that arm. We were invited to go to Canada,
and Gordon and I did. We went to the Maritime Provinces, one day for
each of the four. It was New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward
Island, and Newfoundland. We were obviously well received. We would
report to the community at large or to a science group or to a university
or just a civic Rotary lunch. Whatever they wanted to do, we would
tell them how it worked, and tell them about the rest of the flight
as well. That was just the four-day deal. We went up there in the
Gulfstream. They dropped us off at different places. We’d get
to tour around a little bit too to see how the people lived and what
was there. We enjoyed the cultural interchange. We also went to China.
Did you really?
That was in 1982. I think we flew in March, and we were there in November.
It was colder than heck in November. Winter was starting there, but
this was when they were still kind of having their coming out, still
a totally Communist country. We spent about three weeks in China.
The deal was that if we were to tell them about our space program,
they would show us some of their space facilities. That was a good
deal, a good interchange. We saw some of their space facilities.
Even in those days they were asking questions about life support,
spacesuits, how you feel, those kinds of things. That was in 1982.
They finally put some of that to use obviously. They’re doing
better all the time. We were in Beijing about 10 days. We were hosted
by the Chinese Astronautical Society, I think it was, something like
that, like our AIAA [American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics]
probably. It was aeronautics and space. It was mostly space. Of course
when you get to China, everything is totally upside down with respect
to time, because it’s 12 hours different. If you want to go
and see a play or something, it’s around bedtime home, why,
it’s hard to stay awake.
We finally adapted. We had four Chinese, they were members of the
society, [who] were our daily hosts. They were with us all the time,
but when we first got there we went to the Beijing Duck Restaurant
for our introduction to the chief of the Astronautical Society. They
do things early there, and they go home early. We got there about
5:00 and had a little reception. They always have round tables, I
think too. Just the right number of people. We had about three round
tables, I guess. At the reception I was introduced to the head of
the Chinese Astronautical Society. He was probably about as old as
I am now, maybe even older, but he was very quiet. I tried to engage
him. I was the leader of our delegation, obviously. We were there
with our wives. We had a NASA rep [representative] with us as well.
We had this director of the Chinese Astronautical Society, and the
four people who were going to host us for the next three weeks, and
a few others. I tried to engage this guy during the reception. I don’t
speak any Chinese. I figured, well he doesn’t speak any English
so it’s going to be a hard thing to do.
We were there, and we went to the dinner. Sat down at the dinner table,
which was where the reception was. I sat on his right. To his left
was the interpreter. I thought I should get acquainted with this guy.
I asked him a question. I don’t remember what the question was,
but of course when I asked it I just was looking at the interpreter.
The Chinese director answered the question in perfect English. I said,
“Well, where did you learn to speak English so well?”
He said, “Well, I graduated from college in the United States”
in 1937. I said, “Well, what school did you go to?”
He said, “I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
I said, “That’s my hometown. That’s where I went
to school.” I found University of Michigan alumni clear over
there in China on my left side. We had a great conversation about
where we lived and went to school. It worked out good. So you never
know where you’re going to find somebody who speaks English.
We were around Beijing. We met with a number of the Chinese future
space people. By this time they had fired off several rockets, Long
March rockets. It was interesting. In this culture most of them wore
Mao clothes, and they were riding a lot of bicycles. They’d
line up for a stop sign. It’d just be 100 bicycles ready to
go. There were some cars. The cars were mostly for getting officials
around. The general public didn’t have cars. They would drive
us around in the cars though, wherever we had to go.
The first thing they did when starting the taxi was blow the horn.
It seemed like the car wouldn’t move until they blew the horn.
They would blow the horn all the time we were going somewhere. They’d
go for 20 seconds, blow the horn, boop boop. It was common to blow
the horn. I remember that, but when you’re downtown you can
expect to see lots of bicycles.
We were staying right near Tiananmen Square. They took us all around
the Old City and took us to all the sights, then we would have lectures
for the scientists, engineers, and technicians who might be involved
in space. Sometimes there were maybe 700 or 800 people. Gordon and
I had a lot of slides and some videos. We would explain what they
were, all about the Apollo Program, Gemini Program. All that was common
I took along several space photos of China. We were able on the Shuttle
missions to take pictures of China and Russia. We weren’t on
Skylab, but they finally changed that. I had taken a picture of a
beautiful emerald-colored lake in China. It was just beautiful. All
around it was desert, a tan sandy desert. It was an absolutely beautiful
picture. I showed them this picture. I noticed out in the audience
all of a sudden there was a rise in the noise level. Like they were
all talking about something. It was a happy sound. They were shuffling
The interpreter said, “Next slide, please.” We went on.
I thought maybe I pronounced the name of the lake wrong or something;
then we were showing another picture of Shanghai and the airport.
Once again, noise. A happy sound, but conversation out there. It died
down. Later on we had a social event that evening. When I could get
the interpreter by himself I thought well, maybe I better not engage
this guy too much, because he’ll think he’s transmitting
information he shouldn’t. Might be politically bad for him.
I said, “I showed these two pictures. I showed this picture
of the lake, and there was a noise in the audience, then you said
next slide. We didn’t get to talk about it. Did I pronounce
the name of the lake wrong or something like that?”
He said, “I think that’s an atomic test site.” Here
these Chinese, they probably weren’t supposed to know about
that but did. They had to have some American come over to show it
to them. It was a long time ago so I’m sure it doesn’t
make any difference now, but we had conversations with a lot of people
who might be interested in human spaceflight. They had been talking
with the Russians and also talked with the Russians about crew selection.
They had some interesting ideas about crew selection and who they
should select based on Chinese medicine. I didn’t get into that.
They have different ways, but they’ve done very well with what
We also went to a place where they made satellites. There were a number
of English-speaking Chinese scientists there. They’d been educated
at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] and other places in
the United States and were there in China making [up] part of their
aerospace program, but I was thinking earlier that it was interesting
to see this communist country without much of what we enjoy today,
but they had these shining gleaming silver rockets that they could
shoot off. They had not put anything above low-Earth orbit. They had
put some weather satellites and some animals into low-Earth orbit,
but they had never put anything into geosynchronous orbit like communications
satellites, but of course they’ve done all that now. They’ve
had the help of Chinese scientists and engineers who were trained
here in the United States.
We met some people in the government too. Congressional people, equivalents
of our Congress, that had been educated here and were now serving
there. We dealt with the American embassy there as well. We would
do a program for the American school while we were there. They were
good about showing us around the Chinese cultural areas.
We also went to Shanghai for a few days. We went to Xi’an, where
they have the terra-cotta archeological sites where the emperors’
tombs [are located], and they had started digging up some of those
tombs and exposing some of those terra-cotta armies and soldiers.
It was fairly small at that time. I think it’s expanded greatly
now, but it was about the size of a hangar out at Ellington Air Force
Base [Houston, Texas]. They had uncovered that much. They had planks.
You could walk around and look at these things. It was very fascinating.
There were also groups there of students, like college students of
scientific orientation, who wanted to know what we were doing so we
told them about Apollo, Gemini, and some of the things we learned.
We went to another place where they made their rockets. They did show
us five different sites. They showed us another place where they tested
their equipment with vibration and thermal chambers.
I don’t think they showed us the newer things. We didn’t
go to their launch site for example, but I think it probably is much
more open now, but it was a very interesting tour. Of course we went
to the Great Wall of China. I don’t know who started the rumor
that you can see the Great Wall of China from the Moon, but you can
hardly see it from low-Earth orbit. Hate to bust their little bubble,
but that’s the way it is. The Great Wall is not all that big
It was really a pleasant visit. We enjoyed it greatly and brought
back some Chinese mementos, vases and so forth, that they make, but
in those days they didn’t have all of the shopping that they
have now. They were just starting to get a store here, a store there.
Of course wherever there were any electronics, you’d see the
kids all congregate there. They had made a subdivision they took us
to of fairly new homes, maybe five or six of them. They were very
proud of the construction, because it was different than they had
downtown in Beijing. They were starting to do that. They were starting
also to allow people who worked on communes to keep some of their
produce so they could sell it on the open market, a little bit of
free enterprise, you know, entrepreneurs.
I think if you give a Chinese person a chance at a business, it’s
going to run. It’s going to take off and run. They were doing
that. Some of them were accused of selling more than they should and
of making too much money at it. They were going to have to give a
little more of it to the commune than they’d been doing. They
slapped them on the wrist a little bit, but they said, “That’s
not capitalism, it’s just good socialism.” That’s
what they called it. That was a really good trip, but I think those
are the only two that I can remember that we took.
Great trips though.
they were. They asked me first to go to Argentina. It was near the
timeframe of the Falklands War. It was when the Americans sided with
the Brits [British] against the Argentines at the Falklands. I asked,
“You’re sending me down there? I’m going to get
assassinated. I don’t want to do that. Let’s go somewhere
else. Let us go somewhere we haven’t been. We’d like to
go to either China or Australia.” So they sent us to China,
which was really a great experience, in that time especially.
Do you want to talk about your [time as the] backup crew [for ASTP]?
I could do that. The Apollo-Soyuz mission was just a rumor at the
beginning of the era of detente that we had with the Soviets, in which
we had traded back and forth people in music, education, farming,
athletics, and all those various areas. One of the things we traded
back and forth was a joint spaceflight. I had heard just a rumor that
that was going to happen, possibly. At the same time the Skylab was
right on the edge. There were times when they were talking about canceling
the Skylab, saving the money, and doing something else with it. In
that era the ASTP mission was rumored. I thought well, if I don’t
fly on Skylab I better try to get on this Russian flight.
While I was training for Skylab in the early days I took a course
in Russian language. I just did it on my own. Military people do distance
learning or correspondence courses with University of Maryland [College
Park]. I found out they had a Russian language course, a one-semester
course. It was written only. It was no conversation, but they taught
you how to pronounce words. I took it and sent the lessons in. It
was 15 or 20 lessons. I passed the test so I had a start on the Russian
language. At least I could read it, I learned quite a few words, and
I could write it.
I couldn’t converse with anybody. When I took the test then
I sent a copy of my graduation letter to Deke [Donald K. Slayton]
and got it put in my jacket. I knew Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford very
well because I’d worked with him on Apollo 10, and I had heard
a rumor that he was going to be the commander. I said, “I’d
be willing to be part of your crew.” By the time I got around
to that Skylab was back in. I knew that I couldn’t get off Skylab
and turn right around and be on another prime crew so I said, “I’d
like to be on your backup crew.”
He said, “Well, let me think about it.” I guess that meant
he had to go talk to Deke. Later on he came back, and they assigned
me to the backup crew with Al Bean and Ron [Ronald E.] Evans. Of course
Ron had just come back from Apollo 17, and Al and I just from Skylab
too, so we were all well trained in terms of Command Module, Saturn
launches, entries, and rendezvous. The thing we weren’t very
well trained in was the Russian language, but they hired, as you probably
know, four Russian language teachers, three of who were real former
Russians, and one of who was American who learned it.
My instructor was Vasily Kostun. He was an escaped Red Army soldier.
He was a Czech. After World War II, the Ukraine needed farmers. They
were invited to go there from Czechoslovakia. His parents went there
as farmers, and either stayed or were forced to stay, I don’t
know which. He was drafted in the Red Army and somehow he got out
through Czechoslovakia and came here.
The Russian language course was totally conversational Russian. We
had the course that was taught at the Defense Language Institute [Monterey,
California] for people who were going to live and work in Russia in
the diplomatic corps for two or three years. This was not just for
short tours. It was for people who were going to go for long engagements.
We’d have these just one-on-one conversational instructional
lessons every day depending on how much time we had. Of course we
had also to continue to train to do rendezvous and dockings and make
sure we knew how the docking adapter or docking module worked. There
was a lot to do besides Russian language, but it was a good chance
to learn something I’d never done before. It was also very interesting
at that time because we didn’t know much about Russia or the
Soviet Union. More information was coming out about the culture, history,
how people lived, and politics, and that all was fascinating to me.
We went over there three times to train with them, and they came over
here three times. We got to know the cosmonauts real well.
By the time we left, we could converse with them and the families
in Russian without an interpreter. Of course for the language of spaceflight
we learned all of that, and they learned it in English. At first if
we couldn’t quite understand or didn’t know the word,
why, we could help with our English and they could help with their
Russian to get through what we were doing. By the time the flight
came our crews and theirs were well versed in the language.
It was good to have them come here and for us to go there. We enjoyed
the home tour part of it. We enjoyed being over there in Moscow. While
we were there when President [Richard M.] Nixon and Secretary of State
[Henry A.] Kissinger made a state visit. All of us astronauts and
cosmonauts were part of that. It was a huge thing in Saint George’s
Hall, I think, or one of those saints.
We got to meet with their president, [Leonid I.] Brezhnev and [Alexsey
N.] Kosygin, and got to say hello to them. They asked a few questions,
and we tried to give a few answers. To me that part of it was extremely
interesting. It was one of the most interesting assignments I ever
had, although I didn’t fly the mission. It was one of the most
interesting from the cultural point of view, especially at that time
when it was still Iron Curtain days. Shortly thereafter the era of
detente was terminated, and everybody went back to doing things the
way they had done before until [Mikhail] Gorbachev and [Ronald] Reagan
I guess it was interesting from the point of view that it was so unusual
to have Americans over there and to Russians here. We had them over
for dinner. We’d have them over two at a time. They enjoyed
seeing how Americans lived. We enjoyed seeing how they lived.
The training was good. I think the training in Russia was interesting,
too. I thought their workload and training regimen was considerably
less than ours. We did a little more socializing during training hours
in Russia than we do here. We kept them real busy when they were here,
but that was a successful flight. I don’t know what to tell
you beyond that.
I think that’s a good overview. I just had a couple general
questions we always like to ask everybody. What do you think was your
most significant accomplishment while you were working here at JSC?
significant accomplishment. Well, probably getting on my first spaceflight.
On the first spaceflight, [Skylab 3], you’ve probably been told
we accomplished 150 percent of our objectives. We did, because nobody
had ever lived in a big thing like that and didn’t know how
to train for it so we did the best we could. We allowed extra time
in training to do everything, because we were moving big packages
around and we were living in a big place for the first time. There
was a lot of fixing to do, also.
Turns out when we got up there, the first time we went through everything,
we learned where everything was. Every time after that, we did the
task a lot quicker so we had extra time. We wanted to be productive
so we asked for more work. They generated some more kinds of things
for us to do.
One of them was Earth Observations to quantify more precisely what
you could see of the Earth from space, and how you might use that
vantage point to better advantage in the future than we had thought
about doing in the past. So we developed that Earth Observation program.
Up until the time I left it was a program that was applied to every
flight, including our STS-3 flight. We had a book of things to look
for, see if we could see them and report back. I think probably the
Skylab flight made a significant contribution to further Earth Observation
What do you think was your biggest challenge?
biggest challenge was probably learning the Space Shuttle, because
it was a more complex machine. For Skylab and all of Apollo, of course,
the computational capability was very small compared to the Shuttle.
In Apollo, the operational parts of the systems were not computerized
and the GNC [Guidance and Navigation Control], although new, was relatively
I could learn the spacecraft, the Command and Service Module as well
as the Lunar Module. I knew them like the back of my hand. In fact
I was more lunar-trained than anything else because in my support
crew roles, the first two assignments were on the Lunar Module. The
first Lunar Module came from Grumman in Bethpage [New York] and was
actually tested for almost a whole year before it was ready to go
out to the Vertical Assembly Building. Fred Haise was the lead guy
for that, but Fred got assigned to the backup crew of Apollo 8 and
I got his job. I took the rest of Lunar Module 3 that was for Apollo
9 through the test and checkout, out to the Vertical Assembly Building
to test again and out to the launch pad to test again prior to launch,
I learned the Lunar Module. I did the same thing for the Apollo 10
Lunar Module when they orbited the Moon with Stafford and [Eugene
A.] Cernan. While I was at the Cape, I would get in the simulator
when the crew wasn’t there, or if they needed someone to help
them check out the simulator. If one of the crewmen had to go to a
meeting or something, I’d fly with the other one. I had 700
hours in the Lunar Module simulator.
I was also flying helicopters in preparation for lunar missions. Alan
Bean, when he was on the backup crew for Apollo 9, and for which I
was on the support crew, asked me to develop the malfunction procedures
for the crew to use on board. I worked with the flight controllers
to get those made. All things considered, I expected I was headed
for a Lunar Module assignment.
The last three Apollo flights, of course, were canceled. That terminated
any aspirations I might have had for a lunar mission, but that’s
the direction I thought I was headed.
You were talking about your most challenging milestone was learning
course the Lunar Module and the Command Module in terms of computing
power were about the same, and the spacecraft systems were operated
like you operate your car or your house with the switches that you
throw and handles that you move manually. Then the Shuttle comes along,
and it’s mostly controlled by software. All the spacecraft systems
are now also controlled by software, and so is all the guidance, navigation
and control, of course, but it’s much more complex now. Learning
the Space Shuttle to the depth that I wanted to, as I had in the Apollo,
seemed to be a formidable job, and almost impossible in the time that
we had to do it. I found that the most challenging was to learn as
much as I could about how the Space Shuttle worked. Not just the mechanical
stuff, but how the software worked, and how then I needed to use that
information to stay alive and to fly a good mission. So that, I think,
probably was the most challenging.
Rebecca, did you have any questions?
just have one, because you’re one of the few people we can ask
this question. That is you flew in your first mission on a Saturn
[rocket], and you launched, of course, on the Shuttle. Can you share
with us the differences that you felt in those launches and the differences
in training and how they prepared you for each one?
a good question, and it’s often asked. I do lectures for a couple
weeks every year down at the Cape at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor
Center for the general public. That’s one of the questions often
asked. I’ve even made a program for that. Every day I do one
of those. Well, the differences. There are six of us who have flown
both the Shuttle and Saturn, or Apollo.
The Saturn and Apollo got us into orbit in ten minutes. The Shuttle
is eight and a half minutes. The G-forces in the Saturn were about
four Gs for launch, and they’re about three Gs for the Shuttle.
Of course you’re lying down in both cases. The Shuttle could
accelerate to more Gs, but it doesn’t want to get more than
three, because it could overstress the fitting between the tank and
the Shuttle. When you get to three Gs the throttle comes back to maintain
three Gs and get in orbit that way, but still you get there quicker.
Eight and a half minutes. That’s quicker than Saturn but with
fewer Gs, so it’s a spectacular ride!
Another difference, of course, is you have what I call a “real
staging” with the Saturn, and then sort of a “semistaging”
with the Shuttle, because with the Saturn you had to shut down the
stage you’d burned out just before you got get rid of it. So
you’re accelerating forward and all of a sudden you shut down
that engine. You get thrown forward in the straps and you say, “Hey,
the engine shut down” and then you have to get rid of it too.
There’s a big explosion as the cord around the—can opener
so to speak—explodes, and the debris goes in every direction,
like a big disk. That separates that spent stage away. Meanwhile you’re
just coasting, and you’re waiting for the next stage to light.
That’s what I call a real staging. For the Shuttle, we call
it staging when we just get rid of the solid rocket boosters, but
the main engines have been burning all along right from liftoff. That’s
what I call sort of a “semistaging.”
Vibrations are different in the two rockets. Both of them have fairly
heavy vibration right at liftoff, but on the Saturn the vibration
would quickly damp out, and the ride was quite smooth. You’d
feel the engine surge a little bit, but there wasn’t any vibration.
It was quite a smooth ride. It laid you back in the seat to four Gs,
as I mentioned. The Shuttle though, after the heavy vibration, you
clear the launch tower and make your roll maneuver, and there’s
still a steady chatter. It’s not a heavy vibration, but it’s
like running over railroad ties real fast with a car, a steady vibration.
That’s caused by solid rockets, but as soon as you get rid of
the solid rockets, then the ride is much smoother. Then, you feel
this relentless, aggressive, powerful push just throwing you into
The other thing that’s different of course on launch is you
have a launch escape tower on the Apollo. You don’t have anything
like that on the Shuttle. If you lose an engine on the Shuttle you
have to continue to fly east for four and a half minutes before you
can turn around to start back. In the Saturn you have a launch escape
tower if it’s necessary.
That’s different. When you get rid of the launch escape tower,
of course, it’s connected to the conical shroud that covers
the Command Module and all its windows except one. You must get rid
of that launch escape tower because you don’t need anymore after
you get above the atmosphere. You throw a switch, and that escape
rocket ignites and pulls the shroud off. It goes screaming away like
a scalded eagle. It’s a lot of whooshing noise. It’s real
spectacular to see that rocket auguring away from you, carrying the
shroud. You can see a lot more now because the other four windows
are uncovered. I would say the ride in the Saturn for all those reasons
is more dramatic than the Shuttle ride.
Coming back in Apollo, you’re in a capsule, looking backwards,
and lying down. You get up to about four Gs coming out of Earth orbit.
Whereas, in the Shuttle you’re sitting up and looking forward,
and the most Gs you get is one and a half, sitting down. But if your
backside hasn’t been sitting on something for a week or two,
why, when you start feeling one and a half Gs on your seat, and it
feels like you’re going to fall through the floor. But that’s
all you get is one and a half Gs. You can’t pull more than two
Gs with the Shuttle because that could overstress it. So the entry
G-forces are less in the Shuttle than in Saturn.
You’re also looking forward in the Shuttle. Obviously it’s
different when you land. Coming back in both cases you have to fall
from orbital altitude through space for maybe 150 miles or so before
you hit the top of the atmosphere. In both cases you have to hit the
atmosphere at just the right angle. In a Shuttle night entry, you
see this kind of a peachy glow, out the windows, then it’s a
pale orange glow and then brilliant orange and then brilliant white-hot.
You’re looking forward, and the light show goes away when you
breakout into the daylight.
The temperature on the Shuttle heat shield gets up to 2,500 degrees,
3,000 or so on the leading edges, whereas the capsule heat shield
gets up to 5,000 degrees. In the Apollo capsule, you’re looking
backwards. Fragments of the heat shield are burning away to take the
heat away from your spacecraft and they envelop the Command Module
in kind of a sheath. They form a fireball about 30 feet in the direction
you’re looking. You’re looking backwards at a shimmering,
mean, hot-looking fireball. It breaks up when you fire the thrusters
on the spacecraft because you’ve got to roll the spacecraft
to keep it on trajectory. Those thrusters are firing right by your
head. It’s like having your head in a barrel with somebody beating
on it with a sledgehammer. Bang bang bang, and there is all this rolling,
and the fireball out there.
Once again, the capsule is more dynamic. You get down to where you
get through the major heat pulse and then you have to get the chutes
out. To do that, you have to blow off the nose ring of the capsule.
That goes tumbling off with a pyrotechnic bang and then you get these
two small drogue chutes out at 25,000 feet. They’re white. They’re
on lanyards that are about 30 feet long. They’re dancing around
up there trying to slow you down and stabilize the spacecraft.
Then at 10,000 feet you get rid of those drogue chutes. You cut them
loose and quickly leave them behind. Now you really have a sinking
feeling, and you get the main parachutes out. You’re below 10,000
feet now. You’re getting ready to hit the water. The chutes,
as they come out, all scrunched up or gathered at the base in what
is called a “reefed” configuration.
That’s good, because you’re going fast, and if they were
to blossom out immediately, the panels would be blown out. You have
to slow down for a while. After a few seconds, those reefing lines
are cut, the parachutes blossom out and then to their full size, and
you wait for the landing.
The capsule is suspended below the parachutes on an angle. The heat
shield is not parallel to the ocean surface. You don’t want
to do a belly flopper. The capsule hangs on an angle so when it hits
the water, it slides in. It’s like a train wreck when you hit
the water. If you hit on one side of the wave it’s going to
be more of a train wreck than if you hit on the other side. When you
splash down, you go completely submerged, and you come up either right
side up or upside down. We bobbed up upside down in the Skylab.
After two months in space and being weightless we were now hanging
from the ceiling looking downward in the water. Then, we can pump
air into three balloons around the tip of the capsule. This changes
the buoyancy and flips you right side up. Then you go through the
process of getting on to the ship and cruising a couple days to San
Diego [California]. You finally get home after three days or so.
Recovery is much simpler with the Space Shuttle. You land, you have
your picture taken, and you go to lunch. That’s all there is.
Shuttle landing is a whole lot different. The only thing you don’t
want to do is to go off into the water along the runway, because there
are alligators in there. There are quite a few differences. All things
considered, I think the Apollo ride is more dynamic.
like a great career. Thank you so much.
been a very fortunate person. We’re going to talk about Apollo
13 in the Apollo Mission Control Center. NBC is doing a documentary
of some sort. I guess they’ll play it next month during the
40th Anniversary of Apollo 13 during April 11 to 17. I was one of
the CapComs [Capsule Communicators]. Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin and Vance
Brand were the others. I was on duty with Flight Director Gene Kranz
when the explosion occurred. I don’t know who all is going to
be over there, but they’re putting a documentary together. So
that’s what brings me back to Houston today.
got a lot of memories today from one range to the other.
I didn’t get to the Moon, but I had a very fortunate career.
I was in training for another [Shuttle] flight, but it was two years
downstream. It was just to dump off a satellite. It wasn’t a
test flight. I got in the simulator and started training, thought
to myself, “Hmm, been here, done this.” A lot of people
would give their right arm to do it.
I decided that since it wasn’t as exciting, and I’d done
this all before, it was probably time to be moving on. So I quit.
I thought well, if I don’t get a buzz out of it it’s not
worth the risk to my family, besides, two years might be six. You
really don’t know. At some point in time you have to think about
getting a real job and going to work for a living!
it off as long as you could, did you?
I did, yes, but I do enjoy being involved with it; lot of camaraderie
with my friends who have enjoyed unique experiences. I go to the Cape
often. The astronauts have a Scholarship Foundation, too, of course.
I stay involved in that.
The Association of Space Explorers is another way to stay involved.
Sometimes, I do their things. We rendezvous in various encounters
around the country. Now it’s 40th anniversary time; started
with Apollo 10 in Tom Stafford’s hometown, Weatherford, Oklahoma.
I did the Apollo 11 one up in Washington [DC]. Whatever [Apollo] 9
did, I didn’t get to that. I don’t even know if they had
something, but we had another with [Apollo] 12 down at the Cape during
an Astronaut Scholarship Foundation event down there. Neil [A.] Armstrong
showed up for that, too. For Apollo 13, there are several celebrations.
I plan to go to the 40th anniversary celebration at the Cosmosphere
in Hutchinson, Kansas, way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s
going to be a good time, and they have one of the finest space museums
in the US.
I think the Lovells are having something in Chicago [Illinois], too.
Marilyn Lovell was talking with my wife the other day and said, “Hey,
we’re having an event at the Adler Planetarium downtown Chicago.
Why don’t you come? We’re having a reception.”
My wife, Gratia, said, “Well, I guess so. Just let us know.”
It’s fun to get together with everybody. Everybody’s more
mellow now than they used to be, because everybody’s had a chance
to do their thing. They were pretty competitive days, but now it’s
fun to get together because everybody’s had a chance to fly
and enjoy it. There’s a certain camaraderie there that doesn’t
exist anywhere else.
to reflect on the fact that you all have that bond of doing something
that very few people have done. And doing it well.
to be more and more astronauts now, but I think we had the best days.
Thanks for coming in.
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