NASA at 50 Oral History
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 10 January 2008
Today is January 10th, 2008. We are at the NASA Johnson Space Center
in Houston, Texas to speak with Bill Gerstenmaier for the NASA at
50 Oral History Project. Mr. Gerstenmaier serves as NASA's Associate
Administrator for Space Operations. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright
assisted by Sandra Johnson. In preparation for the space agency's
50th anniversary, the NASA Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] History
Office commissioned this oral history project to gather thoughts,
experience and reflections from NASA's top managers. Information recorded
today will be transcribed and placed in the history archives at NASA
Headquarters where it can be accessed for future projects. Thanks
again for providing us time, especially since you're on travel to
Houston and not in your normal office at Headquarters. If we could
begin today by you briefly describing your background and how you
came to your current position?
I guess I'll start at the very beginning, because it all somehow relates.
I graduated from Purdue University [West Lafayette, Indiana] in 1977.
I first went to work at the [NASA] Lewis Research Center, now the
Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I worked in the Wind Tunnel
and Flight Division up there. I did supersonic wind tunnel work in
the wind tunnels, and as part of that job I had the privilege of working
on a couple projects for the early [Space] Shuttle Program. They were
the Air Data Probe Calibration Wind Tunnel Test, which is the Shuttle
has two air data probes that come out at Mach 3.5 and they're used
to determine the air speed and angle of attack of the Shuttle as it
comes down to land.
We provided the calibration for those. We took the data in Cleveland,
along with data was taken at [NASA] Langley [Research Center, Hampton,
Virginia] and at [NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California],
and then that data went into a database that then became essentially
the parameters that fly on the Shuttle today that determine altitude,
air speed, and angle of attack from those probes. So that was my first
experience in the Shuttle world. I didn't do much but take data for
the Rockwell [International Corporation] engineers at the time.
I also worked on a project where we had about 760 pressure measurements
all over the Shuttle. It was a Shuttle with an external tank and solid
rocket boosters. We looked at all the different configurations and
we ran from essentially about Mach 1 all the way up to Mach 3.5 in
that configuration again in a tunnel, gaining pressure, temperature
data for, again, Shuttle analysis.
Then I supported Shuttle Base Heating Test, where we put thermocouples
on the back end of the Shuttle model in the wind tunnel and we actually
fired two model rockets on the side that represented the solid rocket
motors, and we looked at how those plumes would heat the bottom of
the external tank. That data was again used by Rockwell to determine
the thickness of the foam and the insulation that needed to be on
the bottom of the tank. So that was my first exposure to the Shuttle
Program, was essentially right out of school in 1977.
Also at the same I did other aerodynamic research, nozzle stuff, subsonically,
and then some supersonic inlet stuff and some other stuff. But I had
the experience then of getting the chance to see a little bit of the
Shuttle Program at that point.
Then in 1980 I had the opportunity or was asked did I want to come
to the Johnson Space Center, and again my propulsion background was
what attracted the folks down here, and they asked me if I wanted
to come down and be a flight controller in the Flight Control Division
down here. Steve [Stephen G.] Bales was the Branch Chief at the time.
I flew down and looked around the area and decided that if I really
wanted to get into the space business this was the place to be. So
I decided I'd come down here for two years and see if I would like
it or not.
It turned out that I really loved it down here. I became a flight
controller. I served on the first Shuttle mission, the Columbia flight.
I was in the back room doing thermal analysis. On that flight some
of the tile were damaged on the OMS pods and I was in the Orbital
Maneuvering System/Reaction Control System [OMS/RCS] Section. We analyzed
whether we thought it would be safe to return with that tile damage.
Then what's curious about that is here in my recent career we had
the blankets peel up here on the last Shuttle flight, and the analysis
was almost identical to the analysis that I did back in 1981 at STS
1. So my career has started at the beginning and then still I get
to go see that.
So then from being a flight controller, I flew about the first 17
flights as an orbit flight controller in the OMS/RCS Section. I also
did ascent entries towards the end of that. I then moved off and did
payload activities in the Payload Branch. These were the payloads
that fly on the Shuttle. I also worked on the Orbital Maneuvering
Vehicle for a little while, ran that project office and systems division.
Then I guess in 1992 I decided that I wanted to go back to school
When I was in Cleveland it was very important to have a PhD or have
an advanced degree. So they brought professors in from the University
of Toledo [Toledo, Ohio] to work on your master's. I got my master's
degree from the University of Toledo with the teachers coming down
part-time. I actually completed it down here in Houston from the University
of Houston. But I had that, and then I decided in '92 I wanted to
go back and get retooled again technically. So I went back to Purdue
University to pursue a PhD. I didn't get a PhD but I completed all
the coursework and got through the qualifiers.
I was there for about two years, '92 through '94. Then I came back
to the Johnson Space Center, worked in Flight Design and Dynamics
Division again on the Shuttle side looking at the software that controls
the Shuttle, the orbital mechanics, the ascent software. I did that
for about a year, managed a branch over there. Then I went to Russia
in 1995 and '96 when Shannon [W.] Lucid flew on the [Shuttle-] Mir
[Space Station] Program. I got to go to Russia and support her and
be her ground person while she was flying in space.
For me coming from the [Mission] Control Center here in Houston and
then getting the privilege to go be in Russia and work in their Control
Center and be pretty much accepted as a flight controller in Russia—at
that point the team in Russia was very small. There was myself and
maybe five or six contractor folks that were there supporting that
mission. The Russians had not seen anybody really come for an extended
period of time. I stayed for about a six to seven-month period of
time over there. So they really adopted me as a flight controller.
They sensed the love of space flight, the love of engineering that
I have is the same that they have. We bonded really well, and I had
a great experience, and I can't say enough about Shannon Lucid. She
was a phenomenal astronaut to have on orbit. She was just super. She
was a joy to work with every day. It was my privilege and pleasure
to help her with her science program. Hopefully she had a good time
because of what we did. But again that was very neat that I got to
go do that in Russia.
Then I came back, worked in the Shuttle Program after that, in the
Orbiter Project. Got to go out to Palmdale [California], got to see
some Orbiter modifications out there. Then I don't remember exactly
when, but about 1999 I came to the [International Space] Station Program
as Tommy's [Tommy W. Holloway] deputy in the Station Program and worked
there until I became Station Program Manager. I was Station Program
Manager until I got my present job in Space Operations up at Headquarters.
So again if you look at my career I didn't really plan any of these
moves. But from where I started to where I am now I have the privilege
and luxury of having a tremendous background. I have a lot of firsthand
international experience by working with the Russians firsthand. So
then when I became Station Program Manager I was treated with a lot
of respect. I was already a known quantity so the negotiations, although
very difficult, like after the Columbia tragedy [STS-107], etc., the
Russians had a tremendous respect for me because I had spent that
time, and they knew who I was.
So I couldn't have planned it that way, but the way it worked out
was just super. So again if I look back at my career I'm truly blessed.
I've worked with phenomenal people throughout my career. It's all
been in Shuttle Station human space flight activities, but it's just
been amazing. It all fits together, and now my job where I lead both
Shuttle and Station from Headquarters is fitting. So I know what [N.]
Wayne [Hale, Jr.] does in the Shuttle Program. I know what Mike [Michael
T. Seffredini] does in the Station Program. I know their problems.
So then my primary job in Headquarters is to keep all the Congressional
folks and other folks out of their hair and let them go do what they
really need to go do.
Let's talk a little more about what you are doing up there. You do
have some challenges and some of course routine day-to-day aspects.
If you could fill us in a little bit more about what all that your
job does entail?
I think that the current job, what probably some of the biggest challenges
are as we're retiring the Shuttle is how do we fly out the Shuttle
safely, in other words make sure that each Shuttle flight is just
as safe as the last Shuttle flight and we keep our focus on what we're
doing. It's very difficult if you look at other programs as they phased
out to keep them strong until the end. So that's one of my challenges,
is to do that. My other challenge is to take each Shuttle flight and
make sure we get maximum advantage out of it so we can get the Space
Station completed or at least get the major elements launched, as
well as put up a large number of spares to be prepared until the next
vehicle comes online that can start providing routine cargo transportation
to Space Station.
So the big challenge strategically is how do I lay out a plan that
supports this but then I need to lay that out with the constraints
that I'm given from the environment in Washington. I get some guidance
from the Office of Management and Budget. I get some guidance from
the Executive Office of the President. I sometimes get conflicting
guidance from the Congressional side. So then how do I make sense
of the two conflicting things but yet craft it into a plan that meets
their constraints but yet is still technically reasonable and we can
then go move forward.
Then the challenge is to then convince the folks down here in Houston
that do the real work why this plan really makes sense and why even
though in the real world I wouldn't necessarily pick this plan but
with the constraints we've got, with the budget limitations we've
got, where we sit, this is the best we can do with the parameters
we're given. So then to explain that to them and get them to not only
understand it but then to embrace it and be ready to move forward
and make continued sacrifices to do that, those are my challenges.
It's very hard in the Washington environment. I'm trained as an engineer.
I'm trained as a manager. It's hard to convey sometimes to folks not
in our business how difficult our business is, what the challenges
are. They don't understand the motivation of my workforce. They don't
understand the love that the folks really have of this business. For
me to try to convey that to someone that doesn't understand either
the technical piece or the managerial piece is sometimes very very
difficult. I spend a lot of time with them trying to explain and get
them to understand how we think and what we think and why we're doing
what we're doing, because they sometimes see it as being very confusing.
As engineers we sometimes get so much into minutiae that we're talking
all the fine details and they don't really care about the details,
they want to understand the big picture and how it fits together.
So I have to avoid the engineer tendency and try to craft it in a
language and in a motivation that they can understand, and that's
been a big challenge for me. The challenge is to find out what motivates
them and then to cast what we want to go do in terms that they can
respond to, and then I know when I talk to my engineers I cannot use
that same language or that same motivation, because they will not
understand that. So then I have to recraft that same direction back
into a language that the engineers can understand and the managers
can understand down here. So that's my job, is to have the split personality
of dealing with the extreme technical to the extreme lawyer political
side and figure out how to make sure that as the interface between
those two groups is clear. The communication from the politician lawyer
to the engineer technician on the floor must be clear and understandable
As the one responsible for directing the space exploration operations
of the agency, you have a vital role in helping to make the Vision
for Space Exploration a success. So tell us how the impact of the
announcement from President [George W.] Bush had an impact on the
future of the agency and the things that you were doing.
Again I think the clear thing is that we really have a Vision now
that takes us beyond low-Earth orbit. I think if you ask most folks
in the human space flight world, they really want to get beyond low-Earth
orbit. We're meant to explore. We're meant to go out. We're meant
to go do things. So having a plan where we go to the Moon and then
we have extended stay times on the Moon is great. Then that yields
right next to Mars, which is even more demanding.
I think for a long time we talked about going to Mars first. I don't
think we're technically ready to go to Mars. To go to Mars would require
a spacecraft about the size of the Space Station. The Space Station
when it's completed will weigh about 900,000 pounds. So we would have
to construct in orbit a spacecraft about the size of Space Station
and then have the three-, six-month journey to Mars and then for about
a week's stay, and then return back. So we're not really quite ready
from a technology standpoint to make that big leap to Mars. But we
can use the Space Station to learn about long-duration space flight.
We can learn how to operate and live and work in space. We can do
that with Space Station. Then we can take that knowledge, apply that
to the Moon, permanently stay on the Moon for a period of time, learn
what it takes to operate on the Moon, and then get ready to go to
Mars. The way I look at it is in Space Station if you mess something
up you're hours away from returning back to the surface of the Earth.
So it's a bad day but it's not all that bad a day. You can still get
back in hours.
When you're at the Moon you're now days away. So you have a little
more of a constraint but it's still manageable in the big scheme of
things. If you don't have the right spares or the simple things such
as food or water are not what they need to be or there's contamination
in the water supply, you've still got several days, and you can get
back. But then when you go to Mars, it's now months. So the criticality
is now kicked up where it's not a forgiving environment. So you better
learn from Space Station, learn from the Moon to enable you to go
be successful on Mars. So there's a natural nice progression that
sits and goes forward as we go do that.
The problem for us in Shuttle and Station a little bit is that in
a sense we're transients. Shuttle's going to retire, but we're retiring
Shuttle because we need another vehicle that can take us beyond low
Earth orbit. So we would ideally like to be able to fly both the Shuttle
and the new vehicle, but we're not given funds to go do that. So we
have to end one to pick up the next to go where we want to go. That's
what I try to convey to folks. I think it makes sense if you look
at it and then you look at that natural progression of stepping stones
from Station to Moon to Mars. Again the plan is there. We're ready
to go execute that.
Now as we sit here today and we look at the election coming up, what
we need to do now is figure out how we can keep this Vision that we've
got through the election. Now we know it's going to change. We know
when the new administration comes in, just like when we got the new
Congress, they're going to want to put their fingerprints and change
what's going on, and that's fine. So our job at Headquarters is to
figure out—this is probably not politically correct—but
to figure out what we can let them change that doesn't destroy the
entire Vision, but yet lets them have ownership in this Vision and
make it their plan.
So we're consciously now trying to figure out which things can be
changed or, conversely, which things shouldn't we change that would
so disrupt the Vision that we lose this momentum that we've got as
we go beyond low-Earth orbit. So that's our challenge now, is to look
to the new administration and try to determine what things strategically
they're nice to have but they're not critical to the overall Vision.
So for example, how we use the international community on the surface
of the Moon, how we develop new hardware, how we put things together,
some of those things it's not as critical to us as other areas. So
again, we're starting to lay all that out. So again, I look at my
job in Shuttle and Station as how do we take Shuttle hardware and
use it to advance the Constellation [Program] .
For example in Florida Firing Room 1, which used to be a Shuttle firing
room, has now been given to Constellation, and they're going to go
ahead and use that firing room. The A1 Test Stand at [NASA] Stennis
Space Flight Center [Mississippi], that's been turned over, and they're
testing J2X engines down at Stennis now in that test stand. We're
going to fly a demonstration flight for Constellation in April of
2009. It's going to launch off one of our mobile launch platforms
with our four-segment SRB [solid rocket booster] underneath. Our flight
control team that does Shuttle and Station will be the flight control
team that will oversee that launch and see that suborbital flight
that's going to occur for Constellation. So that natural transition
The way I see my Directorate interface with the Exploration Directorate
is the Exploration Directorate is building the hardware, they're designing
the new hardware, but then when it comes time to operate it it comes
back to the Mission Operations Directorate, and we will go operate
that hardware. So in the big scheme of things I think it all fits
in that world, and it works fairly well.
It's exciting times.
It's a great time.
What do you feel NASA's role is for society or its impact on society?
How would you explain that, that NASA has this purpose that we can
have for the future?
I think NASA gives us a chance to think about things in ways that
we don't normally think about things. As a kid growing up, probably
my most compelling memory was I think from the Apollo era when the
picture of the Earth or the Earthrise from the Moon. That gave us
as a species a whole new perspective on what the Earth was. Here's
this little blue ball. As a kid I used to look at that and say all
of us are in that picture. Then today if I look at say I think it's
Cassini [spacecraft] that's there with the Saturn rings and that little
tiny dot that is the Earth, that's us. So NASA has allowed us to rise
above our day-to-day problems and our day-to-day crisis and look at
our world and our lives in a whole new perspective that we would never
be able to imagine any other way. We realize how small we are in the
big scheme of things, how precious the Earth is in a sense.
When you look at the pictures from Space Station, if you look at it
you'll see Space Station, especially at the fly-arounds, and you'll
see that thin little blue line, and that's our atmosphere, and that's
all. So I was at a conference once and they were complaining that
the space budget was so much more than the aeronautics budget. So
I had a picture, my first picture on my slide was Space Station. So
I showed them that little blue line, and I said well see all that
little blue stuff, that's aeronautics, that's why your budget is so
small, you see all that vast darkness out there, that's space, that's
why my space budget is so big. So again in a simple way, our job allows
us to see a different perspective.
What's hard is it's hard for us to explain our jobs to folks. When
I was Station Program Manager I used to challenge my people all the
time to try to explain to their neighbors why they worked all these
ridiculous hours and why we did all this hard work. They really can't
explain it. But they're part of a bigger thing that is bigger than
them, and there's a spirit of it's so complex and it requires everyone
to work together as a team or it can't be successful. In a sense that
really is an unbelievably great way to motivate a team and to move
forward. If I look back through my career, the hardware's neat and
cool, and as an engineer I like that, but I think I carry more memories
of people that I've worked with, and in very difficult times.
After the [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L] disaster and the Columbia
disaster, those were really hard times, because you lost your friends
who were astronauts that you really knew as friends, not as astronauts,
and then it also took an impact on your work. You in a sense had failed
in your job. So then the double problem or double calamity was just
hard to take. So we have a great business. There's tremendous highs
when things are happening and years of work come together as we start
seeing Space Station assembled and we see the international partner
modules get launched probably next month. That's exciting, to see
that thing that you've worked on for 10 years, 15 years come to fruition
is a huge plus.
But then the other side is sometimes we have tremendous downs, when
we have a Columbia or a Challenger tragedy. So that's part of our
business. It has both extremes. But I think the people in this business
are the thing that I carry as the most memorable thing, to have the
privilege and pleasure of working with all these folks throughout
these years has just been great.
Those years equal to about 30. You've spent 30 years so far with NASA.
Tell us how NASA's changed through this time period.
Yeah, boy, it's definitely changed. It's hard to reflect on the change,
because I've seen it come so incrementally to myself, right. I've
seen this change in the way we do business. I've had a tremendous
privilege of working with some great folks. I worked directly with
Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz, I've worked with Chris [Christopher C.] Kraft,
Bob [Robert F.] Thompson in the Shuttle Program, Leonard [S.] Nicholson
in the Engineering Directorate and the Shuttle Program on the payload
side. The list goes on and on, Arnie [Arnold D.] Aldrich, George [W.
S.] Abbey, all the folks.
So throughout my career I've had a chance to work with all these folks
and to see how today's management style is a little bit different
than then. So NASA has changed. In the earlier days it was a pretty
hard environment, you were challenged very up front. You either knew
your stuff or you weren't even permitted to give presentations and
you were done, whereas in today's world we're probably more forgiving.
We're not as hard as we were back then. But
The other thing that's changed a lot is the technology. In the Control
Center today the new computer systems and the new software they have
for the Space Station Flight Control Team is dramatically different
than what I had as a flight controller. If you looked at what I had
as a flight controller, it was really rudimentary, very simple compared
to the complex software and complex operation that the new flight
That's another thing I really enjoy is occasionally I'll sneak over
and sit next to the flight controllers in the Space Station Program
and just watch what they're doing and just talk to them about their
job and they don't quite know who I am, but it works out just great,
to see that the same joy, the same excitement, the same really love
of their job is there that I've shared throughout my life. So it's
neat that that same spirit, that same deep internal motivation that
was there in my beginning days at NASA even in the aeronautics side
is still within NASA today. So that aspect of NASA has remained consistent.
Now the technology and some of the meeting styles and some of the
management controls, those things have changed over time. But that
underlying drive, that underlying spirit has been there since throughout
Well, what are some of the lessons that you've learned through this
career that you've taken to your current position?
Boy, I think I've learned a couple things. One definitely is that
everyone's position really has merit. So early on I was doing a project
and one of the guys in the Avionics Division was thought of as not
very productive within the division and he was assigned not very good
jobs to go do. I didn't know that. Then I came in from the operations
side and he explained to me how some things ought to be wired and
put together in the avionics system. I would take what he told me
and then I would feed it back to his own division and they thought
I was some kind of genius because I could do all this electronic stuff.
Well, it wasn't really me, it was actually this person within their
own division that they had written off as not being valuable.
So what I learned out of that was that some folks don't present very
well, and they get branded as not being a strong contributor, and
they may not in all areas, but they still have something that they
can really contribute. So I learned to listen extra hard. So then
when my initial reaction is maybe not to listen to a comment from
somebody or to dismiss something, I want to make sure the little red
flag goes off in my head and says okay listen extra hard, because
this person really is trying to tell you something and you need to
value what they're trying to tell you. It may not be exactly what
you want to hear, or it may not be exactly on target, but it has meaning
and it can help you do a better job. So I've learned to really value
and pull data and information from a whole variety of different sources.
So I think that's one thing that I've learned.
I've also learned that you have to balance your life a little bit.
You can do so much work stuff that you don't have another life. So
occasionally you need to find things where you get grounded and you
get back to being a real person. Whenever I start thinking that I
am somewhat smart or gifted, then I go talk to my family and they
definitely put me back in the right perspective. I think that's really
good, because we're not all that great, but you get this inflated
attitude where people are nice to you, and they're treating you well
because of your position, and that doesn't really matter. Go back
to your family and let them chew at you for a little while, and then
you get regrounded back to where you need to be.
So I think there's a balance between the home life and the work life
that has to occur. Especially in today's world I think it's tough
for some of the new folks coming in to find that right balance because
the work can be very addictive, because you're getting very strong
positive feedback from what you're doing. You can read about what
you do in the paper. That tends to make you get a big head and you
start thinking that you're better and you're more gifted than somebody
else, and in reality you're not, and you need some chance when you
can get back in more of an equal surroundings and be with other folks
and see what's really going on. So I think I've learned that also.
I've also learned that people will really rise to the challenge if
you can put the challenge in front of them in the right way. Again
there's really nothing I don't think that this team can't do if you
put the challenge in front of them in the right way and you give them
a little bit of resources to go do it and you help enable them, and
you're consistent in walking the talk, that when you ask somebody
to do something you need to be willing to do it yourself or to show
it. Folks look a lot at your actions. You can have all these great
platitudes and all these great words about how you ought to do something,
but the simple things that you do every day that they're watching
and they see happening are stronger motivators than all the right
words that you talk about.
I didn't realize until one day here in Building 1 at JSC somebody
had spilled some coffee. So then I got a paper towel and got down
on my knees and wiped it up and threw it in the trashcan. I didn't
think anything about it. Then we're having safety day, and somebody
brought up the fact that they saw me get down and wipe up this spill
on the floor, and they said, “Holy cow, he is really concerned
about safety and is really doing the right thing.” I didn't
think anything about it. But that carried a stronger motivation for
my folks than anything I could have ever said in terms of motivational
lectures or speeches or emails or writings. So again we're always
being looked at as managers and leaders. It needs to be natural, but
you need to really walk the talk and not just pontificate on how things
ought to be.
Part of the Vision for Exploration has a balance or a cooperation
between human and robotic space flight. Tell us about the important
relevance between them.
I think it's unfortunate, because a lot of times in the media we get
pitted robotic against human space flight. That's really not the case.
The motivation that they have in the robotic side, and I say they,
and that's probably not right, but the robotic folks, they have the
same motivation that we do. If you look at the Rover activity or the
Mars team at JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California]
or you look at those folks, they had that same drive and motivation
that we do on the human side. So I think we get characterized as either
it needs to be robotic or it needs to be human. I don't think that's
right. I think it's really the combination of both makes a much stronger
We're starting to see some of that in the new Exploration Vision.
There's going to be some Lunar Landers potentially here. There's going
to be some mapping experiments done on the Moon. Those will provide
information that are needed for the human, and then the human can
come and expand on those findings. We're learning that a little bit
on Space Station as we have new Special-Purpose Dexterous Manipulators,
the two-armed robot from Canada that'll be launched in March, and
that will allow us to do tasks that we could only do EVA [extravehicular
activity], now we'll be able to do robotically. I think at first the
crews and the flight controllers will not want to accept that new
robotic device, they'll want to continue to do it the way we've done
it before, but then I think they'll learn how advantageous that can
be to them, and how it can actually augment and help them do their
You see the same thing in some of the undersea repair activities.
They have little remotely operated vehicles, and at first the divers
didn't really want those things around. Then when they figured out
they could actually help them by providing tools and being a camera
platform and a light platform and it actually made their job easier,
then they started accepting those robotic vehicles next to them. I
think we'll see the same thing in space. I think you'll start seeing
a natural blending between robotic and human. I think it's unfortunate
that we get pitted against each other, because it's not right. There's
a place for both, and there's a place where they can both cooperate
together, and I think the real strength is when we work together.
You mentioned earlier about aeronautics. How do you feel aeronautics
will be utilized or the research for aeronautics will be utilized
in the next years with NASA?
I think aeronautics again has a pretty strong future. I think we didn't
use the Shuttle quite as much as we should have throughout its history.
We declared it an operational vehicle, and we didn't continue to use
it for research. Recently on the Shuttle we've had some problems where
we had some gap-fillers, the little pieces of material that sit between
the tiles that keep them from chattering together, those have popped
out, and when they come out then the flow over the bottom of the Shuttle,
it trips or gets interrupted by that little device that's sticking
out, that little piece of felt or plastic that's sticking out. Then
the flow behind that becomes turbulent, and when the flow becomes
turbulent the heat transfer increases, and it can actually melt or
damage the tile.
But we don't really know exactly at hypersonic speeds like Mach 25
when that transition occurs or how it occurs, because there's not
very much air when we're flying Mach 25. We should have probably throughout
the Shuttle career done some more tests of aerodynamic capability.
We looked at things such as how the Shuttle flies. We did Detailed
Test Objectives where we looked at the stability in terms of roll
maneuvers and pitch maneuvers and how the Shuttle flies, but we didn't
look at the fundamental aeronautics things that we could have done
on the Shuttle. I think we should have figured out some way to stick
some of those in. We're going to try on these last couple Shuttle
flights to actually do some of this. We're going to try to put a little
known trip indicator in and then some instrumentation behind. The
problem is the instrumentation isn't quite as good as the aeronautics
guys want. But I think it'll still give us some good information.
We're going to also try to take the new tile material that's going
to fly on the Ares vehicle, the PICA [Phenolic Impregnated Carbon
Ablator] tile, we're going to replace a Shuttle tile with a tile of
the new Ares design to see how it performs. So I think we're going
to use the Shuttle over these remaining number of flights to try to
do a couple of these things, but I think it's a shame that throughout
the Shuttle history we didn't have a chance to do more of that, because
I think again there's a natural tie between the Aeronautics Directorate
and what we do.
We need their aerodynamic code, their software to analyze things on
the Shuttle or space flight. They need us to essentially provide some
experimental data back for them to improve the codes and understandings.
Things have changed a lot from when the Shuttle was first designed.
We had the recent failure where we had a piece of foam hit the bottom
of the Shuttle and it dinged out or removed a piece of the tile. We
were able to use aerodynamic code to really analyze that cavity and
how hot it would get. When we did the first Shuttle designs, we couldn't
do it with near the fidelity that we're able to now. So again technology
has gotten better. We need to apply that technology to the Shuttle
again and then take some of that data from the Shuttle experience
and feed that back into the technology, and then both of those move
in parallel, they leapfrog each other, and we continue to improve
both in the basic technology as well as in the applied technology.
We're nearing the end of time for us to be here today, but we wanted
to ask you before we closed out, that we mentioned you spent 30 years
with NASA, why would you encourage someone to join NASA as a career
for the future?
In my case, again as I described my career path, look at all the amazing
and wonderful things I've had a chance to go do. As a new student
out of college here I was at Lewis Research Center with the researchers
that wrote my aerodynamics books. To sit with them in the same office
and then have them teach me how the code works and how the analysis
works, it was phenomenal. At that time we hadn't hired many folks
within NASA for a while, so I was one of the first new employees in
several years. So they adopted me as their son or kid. So then they
gave me all kinds of experiences in the wind tunnel. I got to do tremendous
things in terms of testing and analysis and building hardware and
running computer codes and what a tremendous breadth of experience
I got in that field.
Then I got to come to Houston and be in a flight control team to do
the procedures for the Shuttle. The Shuttle's done amazing things.
I participated in satellite retrieval, satellite repair, I've done
refueling demonstrations, I worked hand-in-hand with the crews in
the simulators, I've taught astronauts how to fly ascents and entries.
This is stuff that people dream about. I got to do all that.
I got to go back to school, which was tremendously important, because
again I had this engineering problem that I have to stay technically
sharp. So then I was able to go do that. So NASA again allowed me
to go do that. They told me it wasn't such a good thing to do, but
they still let me go do it, because not many folks had done that.
But it was still for me, that was a great thing to go do. Then to
get a chance to go to Russia, experience that aspect, it's just been
amazing. I've been able to really take everything I've done, I've
just been lucky and been able to go do all this stuff. So as a new
person coming in, to know that that opportunity is there within this
agency is just great.
Then if you look at our future and you look at where we're going to
go, if you want to be part of getting out of the planet, I would say
in my career we used to go to space, but we never really stayed in
space and we never really worked in space. I would say now that we've
had a permanent crew presence on board Space Station for almost seven
years or for over seven years, it'll be eight years this fall, we
have now made that bridge where we can now work in space. We've assembled
this phenomenal Space Station. It's amazing to see all this hardware
from around the world come together.
So to have a chance to work in the next phase that will be to go beyond
low Earth orbit, and that will be to start moving out to the Moon
and then out to Mars. What a great, great, great opportunity that
is for somebody new to come in to get a chance to experience that.
Then even on the science side or in the robotic side, it's the same
thing, to be able to be working on a probe that's going to Pluto or
is going to fly to an asteroid, those things are once-in-a-lifetime
kind of things that you can work on stuff that other folks dream about.
I think that's what the beauty of working for NASA is.
Is there anything you'd like to add as you reflect on the next 50
years for NASA?
I think again the Shuttle transition to exploration provides us with
a tremendous opportunity. A lot of people see it as we call it transition,
or the ending, maybe the Shuttle Program. I don't see it so much as
that. I think it's a chance for us to reinvent and revitalize NASA
a little bit. We are a government agency and we are a bureaucracy,
and especially in my Washington world I see us as an aging bureaucracy.
Therefore we've gotten maybe more sluggish and not quite as nimble
as we were back in the Apollo days. But I think this new move from
Shuttle and then eventually as Station retires in 2020 or some later
date, I think you get a chance to reinvent NASA a little bit, to reinvigorate
us a little bit, to do some things like we used to in the older days.
So I think this is a very unique opportunity within NASA at this time
of change. So change is scary and change is tough, but it's going
to allow us to not only transition but also in a sense allow us to
reinvent ourselves and essentially reengage us or get us motivated
again to do those things that are hard, as we were challenged in the
beginning. We don't do this work because it's easy, we do it because
it's hard. I think we get a chance to retool and revitalize.
So I think the Vision and this transition here at 50 years has given
us a chance to essentially reinvigorate ourselves and move forward
and be essentially maybe a new birth, not a midlife crisis for the
agency, but a chance to really re-invent ourselves and get ready for
the next 50 years. The next 50 years provide the agency with challenges
even greater than the first 50 years.
Well, thank you. I think we'll end for now and let you get on with
the rest of your busy day. Thank you.