NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Houston, Texas – 8 February 1999
Today is February 8, 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.
You're welcome. Glad to be here.
We'll start with Apollo. In the earlier interview you talked some
about the early Apollo missions, Apollo 1, Apollo 7, and Apollo 8,
but you mentioned in our last interview that while Gemini was going
on, you were working on some of the unmanned Apollo missions. What
can you tell us about what you did?
There were actually sort of two series of unmanned flights. One was
called the boilerplate. "BP" was the designator, and it
was a set of tests of the escape system, the Apollo abort escape system,
the little tower that was on top of the spacecraft that would pull
it over, pull it off the vehicle, if there were a problem during the
launch phase. That was considered critical enough that there was a
whole set of tests designed that were conducted out at White Sands.
We used a solid rocket motor, and the idea was to boost the spacecraft
to high dynamic pressures, high loads, and then trigger the abort
system to see that it worked properly under a variety of sets of conditions.
I can't recall how many flights there were out there, but I was sort
of in charge of the flight part of it. The flight part of it had to
do with tracking the vehicle and determining when it was getting into
conditions that we wanted, and then hitting a button that basically
destructed the launch vehicle, or stopped the launch vehicle, opened
it up so that it would stop propulsion, and also triggered the abort
system. We had a number of those. I can't remember the number, but
over a period of probably, I don't know, a year or two, maybe less
than two years. Those tests were conducted out at White Sands and
basically qualified the escape system as a total system for the later
Let's see. I don't know that I can recall anything terribly significant
about them except the solid rockets kicked them up awful fast. We
got the conditions very quickly, the aerodynamic conditions we were
trying to match, and the abort system worked, as I recall, every time,
although the destruct system on the launch vehicle didn't work, I
don't think, quite the first time, and I can't remember all the reasons.
I think there was some problem with the cables pulling out of a box.
Once that got resolved, everything out there went fine, and I can't
recall any other real problems with it.
We scrubbed one day because of high winds. The solid rockets were
just sort of stabilized with a small thrust vector control system,
but if the winds got to blowing too much from certain directions,
then it would take the vehicle off course. We had to scrub one launch,
I remember, because the winds were high, and actually the vehicle,
instead of going where we wanted it to, probably would have come close
to coming back over the range where the pads were. So we scrubbed
that, and there was a little excitement about that within the management
ranks, but that all settled down and everybody decided that was the
right thing to do, and we went on a few days later and launched it,
and it was fine.
Let's see. That was the series that was conducted out at White Sands.
They were rather small-scale vehicles. They went up to maybe 30,000
feet, and that went well. After that, we got into tests of the spacecraft
overall, but mostly tests of the heat shield itself. There were a
total of four unmanned tests of that order. Two of them were on the
Saturn 1B, which was the smaller rocket that was used for the earth
orbital flights. That was, for example, the rocket we used when we
flew Apollo 7. Then we came back later, by the way, and used it for
the Skylab missions, for launching the command service modules, and
also for the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. So it continued to be used
over the course of the program, but was really only used for one manned
flight in Apollo.
The first two, as I said, were on the Saturn 1B, and basically what
we did was we put the vehicle in an orbit, and then we would put it
up high, in a high orbit, and then drive it on down with the propulsion
system that existed on the command service module. It was called the
service propulsion system, SPS. It was the engine that the Apollo
spacecraft itself used, a fairly big engine, and those flights were
fairly uneventful, I think, in terms of what went on in them. I can't
recall anything exciting or anything to tell you about, although in
the launch of one of them, the launch got scrubbed for some reasons
at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] that I can't recall, and then they
decided that everything was okay.
Kurt [H.] Debus was in charge of the Kennedy Space Center [Florida]
at the time, he came back on the loop and asked me if we could unscrub.
That was kind of a new term for us. We'd never done one of those,
but everything was still up, so we got everybody settled back down
and went ahead with the countdown, and it went fine. Both of those
flights went pretty much by the book.
We then flew the first Saturn V unmanned, and I was the flight director
on that one, too. It was called 501, five for the Saturn V designator
and 01 for the first flight on it, and it, again, was basically a
test of the heat shield, and the idea there was to propel the vehicle
all the way to conditions just about what they would reach when they
reentered from the moon. We came close to those kind of conditions,
and the flight went very normally. Everything worked just exactly
as we expected, and it was fine.
We flew a second one called 502, logically enough, 502 after that,
and Cliff [Clifford C.] Charlesworth, a good friend of mine, was the
flight director for that flight. That flight really misbehaved. One
of the center engines on the second stage—what happened was,
one of the engines on the second stage wanted to shut itself down,
but the wires that did that were crossed to another engine. So we
ended up with two, I think, engine shutdowns, and then we ended up
with a bad vibration, a pogo kind of a vibration, on the set of beams
that hold all the engines to the tank. That was of great concern to
us later on when we were considering manning the next Saturn V flight.
So we got into some funny orbital conditions, but we got into some
kind of orbital conditions with the Saturn V, and again we used the
service propulsion system, the engine on the Apollo spacecraft, to
drive it back down in to get a high-heat entry test approximating
those that we would see when we got back from the moon.
I don't know if we got all the way to the conditions we were trying
to match with that flight, but it was kind of peculiar because the
flight I was on, 501, went just nominal-nominal once we got it off,
and then Cliff, bless his heart, walked off and got this next one,
and there were all kind of problems, especially with the launch phase
of the vehicle, and he had to deal with all those. But in the end,
the mission was considered successful.
We learned quite a bit about the launch vehicle, and we made some
modifications to avoid this pogo situation that we were getting into
with the center engine, they think was causing it. And what we ended
up doing on the later flights, the manned flight, was shutting the
center engine down a little bit early, and the rest of the propellant,
of course, would go into the four outer engines, and it worked fine.
That was the fix that we put in for the manned Saturn Vs that first
showed up, then, when we flew Apollo 8.
Today it seems like, especially in countdowns, Shuttle countdowns
run really pretty smoothly. I mean, they're pretty well thought through,
the hardware works very well. But I remember when we were getting
ready for the first Saturn V flight, they had what they called a "countdown
demonstration test" [CDT] or something close to that name. Normally
that should take, I don't know, three days or so to go through all
the preps and fuel the vehicle and take it all the way down as if
you were ready to lift it off, and then, of course, not do it in a
But it took us, I think, the best part of two weeks to do that test
that would normally take three days. I mean, it was just a—looking
back, it wasn't at the time, but it was almost a circus of things
that could go wrong, and they did. The team of people, mostly at the
Cape, were responding to it, although here in the Control Center in
Houston we were participating in the count. So we kind of stayed with
them for that almost two weeks of getting a countdown test done, and
that was probably the most anomalous part of getting ready to do the
first Saturn V flight.
We also had some probably extra bold things that were built into the
spacecraft, even when you flew 201, that we never had to exercise,
and I'm glad we didn't, because we actually had the ability to control
the attitude of the vehicle as if you were flying it from the ground,
but it gets pretty tricky because you have to have the right displays,
you have to have the right controls, you have to send them the right
way, and we practiced that a bit, to have this ability to control
the spacecraft, but fortunately the automatic system worked fine and
we didn't have to get into any of that stuff, because it would have
been very hairy for somebody to be looking at an indicator on the
ground and then try to, in effect, fly a vehicle that was airborne.
Today you could probably do that more reasonably than the way we were
going about it at the time, but we never had to use that, thank God,
and everything went fine.
And everything did go fine. The Saturn rocket has—
An amazing record.
An amazing record.
Amazing record for what was asked of it. Two test flights, and then
we used it throughout the Apollo series for all the moon flights,
and it worked fine. It did work fine on every flight except when we
launched it and got hit with lightning on Apollo 12.
And even then it got up to orbit.
Even then it worked fine. Yes. A little scary, but it worked fine.
You mentioned the countdown and training for flying the rocket from
the ground, and we had talked before about how you trained for the
earlier missions like the Mercury and having to make the tapes and
then changing it for Gemini. How did you change your training for
the Apollo missions?
Well, by the time we got the Apollo, we were really much more adept
at using digital computers to do that for us. So we had simulators
that the crew used that we modified some to do these unmanned things,
unmanned flights, but the simulators could then be flown, and as the
simulator responded to events and the information that would be displayed
in the Control Center, which is where we all were by that time, was
accurate. So we didn't have to make tapes and preconceive what the
courses of action might be and send them all around the world, around
the network stations that we talked before, but rather we had a simulator
that was flying on its own, generating the telemetry that was true
to, or accurate to, whatever it was doing, and that was the telemetry
that was displayed in the Control Center. We also derived from the
simulator what the trajectory was and simulated the radar data coming
in also so that we had an accurate simulation of the flight, and it
was good training. I mean, it was very good training.
We ran a lot of flights, simulated training flights, for the unmanned
flights, and again, it was a big learning experience, because the
Apollo spacecraft was new to us at the time, since most of the ops
team had worked on Gemini, and then we started to mesh with the design
team at North American Aviation at the time, is what was the name
of the company before Rockwell bought it out, and the fellows, the
men there, who built the spacecraft. So we had, in the course of those
unmanned flights, a lot of chance to interact with the team of engineers,
both within NASA, the program office, and the engineering team, and
the engineering teams at North American Aviation, and we got where
we understood the Apollo spacecraft pretty well. By the time we flew
Apollo 7, the team had a very good understanding of the Apollo spacecraft
and what it was capable of and what you had to do to keep it working
right, etc., etc.
Certainly had a lot to learn for that.
How many hours would you estimate that you would put in to train for
a specific flight?
Well, in those days the flights themselves probably slipped a lot
more than we had when the program became more mature, for mostly hardware,
spacecraft or launch vehicle hardware reasons. So we would end up
having, probably, extended training periods getting ready for an individual
flight. If I had to guess, like for the first 201 or 202, we probably
had twenty all-day training sessions in the Control Center or thereabouts.
We had a lot of them. Today, for a Shuttle flight, they probably have
an integrated training with the crews in the simulator and the people
in the Control Center of probably, I don't know, maybe a dozen or
so full days of work. Integrated sims they're called, integrated simulations.
But we had probably double that number. Compared to what we're doing
today, we had double that number, at least when we were doing the
early flights, because it a learning experience all around. The ground
systems were struggling, the simulators would struggle, the cases
would go awry on the people who had planned them, and on and on and
So we had plenty of opportunity to see a lot of different kind of
things happening and get used to the equipment that we had, both the
vehicles and especially the ground equipment, because things would
break, and we'd have to figure out why did it break and can we launch
under those conditions, and do we have some kind of workaround or
whatever? It was quite a learning experience for all of us all around,
and meshing the spacecraft and then using it as an operational vehicle—well,
it wasn't quite operational, but using it in flight was also a big
bridge to make because the people who had designed and built it had
spent their lives doing exactly that, and it was their baby, and it
was a little hard for them, I expect, to sort of turn it over to both
the team at the Cape, did the countdowns and the launch, and then
when it lifted off, of course, the team in Houston, the flight operations
team, picked it up and took it over.
So we had bridges to build there in terms of connecting with those
folks, both in terms of planning the missions, understanding what
all the mission rules were, and then having them follow the flight
in real time so that in the event of a problem, if there were time,
we could consult with them, as we talked about before. And that gradually
got to the point where that worked pretty well, too, even with the
bigger team of people that we had, engineering team that we had on
Apollo, compared to what we had on the Gemini spacecraft.
You grew, and you meshed, and everything happened step by step.
Just kept absorbing more and more entities or organizations into it.
Yes, it took a lot of exercising, but we got there and it worked pretty
Yes, it did, and it got to the moon.
It got to the moon.
During this time frame, you became chief of the flight director's
Somewhere in there, yes. Do you have the date, by the way?
I believe starting in 1968. What were your responsibilities?
Well, in the Flight Control Division, we had just a handful—I
have to stop and count, but it would be like four or five of six people
who were in the flight director's office who would be flight directors
when the actual flight occurred. Their duties involved a lot more
than the actual flight because it was getting ready for the flight
that consumed so much of our time, and what we got in the style of
appointing a lead flight director for each flight, who was then sort
of the overall orchestrator with the flight crews and the training
schedules and was the overall orchestrator or referee when we got
to arguing about mission rules and procedures and what we were going
to do under certain circumstances and so on. And that worked pretty
well for us.
We also found that individual people kind of focused, either planned
or accidentally, on different parts of the mission so that we kind
of did, not completely but some amount of repeating of the phases
of a flight. Where somebody did this certain phase before, they might
do that again either in the next flight or a couple of flights downstream.
So we didn't go into each flight with everybody having to learn everything
about each phase, all of which would be very different and very complicated.
For example, the launch phase is one thing, the earth orbit is another,
the going into orbit around the moon is another thing, getting ready
for landing on the moon and landing on the moon is another set of
things that are going on. You're introducing more of the hardware.
For example, when you get to landing, you're introducing the lunar
module in a much more intimate way than we had before.
And then there was the EVAs, the walks on the moon, where we got to
the point where we were beginning to mesh with the scientists, the
geologists and other kind of lunar scientists who planned—made
inputs to, I should say, what they wanted to accomplish on the moon,
and then a team of people in the Apollo spacecraft program office
let what they called traverse planning, traverse for where you were
going to go on the moon and what you were going to do at each place
and how long it was going to take you.
So that was another group of people that we began to integrate with
and kind of absorbed into a single set, a team of planners, and then
executors for the actual flight itself, and that was all a big learning
experience for us. So we didn't stick rigorously to "You do this
part, you do that part, and leave it that way forever." We did
kind of move it around a little bit, but probably half the time we
had people repeating given phases that they had done before, and we
didn't have to restart and redo and reinvent all the training for
So the flight director's office basically had people assigned to each
flight, and then each one of the flight directors, each one of those
assignees, lead flight directors, would kind of be the orchestrator
of all the details of what was going on on a particular flight. I
guess my job was to see that people were selected, trained, and then
conducting those planning steps before we got to the flights the way
they should. Then, of course, during the flight itself we would be
on individual shifts, so there wasn't any oversight, for example,
from the chief of the office, like myself, because each of the people
were involved in a given eight-hour shift as I would be, and by that
time we were all very confident in each other and didn't really need
much in the way of oversight.
When there got to be significant problems, people would sort of coalesce
almost like telepathy somehow. The word would go out that there was
a problem, and people would show up and help as best they could, but
that was, you know, just for special events. Most of the time it just
kind of ran along like that.
We found that planning the training schedule with the crews and the
simulations and then getting them conducted and then what kind of
training might be changed as we went along. For example, if things
didn't go well in one phase of the mission or not, we might repeat
some simulation exercises that had to do with that phase or whatever.
So it was kind of a learning, adjusting experience. I mean, it wasn't
potted, it wasn't fixed, it wasn't rigid, it changed as we had to
as we went along, both in terms of the people assignments and in terms
of the phases.
The other thing that was a significant part of this planning and preparation
phase of getting ready for a flight had to do with getting the shift
of people that you would be working with in the Control Center, getting
them all working together, because, again, at the other consoles it
was the same thing as the flight director's office. People would be
assigned. Sometimes they would show up regularly during one phase,
sometimes they wouldn't. So there was always new faces for a given
phase, and it was a matter of sort of bringing a team together, getting
them all thinking and working right, and then getting them interfaced
with the flight crews right. You could tell. You could tell how it
was going, and you could tell when it was rough, and you could tell
when things weren't quite right, but then as you approached a flight,
generally it all smoothed out and people knew their jobs and they
did them very well. They really did them very well.
You mentioned the different shifts of people and the different flight
directors working with the different teams. Were the flight directors
involved in selecting which [people worked on their team]?
No. I think those assignments were usually made by the branch chief.
For example, Arnie [Arnold D.] Aldrich was the branch chief of the
people who looked after the systems in the spacecraft. Mel [Melvin
F.] Brooks and then Jim [James E.] Hannigan was in charge of the lunar
module systems people. Then we had the Flight Dynamics Branch, the
trajectory guidance part of it that I had earlier run and that probably
was being run by Jerry Bostick by about that time. So they would make
assignments, but they would generally discuss them with us as to why
they were doing something and so on and so on.
I don't recall every having any real conflicts in that. There were
certain flight controllers that each flight director always wanted
to have because they were very, very good, but I don't recall any
real conflicts with the assignments, and, in general, it seemed to
work out pretty well.
It was certainly a good team.
Yes, and mixing people up and moving them around and putting them
on different teams served a real good purpose, too, because each person
brought sort of individual skills and talents, and then they could
get mixed in with another set of players. So it was pretty homogenous,
I would say, in terms of talent across the board for each one of the
You mentioned that for each mission there would be a lead flight director.
How did you determine who that would be?
Well, once we got started, it kind of got a little sequential. For
example, I was the flight director on Apollo 7, and I guess Chris
[Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.], who was flight operations director at
the time, appointed me for that. Then Cliff Charlesworth was the lead
flight director for Apollo 8, although there, of course, were several
of us working on all these shifts. Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz was the
flight director for Apollo 9. Then I was the flight director again
for Apollo 10, and Cliff was the prime flight director for Apollo
11. Then somewhere in that mix, Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin had been
operating as a flight director, and then he became the lead flight
director for Apollo 12, and Milt [Milton L.] Windler was the lead
flight director for Apollo 13. Now I'm starting to run out of who
was what. I can't remember who was 14. I think I was the lead flight
director for 15. So once we got started, it was a little bit sequential,
although that wasn't entirely rigorous. It depended on what else people
were doing and what other assignments they had and so on.
The advantage of that was not only did we, maybe every third or fourth
flight, get to be lead flight director, but we generally participated
in all the flights, not exactly, but most of us participated in all
the flights. In that respect, we were different from the flight crews,
because they would fly once every couple of years, probably, and skip
a whole set of flights. But we felt it was more fun to be involved
in all of them, the whole sequence, and, in general, we were. Occasionally
we would miss a flight for some reason or another, mostly having to
do with getting ready for the next one. But that worked pretty well.
It certainly seemed to. You mentioned there were different shifts.
Was there four different shifts?
No, generally three, although at times we had four, for reasons that
I can't recall right now, except it was probably different sets of
people. We had enough people, and different sets of people were very
good at different phases of it.
The first time I remember having four shifts was when we got to Apollo
13. Going into Apollo 13, we had four shifts of people. Gerry Griffin
had a team. Milt Windler was the lead; he had a team. Gene had a team,
Gene Kranz, and so did I. We did different phases of it, and during
the Apollo 13 mission, as a matter of fact, sometime after the explosion,
we took Gene Kranz's team and put them off line to work on the reentry
portion, that is, firing the command module back up and getting it
ready for entry. So they kind of went off line to do that while the
three of us continued with the process of getting the vehicle back
to that point in the flight.
And that fourth team was a good incidence, then, for that flight.
Oh, yes. It turned out it would turn out. It was nice to have a fourth
set of players that we could turn over. Plus, by that time the command
service module, of course, had been powered down. It was relatively
unused, although we used some canisters and things from it, but it
was powered off. So most of the people who were occupied with the
command service module could pay attention to the planning that was
going on for how we were going to try to do the entry when the time
came, which would be—it was four or so days later from when
the thing blew, maybe three and a half. So that whole bunch of people
focused on what could they do to get the command service module ready,
what kind of procedures they were going to use, how they were going
to power it up.
In the course of that, they also invented how we could recharge the
batteries that we had used some of out of the command module. The
entry batteries for the command module had been used somewhat in the
crisis that we had in getting out of the command module and over into
the lunar module. Normally they wouldn't be used at all because the
fuel cells would have been providing the power, but in this case the
tanks blew and took the fuel for the fuel cells with them, so the
fuel cells went down fast.
At any rate, on the average, it was like three shifts of people, relatively
sequentially assigned, sometimes assigned because they had spent some
time on a given phase of the flight. So we just would adjust those
kind of assignments for that to take advantage of it depending on
circumstances, and off we went.
While we're talking about the early end of Apollo, very early in the
sequence there was talk about the method of getting to the moon, earth
orbit versus lunar orbit versus direct descent. Were you involved
No. There was a—I wouldn't say a controversy, because—well,
it was probably controversial, but the team of people that had been
planning it, especially in the person of the Wernher von Braun team,
had this idea that we would launch the whole thing, one spacecraft
that would do everything, that is, go out there, land on the moon,
come back, and do the reentry. The problem with that was it would
take an even larger launch vehicle than the one we used to really
pull that kind of a mission sequence off.
There was a fellow from Langley whose name was [John C.] Houbolt or
something like that, who apparently had worked on this idea of a lunar
orbit rendezvous so that the vehicle you sent—it's like the
UFO things. You have a mother ship, and you send down a little thing
down to the moon and back, and then you discard it. He had this concept
that the lunar orbit rendezvous would significantly downscale what
you had to do in terms of the initial launch vehicle and make it more
affordable, make it more doable, make it, perhaps—that was the
argument—make it more reliable and more likely to be accomplished
I'm told—I don't know whether the story is true, but I'm told
that this guy, bless his heart, was so convinced that he had the right
answer, that he used to sit outside the office of the people in Washington
[NASA Headquarters], the leaders in Washington—I don't want
to say demanding, because we didn't really do that, but insisting
on a hearing of his idea, and he was very persistent in it, and—again,
this is second or third hand, because I wasn't really involved in
it and didn't know the particulars—but he forced, by dint of
his own perseverance, he forced a discussion and a debate about how
best to do this and, after the debate, got seriously joined—and
at first, people just tried to pooh-pooh it and put it aside, but
once the debate got seriously joined, I believe the advantages became
more evident to people, and then the choice was made to not only build
an Apollo ship but also to build a lunar lander.
That must have happened fairly early in the development sequence,
because you had to build a command service module to do its mission
and then you had to build the lunar module to do its mission. I don't
ever recall working very much with the design of the command service
module that was going to do everything, that is, fly out to the moon,
land on the moon, and come back. I don't recall ever doing serious
work on that option, so the discussion of what kind of a mission scenario
to do, either direct, all up, or this lunar orbit rendezvous with
two different manned vehicles, must have been joined fairly early
in the sixties, the debate must have been joined that early, and the
decision was made fairly early because the lunar module got started
a little bit after, I don't recall how long, but in time a little
bit after the command service module contract was let with North America
Aviation and Grumman up in Bethpage, New York, Long Island, won the
contract for the lunar module. Of course, they were rolling along
and essentially ready for it by the time we started flying it in 1969.
It seems like it was a good decision.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You know, I forgot one of the unmanned flights.
There was an unmanned test of the lunar module that Gene Kranz was
the flight director for, and it must have used the Saturn 1B also.
So that was probably another use of it, to not even fly the command
service module, just fly the lunar module, not plan to recover it,
but to go through a set of tests for the lunar module.
I remember, during that flight, that the lunar module engine would
not light, mostly for the kind of interlocks that were in the flight
software that didn't allow it to ignite. I can't recall the details
of it, but I remember being at the console with Gene while this was
going on, and Chris—there was a General Vince—it'll come
to me—a general who was, of course, in charge of the Eastern
Test Range at the time who got kind of close with Chris Kraft, and
Chris asked me to explain to the general—these guys were all
talking this space jargon babble stuff, and he asked me to explain
to the general—Vince Houston, General Vince Houston, who was
very helpful to the program, by the way, in his job at Eastern Test
Range—to explain to him what was wrong. I just remember saying
something like, "The goddamned engine won't light." [Laughter]
He said, "Oh, okay. I understand that." And I believe that
they got the software thing straightened out and did get it to fire.
But in our discussion of the unmanned flights I had forgotten that
one, because Gene was fully occupied with getting ready. Again, you
had to fly these spacecraft differently if they were unmanned because
all the things that the crews normally did either weren't done or
were put into some kind of automatic system that either automatically
called for something to be done or, in most cases, had a command back-up
from the ground. So the people on the ground were much more involved
in kind of flying and configuring the spacecraft than they normally
would be when crews were on board.
I remember Gene getting ready for that flight. It was a wild time
for him in terms of getting all the team ready to interface with this
modified lunar module spacecraft that had different kinds of things
to do with than we normally did when we had crews on board.
I guess that helped give you a chance to experiment and figure out
how to do things in the event something did happen on the manned vehicles.
Yes, it did, and it taught everybody a lot better than they might
otherwise have learned what the internal workings of the spacecraft
would be, although they were tougher than the manned flights in terms
of the prep for them and the training for them, and in some cases
the actual flights, because some things you just ask the crew to do
that's not so easy to get done when you have to command it, or in
some cases you couldn't command it so that you had to go without whatever
it might be. So they were more complicated, more difficult to plan
for, more difficult to train for.
Shows a little bit, too, some of the value of putting a human aboard.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. They're a lot easier to fly with people on board,
a lot easier to fly, because they're basically designed to have people,
and then they would sort of put these boxes in the spacecraft that
were supposed to take the place of what the crews did, and they did
a reasonable job of doing that, but they were never complete, and
they never had all the flexibility, then they had a lot of procedural
things having to do with how you command them and how you talk to
them and what kind of feedback you got, and so on. It was more complicated.
As we're talking, going back to the unmanned missions, for Apollo,
George [E.] Mueller instituted the procedures of all-up testing that
hadn't necessarily been in place before. Did you have any thoughts
on this at the time?
No. I mean, that kind of a philosophy was applied to the vehicles
at the vehicle level and then, of course, at the flight level when
you flew them, but I wasn't involved in any discussions about arriving
at that kind of an approach to things, but it did manifest itself,
of course, in fairly aggressive and ambitious unmanned flights that
I suspect that, left alone, the sequence of flights that we finally
used, the sequence of manned flights we finally used to get to the
moon, was initially planned to be longer than it was, and I believe
one of the reasons that that was able to be contracted was the Gemini
experience that we had that I have talked about before, but another
was, I guess you'd say, the benefit of the maturity of the program
and the experience of the people in terms of being able to make those
kind of decisions.
So all-up testing, however it got manifested in the program, probably
was a help in that regard. You know, the engineers would like to take
every little piece of the spacecraft and test and test and test it
and, you know, by the time you get done with all that, aggregating
at the higher levels of a real spacecraft system could take an enormous
amount of time. So it probably helped, but I'm not the best person
to have an opinion on that.
Well, we've been lucky enough to talk to Dr. Mueller.
Moving on now into some of the missions, as you had worked on the
unmanned missions and you were testing out the different systems in
the spacecraft and coming off of the Apollo 1 tragedy, Apollo 7 came
up, and the mission was—everything went right on the spacecraft,
everything was great. What was that like for you, when everything
did go so well?
Well, it was a tremendous relief, of course, and Apollo 7 flew something
like ten-plus days, ten and a fraction, in Earth orbit, and it was
the first time we took a manned spacecraft and actually flew that
duration of time. The early Mercury, of course, was the first Mercury.
John Glenn's was three orbits. The first Gemini was three orbits,
on Gemini III, and it took us a little while to build up to ten days,
and we never did in the Mercury. Even in Gemini it took us a while
to build up to that.
But the spacecraft itself—and I think that was part of the learning
that was going on in the country about how to build this hardware,
and by the time we got to Apollo, the hardware itself, as demonstrated
through the testing programs, seemed to be benefiting from the experience
that the country had gained in building the earlier ships. In general,
the Apollo spacecraft worked pretty well. We had, of course, some
problems with it, but in general it hummed along pretty well. The
fuel cells worked fine. The reaction control system, which controls
the vehicle and can also translate it, make some maneuvers in space,
that worked well, and both of the those systems were trouble-plagued
in the Gemini flights. So we were pleased that it worked so well.
Apollo 7, of course, was kind of the first of the series. I don't
really remember when I learned that Apollo 8 was going to the moon.
I can't remember whether that was right before or right after the
Apollo 7 mission, but that was a big relief to us, of course, to have
the performance that we did on Apollo 7, which gave us, again, good
confidence that Apollo 8 had a good chance of being able to go to
the moon and back the way it should. So all in all, I think we were
very pleased and very satisfied with the way the spacecraft worked,
and it did a great job. I mean, it really worked very well the first
Do you think if it hadn't worked as well, that the sequence would
It might have, yes, depending on how much it misfired, if that's the
right word. That would have affected, I think, the decisions that
had been made. I mean, you could imagine a very poor spacecraft with
a lot of problems with it, and that probably would have affected the
decision-making, because the decision-making was based on the confidence
in the hardware and the confidence in the people, and had we not had
the experience to establish that confidence, we would have stumbled
along a little bit more, that is, more flights to get to the lunar
landing than we did. We went to the lunar landing mission in very
short order once we got to manning the Apollo hardware, that is, manning
it with flight crews. We got there very quickly.
You mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the unmanned missions,
that one of the Saturn V missions, in fact, the one right before Apollo
8, had experienced a variety of difficulties.
Which were solved. But when the decision was made for Apollo 8 and
you were going to use the Saturn V again, did you have any concerns
Well, we did, but we talked about this pogo thing that was causing
one engine to shut down, and then the mis-wiring caused another engine
to shut down also, and there was a good fix for the center engine
just by shutting it down early. The engine testing had gone well.
The other thing about it is, once we were getting to the point of
saying we were going to put people on board, you know, you're going
to light this thing and fire it, so we got to the point of saying,
well, as long as we're going to do that, we're taking all of the risks,
we might as well try to get the best gain that we possibly can out
of it. You could have used the Saturn V to do an earth orbital flight,
but it was oversized for that, and you wouldn't have gotten a full,
complete test of it, or you would have—you know, people might
have fired the engine in such a way in lower earth orbit to keep it
in lower earth orbit but still fire the engine the whole duration.
And we began to adopt the attitude, well, as long as we're going to
fire this thing the whole way, then let's go for the mission that
it was designed for and take it out to the moon, which was done on
So once we got over the initial problems that we had on 502, the unmanned
flight, and saw that those things were fixed, then it became a matter
of getting used to the idea that, well, we're going to light this
thing, it's going to burn full duration somehow or another, in some
direction or another, so instead of going sideways, why don't we go
to where we want to go, go to the moon. Once you decided to take the
risk of putting people on it and firing it for full duration, you
might as well fire it at the mission that it was designed for, rather
than some strange thing that may have kept it from less—would
have been less than a lunar mission but still would have entailed
all the risk of firing the engine and running it full duration, firing
the stages and firing them for the full duration that they were planned
for. So once we got used to that idea, we said, yes, let's get on
And Apollo 8 was quite successful.
Apollo 8 was great. Apollo 8 was great. We talked about that, and
Apollo 8 was kind of like the door opener for the lunar landing mission.
I think all the people, certainly in the operations team—the
flight crews, I think, didn't feel quite the same way, but for us,
all that had to be done to plan and execute the Apollo 8 mission says
that we really knew how to do that. We kind of opened the door so
that the next couple of flights were test flights. Getting to the
lunar landing mission was shorter than it otherwise would have been,
but we got there with confidence as a result of Apollo 8.
Looking at Apollo 8 and talking about the risk with the rocket, in
hindsight, after having seen Apollo 13, there was some risk with the
spacecraft to some degree. Do you ever look back at it and go "Wow!"?
Oh, yes. There are a lot of—I'm not sure I could recount them
all, but there are a lot of times when things happened that, had they
happened in other sequences or under other conditions, would have
been really bad, but for the most part, the things that happened were
handle-able, manageable, in the sequence we had them in.
Apollo 13, for example, had it blown up while the lunar module was
on the lunar surface, we'd have been stranded without a way to get
home. So the fact that it blew up when it did didn't leave us very
much margin to get home, but at least it was some margin to get home,
because we still had a full-up lunar module to live off of. And had
it happened thirty-six or whatever hours later, we'd have been stuck.
We'd have lost the mission, we'd have lost the crew, etc. So there's
a variety of things that happened where the sequence of them turned
out to be forgiving, if that's the right term, and the program was
able to continue without grinding to a halt.
We were lucky. I think I talked about this before, if we hadn't gotten
to the moon as quickly as we did and Apollo 13 happened somewhere
in the getting ready to go to the moon, it probably would have engendered
another debate about, gee, maybe this is too risky and we shouldn't
be doing it at all, especially if we'd missed the goal of doing it
within the decade. It just would have had a different flavor to the
discussion than it did.
Apollo 13 happening after a couple of lunar landing missions made
people feel confident that, well, if we fix this problem, we can go
back and repeat what we were doing before. All of that wasn't still
in front of us. We already had that under our belt as two successful
lunar landing missions. If we did not have that, then the terms of
reference for the discussion would have been different.
You mentioned or we talked around, kind of, the build-up to the lunar
landing of Apollo 11. In between Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 was 9 and
10, both critical missions.
Both critical, and 9 was primarily—although, of course, we flew
the command service module, was primarily the first manned test of
the lunar module, and so people wanted to put the lunar module through
all the paces that they could in lower earth orbit, and that's what
the Apollo 9 mission was scheduled to do and did. I didn't work on
Apollo 9. I was around the Control Center, but I didn't have a planned
shift for Apollo 9 because, by that time, I was occupied with Apollo
10. Apollo 10 was another step like that, although it took the lunar
module out of earth orbit and we took it all the way to the moon,
and we did everything short of the actual descent phase and the lunar
So we had to do all the navigation things having to do with the two
vehicles in orbit. We separated them. We approximated the rendezvous
sequence that we would have when we lifted off from the moon. So we
got through all of the phases of flight except the actual descent
itself, and then, of course, the traverses that were planned for the
So we took the lunar module to earth orbit, did everything we could
with it, took it to the moon, did everything we could with it, and
then, on the third flight, we were ready to commit it to the landing,
did, and it worked fine. It worked fine in terms of most of its performance.
There were a few problems that people had to work around in order
to be sure that it got to landing.
Go into a little more detail with Apollo 10, if we could.
Apollo 10 was a great flight. I was the lead flight director on it,
and it was, you know, do everything except the landing phase, is basically
the way the mission design came down. A number of us argued at the
time that if we're going to go all that way and do all that, then
we ought to go land on the moon. Probably the staunchest advocate
of stopping short of the descent phase was Chris Kraft at the time.
He wanted us to have the experience of navigating these two vehicles
around the moon, navigating, knowing where they are and how fast they're
going so that you can get them back together. Because there were unknowns
associated with flying so low, close to the lunar surface, because
the trajectories would be disturbed by concentrations of mass from
whatever hit the moon and it would change the orbit a little bit,
and that doesn't sound like much, but you can't afford to miss very
much when you're doing what we were doing.
So we debated that for a while, but after a while we all got satisfied
that that was the right thing to do. So we set about to do everything.
Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford, Gene [Eugene A.] Cernan, and John [W.] Young
were on Apollo 10, and we had a chance to do everything short of the
landing on that flight. The flight pretty much went by the book. There
were a few funny anomalies where the spacecraft got out of configuration
at one time and was kind of spinning up or going in a direction that
the crew didn't expect, and Cernan reacted to that, I think, profanely
on the air-to-ground, but that got settled down and got the configuration
right, and they got that fixed, and things went smoothly from then
Basically, Apollo 10 was sort of like the last clearance test for
the Apollo 11 lunar landing try, and the flight went well, everything
behaved well, and basically the whole system, hardware and people,
passed the clearance test that we needed to pass to be sure that we
could go land on the moon on the next one. Adding the descent phase
and the lunar surface work was a tremendous amount of additional training,
planning, getting ready for that had to occur with both the flight
crews, with the people in the Control Center, and, of course, all
the people that plan all these flights.
So in retrospect, Apollo 10 probably could have landed on the moon,
but it was a matter of how much do you bite off at a time, and the
way it came out, Apollo 10 was absolutely the right thing to do. I
enjoyed it. It was great.
And it was successful. And it set up Apollo 11. When you realized
Apollo 10 was a good success, the astronauts were back on the ground,
and here you were ready to go on the next one, did anything change
in the Center?
Well, it's hard in words to recapture kind of the mood and the feeling
of things at that time, and I'm talking about it in fairly—sort
of an unemotional way today, but we had been involved in this whole
thing for a long time, we and everybody else, and there was a powerful
sense of people wanting to pull off the Apollo landing and return
within the decade. There was a powerful sense of wanting to do that,
that having been the challenge and the goal. So it was a very strong
Then all these flights had their own unique characteristics, both
the unmanned ones and the manned ones. They had their own unique set
of problems in getting ready for the flights, special kind of things
that we had to learn and put in place, you know, kind of step by step,
and then each flight had its own character when we flew it, because
there were always things that happened that were a little bit out
of the ordinary and had to be dealt with. So each one of them. But
in the whole course of that thing, I mean, the program had this energy
that was pervasive, and everybody that worked on the program for all
parts of it, you know, down to the janitor and the guards who were
around, and even today I still see some of the guards at the Center
who were around in those days, and they still talk to me about how
exciting it was. They always like to chat about it.
But there was a sense of electricity and intensity and excitement
about the whole thing, and it was like one right after another. We
flew Apollo 10 in May and flew the Apollo landing in July. There wasn't
hardly ever any time to sit around and savor and bask in the success
of a flight, because it was always getting on with the next one that
was occupying us. But that whole time, I mean, throughout the sixties,
but especially in that last year, year and a half, before we landed,
there was this tremendous sense of adrenaline flowing, excitement
in people, common goal pulling everybody towards it, lots of technical
problems all the time occurring that had to be dealt with one way
or another, and it just kept everybody occupied all the time.
So it was like busy hands are good and idle hands are not so good.
We were busy the whole time, but we were busy in what we felt was
a constructive way, but throughout it there was this constant feeling
of excitement and energy just pulsing through the whole program. There
were always issues to be decided, you know, about how to do this,
how to do that, what to do about this, and so on, and people struggle
with those all the time. Just issues like which astronaut is going
to walk down the ladder first occupied a lot of people for a while,
and which one comes up the ladder last, you know.
So besides the—I don't want to call them unsubstantive—besides
all the regular technical problems and difficulties that we had, there
were other issues that had to be dealt with of that class. So there
is a constant, never-ending agenda in front of us about what to do
and how to do it that was being grappled with all the time. But the
energy was there the whole time, just crackling, almost, and certainly,
certainly crackling when the simulations—the simulations were
not so crackly as they were sweat and work. I mean, sweat in the sense
of you wanted to execute the simulation well, you didn't want to screw
up, and they were long, and we had a lot of them, so it was a lot
of work, a lot of time. But the flights themselves, it was always
kind of just walking into the Control Center, day or night, was always
kind of like goosebumps. You know, you just felt kind of tingly about
it. I think everybody felt that way. I mean, it just infected all
of us to the point that we all had the same sense of urgency and sense
of intensity about it.
And what an amazing time it was.
As you did move into Apollo 11 and the mission launched successfully
and you were working the mission now—actually, we'll go forward
as to when they were landing on the moon. As they were coming down,
they experienced several computer alarms. At the time, where were
I was in the Control Center, plugged into the flight director console,
as were all the—all the flight directors that were working the
console were plugged in anyway during the descent phase. Gene, of
course, was on duty for it, Gene Kranz, but all of us were there.
This alarm thing had been experienced somewhere in the system, in
the testing somewhere or in the simulator, I can't remember where,
had been experienced in the last couple of weeks before the flight.
So the people who had designed and built and tested the flight software,
both here in Houston and up at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology],
spent a lot of time trying to understand these alarms and what they
were indicators of. They were sort of indicators of how loaded the
computer was, but it never was an all-or-nothing thing or a black
or white thing where it just stopped, or it wasn't very clear how
many of them you could experience over a period of time and still
be okay. So there was a sense that they might occur and they had to
be handled, but I don't recall the team ever having absolutely concrete,
firm indicators that if this happened it was going to be okay or not
okay. It was kind of a judgment call as to what the loading really
was and whether it would be okay.
So during the descent phase, lo and behold, these little old alarms
that we had worried about for a couple of weeks showed up, and the
team began to respond to them in no time at all, and as it progressed,
you know, the judgment was made that, well, we're getting them, but
we're not getting them so bad that anything seems to be not working
right, and it doesn't seem like we're getting them every second or
anything like that. So they were infrequent enough, although still
enough to be troublesome and very bothersome, they were infrequent
enough for people not to be willing to call off the landing itself,
and we proceeded with the landing. But during the course of the descent,
that was kind of a frightening thing, that the computer indeed might
be overloading and wasn't going to get all of its functions done properly
so that the landing could be achieved. It was a little scary.
And then on top of that, Neil [A.] Armstrong had to adjust his landing
Look around, look around.
—began losing fuel.
Yes. The landing is sort of a race against the clock in terms of looking
for a good place and still having enough fuel to set down, because
the lunar module system was designed so that basically you were pretty
close to empty by the time you got to landing phase. We didn't have
a lot of margin built into it. There was some, but the crews had gotten
pretty good at knowing what they were looking for on the lunar surface
to set down on and pretty good about getting it down when they needed
to and pretty good about keeping track of the fuel and keeping away
from what was called at the time "bingo," which meant, "You're
out. Get out of there."
So although it was a breath-holding kind of an exercise in the last
minute or so while Neil looked around, and difficult for us in the
Control Center because we didn't know what he was looking at or how
close he was to it or anything—well, we knew what his altitude
was, but we didn't know how close he was to really picking a place
and getting on with it, so it was kind of a breath-holder, and, of
course, he's busy. He didn't have time to be chit-chatting about it.
So it was basically an exercise in our confidence and faith that Neil
knew what he was looking for, knew where he was on fuel, and knew
how far he had to go against how much fuel he had left, and that he
had that under control. And everybody had confidence in Neil that
that was the case. Indeed, so it was, and he found a place with few
enough boulders that looked okay to him and exercised it.
Then, of course, there were a lot of concerns early in the program—not
so much later on, but earlier in the program that the lunar module
was going to sink into the dust, you know, all these wild scenarios
about what was going to happen when you landed on the moon. But the
landing itself was fine, the engine shut down, the vehicle sat there
for a while, nothing was broken, the lines didn't pop, the fuels didn't
leak out. Although getting it on surface was one big relief, there
was still a question as to whether you got there with everything intact,
and that took a little longer to ascertain, but, in time, a matter
of what in those days was a long time, maybe a minute or so or less,
I mean, people were pretty satisfied that the lunar module had indeed
landed and nothing else had gone awry and it was going to be okay.
As a matter of fact, we used to use terminology like "go,"
"no go." We had to revise that terminology when we got to
the moon because we were dealing with, are we going to stay or not
stay, because "go" or "no go" could be misinterpreted.
"Go" could mean "go back up" or it could mean
"you're okay." It would normally mean "you're okay,
stay what you're doing," but "go" might mean—so
we got in terminology of "stay," "no stay." All
the cards and all the votes came up "stay," and that reflected
the condition of the vehicle, and it was accurate and it was fine.
When they did land and everything was fine, what was it like at that
Oh, I mean a tremendous sense of relief, a tremendous sense of having
gotten there, and probably more experienced by those of us who were
plugged in, sitting there, but not actively on duty, because the guys
who were on duty had to worry about, "Okay, it's the same old
thing. Yeah, we got over that one. Now we've got to worry about the
next one." They were worried about the whole next set of things
that had to occur and were they ready for it and what was going on,
so they were watching all the telemetry and so on.
So the team that was plugged in on duty probably had less time to
realize that we really were there, because they were occupied with
the next round of questions that was on everybody's mind about what
we had to do next. The rest of us probably had a chance to relax a
little bit more. I don't know that I would say—I don't recall
that there was like a celebration or anything in the Control Center,
but there was this giant sense of relief and probably some more off-line
talk and chatter than there normally is at any such event, and people
just had to look at each other to communicate a sense of—you
know, one look would say, "All the things we've been through
for ten years, and here we are, we got there." Communion amongst
the people was such that it was easy to read and it was there. I mean,
it was all there.
What an amazing time to be able to experience.
A great time. Great time. I was—how old was I? I was thirty-two,
I guess, at the time we landed on the moon. I'd been doing this for
eight years or so before that time, but—yes, I was kind of young
at the time. We were all fired up, of course, the whole time, but
events like that just supercharged that sense of energy and excitement
about it. It was really powerful. Great stuff.
Oh, definitely, and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.
Yes. It doesn't happen very often, probably more than one lifetime.
You worked the ascent phase of Apollo 11. Did you have any concerns
about the computer because of the alarms?
No. No. By that time we were settled down, and the ascent phase was
a lot less demanding on the computer than the descent phase. So we
weren't concerned about that.
The other thing about it is, generally we always struggle with do
we have to pull back from what we're doing and not go any further
and find a more conservative or less risky way to deal with the situation
in flight. That's generally kind of the thing that occupies you, can
you commit to the next step, or can you stay in this stage, do you
have to back out of it? That was generally the frame of mind we always
had as to, can we stay here, or do we have to back out?
In the case of the ascent, it was a no-brainer. There was no backing
out of it. There was no backing away from it. When the time comes,
we've got to light this thing and get on with it. So it isn't like
we were getting ready for ascent, thinking, "Gee, if everything
isn't quite right, we're going to not go," or, "We're going
to stay. We're going to sit here." So that made it, in terms
of any decisions that have to be made, mission kind of decisions,
that made it kind of easy because we weren't going to back away from
ascent, no matter what was going on. So that went by the book, and,
of course, everything behaved well. The rendezvous went fine, the
crews got back in, that went fine. That was kind of uneventful, I
think, in terms of being anything other than normal, I believe, and
the rendezvous back was fine, and that all worked well. So we were
pleased with that.
And they landed safely.
Landed, and everything went well. The lunar work went well, and back
And back you did go with Apollo 12.
Back we went to Apollo 12.
And you mentioned earlier the lightning strike on Apollo 12.
Something else that happened, I believe it happened after Apollo 11.
Chris Kraft used to involve some of us in various subjects that were
a little bit outside of our normal sphere, and he did that on some
basis or another out of his own head as to what he thought was good
for us, but it seemed to me that it was probably between Apollo 11
and Apollo 12, he invited me to a discussion of lunar science over
at the Lunar Science Institute. I don't know if I told you this on
any of the previous discussions.
Well, that was a funny thing, because all the people, the lunar science
people, the principal investigators and different scientific types
around the country who had invested their reputations in supporting
this thing and planning for the flights and so on, they had an agenda
of wanting to do an awful lot of science, and the people who were
running the program kind of made the decision that, look, especially
on the first flight, science is not our first priority. Landing there,
being there, walking around, collecting rocks for you, etc., is fine,
but that's not our first priority. It's getting there and getting
back is our first priority, which is appropriate, I think, still today,
was the appropriate decision.
But I walked into this meeting with Chris and relatively few people
from Johnson Space Center and this community of people from outside
who were involved in planning of the lunar science, and their agenda
was science is the number-one priority for all the stuff we're going
to do on the lunar surface. To me, they seemed fairly hostile and
kind of ugly about what we hadn't done and we hadn't paid enough attention
to the science and so on and so on. It was that kind of flavor, like,
"You're not paying attention to our priorities," and so
I remember my reaction, looking around at them all, was, "Who
the hell are these people? Where were they when the shooting was going
on? They showed up afterwards to tell us that we didn't do something
right." It was kind of a young man's reaction to this set of
sage, older, supposedly wiser—I'm not sure—set of people
who had a different set of priorities for the lunar landing missions.
And that was fairly entertaining in a way and kind of confrontational
in a way because they were pushing the agenda that we had to do good
science while we were there, and they wanted to accelerate that and
do it more quickly and so on and so on, and that was valid from their
point of view, completely valid from their point of view, but I remember
my reaction was, "Who the hell are these people? Where were they
when the shooting was happening?"
Past that, the ops team, in terms of the planning of the traverses
and the activities that the crew was getting involved in at all the
various stations became, again, more and more of a team subject as
more of the people from the operations business got involved with
the scientific community, and like all other new groups that were
being added to the missions themselves, that gradually worked itself
out as we all got to know each other and understood the priorities
and so on that an individual group would represent. After a while
you understand that it's valid, they have a valid set of thoughts
and concerns and priorities. So you've got to find a way to work those
into what you're doing and work them off.
Now, I'm not sure where the idea of landing Apollo 12 near the old
Surveyor came from. It probably had some—and maybe a lot, I
don't know—support within the scientific community. There was
a sense that people wanted to get back to the Surveyor and see what
had happened to it in the years that it had been there since it had
landed originally. On the other hand, I don't know that there was
anything more scientific about that, except getting back to the Surveyor
and landing at a single point on the moon would be important for the
later missions when landing at a place you're really trying to land
at and then going on the traverses that we really had planned required
relatively accurate control of the landing point itself. So, control
of the landing point was probably more important in their mind than
whatever it is we might get off the Surveyor and see what happened
to it over the years it was sitting on the moon.
So after Apollo 11 and this discussion with the sciences—I don't
think this came up, or maybe it did, but that wasn't my strongest
impression of that meeting, but soon after it became clear that the
program intention was to land by the Surveyor, which was a pinpoint
landing compared to what we'd been doing. We'd not been constrained
in the Apollo 11, you know. Wherever Neil put it down within several
hundred yards or, for that matter, miles would have been okay, but
here we were. I remember it was a little bit like my reaction to Apollo
8 when I first heard about it, which was, "Oh, my God, we can't
hardly pull that off so easily," but then this idea of landing
next to the Surveyor, a pinpoint control landing, came along, and
my reaction was, "Holy God, we don't know how to do that. We
barely got this thing down on the lunar surface the last time. What
do you mean find a particular space within a hundred, two hundred,
three hundred yards so that people could walk to it?" That just
seemed to me to be incredible.
But, lo and behold, our set of planners—Bill [Howard W.] Tindall
[Jr.] was the spiritual and real leader of that group of people—started
to work on all the—it really was a navigation problem. How can
you navigate the vehicle, know where you are, so that when you get
there you are where you want to be and so on?
So Bill had his analytical guys working on that problem, you know,
examining mascons, mass concentrations, were these things that were
buried beneath the lunar surface that would perturb the orbit of the
vehicle as we went over. So they began to work on that and how to
track it and how to put little fine adjustments into the guidance
system actually during the descent phase from the tracking that we
were making, and they developed a technique for how to refine the
guidance system as it went down so that it knew where it was and,
of course, it knew where it wanted to go, and that it would be more
and more accurate.
It wasn't like we had little beacons down there, you know, like you
do at airports, or flashing lights telling you where the airport is.
So we began to work on this idea of landing at a specific, pinpoint
place, and the analysts, the planners, began to figure out how to
do this, so we began to incorporate it into the operational things
that we had to do in the Control Center and on board, that the crew
had to do, and gradually figured out a scheme as to how to do that
with these little corrections that we were putting into the guidance
system from the ground.
Apollo 12, you know, I think when they landed, they couldn't tell
where they were relative to the Surveyor, but when Pete [Charles C.]
Conrad [Jr.] and Al [Alan L.] Bean got on the surface, there it was
across the crater, something just a little ways away that was within
easy walking distance for them. We thought we were close, but until
they got out and looked around, because the windows weren't looking
at it, as I recall, until they got out and walked around we didn't
know how close it was, but there it was.
Now, for the launch of Apollo 12, I was sitting there plugged in with
Gerry Griffin, who was the lead flight director for Apollo 12, so
he was doing the launch phase from the Cape. The weather was such
that we should not have been launching at all, but we weren't smart
enough about how to measure the threats for lightning potential and
so on, which, by the way, we later incorporated quite a bit of mission
rules and measuring of field potentials and so on, so to know what
the potential for lightning was.
But the thing lifted off in a fairly dark, cloudy—not cloudy,
but overcast, dark, and I think it was even raining, kind of a day,
and that's not so evident in the Control Center as it is at the Cape,
of course. I mean, you could see it on TV, but it doesn't—seeing
rain on TV is not the same as being in it. So anyway, this thing starts
to go up, and—ZAP!—you know, we see this kind of thing
come out of the tail like a lightning bolt, and then all the systems
started to go haywire, you know, and things started getting—we
had main buses, which are the main electrical power stations in effect
in the spacecraft, and we started to see undervolts and things kicking
off line and all the stuff that happens when the electrical system
is not right. I mean, it was frightening.
Then, of course, the launch vehicle itself behaved properly. It had
different design for the guidance system and the rest of the electronics
than we had in the spacecraft, and it, probably fortuitously, was
designed in such a way that the lightning and the discharge of all
that energy didn't affect these digital machines, which could have
been zapped, had they taken a direct hit from that kind of discharge,
but the launch vehicle continued to fly and continued to fly right,
and on board, I mean, the crew had all these lights and alarms going
on, caution and warning things kicking off, undervolts, and the little
eight-ball that they used to display their attitude was just rolling
and twisting and flipping all over the place, but we were able to
assure them, from the tracking of the launch vehicle, that the launch
vehicle was flying right.
So they were watching this eight-ball flying all over the place, as
if the spacecraft were flying all over the place. After a while, I
think, they got to laughing about it. Several minutes after it occurred,
I think, I remember listening to the cockpit tape after the flight,
and they—Pete Conrad, especially, who could find humor in anything,
Pete just got to kind of chuckling, laughing about the things that
this eight-ball was doing.
But we got the spacecraft kind of settled down and reconfigured after
we got in orbit, so that we're all kind of sitting there looking at
each other saying, "What the hell do we do now?" Well, something
might have been damaged, but it wasn't at all apparent. All the readings
that we had once we got things reconfigured back the way they should
and put the things back on the electrical bus that had been knocked
off, they were all behaving right. So again we were faced with, well,
we've come halfway, and the launch vehicle's okay, the spacecraft's
okay, so there's not a heck of a lot of point in turning this thing
off. There's nothing that we can see that's a problem, and if there's
something bad happened, for example, to the parachute circuits, well,
if we stop now, we've still got that problem, and if we go to the
moon and back, we have that problem, so why don't we go for the mission?
It was a little bit similar to the Saturn V, manning it, kind of logic:
Let's go do it. We spent two or three revolutions in Earth orbit,
which is less than four and a half hours or thereabouts, during which
time we looked at all that stuff. I mean, I was not on actual duty.
I was just plugged in there holding my breath and praying like everybody
else, but everything seemed to be working fine, no indication of a
problem, so the decision was made, well, let's go and do it. The launch
vehicle did fine, did its burn, put the vehicle on a lunar trajectory,
and off it went. Off it went.
Having done everything else on Apollo 11 and Apollo 10 and other flights,
the issue really was, the concentration was, "Okay, let's get
everything back in place so we can go do this pinpoint landing."
That was the brand-new thing and the difficult thing that we were
trying to pull off with Apollo 12, and it went well, did fine, and
worked just great.
And it did work great. Of course, pinpoint landings did come in very
Yes, they did.
Especially if you're landing in the mountains and—
Right. They had very good maps of the lunar surface, so they knew
exactly where they wanted to land. When we were doing the walking
flights, which would have been 12, 13, and 14, that was even more
constrained, but we had planned by that time that on 15, 16, and whatever
else was going to happen, 17, maybe more, we had this little buggy,
the lunar rover, that was added to the lunar module, and it, of course,
had more range than walking did, but still, in order to effectively
plan the use of time and where you wanted to go and what you wanted
to do, there was a high premium placed on landing where you wanted
to land so that everything else would be according to the plan. That
was the driver in Apollo 12. I mean, it's proof positive when you
can get out and—they actually cut some pieces off the Surveyor
and brought it back with them. I never did know what happened to them,
but the guys cut them off and brought it back.
I talked to Alan Bean the other day. He sent me a copy of the book
that he has where he annotates a lot of the flights and ties them
into the paintings that he's been making of the lunar surface stuff,
and Al and I were talking about how exciting that was and how lucky
we were to be part of it. It was kind of nice to walk down memory
lane with Al for a little while, but he talked a little bit about
the flight and the excitement of it and how great it was for him to
work with Pete Conrad and Dick [Richard F.] Gordon [Jr.]. It was great.
That worked out just fine, too.
I mean, most of these flights, although there would occasionally be
a problem, we were able to return to normal, sort of, in most circumstances,
and things would stay under control and stay on time line. The only
case where that did not happen, and, of course, it did not happen
in a very real and significant way, was Apollo 13.
You mentioned Al talking about how fortunate he was to work with his
crew members Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon. That did seem to be kind
of a unique crew. They really bonded, it seems.
Yes, I think they did. I think they did. Pete and Dick had flown a
couple of Gemini missions together, Gemini—no, Gemini V, [L.]
Gordon Cooper [Jr.] flew on, but either Pete or Dick flew on that
flight, and then they flew together on Gemini XI. They had known each
other from Navy days, I believe, and were close together, and this
opportunity came along for Al Bean to join that crew, and he was just
thrilled and excited about it. I mean, he's written and told me that
he was off working on some advanced stuff, and he was sitting around
wondering if he was ever going to get an Apollo flight, and some set
of circumstances caused him to be the guy that they tapped to join
Pete and Dick for Apollo 12, and Alan considers it the break of his
life, I guess, for that to have happened.
They did, they seemed to get along very well together. They had a
great time together, and Pete Conrad was just a hoot. I mean, he could
find more fun. Again, they would go to a cocktail party or a beer
party or whatever we'd have some night, people would all be standing
around, and the crew would have spent the day—Al Bean with Pete
would have spent the day in an altitude chamber, wearing their suits,
doing a whole bunch of stuff, working very hard, physically working
very hard against the suit and so on and so on, and then at night
they'd go to a party of something, and Pete would start to recount
all the funny stuff that happened there today and laughing about it
and so on and so on.
Alan said he was always amazed. He thought they were working like
hell, and he never realized that for all the hard work he was putting
in, how funny it was until Pete started to talk about it at night,
and then he realized, yeah, sure, this was funny and that was funny,
but at the time it was hard sweat work. That's what he was experiencing
and thinking about all day long. He had no idea that Pete was seeing
so much to laugh about as it occurred.
But that was the way Pete was. He brought a lot to the crews, and
he brought a lot to the program and the people in it in terms of his
attitude. It was always upbeat, always good, and always a hoot to
be around in terms of how he looked at things and how much kick he
got out of thing, even when they didn't go well.
A very good outlook. On Apollo 12, you did mention there was some
concern about the parachutes and whether or not—was there an
extensive concern on that?
No. No, it was just one of the unknowns. It wasn't extensive for us.
It might be extensive for somebody. The parachute guys it was very
extensive for, and when I say parachutes, I'm thinking of the little
electrical devices that sequence them and operate them properly, because,
you know, when you get an electrical discharge like that to the spacecraft
and you don't have any telemetry on these things, people have a tendency
to worry about what might have happened, and I'm sure that the people
involved in that stuff worried more than we did, but our attitude
was, well, you know, all that we can see working, which is most everything,
looks fine, and if something like that is not working, well, it's
not working. If it's not working for going to the moon and back, it
won't be working for just coming down now and stopping the mission,
so let's go for it and bet that it's going to be okay. We didn't have
any indicator that it wasn't, and we weren't disposed to wring our
hands for a long time.
Hand-wringing was viewed as an undesirable trait. Let's put it nicely.
So we didn't have an attitude about staying around wringing our hands.
By wringing our hands I mean wringing our hands and worrying about
things that we didn't have any knowledge of or couldn't control anyway,
even if they were there laying for us. So the attitude was, okay,
everything's working fine, let's go use it, and if something's not
working, we'll find out when the time comes, but you can't get back
from 150 miles earth orbit, you know, any easier than you get back
from the moon if something is laying there and not working right.
So we didn't wring our hands about it very much.
Apollo 11 had been such a big event and was covered extensively by
the media, and then by the time of Apollo 13, there was little coverage.
Were you aware at the time that—
Yes, we could see that, because, of course, it would show up in the
numbers of people from the media who would come here to follow the
flights. It would take the form of the coverage that would occur in
the television, newspapers, or whatever. And we had a sense that the
coverage was dropping off, and a number of people—people react
to that in different ways. A number of people felt like they were
disappointed and it should always be the same as it was, for example,
for Apollo 11.
My attitude, I think, all along was there's just something natural
in this. I mean, people pay attention to things when they believe
that they should pay attention to them. Certainly the first lunar
landing mission was something in that category. But then when you
repeat it once and you're going back to repeat it again and again—and
I say repeat it. From the outside that's what it looks like. From
the inside you're doing a lot of different things, but from the outside
it looks like you're repeating it, then the interest and the anxiety
about it probably goes down a little bit.
So, yes, we sensed and saw the decrease, the indicators of decrease
of attention to the flights, and my reaction was that's normal, that's
human nature, and it wasn't anything to be terribly distressed about,
although some people were more stressed, certainly, than I was about
it. But I think it was unrealistic to believe that the attention that
the world focused on Apollo 11 was going to continue to be focused
on every subsequent flight. It just isn't like that. So, while others
might have been more upset, I was sort of benign about it. I thought
that was normal, and I didn't get too upset about it.
Looking at the attention of the world and the media, some people have
mentioned before that they were so caught up in the Apollo Program
or the other programs that they kind of lost touch with what was going
on in the outside world, like with Vietnam. Did you—
Let me talk about that, because the sixties were such a tremendously
volatile and kind of a tearing-apart kind of environment in the United
States, and speaking for myself and, I expect, really, for other people,
we experienced all that, I mean, especially the Vietnam stuff, so
many young men being killed and wounded and just a sense of you didn't
have any idea of how long it was going to go on, how bad it was going
to continue to be, and so on. It was bad. So, you know, as an American
or even as a human being, I was affected by all that and all the other
things that were going on in America at the time, civil rights, the
assassination, marches, the hippie stuff, the drug stuff started to
come on the scene.
I remember the convention that was held in Chicago in 1968 where there
was so much mayhem, really, on the streets of Chicago, tear gasses
and the police hitting people to control the crowds, and the people
were expressing their point of view, mostly about Vietnam, that we
were on the wrong track and needed to get out of there. It was a very
divisive, terribly emotional kind of issue. That and other things,
all those other things were terribly emotional, and we still were
in the middle of the Cold War. The threat from the Russians was real,
and on and on. So there was a lot of just emotional things that were
upsetting—that's a mild word. I mean, "upsetting"
is just too mild to capture it. It was distressing the hell out of
people in the country, and it had that kind of effect on me.
The difference, though, that I felt for myself and maybe for those
of us in the program was that we had a real focus on significant events
in the sixties and we could do something about it. I think a lot of
people were frustrated because, depending on what their interest was
or what their main concern was during the sixties, most people couldn't
do very much about it. I mean, people protested, and that was, by
the way, an activity that eventually had its result, but it was a
long time frame, and it was not clear that it was going to have a
So a lot of people, I think, were frustrated because there was nothing
that they could personally do to make any of these things that might
have been distressing the hell out of them come out okay. I mean,
there they were, and events were out of their control, and these things
were happening. So there was a lot of loss-of-control frustration,
I think, that people had over the things that were going on, and people
felt it all to varying degrees, I suppose, but I think most people
in America felt it pretty strongly at the time. All these things were
occurring. It was a very difficult environment, and it all caused
people to be stressed and frustrated, perhaps, at not being able to
do anything about it.
At least in our case, and certainly speaking for myself, I always
had the sense that we were involved in a significant activity of our
time, significant for our country and for our country's position in
the world, and we were kind of—I've used this term in previous
discussions—I've always felt like we were, and I was a steward.
I was a small, perhaps, but one of the stewards for this program to
make it come out right. So we could return to our little island or
our little Camelot, or whatever you want to call it, that we had here
in the space program and that we especially felt here at the Johnson
Space Center, where everybody in this thing worked so closely together,
and, of course, we worked with the other Centers, too, but it was
keenly felt here at the Johnson Space Center in terms of the teamwork
and the comradeship, and the reliance that you had to have on other
people. So there was a strong sense of community and people working
together and pulling in the same direction and so on.
So the frustration that other people had, perhaps, where they couldn't
do anything about this inability to control these events, we at least
had a set of events that we had some active control that we could
apply to, even on a personal basis. We could personally do our best
to assure that our part of this national scene was going to go well.
I think it gave us a sense, also, perhaps, of insulation from the
emotional fallout from all these other things that were going on,
the frustration, the lack of control, the stressing part of it. They
were all real, but for me it was a little different, I think, than
for most of the population, because we had this major sixties activity
that we were involved in, and we could actually go do something about
it every day. We'd go to work every day and work on it, and we could
do something about it.
So in that sense, I think, we had an outlet that most people probably
didn't have to express their feelings and their sense of what they
thought ought to be done about conditions in the country. We had this
thing we could do, so it kept us together, and it was a little bit
like, when we did our thing, we were on a little island and around
us were all these terrible thunderstorms and hurricanes and tornadoes
and earthquakes, which were the events of the time, both nationally
and internationally, but they were kind of violent, and you almost
had the feeling that they were cataclysmic, although it turned out
that they weren't.
You got a sense that there was an impending just blowup of all these
things going on, but we were on this little island with all this going
on around us, and yet we were able to focus on the stuff that we had
to do, and in that sense it gave us something that we could control
personally and something that we could go do and contribute to, and
we could do it every day.
So for us it was probably a rock that we could hang onto, and it did
mitigate, to some extent, at least for me personally, the frustration
in the sense of out-of-controlness that most other people must have
been suffering from. But it was very real. It was very real and very
painful. No matter what point of view anybody would represent on a
given subject, it had to be painful for everybody that was in America—maybe
not everybody, but everybody who wanted the country to do well and
come through this stuff. It was very painful for people. It was very
distressing. And they're mild words. I think what they were feeling
was a lot stronger than that, and lots of points of view on almost
But we had our island and our rock, you know, that we could go back
to, that we could do something about. We felt like we were making
our contribution. Yes, all the rest of this was going on. We could
contribute what the program was going to contribute to the country.
So it was like a solace of sorts, or a port or island in the storm
that was going on all around us.
So we were in a different condition, I think, than other people in
the country, and we benefited from that, I mean, benefited from it
in the sense that we had a focus and a way to express ourselves that
was constructive. And it worked. I mean, it did help, I think.
I think it did make a difference. I have found in my research that
after the Apollo 8 mission, a woman sent in a telegram saying, "Thank
you for saving 1968."
Yes. 1968 was a violent, difficult year. It was the year of the Chicago
thing. It was the year of the Tet Offensive that started the year
off. Assassinations. I mean, it was awful stuff. The hippies and the
drug thing was going on. Everybody had a reaction to that, pro or
con or otherwise. Difficult. Difficult. And then Apollo 8 ended the
year with, you know, Genesis being read from the moon. It was quite
a change. It was a very absolutely different in-kind public event
than a lot of the previous ones, most of which had been—you
know, just with hurt, pain, and agony wrapped around them. This was
an entirely different kind of thing, and we were part of it and felt
like we were continuing to do—we had more in front of us yet
That's the other thing that happened to us. Because of the pace of
things, we never really had time to stop and just enjoy it or even
to reflect very much on it in a kind of a broad way or an overall
way. We never had, really, time to sit around and talk about it. We
were always so involved in this one and then the next one and then
the next one, that we did not have time to enjoy it, perhaps, as much
as we should have, although the enjoyment came from the energy and
the adrenaline that was pumping the whole time. But we didn't have
time to be very reflective about it, and that's really come, for me,
in the last five to ten years, has been a revisiting of a lot of the
events and a lot of people, one thing and another, books and movies
and coverages and so on, anniversaries.
I'm now grandfather to twelve little people, and, you know, a sense
of what life's going to be for them and what, as a member of the family,
what I participated in in some way, and you're helping with that,
to leave something for them to have some sense of what I had a chance
to be a part of. All that kind of stuff and probably age, stage of
life, makes me now stop to think about it.
We were up at an event in the White House in winter. Tom Hanks had
this series, and they had a showing up there, and they invited a couple
of us up From the Earth to the Moon to it, and a lot of the Apollo
astronauts came back for it. So it was nice to be in the White House,
it was nice to see all that and see the other people there, but it
was like a reunion of old comrades, and we did think that the White
House was a very nice place to have our reunion and thought it would
be a nice idea to have one every year there.
I think it's a great idea.
It hasn't happened this year. Well, '99 is early yet. Who knows?
As we're going to close today, is there anything of what we've talked
about today that you wanted to cover in more detail?
Well, we never really have done Apollo 13 yet, have we?
Okay. Well, no. I think I don't have a sideline that I wanted to introduce.
I wish—all of us wish, I think, that we were better able to
capture the mood and the sense of things as it existed at the time,
but it's one of those sort of "you almost had to have been there."
But you guys are very empathetic about it, but it's hard to capture,
it's really hard to capture, as to what it was like every day to come
in and work on the next round of things and so on, but it was really
exciting. It carried us and moved us, pumped the adrenaline. It was
just charge-up time all the time.
But to answer your question, I can't think of anything else I would
add about that period in the context of what we talked about here.
Well, you certainly had quite an exciting time of it, and—
It was. It was quite an exciting time. I mean, I can't believe, looking
back, at how fortunate I was. I understand there's a new movie out,
October Sky, about a fellow that apparently ended up working at Marshall
[Space Flight Center, Hunstville, Alabama]. It was interesting. Somebody
saw it and was telling me about it, and then I saw little clips in
the paper, and it was interesting because the little town I came from
was in a coal mine district in Pennsylvania where most of the men
worked in the mines, and my father did for some amount of time, not
his whole life, but some amount of time, enough for him to get the
black-lung problem that eventually took his life.
But, you know, the mood in our family was, "You kids get an education
and get out of this." Because, for generations, the mode of living
had been the men went to work in the coal mines. That was all there
was to do. Of course, after World War II, you know, the circumstances
changed, a lot of things became possible that weren't possible before.
As a matter of fact, I'm also reading Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest
Generation, and it's interesting. Of course, my parents' story is
not in there specifically, but it's there sort of generally. They
went through that same time, married right after the Depression, raising
a family. My dad got drafted late in the war and went off, even though
he had three kids, three boys, at home. Even at this stage, my mom
tells me some stories about what they were doing and what they had
to do, and what they had to do to survive, you know, a powerful sense
of what those folks went through and how much it has changed, how
much opportunity came to pass because of their sacrifices, really,
and the circumstances that were in this country, but the opportunities
that came to pass for the generation that's represented by my age
and others younger than me, probably that we don't always appreciate
as much as we should, either.
But the attitude in our family was, "You boys get an education.
Don't even talk about going back into the coal mines." I gather
this movie has the flavor of the family wanted the young man to remain
and work in the coal mines. Not in our house. Nobody wanted that.
I mean, it was awful. It was awful. Nobody wanted that for any of
their children, certainly in our family. That was my sense of most
everybody back there. Some got away and some didn't, and then the
mines have kind of slowed down dramatically. There's not the activity
that there used to be, and that gives people an economic problem,
but in a way, thank God, because it was an awful way to make a living,
just terrible, to go down in that stuff every day. So I'm fortunate
in that regard.
Very. And it's not something that, fortunately, nowadays a lot of
people don't have to do.
Right. And work today is a different thing than work was fifty years
ago. Work was, as my folks knew it and all the generation of that
time, tough, very tough, but they were good. Tom Brokaw titled this
book The Greatest Generation, and, you know, that's quite a title,
but for what they did and the attitudes that they had and what they
sacrificed, it's not too far off, if at all, not too far off. Great
We wouldn't be where we are today without them.
So there you are. Enough for today?
That's enough for today. I want to thank you again.