NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Houston, Texas – 26 February 1999
is February 26, 1999. This oral history is with Glynn Lunney, at the
offices of the Signal Corporation in Houston, Texas. The interview
is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project,
by Carol Butler, assisted by Summer Chick Bergen, and Kevin Rusnak.
Thank you for joining us again.
to be here. Thank you.
start today, talking about Apollo 13. We've worked our way up through
the Apollo Program to this point, and everything on the past couple
missions had gone pretty well, and then Apollo 13 comes along. As
you were leading into Apollo 13 at the time, how were things going
in your Mission Control operations, and what were you expecting with
this upcoming mission?
Apollo 13 was going to be our third lunar landing attempt, and people
have commented that the media attention and so on seemed to drop off
quite a bit, and we, of course, noticed that, not so much pre-flight,
but we certainly noticed it on the first part of the mission, the
first couple of days. There just wasn't the same amount of coverage,
people had seen us do that twice in Apollo 11 and 12, and I guess
it was a little bit of old news, and not at all unnatural that the
attention and the coverage would decline somewhat.
But for us, you know, it was another mission, getting ready for it,
same routine that we went through for all of them. Certainly, the
early planning for the flight, mostly driven by where people wanted
to land, where the scientists wanted to land when we got to the moon,
and then putting together the rest of the mission plan. As I remember,
there was not anything unique about the mission plan, except this
was the first time we were on what we called a non-free return trajectory.
The previous flights—Apollo 8 that went to the moon, and Apollo
10, 11, and 12—were all on a trajectory that would have made
a figure-eight around the moon and come back somewhere in the vicinity
of the Earth. Actually, they were designed so that you'd come back
and have a safe re-entry, that is, if you didn't go into orbit around
the moon. And that's what we used a number of times, and it was kind
of a fail-safe kind of a thing. If something went wrong, then you
could coast all the way back and maybe do a little mid-course correction
somewhere on the way back, and still be close to the entry corridor.
In the case of Apollo 13, we deliberately targeted the vehicle to
be on a trajectory that didn't have those kind of characteristics.
As I remember, it was driven by the landing site we were going to
and the lighting that we wanted for the landing and so on, but we
couldn't arrange this nice figure-eight. We were on some other kind
of a trajectory that didn't come back to the Earth corridor, but,
rather, went on somewhere else, away from the Earth. No maneuvers
were performed after we had injected the vehicle onto the coast phase.
So that was probably the single biggest new thing, and by that time
we were confident enough in the systems and the engines and the crews
and the missions and so on, that that did not seem like a very big—it
seemed like the right time to make that kind of step for what people
wanted to accomplish in terms of the lunar surface work.
So, other than that, the planning for the flight and then the training
for it was kind of the same as we had been used to. You know, the
days and so on of simulations that were preceded by all the days of
arguing again about the mission rules, which we did all the time,
although they stayed relatively the same for most of the lunar landing
missions, we tended to argue about them, rehash them all the time,
and then, of course, the simulations and the debriefings and the "what
we did rights" and "what we did wrongs."
That went on, but again, it was kind of, at that point, relatively
a replay of what we had done before, and what we were doing was introducing,
of course, new crew and some new people in the Control Center in various
new phases, and just getting used to all that, and so on. We did have
four teams of flight controllers for the flight, and to tell you the
truth, I can't remember why we had four instead of three, but we had—why
did we have that many people, for one thing. But we had four teams
of people so we could split the work up and people were able to concentrate
on given phases, critical phases, where they might have done that
work before, so perhaps the four teams was also an accommodation for
shifting things around so that you could have experienced people on
a phase come back and do that same phase again. But it was the first
time we had flown one of the Apollos, as I recall, with four shifts
rather than three—complete shifts, flight director and flight
Apollo 13 then came forward to its launch day and everything was going
fine initially on the launch, but then they started out with a problem
on one of their engines.
I think one of the center engines shut down in second stage, and the
vehicle is designed with five engines on the back end, four around
the outside and one in the middle—center engine, it was called.
And they were all fed by the same tank, the same propellant tank of
hydrogen and oxygen, so that when the center engine shut down, and
I can't remember when it did, but it was late in the stage, use of
the stage, late in the flight, basically we just hummed right along,
letting the other four engines use up their propellant that was in
the tanks. And we didn't have to do anything, and the trajectory was
still okay, so we never really saw any real effect on it, that I can
recall, anyway, that changed the course of the mission in any way.
So the four engines, rather than the five, used up all the propellant,
added all the energy that would go with that, and we were high enough
and going fast enough where the loss of the one didn't seem to change
things very much, as I remember.
everything did seem to go pretty well from there on out. In fact,
at one point, it was going so well that the capcom [capsule communicator]
commented that they were bored to tears down below. [Laughter]
don't recall that, but I expect that that's true.
unfortunately that changed soon thereafter, and they did have their
problem with the oxygen tank.
indeed, did indeed. Had around fifty-five, fifty-six hours, somewhere
like that, into the flight. As a matter of fact, the time spent, once
we got out of Earth orbit, after the S-IVB stage had reignited and
put the vehicle on the path to the moon, the crews turned around,
got off the command service module, turned around and docked, and
pulled the lunar module free, and then they coasted out there with
just the command service module and the lunar module, away from the
last stage, the Saturn IV, S-IVB stage.
And those periods were generally always fairly quiet, in terms of
the air-to-ground traffic and in terms of activity on board the spacecraft.
There generally was not too much to do, except an occasional—you
know, we had to keep what we called the "barbecue control mode,"
the passive thermal control mode, going, so that the vehicle was warmed
and cooled on all sides, about equally, by the sun. Communications—we
would switch antennas and stuff like that, and occasionally stir up
the cryogenic propellants for the fuel cells, the hydrogen and the
oxygen. But they were very quiet.
As a matter of fact, on the day of the explosion, or the accident,
it was really a pretty quiet day, but at the end of it, the crews
had a TV in this flight, a spacecraft TV program, where they spent,
oh, I don't know, probably an hour, an hour and a half, going through
the spacecraft, showing people what they were doing, and talking about
what they were going to do when they got to the moon. And they closed
off and it was fairly quiet, like all the coast phases, and it was
routine, I guess, although it never is really routine, but it felt
like a quiet time, and here we're going to go into another sleep period,
and then we have another day or day and a half, and then we get to
the moon and things would start picking up again.
The team that I was in charge of at the time was probably almost—probably
all the people were in the Control Center at the time that the tank
blew. It was our custom to come in about an hour before we went on
duty, and kind of go over the log and go over—just conversation
with the present shift, my console flight director, but all the other
consoles the same way. And I also had a habit of kind of going through
some of the back rooms and seeing what was going on back there, and
to see whether anybody was working anything special that hadn't gotten
recorded in the logs, or whatever, or also just touch base with people.
I was in one of the back rooms, and when the report came of, "Houston,
we've got a problem," somebody turned to me and said, "Glynn,
you'd better get out in the front room. Something's going on."
So that's when I came out and plugged in next to Gene [Eugene F. Kranz],
who was on duty. He and his team were just about coming to the end
of their shift. As a matter of fact, my team was coming in to pick
up the sleep shift, when the astronauts were supposed to be going
to sleep. It was an interesting period.
I mean, I think, in retrospect, a number of us describe this and have
clearer vision now of what was going on than we did at the time, or
even that they did at the time, because it was not clear for a while
how serious the problem was. And we had spent a lot of time in our
training, learning not to jump off too quickly before you really knew
what you were doing, because if you started to do things and you weren't
sure why you were doing them or what the circumstances were, you might
make a given situation worse.
And the indications that people were getting on the telemetry were
so pervasively wrong, that the assumption was that there was something
wrong with the telemetry system or the electronics or something, that
might be causing all these readings to look funny, and although it's
sort of obvious in retrospect also, I don't think a big connection
was made with the crew reporting the loud bang and then reporting
the venting that was going on. There wasn't a good, solid connection
made very quickly. It was made, but it wasn't made as quickly as you
might think, that the venting and the low readings that people were
seeing there, the out-of-limit readings that people were seeing, and
pressure in the tank, for example, all correlated and were really
telling us that, yes, indeed, we have this thing happening that was
So just as the astronauts upstairs were struggling with trying to
understand it, I mean, they had master alarms and a lot of red lights
on their caution warning and so on, they were struggling trying to
figure out what had happened, and, frankly, for a while we were struggling
with how to clear it up and get reset so that we could get everything
back to normal and go back to sleep and go on with the landing mission
that was planned. And so that was sort of the first instinct that
everybody had, that there's some funny problem here, but as soon we
get to the bottom of it, we can get all this back on track and we'll
And I think people struggled with that for a while, and then probably
within, I would say, somewhere like a half hour, thirty, forty-five
minutes, it was really dawning on the people in the Control Center
and the astronauts that the command service module was really dying,
in effect. The fuel cells were gone and the oxygen tanks soon would
be, the cryogenic oxygen tanks. We had small oxygen tanks in the cockpit,
but they were basically for entry—a little bit more than that,
but they were basically for entry.
But it probably took thirty to forty-five minutes for people to realize
that things were really collapsing on us, and probably at about three-quarters
of an hour, we started to talk to the crew about moving over to the
lunar module, and they already had that in their mind, I think, at
the time, and there was this kind of a rapid scurrying for "This
is really a real problem, it's not a telemetry problem, it's not an
electronic problem." All these readings are really telling us
this thing is in bad shape, and we don't have any power left on board
the command service module, except for the three small batteries that
are used, basically, to power the ship for the last couple of hours
when it's on its own, unhooked from the service module, which is where
the fuel cells were located. They're called entry batteries.
So the spacecraft for entry is sort of self-contained, but it's very
limited in terms of its capacity, and you can only power up for a
couple hours in that configuration. You can't power up very long,
or you use them up and then you don't have any power left at all.
So I think, as I can recollect, that, as we talked about it later,
it probably took us half to three-quarters of an hour for this thing
to really sink on us, because the initial struggles were with, "Well,
okay, what happened and how is it manifesting itself, and what do
we have to do to get settled and so on, and get back on track?"
But when we started to shut off the cryogenic supplies to the fuel
cells, that was, in effect, irreversible. Once shut off, you couldn't
restart the fuel cells. The fuel cells were the primary electrical
power source on board the command service module. So, you know, when
we were starting to take those steps, they were done very deliberately.
I guess I would add that word to this, in that, in retrospect, I would
like to believe we got to this thing a little quicker than we did,
but on the other hand, people were being fairly deliberate about how
quickly to respond to these indications, and they didn't want to do
anything, as I said, to make it worse. And there were so many readings
that were funny that we didn't quite know where to start to try to
So it was fairly deliberate, fairly evenly paced. Some of the console's
operators were struggling with an array of crazy-looking data on their
television screens and their panels, the light panels that we had
for warning us that the thing's at a limit. But I would say by the
end of the forty-five minutes, we were talking to the crew about moving
over into the lunar module's lifeboat, and they were already in that
And it was about that time, my whole team—the color of the team
was called "Black Team," because we named the flight directors
by colors in those days, so I was Black Flight, and so Gene's team
had been at the end of a long day, and basically about that time they
unplugged and we took over and we were faced with something had happened
to the command service module, we didn't know what, and we didn't
know how bad the damage was or whether this command module would ever
work when we powered it back up again, but we also had kind of an
approach, as anybody would, to put off things that you can't do anything
about right now anyway, so we operated on the assumption that, well,
okay, when we get back around to it, we'll figure out what we have
to do with the command module, and it's either going to work or it
isn't going to work.
But in the meantime, we were on this non-free return trajectory going,
you know, well out into space, and we had the crew in the lunar module.
We had never really simulated a lifeboat mission. We had limited supplies
on board the lunar module. I don't know the exact numbers, but let's
say it was configured for two days of operations, when we were facing
four or five days of flight to get back to the Earth. And so the struggle
was, okay, we've got this, we've got to get them in, we've got to
get it stabilized. We've got to get the lunar module powered up, we
have to make it livable.
We had to transfer—we knew that we were on a non-free return
trajectory, so we knew we had to do a propulsion maneuver at some
point. Therefore, we had to get the guidance system up and running
so they could control any such maneuver, and we never had tried to
align the inertial measurement unit of the reference system, the platform,
in the lunar module, when we were out in space. It was designed for
orbiting around the Earth or the moon, or on the surface of the moon,
and we didn't even know how the equations in the guidance system would
work, but we knew we had to get a burn done.
So one of the things we did was use a manual technique for reading
numbers across, punching them into the lunar module computer, and
that, in effect, aligned the computer on board the lunar module to
the same reference that had been, that was and soon to be gone, available
in the command module. So we did a hurry-up job of getting a lot of
readings read across and a lot of punching in of the numbers, in order
to transfer that alignment.
At the same, the flight control operators for the lunar module systems
were very concerned with how long we had to stretch this thing, because
they knew they didn't have consumables for a full-up powering of the
lunar module all the way back to Earth, so they were very nervous
that we not power up too much. They knew we had to do a maneuver,
but they didn't want to be running the spacecraft at full power any
longer than they had to, because they had no idea of what they'd have
to do to stretch the batteries and the water and all the other consumables,
all the way back to whenever it is we were going to get back to the
Earth, because we didn't even have a plan at that point for how long
it was going to take us to get back. I mean, we knew within twenty-four
or thirty-six hours, but other than that, it was sort of open-ended
as to where in that range it was going to be.
So we had to get the lunar module powered up, and at first we started
with, "Do this, do that," and we quickly abandoned that.
We referred the crews to one of their checklists, which was used for
powering the vehicle up in the normal power-up where they would get
ready to land it on the moon, so we started to use that checklist
as a baseline, and then asked the operators to look for changes or
deltas to that plan, most of which would fall in the category of,
"We don't need that equipment. Save the power, save the cooling,"
and so on, that that equipment might cost us if we turned it on.
So we got started on powering the vehicle up by checklist, and then
making delta calls to it as we went along. The first order of business,
then, was getting the crew over, getting the lunar module powered
up with the guidance system configured in some way that we could use
it, and then not powering it up too much. And overriding all that
was our concern that we not screw anything up any more than we already
had, because we were kind of in serious problem by the time we got
into the lifeboat mode.
We did get everything powered up. By the time we were in the middle
of that—this is sort of a parenthetical comment—but by
the time, probably within an hour, the Control Center had filled up
with the management, and a lot of extra flight control people, and
a lot of the astronauts were over, those who had flown on previous
missions, those who'd been backup to this one and so on, they were
all in the Control Center, so there's people connected on headsets
all over the place, but the discipline in the room was very good.
I mean, it was ticking along, and the people who were observing, if
I can call it that, were engaged. Their brains were engaged in what
we were dealing with, and they would occasionally make some suggestions.
I remember very clearly, early on, when we were just getting into
the power-up mode, Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford was in, and Deke [Donald
K.] Slayton, they were both there—well, there were a lot of
other people, too, but Tom, Deke. And Tom was very concerned that
we get the guidance system powered up with the reference on board,
transfer from the command module over, and figure out what to do about
the power later, but we had to get it powered up in order to control
the burn that was coming up. Tom was a big advocate for getting on
with that, even if we didn't know what the consumable run-out for
the mission was going to be.
And that's the way, basically, most of us felt at the time, so we
went ahead and got it powered up and then we got our first burn-off
a couple of hours after the event occurred, and got us back on our
free-return trajectory. We were then—a number of the problems
that we had to worry about, like how were we going to conserve the
power, how were we going to conserve the water to cool the electronics,
and then how were we going to take care of the environmental control
system. W knew the carbon dioxide scrubbers were going to not last
all the way back. By the way, that was not something that happened
at the last minute. People realized it almost instantaneously. Certainly
the experts in the back room knew that the carbon dioxide scrubbing
system was going to be limiting, and we'd have to figure out a solution
for that. In the front room, we weren't occupied with that immediately,
because it was a twenty-four or forty-eight-hour-away problem. We
were concerned with just getting things stabilized and getting this
burn off, which we did.
And then we had to put the vehicle back into this passive thermal
control mode, and when we started that early on, we did it first on
Apollo 8, with the command service module alone, not the lunar module
attached on that flight, it was difficult to do. It was very touchy,
and you can get it going like this, rolling around, with the axis
pointing up, and the sun and the Earth being in this plane, but it
would wobble off if you didn't do it exactly right. It would kind
of wobble off and then you'd have to restart it.
I remember when we first started to do that on Apollo 8, we had to
restart it a number of times. I guess, later on, we kind of figured
out how to do that a little better, with the command service module,
and lo and behold, it worked. But in this case, we had never done
it, or really trained for or thought about how we would do that with
the lunar module engines and control system.
So we were experimenting with that for a while, about how to get this
thing reasonably rolling with the axis up and down in the plane of
the ecliptic, which includes the sun and the Earth. So if the sun
is here and the Earth is here, we were trying to keep the vehicle
pointed up and rolling like this so it would be evenly heated and
cooled as it went along. And that was tedious. It took a little while
to do that.
We had a backup guidance system called AGS, the abort guidance system,
so we were worried about having that available to us, too, and then
we were concerned with what guidance system were we going to use when
we actually got to the burn, because we didn't know whether the equations
that were in the computer were going to work right, because they were
all designed for either being in orbit around a body like the moon,
or for being on the lunar surface, and here we were out halfway in
between, and we were concerned that the guidance system wouldn't have
some funny, in modern terms, Y2K [Year 2000] problem in it, that it
wouldn't recognize until we got to doing it. And all the people in
the back room and up at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]
were trying to chase down which of the guidance systems, the primary
or the abort guidance system, would be better to use. We finally ended
up using the primary guidance system, as I remember. I don't think
it was because anybody really figured it out perfectly at the time,
but it looked like our best shot, and that's what we did.
Then we spent our time trying to set up this passive thermal control,
and then we started to think about, okay, now how are we going to
manage the consumables all the way back to the Earth. And the first
thing we needed to do was get some kind of a plan for what's our sequence
for getting back to Earth and how long is it going take, and probably
the second half of our shift, after we got stabilized and the first
burn-off was devoted to this passive thermal control stuff, getting
that settled down, and then starting to consider which options, scenarios,
we could invent, that would get us back to Earth in the best possible
shape. And it was a tradeoff with how much propellant do you use out
of the propulsion systems and how long does it take to get back.
There was even some consideration for trying to find a way to power
up and use the engine that was the service propulsion system, which
is the normal way that we get back to Earth from the moon, but our
conclusion was, there was too much risk associated with that, there
was too much unknown about what was going on back there, even if we
could reinstitute power to the vehicle. So we concentrated on the
lunar module engines, and we concentrated on using the descent engine.
And by the end of our shift, and we were probably on about ten hours,
which I would describe as kind of a stabilization period. By the end
of our ten hours, we were about stabilized. We had developed several
scenarios for getting back that had to do with how much propellant
are we going to use, when do we do the next burn, how long is it going
to take us to return to Earth, what's the landing time, in effect,
and what ocean are we shooting for. I mean, we had recovery forces,
but, of course, they were only in a couple of places, so we had to
figure out which of those places we wanted to shoot for.
There was a way, that I apparently can't remember, that said we could
have gotten it back a little bit faster than we did, maybe by twelve
hours or so, but it probably would have involved using either all
the propellant out of the descent system, or even some people talked
about dumping the descent stage of the lunar module and just going
to the ascent stage, which would have left us again with very little
in the way of power, because most of the batteries were carried in
the descent stage. So we didn't like that one either on that side.
So we settled for kind of a middle-of-the-road approach of using as
much of the descent engine propellants as we felt comfortable with,
and then that resulted in a certain return time and a certain landing
time. Let's see if I can remember. This thing happened just before
sixty hours—fifty-seven, or something like that, fifty-six hours,
and we finally landed at about 140-some hours into the flight. So,
you know, it was ninety-some hours, best part of four days, on the
And then once we got through all these scenarios, as to what we were
going to do, the next shift was about to come on. It was Gerry [Gerald
D.] Griffin's team was coming on duty about that time, and he and
I went—I went over all this with Gerry and we'd, by the way,
in the meantime, powered the vehicle down as much as we could, but
we did still leave the guidance system up, so it was still operating
at fairly high power levels, because we knew we had to do another
burn when we went around the moon. We did a burn two hours after we
went by the moon to push the vehicle back towards the Earth as fast
as we could.
So we were still struggling with that, but we had to select the scenario
in order then—or the return time to the Earth, in order for
everybody to figure out exactly how far we had to stretch things and
what they had to do. So we went over all that and we selected the
option that we liked, and I tell you this part of it, because I think
it's a good part of the story. By that time, it was the next morning.
We had most of the management down from Washington headquarters. Tom
[Thomas O.] Paine was the administrator at the time. George [M.] Low,
of course, who had been the program manager and spent a lot of time
at JSC [Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas], was the deputy administrator,
and they were both there, as were all the other management folks were
there by the next morning.
And so we went to one of the viewing rooms, the one that was not in
the room we were operating out of, the next floor. We were operating
on the third. I think we went down to the second floor. And I went
over the options for what the various ways of getting back to the
Earth was, and what engines, and how much propellant and what the
tradeoffs were, and what the return time was going to be and so on
and what the risks were and so on, and we told them that we recommended
that we do the option that we finally ended up doing. And there was
just a brief discussion of whether we should try to do something and
use more of the propellant or maybe even use some of the other engines
and get us back quicker. But that didn't last very long.
But the point I want to make is, after we went through these options
and scenarios and made a recommendation, in effect, to the management
team, the only question they asked us at the time—this is Tom
Paine that's the administrator—the only question he asked us,
and we're all thirty years old, you know, thirty-two years old, doing
this stuff, the only question he asked us is, "Is there anything
we can do to help you folks?" That was the only question he asked
us. "Is there anything we can do to help you folks?"
And by that time, of course, the whole world had been energized by
this thing, and support offers were coming in from the Russians and
various countries around the world, in terms of whatever that they
could do by way of being helpful, and I don't think there was any
real connection we could make with any of that support, because everything
that we did was sort of special and unique and had to be in place,
like the recovery ships and so on, special equipment on board them.
But it certainly was appreciated.
But I would say that probably the ten hours or so from the time of
the event and my team coming on duty within the next forty-five minutes
to an hour, and the next ten hours of stabilizing the mission, and
coming out of that with a clear plan for coming home, a clear understanding
of how far down we had to power the lunar module for the rest of the
way, which, by the way, was a lot. We had to power down to a couple
of lightbulbs' worth of power, to put it in terms like that. And we
knew we had to do that.
But we came out of that ten hours knowing what we were going to do
for the scenario to get home, the mission scenario, knowing what we
had to do to power—what levels we had to power down to, knowing
how to do the passive thermal control. In effect, the thing was stabilized.
We knew we had another maneuver to perform when we got around the
moon, but we'd already done one, so we were pretty confident that
that was going to be okay, and we'd about convinced ourselves by that
time that we could leave the guidance up, using power, but leave it
up until we got around the moon and made the second maneuver.
So we kind of settled everything having to do with how to get the
lunar module, the lifeboat part of this mission back. The big unknown,
of course, was what status the command module was going to be for
entry, but it was an unknown that we weren't going to be able to know
any more about until we got there, so we pressed on, and then spent
the next couple of days keeping the vehicle powered down.
It was very cold, it was very uncomfortable for the crews on board.
They never complained about it, and, frankly, I'm not sure we were
terribly sensitive at the time to how uncomfortable it was, but it
was uncomfortable for them. It was very cold, it was very clammy in
the vehicle. They probably didn't do well eating and drinking. They'd
been up—I mean, this thing happened at the time they were supposed
to go to sleep, and they were up for another ten, twelve, fourteen
hours after that, and then they always had somebody on duty following
that, so there were some very, very long hours by the crew and, you
know, a lot of new things were being attempted.
The engineering team that I've talked about before that followed the
flights along, you know, they were immediately energized. I mean,
they had support up at the Grumman factory and MIT that did the guidance
computer. The command service module, of course, from North American
Aviation at the time, the program offices, the whole universe of support
was in place and working.
Somewhere towards the end of my shift, I think, we got to asking about
the fact that the canisters, the carbon dioxide scrubbing canisters
on board the lunar module, weren't going to be sufficient, and the
guys were already working on a technique for using the command module
canisters in the lunar module. As luck would have it, the ones in
the command module were kind of like small boxes, like six-packs of
beer, squarish, and the ones in the lunar module were cylinders, nice
and round, so they just didn't fit in each other's equipment.
But by the time the flight team got around to worrying about that,
the word came from the back room, "Yes, Flight, we already know
that. We're working on it, and we'll have you an answer in twelve
hours," or whatever, and they did. And then it was a matter of
just kind of holding our breath and keeping things under control.
Somewhere along the line we did the maneuver, after we came around
the moon, and that worked well to put us right back on—accelerate
the vehicle on its way back to Earth, to the landing place, the recovery
forces that we wanted to use, but that was all sort of decided at
the end of that first shift when we laid out the mission scenario.
And at the same time, teams of people were off working on how to power
up the command module for entry, and how to use it.
The concern was that we had used some of the power out of the entry
batteries in the last dying gasp of the primary fuel-cell power system
on board the command service module. We had to have the other batteries
on for a while to help us get this guidance thing transferred and
whatever else we had to do to get the crews over safely before they
got shut down. So they had been used to some extent, and it was kind
of dicey as to how much power we were going to have. I'm not real
exactly clear on this, but I believe on the return leg, coming back
from the moon, we actually—some of the guys invented a way to
bypass some of the circuitry and recharge the batteries in the command
module from the lunar module batteries, so that when we went into
the entry phase, we went into it with a full set of power capacity
in the batteries.
Initially, I think people were trying to invent a scenario for how
to manage the command module with less power than we ultimately had,
because ultimately, we recharged the batteries and we had a full load
when we got to separating from everything but the command module.
There were an awful lot of unknowns about that. You know, the vehicle
sitting there. Well, one, it had been exposed to this explosion. Number
two, we powered it down, not necessarily gracefully. We just kind
of did what we had to do fairly quickly, and then it spent four days
in near freezer-like conditions.
So we just didn't know. There were just a lot of unknowns about how
it was going to behave. We didn't know how the parachutes would be.
We didn't know how the pyrotechnic circuits would be, that are used
for separation and for the parachute devices and so on. So there were
a lot of unknowns about that, but it was kind of like, well, we've
got to trust in God and trust in this command module that it's going
to come back up when the time comes. And it did.
When we got to the entry phase, one of the events in that was that
the crew, of course, got back in here. At some point they jettisoned,
I think the lunar module first, and then they jettisoned the service
module. I think it happened in that order, although I might have them
reversed, and it was at that time, where they could see the damage
that had been incurred in the service module, where the tank blew
and blew out the panels. I remember Jim [James A.] Lovell [Jr.] talking
about it at the time, and it was obvious that it was bad-looking,
because he was quite excited in his descriptions of how ugly the service
But we had a full load, and the team went ahead and powered the command
module up, sort of normal-normal, and then everything on it behaved
very well. As I remember—and I didn't remember this for a while,
but it sort of came back after a while—there was a longer delay
after blackout, in hearing from the crew, than we had been used to
or had predicted. I can't remember exactly why that happened or if
anybody ever really knew why it happened, but it added to the suspense
of how the vehicle was, because the heat shield could have been damaged
in this explosion because there was so much damage on the back end
that was unclear how far it went.
But the ship had been built very well, with margins, and probably
if we had gone and asked the designers what it was going to be like
if we let it just freeze for four days, they probably would have screamed
about not doing that, which we didn't want to do, but when it happened,
it was apparent that the ship had been built with enough flexibility
and resilience in it that it came through it and worked just fine.
I guess I would say that—and I've made one comment here about
how the management team responded—and I'm talking about the
Washington [NASA] headquarters team—responded when we had that
review at the end of that first night, when we went over the mission
scenario options with them and how it was kind of gratifying that
their only response was, "Is there anything we can do for you
folks?" And I didn't think much about it at the time, and then
later, in later years, actually, you know, it dawned on me how confident—that's
not quite the right term—but how confident they were in their
teams and their people that they would just—had that kind of
a question for us. "What can we do to help you folks?" was
the major question.
And it was another example of people making decisions at the right
levels, where you're not trying to escalate the decision-making to
a level that's kind of unaware of all the considerations that go into
it. They were very confident and backed us completely. I mean, sort
of without question. And it dawned on me later how impressive that
was. I just didn't tumble to it at the time.
The other thing I would say was, here we were again, with our band
of people in the Control Center, and we all had our talents and our
lack of talents, but as a group of people, probably average age, hardly
in their thirties, struggling with this thing for four or five days,
and all the operators in the Control Center, and all around the system,
but certainly the people that I was dealing with firsthand and saw
for the next several days in the Control Center, they were all great.
I mean, they all were on top of their jobs.
Sometimes in our job as flight director, we would push them to get
answers faster than they could get them, but that was sort of normal,
part of the system, but they participated, they got to the answers,
they fed them into the system well, they did a lot of consideration
of all the possibilities that might happen if you did this or if you
did that. It was just very, very sound. I mean, it was really sound.
I couldn't even name, you know, the three shifts of people, and then
Gene's team that was off line, getting ready for entry. I couldn't
really name all the people, even. I would if I went through the mailing
list, I guess. But they were all cool-headed. They were faced with
a major emergency and they were just right there, cool, doing it,
and to talk back about the problem.
When the flight was over, we went through and debriefed the whole
thing in terms of what we would have done differently or where did
we screw something up or whatever, and we decided that we wouldn't
have done anything very different than we did, that the plan, the
whole set of events and sequence that we followed, we probably could
have gotten to some things quicker, you know, in retrospect, but that's
always easy in retrospect, because everything is unfolded for you.
At the time, going into it, not knowing the full dimensions of the
problem, the decision-making was deliberate, was reasonably crisp,
could have been perhaps just a little bit faster in some places, but
on balance, people responded to a terrible set of circumstances that
they didn't really tumble to how bad they were or how real they were
when they started in to the problem. So this little band of Americans
that we had in the Control Center, and mostly young ones, just thought
their way through that, "gutsed" their way through it in
some cases, and did a wonderful job of figuring out what to do.
The problem, again, going back over the mission, the problem that
occurred was very close to being sort of a maximum test. In other
words, if you went out of your way to design a problem that there
was a solution for, that you could get back, but with almost no margin
anywhere you looked, this would have been pretty close to that kind
of a case. There was no margin for error, no margin for screwing things
up very much, no margin for misusing any of the systems. We couldn't
guess there was any margin left in the command module itself when
we got back, and so on and so on.
But if you had designed a case to challenge a team and had a solution
that you could thread through, but that had only a very narrow band
in which that solution would work, this is pretty close to it. I mean,
it was a maximum test for the crew members and for the people in the
Control Center. I will forever be proud of being a part of that set
of people. I said "people in the Control Center." I meant
people in the Control Center, but all the support elements that were
engaged in being supportive of the decisions that had to be made during
the course of that flight.
I mean, going back over it, when you go back over something like that,
for four or five days of decisions, and come to the conclusion you
wouldn't have done anything any differently, that is pretty good,
because even when we would debrief simulations, we could conclude
that we should have done this a little differently or that a little
differently. But in this case, the whole broad outline and then a
lot of the details associated with the flight itself, we concluded
we wouldn't have done it much differently, when we had two weeks to
think about it, than what we did on the spot, which is a tribute to
the training that we got, and the process that we went through to
prepare ourselves for these things, and the knowledge of what we felt
we had to know, and the support that we had within the team, and the
support we had from all the—like the engineering teams that
were following the flights.
It's pretty gratifying to think that that worked so well, but it was
a product of a lot of the people who worked on that flight had been
working together for about eight or ten years, one way or another.
Not all. I remember, I've talked about the visit from the Washington
management, which, of course, included all the Johnson Space Center
officialdom at the time. Bob [Robert R.] Gilruth was the Center director,
and Chris [Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.] was our boss and the operations
director; Deke was running the flight crew at the time.
But what also was just wonderful about it was that by the time the
shooting was really going on, the management had all assembled, certainly
the local management, the Johnson Space Center management, and Chris
and several other people, Dr. Gilruth, were in the back row behind
us, and it never took hardly anything by way of communications to
keep them informed as to what we were going to do, because Chris understood
this stuff very well, having been the original flight director and
flight director on the early Apollo before the fire, and then he moved
into a less active role on the console, but it didn't take hardly
anything to communicate with them. When we had a minute, if I had
a minute, I'd turn around and say, "Look, the situation, I've
got three things I can do, three options. I'm going to do number two
because—" and they'd just nod. I mean, it was like that
all night. People nodded.
The management and the whole klatch of people, extra people, who were
in the Control Center, were all adding something to it. They were
not interfering. It was not distracting. It was like a whole team
of people, in the room and all around the country, had assembled,
and they were going to do their level best to make this thing come
out well, and they were all contributing something or another as we
went along. In some cases, it might only be like support and so on,
but in many cases, it was very tangible, real input.
It was probably—I don't want to say it that way. It was the
single best piece of work that I ever did as an individual, the single
best piece of work that I ever did in my life, or I think that I could
ever hope to do, captured in ten hours, but it was the product of
ten years of getting ready to meet that kind of a challenge, for me
and for all the other people who were engaged in this thing. But this
was the best ten hours of work that I ever did, and I'm very, very
proud of what we all did at the time. I'm very proud of the people
that were part of those teams. I was very proud of the management.
I was proud of the astronauts. They put up with a lot of very uncomfortable
stuff, never complained about it, never whined about it, and the whole
team just came together and did themselves proud.
it is definitely something you should be proud of.
I expect you could ask all of us and we would kind of smile. Yes,
I think we are all very proud of what we did that night. In another
sense, too, I was always proud to be a participant in the program.
I think I talked about his before, but I always felt like this was
a privilege, a privilege of sorts to be in that sort of a key role,
if I can call it that, the key roles that we had to play in the Control
Center, and to be in a position in history where that just came to
us, to me and to others, and to feel proud about being able to do
that. You had to feel privileged, also, about being able to do such
a thing, and I think you would find the same kind of feeling in all
of the, mostly men, the men who were involved in that at the time.
It was quite an experience for us.
absolutely. If, in all your training that did prepare you for this
and allow you to work the problem so well, if anyone had thrown you
something like this as a test, would you have thought it possible?
Would you have said, "Hey, wait a minute"?
What we used to do is, the simulation folks would give us these test
cases, and they generally would throw—see, we got to the point
where throwing one, two or three or four problems at us at a time
was a piece of cake, just [Lunney makes sounds indicating fast movement],
and the simulations became layers of problems, with multiple consequences.
You know, this happens, you do this, but this is broken over here,
and so on. And the way the simulation people finally got—the
stage the simulation people finally got to really test the teams was
simply overload. How many problems of various types can we give them
at one time and overload the decision-making capacity of the Control
Center, the human decision-making capacity?
And in general, they never really were very successful at doing that,
even with an outlandish—what we would consider an outlandish,
unconnected series of failures. Had they given us this problem, we
probably would have said, "This is not realistic." I mean,
tanks aren't going to blow up and they're not going to have all, you
know—or if we just had the symptoms of all these things going
wrong without having a central cause, like the explosion, we'd say,
"Oh, this is not realistic. You guys can't do that."
The other thing is, oddly enough, we never really did spend much time
simulating the way out to the moon or the way back. We kind of focused
on the launch phase and then the couple of orbits that we'd spend
in Earth orbit and then the ejection burn and the docking, pulling
the lunar module out and so on, separating from the rest of it. Then
the stuff around the moon, all the various phases and the entry phase.
You know, we really didn't spend—we probably did a few, because
I remember us struggling with this passive control mode, but that
probably happened in flight as much—my memories of that probably
were memories of what we were doing in flight as much as simulation,
because I don't remember spending a lot of time simulating just tooling
out to the moon. This is kind of dull, not much going on. [Chuckles]
So we never did. Although, in kind of a way, we had talked about using
the lunar module for that.
As a matter of fact, when I was in the Flight Dynamics Branch before
becoming a flight director, we had built all the trajectory programs
so that we could use any engine to model, any engine into a trajectory
and use it for a burn and then reshape the outcome of the trajectory.
So we had early on built the trajectory control programs that we used
in the Control Center to use any of the engines, which we had at the
time talked about in terms of a lifeboat. But I don't think we ever
really ran a simulation or training exercise which was a lifeboat
drill. I don't think we ever did that. You might say we should have,
and maybe we should have, but I don't think we ever really ran one
of those. That was how remote we considered such a possibility.
But we had thought about it, not extensively, perhaps, but we had
thought about it and certainly had built some of the trajectory control
programs so that we could model it that way and use any engine we
wanted to use at any time on the way out or back. And, of course,
we had checklists that we could use to power up the vehicle, and so
and so on, that we could use for a starting point, which we did in
this case. But I don't know that we ever really simulated a lifeboat
drill all by itself till it really happened to us, till it really
happened to us.
luckily, you had simulated enough other happenings and events that
you could take that knowledge and those ten years of active experience
and make it work.
how we got there. That's how we got there.
it was successful and Apollo 13 and the astronauts made it back in
pretty good condition. A little worse for wear, but alive.
little worse for wear, yes, a little worse for wear. I didn't talk
about the fact that one of the things that happened pre-flight was
a crew member got changed. It didn't really affect much of what we
did or didn't do in the Control Center. It was a big deal inside the
flight crews for that to happen, but for us it wasn't that big a deal.
Although there's a certain camaraderie—not camaraderie, a certain
mind-reading that develops when people train together for a long time,
senses. You could probably plug any one of a number of astronauts
into a given crew of three, and with a minimum amount of time, they
would be fine.
As a matter of fact, in this case, Jack [John] Swigert [Jr.] came
along from the backup crew when Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly [II] was
bumped for concerns about him being exposed to something, and Jack
had been through a lot of the same—we had run simulations, of
course, with the backup crew, and because they were backup crew and
prime crew, they kind of stayed close together. I think it was still
kind of a big event within the flight crew community, because it hadn't
happened before, I don't think, at least not that late. But for us,
we just dealt with it as another crewman that knew what he was doing,
which was true.
And then, of course, once we get into this, Jack, the new guy on the
crew, was the command module pilot, so the command module's kind of
gone for four days. Of course, it was used at the end, but then Fred
[W.] Haise [Jr.] and Jim Lovell were trained for the lunar module
work, which is basically the ship we were using for most of the return
leg to get back.
So even in that respect, the fact that there was a new crewman, the
set of circumstances we were faced with, and the fact that he was
a new crewman that was the command module pilot made it a little bit
easier that the two, Jim and Fred, had trained very closely on the
lunar module work themselves, so they were very fluent with it and
then they, of course, brought over Jack and that seemed to work out
okay. They basically had to steer him around, I suppose, the lunar
module, but he did fine with that.
at the crew switch at the beginning, and being Apollo 13, and April
13 as the day of the accident—
it was all that, wasn't it?
the time, was there any of that superstition?
I mean, I think it probably came up in some circles, but we didn't
think much about it one way or another, and, you know, all that numerology
stuff, it wasn't anything that we were concerned with in any way.
So, no, I don't think it registered on us, anyway, as anything to
be nervous about.
went about your jobs and the mission was the important thing and getting
it done. Do you remember at what point during the mission that you
realized they weren't going to be able to land on the moon, and that
you realized how serious the situation was?
yes. I think within the first hour we knew that the command service
module was gone, as we knew it. There was still enough of it left
to get home, but it was gone and that, of course, knowledge preceded
the "Move them over to the lunar module." And that probably
occurred within the first thirty to forty-five minutes.
At that point, I don't think any of us—certainly I didn't dwell
on the fact that we weren't going to be able to land on the moon.
We were focused on dealing with this mess that we had and figuring
out what to do about that, and the disappointment, if I can call it
that, of abandoning, or not being able to achieve the primary mission,
we didn't have much time to be concerned about that. There was too
much going on, and I don't even recall thinking about that as something
that we didn't get to do at the time. I mean, later on, you realized,
well, we didn't get to land.
But on the other hand, what we did was quite a thing, and it had a
kind of an energizing effect. I mean, it was just amazing to me, the
support that rolled in from around the world. I don't mean offers
of equipment or anything, but people seemed to be just captured by
this life-and-death struggle, all the way around the world, and we
were kind of aware of that. When you would go home, you'd see a little
bit of it on TV or what, you could see some of that, and you really
had the sense that there was an outpouring of support.
a matter of fact, during the night, probably about six or seven or
so hours into this thing, when we began to—had the burn off
and we were beginning to struggle with the plan for coming home, Chris
Kraft and Jim [James A.] McDivitt and probably some others, but I
remember those two—Jim McDivitt was the program manager for
Apollo at the time—went over and did a press conference. Sometimes
when nothing was going on, we would watch that on the in-house video,
and then josh with the fellows that were being persecuted when they
came back, for their poor answers, but in this case, we didn't have
any time to watch it.
But at the end of my shift, you know, after this ten hours, and I
think maybe even before we talked to the management, but I'm not sure,
that might have been afterwards, I went over and did a press conference
on the events of the night. You know, the media had this certain relationship
with the program. Some of them had covered it, personally, for a decade
and they were very close to a lot of the people. Some of them had
not covered it, and by that time, by the way, the coverage was completely
energized. I mean, there were a lot of people there, and it was a
strange feeling. I mean, it was like they were not being interrogating
for the sake of interrogating.
I went through a scenario, a summary of what had happened and what
we knew and what we did and where we were and so on, which was typical
for what we did, and I probably had a couple of the flight control
operators with me. And then in the questions and answers, the discourse
that followed, you had this sense of another set of people that had
as much invested in this thing, in a way, as we did, and who were
as concerned about a successful outcome as we were. I mean, they were
another support element that night and the rest of the flight, as
far as I was concerned. And that was a little different from what
you normally ran into at a press conference, because sometimes people
could pick on something or get into why you did this, or shouldn't
you have done that, or some thing that might be in the vein of the
media doing its job, keeping the government, which we were, on its
toes and checked and balanced and so on, and doing the right thing.
But that night, or that morning, the sense of that was not evident
in the room. The sense was "We've really got a problem on our
hands here and we're supportive of you folks who are trying to deal
with it, and we're not here to give you a hard time. We're just here
to know what happened and help get the story out to people, and help
in any other way," which, of course, there wasn't anything technical
they could do, but I had a strong sense of this flowing of emotional
kind of support from the media that morning, and when I went back
to the Control Center, I probably would talk to people about.
It was very—I'm trying to find the right kind of expression,
but it was like, it was just like, you know, electricity flowing in,
recharging my batteries, because I'd been involved with this thing
all night, but recharging my batteries in terms of the sense that
I had from the people who would normally be our critics. That was
their role, normally be somewhat something of our critics. They weren't
terribly critical, but at least they played the role of keep us honest
and be critical about the program. But it was a tremendous sense of
emotional support coming in, and very gratifying, very gratifying.
And as a matter of fact, as the flight went on, it became more apparent
to those of us involved, just from the few minutes we would see a
television coverage around the world, how many people, you know, all
countries that you could see, that were affected by this, and that
were pulling for us, in effect. So we had a planet-full of support,
I think, and it was a great feeling, it was a great feeling.
Well, it shows that it was still a—the Apollo program and traveling
to the moon was still something that could—
an adventure that captured people, yes.
really was, and on that flight, it became not just an American adventure,
which it might have been before that, but it became a kind of a human-race
adventure, because they just became three human beings that were in
pretty serious peril, and maybe that's a good way to put it. It became
an adventure for the human race at that point, as opposed to just
a national adventure, which it might have had a stronger flavor of,
up till that time.
everybody was willing to give all the support they could.
I mean, faxes came in from all around the world, offering this or
offering that, and, you know, most of it would be hard to accept and
integrate into anything, but the good will with which those requests
were made is what really flowed through the people in the Control
Center. They were aware of it, could talk about it, and so on.
great. Very good system to help get through it. And get through it,
you did, and successfully. What about afterwards? You mentioned how
you debriefed afterwards and you looked at "We really did the
right thing here, we did this all correct," but did you change
the way you would do anything for the future missions?
can't remember that we did. I can't remember anything significant
that we did. Of course, after the flight, there was a major investigation
into what had happened, in an engineering sense. Why did this thing
happen? And, you know, a lot of attention. At first there was a conclusion,
or a tentative conclusion, that we didn't have to change very much.
We had just mishandled this tank some time ago, and it happened to
get back on this flight, and it had been mishandled in a certain way,
and therefore it might have been susceptible to this kind of damage.
But that point of view didn't prevail. We did more extensive fixes
For a mission that had such a high content of possibility for a lot
of second-guessing, how an operation was run, there was essentially
zero of that, that I can ever recall. I mean, it wasn't like people
were investigating both the cause of the accident and the response
to it in real time, it was like almost in no time, probably by the
time we landed, almost. And people just said, "That was fine.
Let's go focus all our energy on the technical engineering problem
that had occurred, that caused this set of events."
There was no real—I don't remember any significant review of
what we did, except we did one internally. I'm sure there must have
been some associated with the investigation team that was chartered
to respond to this. But, I mean, it was fairly quick, and I can't
even remember very much of substance about it, so they must have been
fairly satisfied fairly quickly that that was okay, and they didn't
need to waste any time pursuing that.
The other thing is that there were not a lot of people outside of
our small community who were versed in this real-time flight operations,
so there weren't a lot of people who were really expert. As a matter
of fact, there weren't any other experts, other than those of us who
had been doing it, so it probably would have been a little tougher
to assemble a team of people, but we kind of were our own critics
internally about debriefing every run, and what did we do right, and
what did we do wrong, and, of course, the crews were involved, and
there would be multiple shifts of people involved, so we had a lot
of check and balance within that whole thing, that we were on the
right track, doing things well.
So there never really was much of a serious probing or investigation
of how the response was handled. I can't even—I mean, I can't
really recall anything specific, but I'm sure there must have been
some, but it ended up not going very far or very long, because people
were satisfied with how it went and how it came out.
it had to come out very well, and your training had proved out.
off. You did move in, then, after a little investigation into the
cause of the accident, into Apollo 14, and with this, Alan [B.] Shepard
[Jr.] was coming back to flight for the first time since Mercury,
and had with him Ed [Edgar D.] Mitchell and Stu [Stuart A.] Roosa.
Originally, they had actually been talking about slating them for
Apollo 13, but then switched the crews for more training time for
a matter of fact, I didn't really work Apollo 14. I was more of an
observer for Apollo 14. I was the lead flight director for Apollo
15, and that might have been why I took 14 off, but the other guys
were all running their shifts and I was just kind of observing and
watching, you know, and kibitzing them. So I didn't have an active
role in Apollo 14 itself, but I did sit in on the flight and watch
all the fun events.
you then in a role of watching rather than active console time? They
did have a few problems of their own, completely unrelated to 13,
but problems first with docking between the two spacecraft, and then,
in lunar orbit, with getting faulty signals on the abort and then
the radar, and so there were problems with that. Were you involved
at all in those discussions?
not really. Those things had all been talked about before, and the
docking probe that we used kind of had a history of, you had to kind
of sometimes do it a couple times and get it to work right. I say
that, and I don't mean to criticize the design. Sometimes maybe the
contact conditions that we flew weren't exactly what the system was
designed for, but whatever. The docking system, the probe and drogue
system was—it was, I don't want to say "touchy," but
it had to be done sort of exactly so, or it didn't want to lock up
like it should and allow you to dock. So that wasn't surprising to
me, and they repeated it a couple times, or whatever it was, and got
it to work right.
The radar thing for landing had been talked about many times. I believe
Gerry Griffin was on for that part of the flight, had been talked
about. But it came in and worked okay. So they were all things that
we'd talked about in the past, the mission rules and so on and so
on, and, for me, the flight was just kind of, as an observer, not
participating in the exact decisions at the time, some of them had
to be done in very short order. But we were there. I can't remember
talking about any of them. We may have, but I can't remember really
participating in any of it.
did get down on the moon and do their mission, and Alan Shepard hit
his golf ball and so forth. They made it back safely, and then we
moved into Apollo 15 and the more scientifically oriented missions,
the inclusion of the lunar rover and so forth. How did this change
the way you did things, if at all?
see. The last couple of Apollos, 15, 16, 17, were what I think we
called them at the time, the "J" missions, as differentiated
from the earlier ones. That was just an arbitrary designator for the
fact that a number of additional features were added to the missions.
So there was the lunar rover, the descent module had more power, and
we had a longer stay capability on the lunar surface. We had a whole
bay of the surface module that was full of instruments, that was used
for looking at the moon or other places, but I think it was mostly
to look at the moon. We called it the SIM bay—I can't remember
what "SIM" stood for, scientific instrument module, probably,
something like that, anyway—that we used, and it took a lot
of measurements while we were going around the moon.
The surface stations that were left became more sophisticated. They
were called ALSEP [Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package], Apollo
Lunar Surface Exploration something or another, I expect, something
like that, was the acronym, and they were becoming more and more sophisticated
in terms of what we would leave on the moon and the equipment that
the crews were handling and using for scientific purposes was becoming
The traverse planning was becoming, at least dimensionally, wider
than it was before, because with the addition of the rover, the range
that the crews could explore was larger than it could walking around.
So a whole set of variables opened up a little bit. I don't remember
the exact numbers, but let's say the early lunar modules were good
for two days. This one was maybe good for four days, something of
that order, which was a significant jump in time.
I think we were doing three EVAs, weren't we, by the time of Apollo
15? Three surface walks. I should say "traverses" because
it included the lunar rover. So it was a big jump up in our capability
and sophisticated equipment, both in the service module that stayed
in lunar orbit and in the equipment we brought down on the moon, and
in terms of the instruments and the techniques that the astronauts
I've talked about this one earlier time, but by the time of Apollo
15, the crews were fairly well into—and they were before this
time—but by 15, they were really well into this geology training,
and Gerry Griffin and I went on a couple, at least one or two, field
trips with the Apollo 15 crew, and I think Gerry had gone on some
earlier ones. But this was my first experience with really going out
into a place where the geologists try to teach the astronauts—well,
first set them up for what are they looking for, and then try to teach
them how to observe.
It was kind of a scientific method, if you will, for geology, for
people in a new place, and what to look for and how to go about observing
and what do various patterns mean and, you know, what's obvious after
a while. This thing is on top of that thing, and so on. And it was
a big eye-opener for me. It was another whole—it was a window
into another whole world of stuff that I knew very little about, but
it was very enjoyable.
Bill [William] Muehlberger, I remember, who still teaches at the University
of Texas, was a big player in that, and I think Bill was the guy in
charge of our field trips that I went on, and it was educational.
I mean, I had a good time with it. I don't know that I learned a heck
of a lot of geology, but I learned to be empathetic to what they were
trying to do, which I think was what their purpose was in having us
along, because then, again, the whole melding of the operations team
and the science team, the lunar science team, just continued to improve
throughout the lunar landing missions, once we got past 11, where
the primary goal was to land and be out there and come back.
The improvement and the melding of the science point of view with
the operations team just continued to get better, I think, during
all of the flights. And I don't want to say this has culminated, exactly,
but Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt, a geologist, flew on the last Apollo,
Apollo 17, so that was an indicator, perhaps, of the increasing amount
of integration, melding, that was going on between the teams of people
that would represent operations and the teams that would represent
the lunar science program.
goal for Apollo had originally been, get to the moon and get back
safely. It was very politically motivated, but there was a lot of
science to be done.
only thing I would say slightly different about that is, I think it
was policy motivated as opposed to—political motivation sounds
a little bit—can be taken negatively. I think it was a policy
that was basically a response to real fear and concern and threat
by the Soviet Union and so on, at the time. Yes, but I accept your
point. I would just use a slightly different term to describe it.
It was not political in the sense that people use the word sometimes
politics, and so on. But go ahead.
yet as you were moving into the scientific phases of Apollo—or,
sorry, the more scientifically focused phases, Apollo was beginning
to lose support, or funding. Did that affect you at all at the time?
you know, I guess I could answer that in a couple of different ways.
When I was doing this work in the sixties, I mean, I never thought
about what was going to come afterwards. I had this sense that it
was going to go on forever. It's probably a failing or an idealism
of youth, I guess, but you sort of think like, God, this is wonderful
stuff, you think it's going to go on forever, so I never really—if
I thought about it at all, I sort of probably had that kind of feeling,
rather than thought, I suppose.
On the other hand, this was set up, as you said, as a response to
what was considered to be a major threat, and this was seen as a way
to demonstrate capability and accomplishment in this field, and we
had done that. Within the program, it's probably like any bureaucracy
or any enterprise. You know, once you get to do something, you think
you'd like to do it several more times and repeat it and so on. And
as a matter of fact, at the time, there wasn't an alternative that
was sitting in front of us that says, "Okay, now that we've done
that, we're going to go do this." It took a little while to develop
one as to what we were going to do next.
So there was a sense of inertia carrying the missions along, and there
was a sense in the program by a lot of people that they wanted to
continue and fly another one, another two, another five, depending
on, you know, whoever you talked to. Some people just thought we ought
to fly them indefinitely, I suppose. And certainly that was a very
strong opinion in the lunar science community, because, to them, we
had just gotten over all this operational stuff and we were really
getting ready to be able to do the scientific things that they wanted
to do, and the 15 was the first mission that had an extensive set
of scientific capabilities after the initial capabilities of 11, 12,
and 14. And I'm sure they would want to have continued it, and they
would probably still be exploring the moon today, you know, in follow-on
But it was a response to a certain set of circumstances, and then
once responded to, I think what we saw was acknowledgement, explicit
or otherwise, by both the political system in America and probably
by the public, that we had indeed achieved satisfaction of the purpose,
or that the response that we undertook satisfied what caused it in
the first place. I think the political system was satisfied, and the
public was satisfied that we had done that, and that there was a sense
that it was costing a considerable amount of money. The percentage,
for example, of the federal budget that NASA took in the peak years
was like 4 percent. Today, and for most periods of time, for long
periods of time, almost all the time, it's been one or less than 1
percent of the federal budget. So, 4 percent and 1 percent is a big
multiple. It doesn't sound like a big number, 4 percent or 1 percent,
but it's a big multiple.
And there was a sense that with everything else that was going on
in America, everything else that was going on, that the priorities
needed changing, and that was the political sound bite that became
popular to describe the fact that we needed to reorient this and couldn't
be spending this amount of money or this high a percentage of our
federal budget for this kind of thing, in light of the fact that it
had accomplished its original purpose, and the return, although seen
as very valuable by the lunar scientists, was not seen as so valuable
as to be worth that kind of money by the political system. And I think
that was reflected probably, although they might not have known exactly
what the numbers were, probably the sense that the public had at the
So I think it was kind of like natural that it had kind of served
a purpose and the purpose had been served, so, therefore, there wasn't
a lot of purpose to be served by just continuing to do the same thing
over and over again. And it was disappointing to people, I think,
but being realistic about it, I think it was appropriate.
You know, other endeavors were different. In other words, what I mean
by that, is, for example, the opening up of the New World. There clearly
was, once people got over to here, there clearly was a lot of reason
to come back. There's a lot of things, in terms of trade or raw materials
or whatever you want to say, there's a lot of reason to come back.
In the case of the Apollo sequence, the reason to go back would have
been the satisfaction of scientific understanding, or the gaining
of scientific understanding about what's going on, and that doesn't
have as—didn't at the time and doesn't today—have as high
a priority as some other things, like the motivations that were operative
at the time of the opening up of the New World. Not only was it trade,
it was competition with the other major European powers and so on.
So it was a different set of circumstances. I think, you know, although
we would have liked to have done it some more, it was kind of natural
and not to be unexpected, that it came to a graceful end a couple
years later and we moved on to do something different.
we'll pause here for a moment and change the tape out. [Tape recorder
it is curious how that happens, but there are a lot of things that
get started and then they kind of have a momentum of their own, and
sometimes they continue and sometimes they don't, and it just depends
on what the power bases that are affected want to have happen and
how much money it costs. That's why it's difficult, I think, to get
another major new initiative in space started, beyond Space Station,
because it isn't obvious what the relevance and what the rationale
is for going ahead and doing that, especially if—especially
if—and maybe we'll get better at this—but if it's very
expensive. If it's a very expensive thing, it's hard to convince people
that we should go do that to satisfy somebody's curiosity. It's not
much the curiosity of the American public, at least as I can read
it today, and I suppose they would say, "Yes, I'm curious about
that, and if it costs ten bucks, go find out, but if it costs lots
more than that (which it would), then, well, then I don't know that
I'm all that curious about it today. I'll wait another day. And maybe
you can do it cheaper in the future. Technology changes and things
will change and so on and so on, so what's the hurry. I can do that
And I think that's the kind of valley that the space program is in,
in terms of the surrounding environment in the country. There's no
urgency to go do something, and there's nothing very specific or tangible
that we can articulate that there's a reason for going to do that.
If, for example, we could solve all the pollution problems of energy
and do it on the moon or some other place and microwave it back to
the Earth, well, that might have some interest, if we could do it
at a price that was competitive or effective.
So if you can make it real tangible to something like that, that people
can understand, but I think it's difficult to sell exploration for
exploration's sake when it has a real, real high price tag on it,
and that's the difficulty that the space program is going to face,
in trying to chart a course—the manned space program—in
trying to chart a course beyond the Space Station. It's not clear
yet what that rationale and relevancy is going to be, but I think
we need to struggle to find it, so that we can continue, because in
the big scheme of things, man has moved, and he's probably going to
continue to move, and it will take a while.
But on the other hand, the exploration of the New World took a while.
I mean, it went on for decades/centuries, so, you know, this will,
too, and it will have periods when it's fast and periods when it's
not so fast, and periods when it's searching for what are we going
to do next, and what are we going to do next is probably going to
be an agenda for NASA. It is today, to some extent, but it will become
more of an agenda as the Space Station Program begins to mature.
we will see, as you mentioned, for those new technologies and possibly
things getting cheaper.
There will be new things coming on. There may be some entirely different
ways to do things than what we know about today, that somebody will
invent in some laboratory, or some breakthrough someplace, and that
makes it a different story.
Looking at the last three Apollo missions, in fact, actually, the
last one specifically, you mentioned Jack Schmitt, the geologist.
Well, he had also proposed, at one point, that since Apollo had done
so well all along, trying to land on the back side of the moon.
discussion surrounded that?
let's see. I probably was in the second ring of the audience that
might have listened to that at the time, and some of it might have
been indirect, but there was a sense of wanting to explore as much
as we could of the moon while we were still doing that, because, you
know, people were developing an idea that this wasn't going to go
on forever, and it was a finite series of missions.
So people were looking for adding—to give them the benefit,
I think they were looking for adding substantially new information
to what had already been learned about the moon, and to some extent
it had a certain PR to it. You know, you're going to land on the back
side of the moon that nobody had ever seen, and so on and so on. But
I suspect the back side is just like the front side. [Laughter] I
mean, I think people tried, and, of course, most of the people in
our business would be concerned that then it was sort of an in-the-blind
kind of an operation, and you would occasionally get communications
from the command module going over them, but basically it would be
sort of a com-less, no-com, communicationless kind of a mission.
By the way, that might also have been fairly dull for people, I mean
for the public. They go behind the moon and we don't hear or see from
them and then several days later they're back around telling us how
wonderful it was back there. So there was that kind of discussion,
but my impression was, it never really went anywhere seriously. It
got aired as an idea, but I don't think anybody was picking up on
it in any serious way, and so it never happened. Never happened.
Now, had we had ten more missions to the moon, we probably would have
done it on some mission. I mean, somebody would have prevailed with
an argument that it would be a good thing to do. Whether it would
truly end up being a better thing to do than landing on the front
side or not, I don't know, but somebody would have prevailed with
that argument, because it would have been different. But we didn't
have ten more flights, and it never happened.
17 was the last mission, as you said. As it came to a close, would
you have ever anticipated that today, almost thirty years later, we
would just now be getting a Space Station up for permanent status?
have to say that I believe—I would say that all of the people
in the program at that time, and the Shuttle Program had been approved,
and the Shuttle was by its very name, "Shuttle," back and
forth, conceived of as something that would go to some place and come
back from it, not just the vacuum of space, perhaps, but a Space Station.
So they were initially conceived as a pair, and then Shuttle was taken
as the first step.
And if you had asked us at the time, I mean, we'd thought we'd had
a Space Station, you know, a whiz-bang Space Station, in, you know,
another ten years, fifteen at the outside, or less, even. So, you
know, I think we ended up, the scale of events is going to be different
by a decade or two than what we would have imagined back in the early
seventies, the answer being, I think we thought we'd had been flying
the Shuttle and Space Station in the early to mid-eighties. And the
Shuttle in the seventies, I mean, we were expecting to be flying it
in the latter part of the seventies. It took a couple more years,
but we were expecting it to be flying early, late seventies, so Space
Station would have been a couple years later.
At the time, given what we had just done, that seemed like a piece
of cake, just a piece of cake to go do that, but it didn't turn out
that way, for whatever all the reasons are, and there it is. There
it is. And that's another problem, by the way, with looking forward.
You can project—you always project the present into the future.
We might find in the future that dramatically new circumstances have
emerged and have introduced a real need to go do something or another
that we can't foresee today. So that's another value, and a lot of
the people who struggle to give birth to some of these missions, bless
their hearts, because it's a necessary activity, because sooner or
later, we're liable to find some set of circumstances that do indeed
suggest we go do something like that, and the people who have been
working on it then for all that time, that work will pay off, if not
in the direct form that they applied to it, maybe some slightly different
form, but it'll pay off at some point in the future.
the space program's progressing right along, and maybe slowly, but
we're getting somewhere.
right now it's slow compared to some sense of schedules in the past.
On the other hand, some of what's being done is a little bit invisible
to people. What I mean by that is, I think people would intellectually
recognize that a significant amount of international participation
is going on in the Space Station. In America, they would especially
recognize that in the form of the Russian participation, mostly because
there's a lot of talk about the Russian thing slipping or this or
But I think some of that attention obscures the larger worldwide international
effort that the Space Station is, that may indeed become a model for
some, if not lots, many of the space initiatives that will be taken
in the future. It may not always be the model, but it certainly has—it's
gone from—it's like the thing I talked about in Apollo 13. It's
gone from what was a national exercise to something that's a total,
international human-race kind of activity, although the Space Station
does not engage, of course, all members of the human race, but it
engages a lot of people from a lot of different countries around the
world who are capable and able to afford this kind of exploration.
So in that sense, it may be a model for some things that will happen
in the future on significantly bigger scales. We'll see.
shall see. And, in fact, hopefully, next time we can talk about the
first international venture, Apollo-Soyuz. Is there anything today
that we've talked about that you wanted to close off points on?
see. I will probably say this a couple of different ways, a couple
of different times, but when I look back on it, I mean, I think we
would all say the same thing in slightly different words. We loved
what we were able to do. We loved the opportunity to be able to do
it. We loved the—I don't want to dramatize this about the challenge
of it—but we loved the newness and uniqueness of it, and the
fact that we were able to participate in it. I loved being privileged
enough to be in the role that I was.
I felt like—now, I go back and talk about what happened in space,
and I find that, gee, I was kind of in a spot doing something on almost
all of the significant events that ever happened in the human space
program in the country, one way or another. Didn't get them all, but
I got a lot of them. And you know, it was done by—not only what
we did, but the whole program was done by people all over America.
They weren't necessarily the best and the brightest at anything, they
were just pretty good and dedicated.
What took it to another level was dedication to doing it very well,
and you took a set of people that I guess you'd have to say were average,
and they were dedicated to doing something that was really, in its
sum, far above average. And they were successful at pulling that off,
and I think, therefore, they all carry with them a sense that they
were involved in something that was much bigger than each of us as
individuals. It was even bigger than the sum of us, if you added us
all up. What we ended up doing in Apollo was a lot bigger than the
sum of all of us as individuals, and I think we all articulate it
differently perhaps, but we all carry a sense of that kind of a watershed
event in history, and in the development of civilization and the race
as we knew it.
It remains to be seen what forms that this new frontier is going to
take in the future, but I think all of us who participated would have
confidence and faith that, yes, indeed, we have opened up an entirely
new thing that was not a window, perhaps, a dimension that was not
available before. And I don't know exactly what the form of exploring
and exploiting that window will be in the future, but it will be there
and it will be significant for all of here on the planet.
So, we loved it. We loved it, we loved the work, we loved the comradeship,
we loved the competition, we loved the sense of doing something that
was important to our fellow Americans. We were obsessed with it. But
it took a lot of average people, a lot of us are that way, and a few
extraordinary leaders, and we managed to do pretty big things.
Maybe that's a lesson to take away from this history. You know, you
really can do pretty significant things and accomplish extraordinary
things just by the proper energy and structuring of what you want
to do, but it has to be meaningful and relevant to people, and I think
that was part of what was so right about Apollo, you know, articulated,
of course, at the beginning by John Kennedy, but it was something
that the American public seemed to need over most of that period,
and it tells you that part of the success of it, I think, was the
fact that it was very relevant to what people wanted and needed, in
terms of a response and a reassurance about America's role in the
emerging new frontier.
So I think we have to watch to be sure that we have that kind of component,
and not a self-serving interest only, purely a self-serving interest
in our rationales and attempts to justify new exploration initiatives.
It's going to have to be something that people feel, American people,
so you get the support that you want from the political system.
But Apollo was a wonderful adventure, a wonderful adventure. I wonder
how often those sorts of things come along, you know. Short of war
and what that can both do to people and for them, in terms of just
a civilian or a civil enterprise of sorts, I suspect that the founding
and building of some of the modern companies might have had a flavor
of this, modern organizations. But these kind of things, I think,
probably do not come along too often, so I really feel grateful and
privileged to have been around and then to have been able to play
the role that I did in it. It's wonderful.
And they don't come along very often. You can pretty much relate it
to the discovery of the New World, as you did earlier, because you
went from being confined to one certain area, to having a new world
open, and now with the space program, you went from having a confined
area on the Earth, to having a whole frontier open.
up. Remains to be seen what we can do with it, but it certainly opened
up. Opened up.
you, again, for joining us today.
you. Glad to be here.
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