NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, D.C. – 9 November 2006
is November 9th, 2006. This oral history interview is being conducted
with Jeff Bingham in Washington, D.C., for the NASA Headquarters History
Office. Jeff is currently the Staff Director for the Subcommittee
on Science and Space, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science,
and Transportation. Rebecca Wright is the interviewer, assisted by
Sandra Johnson. We are meeting in his office in the Hart [Senate Office]
Thanks again for taking time this morning to visit with us. Your years
of public service span more than three decades with a number of years
spent being involved with the nation’s space agency. Tell us
how you first became involved in the space program and how that evolved
into what you’re doing today.
good to be here, and I appreciate the chance to walk back in time.
I hope I can do so with some accuracy in my recollection. It’s
a long time; as you said, thirty years. I guess I would begin with
my association with Senator [Edwin Jacob “Jake”] Garn,
who really was the reason I got involved in space policy. That grew
out of some activity in college, when I was the Director of Intern
Programs for the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University
of Utah [Salt Lake City, Utah]. I provided interns to the City Commission
and to the State Legislature.
In that context I met Senator Garn—he was then Mayor Garn—and
I met with him to discuss the establishment of an Urban Fellowship
Program, we called it. It was patterned after a New York City Urban
Fellowship, but it was basically an internship in city government.
He liked it and introduced an ordinance, which I had drafted for him,
to make this an authorized thing for the City Commission to do.
Then the next year I graduated and went to work for the Model Cities
Agency as a health planner, with absolutely no background whatsoever
in that field. In the course of that I worked again with Senator Garn,
then Mayor Garn, who was the Chairman of the Board of the Model Cities
Agency, which was a HUD-funded, Housing and Urban Development funded,
program under their Model Cities Block Grant Program.
I ended up interacting with him and eventually met him in the context
of trying to get him to serve on a board of a new program we had started,
the Great Salt Lake Health Planning Council, which was going to be
a quasi-governmental entity with three public board members, and we
were asking him to join as one of them. After the meeting he asked
me to stay behind. He had been mayor now about a year, and he asked
me how much they paid me. I told him, and he said, “I was afraid
I said, “Well, why?”
He said, “I’m looking to have an assistant, and I thought
you might be interested.”
I thought, “Well, you know, money’s not everything,”
because that was more like what I wanted to do. We ended up talking,
and so in October of ’72—in fact, it was October 12th,
1972, and I remember that because it happens to be his birthday, the
Senator’s birthday. He often says he and [Christopher] Columbus
discovered America on the same day, some years apart.
I went to work as his assistant, Assistant to the Mayor, in Salt Lake
[City, Utah]. By the way, he appointed me to serve as his rep [representative]
on the board of my old organization, so I ended up becoming one of
my former boss’ board members. It was kind of interesting. About
a year later he was recruited by then-Chairman of the Republican National
Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush, who came out to recruit Jake
to run for the Senate. Senator Wallace [F.] Bennett of Utah was retiring
after twenty-four years in the Senate. That’s the current Senator
[Robert F.] Bennett’s father.
Jake agreed to run, and was elected in ’74, and then I came
back with him as his Chief of Staff in 1974. I actually came back
a little early. Senator Bennett offered to have me come back and be
his Chief of Staff—Administrative Assistant was the title more
commonly used back then—to learn the ropes and see what we needed
to do to get organized and build a staff. So I came back in November
Jake was sworn in early. Senator Bennett retired and resigned early
in December to allow Jake to get a little edge on seniority. He was
able to be appointed to fill out the unexpired term, and that gave
him a jump in seniority over his classmates, one of which was Paul
[D.] Laxalt. Actually, the only Republican classmate was Paul Laxalt
of Nevada. Both he and Jake were the only two Republicans elected
That was ’74, and then we started in earnest in ’75. One
of his committee assignments was then the Senate Space and Aeronautics
Committee. At that time NASA had its own authorizing committee. It
wasn’t buried in Commerce or someplace else. It had its own
standing committee in 1975. The other Utah Senator, Frank [E.] Moss,
interestingly enough, was chairman in that year, which is kind of
unusual to have two members from the same state on the same committee
like that, but that’s just the way it worked out.
That began Jake’s focus, and as his Chief of Staff, my focus
on aerospace subject matter. I don’t remember much about that.
I wasn’t really heavily involved in that first year. I do remember
Jake making a trip to Johnson Space Center [Houston, Texas]. He went
down there and ended up flying with Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford in the
Apollo-Soyuz simulator they had down there, totally—he said—destroying
both capsules. He was an old pilot, and he was a very accomplished
pilot, but he was used to if you let off the throttle, you slow down.
That didn’t happen in space, so he wasn’t able to reverse
thrust, and crashed everything. I remember that part about that experience,
but there’s not much else from that period that I was involved
In ’76 they reorganized the committee structure, and that committee
was dissolved, and that’s when NASA was folded into the Commerce,
Science, and Transportation Committee, and this subcommittee that
now exists was created. There’s slight variations over the years,
but that’s basically the way it’s been since ’76.
Jake was also on Banking Committee, and so he spent a lot of activity
there. He was also on Appropriations and was on the subcommittee that
handled NASA’s appropriations. In those days it was the Independent
Agencies Subcommittee. Then it became the VA [Veterans Administration],
HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee. It was actually in that
realm that Senator Garn got much more active in NASA-related issues,
because NASA’s budget and the appropriations came up for discussion.
The NASA authorizations, even back then, were somewhat spotty in terms
of—they weren’t an annual thing. It wasn’t until
1981 that I really got much more focused on NASA in the context of
Jake’s activity, and that was when I was invited to go attend
the launch of STS-1.
did you get invited for that?
invited, of course, the Senator and then his senior staff people.
Jake was then, I think he was then, ranking member of that subcommittee.
As his Chief of Staff, I was on their list to invite, and I went.
That did it. I saw that launch, and I was hooked. I attended the next
twenty-five launches in succession. In fact, if I wasn’t there,
they didn’t launch, it turned out, so I tried to convince NASA
that they had to take me down as a good luck charm. But that really
got my interest, obviously, and from that point on I became much more
focused on his committee activity.
Now, as a committee ranking member or Chairman of the Subcommittee
of Appropriations, he had a staff to do that work, and then he had
his personal staff, just like Senator [Kay Bailey] Hutchison has her
own personal staff. But I am her staffer for space things, for this
subcommittee. It depends on the personalities and preferences and
interests of the individual staffers, how they interact on subject
matter like that where you have a committee responsibility. With Jake,
though I was personal staff, I got very involved in NASA issues because
I was interested in it, but more importantly, it was a key interest
of Jake's as well, and as his chief of staff, my focuses tended to
mimic his focuses, as a matter of course.
A lot of times personal staffs just don’t want to be bothered
with it. They don’t want to spend the time. They have to worry
about the whole rest of the universe, and they don’t have time
to do it, and they rely on the committee staffer to handle that work
on behalf of the Senator. On the other hand, the committee staffers
don’t typically get involved in constituent-related activity
that heavily, because their job is to technically work for all the
In the case of our Appropriations Subcommittee, I just injected myself
and paid more attention to it. I didn’t really do the work.
We had a committee staffer to do that work. I went along just to keep
my nose involved in what was going on, because I knew it was a big
thing to Jake. So I, as I said, attended all the launches, but at
that point my involvement was not what I would call policy. It was
more voyeurism. [Laughs] I just loved it, and I wanted to be there.
Probably the NASA Public Affairs [Office] in those years would say
the same thing, that I just was always underfoot.
The good part of that was that we established relationships over time.
Something that I’ve always believed is not adequately done in
interagency actions with the Congress is the development of a partnership.
There’s too much of an adversarial kind of thing that happens.
The Constitution set it up that way. We are separate and equal branches
in government. But in the end, it’s all the taxpayers’
money, and we’re all trying to do things to serve the taxpayers.
I think there needs to be better cooperation, and I think it was that
personal interest and involvement that I had that allowed me to do
So over time I would get more involved when Senator Garn had policy
decisions that were larger than just budgetary issues. I would get
involved in those discussions, along with the committee staffers.
Sometimes—frequently, as a matter of fact—the committee
staffer would be interacting with NASA primarily on a budgetary basis
with Appropriations, and not always in a spirit of comradeship and
cooperation. We had staffers that sometimes really thought—they
took a budgetary, strictly a “green eyeshade mentality,”
as Jake would call it, somewhat like OMB [Office of Management and
Budget] and like the White House approach to things, and not see the
I would get calls from my friends at NASA, saying, “Hey, it’s
Wally Berger leaning on us for this or for that; can you help us?”
Wallace Berger was one of the staffers there when we first went on
the subcommittee, and then Stephen Kohashi was the staffer later.
Depending on what they were saying and doing, sometimes an appeal
would come back-channeled to me, and I would go to Jake and explain
the issue, and Jake would say, “I don’t know what Wally
(or Stephen’s) trying to do.” We’d get Wally or
Stephen in to Jake's office and we’d correct the situation,
which didn’t make me popular with Stephen or Wally. This actually
happened more with Stephen than it did with Wally Berger.
That was how I initially got involved in the policy issues dealing
with decisions at the congressional level about NASA. Then there were
other things. For example, unrelated to any of the budget, NASA legislative
relations, back in the eighties, had evolved into a structure that
was not unlike it is today. They had an Intergovernmental Relations
Associate Administrator position, and then they had Public Affairs
and Leg [Legislative] Affairs within that as subsets, so you had civil
servants doing the legislative affairs.
There were so many times that we would hit situations where we seemed
to be road blocked by those folks. They were insensitive to how the
Congress really worked, and they were really very bureaucratic. They
didn’t understand the Hill, because they’d never had experience
up here. They were just following some kind of guidebook or something
that didn’t have any foundation in reality. So we had a lot
of frustration in dealing with them.
This would have been probably in 1982, [’8]3, [’8]4 time
period, I guess; probably ’83. We ended up suggesting that they
change the structure, and make it a political position, an appointed
position, directly accountable to the [NASA] Administrator, because
what we ended up doing is we ended up bypassing them. If we needed
to get an issue resolved and we didn’t get help there, we’d
just call the Administrator. Well, the Administrator didn’t
really need to spend all that time involved in that.
A lot of these were issues, again, that were not really addressed
in the course of the appropriations deliberations. They were more
just fine-tuning the agency’s interaction with the Congress
in a way that would make it more readily apparent that they could
have better access to the congressional decision making and vice versa.
It would be a better two-way street, this whole thing about cooperative
activity that Senator Garn really taught me. That’s my view
now, but I learned it from him.
We interacted on a wide range of things, anything that was a hiccup
for the agency that Congress might have some role in, I’d get
phone calls, or I’d go down and meet, and they’d come
up and talk. In this case, they made that legislative liaison position
a political job, and then were looking for someone to fill it. I went
and got an old friend of mine who had been Senator [Barry M.] Goldwater’s
Chief of Staff early in the [President Ronald W.] Reagan administration
in ’81, and had gone down to the U.S. Agency for International
Development and was doing Leg Affairs for them. He was okay there,
but it just wasn’t his bailiwick. Barry Goldwater was his boss
and was very keen on aerospace and it was his personal interest as
well, and so I got in touch with Jack Murphy, who was the guy that
I’m referring to.
I had lunch with Jack and said, “I think you ought to go over
to NASA. They’re going to make that political, and you’ve
got to put your name in.” He ended up doing that, and got that
job, and of course, because of that relationship, Jack and I dealt
closely on a lot of issues, since I had recruited him for the job.
About that same time, Jake’s interest in NASA had peaked after
the STS-1 mission as well, and although he did not attend the launch,
his personal interest in it was in flying on the Shuttle one day himself.
I remember the way it came up initially. It was two or three days
after the mission, so it would have been April 17th, 18th, somewhere
in that time frame in 1981, and Alan [M.] Lovelace was the Acting
Administrator of NASA. Jim [James M.] Beggs and Hans Mark had not
yet even been nominated. Well, they may have just been nominated,
because I remember the administration did not nominate them until
after the successful Shuttle launch. They waited until after for whatever
It was right about that same time, and Lovelace was up presenting
the budget request to Jake’s subcommittee. He was Chairman then.
At that time the Republicans were in control of the Senate, and so
he was Subcommittee Chair. I remember him in his opening statement
congratulating NASA on the successful launch and mission of the Space
He said, “Of course, I have some questions. One of the questions
I have is one of the more serious ones. I want you to think more carefully
than maybe about the others in answering.” He is leaning forward,
and Jake has kind of a bald head and brooding eyebrows, and he can
really look intense and intimidating. He leaned forward, and of course,
Lovelace is shifting in his chair, waiting for this question, and
he goes, “When do I go?” [Laughs]
Of course, Jake was a pilot. He’d flown 10,000 hours at that
point in Air Force planes, and Lovelace’s response was something
along the lines of, “Well, you know the story about the 900-pound
gorilla. You can sit about anywhere you want on the bus.” So
it was kind of laughed off and chuckled about.
Then it was about two weeks later that Jim Beggs and Hans Mark came
in for their courtesy call. They’d been nominated, and they
came in for their courtesy call. Typically, that was when a nominee
is presented, the agency will bring the nominees up to meet the key
committee members that they’re going to be in a position to
either vote on their nomination or have some influence. Jake wouldn’t
be voting on their nomination, because at that time he was just in
Appropriations. That’s where he was, and they don’t handle
nominations; those are authorizing committee functions. Their courtesy
call was on the basis of his appropriations role.
They came in, and it was Jake and myself and Jim Beggs and Hans Mark
in the room. He started getting acquainted and having conversations,
and he recounted this story of what he had said to Lovelace. They
both had already heard about it, and Hans Mark piped up and said,
“But of course you should fly. The whole purpose of the Space
Shuttle is to have routine access to space. What better way to demonstrate
that than to fly a member of Congress?”
Well, that was all Jake needed to hear. Up till that point it had
been kidding and wishful thinking and that sort of thing, playfulness.
But when Hans said that, Jake took that as, “Okay, then I’m
going to pursue this.” Jack Murphy became the guy who was basically
given part of the task to, whenever the chance presented itself, remind
people that Senator Garn was really interested in flying on the Space
From that point on, they would also bring Shuttle crews in. After
a mission the crews would come to town, and they would do their thing
at Headquarters, and then they’d bring them to the Hill. They’d
bring them in to see the Senator, and we’d have all these meetings
with crews, and they’d talk about their mission. Every time
he’d remind them about this conversation and let them know that
he wanted to fly. It became kind of a litany. Everybody knew that
he had every intention at some point of trying to get on board the
he asked the question to Mr. Lovelace, was that a surprise to you?
was a surprise. Yes. Yes. In fact, I wasn’t in the hearing.
I heard about it. He came back and told me about it, laughing. That
became a standard thing, to remind people of his desire to fly on
the Shuttle. I’m trying to think of how to move from there.
I guess we can go ahead and paint in some of the details about his
flight, because that, I think, will set the stage for a lot of other
discussion and my involvement on space-related issues.
The way that flight finally came to pass was in early—I want
to say ’84—Beggs established an activity to look at the
space flight participant concept in some depth. John Denver [singer-songwriter]
always felt that he was in part responsible for that, because he too
wanted to fly and had been encouraging Beggs to let him fly on the
Shuttle at about the same time period. I think they can probably both
share some of the credit for that getting under way. Alan Ladwig is
probably a good source to find out about how, because he was involved
in that when it became the Teacher in Space Program.
They went through and evaluated all these different options for flying
people over a period of time, and it finally came out, I think it
was in August of ’84, that they presented the options to the
President, and he liked the idea of flying a teacher. There was an
education initiative that he was promoting, so he decided to announce
the decision (a) to fly nonprofessional astronauts on the Space Shuttle
in August, I believe of ’84, and that the first one of those
would be a teacher. Then that became the real push for the Teacher
in Space Program.
The same time that was being announced publicly, I got a call from
Jack Murphy privately saying, “This announcement is going to
be coming out in the next couple of days. Don’t worry. This
doesn’t affect the Senator’s flight. That’s separate.
He’ll be flying as a congressional observer as part of his oversight
capacity,” because by this time they had decided, “Okay,
we’re going to seriously consider making this happen.”
So that was August of ’84. The election came in November, though
Jake wasn't in cycle, but I think the White House or NASA wanted to
wait until after the election to make the announcement about his invitation
Then the morning after the election, I got a call from Jack Murphy
in my hotel. I was out in Utah, and this was about six in the morning.
Jack said, “Where is the Senator going to be at eight o’clock?”
I said, “Well, he’s going to be heading for the airport
to catch a plane back to Washington.”
“He’s going to get a call from Beggs. We’re going
to fax a letter for him, but the call will invite him to fly, and
the letter will formally do that, and we’ll fax that to you.”
I called Jake. I said, “Don’t leave for the airport till
you get a call from Beggs.” So Beggs called him and indicated
that they were going to be announcing that day an invitation to all
chairmen and ranking members of NASA’s committees to fly, not
just Senator Garn, but the chairmen and ranking members of both House
and Senate committees, and Jake was going to then announce that he
had verbally accepted that invitation.
So I remember it was kind of interesting. They announced it, and he
flew back here, and by the time he landed, the media had seen the
announcement, and Jane Pauley had gotten him lined up to come on the
Today show [NBC] the next morning. She said, “Senator, isn’t
it because of your chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee that
they’re inviting you to fly? Is that the only reason they’re
inviting you to fly?”
He said, “Of course. Why would you invite the Chairman of the
Agriculture Committee?” She thought she had him in a conflict
of interest or something, I guess, and he goes, “Yeah. So? And
your point is?” She didn't seem to know what to say to that
straightforward answer. So it was interesting and set the tone for
how he handled the media through the whole experience.
He was the only member that accepted the invitation at that point.
Now, Bill [Clarens William] Nelson was not Chairman or ranking at
that point on the House side, but he became that after the Congress
reorganized the following January, and Bill was on the House Subcommittee,
and then he accepted the invitation. That’s why Bill Nelson
flew later, because it was still on the strength of the initial invitation
that had been issued to all four of the Committee and Subcommittee
chairmen, House and Senate, Authorization and Appropriations.
Jake accepted the invitation, and that was November 8th of ’84,
and I think it was December 17th we ended up at JSC [Johnson Space
Center, Houston, Texas]. He was invited to come down and do some initial
medical examinations and discussions with some of the Flight Ops [Operations]
folks. Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin was then Center Director, and we
both flew down and had a meeting and it was decided that he would
commence his training in earnest in January. We decided that I would
go down and set up shop with him in January, so I could be sort of
a liaison between NASA and the Senator, as well as keep the link between
him and our office and his colleagues up here. That really put me
even more intimately involved in that whole thing, because I came
down here with him.
We showed up in early January, and he did the physical exam stuff,
and he started training, some of which I participated in as well.
I remember we were out having the classroom discussions preparatory
to the “vomit comet” flight, the weightless training aircraft
[KC-135], and doing the spinning chair and getting parachute orientation
and instructions. At that time I had this similar full beard, and
Jay [F.] Honeycutt indicated that I couldn’t go on that flight
because I couldn’t do the pressure chamber with the beard, and
the pressure chamber qualification was required in order to go on
the flight. They told me that about ten o’clock. I went home
at noon and shaved the beard and came back and did the pressure chamber.
[Laughs] Jay had gotten what he called the "short straw"
to be the liaison between JSC and Jake and me. I forget what position
Jay was in at that point. But, I ended up going on that flight experience,
which was, of course, tremendous. It only served to get me even more
enthused about the whole business.
Then as we landed from that flight, it was announced that he was being
assigned to the crew of STS 51-E. So that would have been January
17th, 18th, of ’85.
That afternoon we had a meeting with the crew. “Bo” [Karol
Joseph] Bobko was the commander. Don [Donald E.] Williams was the
pilot. Crew members at that point included Jeff [Jeffrey A.] Hoffman,
Dave [S. David] Griggs. Patrick [Pierre R.] Baudry was flying as the
French payload specialist [PS], and [Margaret] Rhea Seddon was the
other mission specialist. That was the crew, and we met with most
of them that afternoon.
After we all sat down, Jake said, “Look, I know how you must
feel, being saddled with this Senator, and I want you to know I’m
going to do everything I can to be a contributing member of the crew.
I’ve been in the military. I know chain of command. You’re
the commander, Bo. You tell me to jump, and I’ll ask you how
high. And I want to make it real clear my name is Jake and not Senator.
I’m not a ‘sir’ when I’m here. I’m a
Bo’s response was, “Yes, sir.” [Laughter]
I remember at the time Jeff Hoffman was probably the one who had the
most obvious hostility towards Jake flying. He wasn’t pleased.
And Jake understood that, that there would be those kinds of feelings,
and I think he knew that he would have to prove that he would carry
his load. There’s no doubt afterward. I know Jeff very well
as a result of all that, and he and all the crew became real fans
of Jake before they ever flew, and knew that he carried his weight,
as did many of the astronauts. Some of them were very critical, because
they were waiting in line for seats themselves. Not that Jake took
a seat that one of them would have taken, because none of them would
have wanted to fly as a payload specialist anyway.
We had quite a lot of controversy about that that we dealt with up
here. Ralph Nader even got in the game and filed a lawsuit with the
Secretary of the Senate to challenge his continued receipt of his
Senate salary while he was in training at Johnson Space Center and
all that kind of nonsense. It was in the media, and there were editorials
about it. “Cookie” [Alcestis R.] Oberg got in the act;
as Cookie can, inimitably.
Anyway, it was quite an experience, but I was able to go down there
and stay—in fact, I stayed more than he did, because he had
to run back for votes occasionally. But Bo really let me participate
a great deal. Not the actual training; I wouldn’t say I was
involved in the training, other than the weightless flight.
We went to TCDT, the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, at the
Cape [Canaveral, Florida]. I got to hang out at the 195-foot level
at the pad, while they did the emergency egress training, and jumping
in the little baskets to go down the wire. Of course, they didn’t
go down. They had a safety strap to restrain the baskets. They’d
jump in these carts, and then there was a thing; you just bang on
this lever that cut the main restraining rope that held the basket
there. That’s how you started down the guy wire. They would
have them get to the point of banging on it, and cut the main restraint,
but the additional safety restraint would hold them for the training
exercise. Sometimes they'd put a little slack in that, and for a split
second the crew wasn’t sure they weren’t going all the
way down that guy wire, which I don’t think any of them were
thrilled about doing.
I was able to sit in on a lot of the sessions in Building 9 at JSC;
again, not in the training, but around the edges, and it gave me a
better appreciation of what was going on and a better understanding
of what the crew was all about and who they were. So it was a great
that serviced you well in answering the Senator’s questions
when he wasn’t there, because you had this firsthand knowledge?
yes. Yes, and I was also I was able to help him understand other things
that he wasn’t able to see in the background preparations and
Center management. Although, he did spend a lot of time there. It
worked out that, because it was a new Congress starting up in ’85,
they do a lot of organizational stuff in the first two months, and
he got all his Banking Committee—he was Chairman of the Banking
Committee as well as being the VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee
Chairman—he got all that organized, and actually ahead of most
of the other committees, even though he was not physically here. He
was down in JSC because he took his training very seriously, and he
would not leave there to come up here unless he had an absolute essential
requirement to do something.
did they house you? Were you part of the astronaut corps office, or
did they have you in a different building?
physically, we were over in Building 32. That’s where they had
the Payload Specialist Office over there. It’s the one where
the big vacuum chamber is, in the front part of that, in those offices.
That’s where the Payload Specialist Office was, and that’s
where we were. We had one office, and then next door were Christa
[S. Christa McAuliffe] and Barbara [Morgan], and Greg [Gregory B.]
Jarvis, who was in that same office. We interacted with them a lot.
Jake had been assigned a “mother hen” astronaut, who was
his tutor, and that was Mike [Michael J.] Smith, who was the pilot
for [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L], of course. Mike was Jake's
mother hen throughout his training, and we got to know all of them
really well, shared offices with them.
I was housed there, too. I kept an office and a desk there. That separate
location for the payload specialists became one of the bones of contention
later in our report. I did a report for Jake to the Senate on this
experience subsequent to that, and in the course of preparing that,
one of our recommendations was better integration of payload specialists
and the Astronaut Office, because they were treated like secondhand
citizens. And they implemented that recommendation, and moved them
over into that Building 4 after the time. But that’s getting
ahead of the story.
All the way through the preparation for that mission, I was involved
in that. I became the unofficial "mascot," self-styled,
for the crew, since most of the crew didn’t have dedicated support
staff. They had their support staff in the Astronaut Office, but they
didn’t have somebody to do a lot of the logistics stuff, so
naturally I’m the little eager beaver, “Anything I can
do to help. I’m the little space cadet. I’ll run and get
sandwiches, whatever.” [Laughs]
So right up until the time of the launch, I was pretty heavily involved,
and I would keep Jake in touch with what was going on in the Senate.
We had, at that point, one of the first portable cell phones; it was
in a briefcase. The Senate made these available, and they were in
this beautiful leather briefcase, and it had a flap cut in the top
of it, and you could open that and bring an antenna out. You open
it up, and there’s this huge, heavy battery pack, and then over
here is the phone cradle and the phone. It was very, very primitive,
but it worked.
I remember coming and catching Jake to take a call or make a call
to Washington. He’d be in a sim [simulation], and they’d
come out of Mission Control [Room] and out there in that atrium between
the two buildings, and it was where we could get a signal. We’d
fire up this thing, and he’d be in touch with the Senator or
the leadership or whoever needed to talk to him, so he could stay
on top of what was going on there as well. I’d catch him over
in Building 9. I was able to get a signal if I got high enough up
on the platform leading into the fixed-base simulator, so that was
one of our spots, if we had to get him on the phone.
Then I ended up coming down with walking pneumonia about three weeks
before the flight, so when they were in the quarantine, I couldn’t
get near him. In those days the astronauts were inside the quarantine
building inside a trailer. They had trailers inside the buildings.
They had a trailer accommodating the crew inside, the primary crew,
and then they had a trailer for classes. Then they had another trailer
perpendicular to that, outside, for the PSs over there.
I would go over and have a stack of letters and papers that Jake needed
to look at and review, and I would go over and set it on the stairs
and knock on the door. Then I had to stay twenty-five paces away,
so I would pace off twenty-five paces. He’d come out and sit
down on the steps and go through the papers, and we’d yell across
this twenty-five-pace gap to communicate. It was kind of interesting.
I’m sure if anybody saw it from a distance, “What is going
on here?” [Laughs]
Unfortunately, that lasted all the way up until launch time when they
would go to the crew quarters. And then, of course, there was liason
with the family; I handled arrangements for the families. We did all
kinds of activities for our senate staff and family and friends. We
set up what we called the “Garn Ground Crew,” and we had
jackets and hats made up with that title embroidered on them, and
the Mission number. One of our lobbyists—in those days lobbyists
could do those things and not go to jail for them—they offered
to make flight jackets available, and they talked to this guy that
made knock-off blue flight jackets, and had them embroidered with
"Garn Ground Crew" on one side, with his personal patch,
and his crew patch on the other, and the US flag on one sleeve and
the NASA "worm" patch on the other sleeve.
I had designed a patch, because the payload specialists could have
their own patch in addition to the crew patch. Andy Truly, Dick [Richard
H.] Truly’s son, was a very accomplished graphic artist, and
we got him to help do the artwork for this patch from a basic conceptual
design sketch I gave him. Senator Garn’s patch had this stylized
picture of the Capitol Building, and it had his name at the bottom,
and then it had this banner around the top that had in Latin the words,
“Congressional Oversight and Medical Experimentation,”
in Latin. I got the Library of Congress to provide for me the Latin
equivalents to those terms.
Because he had made it clear he wanted to not just go, he wanted to
do something, they had trained him to do certain experiments, some
leg plethysmography experiments, which checks the girth of the leg
as you go into space to show the fluid loss, fluid transfer rate,
which is apparently really extreme and rapid. This is a case where
he literally on ascent would be pulling these Velcro straps and loops
tight. They all had measurements, and he’d be recording the
measurements all along the way, so they could see and actually trace
the narrowing of his legs and the movement of the fluid to his upper
torso, which they couldn’t get very many other astronauts to
do, but Jake was willing; again, whatever.
So that’s what the patch had, and it had an EKG [electrocardiogram],
because they used an electrocardiogram to monitor him on orbit and
check blood flow, etc., and it had a microscope symbol on it, as well
as a gavel for his chairmanship. So it was kind of a unique thing.
I was involved in getting all that done, so I just did all kinds of
Of course, there were a lot of guest operations activities for the
launch, and all the crew had family, and I sort of took a lot of that
over for them to make sure all the families of the rest of the crew
were all taken care of so that they could concentrate on the mission
and it wouldn’t burden the Astronaut Office, who normally did
that stuff. They would normally get somebody to do it, but I said,
“Ah, I’ll take care of that,” because I had a whole
staff at my disposal.
We did a lot of blending of responsibilities for all of those guest-related
operations, and then I interacted closely with the two escort officers,
the contingency officers, they called them, for the crew, which were,
interestingly enough, Mike [Michael L.] Coats and [Charles] Lacy Veach.
That’s how I got to know Mike real well, and Lacy, during the
preparations and activities for that launch.
So the launch came and went, and during the mission I was back at
JSC and spent almost every waking moment of the mission in Mission
Control. I had a chance to design another patch there, because on
that mission they launched a Hughes [Aircraft Company] SYNCOM [IV-3,
synchronous communication, also known as LEASAT-3] satellite. They
launched a couple. They had a [TELESAT-l (ANIK C-1) communications
satellite] and then a SYNCOM. The [TELESAT-l] had a PAM [payload assist
module] system motor, and it’s what they called a springboard
launch, as I recall. It spun up and then ejected the satellite out
and so it was spinning as it left the cradle. It went up and eventually
when far enough away from the orbiter it fired its PAM engine and
went on up to its orbit.
The Hughes satellite was a "Frisbee" launch. It’s
in a cradle, and then it’s launched out like this, spun out,
like a Frisbee. [Gestures] When it comes out of its cradle, there’s
a rocker arm that is compressed when the thing is in the cradle, and
when it’s free of the cradle, the rocker arm comes out, and
that initiates the sequence to start the satellite, to deploy its
antenna and get itself fired up and powered up and ready to launch
its own motor to take it up to its orbit.
In that case it didn’t activate. The antenna never came up,
so they knew there was something wrong. They ended up eventually deciding
to re-rendezvous with the satellite, so it was the first unplanned,
untrained rendezvous in Shuttle history. They backed away and got
all the procedures uploaded.
It was really fascinating, because they were trying to figure out
how to resolve the problem in the Mission Management Team [MMT]. I
think Glynn [S.] Lunney was the Chairman of the Mission Management
Team for that mission, and they met there down below Mission Control
or back around the corner from the Mission Control Room. I sat in
on all those meetings where they tried to evaluate the options for
how do we try to fix this. They came up with all sorts of ideas, and
of course, all they had to work with was what was in the cabin and
on board, as far as tools and materials to work with.
They had theorized that it was the rocker arm, because they had enough
visual on the satellite that they could see that the rocker arm wasn’t
fully deployed. It was apparently snagged, this little hook, arm,
literally, just not quite out, not fully deployed. So they figured
out that the answer was to try to somehow get up there and jerk that
thing open. They came in to the Mission Management Team with all of
these contraptions that they had modeled from replicas of what they
knew was on orbit, and they finally came up with this flyswatter,
two different types of flyswatter. One literally had this piece of
plastic on the end of this tool that actually, the astronauts use
to help flip switches that are beyond their reach when they're strapped
into their seats.
So they had that tool, and then they had, of course, duct tape. The
flight manuals had Velcro plastic covers, so they had taken the covers
off one and cut them into the shape, with these holes of the flyswatter,
literally, with two holes in it. The idea was they would put that
on the end of the arm, and then get the arm up next to the spacecraft,
which is still rotating slowly, and line it up to try to snag that
as it came by, as that hook came by, snag it and pull the rocker arm
out so it would be fully extended and, hopefully, activate the start-up
sequence to boost the satellite to its orbit.
Then the backup tool, which they ended up putting on the other side
of the end effector of the arm, was one that had, instead of using
the Velcro plastic, they fashioned two loops of wire so that they
could drag the wire along the side of the satellite as it rotated
and try to snag the rocker arm that way. But they had to be careful
to have it be something that wouldn’t damage the solar cells.
The solar cells were on the outside. They weren’t on an expandable,
like a wing-type solar cell. They were just attached to the surface
of the satellite, and this little rocker arm came out of a hole in
those solar cells, so they had to be real careful.
It was interesting to watch how they developed all this, and finally
they would bring in these samples in the MMT and show how they would
plan to do it, and the MMT would say, “No, that’s ridiculous.
Go try something else. Thanks for sharing.” Or they would say,
“Okay, yeah, we like that,” and then they would send that
over to Building 9 and have another crew of astronauts rehearse it,
They had built a mockup of the satellite in Building 9 and had the
mock satellite and that little rocker arm assembly, and had the mock-up
rotating at the same speed that they knew the satellite was rotating.
They would literally get somebody out there and try these things to
see how they worked. That’s how they finally came up with the
approach. It was fascinating to watch, this whole process, and how
they tested everything on the ground. They put together the checklist,
step 1 through—maybe through 6,000, whatever, to make this work,
then they uplinked all that.
There’s a great picture of the crew with the—at that time
they used this kind of teleprinter, like a big fax machine with a
continuous roll of paper. They sent up all these checklists, and there’s
this roll of paper that’s just snaking all around the middeck.
Don Williams is there, and he’s pulling this stuff off, and
they had to cut it down and put it into books, and then for both the
rendezvous and for prox ops, proximity operations, and the actual
EVA [extravehicular activity] procedures that Dave Griggs and Jeff
Hoffman then put in place to go out and attach these new-built tools.
Then the procedures for Rhea Seddon, who was operating the Remote
Manipulator System to go up and get close to it, and Don Williams
and Bo to do the rendezvous. It was really complex.
I got to watch how NASA adapted to that challenge. There was no great
danger or risk, but they were fixing an anomaly. They had a satellite
they couldn’t get into orbit. That was a great experience for
me to see that internal decision-making process and the thoroughness
with which it was undertaken, and then to get to watch it actually
be put in place, sitting in the Mission Control; see them succeed
in getting up there, rendezvousing successfully, and getting up and
actually flipping the switch, only to find that wasn’t the problem.
It was successful, in that they accomplished everything they needed
to do, but they didn’t get the satellite restarted. That’s
something that Joe Henry [Engle] had to go and do the following August
in his mission. It was interesting, because they landed the next week,
and Jake’s sister and brother-in-law were in town, and we took
them over to Building 9, and there’s Joe in there, measuring
that big satellite, because he’s getting ready to propose and
pull together a mission planning to go up there on his mission in
August and fix that thing, which eventually they did and he did, and
“Ox” [James D. A.] van Hoften relaunched it by throwing
it back into space with enough rotation to stabilize it so it's onboard
engine could take it on to its orbit. It was pretty amazing.
It was a great experience for me to see that, to be able to watch
all that firsthand, behind the scenes, in the MMT, which were normally
not widely attended, or at least publicly visible. NASA was very good
to give me unfettered access to the whole process, and be the eyes
and ears for Jake on the ground. George [W. S.] Abbey and Jay Honeycutt
had sort of taken me under their wing, and I got to go on STA [Shuttle
Training Aircraft] flights at the Cape with George. George and I would
go ride on the STA flights, and Charlie [Charles F.] Bolden was flying
his first [STS] 61-C, and I got to have the experience of flying on
the STA at the Cape on doing approaches and landings, with him at
the controls, which was an incredible experience.
I’ve got some incredible movies from that. I had my Super-8
movie camera with me. The STA aircraft have a middle seat that pops
down right behind the two front seats, the pilot and the copilot,
for the flight engineer. Of course, the engineer had to be in that
seat, but I was able to loop around and borrow the harness that comes
out of the ceiling and get situated so I could zoom in the camera
on the altimeter as we’re going down. I got these great movies
of the altimeter just going [imitates sound]. The hundreds are in
a row vertically, and it’s a blur. Then you see the dial just
going like this [gestures] as you’re coming down, because you’re
in such a steep approach.
Then I had shots out the window, looking out at a cloud cover. There
was about a thousand feet of clouds at seven thousand feet, so seven
thousand feet was the minimum you could have and still land, and this
was about a thousand feet deep. So we’re up starting at about
forty thousand feet, and you’re looking down, and you see this
layer of clouds, and I’ve got the camera running as they reverse
thrust, and you start dropping. You’re just going down, and
on this movie you see this cloud that’s coming up like this
[gestures], and then boom, you’re through them. A thousand feet
of clouds, you’re just through them like that. Then you can
see the ground, and you’re thankful to see that it’s still
quite a ways away. It was quite an experience to do that and just
to see the Orbiter and the processing and everything with the crew.
It was a great experience.
you there for the landing when he came back?
I was there for the landing. They blew a tire. Too much brakes and
blew a tire, and that was interesting, and a little startling of course
when it happened and this puff of smoke shot out from the tires just
before they stopped rolling out. I was also there when the crew came
back in to greet the families in crew quarters.
were well enough they let you get near him?
although I guess by that time they didn’t care if I got near
him. Yes, if you get sick then, that's okay; it's not a mission impact.
much contact were you able to make with him while he was on the mission?
at all, really. If I’d needed to, I could have, and it was kind
of funny, because we were accused of keeping in touch, because during
the mission they had a call from President Reagan, and there was a
vote on the floor on the Panama Canal Treaty coming up the week after
Jake’s flight was planned. Of course, we knew it was coming.
Those things are often planned in advance up here, and you pretty
much have a good idea. But when, in the course of this conversation,
the President said something about Jake and looking forward to his
return and added, “We need your help back here on the Earth
on this Panama Canal vote.”
Jake said, “I’m looking forward to being there and voting
with you on Tuesday, Mr. President.”
Just because he was that specific, the big question was, “How
did he know? Do you guys have a secret channel or do you have some
way to talk to him?”
“No. He knew in advance.” He remembers those things. But
I didn’t use any e-mail connections or packet messages. There
was just no reason to during the mission.
We didn’t have any contact during the flight. I lived it vicariously
in Mission Control, which worked out well, because afterwards he was
asked by many to write articles and give speeches about his experience.
Of course, he could talk about it wonderfully, but he always had me
do the writing, and I ended up writing it as if I was there, from
his eyes. I’d heard about it so much, and I had watched so much
of it first hand, at least from the ground, in Mission Control.
When we got back and landed at JSC—they landed on a Thursday
at the Cape, and we got back to JSC on Friday. Then they had the weekend
and into the next week while they did their debriefings. We had an
apartment where we had a suite, a two-bedroom apartment.
His sister and brother-in-law came down and visited, and family visited,
and they all wanted to hear about it. For hours on end I’d hear
everything about what it was like, what it felt like, and what he
did. Because I had been there watching it, I could even fill in the
timeline, because in some ways it was a blur for him. I could say,
“No, that was before the rendezvous, and after, and what were
you doing here.” I really became very much caught up in that
whole story, where I may have begun to believe I had been there. I
don’t know. [Laughs] It was like I had been, and I could write
about it as if I had been.
But it was a great experience. I really liked JSC, so I stayed down
there as much as I could for the next six months to work on his Senate
report. I found every excuse I could to go down there and stay as
long as I could—go as often and stay as long—and do interviews
with Flight Directors, with management, with other crew members, with
whoever I could to flesh out issues.
Issues like using commercial, off-the-shelf technology for cameras
versus having to go to the expense of special designs, and why couldn’t
you just flight-qualify existing designs, those kinds of issues, to
try to find ways to economize. Questions. The follow-up, of course,
the rendezvous and docking of the mission, which was all done firsthand,
real-time; what were the lessons learned from that that needed to
be captured, that kind of thing.
Carolyn [L.] Huntoon was Deputy [Center Director] at the time and
she was the one that wanted to review the report. I let her review
it when I had a draft. We argued about content, because some of it
they weren’t as happy to see us saying. But I explained that
this was congressional oversight now; I'm wearing a new hat. I’m
not just a leading member of the fan club. I also have a responsibility
to examine and find anything that I felt Jake should report to the
Senate as a result of his experience. That included things like the
payload specialist activity I mentioned. It included recommendations
about giving the crew more support for ground operations, guest operations
at launch, because they literally were left to their own devices to
come up with whoever could help. A lot of different issues like that.
It was quite an extensive report.
It included, in addition to these kinds of findings and recommendations,
it also had the mission story; the day-by-day account, and that’s
where, again, I wrote this basically in first person, what it was
like day by day. And all of that was put together in a report to the
Senate Subcommittee, and therefore a report to the Congress, which
never actually got submitted. It was in final form and I had just
completed the final draft and was gathering together the supporting
documentation for appendices—samples of the Flight Data File
and all that sort of thing—when Challenger happened. So it got
lost in the dust of that tragic experience.
space-related issues were happening in the early eighties. One, of
course, being Ronald Reagan’s announcement at the State of the
Union [address] that he wanted to have a Space Station. The other
was a Paine Commission Report [Pioneering the Space Frontier, May
1986]. Can you talk about those and how some of those affected issues
that were going on as well?
The Space Station, I guess, would be the first place to start. As
you probably know, one of the first things that both Jim Beggs and
Hans Mark said back in their confirmation hearing in ’81 was
when Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt, who was then Senator Schmitt, was
Chairman of that subcommittee, this one that I’m now sitting
on as a part of staff-wise, asked them what’s the next step
for NASA after the Shuttle launch had been initiated, and where do
we go from here? They talked about Shuttle becoming operational, but
they also said the next logical step would be a Space Station.
That initiated the efforts at NASA to study more aggressively Space
Station development, something that NASA had been doing, but not really
visibly and openly, for years. Space Station was part of the original
1959 long-range plan of NASA, and, of course, was superseded, in effect,
by the leap—Apollo was leapfrogged over the Space Station in
the planning by President [John F.] Kennedy. But that’s another
story we’ll get into.
But the point is that NASA never gave up the idea of a Space Station.
They tried to turn Skylab into a Space Station by trying to expand
it and extend it, and, in fact, would have, had the Shuttle not gotten
behind in development. One of the first missions of the Shuttle was
to have been to refurbish Skylab and reboost it, and they never were
able to carry that out because it came down in ’79, two years
ahead of the Shuttle’s first launch.
NASA began in earnest working on Space Station after Jim Beggs and
Hans Mark were confirmed. That was not really very visible from ’81
to the end of ’83, to us. It was mostly an internal thing. They
let us know they had this Space Station Task Force. We knew that was
going on; but I didn’t pay much attention to it in that time
period, so I didn’t really follow it in any detail.
The Paine Commission was the result of legislation in ’84 which
came after the announcement of the Space Station. Space Station announcement
as a policy was on January 25th in 1984. That’s when the State
of the Union Address took place in which Reagan announced that tasking
and decision and gave NASA the challenge to, within a decade, to build
that Space Station, taking a leaf out of Kennedy's historic challenge
on Apollo. Again, we noticed that, and it was interesting, but there
wasn’t a big thing. We just knew that that was something NASA
was working on.
The desire to have the Paine Commission do a review was to get a better
fix of how the Space Station or anything fit in the long-term plan.
There hadn’t really been a long-term vision for space exploration,
so this commission was established to try to do that, and that was
in ’84. In ’85 they did hearings around the country. We
were, again, aware of those. They had one in Salt Lake City, as I
recall, and we knew that was going on. I knew Marcia Smith, who had
been tasked to be the Executive Director of that, but we really didn’t
focus on it in ’85, because we were so heavily focused on his
mission in late ’84 and ’85 and this whole report thing
I was describing to you.
We really didn’t have much direct involvement in that evolution
and that activity, and were just looking forward to it being released.
We knew it was coming out. We’d seen some advance draft language
from it. I had seen some videotapes of some of the hearings, but was
just looking forward to the report, which was due to come out in early
1986. It went to the printers about the same time Challenger happened,
so it was released in April or May of ’86.
Unfortunately, because of Challenger, it never really got looked at.
It was really a shame, because it was this humongous, fifty-year plan
of the future, and it just put everything into perspective, and it
was beautifully done, and it was basically wasted and lost, until
Sally [K.] Ride did her report to try to take excerpts out of that
that could then be applied to the situation we found ourselves in
after Challenger. So, yes, those things were going on in that time
frame, but they weren’t something that the Congress was—the
Congress had initiated them and was waiting for the response. There
hadn’t been a lot of involvement that I was aware of, at least,
or a part of, and I don’t believe the Appropriations Committee
I don’t really know how much the authorizers were involved in
during that same period of time. Looking at it now, my guess is they
were probably much more interested and active in reviewing that than
I would have been aware of, not being part of the authorizing side,
because I remember at the same time the Office of Technology Assessment
was doing a review of Space Stations in general. That was back in
’83 and [’8]4. It started in ’83 and into ’84,
but this is stuff I know retroactively in a historical sense; I wasn’t
aware of at the time. I now know those things were going on, but they
weren’t a part of my world at the time.
were you when you heard about Challenger?
was at home, actually. Again, the crew, as I’ve mentioned before,
were friends, and we had gotten to know them very well. Shared offices
with Christa and Barbara and Greg, and Mike Smith had been Jake’s
mother hen, and we knew Dick [Francis R. Scobee].
Jake and I had actually gone down to the launch. This was when it
was going to launch on Sunday morning as it was first scheduled to
launch. In fact we were down there on Saturday night when they were
looking at the clouds and the weather forecast and trying to decide
whether to go do the tanking. Mike Smith had invited us to go have
breakfast. We were going to have breakfast in the crew quarters, so
we had gotten our physicals and we had gotten our clearances. We were
healthy; I didn’t have walking pneumonia this time. So we were
going to have breakfast with them, and then they’d go off to
the pad and launch.
But this weather was coming in, and they were trying to decide, also,
if the Vice President was going to come down, and they wanted to give
him as much notice as possible. This was for Sunday. But the key thing
was the weather, and they finally decided that the weather looked
iffy right at launch time, so they scrubbed the tanking Saturday night.
I think I was over at the hotel lobby there about ten-thirty or eleven.
I think the tanking was scheduled for midnight, and about ten-thirty,
eleven, they scrubbed it.
I called the crew quarters and I spoke to Mike Smith and Dick Scobee,
and gave them our condolences on the delay, and wished them well,
expressing regret we'd have to miss the crew breakfast, because we
had to leave the next day. We were down there with Bill [William R.]
Graham. We’d flown down with him on the NASA plane. I forget
exactly why, but the plane had to go back the next day, so we needed
to fly back, because I remember it kind of being ironic. The way it
worked out, we lifted off from the skid strip or the Shuttle Landing
Facility at about the same time the launch had been scheduled, and
the weather was fine—we could see the front coming as we got
up there. It was just north. But it probably would have been okay
to have launched on that Sunday morning, which, had they done so,
probably would not have had the failure, because it was a beautiful
We were back here in D.C, and Congress was not yet in session, so
we were on recess hours like now. I was at home, watching it on NASA
TV on Tuesday when they lifted off. I was watching it, and I, of course,
had been to twenty-five launches, so I knew pretty much everything
to expect. I knew what to expect about every stage in the launch,
and immediately knew something bad was happening, and then I could
really see what happened. I immediately called Jake, who was also
home and in the shower at the time. I told his wife, Kathleen, and
said, “We just lost the crew and the Challenger.” She
went and got him, and I told him what had happened.
He said, “Okay, meet me in the press gallery. I’m heading
We both went in to the office, and he immediately called the press
together. We tried in the meantime to get all we could information-wise,
so that we knew what happened. But he was focused on wanting to say,
“Look, we need to find the problem, fix it, and get back flying
again.” That was his main message, within an hour of the accident,
that he wanted to stress.
He did that about noon that day, that morning, and then he got a call,
we got a call from somebody in the White House wanting to see if he
would fly down with Vice President Bush and John [H.] Glenn [Jr.].
They had invited Jake and John Glenn to go down with the Vice President
to see the families. So they went out to Andrews [Air Force Base,
Maryland] and went down to the Cape to visit with June [Scobee] and
I'll never forget Jake's description of that meeting. The Vice President,
and John Glenn and Jake walked into the room where the family members
were gathered, literally only a matter of a few short hours after
suffering their terrible personal loss. June Scobee, as the Commander's
wife, took charge of the meeting and spoke on behalf of the families.
She said that, above all, they knew their lost loved ones would want,
more than anything, to see the mission continue; to keep the dream
of human space flight alive, and not to let the tragedy of their loss
stop America from reaching to the heavens. It brought Jake to tears
that evening when they returned from Florida and he recounted that
meeting to me.
We started the process of trying to make sure that everything was
done to find out what happened, and everything was done for the crew
and their families, and stayed very, very heavily involved in that
whole process the whole time; watched closely the Rogers Commission
[Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger
Accident, February 3, 1986] and stayed on top of that and got briefings
regularly from NASA on what they were finding. I went down to the
Cape. Bob [Robert L.] Crippen, once the recovery effort was complete,
took me down and showed me everything they’d found.
They still had the remnants of the SRB [solid rocket booster] out
in the place where they were decontaminating them. They were getting
the residue fuel off of them so that they could be looked at to help
determine the sequence of events. It was a completely numbing experience
for me to see these large broken, twisted segments of the boosters,
and to be looking at the very spot where the burn-through occurred,
which had sent the jet flame, which weakened and caused the failure
of the rear mounting strut for the right Solid Rocket Booster, which
caused the booster to become unhinged at the base and tip into the
external tank near the top at a point just ahead of the orbiter cockpit.
Mike Smith, in the right seat, had a split second to see that movement
and say "uh-oh," followed immediately by the burst of static
and loss of signal as the vehicle began to break apart.
we’ll go back to the Challenger, I guess. History has pretty
much recorded everything that happened there. I can’t shed much
light on that, other than it was something that profoundly affected
both of us from a personal as well as professional viewpoint. We felt
very strongly, and Jake did especially, and I just followed his lead.
He set the tone. I was his staffer. He was asked to do so many speeches
and memorials that I ended up doing a lot of those that he couldn’t
do, and so we both really got very much into conveying the message
he had received from June, for the crew families. That’s the
thing that Jake focused on, was that June Scobee and the others, the
first thing they wanted to make clear to the Vice President and Jake
and John Glenn was, “This mission must go on, and the best way
to honor our families is to not stop space flight.”
That became Jake’s theme and his focus from then on, and everything
we did was geared to make sure that happened. That’s why we
watched the investigation closely, because we didn’t want to
see a rush to judgment. We didn’t want to see throwing the baby
out with the bath water. We wanted to find ways to fix it and move
on, and that was the message. Jake felt very strongly about that,
and every opportunity he had, he said that.
He had a lot of opportunities, because he had flown, and people knew
that he could speak from experience and having been exposed to the
same risks, the same dangers, the same circumstances. He could have
very easily said, “Well,” all bluster and fuss, “I
wish they’d told me it was that dangerous.” Instead, his
message was he knew how dangerous it was, and they had told him how
dangerous it was. He knew, and he was a volunteer. It really helped,
I think, a lot to give him credibility as a spokesperson in that context,
the accident, having been there and done that. Same with Bill Nelson,
who, of course, had flown three weeks before on [STS] 61-C.
he encounter a lot of his colleagues or other folks on the [Capitol]
Hill that had questions of whether or not to shut the space program
down at that time?
had people like Bill [E. William] Proxmire. There were people who
questioned it, but not very many, and they didn’t question it
for long. Jake could be fairly persuasive, even with his colleagues.
They had to have a real solid reason why it shouldn’t be done,
and none of them had one. So he didn’t really have that much
opposition, and there was never any organized effort to stop the Shuttle
Program. There never was anything like that. Had anyone had the temerity
to suggest that, I think Jake would have physically wrestled them
down, let alone speak them down and vote them down.
There wasn’t really a lot of concern; that was more a media
issue. Jake felt very strongly about restoring and replacing Challenger.
In fact, he actually was responsible for that happening. It was probably
not until August of that year, of ’86, that the White House,
President Reagan, finally said and made it official that NASA should
build a replacement Orbiter. But he didn’t provide any money.
So Jake and Ted [Theodore F.] Stevens got together. Ted Stevens was
Chairman of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations at the time.
Jake was Chairman of the VA-HUD. They agreed to take $2 billion out
of the allocation for defense and move it over to the allocation for
VA-HUD and make it available to NASA to pay for a replacement Orbiter.
In fact, they had discussed it all summer, and staff members Stephen
Kohashi and Sean O’Keefe for Stevens. Sean was the staffer for
Ted Stevens, and Stephen Kohashi was our staffer. They had worked
out all the details and then were just waiting to sort of get the
final “go” on the floor, in fact they were on the floor
of the Senate with the bill, and Jake was in the hospital. He had
just the day before given a kidney to his daughter, and so he had
basically been sliced in half. They literally cut you from stem to
stern and take a kidney out. He was recovering from that in the hospital,
and Ted called him from the floor, basically the cloakroom, and said,
“Are we going to do this deal?”
Jake asked him to do it, and they did it. Now, it turns out in the
end that that bill, just like our bill this year, didn’t get
passed in that form, but the money got reserved to get added. They
added, actually, a little bit more to it, about $3 billion for recovery
efforts for that. But it included upfront funding for [Space Shuttle]
Endeavor, what became Endeavor, which then, as a result of that upfront
funding, came in six to eight months ahead of schedule and about $300
million under budget, which is kind of an interesting lesson in multi-year
funding and the consequences.
It’s also interesting that, in a wrinkle of time, that now,
of course, I’m working for Senator Hutchison, and she and Senator
[Barbara A.] Mikulski have joined in an effort to add a billion dollars
to NASA’s money to reimburse NASA for [Space Shuttle] Columbia,
because NASA was not given any money to pay for the recovery costs.
And of course, our precedent that we’re citing for that is that
experience with Challenger. So that was ’86.
changed during that time period regarding commercial satellites.
was the decision that Reagan made to remove commercial satellites
from the Shuttle and DoD [Department of Defense] satellites.
We weren’t heavily involved in that. We were focused more on
the number of Orbiters and having the replacement Orbiter issue. We
didn’t really get involved in the other; at least, I didn’t.
That was ’86, and then in the next two years we monitored progress
in recovery, and I wasn’t very heavily involved in any of that.
I was going through some stuff personally. They weren’t flying,
so I wasn’t going down to launches, so for that hiatus I was
out of pocket. I went back to the Cape for the return to flight, for
STS-26, and I was there for that in September of ’88.
Once they got flying again, I got more active, but again, not involved
really in paying a lot of attention even to Station, which at that
time was now back on track in terms of design. Refinements were being
made. I know that during that period our staffer was pushing back
and forth on issues of robotics, and there was the dispute over the
Industrial Space Facility at that time in ’88.
That’s when I had some initial awareness and probably had one
meeting with Courtney [A. Stadd] back in those days, but I don’t
think either one of us even remember much about that. It’s only
afterwards when we piece together where we’ve been that we’ve
said, “Oh, yeah. I remember that,” because the Industrial
Space Facility was a pretty hot topic. I do remember Jake getting
fairly exercised about that, because he was concerned that it was
going to be a diversion from money to the Space Station at a time
the Station had already been rephased and restructured; this is all
previous to it being redesigned in ’93. He was concerned that
it was going to be a distraction from Space Station.
I think now he would look at it differently, see it as a complement
to it. But in those days you had the same problem you always have,
I guess, and that’s limited money, and he wanted the focus kept
on getting Space Station up and running as soon as possible. He very
reluctantly accepted the rephasing, where they were going to do an
initial human-tended approach, and then evolve to a permanent human
occupation later, do it in phases. I remember he was reluctant to
It’s funny, I read later that was supposedly a proponent of
robotics ahead of human, because his staffer had gotten him to have
language in that demanding that NASA do a study on the use of robotics
for Space Station. The whole point was he just wanted that to be a
catalyst to use to encourage efforts to help enhance robotics, but
he never saw that as a supplanting of the human crews for Station.
[Howard E.] McCurdy missed that nuance in his book, and so he characterizes
Jake as promoting robotics instead of humans, which he never would
do. He not only wanted humans there, he wanted himself to be one of
them, whether it’s on a Shuttle or Station or whatever.
good to know.
gets us through the post-Challenger and return to flight and up to
’90, and that’s basically when I left. Jake had decided
not to seek reelection. Before you leave the Hill, it’s best
not to leave when everybody else is leaving. [Laughs] Kind of like
insider knowledge; you need to know. So I left. I actually ended up
going to NASA on an interim basis for a year to work as a NASA consultant
to the [Space Exploration Initiative (SEI)] Synthesis Group, which
had been set up at that point to evaluate long-term exploration options
for NASA, under the leadership of General Tom Stafford.
That reminds me, we can go back to the ’89 announcement of the
Space Exploration Initiative, because I do remember that as being
a major, major event. We were there at the [Smithsonian National]
Air and Space Museum [Washington, D.C.]. My parents were in town visiting,
and we were all there at the twentieth-anniversary celebration of
the lunar landing over at the Air and Space Museum, and that’s
when President Bush, 41 announced the Space Exploration Initiative,
the return; going to the Moon and then Mars, initiative of that day.
That had gotten started. In fact, we were there, went to that event,
at the Air and Space Museum, and then attended a thing at the White
House afterwards with all the astronauts, to pat each other on the
back and reaffirm that, “We’re going back to the Moon
and then to Mars.” It was great. So that was a significant event,
to see that happen, and then a year later I left Jake, to go to work
in the planning aspects of that, actually trying to figure out how
to devise the architectures, mission architectures, to make that happen
in Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford’s Synthesis Group.
That was an incredible experience. It was like drinking out of a fire
hose. We had a fairly limited period of time to come up with four
different, separate architectures for how you might structure these
missions, and we had briefings from everybody. For about six months
we did nothing from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but have briefings; a non-stop
succession of hour-long sessions with experts in every aspect of such
a set of missions.
People from Bechtel came in and showed us how they would move regolith
around on the surface of the Moon with tractors and specially designed
vehicles, and build habitats and protect them from radiation. We had
every rocket designer, every propulsion system; we had people talk
about the psychology of long-duration space flight. It was just nonstop
and endless, and we divided up in teams and came up with four different
I felt like, “What am I doing here?” because these are
all rocket scientists, and these are engineers and designers and technicians,
guys like Doug [Douglas R.] Cooke. George Abbey was the Director of
that, Executive Director. I went to him, and I said, “What am
I supposed to do here? I don’t know.”
He said, “You’re supposed to ask the dumb questions.”
I said, “Well, good.” Basically, knowing George, I knew
he meant that I was there as a non-engineer. I was supposed to ask
the non-engineering questions, like “Well, why are you doing
he the reason you were involved? Is he the one that brought you down
there to work on that?
actually, it was Dick Truly. Dick was then the [NASA] Administrator,
and I had spoken to him and said, “I’m leaving Jake's
office, and I’m going to be doing something. I’m not sure
what. If you’ve got anything, let me know.”
He was in Paris [France], actually, and he sent a note to whoever
was his Chief of Staff and said, “Get Bingham in to the Synthesis.”
I guess he had talked to Tom, and they were looking to fill out the
Synthesis Group. I got the call, and they needed me to come ask dumb
questions, so I did real good at asking dumb questions. I’m
very good at that. So it was very much a taking thing for me. I got
a lot more out of that than I gave to the effort.
Towards the end of that as we were wrapping that up, I got asked if
I would be part of a proposal to JSC, to be part of a team that SAIC
[Science Applications International Corporation] was putting together
with Hernandez Engineering to do some consulting and strategic planning
for the New Initiatives Office down at Johnson Space Center. I let
them include me in their proposal, and they won their proposal, and
I ended up taking that job and moving to Houston in ’90 to start
that, and that got me back to God’s country and in the space
world, as far as that was concerned.
glad that’s on the recorder, because I’m not quite sure
people would consider Houston “God’s country.”
within the space world, it felt that way to me. [Laughter] I grew
up in the "real" God’s country out in Utah and Idaho.
Yes, most of the people think of Houston in August as the other end
of that spectrum, that particular spectrum.
you want to stop here? Is this a good place to pick up when we come
back, that you took a shift from government service work to private
sector. If that works for you, that’s fine, yes.