NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
K. Mattingly II
Interviewed by Kevin Rusnak
Houston, Texas – 22 April 2002
is April 22, 2002. This interview with T.K. Mattingly is being conducted
in Houston, Texas, for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project.
The interviewer is Kevin Rusnak, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
I want to thank you for coming by this morning to spend some more
time with us. You mentioned that you wanted to talk about George [W.
S.] Abbey's role a little bit in the space program.
Yes. The last time when I talked, we had mentioned some of the things
that George did along the way, but in retrospect I realized that while
most people that work in the program recognize George's role, I at
least wanted to trace my relationship with that, because he's got
such an unusual insight and he also has the memory for people’s
faces and names that's just absolutely extraordinary.
I first met George when he was—I thought he was this nondescript
guy. He was called the secretary for the CCB [Configuration Control
Board] in Apollo, and I had no idea what he did. I knew he had been
to the Naval Academy and he'd been an Air Force officer, and I don't
know, he may have been an Air Force officer when he was assigned here,
but he stayed on, and he was kind of helping out George [M.] Low and
company. He was one of these unusual people that seemed to know everybody.
I never did figure out what he did. He would maintain this network
of informal connections that he'd developed throughout the center
and did a great deal of his work after-hours. So he had this amazing
connection of people.
Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt, who was one of my personal friends because
we were both bachelors and lived in the Bay House over there, and
Jack and George became, I think, pretty good friends. So through that
I kept wandering in to George in different places, and found that
he was playing this extraordinary role, that he was not in the chain
of command. You won't find him on the org chart in any position of
influence. But after Low took over the program following the fire,
the two Georges were a remarkable team in that George Low did everything
in public and did all of the formal stuff and wrote memos and gave
directions, and everything he did was a matter of record, Mr. Abbey,
on the other hand, was intimately involved in every one of those things,
every conversation, but he also had this network of working people.
He knew all the troops and all the buildings, and he'd wander around
and just talk to people and bring all of that stuff back. He knew
what George Low was concerned about, the kind of questions, and so
he would bring that stuff back, and informally, just no attribution,
he would just make sure that George Low was aware of everything going
on as perceived from the bottom of the barrel, as well as the reporting
structure that officially brought things in.
I think that the combination of George Low, it was always—well,
George Low is the finest program manager that ever walked the face
of the Earth. I've seen a lot of good people, but I've never seen
anybody of his caliber. He had this way that he could take that information
and use it, but never embarrass anybody or never expose. He would
just ask questions based on his knowledge that there was more to this
story than perhaps was immediately obvious. He would just ask questions,
and the source of a lot of this came from sources that George Abbey
would gather. They would share. I think a lot of the success of the
program was due to that combination, because it was done in such a
discreet way that it never caused any problems. But it made sure that
the boss knew what was really the state of affairs throughout the
Center, which from the top of the pile is really hard to find out.
It's the hardest thing in the world. And those two guys worked together
to make that happen, and I, frankly, have—I've seen a lot of
number one-two positions in organizations that work together well,
but never have I seen one that could reach as far down in the organization
as what Mr. Abbey did.
Throughout the program we'd have these lame-brain schemes that people
would push on. Jack Schmitt was really big on, “Let's go finish
off with a landing on the backside of the Moon,” and we used
to have these little cabals of meetings, sitting around at people’s
rooms at night and debating how we could do this. It was a small group,
but it was a group that represented a diversity of technical disciplines.
We all thought we had pretty much figured out how you could do it
and do it with a reasonable degree of safety, and Abbey was aware
of all that. So I know that management knew, and when it came time
to just knock this off, why, that was also handled discreetly.
So I thought that was really an insightful management style. Whether
it was deliberate or whether it was just a natural attribute that
found its right place, I don't know, but it was extraordinary, because
George Abbey saw every bit of the program from the management and
from the ops and from every aspect, just because of this propensity
he has to wander around and talk to people and listen. He doesn't
speak very often or very much, but he sure soaks up a lot of information,
and he's maintained that. In that same style, it was pervasive in
his activities in the Shuttle Program. I would presume he hasn't changed.
I'm sure that that same network of personal communications with a
rapid communications link probably persists to this day.
But the two Georges working together, I think, play the—there
were a lot of extraordinary roles in Apollo, but I think the two Georges
are one of those elements that people may not always recognize because
it was in the background. So I wanted to make sure that at least I
had added that to my Apollo commentary, because coming from the military
when I got to JSC—MSC [Manned Spacecraft Center], as it was
then—I was totally perplexed. They had org charts, they had
telephone directories with lists of names, and yet none of those descriptions
about who did what and what their titles were seemed to match what
they really did in life. From a military background where organizational
structure is very rigid, you know, this was really perplexing. I just
could not figure it out. But he's the one that's supposed to be doing
this; this person over here is doing it.
But they had a structure that they had put together where the job
was so hard, they had the best people doing each job, and they didn't
pay any attention to the organization. They didn't have to. They knew
who to go see and who could do stuff and who to listen to and who
to ignore, and that didn't cause us any problems. From my perspective,
I didn't see any until we got in the Shuttle Program, and the Shuttle
Program represented a real turning point in the way NASA and JSC operated.
So I guess it's time to stop Apollo and say how did I get into the
Shuttle, and what do I recall about the progression. One of the most
extraordinary experiences I've ever had was the ability to—I
actually joined the Shuttle Program the same month that the contract
was given to Rockwell [International] to develop the Shuttle. They
had already awarded the contracts for the propulsion system and some
of the other things. That was in the late summer or fall of '72, I
When I got back from Apollo 16, Deke [Donald K. Slayton] asked me,
he said, “You know, there's only one more flight, so if you
really want to fly again anytime near term, you might want to take
the backup assignment on 17. Chances aren't very good, but we do know
that we replace people occasionally. So if you would like to have
that chance, you can do it, or you could work on the Shuttle Program,”
which was just—you know, studies had been going on towards the
end of Apollo, and a lot of E&D’s [Engineering and Development
Directorate] work had been started early, and really I hadn't paid
much attention to it. I kind of knew the work was going on, but I
didn't know what it was, because my ambition had always been—I
didn't think I would go to the Moon, but I was really hoping that
I'd get to be on the Mars mission, which I was sure was going to happen
the following year. To a young kid, it just seemed obvious that the
next step is you go to the Moon, then you sharpen your tools and you
go to Mars, and I thought, “Boy, that's where I'd like to go.”
Even by then it was becoming obvious that that wasn't really a likely
I wasn't enthused about the Shuttle because I still thought going
to Mars was the next step. I believe that we needed to build a space
station first so we could have hardware which would gather years of
lifetime experience while we could get to it and fix it, and we could
build the transportation system while we're gaining the experience
with a space station. All of that architecture was obviously politically
driven, and they were having to fit into a tighter budget. There really
was not a great swell of emotion or enthusiasm for things following
Apollo in the political arena, nor in the public arena, for that matter.
So I think they had to walk some very, very tight lines in order to
keep the program going, and so they chose the space transportation
as the way to go.
I went up to pay courtesy calls to the navy after we got back, and
John Warner was then Secretary of the Navy, and we made a courtesy
call to him. He was all enthusiastic. He says, “You Navy guys
need to come back, and we'll give you any job you want. You pick it.
Whatever you'd like. You want a squadron? You want to do this? Just
tell me. It's yours.”
Boy, my eyes lit up, and I thought, “Wow.” One of my escort
officers was a captain in the Pentagon. He went back and told his
boss, who was the Chief of Naval Aviation, what Warner had said, and
very quickly I had an introduction to the Chief of Naval Aviation,
who made sure that I understood that despite what the Secretary had
said, in the environment we were in, I was not going to come in and
take over his squadron. He'd find a place for me, he'd give me a useful
job, but don't think that with the Vietnam War going on and people
earning their positions the hard way, that I was going to walk in
there and do that. He says, “The Secretary means well, but we
run the show.” [Laughs]
So armed with that piece of information that if I went back on real
Navy duty, at that point I was probably not going to find a particularly
rewarding job, and I thought the opportunity to get in on the Shuttle
at the beginning and go use some of the experience we gained would
be useful, so I told my sponsor I'd do whatever the Navy preferred
I do. After all, they gave me my education and everything else that
mattered. “So you tell me, but if I had a vote, I would say
why don't I stay because the Shuttle Program's only going to take
four years.” That's what we were advertising. [Laughs] You know,
four years, that's not all that long.
So after a significant amount of discussion within the Navy side of
the Pentagon, they said, “Okay. Well, we agree. You probably
can contribute more if you stay there.”
Years later when I did go back on real Navy, one of the flag officers
took me in and says, “There's a file you ought to see,”
and there was a letter in there from the officer who was in charge
of monitoring the Navy astronauts, to the Chief of Naval Operations.
It was a little two-thirds-of-a-page letter, and I don't remember
the beginning two paragraphs, but the ending paragraphs says, “In
summary, after laboring mightily, the elephants have created a mouse.”
These guys are not coming back. [Laughter] That memo didn't get published
in too-wide circles.
So that lead me to stay with the Shuttle Program, and so the beginning
of that was a period of a great deal of the turmoil of getting started.
Apollo 17 still had to fly. Skylab was just getting ready. I don't
remember when ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project] was identified as a
follow-on. It may have been talked about in that era, but I'm not
sure. My sense was it came a little later.
But we were starting to see within the Astronaut Office there were
significant number of people who got more of a pleasure out of operations
than out of the development process, and they chose this as an opportunity,
when Apollo was over, as an opportunity to go do other things, pursue
other interests. But there was still a number of folks that had not
flown, that came out of my group, and some of the scientist groups
that hadn't flown, and they were still around. And those poor folks
had only seen the development side, and they were a bit frustrated.
Somewhere in that initial “get organized” process, the
Center went through a reorganization, because FCOD [Flight Crew Operations
Directorate]—I think that's what we called it in those days—was
a fairly big organization, and the FOD [Flight Operations Directorate]
was a large organization, staffed for all of this stuff. I guess it
was after the Skylab missions that they reorganized to try and keep
some of the operations people on payroll by assigning them to engineering
and different places so that they could—they were having trouble
defending to Congress the large number of people we had in operations
when we weren't operating. So they juggled people around to try to
protect [them], which in the long run turned out to be a particularly
astute move because it did save the right people, and it gave them
an insight that they might have missed otherwise by working from the
other side and understanding the development and design problems.
So we all got a chance to go do that.
When we powered down Apollo, Jack [John L.] Swigert was more or less
the senior guy that was still working on Shuttle things, and so Jack
kind of took over being the den mother for our activities. I don't
have the time frame down, but for the beginning period there really
wasn't a lot to do except kind of learn what's going on and to try
to figure out who's who and what companies are doing what and so forth.
Jack went off to run for Congress not too long after that, and I ended
up sort of being the Shuttle den mother for CB [mail code for Astronaut
Again, I don't have any idea when, but it seems to me like it was
after John [W. Young] had taken over the Astronaut Office, that’s
probably when Al [Alan B. Shepard, Jr.] left, I would guess, and so
we started working on these things. We broke up the Astronaut Office
into two groups of people. We had some that were designated to work
with E&D on the engineering and development side, and another
group that was designated to work with flight and operations and training
people to look at the operational side. Then we'd have a once-a-week
meeting where everybody got together to make sure we were doing the
But we found it was kind of useful to have direct support for the
two groups that was independent, and then we could cross-check the—we'd
get different answers. One group of people would advocate a solution
that came from the design process, and another group would advocate
a solution that came from the operations process. Then in some of
these meetings we could see the differences and understand them, and
I think we made perhaps better recommendations than we would have
if we had followed our more traditional role of just sticking with
the operations crowd. So that then led us into doing a lot of things
that we might not have done or might not have done as early.
you give me an example?
Well, yes, I will. Let me kind of wander through the progression,
because it started with—the first strong feelings that I remember
about this, after getting organized, was setting requirements, and
we had a general idea of what specifications the Shuttle was supposed
to be, but in those days it was substantially larger and more aggressive
than what we know today.
So we went through this requirements refinement where everybody broke
up into groups to go lay out what they had to do, and it evolved into
something we called design reference missions. Rigidly, the idea was,
we knew the Shuttle was going to last for decades, and we knew nobody
was smart enough to define what those missions that would come after
we started were going to evolve into. So we took great pride in trying
to define the most stressful missions that we could. This was a Center-wide
effort. I don't remember who led it. It may have been [Howard W. “Bill”]
Tindall initially, but Bill left fairly early in that era, I think.
So I don't remember who took over that piece of the job, but as I
recall, it took months, maybe a year, before we finally had this refined.
The whole idea was, we started out with three missions. One was to
be acting as a laboratory, and we laid out all the requirements we
could think of for a laboratory—the support and what the people
need to work in it, and all that kind of stuff. Then there was another
mission that was defined as deploying a payload on orbit, and that
was to be one that launched and had the manipulator arm and cradles
and all of the things necessary to do that. Then there was a polar
mission. The laboratory mission was high inclination, the deployment
mission was a due east azimuth launch, so it's 28 degrees, and each
of these were sized to stress the vehicle to its maximum.
The polar mission was really shaped after a DOD [Department of Defense]
requirement. The original mission, as I recall, was a one-rev [revolution]
mission. You launched, got in orbit, opened the payload bay doors,
deployed a satellite, rendezvoused with an existing satellite, retrieved
it, closed the doors, and landed. And this was all going to be done
in one rev so that—or maybe it was two revs, but it was going
to be done so that by the time anyone knew we were there, it was all
Well, we worked on that mission and worked on it and worked on it,
and finally it became a 3A and a 3B. We just couldn't figure out how
to do it all on one short time line. But each of those missions were
then sized to maximum payload, maximum electrical power requirement,
and the idea was that after you had defined these missions, then the
design of the vehicle had to satisfy all three, or four in reality.
And that's where the cross-range requirement came from, from the polar
mission, on just once around, because you had to be able to come back
on one flight and had to be able to do an abort, and that gave us
the polar cross-range requirement, which had remarkable impacts on
the whole program.
I dwell on this stuff about requirements, because having had the opportunity
to watch this program evolve from a concept through logistical support
into a mature state, I look back and I say, “Well, we know what
we started to do, and we know what we have, and they're not always
the same. Why?” Because it was an extraordinary job. Essentially,
it was so demanding that all of the engineering and ops people that
had made subsequent flights up through Apollo work generally stayed
on. We didn't have a lot of technical attrition after Apollo. At least
that's my impression. At least the middle-level guys all stayed, and
they kept working it because they recognized that the Shuttle was
a far more challenging job than Apollo in many technical senses. Apollo
was a challenge because it was just so big and it was audacious, and
time frame was tight, and all of those things.
But the part of the Shuttle that was different was whereas Apollo
was a collection of boxes—if you had a computer, you could build
it, you could test it, you could set it out and do it all by itself.
You had a second stage. You could build and test the whole thing by
itself. Well, with the concept of this reusability and integration,
you didn't have anything until you had everything. There was no partial
thing. There was nothing that was standalone.
I remember we were trying to buy off-the-shelf TACANs [Tactical Air
Control and Navigation System], an airplane navigational system, and
as part of this integration process, rather than take the TACAN signal
that an airplane generated in those days and used for navigation,
we stripped it all out and put in all our own software so that this
off-the-shelf TACAN box was absolutely unique. There was nothing else.
And it was part of the philosophy of how we built this system.
So these requirements we set really had some interesting things. Some
of them were politically defined, like you'll land at any 10,000-foot
runway in the world. That's all it takes. In selling the program,
they had to appeal to just every constituency you could find to cobble
together a consortium of backers that would keep the program sold
in Congress. People don't recognize how that ripples back through
a design into what you really get, and, of course, by the time you
know what you've got, the people who put those requirements in, they're
history. So it's interesting.
But that 10,000-foot runway requirement set a lot of limits on aerodynamics
and putting wings on the airplane. The cross-range—that was
the Air Force requirement for this once-around polar mission abort—that
sized the wings and thermal conditions. That precluded us from using
a design called a lifting body that the folks out at Edwards [Air
Force Base, California] had been playing with and had demonstrated
in flights. It was structurally a much nicer design, but you just
couldn't handle the aerodynamic characteristics that were required
to meet these things. So we had a vertical fin on this thing and big
wings, and it's a significant portion of Shuttle's weight, and the
maintenance that goes with it is attributed to the same thing.
But at the time we were doing this and putting all these requirements
on there, we were actually, I think, quite proud of having had the
foresight to look at all of these things. Today you can hardly think
of a mission the Shuttle—you’d like it to do that it can't
do. It is an absolutely extraordinary engineering piece, just unbelievable.
I think the Space Station is probably going to exceed it in the magnificence
of the engineering and operations side, but the Shuttle really did
fulfill almost all of the requirements that we were tasked to put
So after we got these all done, now we get into the hard part of,
okay, now we know the requirements, how do you make this all happen.
And that all settled down certainly after Skylab, and maybe even after
ASTP. Then we started working—I remember Phil [Philip C.] Shaffer
was designated as the lead for pulling together all of our software
and stuff. Because the Shuttle is such a highly integrated vehicle
that the software architecture has—it has the architecture that
makes the system run, and then it's got all of the applications which
are the heart of the vehicle.
And so we were building all of this from scratch, and in Apollo we
were astounded we had computers. I guess Gemini had a little computer,
and then Apollo had something which, by today's standards, your wristwatch
is far more powerful than what we had those days. But we were still
astounded with what you could do with these things. Now we were going
to build this Shuttle with these computers and it's going to be their
lifeblood. There won't be a lot of direct wire. Everything goes on
a data bus, and this was all relatively new for most of us.
So it meant learning a whole new design process, and we learned that
the software was the pacing item. We blamed it on software. When we
think of developing software, we think of it as coding, “if/or”
statements and counting bits, but in fact the massive amount of energy
that went Center-wide into collecting the requirements—what
does it have to do, write it down, and then see if you can package
it before anybody could start worrying about building cold, that was
an extraordinary operation.
Phil drove that thing. I'm sure if Phil hadn't been there, there would
have been somebody that could have done it, but I have a hard time
imagining anybody that could have done it the way he did. He just
had the extraordinary personality and insight. He knew all the key
players from the Apollo days, and they just set out and they went
to work, and they really made the program go. In spite of all the
delays that the Shuttle Program experienced, and we generally tended
to blame that on truncated budgets, maybe some more money would have
held the schedule a little better, but the best I could tell, we were
working as fast as that group of people that were. And it was such
a massive job, and it just took so long to get everybody educated
up to the same level, because it was all integrated. I don't think
when we started, anybody knew that it was going to be such a challenge,
and so we learned to do those things and went through it.
This doesn’t sound like a CB perspective, but we had taken half
of our people—actually a little more than half were working
the engineering side, working on the development of these things and
trying to look ahead to see what was going to be required as part
of getting started. We not only wanted to land on 10,000-foot runways,
but we were going to be an airline. So people went out and got contracts
with American Airlines to teach us how to do maintenance and training,
and we had people come in and start giving classes on how you give
instructional courses and how we do logistics [in] the airlines. For
a couple of years, we studiously tried to follow all that, and finally
after a good bit it became clear that, you know, if there is anybody
that's going to explain this to someone, it's going to have to be
us explaining it to ourselves. That's where it evolved back into the
way we had done things in the earlier programs.
I remember when we first started building the flight control schematics.
You're familiar with those?
Those are the most magnificent educational tools I've ever seen. I've
never encountered them in any other organization. I don't know why.
I used to carry around a couple of samples and give them to people
and say, “This is what you really need.” And they'd say,
“Oh, that's all very interesting,” and then nothing ever
seemed to happen. But working with people to put those drawings together,
and then understand what they meant and develop procedures and things
from, was a massive effort. During those days the Building 4 and whatever
the building behind that, where flight control teams had some other
offices, the walls were just papered with theses things. People would
go around, and they'd walk by it and look at it, and they'd say, “That's
not right,” They'd draw a little red thing on it and say, “See
me.” And it was an evolutionary process going on continuously.
The little vignette that has always stuck in my head was, we were
learning to do redundant systems. That whole idea of the Shuttle was,
we should be able to suffer loss of any piece of equipment and never
know the difference, and take another casualty in either that same
system or another one and still be able to fly safely. So it was what
we called “fail op, fail safe.” And that generally led
to a concept of four parallel strings of everything. It wasn't mechanical.
And that was great, but now how do you manage it, and what do you
do with it? Now a schematic has all of these four strings of things,
sometimes they're interconnected, and you could study those things,
you’d pull those long sheets out, and you go absolutely bonkers
trying to—”Oh no. This line's hooked to that. I forgot
that.” Trying to figure out how this all works. So you’d
go get your colored pencils out, and you’d color-code them.
By now the stack of these things is building up, and I'm really getting
frustrated in doing this dog-work job just before—I had to spend
many, many hours for each drawing to get it sorted out before you
were ready to use the drawing. So I said, “We've got to take
these things and get them printed in color, right off the bat.”
And so my friends in the training department said, “Well, you're
probably going to have to talk to [Eugene F.] Kranz about that. He's
not that enthusiastic about it.” I thought, “Oh god.”
So I got an audience with Gene and went over and sat in his office
and explained to him what we were doing in trying to get the training
program started, and how we were trying to get ready to do that, and
I really wanted to get these things printed in color so that it would
make it easier for people. I knew color printing would be a little
more expensive, but it would sure save a lot of time.
He said, “No. We're not going to do that.”
I was just overwhelmed. I said, “Gene, why?”
He didn't say a word, he just turned and looked at his desk, and there
on his desk, right in the corner, was this big mug filled with colored
pencils. And he says, “That's how you learn.” [Laughter]
And so that was the end of the story. I don't know, I'll bet today
they're still black and white. But that was Gene's method of learning,
and he figured that by having to trace it out, he had learned a lot,
so he felt that others would benefit from that exercise. Even if they
didn't appreciate it, they would benefit.
So we went through all of these kinds of things with groups working
in different areas. We had one group that worked on the controls and
displays, and Gordo [C. Gordon] Fullerton was a major player in that.
We'd have little meetings periodically to look at the cockpit. I remember
we had—the center console, if you sit in the Orbiter, the pilot
and commander are sitting side by side in the center console. It was
one of the few places when if you put on a pressure suit that you
could see and touch. I mean, you can see the instrument panel. Stuff
up here gets really above your head, gets really hard to see. It's
in close, so it's difficult for some of us older people to focus,
and you can't see a lot. You have to do it by feel, which isn't a
good thing to do with important things. So the mobility was small,
and this was prime real estate. We all knew it.
As we went on with the program, every time someone said, “Oh,
we'll just put this here,” we'd say, “No.” We’d
have a big office meeting. We'd all agree that, no, that's not that
important. We can put that here, we can do this.
Well, after working on this thing for years, there's practically nothing
that's important on the center console. We kept relegating everything
to somewhere else, and it's now the place where you set your coffee
when you're in the [simulator]. [Laughter] We protected that so hard,
and poor old Gordo fought and fought for different things, and we
just—we'd think something was good, and then after we’d
learn about what it really did and how it worked, we'd say, “No.
You don't need that.”
So Gordo was off trying to get the cockpit to be meaningful. [Robert
L.] Crippen had taken over kind of being the software counterpart
to Schaffer. Those were two roles they were playing.
Somewhere in here, Freddo [Fred W. Haise] went off to go to work in
the Program Office, and so we started going through the development
with teams of people, and CB’s Astronaut Office role was largely
to work on the flying qualities, to make sure it was something the
crew can handle on launch and entry. At the time we got into it, Rockwell
was coordinating it, but we were using, I think, every simulator,
every cockpit simulator, in the country. I had maybe six or seven
people that were assigned to this part of the exercise, and we were
flying all over the country every week, going different places.
We finally developed a technique where one guy would go and fly a
simulator up at Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California],
and he'd do that on Monday and Tuesday, and then he'd put his comments
on a voice tape and leave it there, and he'd go off to another simulator.
Somebody would come in and listen to his comments, and we'd just leave
notes to each other and try to catch up. It was not a well-coordinated
plan. At the beginning you can only look at little segments of a problem.
So one simulator would look at this segment, another simulator would
look at a different segment, and then you'd try to intellectually
integrate what you had learned from these. We proved how difficult
human communication is. We were not doing well at all. We were getting
totally confused and using the same words to mean different things.
There is a military spec that publishes about flying qualities, handling
qualities of airplanes. It started back in World War II, I guess,
maybe even before. It tells you all of the characteristics that have
to go into making a good airplane, like how many pounds of force do
you put on a rudder pedal to push it. Well, it didn't take us—even
dumb pilots finally figured out that with an electric airplane this
maybe isn't really relevant. [Laughter] Then the engineers wanted
to just throw out all of the experience and say, “Hey, we’ll
just make it cool and you'll like it.”
So we went on a crusade to rewrite this document, which turned out
to be one of the most interesting projects I've ever been in, because
it required rethinking a lot of the things that we all took for gospel.
Every airplane that a pilot flies is the Bible on how airplanes fly.
Fortunately, in the office we had people who had flown a lot of different
kinds of airplanes. But nevertheless, that shapes your image. And
now you get into something that's totally different, and there’s
a tendency to want to make this new airplane fly like the one you
like the most.
The software guys contributed to this bad habit by saying, “Hey,
it's software. You tell us what you want, we'll make it fly.”
I remember one time they gave us a proposal that had a little dial
and you could make it a P-51 or a T-33 or a F-86 or a 747. “Just
tell me what you want. We’ll put—.” [Laughter] We
had a lot of naive ideas when we started.
I don't remember the original size of the computer, but it had a memory
that was miniscule by today's standards, but it was huge compared
to Apollo, and it was state of the art for the AP101 computer. By
the time we finished this program, we had this horrendous debate about
going to what we called double-density memory that would expand it,
and I don't remember what it was now, but you can get that from some
of the software people. But it was still nothing, and the only reason,
management did not want to change to it was for philosophic reasons.
And IBM finally said, “Look, you guys said you wanted to buy
off-the-shelf hardware. Let me tell you, you are the only people in
the world with that version of a computer. So if you want to stay
with the rest of the world, you're going to have to take this one.”
And fortunately, we did, and still it was miniscule. Today I think
they've upgraded it several more times so that it isn't nearly the
challenge. But that caused us to partition the functions in an ascent,
pre-launch and ascent, and then get out of orbit and do some servicing
things and then another load for reentry.
We had built the requirements for the backup flight system. So within
the office, we were all trying to stay in touch with all these things
going on in each of these areas to keep them somewhat in sync from
the cockpit perspective. So that gave us a lot of insight into all
of these tasks that people were doing. We even found, for instance,
that as part of this development program, people working with thermal
protections systems, the structure guys found that they were discovering
limitations that were going to be imposed on the vehicle downstream
that we weren't thinking about, and yet if you fly in the wrong regimes,
you will get yourself into thermal problems. Yet nothing in our flight
control work or displays was considering that. We had never encountered
anything like that before. So, the guys, by working all these different
shops, were picking up these little tidbits and we were trying to
find ways to look ahead. At the same time, the software guys were
having their Black Fridays once a month and telling us, “You
can't have all this stuff.”
We learned quickly that the man-machine interface is the most labor
bit intensive part of building all this software. The little machines
that go do something didn't take a lot of power, but making that interface
natural and useful, that was a new thing. It was really—really,
really caused people lots of trouble. They got lots of fights between
the crew and everyone else, because we were using all the computer
resources for video games, and the engineers, when they needed it
to make the vehicle fly. And it’s some of both.
So in the flight control world, after we've flown these simulators,
we realized we were really not converging on the answer, whether it
was by accident or what, I really don't know, I don't think it was
a design, but we ended up building a team of people: Joe [D.] Gamble,
who was working the aerodynamics; Jon [M.] Harpold, doing guidance;
and Ernie [Emery E.] Smith [Jr.], who was the flight control guy.
They all worked in E&D. We all got to going around together in
a little team, and we would all go to the simulators together, and
we would all study things.
We built a simulator from Apollo hardware that was called—we
called it ITS, the Interim Test Station. We had a couple of people—Roger
[A.] Burke and Al Ragsdale were two sim engineers that had worked
on the CMS [Command Module Simulator] and the LMS [Lunar Module Simulator].
They were very innovative, and they took these things before we had
the Shuttle Mission Simulator [SMS] that was back in the early part
of the design, and went to the junkyard and found airplane parts and
built an instrument panel out of spare parts and had a regular chair
that you sat in and had different control devices that we had borrowed
and stolen from places.
These folks were so innovative, they could hook it all up. They took
the initial aerodynamic data books and put them in a file so we could
build something that would try to fly. We even took the lunar landing
scene television. In the lunar module simulator they had a camera
that was driven by the model of the motion and it would fly down over
the lunar surface, and so you can see this thing, and that was portrayed
in the LMS as what you'd train to. So they adapted that to a runway.
We tried to build a little visual so we could have some clues to this
thing, put in a little rinky-dink CRT [cathode ray tube] so we could
play with building displays.
And we got no support from anybody. I mean, this wasn't space stuff.
And it is probably one of those things I was most proud of, because
we were able to get this thing into some place where we could actually
tinker with how we're going to fly the vehicle and what we’re
going to do and what the aerodynamics mean. It was only possible because
we had these two simulator guys who were wizards at playing with software
and this team from E&D who joined us.
Then we divvied up the different mission phases to different people
so we could play with ascents and entries, and tried to do landing
but our visual was never really adequate for that. But we developed
all of what's now called the TAEM, Terminal Area Energy Management.
All that stuff was developed using this little simulator and trial
and error. We'd struggle with it, and it didn't work right. In the
guidance world, Harpold would go off and play, and we developed all
that stuff. If I recall, Vance [D.] Brand was probably the guy that
was doing the TAEM energy management part, and Joe Henry [Engle] and
someone else were really focused on the landing. The entry stuff,
we had a group of people working that. Ascent, we had a rudimentary
capability. But we went through each of these things and found out
what we could do and what we couldn't do, and developed things that
we could feed back into the engineering design.
As the vehicle developed, there was a great deal of resistance towards
having a backup. Well, not too long into the program, they overcame
their resistance to having a backup control system. We had four computers
and four redundant strings that ran the primary system, but we had
learned in Apollo we had the backup lunar system with a computer in
it. The command module didn't have a backup computer, but the lunar
module had this thing called AGS, Abort Guidance System. It was a
separate computer coded with different algorithms, coded by different
people. It was totally different, and it did most of what the primary
system did, but it didn't land. It would only abort and just take
So we tried to have something similar, and wisdom prevailed and we
ended up with a fifth computer which was identical to the other, so
we didn't have a different kind of computer. We had a significant
amount of debate about whether we should have a totally different
code or just have the same algorithms coded by somebody different.
So we ended up with the latter, and [MIT Charles Stark] Draper [Laboratory]
would often work the backup system in order to do that.
So we ended up realizing that we had built an electric airplane that
had essentially only one operating flight control system. So we said,
“Well, what if we're wrong? No one has ever flown a Mach 20
airplane. This whole flight envelope is something that nobody's ever
had the opportunity to experience. So what do you suppose our tolerance
is to this?” Because wind tunnel models for the ascent vehicles,
they fit in your hand, because the tunnels that were able to handle
these things were small. The wind tunnel models for the Orbiter were
larger, but they're still not all that big, and going through this
tremendously wide flight regime where the air density is going from
nothing to everything, and it’s just high speeds to low speeds,
I said, “What's the chance of getting all that right?”
And yet as we played in these simulators, particularly this little
ITS, we proved to ourselves that, boy, if you're off on that estimate
of the aerodynamics, you can often play with the software to make
it right, but if the real aerodynamics and the software you have don't
match, it's a real mess. I know I worried a lot about that.
So we came up with a concept that we would have some tolerances on
the aerodynamics, and we would try to make sure that the flight control
system could handle these kind of uncertainties in aerodynamics. So
the way you model all that stuff in the computer is you have this
very, very extensive lookup table for all the aerodynamic characteristics
as a function of flight regime and control surface positions. It's
an enormously big processing job.
These guys were able to put all that stuff in, and so then we started
building these aerodynamic uncertainty sets. Joe and Ernie were participating
in this with us, and the rest of E&D was really, really not in
favor of all this—design and—”We get the aerodynamics
down. That's what these wind tunnels are for. Let’s put your
energy into building good wind tunnels and good models of the vehicle
and not into all of this extraneous stuff.” And over the years
we had a number of interesting conversations about that philosophy
and were able to hang on.
So we were able to build these sets, and then because of the unusual
configuration of the Shuttle, the little elevons have all kinds of
funny characteristics, and we ended up exploring all of those and
different uncertainties until we found a flight control—did
something which is not typically done. that we decided to optimize
the flight control performance to be tolerant on uncertainties rather
than the best flight control system they could build. The whole idea
was, after we've flown and we have some experience and we know what
the real world is, now we can come back and make it better, but the
first job is to make ours as tolerant as possible to the things we
We developed a set of contingency procedures which drove Max [Maxime
A. Faget] absolutely crazy because we had a couple of little gain
changes and things that said, now, if all of this fails, you still
have a couple of fighting chances left if you have practiced and kind
of know what signatures to look for and what things might be wrong.
Max was absolutely appalled that there was such a thing. But I think
we took that out probably after STS-4. They quickly took that system
out before somebody killed themselves with it. [Laughs] And Max was
justifiably concerned that some pilot was going to think he knew more
about this design and get a wild idea in flight and make a mess of
things. So I think everybody felt better when we took it out.
We put all that stuff in, and it was really a wonderful operating
environment where I seldom have seen that integration of the people
that were going to fly it with the designers and people who were doing
the theoretical work and the operators from the ground. All of that
stuff was converged in parallel, and I think that's one of the reasons
that the Shuttle is such a magnificent flying machine. It does all
the magic that we set out to do.
I'm ignoring the cost because the Shuttle, in my recollection, by
the time it was sold to Congress, it was probably different than what
the people in the trenches remember, but we had to do all these technical
things, and it was a matter of faith that if you build it, it will
be cheap. I mean, it was just simple. If you could reuse it, it saves
money, and so you've got to make it reusable. If you fly a lot, that
will be good, and we're going to fly this thing for $5.95, and we're
going to fly it once a week and that's how we're going to do this.
And none of us were ever told to go build a vehicle that we could
afford to own. And had we been told that, I doubt if we would have
been able to do it. I think the job was so complex, you had to build
one that flies in order to learn the lessons that say, “Now
I know what's important and what isn't.” I just think it would
have been asking too much, but that's just personal opinion, but it's
from having struggled through ten years of this development program.
It was an extraordinary experience to do that.
All that work we did on the flight control system paid off a little
bit later when we finally got into ALT [Approach and Landing Tests].
Freddo had the last ALT flight, and he was supposed to land on the
runway. We were sitting back here in Houston watching the video of
the flight, and when he came down and landed, he got into this PIO
[pilot-induced oscillation]. Those of us who were sitting there watching,
our eyes got huge, and, my gosh, you know, he got it on the ground.
Wow, what happened? So all of this little flight control team had
all gotten together and they pulled the start thing out. What could
have happened? We decided to wait for Freddo and talk to him, because
we assumed something had happened in the cockpit that we didn't know
Well, what happened was, he didn't know he was in a PIO, and the landing,
in those days we didn't have the HUD [head-up display], and so you'd
look out the window of the Orbiter, you can't see the nose, so you
just have this window of the world that doesn't have any references
The way pilots normally land an airplane is they have a perception
of the rate that the ground is approaching, and they adjust that by
what they do with the nose of the airplane—pick it up. Since
you're in a glider, you have to always be raising the nose as you
slow down to keep the lift up, but as you see that—you really
don't want to run out of air speed ten feet in the air. So if it looks
like your rate of approach to the runway is being diminished or leveled
out and you're not there, you're going to have to do something, because
otherwise it's really bad form to be up here and fall out of the sky.
So you'll drop the nose a little bit. Oh, it's coming up fast, you
raise the nose.
What none of us realized at that point was that the lag between the
time you make a control input and the time you see the cockpit respond,
it's about three-quarters of a second. Due to the geometry of the
airplane where the elevators are, the elevators are 60 percent of
the exposed wing area, not counting the fuselage. They're big and
they move fast, and what you're controlling with your stick or your
hand controller is a rate command, and then the elevators do whatever
it takes to create that rate. A big, heavy airplane takes a lot of
mass. So if you get aggressive and you want to maneuver the airplane
and put in a big input, those big elevators really move, and when
they do and they come to raise the nose, which should improve your
lift, those elevators are so big, they're spoilers, and the first
thing that happens is they go [up]. The CG [center of gravity] first
goes down as the elevators reduce lift, and then the rotation starts,
and then the increase in lift, due to the higher angle of attack,
starts to climb again. Once you stop commanding the elevators to rotate
up, you let go. Well, because it's a rate-command system, the elevators
now go down to stop the rate, which adds a chunk of lift all of a
sudden. So now it goes up even more, and all of this happens with
a very long time delay.
Surely we had been exposed to the knowledge that these dynamics would
happen, but nobody internalized it, and Freddo wasn't seeing this.
He was just flying and trying his best, and Gordo was calling off
the altitudes. Instead of being a nice, smooth approach to the runway,
it was down and then up and then down, and Freddo was trying to integrate
what he sees with what Gordo's telling him. Then they finally plop
So, armed with the knowledge that Fred didn't know he was doing a
PIO, we started in a—well, E&D also had started to go figure
out what was wrong and recognized that these were the symptoms of
a time delay somewhere in the control system. They brought in a team,
and I remember [W.] Hewitt Phillips came down from Langley [Research
Center, Hampton, Virginia]. He was one of Dr. [Christopher C.] Kraft's—I
think he may have been one of Dr. Kraft's mentors when Chris was there
in the beginning. He had him come down because Chris trusted him explicitly
on things like this.
So they went off, and when we converged, we stumbled on the idea that
it was the vehicle's geometry that was causing the problem. And everybody
said, “That's preposterous.” So we went back to our little
simulator. We lost our ITS now that we had a real SMS, but these same
two software kids were still there, and we surreptitiously went in
and modified the files so that we could simulate changing the aerodynamic
characteristics of the vehicle to see if our theory was right. We'd
all had trouble landing this thing on the simulator.
After they put in these little changes in aerodynamics, my mother
could land that airplane on first try. It was so natural. And we all
said, “My gosh. Should we take it in and take it out?”
Boy there's no doubt this was the culprit. I thought it was really
humorous because we got into a big to-do because the engineering side
had determined that they could take some 25 milliseconds’ time
delay out of the control loop by reprogramming some of the filters,
digital filters and things. We were saying, “Well, the real
problem's like three-quarters, 750 milliseconds, not 25, and there's
nothing you can do about it.” I mean, the airplane is the airplane,
and you've got to learn to live with it, not—you can't change
this with software. That was not well received, but it probably was
good for us, because armed with that data, we were able to get the
HUD put into the cockpit.
I'd flown a HUD in an A-7. Oh, boy, I don't know when that was, '75
or '76 maybe. And the first time I saw it, I fell in love with it.
I said, “This is just what we need.” And, you know, “No
money for that. It won't fit in the cockpit. The cockpit's already
in design. We can't do any of that.”
But this is what you really need. And I think the problems that Freddo
had on ALT flight probably got the HUD force, and that HUD is the
most useful piece of equipment that's in the cockpit. It is just magnificent.
[S.] David Griggs was probably the guy that did the most work on bringing
that to fruition.
So those things came after the '78 group came on board, although David
had been out at Aircraft Ops [Aircraft Operations Division] before
he joined the office, so he got to working on the HUD. He and Marsha
[S.] Ivins were the first ones that worked on HUD displays. Marcia
became the world's leading expert and really did a lot of wonderful
work on that. That was when she was still in E&D.
So the role of the Astronaut Office during this Orbiter development
program was quite different than what I saw of it in Apollo in that
our involvement was far more extensive and pervasive, and a heck of
a lot more fun. I mean, this was really cool stuff. There was a problem
every day, and you got to learn about all of these little things that
were interesting. I spent a lot of time with Tom [C. Thomas] Modlin
[Jr.], trying to understand the stress loads and the thermal characteristics
and mosure on the TPS [thermal protection system], and how do you
get it to stay on, and all of those things were things that came through
the office as experiences that really were just extraordinary opportunities
to go see that.
As we moved down the stream and we got into some of these development
programs and started turning out hardware, we started splitting people
up to go follow different components of hardware, whether it be the
engines or the SRBs [solid rocket boosters] or the Orbiter, different
Somewhere earlier in this development stage, we went through a series
of activities where the first Orbiter was going to have air-breathing
engines, and it had some solid rockets that were on the back that
were for aborts. Right off the pad you could fire these two big rockets,
and they would take you off in a big loop so you could come back and
land. We had these air-breathing…engines that were going to—after
you come down through the atmosphere, you open the door and these
engines come out, and you light them and you come around and land.
They had enough gas for one go-around.
The other thing we had was the big solids were to have thrust terminations
and ports that blew out at the front end so you could terminate thrust
on them if you needed to in an emergency. Every one of those devices
was something which had a higher probability of killing you by its
presence than it would ever have in saving you. I'll put that ejection
seat in the same boat. Everybody was willing to get rid of the air-breathing
engines. They were really, really not a very bright idea. And we got
rid of the thrust termination and we got rid of the abort solid rockets.
My guess is, John Young was probably the most active stimulus in pushing
those issues, and that was one of those cases where the flight crew
perspective and the engineering perspectives converged. We all wanted
to get rid of these things, and yet we retained the ejection seats
for reason which I will never understand. If anyone knew what the
useful envelope of those ejection seats was and the price we paid
to have them. [Laughs] But it had become a cause: “You will
protect these kids by giving them an ejection seat.” So we had
one, not if anybody wanted to ever use it, but it was there.
So as time went on and we got through these things and started building
hardware, the first new astronaut selection process came into play.
I think they came aboard in '78, if I remember right, but I don't
know when the selection process started, but it seemed to me it predominated
everybody's thinking for a year. It got to be really a really big
process and the selection was just—it was huge. I presume they
were working on lessons learned during their Apollo selection and
mistakes they felt they made that they didn't want to repeat. So the
selection process was far—you know, in Apollo at least when
I came down, the bulk of this stuff was the medical screening and
so forth, very little other. In our case, we had an interview with
the selection board, and never had any private interviews. No one
ever talked to us about what we were getting into or anything. It
was just a bunch of people.
I remember John and Mike [Michael] Collins were the two guys from
the office who were on the interview panel that I went to, but when
they brought the new group down, they brought them down in relatively
small groups. They'd spend a better part of a week here, and they'd
meet everybody, and then George had his group go around and talk to
everybody that had talked to the new candidates. They really got the
bugs worked out of it on the first one, then they started doing this,
but it was really a major time-consumer.
I remember we were working the HUD at the time and happened to take
Dave down to the trailers, and in order to get in and see George and
folks, you'd go down in the evenings or whatever because they were
just totally preoccupied with the selection process.
Once we got these folks on, the OV-101 was rapidly approaching the
time to get ready to go. So we put together the training program for
the new folks and helped them get started on that. Then we split them
up and sent some to the Cape, and the SAIL [Shuttle Avionics Integration
Laboratory] was established here, and we used them to staff that and
they picked up—we had been doing RMS [remote manipulator system]
work, just spread amongst the few of us that had been around. So RMS
and a lot of these other activities were all getting sort of a lick
and a promise instead of real attention till the '78 group came on
board, and once they went to work, then they really took hold and
played very key roles in the development of things like that mission
stuff. The second group that came aboard—it was a year later,
Was it '80? But it was before we flew STS-1, the second group came
in. They came aboard much quicker and came up to speed because we
practiced on the first group and kind of learned how to do it. So
I had all of these folks that I was kind of managing that were doing
the sail and working to keep things.
John more or less had taken an interest in the Cape, so the Cape Crusaders,
as we called them, were essentially being managed by John and Cripp
[Bob Crippen] because they were there, and John has a passion for
the hardware, and so it was all quite consistent. Our job then was
to go do all of the rest of the laboratory support and follow-up on
close-outs of anomalies, and did we really understand them, and do
that kind of stuff.
I had one detour that I kept secret. I spent about a year working
for Deke when he was the director of Orbital Flight Test [OFT], building
an entry flight test program, and that was kind of a little interlude.
The development and design program had been finished, and now it's
the time you’re waiting for the hardware to show up. John and
company were living in the simulators, so the rest of us didn't have
a great deal of things to do. So Deke gave me an opportunity to go
over and work for him on setting up the Orbital Flight Test requirements,
which essentially we wrote the program of what we were going to do
and how we'd do it, and get everybody together on it.
Then I came back, and that's when the new folks came aboard, and we
started getting them organized. And I'll tell you, the effect of particularly
the second group of the new folks, just had some extraordinary people.
I often wonder—psychologists tell us how in siblings, the order
kind of has a characteristic property. The first child has one kind
of a personality, and then you go down, and they have sort of predictable
patterns. I think there's a similar thing in classes of people that
are introduced into these programs at different stages under different
circumstances. I think some of them say characteristics go along with
that group. I'll tell you, some of the people that we had a chance
to work with out of that second group were unbelievably good. I mean,
that's an all-star cast. There's more superb talent in that than any
single group. It was just really, really impressive. Working with
those folks was just an absolute delight.
So then we were starting to come to grips with what's this thing called
a mission specialist, because up until now we had pilots. Oh boy,
what's a mission specialist? Well, those are those other guys. But
by now we were starting to get some pilots that have flown the F-14
and F-4s and airplanes that “real men” fly that had two
people in them. [Laughs] That was a departure for people. They had
learned that that “guy in the back”—we call them
“GIBs”—they’re really useful. They can save
your life, and they can make you very effective.
So some of the newer pilots were more tractable in integrating a non-pilot
into roles and responsibility, but those must have grown up from a
different environment, I don't think it was any—it was not what
would you'd call prejudice, but we didn't have any frame or reference.
I was lucky because I'd flown a crewed airplane. That's C-R-E-W, not
“crude.” [Laughter] It was also a crude airplane, I guess.
But I had learned the magic that a crew can do that an individual
can't. No matter how big your ego is, you get a team of people flying
an airplane, and it's just spectacular what you do. So it seemed to
us that we really need to do that here, and we came up with these
crazy ideas that since we're going to be flying this airplane, but
the mission of the airplane is whatever is in the payload bay, maybe
the mission commander should be a mission specialist, or maybe the
mission commander is a separate position where both pilots and mission
specialists aspire to that being the senior position.
The skipper of a ship doesn't put his hands on a steering wheel; he
directs the mission. I thought that was really good, and some of my
navy buddies, “Yeah, that makes sense.” Boy, that did
not float at all, and there was a bigger division between mission
specialists and pilots than I had ever guessed there would be. I remember
the SAIL groups because I just mixed them up. I said, you know, “Bright
people work hard. I don't care where you go.” So we sent mission
specialists and pilots both to the SAIL, and the job that you had
to do over there didn't require any aeronautic skills at all. I mean,
it was checking out the software and just going through procedures.
Anybody who was willing to take the time to learn the procedures and
has some understanding of how this computer system works is going
to be fine. We ended up having to put out all kinds of brushfires,
and, you know, “He can't do that. He's a mission specialist.”
Steve [Steven A.] Hawley was—thank God Steve has a tremendous
sense of humor and he came into my—we had a SAIL group was around
the table when they were having a debriefing. We did this every week
to go over all the things we'd done, and what was open. Steve started
it off with, “Did you hear about the pilot that was so dumb
the others noticed?” I’ve told that to a lot of people,
and I thought that was great. And at that point I think that Steve
finally broke the ice, and everyone kind of said, “This is dumb,
isn't it.” [Laughter] After that, at least it never came to
my attention again if they had any problems, but from then on, they
really came together. Old Bob [Robert L.] Stewart, who was an army
helicopter pilot, became our flight control guru, and certainly one
of the best that we've ever had.
actually may be a good place for us to stop, because we've got to
swap out our tape. Do you want to take a short break?
Okay. So when we got around to taking our next step to get ready to
go fly, the new folks had become integrated by then as part of this
activity. I remember one of the things when I started on the Shuttle
Program, Deke kind of said, you know, “One of the reasons that
this would be fun is—.” I think we both recognized that
I enjoyed the engineering side of the flying, perhaps more than a
lot of—Freddo enjoyed it some, but I don't think as much as
I did. So the idea of trying to get in on an early flight test was
what every pilot wants to do anyhow. So the idea of being in a group
that was going to be downsized and have an opportunity to participate
in the first flights and maybe even compete for the first flight,
that was all the motivation anybody could ever want. Of course, none
of us thought that it was going to take so many years before that
first flight took place. [Laughter] So I was really not surprised
that John got the first flight, but I was a little disappointed that
when we got through, the rationale was that since I had worked on
the Orbital Flight Test program, I would take the last flight and
backup 2 and 3. So Hank [Henry W. Hartsfield] and I were going to
go fly as backup on 2 and 3. Then we would have no backup on 4, and
finish with whatever was left over from anything that didn't get done
on the other flights, which, when you stop to think about it, the
way we do business at the JSC, not much chance that there's something
we didn't get done. But that was the logic.
It was kind of fun to be part of those missions, but it was something
that Hank and I were kind of hoping we could get it earlier going.
But it really did turn out to have a lot of benefits for us, because
we did pick up a lot of experience we would not have had and were
able to do some other activities that wouldn't have had time to go
do if we'd been scrambling just to get up and down.
In [Apollo] 16, Hank and I had developed a better than average rapport,
I think, because in lunar orbit, Hank ran the show and all the flight
plan from the ground. I told him, “You only get to go to the
Moon once, so I don't want to miss a minute of looking out the window.
So you run the spacecraft, and I'll look and tell you about it.”
[Laughs] And he really did a magnificent job on that, and as a result,
we got a lot of stuff done that we wouldn't have otherwise. So on
STS-4, why, it was kind of fun to go back to working together that
way, and we were still trying to see how much we could cram into this
So when the time came to go fly 4, we were going to go. Our job, like
Freddo's, was to plan to make the first concrete runway landing. You
know, as much as we trained for that thing, I just had this image
of doing Freddo's trick all over again. It was, you know, bad karma
or something. I just—oh, that bothered me. I could think of
By then we had developed some external landing aids that would kind
of help a little bit, called PAPIs [precision approach path indicators].
They're some lights that give you some glide-slope references, and
we had practiced with them and gotten to be fairly proficient. And
the STA [shuttle training aircraft] is an absolutely magnificent thing.
It's really remarkable. It's a testimony to the way they maintain
airplanes out there at aircraft ops.
The one piece of the Shuttle Program that I really never had a chance
to participate in was the development of the STA, but I did get to
fly it a lot. The IPs [instructor pilots] that fly that airplane and
the people that maintain it, this whole thing is done with a computer,
single-string computer, and that's just extraordinary. The beauty
is, when you get your first taste of the real Orbiter in flight, it
flies like the STA. I mean, it is just wonderful. And without the
STA, you know, you really could not be confident of flying a Shuttle.
So it's a magnificent thing.
So we got to the place where we had been getting pretty cocky with
it, learning to do all of those tricks. But nevertheless, if you learn
to fly the Orbiter and just can approach and just do it over and over
until you make it look the same every time, you'd think we were pretty
successful. But if you start being original, go to different places
and look at funny runways and things, you found that your ability
to adapt was really, really challenged.
We had by then gotten the HUD approved, but we didn't have it in yet.
If I'm not mistaken, it went in for Paul's flight on 5, or maybe it
was 6. I think Paul [J.] Weitz made the first flight with the HUD.
But we were without it, and we knew that they had hyped up the STS-4
mission so that they wanted to make sure that we landed on the Fourth
of July. It was no uncertain terms that we were going to land on the
Fourth of July, no matter what day we took off. Even if it was the
fifth, we were going to land on the Fourth. [Laughter] That meant,
if you didn't do any of your test mission, that's okay, as long as
you just land on the Fourth, because the president is going to be
there. We thought that was kind of interesting.
The administrator met us for lunch the day before flight, and as he
walked out, he said, “Oh, by the way.” He says, “You
know, with the president going to be there and all, you might give
a couple of minutes thought on something that'd be appropriate to
say, like ‘A small step for man,’ or something like that,”
and he left. [Laughter]
Hank and I looked at each other and he says, “He wants us to
come up with this?” [Laughter] And we had a good time. We never
came up with something we could say, but we came up with a whole lot
of humor that we didn't dare say. But that was an interesting experience.
So we did some stuff on orbit. We played with the RMS, and the most
magical thing was, after working on this device for ten years, you
got on orbit and your attitude was such, and we opened the payload
bay doors for the first time towards the Earth. So all of a sudden,
it was like you pulled the shades back on a bay window, and the Earth
appeared. After that ride which was—compared to the Saturn,
the Shuttle is like electric propulsion; it doesn't make any noise,
it doesn't shake and rattle, it just goes. It's just nothing like
the Saturn, or, as I understand, the Gemini or the Titan.
They got on orbit, and this thing worked, and I just couldn't get
over the fact that after—you know, people that I knew that were
friends had built and conceived this whole thing, and it works. It's
just magic. It does all of these things that we dreamed of, but the
visuals are better than the simulator now. So we just had a wonderful
time of it.
We had been assigned to do a bunch of thermal tests where you put
the Orbiter in an altitude and get one side hot, and then one side
cold, and then spin it around. They were collecting the data they
needed to understand the thermal characteristics of the vehicle, because
after this flight we wouldn't have the instrumentation to do that,
so it was get it now or we'll never get it. So it was kind of something
that had to be done, but was really not a glamorous kind of test that
you can run, from a pilot's point of view.
Fortunately, I just—the flying around the Earth is just so spectacular.
I don't care how long you're up there, I can't imagine anyone ever
getting tired of it. It's just beautiful, and the Orbiter with these
big windows, it is just wonderful. So Hank would say, “You know,
we probably ought to get some sleep here.”
I’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're right. We’ve
got another day’s work tomorrow. So Hank will sleep in the mid-deck,
and I'll sleep up here. Goodnight, Hank.” [Laughter] So all
the kids are in bed, and now you can look out the window. I told the
ground I went to sleep so they won't bother me, you know, and I'd
sit there, having a wonderful time.
So finally even I decided that it was time that I was going to have
to get some sleep, and so I stopped, and on the flight deck, I just
thought, well—they gave us little sleeping bag things that you
could crawl in, and some little hooks, and you can hang it up somewhere,
and I thought, “Don’t need that. Wonder if I can just
lay out here across the deck and just get real still and just go to
sleep.” So I worked at getting all steady and not moving, and
stopped right behind the two seats that were ahead of—had a
little space over the hatches that come up from the mid-deck and in
between the aft control panel and the back of the ejection seats,
which there's a lot more room today since they took the ejection seats
out. So it was a place probably two feet wide, maybe two and a half.
Got all stable in there. Ah, this is nice. Go to sleep.
Well, the next thing I know, there's something on my nose, and it's
a window, and god dang, I was sure I had gotten stable. So I went
back and set up again, not moving, did it again, ended up with my
nose in the window, in the overhead window. That bothered me. I finally
put a Velcro strap over me just to keep me from floating up. I just
thought that was really curious.
So the next morning I was telling Hank about it, and he said, “Well,
I didn't have any trouble. I just was floating in the middle of the
mid-deck.” Hmm. He says, “We were doing one of those thermal
maneuvers,” what we call PTC, Passive Thermal Control. You take
the vehicle—in this case you rotate it about some axis, and
in this case it was kind of rotating around essentially the longitudinal
axis of the Orbiter, just spinning. He says, “You know, I was
almost on the center of rotation, and you were up here. This is centrifugal
I said, “Oh, come on, Hank.” What was it 4 rpm or something,
or five revolutions an hour, or some gosh-awful thing.” I said,
“That can't be.”
He said, “Well, we've got another one scheduled for tonight.
Lets try it both ways.”
We tried it, and sure enough, every time. If this thing was rotating
at this really slow rate, it still would—there's no other force.
These little forces become important. And after we stopped, he says,
“Try it again.” I did, and sure enough, no problem. So
this is kind of added to some of the little micro physics things that
you see in space that are so interesting. We discovered some of this
stuff on Apollo that is kind of “Gee whiz interesting.”
The day before entry, we were up on the flight deck and kind of getting
ready to close stuff up, and Hank said, “What was that?”
He was at the aft window, and I was sitting, or floating up front.
Without thinking, I just said, “Well, that was one of the thrusters.”
We were controlling the Orbiter with these vernier thrusters. They
are twenty-five-pound thrusters. They fire little burps, tiny little
things. Here's this 200-and-some-odd-thousand-pound airplane, this
little twenty-five-pound thruster back there goes “beep.”
And as soon as I said it, I felt really stupid and I looked at Hank.
He says, “You've got to be serious.”
I said, “Well, I think it is.” I said, “I'll tell
you what.” We had these little lights in the cockpit that would
come on whenever a thruster was fired, and they were put in so if
a thruster started to get stuck on, you could look at this display
and it would tell you which one was on. So I said, “I'll watch
this display, and you tell me when you feel something.” And
sure enough, he says, “There.” The light would wink. We
certainly hadn't felt these earlier, but after being in a quiescent
state for a period of time, your system adapts to these kinds of accelerations
and you start to be sensitive to those things. I just thought that
was remarkable, because it takes an instrument to feel that normally.
We came home, and, of course, we were all bug-eyed about this entry
and being able to see out the windows and see things that you couldn't
see before. Sailing down over the coast is just—gosh, it's really,
really beautiful. Crossed over—I remember as we crossed over
Mexico and out into the Gulf, having come down from orbit, we were
still at probably a hundred, maybe 150,000 feet or so, pretty high
altitude. Hank and I looked out the window, and says, “Are you
sure we're going to glide all the way to Florida from here?”
[Laughter] Looked at that, said, “Well, the little light on
the CRT says we are, but it sure doesn't look that way.” And
sure enough, CRT was right. We did make it to Florida, we came around.
But on 4—that happened to us—[Loren J.] Shriver—on
51-C, I'm sorry. But on 4, Hank was going to, I promised him he could
fly part of the heading alignment circle so he could say, “I
was the pilot but I actually controlled the airplane.” So when
we did come in and got out at Edwards and came around, when we came
around, we got on the heading alignment circle and I was tracking
it, and I turned to look at Hank, and I was about to say, “Well,
okay, here, you take it for a bit now,” and I turned to look
at him, and all of a sudden my gyros tumbled and I just had one of
the worse cases of vertigo I've ever had. Broad daylight. It was just
I went back and started focusing on the eight-ball and looking at
the displays, and Hank says, “Are you going to let me fly?”
And I said, “No, no. I can't talk about it now.” And we
came around and did our thing, and I was still having this vestibular
sensation that was unusual, but once we got on the glide slope it
seemed like it was kind of—picture's normal. But I was beginning
to get concerned at the pre-flare point. Hank called it off and we
did our thing, but it was slower than normal or than the standard,
and we ended up coming up on the flare and got over the runway, and
all of our external aids are set so that you’ll be sure and
land 1,500 feet at least down the runway. Most unpowered vehicles,
you tend to land longer, but you don't want to err on the short side.
So if you're going to make a mistake, you know, you kind of push it
down there and you tend to float.
I knew we were under the standard final approach glide slope, but
now I wanted to get down and try to make a good landing with it. Your
eye-height perception for this, judging motion is really not all that
great. You’re sitting high on the Shuttle Orbiter, and touchdown
is about like a 747 cockpit height. So it's not like you’re
picking up good visual cues. So Hank is calling off the altitudes
to me, and he gets down to one foot, one foot, half a foot, and because
of the ALT bobble, I had put grease marks all over the window so I
could see the nose change. Wherever I was, there was a line where
the grease pencil—so I could reference the horizon. So I could
fly attitudes instead of sink rates. I would listen to Hank tell me
what the altitude was and I'd sit there and I’d make little
adjustments for the nose.
We kept going through this, and one of the dictums is, you know, you
don't want to land short, okay, and you don't want to land too fast,
because the tires are already stressed pretty heavily. But you really
don't want to land too slow, because if you land below about 165 [knots],
you could hold the nose up. Because of that big fat fuselage, the
nose will stay up in the air. In the simulator it will stay up there
to maybe 70 knots. But there's no way to let it come down without
overloading the structure and breaking the fuselage. So you really
need to get there and get the nose down before you lose elevator control,
because otherwise this thing will just fall. And if you put your nose
down too soon, then the negative angle of attack on the wing adds
to the loads on the tires, and you can blow the tires. So you kind
of don't put the nose down above 160, but not much below that.
So he's calling off air speeds and altitude, and I'm just staring
at the horizon and I'm hawking it, and I have no idea what it's going
to feel like to land. When I would shoot touch-and-go's in the 135,
there was never any doubt when we landed. [Laughter] You could always
tell. So I was expecting bang, crash, squeak, something. Then nothing
and nothing. Then finally Hank says, “You’d better put
the nose down.” “Oh,” I said, “All right.”
So I put it down, and I was sure we were still in the air. I thought,
“Oh, god, he’s right. We can't be very far off the ground.”
Sure enough, we were on the ground and neither one of us knew it.
I've never been able to do that again in any airplane. Never did it
before. We also landed at about—according to pictures, it looks
like we must have landed at maybe 350 feet down the runway, and we
didn't mean to.
So after we got through with all this, we got ready to get up and
get out of the airplane. We had built a little sign. We thought the
president would come in and want to look inside the Orbiter, and so
we built a little sign that says “Welcome to Columbia. Thirty
minutes ago, this was in space,” or something like that, some
handwritten damn thing.
So I got ready to get up out of the couch, or the seat, and took our
helmets off. We still had the pressure suits and pressure helmets.
Took the helmets off, set them down, and I had a kneeboard on my right
thigh, so I took that off, and I went to set it on the center console,
and I couldn't lift it. I almost ended up sliding it off my leg onto
the center console. I said, “We haven't been in the air that
long. How could I lose all that?” So Hank was kind of watching
me, and he’s still perplexed because I didn't let him fly the
airplane. I says, “I am not going to have somebody come up here
and pull me out of this chair.” So I said, “I don't know
what it is, but I'm going to give every ounce of strength I've got
and get up under my own.”
So I just got there and I just got this mental set, and I pushed,
and I hit my head on the overhead so hard, the blood was coming out.
Goddamn. It was terrible. Oh, did I have an headache. And Hank said
something like, “That's very graceful.” [Laughter] So
now I really did have something to worry about. [Laughs]
So we got up. I said, “Hank, the crew isn't going to get to
open this thing up for probably fifteen minutes or so after landing.”
I said, “We're not going to have people help us off. So we're
going down and we're going to do close-order drill. We're going to
walk around the mid-deck so when they open the hatch, we're going
to walk out.”
Hank's got some of the funniest stories he could tell about this stuff.
So we got ourselves down there, and we're walking around, and Hank
said, “Well, let's see. If you do it like you did getting out
of your chair, you'll go down the stairs and you're going to fall
down, so you need to have something to say.” He says, “Why
don't you just look up at the president and say, 'Mr. President, those
are beautiful shoes.'“ Says, “Think you can get that right?”
He was merciless.
The point of all this story is not just sea story, it is when we got
through, we got out, they took us back into the hangar at Dryden [Flight
Research Center, California]. We were walking, I thought, pretty well
by then, and so we had this long time waiting because the president
was there and was going to speak, and all the Secret Service had to
do their stuff, and so there was a significant length of time before
this ceremony could take place. So I said, “Well, you know,
it's been a while. I'll go down to the head here.”
They said, “You know where it is?”
I said, “Sure.”
“Okay.” So I walk out, and it goes down a hallway like
this that comes to another hallway that hits it as a T, and the idea
is you go down this hallway, take a left, and the bathroom's here.
So I was feeling like I got my sea legs back, and so I'm walking down
here, and it's one of these tile, linoleum kind of floor surfaces.
So I got to down here, and I was trying to walk fast, and I turned
and walked right into the wall. And now I was really perplexed. Fortunately,
nobody sees this, but how does America's finest aviator walk into
the wall? [Laughs]
Quickly those skills came back, but in working with some of the doctors
since then, discovering what happens when you reset your inside accelerometers
to things, we discovered that you actually haven't—we talk about
losing strength, well, there is some muscular deterioration from lack
of use, but there's another phenomena that came out of all of this,
that when I go to raise my hand, I don't know how that happened, but
there's some kind of electrical signal that goes down here and it
relaxes these muscles and tightens these. And when you have spent
a period in this environment, those electrical signals are calibrated
so that they respond appropriately in the weightless environment.
So when you want to do things, you do them unconsciously, but in the
brain's process it goes through and it sends a signal that says, “I
want to raise my arm,” and then sends all these signals around.
Well, it's now recalibrated so it doesn't overdo things, and so it
says, “Raise your arm,” and it puts this little miniscule
thing in there, and if you've got, like, my knee board sitting there,
nothing happens. That's normal. It's just kind of tensing your arm
a little bit. You haven't done anything. But you don't know that that's
So that's the reason when I went to get out, and I decided that, you
know, it's every bit of energy I can muster, well, the muscles were
still there. It just needed to be told to do something. And the same
thing happens when you go walking around, you've got the channel back
that says I know how much energy it takes to stand up. I know what
forces to put on here for locomotion, but to turn is a relatively
small side force that we do, and all this is unconscious. But that
signal is still down here in the noise, and so just thinking you're
going to turn left, well, nothing happened except the wall came up.
[Laughter] It was, you know, little things like that, and as we discovered
these things, that's where this business of learning about space flight
and what goes into it and all this is, it'll never be boring. It's
just every day you take one more little step to find something that's
really, really cool, and it's always there. Gosh, we've just got to
get tourists up there.
you experienced any of that sort of phenomenon after your Apollo flight?
No. I've often gone back to that. I realized that there may have been
some differences. The only thing I've been able to come back with
is in Apollo the entry gave you a pretty healthy dose of accelerations
as you came through the atmosphere. The Shuttle, you know, you can
stand up through the whole entry in Shuttle. I'm sure people have.
I'm sure no one will ever admit it, but there's no reason why everybody
shouldn't kneel on the floor and look out the window for the final
approach in landing, because it's just nothing. So there's nothing
that gets your body started down that road, no. And it may be that
as I got older, the system behavior is different, because I did not
have those kinds of difficulties in Apollo. And apparently not everybody
has had them—maybe nobody else has had the same severe feelings
that I did in getting vertigo. But I think now everybody has learned
to just kind of be judicious.
you compare the sensory experience of being aboard an Apollo spacecraft
with being aboard the Shuttle?
My impression is, they leave distinctly different images completely.
In Apollo, the image you always have of the command module is the
couches, because they were always there for something, and your view
of the world is little windows where you kind of compete, and moving
around is just not something—you know, moving around is a small
thing, in the orbital part.
The reentry was—well, launch in Apollo was really dramatic.
It feels just like it sounds. You hear this staccato cracking and
all of that from the engines. Man, inside it's the same thing. It's
shaking and banging and pushing hard, and there is no doubt that something
really gigantic is going on.
The Shuttle would lift off, it's not noisy, it doesn't shake. It just
goes. It was a totally different experience, and because of the windows
in the Orbiter, it makes such a difference, because now the world
is seen in cinemascope, and you think in terms of a volume. Just the
cockpit in the Orbiter is comfortable, much less the mid-deck, so
you think in terms of a large space. So space and windows are the
things that you—and forces, well, that's where the two vehicles
are so different. Apollo had aggressive forces on launch and on entry,
and small viewpoints to look out at the world, and really no place
to go, whereas the Shuttle has just really soft forces, and no particular
spectacular noise on launch, and entry is just a piece of cake.
And it's up to—I think the peak Gs on entry is like 1.1, something
like that. In a direction where your sitting it's just really easy,
and the only sensation that made an impression on me in the Orbiter
is that because the entry is flown by flying with about a 50-degree
angle of attack, and you roll the vehicle to control your trajectory
this way, and not like an airplane rolls around its own axis, but
you're rolling about this—so when you roll to the right, this
big arm is swinging over, and the picture out the window is totally
unlike anything you would get from an airplane that's doing a roll
because really it’s just a big yaw. And you see that, but once
the nose comes down, everything looks like an airplane. It's just
a totally different experience.
you like landing on a runway better than splashing down in the ocean?
Yes. Yes. As long as you stop on the runway. [Laughter] Always had
this image of being the first one—I didn't want to land on the
runway on 4, because I said, you know, “My gosh, you could stop
this thing in half the runway or less. But why would you take a chance
with the president there? Do you want him to come over and welcome
you as you're swimming out of the moat on the side of the runway or
something?” And it just seemed crazy, but it was the right thing
to do. The Orbiter is really just an absolutely magnificent machine.
So, after 4, it was time to decide what to do again, and Deke asked
if I was interested in flying a classified mission, but then the Air
Force requirements had been driving our program for a long time, and
see, we flew—when did 4 fly? April? Should have been able to
take this classified mission in six months. With all the training
and all of the years we put into the program, the idea of turning
around and going right away was very appealing, get my money back
for all that time on the—and so I said, “Yeah, I'll do
In the meantime, we ran into the problem, I guess it was on 5 that
punched off two PAMs [payload assist modules] that both failed with—or
6, I don't—whoever had the two PAMs. I remember sitting in the
control center when they launched the first one, and said, “Well,
it didn't fire,” and debated about what to do with the second
one, and said, “Well, we don't know if anything wrong,”
and random failures don't happen two in a row. Until we tried to launch
it and lost the second one. That caused a great investigation of all
solid rockets. There's nothing classified about the fact that our
defense payload rode on a solid rocket. So it grounded us for a year,
at least a year.
So we're back to doing other things, so we didn’t fly as soon
as we could, but the interesting thing about the classified mission
is, JSC and the whole NASA team has worked so hard at building a system
that insists on clear, timely communication. The business is so complex
that we can't afford to have secrets. We can't afford to have people
that might not know about something, even if it's not an anomaly.
For something that's different, something unusual, we try to make
sure that it's known in case it means something to somebody in this
integrated vehicle we've been talking about.
So now we're going to go into a classified mode where we have a limited
number of people, and we don't talk about all these things, and I
had some apprehensions about could we keep the exchange of information
timely and clear in this small community when everybody around us
is, you know, telling anything they want, and we're kind of keeping
these secrets. We wrestled with—security was a major—security
was the challenge of the mission. How do you plan for it? How do you
protect things? We went around putting cipher locks on all the training
facilities, but then you had to give the code to a thousand people
so you could go to work. [Laughter] But we had a lock on the door.
One of the things that was good was, we built a classified ready room
in the Astronaut Office, a little place where you could keep a safe
and keep our classified documents, and we even had a classified phone.
People are used to having encrypted phones. We didn't have one of
those, but we had one that was unrecognized, and they said, “If
certain people need to get hold of you, they'll call this number.”
It's not listed and it's not in the telephone book or anything. It's
an unlisted number and this causes less attention. “You’ve
got to keep this out of sight, don't let anybody know you've got it,
and this is how we'll talk to you on very sensitive things.”
So we had a little desk in there, put it in a drawer, and closed it
up. In the year we worked on that mission, we spent a lot of hours
in this little room because it was the only place we could lay our
stuff out, the phone rang once, and, yes, they wanted to know if I'd
like to buy MCI [long distance telephone] service. [Laughter]
My secretary came in one day, and she was getting used to the idea
that there's a lot of people we deal with that she doesn't know. Generally,
you know, the secretary knew everybody that had anything to do with
the mission, and there were some military people she knew, but she
knew there were others we talked to that we didn't bring in the office.
So she was kind of getting used to some of that, and she came in to
me one day, and she says, “You just got an urgent call.”
“Joe,” or somebody, “says call immediately.”
So, okay. “Joe who?”
She said, “He wouldn't tell me. He said you’d know.”
We went in our little classified room and said, “Does anybody
know a Joe?” [Laughter] We never did figure out who it was,
and he never called back.
The Air Force security people were—oh, man, boy, was that a
cultural adjustment, because they have all these classified rules,
and we make fun of them, but they all come from a—history has
taught us [unclear], in any bureaucracy we sometimes overdo things,
but as much we make fun of these folks, they convinced me that some
of the precautions we were taking were, in fact, justified. I was
a bit skeptical, but they showed me some things that at least I bought
into. So whenever we traveled, they wanted to keep secret when was
the launch time, and they certainly wanted to keep secret what the
payload mission was. And to keep the payload mission secret, that
meant whenever we went somewhere we needed a—they wanted us
to not make an easy trail when we’d go somewhere. To keep the
launch time classified, they wanted us to make all our training as
much training in the daytime as at night, so that someone observing
us wouldn't be able to figure this out. They never convinced me that
anyone cared, but they did convince me that if you watch these signatures
you could figure it out, and it is secret because we said it was.
So they had us flying—I didn't mind the idea of flying more,
you know, equal day and night, because that meant I got to fly more,
because I wasn't about to split the time, we’ll just double
it. [Laughter] So that was a good deal. But then they had this idea
they wanted us, whenever we went to a contractor that was associated
with the payload or with the people we were working with, they didn't
want us to get in our airplane and fly to that location. They wanted
us to file [flight plans] to go to Denver, and then refile in flight
and divert to a new place so that somebody who was tracking our flight
plans wouldn't know. And when we'd get there, we could check in using
our own names at the motel, but, you know, just Tom, Dick, and Harry.
So, just keep a low profile.
So we went out to Sunnyvale [California], and we were going to a series
of classes out there, and this was supposed to be one of these where
you don't tell anybody where you're going, don't tell your family
where you’re going to be, just go. But the secretary got a room
for us. So we went, landed at one place, went over to another place,
landed out there at Ames, had this junky old car that could hardly
run. El [Ellison S. Onizuka] was driving, and Loren [Shriver] and
Jim [James F. Buchli] and I were crammed in this little tiny thing,
and we're going down the road and looking for a motel. And we didn't
stay in the one, the motel we normally would stay at. They put us
up and tell us to go to some other place and they had given us a name.
So we went to this other place, and it was very inconvenient and quite
a ways out of the way. And as we drive up the road, Buchli looks out
the window and he says, “Stop here.” So we pull over,
and he says, “Now let's go over [unclear] one more time. We
made extra stops to make sure that we wouldn't come here directly,
and they can't trace our flight plan. And we didn't tell our families,
we didn't tell anybody where we are. And we can't tell anybody who
we're visiting.” He says, “Look at that motel. What does
that marquee say? Welcome STS 51-C astronauts,” and everybody's
name is in it, and you walk in and your pictures are on the wall.
[Laughter] Says, “How's that for security?”
But those are the kinds of little—I mean, those are dumb things,
but they show that we went to extraordinary lengths trying to learn
how to do some of these things. And the coup de grâce came when
after, you know, “I'll cut my tongue off if I ever tell anybody
what this payload is,” and some Air Force guy in the Pentagon
decides to hold a briefing and tell them, before we launched, after
we'd done all these crazy things. God knows how much money we spent
on various security precautions and things.
But the flip side of that is that I still can't talk about what the
missions were, but I can tell you that I've been around a lot of classified
stuff, and most of it is overclassified by lots. I think at best it's
classified to protect the owners, you know, it's self protection.
What those programs did are spectacular, they are worth classifying,
and when the books are written and somebody finally comes out and
tells that chapter, everybody is going to be proud. Now, all the things
we did for security didn't add one bit, not one bit. [Laughter] But
the missions were worth doing, really were. It really gave you—the
work was done by others, but just to know that you had a chance to
participate in something that was that magnificent is really kind
Since we couldn't—on the classified thing, you know, everything
was closed now, so we fortunately had a group of guys that were really
super, and [Tommy W.] Holloway was the flight director. Tommy's probably
been one of my best friends throughout my NASA time. I just think
the world of him. So I was willing to leave him with the chores of
keeping everybody coordinated and doing stuff. We were trying to figure
out—since for the first time the MOCR's [Mission Operations
Control Room] not going to be open for visitors, there's nothing to
say, nothing to do, you know, “They launched.”
“Yeah, we saw that.”
“Oh, they came back.”
So we were trying to figure out what we can do that would kind of
put some interest in the mission, at least for the participants. In
the Navy when you go aboard ship, we have lots of protocols and things
we do. We have traditions. And so they all come back from somewhere
in the past, and we’ve kept them and we still do them on ships
today. So you tell time when you ring a bell, they used to ring the
ship’s bell because no one had watches in the old days, so they'd
ring a bell when somebody thought it was noon or whatever. You'd ring
bells to tell you how long you're on watch, you know, so every thirty
minutes they'd ring a bell, and then it's two bells, and then three,
and when you get eight bells it's time for the next guy to go on watch,
and you'd get off.
Then we have standard announcements. If you go aboard any ship that's
getting ready to depart port, there are a series of these announcements
that are made over the public address system. Specified time is prior
to breaking your ties with the shore. And we have the thing called
a boatswain’s pipe, which is like a whistle. It's shrill, and
it carries; its sound carries. The quartermaster of old ships would
stand on the deck and play this thing, and it would make little screeching
sounds that wind up and down in different patterns, and they meant
things. They meant do this, do that, and this was the way of communicating
across the deck when you couldn't hear or whatever, and we've kept
that tradition. So when it's time to prepare for flight quarters,
get ready to launch aircraft on a carrier, the address system will
come on with this boatswain’s pipe and, “Now hear this,”
and the boatswain’s pipe will call, “Flight quarters.
Flight quarters. All hands prepare for flight operations.” Then
there's a series of these things. There’s a checklist, and as
you run the protocol on a ship during the day, you go through these
things and they announce all kinds of stuff, Taps at the end of the
day. The ship's routine is done this way.
So we went and got hold of the master boatswain for the United States
Navy—it’s now a ceremonial position, but it's generally
a senior chief—told him what were trying to do, and said, “We
want to build a tape that has all of these things, but we’re
going to adapt it to our flight plan, and we'll play it to the ground.”
So we had built a little tape recorder with this thing on there, and
we were going to play all of these things to the ground at the appropriate
time, starting on the launch pad when we shifted our flag from the
quarterdeck to the bridge, and “All personnel go ashore, go
ashore,” and subjected the launch team and the MOCR to listening
to all these things and bells ringing and whistles blowing and the
whole thing scripted out. It gave us something fun to do.
After we had subjected the Air Force to this, when we got to go fly,
there was a significant Air Force contingent in the MOCR because they
were the only people that could come visit, and so they're all listening
to it. And some of them had been to the Naval Academy, so they knew
what this was, and they didn't like it. And the other Air Force people
really didn't like—“What is all this?”
At the end, after we had done our deployment, I thought, well, you
know, we'll wait until an appropriate time when we know at least our
part of the mission has been successful in this thing. There used
to be a radio station here in the Clear Lake area. It was a classical
music station that went on until midnight, and they had an especially
appealing rendition of “America the Beautiful.” So I got
to thinking, we've got a recording of the Army, the Air Force, and
the Navy hymns, whatever you call them, and then I scoured around
and I finally found this recording of “America the Beautiful.”
So my plan was, after we'd done all this bell ringing and stuff, and
everything was all over, we would then play each of the service songs.
Then the idea was to come over to U.S. and put the TV out the window
so you can watch us go from coast to coast, and play this “America
the Beautiful.” So I had this all scripted out. I said, “Now,
this is really going to be cool.”
Well, as it worked out, we lost com [communications] after we played
the army and the navy songs, and the com dropped out. [Laughter] And
when we came back, you can hear the teletype at the mid-deck “clackety,
clackety.” There's a message that says, “You've got thirty
seconds, and if the Air Force song isn't on the air, don't bother
to come home.” [Laughter] I thought about doing it in alphabetical
order, and I said, “Nah, traditions are traditions. We'll go
in seniority.” So the army came first and the Air Force came
last, and they were really upset with us. [Laughter] Those are the
things you remember.
[E.] Payton, wasn't he Air Force?
Yes. The tape was playing, but the com dropped out. So we knew that
had happened, and we backed it up, but, you know, the idea that we
were going to create internecine warfare didn't occur until we got
our teletype that says, “You'd better hurry. There's a bunch
of generals down here that are not happy.” [Laughter] Oh yes.
But that was a good bunch of people, and it shows that a machine can
do all those things.
So it came time to get serious, and since my four-year tour to see
the Shuttle develop turned into ten, and my six-month “get ready
for the next flight” had turned into closer to eighteen, you
know, I was skeptical about what comes next. Much as I enjoy the sights
and sounds and so forth, I was ready to move on to something else.
The only mission that I really thought I could get interested in was
the first Vandenburg [Air Force Base, California] mission, and Cripp
was already doing that, and so I decided it was probably best to change
The Navy had asked me, before we flew, if I was interested in coming
back into the regular Navy, and so I said, “Yeah, sure. I'd
like to do that.” And the first job was supposed to go be the
Commander of the Naval Space Command at Dahlgren [Virginia]. They
were just starting it. With this delay in our DOD mission, I either
had to drop the mission and go back to take that assignment or stay
with the mission, and I kind of wanted to stay and finish the mission,
because we spent so much time on it, and it was a particularly good
one for me because those guys were so good. You know, it was Loren's
mission, and I just sat there and drank coffee and watched and looked
out the window and played music and just got to be an executive.
So that was a fun mission, and I'm glad I made that choice, but I
figured I had lost my job in the Navy, which is the one that [Richard
H. “Dick”] Truly took. Then they came back and said, “Well,
we've got another assignment running the procurement side of Navy
space. How would you like to be program director of that?” So
that's what I took, and I ended up—we landed and I went to Washington
two weeks later.
So I deviated from NASA for four years, almost five years I guess,
and I had retired from the Navy, and then went to work for a “Beltway
Bandit” [colloquial term for a government contractor in the
Washington, DC/Interstate 495 region] small company that worked for
the navy for a while. Then Fred Haise called me. He was the president
of the Grumman Space Station Division. What do they call it? Grumman
Space Station Integration Division. A terrible acronym. And they were
out at Reston [Virginia]. They had had some real trouble with the
Program Office that they were supporting, and they were under a great
deal of scrutiny, and he wanted to know if I was interested in coming
out and helping him kind of pull things together.
So I went and spent several years working on the Space Station in
a very traumatic period. That was when we were getting beat up, the
whole program was getting beat up for having been late. The president
announced—when we landed on STS-4, the reason it was such a
big political event, that's when the president announced that we were
going to build Space Station, and people had been politicking and
working their tails off to get it into his speech.
So a lot of time had passed between then and that time, and we really
hadn't made a year's progress in a year. The program was really, really
having a hard time, and so everybody associated with the program was
struggling. So we were trying to pull that stuff together and help.
Bob [Robert] Moorhead by then had taken over the Level 2 Space Station
office in Reston. But with all the work packages centered around in
different places, it was absolutely the most chaotic, impossible management
scheme you could ever—you ought to write a textbook on how not
to manage anything. [Laughs] We had it, and in spite of people’s
heroic efforts. If you ever doubt that organization is important,
you take really good people and put them in an impossible organization,
and you could even ground good people. I mean, it was just terrible
to watch people work so hard and do so much and not be able to make
things that they knew had to happen, they couldn't make it happen.
Then they got blamed for it. It was really an unfortunate period,
although it probably had his own reasons. History gets written in
lots of places, and you maybe haven't read all the chapters.
But I was there when they were beating the program up because it was
going to take fifteen flights to complete this Space Station, and
200 hours of EVA. And that had to stop. That was “irresponsible.”
[Laughs] Oh, I don't know what the total hours of EVA are today.
a lot more than that now.
Oh, that's about one mission's worth, I think, and certainly the complexity
of what the people were doing. It was clear right from the beginning
that this assembly was going to be just an amazing challenge. And
we didn't have enough money to do it all right, and so people were
working very hard to find ways to make it work anyhow. It was really
an interesting thing, and it gave me a chance to work back with people
like—in fact, I saw John [W.] Aaron at this little get-together
yesterday, and John looks more relaxed now than I've seen him in many
years. He really was under an awful lot of pressure trying to run
things from this end. Just everybody was under a lot of pressure.
But one of the good things out of it, going back to the thing I talked
about on the Shuttle where we'd gotten the engineering and the ops
guys all to form this little team to go work design problems together,
Kranz pulled together—he was having trouble getting all of the
Centers to pull together, and at that point JSC was still in the watching
mode. They had a Program Office here and all, but this hadn't become
a big Center project, and it was clear that JSC participation had
increased, and Gene pulled together an ops teams to come up with some
concepts, and we spent several weeks.
I think it was probably one of the most productive parts of my exposure
with the Space Station, because they came up with concepts which were
not implemented for a variety of reasons, and yet we're wrestling
today with many of the same issues, but there are answers, because
people had been down on—it's more painful today than if you
would have done it years ago.
But all these things happen, you know, for a reason. I'm convinced
that if we hadn't had Apollo 13, we probably would have lost a couple
of Apollo flights. I think some of the twists and turns in the Space
Station Program may not have given us the most efficient path from
here to there, but it may be that each of them played a critical role
in allowing the next step to take place. Maybe that's a pollyannaish
approach to it, but this is such a complicated business, and we're
isolated down at the working level, and people have a very clear idea
of what needs to be done and how to do it. As you move further up
in these big programs, they become exceedingly complex and difficult,
and it's just something that most of us don't appreciate. So it was
an interesting, interesting kind of program.
got some sort of broad questions for you, if you don't mind talking
for a little bit longer. You mentioned a couple of the differences
between the Apollo Program and the Space Shuttle Program, particularly
early on. I was wondering if you could compare for me the NASA of
the mid-1960s when you came in, with the NASA of the mid-1980s, when
you finally left.
Oh, boy, that's a good question. There's really been a lot of transformation.
I think I would say there were two major transformations that took
place, and I've given it a lot of thought as I have tried to explain
to other people in my businesses the way these space businesses grow
globally. The parallels with the Russian program are really interesting,
and it's worth reading some of that literature, because it's fascinating.
Some day someone will put the stories together in parallel.
But essentially what happened in the NASA side, at least this is just
from T.K.'s perspective of wandering through life, wondering what's
going on, we started out in this desperate race to send a signal to
the world that we were technologically competent to be a key player.
When the Russians put up Sputnik—you're too young to remember
the wailing and gnashing of teeth and hand-wringing. “Our educational
system let us down. We aren't doing this,” and the press would
pick it up, and everyone was beating themselves over the head for
sins of omission and commission. It was just really a dark period.
[President John F.] Kennedy's decision to go after something that
was public and spectacular was probably one of the boldest political
decisions I can imagine anybody making. I'd give anything to know
how much did he know about the risk he was taking. He certainly had
advisors that told him, “Don't do this one.” And unlike
programs that NASA tries to sell today, I've not read anything—I
wasn't around in those days when they were selling it, but I've read
nothing that would indicate that there was a big push on NASA's part
to get someone to go do this. It was more looking for ideas than “What
have you guys got to offer?” and somebody said, “Well,
you can do this,” and the next thing you know is, “Well,
let's talk more.”
But out of that came some conditions that are terribly important.
One was, it was a political imperative. All of us kids thought we
were out looking for Ferengi [reference to Star Trek aliens] traders
and running down Borgs [reference to Star Trek aliens] and stuff like
that. That's not what we were doing at all. We were filling a political
imperative that says, “We've got to restore confidence of the
rest of the world and ourselves in what a democracy can do in a visible
way, and we've chosen this to go do it.”
Now, along with that imperative, which the confluence of the technology
had reached the point where we could now throw intercontinental ballistic
missiles, that gave us the technology that says, “With just
a little-tuning, you can go to orbit. And as we learn to do that,
now we need some other things.” But it came time for as weapons
got bigger, we needed bigger launch vehicles. But the technology to
do that stuff, yes, it was crude and we still had to work with it,
but we did it. I mean, it was done. There were no inventions necessary.
Now it's improvements.
So the technology was available, the political will was there. Because
the political will was there, the funding, while it was never just
given to the program, [NASA Administrator] Jim [James E.] Webb, you
read the stories about his exploits, he worked for his money. But
the impetus was there, and so while we got going on this thing, you
had the most exciting program in the world. Recruitment was just,
put a little bitty ad in the paper that says, “We're interviewing
people to work on Apollo,” and, you know, the lines go to the
county line. I've heard General [Bernard A.] Schriever give a speech
about what it was like to hire people when they were starting the
ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] days, and he says, “There
was nothing to it.” He says, “We had the most extraordinary
people in the country pounding on the door, and they didn't care what
you paid them. They just wanted to work on your program.” And
Apollo was the same way.
These conditions don't exist today, and they haven't for a long time,
but in those days—hell, we were all young kids. What was the
average age in Apollo? Twenty-six in the flight control world or something
like that. You know, it was kids. And if we’d had any money,
we would have all paid it to be allowed to go do what we were getting
paid for, because it was a national thing, and so you had all of this
support, and it was “Go do something.”
The other thing was, we had a goal that anybody could understand.
“We all read the calendar. We'll know when the end of the decade
is up. We'll know if you met that schedule. Go and bring me a [moon]
rock.” We didn't ask for the origins of the universe. We didn't
ask you to cure AIDS. We said, “Just go bring me a rock and
hand it to me, and if you can do that, you were a success.”
Now I'm trivializing it to a point, but a program, to be successful,
has to have a clear objective that's so unambiguous that all of us
working on it know what it is and what it's not, and nothing gets
in the way of our objective. With that, you can then start in and
say, “Now, if there is the financial resources to allow it to
happen, now all you need is good people.” And I just listed
how you got all three of those in Apollo.
Those planets haven't lined up since. And I don't know if—I
don't know. Going to the Moon was easy to pick as a goal because it
only took a few days. You can see it. One of our problems with Space
Station is, it’s not hanging out there in the sky to look at
every night. If you know where to look, it's big enough, you're going
to be seeing it, but you have to look for it. But going to the Moon,
there was something different. Every day was some activity, some excitement.
But before Apollo was finished—well, by the time 13 flew—that
part of the movie was pretty good—by the time 13 flew, we were
showing live television of launch reentry and maybe landing on the
Moon. Everything else was videotaped. “Yeah, we wouldn't mind
watching it, but not during I Love Lucy. Or, “Don’t interfere
with my soaps.” Because it had lost its magic, and it lost the
political drive because the risk for every flight was the same. They
didn't come down because you kept flying. The marginal gain for each
additional flight was getting to be less and less at a horrendous
rate, especially when viewed from the political capital side.
We had demonstrated to the world, you know, “The Russians are
out of it. We have won this race hands down. They're not even on the
final lap. Don't sully that image by having an accident. You have
lots to lose.” And since the goal of the people paying the bills
was not science or Ferengi traders, it was “Beat the Russians,”
and we did. Don't jeopardize it. Very, very logical response. It was
devastating to a lot of us to think, “How could you stop? We've
got hardware. We can do this. How could you not fly?” But that
was the motive.
So there was that, and the other thing that happened that carried
over into Shuttle was, the people that did Apollo was the same core
of people that started with Mercury and then Gemini, and stayed right
into Apollo. A continuous stream expanding all the way. Each time
the programs got bigger, we brought on more people, and the same hierarchy
just moved up, and this little tent that we're building just keeps
going up and there's more underneath it. But this superstructure is
largely unchanged. Now, sometimes you fit some extra people in there,
but by and large, you've got the same leaders that started out working
together back in the Task Force days, and they've grown up together.
The people that stayed are the ones that liked it and were good at
it and accepted in this little community, and the people that weren't
kind of disappeared, and we don't know who they are because they aren't
So, all the way through Apollo we were building this thing. When Apollo
was over and we did the Skylab thing, which didn't generate a lot
of political support, ASTP got some political support, but it didn't
generate any—I mean, it was just flying off some hardware and
it really didn't do a lot for us. The Shuttle stories, what I've been
able to read, it sounds to me like the political decision to fund
Shuttle was at least strongly influenced by the fact that the aerospace
industry was in a major depression, and there were no new weapons
systems and things coming along to employ it. The aerospace industry
has always been known to be cyclic, but it was really in a downturn
across the board. It wasn’t Douglas is up and Boeing is down;
it was everybody's down. So I've read reports—I can't attest
to these but they make sense to me, and other things in the same books
correlate, that there was a strong interest in maintaining aerospace
And so what political support the Shuttle had amongst the people that
give money was, “Yeah, let's keep the industry alive,”
and you go do work by states. In Apollo, the best I can tell, while
we capitalized on doing work in different people’s states, that
was a matter of pride, not a matter of bribery. In the real world
of most normal programs, you know, I'll get your vote because I have
work in your state, district, whatever. So it started having to consider
the political ramifications of placing contracts and work in selected
areas, and doing things that were essential to make the program go
were not necessarily the technically best answers, but were necessary.
That's in contrast to the kind of decisions in Apollo where everybody
knew that the job was so hard, that only the best or right answer
was even considered. It was too hard to do it any—technically
too hard. We won't get the performance unless every piece is optimized
for the purpose of doing this mission. Now pieces have to be optimized
in the Shuttle era for the purpose of keeping the program alive, as
well as—I mean, a necessary condition is that it has to fly,
but that's not a sufficient condition to be a success.
We hadn't seen that kind of influence in the Apollo days. It has an
insidious effect, because people in Apollo could clearly say, “I
know I'm working on the critical path to go to the Moon and bring
a rock back, and nobody has made a decision that doesn't enhance that.”
Never have I seen them decide to put something on here because it's
made in New Mexico. Now you start seeing artifacts, and so the purity
of that drive is something that managers try to keep honed in, but
it's not long before bright people catch on to what's around them,
and they play the same game everyone else does. I mean, it's just—if
they weren't bright enough to do that, you wouldn't hire them. So
they do that.
The Shuttle—we talked a bit about the technical differences.
The Shuttle was a massive systems engineering integration job, the
likes of which I don't think have ever been challenged. I don't know
how it compares to the Station when it's all done, but I tend to think
the Station is more of a challenge in the assembly than in the design,
but I'm not that familiar. But certainly in Apollo the mission design
was the challenge, and getting it all there just physically built,
but the engineering part was not nearly as challenging as the Shuttle.
So there was a significant difference in trying to maintain that communications
which allowed the software to be the glue. In Apollo you could let
everybody work their own piece. KSC could do their piece, Marshall
could do their piece. There were places we had interfaces, but they
were physical interfaces, and you could sign ICDs [interface control
documents] between organizations over hardware, and it was relatively
Once you got into Shuttle, every tradeoff involved everything, and,
boy, you just couldn't anchor things, and one piece would change,
and it required a tremendous understanding of each other's job. Pretty
much, now in the design world, you have to do what the MOCR does every
day by exchanging all this information in some organized way. Only
works because they're all tied together on a common communications
loop. Well, the problem with working a distributed program that requires
this intimate integration is you need to have it co-located.
We used to joke about it, but you could see the difference when you'd
walk from Building 30 to Building 15. That duck pond introduced corruption
in the communication channels. We're talking yards. Now you start
moving people around to other cities, and important parts are done
by other Centers. So when they got to the Space Station Freedom, we
had built this terrible, terrible challenge, still had to be integrated.
So in the Shuttle era, the environment we were working in, the challenge
we working on, changed, and in the beginning of the Shuttle era, though,
we still had the same people running the show, for the most part,
and they were still young enough that they recognized the challenge
was bigger, and they said, “Yeah, we'll go do this. Succession
is where we're starting to think about rather that just let it happen,
but I'll bring these people along and I'll coach them.”
Everybody thought that it was going to be a four-year race, including
some of the managers. So what really happened was, all of these folks,
if they started back in the ICBM days and went through flying Shuttle,
all of these leaders had been the same ones at each step of the way,
and the new folks had generally been deputies and staff people, maybe
run little projects and all, but they had never been in the line decision-making
world. They'd been participants.
But there's a big difference in sitting in a room where a decision
is made and being the one that's ultimately accountable for the decision.
It's insidious. You can't see it, but I can guarantee you it is profound.
It changes your whole frame of reference, and you only know that when
you've done it. You can't learn it by reading books and watching moves
or anything else. It's something you learn, and some people are not
comfortable, and some people thrive on it, but it's a difference.
And yet without any of us realizing it, because we all worked together,
we had groups of people who had achieved levels of responsibility
and authority that had never had the responsibility.
There was always a safety net, because the way especially JSC, you
know, Dr. Kraft and his organization, nothing happened on this campus
that he wasn't aware of. He would approve of things to the extent
that he would allow it to happen, but if he felt we were taking a
wrong turn, that was going to stop. There was this group of people
that had this extraordinary background and the confidence and the
experience to use it. I remember Dr. Kraft on STS-2 leaping out over
his console when they were playing around trying to get the APU [auxiliary
power unit] restarted in time, and he came in there, and he just stormed
down, took his headset off, and said, “The launch is canceled.
I'll see you in my office in an hour,” and walked out. Well,
he didn't even have the authority to do that, but thank goodness everybody—and
Dr. Kraft was looking around and listening to people, and he knew,
“There's confusion here. Nobody knows what they're doing, and
they're under pressure, and the clock is ticking, and it's not worth
it.” That's the entire space program sitting out there. Why
are you taking any chance at all with it? Quit.
Well, he also has an engineer's intuition when things are right or
wrong. Like John Young is perfect for that, and the difference is,
Kraft can generally tell you why. John may have a hard time articulating
it, but you’d better believe his instincts, because, boy, are
they good. So you had people that were running this program in the
Shuttle in the beginning, that they knew each other. I don't think
another group could have built the Shuttle, having looked back and
seen what it took to bring it to flight. They all retired within a
time frame of, what, eighteen months. Man, the exodus—people
had been working thirty years 24/7. They had a ball, but there comes
a time when you “I don't want to do this anymore,” and
there wasn't another new program to turn the juices.
Now it's trying to learn to convert this into a routine and get it
out of R&D [research and development], and these are not the kind
of people that thrive on that. So now you've got a group of people
that have moved in. You've got a political system that is not endorsing
what you do. You've got a lot of political capital that's being spent
on various things just to keep program support going, and so it tends
to defocus the individuals. Now where do I fit? What we used to worry
about, and they seem to have solved the problem, but how do you get
people up for one of these complex missions day after day after day?
How do you do it?
Kranz used to go out and create crises a day or two before launch
and get his teams all spun up. “You know, we're not going to
get off the pad if we don't figure this out.” Finally I caught
on after getting sucked into those things for long enough. I said,
“You know, he does this intentionally. If there isn't a crisis,
he'll create one because that's how he can get people’s interest
focused and get it running.” And I since have accused him of
it, and he said, “Yeah, I did that.” [Laughter]
But do you see what's different? The purpose isn't clear today. You
know, you've seen one show, you've seen them all. I don't mean that
to be sacrilegious, but we've got to learn to look at it as the cats
that are out there at the Texaco station do. Do they care? What is
it to them? They don't have this excitement. So we've lost the backing,
we don't have the political capital, and in accommodating all this,
it's been very hard to keep people’s focus on the programmatic
imperatives of doing important things.
And then from the years since then, you know, the Space Station came
along, and it was an orphan for the longest time. It was almost like
a WPA [Works Progress Administration]. Now when they finally got around
to having to put it together, then once again, the guys that are doing
the ops really slugged it out and got it going, and what they're doing
is spectacular. I mean, what a magnificent accomplishment. But we're
still struggling with relevance. Having the most magnificent engineering
marvel is a great sense of satisfaction to those of us that build
them, but that leaves unsaid what it is we're going to do with it.
A lot of us still want to go to Mars, but the government has changed.
In the Apollo days when we had the fire, people would call and say,
“Hey, guys, it's a tough job. Don't give up.” If you have
a fire today, the hearings will go on until your kids are out of college,
and they will place blame on everything. We've created an environment
in the government—it's not just NASA, it's the entire government—that
is risk-adverse. If you take a risk and you win big, you won't even
get a footnote, but, boy, you make one black mark in someone's eye,
and the political fodder just goes across the board. I'm regretful
that that condition exists, because I've seen what happens when humans
don't have that constraint, but it's a very natural part of society
and life. It's what we've got to learn to live with, because that's
the world we're in, and the government has to think about its role,
because if its leaders can't take a risk, how do the kids that are
building this stuff, how do they ever get anywhere? How do they do
anything but get frustrated?
The new administrator says, “Well, we've got to find a way to
get young people interested again.” That takes thirty seconds,
but he doesn't have the tools. You say, “I'm going to let you
guys build and run something,” they'll be here beating down
the gates. You say, “Join my bureaucracy and you can show viewgraphs.”
Right. “Thank you, sir. I'll try selling shirts at Macy's.”
I mean, the world is different, and we keep trying to say it's like
it was. Apollo was this unique confluence of events. Shuttle changed—the
selection of the Shuttle astronauts was the first one that started
to stress social skills and the kinds of things necessary to play
on the kind of teams that are in place now. You need it. That's not
a criticism; it’s a reflection of a change in focus. You don't
need to be a hot stick. We don't talk about it, but you could probably
push the autopilot, and this thing would be just fine, but we don't
say that, that's career-limiting. But it could happen.
All organizations, as they mature, have got to find some way to either
have a sunset law that wipes it out and starts over, maybe with some
of the same people, but thrown into a new environment, into a new
setting with a new task, then they can go forward. But as long as
we have this legacy of “This is how you do it,” that's
powerful and it's overwhelming, and we will not ever change it if
we have a choice. That's just human nature.
So the challenge for today’s management is to find a way to
take the people which are just as motivated, just as bright—well,
probably brighter. I mean, gosh almighty, I look at what some of the
folks around me do today, and it's just—you know, I just thank
God that I'm not graduating from college today, because I wouldn't
be able to get a job. We've got people stifled that can't do anything.
A twenty-six year-old, average age, or whatever the number was, it's
under thirty—sending people to the Moon, making personal decisions
about what to do, where in our world can you do that today, even in
the military today, unless you get in a war zone. You know, it's the
nature of government, our form of government.
I think our challenge is to find a way to return to people the environments
where they can use these things, because there's enough history that
shows we are the most productive during the first twenty-five years
of our lives. My son's going to get out of residency, and he's going
to get his Social Security check the same day he gets out of residency.
God, I can't believe he could go to school forever, and it's not like
he doesn't want out.
How do we do this? How do we capitalize on that? That's the challenge,
and if we're ever going to make the space program do all the things
we want, we've got to find some of these more pragmatic steps. I chose
to go to the commercial world because with my NASA experience and
with my Navy experience, I became convinced that as long as the government
is in the environment it's in today, which I certainly can't change,
you can't build the kind of programs that I want to build. If you
say, “Let's go send someone to Mars,” I can't do that
commercially either, because that bill is too big. It’s Field
of Dreams. It's a wonderful movie. It's a lousy business plan.
And so we've been struggling, and since I left, I've spent almost
all of my time now trying to find ways to make the commercial base
profitable, because when they are profitable, there will be money
to invest. When there's money to invest, then we can grow, and it's
not a bee-line five-year plan to Mars. From my perspective, I just
made the observation, I reaffirmed it since then, that if all these
things that I really want to see happen and always have—I still
do, but I won't get there by signing petitions to Congress saying,
“It's criminal we aren't going to Mars.” You've got to
create a way to make our business relevant and stimulate the economy
with a different kind of design, and it's actually more fun than the
So, the world changed, and we should never try to say, “Well,
why can't you guys in Shuttle do it like we did in Apollo? Why can't
you guys in Space Station do it like—?” Because those
are three different eras, maybe more, maybe four. But it's different,
and the things that changed were not the people, it was the environment.
think in that you wrapped up a lot of questions I had, actually. But
if I could just pause to ask you two specific questions related to
Shuttle development. The first is related to the decision to have
the first flight of the Shuttle manned versus unmanned, and what your
position on that was in the Astronaut Office.
I think, from what I recall about that—I don't remember that
being a—I mean, it was a significant decision. I don't recall
that being a contentious decision. I think the Astronaut Office will
always opt [to] go manned, but I think in this case the engineering
solution was the same. I think that the JSC position was, “This
is the only way we can go, because this is such a complicated vehicle,
that building an automated sequencer, and building it to go without
a person may be as challenging in the test and checkout area as just
trying to make sure you don't make a big mistake.”
So my recollection is that while we recognized this was a departure
from practice, it was a uniform belief that this is the right thing
to do. I think it was politically—politically, I mean in the
Washington arena—a note of contention or debate. It goes back
to this business of how much risk can you take? But I don't think
it was because someone thought that we should not do it the way we
did. It was, you know, I'd hate to have my name on the piece of paper
that said “That's okay,” because what if they go wrong?
Fortunately not everybody is timid, but I mean, it puts a lot of pressure
on folks. So I don't think that was an issue down here. Chris may
have a different impression.
a similar sort of question. The Shuttle originally was conceived without
any capability to do extravehicular activity, so I wonder if you remembered
anything along those discussions, the inclusion of that capability.
You know, that's interesting. I just swore we had the airlock in there.
The airlock was not inside the Orbiter; it was on the Spacelab. I
don't know if it was called Spacelab then, but it was on the laboratory
piece. It was part of the tunnel, and it was an external airlock.
I do remember when we got around to going through the debate about
bringing it internally. That's a good question, because I don't recall
not having an EVA capability. But I do remember when the airlock came
from being a patch in the payload bay to being an internal piece,
and that was, I thought, fairly early in the program, because it seems
like everything we did after that—I mean, somewhere after the
first year or two it seemed to me like that was a given. I know a
lot of people groused about the weight of it and so forth. But I don't
are all the specific ones I had, so if there are any other remarks
you'd like to make before we wrap it up, I want to give you that opportunity
I want to thank you for putting up with my rambling, and I hope your
task isn't as hard this time as it was last time. [Laughs] But what
you're doing is really important. I remember I used to go to Aaron
Cohen during Shuttle and say, “You know, we really have got
to get somebody in here to sit down and just sit in all the CCBs and
take minutes and record history as it's being made, the decision about
why you did it, who presented the arguments, and what were the compelling
arguments.” Because I found when you go back and look at history,
and you're bound to be seeing this, you're going to hear from the
participants, and they aren't the same story. They're bound to be
We find that when we investigate airplane accidents, that three of
us are watching the airplane crash, and yet when we tell you what
we saw, you'd swear there were three crashes, because it's really
hard because our mind goes off, and no one is going to tell us things
that they don't believe are correct, but there are distortions in
all of our minds. So the only way you capture that is to capture it
right at the time it happens.
Now, George has a set of notebooks. He's been writing in little notebooks
as long as I've known him. I remember him sitting in the CCBs in Apollo,
writing stuff down. Now, maybe he was just writing, “Call Charlie,”
or something, but I think he's got notes in there that at least trigger
for him the memories of what caused it, because so often things happen,
and years later we don't know why, even the participants. Well, today
if you go and ask somebody, “Why are there two radar altimeters
on the Orbiter instead of three? Four of almost everything, three
in whatever. And there's two radar altimeters. Why?” You find
somebody in this campus that knows that answer to that. You won't
find him. And there's a reason. Not very good. [Laughter]
I remember Bob [Robert F.] Thompson when he was in CCB, he called
up—what was the guy's name that did the altimeter? Damn, I can't
remember that. But he asked him. He had given a presentation on something,
and he says, “Why do we had two radar altimeters?”
And he says, “Do you really want to know?”
It's one of the few times I'd seen Thompson kind of be flustered,
and he said, “Yes, I want to know.”
And he gave him this story about, “Well, you said the whole
capability had to weigh less than this. That's all you can fit.”
And Bob shook his head, says, “We don't need those things, do
Everybody said, “We do.” [Laughter]
Why do you only have one HUD? It's not redundant, and it's absolutely
essential for landing. There's another series of debates and decisions.
After watching George Low, I think, was where I got the idea that
if I ever got the chance to be a program manager in a big program,
I was going to get a historian or several junior engineers, program
managers, and force them to take notes for a minimum of a year and
write down, “The questions is; the decision was; the reason
for the decision going this way is.” And just file it away.
It would be fascinating reading. Don [Donald H.] Peterson—I
don't know if you've talked to Don.
haven't yet, but he's in the future.
Don Peterson is one of these people that has very, very acute technical
insight. He sees something and he grasps it immediately. He's just
got this insight for engineering, and the rest of us don't see it,
and Don doesn't know what we don't see because to him this is a very
clear thing. Don would come in and say, “Oh, this won't work!
You know, we're all sitting there, “Don, why are you being such
a pain in the rear? What's the problem?”
He says, “Don't you see it won't work?”
“I don't see that.” No one sees it.
Well, Don is so conscientious and so smart that I got—when we'd
have these morning discussions of the Shuttle with the ops and the
engineering teams, and we would beat these issues back and forth,
Don lost lots. He just was not a persuasive person. Some other people
in the office had impeccable records. It must have been a slow period,
because I got interested in “I think I'll keep a log.”
So for about six months to a year, I kept a log about the major decisions
and recommendations that we'd made, what led us to make that recommendation.
At the time, this was why we made the choice, who presented the case.
And I'll tell you what, Don Peterson had an almost impeccable record
of having made the right recommendations. Given the benefit of some
time to look back and say, “Oh, that's how it—now I know
what he's talking about.” Didn't know then. His record for winning
arguments was really poor, but it's really fascinating, and that's
why you need to have somebody do this, because not only do our memories
change, but I just—the other thing that happens, as a program
manager you find that when you make someone write down what is the
question, that seems pretty simple unless you try to write it down.
Just forcing you to write it down may actually change your approach,
because when you do, you quickly find that, “Well, that just
rolled off my tongue. What's the best way to—?” And as
you look at it on paper, it comes across, “You know, that's
really not what's important. What I'm really trying to do is something
a little different. And what do I mean by ‘best’? What's
buried in that expression? Best what? Best for what?” We use
those kind of words in conversation every day, and it doesn't get
people upset. When you try to pin it down, people will get upset when
they find what you built isn't what they thought you meant, and then
they feel betrayed.
This process of writing down the question, and then “Now, what
criteria did I use? What was the reason?” does wonders for making
your decision-making better, and maybe the most important thing is
it adds to your toolkit of analytic experiences. Even if you made
the decision wrong, you've been through this, and when you find out
it’s wrong, the next time you run into a similar situation,
both pieces of data will come together. “I did it this way,
but it wasn't right. Now, what's different, if anything?”
So, what you guys are doing is important. It's important. I hope there's
somebody that's out doing something like this with the Space Station,
because it's not as glamorous, and people will not stay around as
long, and there won't be as many—and yet what they're doing
in putting that thing together, which has got to be the most magnificent
ground-air teamwork, I mean, it blows my mind what little I know from
today’s work on the Station, to see what they're doing. Those
are stories that really need to be recorded now, because those folks—with
the way the programs are going and the government sponsorship, the
chances of having these people around to come back to twenty years
from now and say, “Tell me about building the Space Station,”
you're going to get blank stares. What you're doing is really important,
and I'm sure proud that you're doing it.
glad you feel that way about our work.
Well, you've got a right to be.