NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 9 March 2006
Today is March 9th, 2006. This oral history is being conducted with
Richard Nygren in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project. The interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted
by Sandra Johnson. This is a continuation of the oral history that
we began on January 12th, 2006, with Mr. Nygren.
Thanks again for coming back and talking with us and continuing the
information about your long career. We start today by talking about
your involvement with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project [ASTP]. How and
when did you learn that NASA would be involved with the Soviets for
this flight? And tell us about how you became involved with it.
Thanks for having me back. I looked forward to coming and wrote up
some notes to help remind me.
We finished up the Skylab program, and Apollo was obviously phasing
down, and there were discussions about what we were going to do in
the Shuttle arena, but Shuttle hadn’t progressed far enough.
They needed what was called the Flight Crew Support Team to support
ASTP, and I volunteered for it because I didn’t have anything
else going on at the time.
The Flight Crew Support Team for Apollo-Soyuz was headed up by a guy
by the name of Dave [David A.] Ballard. I did the command module work.
[R.] Terry Neal did the docking module and actually did the crew integration
for the Soyuz spacecraft. So there were three of us that pretty much
worked ASTP from the beginning.
It was really fascinating, in that it was the first chance I ever
really had to work with anybody from the international side, so the
Russians were my first encounter. Right away, the first thing that
you get into is the language barrier. Everybody needs an interpreter
and translator to communicate, so it slows the process down. Where
we used to think we could do training in thirty minutes, it would
take an hour and a half, so we were way off scale as far as the time
it took to get things done. Just our schedule and what was reality
just hadn’t balanced out yet, so we had to work on that.
The other thing that became pretty apparent pretty quickly was that
they work on personal relationships as opposed to actual goals and
job assignments. If they have a good personal relationship with you
and they know you and they know that you’re going to be working
in their behalf, so to speak, they’ll give you the data that
you need to do the job and you can go off and go get it done. But
if you haven’t taken the time to establish the personal relationship,
they’re very reserved.
I don’t think I picked up on the reason for that during the
ASTP, because I never traveled to Russia. I did all of my work with
them over here. During the NASA Mir program [Shuttle-Mir Program,
Phase 1 of the International Space Station], when we started working
with them again, we did a lot of travel to Russia. [We learned] that
their culture and the communist society that they had just moved away
from was such that everything was compartmentalized and information
is power. They didn’t share information with people unless there
was some return or some protection for them. They got into that particular
situation, I suspect, more from a fear factor involvement.
Therefore, it was more of a strain to work with them if they didn’t
know you personally, know how you reacted, both I would say sober
and slightly inebriated, to whether you would now say something you
shouldn’t say or embarrass them. Once you had been out and had
dinner and partied with them, and you’d even go to lunch, and
they’d order a bottle of vodka, and you’d go through a
bottle of vodka at lunch, and then you’d try and figure out
what you were doing in the afternoon—once you had established
that personal relationship, the working relationship really just blossomed.
They were great people to work with. They were very friendly, they
were cooperative, they were helpful, but it did take that up-front
work to get started with them.
They were always interested in the hardware that we had. I was fascinated
at how interested they really were in the hardware and how we trained
and how we did our procedures. Again, because I didn’t actually
have the opportunity to go to Star City [Russia] and see the training
that they did and how they performed it, I couldn’t have a real
comparison at that point in time of how much difference or how much
similarity there really was. But they were very, very interested in
how we did business.
The other thing I thought that was fascinating, and we had all these
thoughts and rumors about it, I can’t confirm any of them, but
they always had a lot of hangers-on. Every place that they went, there
were three or four people with them. No matter where you took the
astronauts, the trainer, whatever, there were always three or four
people that seemed to go along with them. We always wondered, “Well,
which one’s the KGB [Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Russian
State Security Committee] guy and which one’s the communist
party guy. Probably this is the training guy and this is the procedures
guy and they were just trying to learn as much as possible.”
It was always an item of conversation for us, trying to figure out
why we had so many people that were wandering around with us.
On more of a personal note, what were your thoughts when you had worked
so many years with the Apollo Program, where we were in a space race
to get to the Moon before the Russians, and now, just a few years
later, you’re working with the Russians to do a joint space
project? Can you share with us what your thoughts were?
I really didn’t have any problem with that. I didn’t serve
in the military, so I didn’t have the Vietnam experience—a
lot of the people that were my age had been in the military, had that
same experience. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, because
I thought this is where we’re going to end up in the future
if we can figure out how to make it work. And it is working now. It’s
just that I’m not sure that it’s the way I thought it
was going to turn out, but at the same time, it was really an interesting
opportunity for me.
I had never traveled to Europe, I’d never been to Japan, and
to the other places that were doing space work. Working with the Russians
and their space program to me was really a fantastic opportunity.
I wish I’d had an opportunity to go to Russia and actually see
what was going on back in those days, but I didn’t have that
opportunity, but we learned a lot from it.
And one of the things that you’ll note is that in the U.S. system,
a lot of people change. We move jobs. When we started doing the NASA-Mir
program, there were a number of the Russians who had worked Apollo-Soyuz.
A few of them I knew that had come over with the astronauts, but not
very many of them, but just talking to them, a large percentage of
their people had worked on ASTP that worked on NASA-Mir. When they
got in their jobs, they stayed there and retired. Where in NASA, you’re
in a job for a few years and then you change off and go someplace
else in a lot of cases. But they had a lot of experience that they
could reference where, “We did it in ASTP like this,”
or, “You guys used to train like that.”
It was neat to talk to the guys that had been there before on their
side and to say, “Well, I was over in the U.S. working with
your crew guys over there, too.” I had an opportunity to see
[Alexi] Leonov when we were there for NASA-Mir at one of their Space
Day holiday activities, so it was good to be able to do that.
Share with us how you were able to work through those barriers, the
cultural barriers, the language barriers, in order to get these crews
trained on the systems that you needed to train them on when they
were here for ASTP.
In general, and I don’t know whether it was the PAO [Public
Affairs Office] guys or some of the program guys that went over there
originally or not, but it appeared to me that they had done a pretty
good job of learning the culture. Maybe they got the insight from
the [United States] State Department, but they did a fairly good job
of creating social opportunities for us to meet with the guys. We’d
have group luncheons with the translators sitting at the tables. We’d
go out for a beer after work and socialize. People would have parties
at their houses, and we would go over and get a chance to meet them
and socialize with them in that particular environment.
I know the [NASA] Kennedy Space Center [Florida, KSC] Public Affairs
Organization set up a visit for them over at [Disney World, Orlando,
Florida], and it was fascinating from two aspects. One, watching the
Russians in [Disney World] was something. That was something they
obviously had never encountered before in their lives, but at the
same time I learned a lot, because [Disney World] is set up to handle
VIPs [Very Important Person] through underground tunnels and through
back corridors, and so we never had to wait in line anyplace. You
went to wherever the event was, the dancing bears or whatever, and
you got a showing right there on the spot.
And we broke up into three or four teams. Dave Ballard went with one
group, I had a group, Terry had a group, and I think there was one
other group. We went all the way through [Disney World]. And then
they had a social hour on the boat on the lake, where we all socialized.
Then we had dinner at Frontier World. It was a barbecue dinner, and
they had square dancing on the stage, and they invited the Russians
to come up and dance. I thought this was just not going to work, [but]
the Russians jumped up there. They thought it was the greatest thing
going. They got up there and had a great time. So there was a lot
of social interaction to get the rapport established with the guys.
The technical piece really wasn’t that difficult after we realized
how long it was actually going to take to do the training and get
the guys involved. You just said, “Okay, well, we used to spend
an hour, we’re going to spend two or three,” and you extend
your calendar and your timelines to accommodate that activity.
But as I said, they were very eager to learn, very interested, and
they were really, really good participants. They were good partners
in it as far as I could tell. I really enjoyed working with them.
They came to Kennedy a couple of times, and we got to take them out
to look at the real flight hardware. They were just absorbing it,
and it was fun to watch them do that. Of course, we’d have probably
been doing the same thing if we were at Baikonur [Cosmodrome Launch
Facility, Kazakhstan]. [Laughs]
What were you doing during the mission itself? Were you providing
Generally, my real-time mission support was pretty minimal, unless
they couldn’t find something that I’d stowed someplace
or they had a question about one of the decals I’d installed.
There really wasn’t much to it.
In post-flight there wasn’t much either. We landed, brought
them back, did the physicals, for our guys, and they landed their
own spacecraft, and we really didn’t see them again. There wasn’t
much of a post-flight activity that I was involved in.
But I remember one of the favorite places that we used to like to
go to down in Florida was a place called the Mouse Trap. I don’t
know if you ever heard of the Mouse Trap in any of the other guys’
stories, but it was a steak house and bar that was down there on [Highway]
A1A, down in Cocoa Beach [Florida]. It was the local hangout. Everybody
hung out down there.
Dave Ballard had his family down there, and Dave and Terry and I stopped
there one night after work, and Dave had a “kitchen pass.”
We always talked about having kitchen passes. So we stayed there,
and it was probably ten or eleven o’clock when we left, but
Dave had a place, an apartment, right behind the Mouse Trap. Terry
and I were about a block and a half away, but we had to drive by it
every morning to go to work.
Well, the next morning Terry and I got up, and we were driving to
work, and all of the firemen were standing out there spraying it down,
and guys were on the roof chopping it with axes and everything, and
the Mouse Trap was burning down. It was a Florida landmark. It was
just unbelievable. From the traveling, the TDY [temporary duty] guys,
the NASA guys, there was never a place that replaced the Mouse Trap,
because the Mouse Trap, you could find everybody at the Mouse Trap
at some point in time if you went down there and stayed there for
We had to watch it burn down, and we were going, “Jeez, it’s
not going to be good to be TDY in Florida. Without the Mouse Trap,
this is going to be a bad place.” [Laughs] We had a good time
with that kind of stuff.
[ASTP] was a very good experience, a learning experience. It helped
me, I think, with NASA-Mir to some degree, and it was a good step
for the nation, too, in trying to establish a technical working relationship
with the Russians.
ASTP also marked the ending of the Apollo era. That was the last group
that you trained for that type of a capsule. Was there any thought
in your mind of knowing that that was the last crew that you’d
be doing for that program? Any feelings of knowing that all the work
that you had done for that program was now ending?
I would have to say I was looking more forward than I was backwards.
I didn’t have any real feelings about it was over with and that
was too bad. When they ended up canceling the flights, that was a
downer because we, at that time, didn’t have the Shuttle coming
along. We really hadn’t gotten the Skylab far enough along that
we knew what we were doing, so that part of it was a downer.
But I would say rolling off of ASTP, since my entire career had been
in Flight Crew Support and we didn’t have any follow-on missions
or follow-on vehicles, I was wondering, what is Rick going to be doing?
So I was trying to figure out where I was going to play into the picture.
Back in those days they were having RIFs [Reduction in Force], so
it was always a question of whether I was going to be playing into
When did the transition, or your transition, to the Shuttle program
Essentially as soon as ASTP was over with, I was moved into a Training
Division. The job that I had at that point in time was really one
of working with the training organization in establishing what the
requirements were going to be for simulators and mockups, how many
simulators were we going to have to have, what kinds of simulators,
moving based, fixed based, how many mockups we were going to have.
Then, as you look at all of those different vehicles, there’s
a lot of items: cameras, suits, and even food, things used as a consumable.
I’ll just pick on cameras because they’re pretty easy
to think about. For each one of the simulators, you’re potentially
going to need a camera in there, so if you’ve got four simulators,
you’ve got to have four cameras. Well, if you’ve got four
cameras, how often are you going to have to refurbish them? Or one’s
going to break, so you’ve got to have some in the storage, and
you’ve got to have some kind of a pipeline coming through there.
So starting with things like cameras and then working with CRTs [cathode
ray tubes], [we think about] the displays that go on there, or the
eight balls in the simulator, and all the systems kinds of hardware
that actually has a service life on it. [We] had to start working
on what’s going to have to be ordered, how are we going to maintain
it, the contracts. A lot of the original displays are military aircraft
kinds of displays, and do you send that stuff back to the military
to get it refurbished because the military has depots for refurbishing
that stuff? Or do you have contracts with the original hardware provider
to refurbish these? A lot of decisions on the simulator and trainer
maintenance activities [have to be made] based on what simulators
do we really have to have, and then how are we going to actually maintain
them throughout the years.
I spent probably two years working on these types of things before
Shuttle got far enough along; then I started working on the Shuttle
designs and then the follow-on to testing activities.
Share with us that whole transition and that evolution. What were
some of the earlier phases that you worked in and then how that detailed
We worked on the simulators and the trainers and all of the hardware—that
took me a couple of years. [After] the Shuttle program [development]
got past the systems requirements reviews and into the preliminary
design review category, I started supporting some of the preliminary
design review activities in a similar fashion to what we used to do
in the Flight Crew Support world.
The way preliminary design reviews work is that the government publishes
a bunch of specifications and what the contractor is supposed to go
do. Then the contractor produces a preliminary design review data
package, and it has all of their system specs [specifications] in
it, all of their ops [operations] concepts, all of their design reference
missions, and all of the stuff that they use as their top-down requirements
for how they’re going to build a spacecraft. And they provide
that back to the government and to, actually, their subcontractors.
It’s a huge event.
Everybody reviews all of that documentation, and they write what’s
called a review item discrepancies [RIDs], where they think that there’s
a problem with that particular document. It could be anything from
an editorial comment where this system is not compatible with some
other system that’s documented in some other book.
What I did for the Astronaut Corps or Flight Crew Support was I made
sure that all of the documentation in the TDR [Technical Design Review]
data pack got reviewed by the appropriate Astronaut Corps. They were
broken up where some of the guys were systems guys, some were software,
some of them were aero guys, some of them were booster guys. I got
the data pack to the right guys within the Flight Crew Operations
world. They would write up the RIDs. I would work the RIDs back with
the PDR [Preliminary Design Review] systems team.
For each one of the systems at the PDR, they’d set up a team
with the NASA and contractor guys. I’d take the RID back to
the team and work it and make sure that it was logged in and that
everybody understood what the RID said. If they had a duplicate RID
or if there was something wrong with the way that it was written,
I’d go back and work with the crew guy to make sure that we
were getting exactly what he wanted articulated into that activity.
Then I would keep a complete log of all of the RIDs that we submitted,
and I’d follow them through the screening board. They’d
go through the systems team, then they’d go through what’s
called the screening board, then they’d go through a pre-board,
and then they’d actually go to the board. I would follow those
RIDs as they progressed up through the system and the different boards
I’d go back, and different people, the Chief of the Astronaut
Office or Deke [Donald K. Slayton] or whoever was there at the time
—John [W.] Young was the head of the Astronaut Office—and
they’d sit on the higher level boards as it went through the
PDR. My job was to make sure that they knew which of the RIDs that
we had written, how they were dispositioned, how they were going to
come up, and what issues might be associated with them.
The flip side of that was that I’d sit down with all of the
different teams and look at all of the RIDs that were written by everybody
and make sure that the RIDs that were written by different people
didn’t affect the stuff that we were doing. If it looked like
there might be some kind of a conflict, I’d take it back to
the crew guys that were working in that area and say, “These
other RIDs are being submitted by these guys. Do we have anything
we want to add or any issues with it?”
It was a combination of being a technical liaison at one level, and
at the other level it was more of an administrative, managing all
of the RIDs and how they were being dispositioned and keeping track
of them to make sure we didn’t lose any of the stuff that we
were trying to get accomplished.
That went on through PDR and essentially through CDR [Critical Design
Review]. Then post CDR, they started doing a lot of sub-system level
testing on hydraulic actuators for the elevons and the APUs [auxiliary
power units] because they were power units for running the different
systems , the software and avionics packages with the displays. I
started getting involved in some of the sub-system level tests that
were going on.
Then this is where—it’s like the Apollo, but it was an
expanded role also, in that we wanted to get involved as early as
possible to just make sure we knew what was going on. We also knew
that we had a real problem with when our simulators and trainers were
going to come on line with respect to where the vehicle was supposed
to be coming on line. We needed to make sure that our simulators and
trainers were working the way that they were supposed to work and
that everything was doing the things that were supposed to be done.
We’d work with the sub-system level guys in writing their tests.
Where we had crew procedures or training procedures, we’d take
those procedures and we would compare them to the test procedures
that were being run against this particular piece of hardware. [We
would] see if there was a comparison there, so we could understand
how they were running it and whether our procedure would work and
it would operate in the same fashion.
That’s pretty sketchy at the sub-system level, because most
of the stuff that the crew guys train on and operate isn’t at
the sub-system level, it’s actually at the system level. You
really have a little bit of buffer there. You’re a little out
in front of yourself, but that was the intent. We’d get the
sub-system test procedures from the contractor or the vender. We’d
send them to the flight controllers and say this is the set of procedures
that these guys are using, and this is the data that they’d
Then after the test, we’d try and get a copy of the as-run procedure,
where all of the values were actually recorded that says when we did
this it read this, and when we did this it read this other number.
[We’d] get those back to the guys in Houston to make sure that
they understood that this actual system performance was like this
and whether that was really what was in the spec and how they were
going to deal with it.
Time progressed, and they actually got to where they started assembling
OV-101 out in Palmdale [California] and started doing systems level
tests on the vehicle out there. At that point in time, Don [Donald
R.] Puddy was the head of the Flight Control Division. I was in that
organization, and he asked me and Al [Alan C.] Glines to be the two-man
team that followed OV-101 through the Palmdale factory test-and-check-out
activity. So Al and I became the first part of a new Flight Crew Support
team or what would eventually become the vehicle integration test
Al and I just did rotational assignments. We’d go out to Palmdale
for two weeks at a time—he’d be out there for two weeks,
I’d be out there for two weeks—and essentially doing the
same thing. We would sit down with all of the systems guys, the hydraulics
guys, the electrical guys, the avionics guys, and we’d work
with them on the procedures that they were running for their particular
systems. We’d have our little roller bag, the equivalent of
the roller bag today. We had a little roller thing that we ran around
with that had all of our flight procedures and all of our flight controller
handbooks and the schematics that the flight control guys use. We’d
sit down and compare their procedures with our procedures, and we’d
look at their schematics versus our schematics and talk to the guys
I remember it was always interesting because we had this Polaroid
camera, and it had a cone shape on it. We’d sit in the cockpit
when we were running OV-101 testing. In fact, we used it through all
of the vehicles, practically. They have the CRT displays, and it has
different systems parameters, and we’d have our camera , and
put it over the screen and pull the trigger on it to take a Polaroid
picture. Then we’d have a picture of what was actually on the
screen at that particular time for that particular systems configuration.
We could send it back to the Houston guys and the simulator guys and
say, “Does your software work exactly like this, because this
is what the flight software is working like.” It was amazing
how many actual differences we discovered in there, but it was a good
check and balance activity, and we continued to provide this kind
They ended up doing some integrated testing on the OV-101 before they
actually took it over to [NASA] Dryden [Flight Research Center, Edwards,
California], and we did essentially a simulated mission. The software
goes through a landing sequence, 301, 302, 303, that takes you through
the different software sequences for landing. We could configure the
vehicle so that it was running that particular software. The elevons
were actually working the way that they were supposed to with the
simulated input for air speed and attitude. Writing those procedures
was very rewarding, in that that’s really where you got to look
and make sure that the flight procedures and the test procedures were
really going to come together.
We had a good time doing that. I remember one time we were out there
doing it, and we used to stay at a place called the Lancaster Inn.
A German guy owned it, and he was great. He loved all of the aerospace
guys that were out there. We got up one morning and had fourteen inches
of snow on the ground, and we couldn’t go anyplace. We couldn’t
go anyplace. So we were calling the plant and said, “We’re
not making it in this weather.”
They said, “Well, just stay in the lobby. We’ll figure
And I don’t remember how long it was, an hour later or something
like that, here comes this four-wheel-drive pickup with snow blowing
all over it. It’s got a camper in the back, and they come in
and say, “Okay, you guys.” We all run out and jump in
the back of the camper, and away we go. We get out to the plant in
this four-wheel-drive truck, and went to work.
[Richard H.] Truly was there, had flown his T-38 [Talon, training
aircraft] out there, and they parked their T-38s right at North American
[Rockwell International Corporation] plant. Well, the Palmdale Airport
guys, they had cleaned the runway, and the airfield was working great,
but from the Palmdale plant in to the airplane, they didn’t
clean that. That was up to North American to do that.
So we were out there with a forklift with a wood pallet on the front
of it trying to move fourteen inches of snow, and we weren’t
getting anyplace. It was crazy, because it was one of those forklifts
that is used in a food warehouse so it has smooth rubber tires. It
doesn’t have treaded tires. We weren’t getting anyplace.
Finally, they got some guy with a road grader to come in and move
the snow, but we thought, well, we’re not going to move anything
for three or four days with fourteen inches of snow around there.
So it made it interesting to figure out how you were actually going
to get the testing done. But instead of saying, “Well, yes,
the weather’s bad; we’re going to quit,” when the
regular work force came in, they checked and saw how many people had
four-wheel-drive vehicles, then sent them out to the different hotels
that had people that were in them, picked people up and brought them
in to work. We managed to get done. At the end of the day, we found
the guy and his four-wheel-drive truck and jumped in the truck again
and headed off back to the hotel.
There were good times to be had out there as well, and I think we
did a really good job of getting the crew guys integrated early on.
Fred [W. Haise] and Gordo [C. Gordon Fullerton] were the first ones
going to fly ALT-1 [Approach and Landing Test]. Truly and Joe Henry
Engle flew the second one. They just alternated ALT-1, 2, 3, 4. The
crew guys were out there quite a bit and I got a great opportunity
to get to know them real well.
I had known Dick Truly pretty well from the Skylab days. He was one
of the guys I interfaced with all the time, so he and I got along
really well. Joe Henry’s a really great guy. I had a good time
working the Palmdale activity, got a good chance to meet most of those
folks, a lot of which ended up having to go to Kennedy later on when
we shipped [OV-] 102 down there with a lot of open work. A lot of
the engineering and technician folks had to shift to Florida for several
months to get some of the work done.
Were you there when the [Space Shuttle] Enterprise rolled out?
I was there when Enterprise rolled out, yes. All four of the crew
guys were kneeling down in front of the orbiter and took the pictures.
Yes, I was there then. I was there when we put it on the dolly and
took it on our newly-built road across the desert to get it up to
Edwards Air Force Base [Edwards, California] and up to Dryden.
Al and I split off on a routine basis, rotating two weeks on and two
weeks off. There was a lot of times near the end when there was testing
going on that was 24-7 [twenty-four hours-a-day, seven days-a-week].
We’d both be out there at the same time because there wasn’t
any way to cover all of the testing with just the one of us, so we’d
go out, and both of us would be there. I spent a lot of time out there
when we were finishing up [OV-] 101 and getting ready to roll it over
Was there one area that seemed to be a little more challenging than
the others to get finished, that gave you a little more trouble than
others to get the issues worked out?
I would have to say that, to my knowledge, not really. If you asked
me to really pin one down, I’d say it was the software. But
I think if you go look at the programs today, software is always the
problem because you have to write your requirements first and then
you go write your software. It starts off somewhat behind the power
curve from the get-go. But the software seemed to be the area that
I recall having the most problem with. For 102, when we got ready
to ship 102, that’s a different story, because there were some
problems with 102 that were the long poles which were holding us up.
But with 101, I don’t think we had anything that really stuck
out as this was an area that we were really that concerned about.
Talk to us about being at Dryden and working with the ALT.
ALT turned out to be one of the really, really neat programs in hindsight,
and any time you’re doing something and you’re working
the hours that you work, you go, “God, this couldn’t possibly
be right, there’s got to be—when are we going to get back
But it was really good in that it was a small group of folks doing
ALT. The Orbiter group was almost extensively Kennedy engineering
team that came out and supported from a NASA perspective, and then
a lot of the engineering staff from the contractor was at Dryden.
They had set up a facility, what they called the North Base, which
was in somewhat of an abandoned complex north of the Dryden-Edwards
area, a couple of miles, not very far. They had renovated it, and
that’s where the NASA team was at, so we had office space essentially
Then the operational and logistics support was all provided by Dryden,
and the Dryden Flight Operations guys were responsible for the [Boeing]
747 and flying the 747. They provided all of the buildings and trailers
and everything that we needed to actually get things done. They were
the ones that built the mate/de-mate device up there and put it together
so we’d have some way to put the Orbiter on top of the 747.
We established a really good relationship with those guys there.
The Johnson Space Center talks about being an operational center,
but to a very large degree they’re not what I envision as a
real operational center. Dryden is an operational center. Kennedy
is an operational center. And what I mean by that is that they don’t
get to train and simulate on what they go do. They just have to go
At Johnson, although the mission is operational, and certainly if
something comes up, you have to deal with it, but they spend months
and years training for that ten days or fifteen days or for what we’re
doing with the ISS [International Space Station] continuous ops. They
do a lot of simulation and a lot of training. When you ship a vehicle
down to Kennedy and say, “We’re going to go turn the hydraulic
system on,” they don’t have a bunch of mockups and simulators
over there. They write the procedures and go turn it on and see how
it works, and if it doesn’t work, they fix it.
It had a really good bunch of guys that came out from Kennedy. A number
of them I had worked with in Apollo, so I got to reestablish some
good working relationships with them, and the whole operation, I thought,
went really well. I got involved not only with the Orbiter stuff but
all of the flight crew activities out at Dryden. Regarding bringing
our T-38s and the Shuttle Training Aircraft out there, I got really
involved with the Dryden Flight Operations folks who were making sure
our planes had services. We had places to store our spare parts for
our aircraft that were out there.
With the facility kinds of people, we had a crew trailer out there
for the crew guys to spend the night before we actually flew the ALT
vehicle. We had them put in a physical area so we could do post-flight
and pre-flight physicals. Both of those were spiffied up a little
bit from the ALT time frame, because when we first started flying
the Shuttle, the landings were at Edwards. When they came back, the
crew guys needed a place to clean up and a place for post-flight physicals
with the doctors.
I was the guy for ALT that was responsible for getting the crew guys
from the Orbiter back to Edwards. I had a little Jeep station wagon
that Dryden gave to me with a little radio on it that I use to transport
the crew after they landed. We got the steps up to [the Orbiter];
they’d walk off and take a look at the thing; I’d drive
up in my little jeep; and we’d get in and drive back over to
I’m always the last guy, because I didn’t have to be pre-staged
out there and I could drive out as long as I knew what I was doing
on the lake bed. I remember one time I’m out there—I get
out there, and it turns out that the tug didn’t have enough
motor oil and it had an oil leak. So I had to drive back to Dryden
to get a case of oil. I’m driving around out there on the lake
bed when the 747 is circling around getting ready to drop the orbiter.
I’m driving around on the lake bed trying to go back and get
a case of oil and bring it out.
Some other stories—the Dryden guys had white vehicles with the
NASA “worm” on them. You couldn’t get on the flight
line unless you had a government vehicle, and they didn’t have
government vehicles. So I went over to their hobby shop one day, and
I said, “I need a bunch of cardboard placards like this here
with those little rubber magnets on them.”
They wanted to know why, and I told them why I needed it. I said,
“Well, I’m going to stick it on the side of my car. Then
it’ll look like it’s a government car. When they look
at me from the tower with a pair of binoculars or something, I’ll
look like any other government car.” So they made me up six
or seven—probably six or eight, because you need an even number
for both doors—and we kept those in the back of our cars. Every
time we wanted to go to the flight line, we’d just go out and
stick that on the side of our door. Then you could go up to Security,
and they’d look at it and say, “okay,” and you could
get on the flight line.
I remember one day we were out there, Dick Truly and I were running,
and we were running down the ramp, and the security guys came out.
They told us that we probably shouldn’t be running in this particular
area because they were doing some classified stuff. They didn’t
say, “classified,” they said stuff that we weren’t
supposed to be around, so we should run in the other direction. So
we ended up running—
So you reversed?
Yes. Yes. I had a similar experience to that when I was running down
in Florida on the beach one time. The security squad came out with
their four-wheelers. Back at that time they were actually three-wheelers.
They came out of the palmetto brush and wanted to know what I was
doing on the beach in an area that was supposed to be restricted.
I’m going, “Hmm, I didn’t know it was restricted.
I’m just running.”
“Well, you probably ought not be running here.”
So I had to go back. I was actually running at what’s called
the Beach House in Florida. I don’t know if you’ve heard
about the Beach House, but I can talk about that a little bit later.
Anyway, out at Dryden it was a little bit of everything, working on
the Orbiter, making sure that the Orbiter was ready for the actual
drop tests. We did a couple of active-captive tests where we flew
the 747 with the Orbiter Enterprise on top of it just to make sure
that it was stable and went through all of the maneuvers that we’d
go through for actually dropping it. Then we had captive-active flights,
where we had the Orbiter activated and the crew guys in it but we
didn’t drop it. Then we actually did the drop tests themselves.
It was an interesting experience. I enjoyed most of it. A great, great,
great team, and the tests really came off phenomenal, the drop tests
and the landings. Everybody, I think, was just astounded at how well
that came off.
One other story that was really interesting is [about] the morning
of the drop test. The crew guys would stay in the trailer out there
and the trailer was one that we’d set up. It had a little conference
room at one end, and it had a bunch of bedrooms, like four, and had
the showers at the other end. The first morning for ALT drop, Fred
and Gordo were there. Because it was so early in the morning, we had
to have some of the Dryden cafeteria people come in early and actually
cook some food so we’d have some breakfast. They had set it
up so there was a TV in there so they could have the TV pumped back
So we’re there, and Fred and Gordo were there, and George [W.
S.] Abbey’s there, and John Young’s there, and I’m
there. We’re all eating breakfast, and we’ve got these
standard white Styrofoam boxes with our scrambled eggs in them, and
we’re eating away ninety to nothing. The flight goes off great,
no problems or anything.
Right after the flight, I get this phone call from Dick and Joe, “Hey,
we need you to help us with something.”
I go, “Okay. What is it?”
So they start their scheme. Well, for their flight, ALT 2, same thing:
we get up, get ready to have breakfast; go over and get the breakfast;
come back. But I had worked with the owner of the Lancaster Inn to
borrow all of his crystal, his china. We had flowers. The food from
the cafeteria’s Styrofoam boxes—we dumped it on the plate,
so the food was exactly the same, but they had it set up to where
it was a gourmet meal, a gourmet breakfast for them. So Joe and Dick
got the gourmet breakfast, and Fred and Gordo got to eat out of Styrofoam
boxes. It was all for show. [Laughs]
Yes. Yes, how these guys get their treatment and everything. So we
had a lot of good times out there.
The place out there that was the big hangout was a place called Casa
de Miguel’s, which was a Mexican restaurant there. They had
an upstairs room, and we had a lot of our pre-flight and post-flight
parties there. It was a great bunch of guys, great program, and looking
back on it, [ALT] was one of my real highlights in my career. I really
enjoyed doing that.
In fact, another story was—they have a little triangular patch,
you’ve probably seen it. [It is] the little triangular blue
Shuttle patch that was the first actual Shuttle patch. There were
certain people who weren’t real fond of that particular patch,
but it’s pretty common to fly patches on flights and then give
them out as momentos. So Rick, on his own initiative, got 5,000 of
those and took them out to Dryden and put them on 101 so that we could
fly them and we could give them away as mementos.
Well, Deke Slayton was the Program Manager, and Tom [Thomas U.] McElmurry
was his Deputy. And Deke found out about it and told me that there
was no way that we should fly those, that wasn’t something that
had been approved. So I took them off, and I ended up giving a few
of them away, but I gave them away as flown to and from ALT. [Laughter]
I couldn’t give them away as flown on ALT, but I could say I
flew them to and from ALT. So that was another way where we were trying
to get the best out of the way things turned out; it was fun.
Deke and Tom were two really great guys to work with. In fact, I worked
with Deke for a long time. He was the boss at the Flight Crew Office
when I got hired on, and until he retired, I worked with him pretty
extensively. A phenomenal guy. I really enjoyed working with him on
ASTP. He and Stafford and Vance [D. Brand] were really good to work
What were Slayton’s strengths as a manager? So many people talk
about what a great guy he was to work with. What did you admire about
The two things that I admired most about him, and they go into leadership,
was he’d done everything and was willing to do most anything.
He wasn’t somebody that said, “Go do this,” or something
like that. He’d go with you if it needed his support. He’d
done it before. He knew what he wanted. He was technically on top
of the way that things needed to be done.
But the other part of it is that he did a great job of essentially
telling you, “This is the job that I want you to go do,”
or, “This is what needs to be done. We’ve had this kind
of a problem. Go off and go work on it.” He had a vision of
what it was he wanted, and he could articulate it in such a fashion
that you knew what he wanted. Then he didn’t come back and micromanage
you. He was very trusting, but he was also very articulate in telling
you what it was he wanted done to begin with. He could also be real
Articulate in other ways?
Yes. Yes, if you didn’t do it right, he could come down on you,
but I really enjoyed working with him. He was always there to support
you. When he said, “I’d like you to do this,” he
could describe what it was he wanted you to go do. I really enjoyed
working with him.
And McElmurry, he’s one of those guys that everybody just loves
him. He has a personality that—as soon as you meet the guy—he’s
got a good smile, he talks really well, he’s a conversationalist
and makes you feel right at home, and he was a tremendous asset to
the program, because whenever there was a issue between JSC or Dryden
or something, Tom was a great guy to put on it to figure out where
the common ground was and make it work. He did a good job.
In 1979, the Shuttle arrived at KSC. Were you there when it got to
Kennedy? Were you involved in it moving to Kennedy?
I’m pretty sure I was actually there when it arrived, but I
wouldn’t swear to that. I know I was there when we actually
rolled it into the OPF [Orbiter Processing Facility]. There wasn’t
much time between when we demated it and towed it over there (to the
But there was a fair amount of controversy about actually moving the
Orbiter from Palmdale to Kennedy. We had the established launch dates
that we were trying to make, and it was pretty obvious that we weren’t
going to be able to get everything done at Kennedy that we needed
to get done if we kept the vehicle at Palmdale. It was also pretty
evident that there was a lot that still needed to be done at Palmdale
that, just from an efficiency factor, it would be better to do it
at Palmdale than it was to ship it to KSC.
In the contract requirements for delivery to Kennedy—this is
what the contractor was supposed to have completed—there was
a lot of discussion at very senior levels about what needed to be
done, where it could be done, how they were going to go about doing
it. I’m sure that there was a certain amount of political push
on it also. We were always under congressional scrutiny, and it’s
better to have the vehicle at the launch pad than it is to have it
in the factory.
There was a fair amount of avionics work that wasn’t done. Probably
the biggest pole was tile. The tile was by far the biggest long pole
that we had. When they finally decided to ship it, we shipped it with
a bunch of holes in the tile, or in certain cases, we went in and
put Styrofoam in place of the tile so we had something to keep the
airfoil consistent and it would look the same and we wouldn’t
end up tripping the boundary layer when we were flying it down to
Once a decision was made, there was an enormous amount of effort put
into identifying what the open work was that needed to go to KSC to
be done, so that Kennedy could make sure that their procedures were
written to pick up this open work and that time was put into the schedule
to do that work.
The flight down, I don’t remember. I know that on a number of
the trips when we took vehicles down there, we always ended up worrying
about the weather. But there was a big push to get it off of the mate/de-mate
device and the SLF [Shuttle Landing Facility] and get it into the
OPF. I was there watching them tow it in and then hook up the attachments
so they could lift it up and retract the landing gear and get all
the GSE [Ground Support Equipment] under it. That started a fairly
long process of trying to get the work that was shipped as “open
work” from Palmdale completed, then get the Kennedy testing
done that needed to be done and get ready for launch.
In this time frame, over the number of years of finishing up 102 and
shipping it and before we actually launched it down there, I used
to go elk hunting with two guys, one from [NASA] Marshall [Space Flight
Center, Huntsville, Alabama] and another guy from here. The guy from
Marshall, John [P.] McCarty, was the Lab Director for Propulsion at
Marshall. We’d harass each other on our elk hunt every year—I’d
give him a hard time about the fact that his engines kept blowing
up, and if he could get some turbine blades, maybe we could go flying.
He’d tell me if we could ever get our tile to stick, maybe we’d
have an Orbiter he could lift. It was a good jesting, but the two
long poles were tile and main engines in the front end of the program.
So it was fun to tease each other a little bit about it.
I remember in the summer of ’80, I guess it probably was,
we had a big management meeting at Kennedy to determine what was really
our realistic launch date with the tile situation that we had. At
that point in time, Bob [Robert F.] Overmyer had been named the tile
czar, and he was overseeing all of the tile work at Kennedy, trying
to get it ready. We were talking about how many tiles we had to go
and what our rate was for getting them done, and they concluded that
they could probably launch in November.
I’m not sure why I decided this was one of the meetings that
I should make a comment, but I opened my mouth and said, “I’ve
been watching them for a long time put tiles on this thing, and based
on what I think they can do, we’re probably going to launch
in March. That seems more realistic to me.”
Everybody didn’t want to hear that. We pressed on with the date
that they had selected. When we really got ready to go launch, it
was in March. We ended up with a few delays, launching in April, and
I thought, “Well, that was pretty good. I should have stood
up a little harder.” [Laughs]
Again, I would suspect that there was probably a lot of political
pressure to pick a date that was still close to the end of the fiscal
year we were in so we wouldn’t have to worry about the funding.
Things at that point in time were way above my pay grade. I was just
sitting there looking at the tile and going, “This is about
how long I think it’s going to take.”
We actually created the vehicle integration test team when [OV] 102
was really starting to get into the integrated testing at Palmdale.
About this time, Al left NASA and started working with TRW [Incorporated],
but we formed up an integration team: Olan [J.] Bertrand, Steve [Stephen
P.] Grega, Ted [Newton T.] Buras, Buddy [Ralph H.] Culbertson all
came on board. We had a five or six man vehicle integration team doing
essentially the same activity that I had been doing on 101.
We followed 102 through the factory checkout and took it down to KSC.
When the vehicle actually showed up at KSC, the Astronaut Office essentially
assigned a group of astronauts. Support crew guys, is what they’re
called. We ended up calling them “Cape Crusaders.” They
came down and were the astronauts’ hands-on folks, and that
group was headed up by Bo [Karol J.] Bobko and some of the other guys.
Dick [Francis R.] Scobee was in that group, Ellison [S.] Onizuka,
Loren [J.] Shriver. We had a number of support astronauts that worked
with us and then our Flight Crew Support guys. Then again, we, the
Flight Crew Support guys, spent most of our time in supporting the
The astronauts had a little bit broader spectrum. Like Fred [Frederick
D.] Gregory was named as the Recovery Operations Director down there,
and he got involved with all of the search and rescue activities.
As the team lead, I got involved with the Security guys, the Search
and Rescue guys, some of the Air Force Search and Rescue down at Patrick
Air Force Base [Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida], and involved
with the Range Safety guys. We did meetings with Range Safety.
We ended up with a fairly significant contingent of folks coming in
and out. Loren Shriver was responsible for what we call the ASP checklist,
which is the Astronaut Support Pilot. He created a checklist that
configured the spacecraft, the Orbiter pre-launch. He would be the
guy that was in the spacecraft up until the time they put the crew
guys in the vehicle.
The other ones, we would have pre-flight briefings, and they’d
work that kind of stuff. And then they were the hands-on guys if there
was some testing that we thought that they should participate in and
see how the system actually works. They’d go sit in the Orbiter
and actually throw the switches. That took a little bit of negotiation
at the very beginning, because the contractor and NASA KSC had established
the training requirements for the people who actually operate the
spacecraft, called spacecraft operators. There’s certification
requirements for welders and solderers and everybody else, and there’s
certification for spacecraft operators, too. We had to make sure that
we could demonstrate that the astronaut training that they’d
done in their simulators was adequate to do what we were doing on
the ground. There are certain differences, but not so much on the
vehicle but certainly in the case of an emergency, [such as] how you
do the egress.
In fact, that was one of the things that seemed to fascinate everybody.
Onizuka really enjoyed this. On the emergency egress [procedures],
we got involved in how the crew was going to be egressed if there
was a problem on the pad. They had all of the technicians that were
putting the crew guys in there, the suit techs [technicians] and the
spacecraft operators, and the guys that ran the hatches. I’m
not sure if you’ve ever seen it, but out at the launch pad,
near the top, there’s a bunch of wires that go all the way out
to the perimeter fence. It’s several hundred yards out there.
At the top of that wire is a basket that’s about two and a half
feet wide and about four feet long. It’s a mesh basket, and
you’re supposed to run over there, and you jump in that. Then
you cut a little lanyard, and you go down on this cable, and it takes
you out to a bunker at the perimeter fence. Then you get out of the
basket and go on the other side of the bunker, and there’s a
big concrete door out there, and there’s a big room in there
that’s got supplies in it. There’s also an M-113 personnel
carrier that’s sitting out there. If you decide that getting
in a personnel carrier and running off across the palmetto brush is
better than getting in the bunker, you need to do that.
Well, if you’re going to do that, you need to know how to run
the tank, so they had to be trained in how to drive the tank. Onizuka
loved to drive the tank. [Laughter] Whenever there was a training
exercise, he liked to go out and be the one that got to drive the
tank. So, lots of things got involved with all that.
[Also] I got involved a lot with the Kennedy PAO folks, because there
was always media activity going on. The crew guys would fly down there
and stay in the crew quarters. The Flight Crew Support guys from the
Cape Crusader team, [they were] a fantastic bunch of guys. Bobko was
just a really great leader, and the rest of them were phenomenal.
Although the group that I had for the VIT [Vehicle Integration Test]
was an odd mix of people, we all really enjoyed what we were doing
and worked really well together. It set a tone for the Vehicle Integration
Test guys that has lasted essentially up until today, that they’re
a real can-do bunch of folks. No matter what it is you ask them to
do, they make it happen for you.
Were there many differences between the Shuttle astronauts compared
to the Apollo astronauts that you had worked with?
I don’t think so, and that may be a legacy, in that a number
of the guys flew in the front end. John [Young] flew Apollo, and I
worked with John. [Robert L.] Crippen was on Skylab, and I’d
worked with him on that. Truly was on Skylab. Joe Henry [Engle] was
on ALT and was a backup in the Apollo days. Fullerton and [Jack R.]
Lousma, [Thomas Kenneth (T. K.)] Mattingly, they had all been backup
guys. To me, it was the same guys. They were support guys before they
were the actual crew guys now, but I had worked with them and established
a rapport with them.
I guess then the only difference that would be in the next years would
be the fact that the Shuttle class included female astronauts for
the first time.
Yes. Yes. When the “Thirty Five New Guys,” the ’78
group, came on board, it was a different dynamic, but they really
melded in really well. The senior guys did a great job of working
with them and bringing them on board, and I thought it was really
good. Loren Shriver and Mike [Michael J.] Smith and a number of those
guys, they came in and became the Cape Crusaders down there. Bobko,
who’d been around for quite a while, was the leader and mentored
It was also somewhat rewarding, I thought, for me and I think probably
for the other VIT guys, too, is we did have these new guys. They hadn’t
been around that long. They didn’t understand the NASA culture,
and they did rely a lot on us to help them get up to speed and learn
the ropes and used us really well. Again, that makes you feel good
so you work harder to make things happen for them.
Let’s talk about STS-1. You had gone through so much in preparations
everywhere from the factory to Kennedy. Tell us about those days leading
up to that. Plus you mentioned the delays, how you worked through
that, checking and rechecking and up to the launch time.
Well, it was just a case of you’d work hard, you’d try
and get the job done. You’d be working towards the scheduled
launch date, and we’d get so close to it, and then we’d
have another management review to look at whether we could make it
or not. And we’d pick another launch date, and then we’d
all start off again and say we’d have to do it. We’d get
up to it, and we’d say, “Well, not quite,” and we’d
pick another launch date.
It was interesting, because Truly created this chart, he called it
a saw-toothed chart. It showed we started here and we worked towards
launch here. Then we decided we weren’t going to get there,
so we started back down here, and it was a days-to-launch chart. We’d
say, “Okay, we’ve got 100 days to launch,” and we’d
count down. We’d get closer to launch and go, “Oh-oh,
we’re not ready for launch.” We’d go back down to
100 days from launch, and we’d go back there. So we created
this saw-toothed thing that was a joke, “Are we ever going to
get to where we’re going to go launch this thing?”
But the morale of the guys was always high, although there were a
lot of slips in [the schedule]. Everybody knew that it was the right
thing to do to make sure it was going to be done right, so that didn’t
seem to really get to anybody. There’s a lot of stuff about
the pressure of today, launch pressure, launch fever, “we’ve
got to press,” [maybe] don’t make the right decisions.
We had that same pressure back then to try and get it done, but then
and, I believe, now, that everybody wanted to do the right thing.
They tried to make the right decisions. There was nobody that was
going to go say, “We’re going to go launch because the
news media says,” or Congress says or anything else. We’re
going to launch when we’re ready to go launch.
When we went through STS-1 and the preps [preparations] for the first
time, we did a lot of stuff for the very first time. We did a flight
readiness firing on the pad, and then we had to pull the engines out
and look at that.
We did the flight readiness firing, and we found out that the pad
didn’t operate exactly the way we thought it was, so we had
to do a lot of pad mods [modifications]. We did our terminal countdown
demonstration test to demonstrate what was actually going to happen
for the two or three days before launch. We had a lot of problems
with that, in that at T minus twelve seconds there’s a thing
called a ground launch sequencer that had been counting down. Then
you hand over to the flight onboard computers, and you have to make
sure that all of the data is handed over, everything’s looking
exactly the same. We had a lot of problems with that particular software
as it was being developed, and the only time you could actually simulate
it was when the vehicle was counting down very close to the launch.
There were a lot of things that we found. They were the right things
to find, the right things to go solve. It was time consuming getting
up to the launch, but when I was doing Apollo 9, we did the same things,
had the same problems, had the same issues with launch dates. I don’t
think that there was anything really unique in that.
The new systems, new hardware, new facilities, there’s just
a growing pain that’s associated with it. We were a little too
optimistic when we first put our first schedule down, and we didn’t
get the vehicle out of Palmdale the way we thought we were going to
get it. There was several months’ worth of work that had to
be done at Kennedy that should have been done at Palmdale before we
ever shipped it.
But the countdown, when we finally got there, really came off pretty
well. We had to practice it a few times. We got up in the morning,
and we got suited, and we went out to the pad, and we got to come
back, but we finally got it off the ground, and it worked pretty well.
There were a lot of other things, ancillary kinds of things that I
mentioned, in the same time frame that we had to do. We had to worry
about if we did have an incident, what was going to happen at the
Cape [Canaveral, Florida]. If we had a transatlantic abort, going
overseas, we had landing sites in Northern Africa. Later, we ended
up with some in Spain. But we had to be prepared to go over there.
If the Orbiter was over there, we had to have people that were trained
to safe the vehicle. In my particular case, I was on the rapid recovery
team to go over and actually bring over the crew’s passports
and gear that was needed so we could actually get them back out of
wherever we landed.
If we had a Return to Landing Site, an RTLS, we had to make sure that
we had our chase aircraft and our training aircraft available. We
had to make sure that we had a weather aircraft that was operating.
And we had weather aircraft for launch, but we needed to make sure
we could keep him up there long enough to support an RTLS.
There was a lot of logistics from a flight crew, not the astronauts-on-board
crew, but from flight crew operations with the aircraft, the training
aircraft, the T-38 aircraft, the support at TAL [Transatlantic Abort
Landing] sites. We had an astronaut that was sent to the TAL sites.
We had the operations director for recovery, who did the search and
rescue lead at Kennedy, and that was Fred Gregory who was in charge
of that for the beginning.
Along with getting the Orbiter ready to go fly, there were a lot of
ancillary things. We had the transport van to remove the crew guys
from the crew quarters out to the launch pad. The van was originally
configured to hold the Apollo astronauts, and the Apollo astronauts
and their suits used the oxygen ventilator. We had to make sure that
it was configured [for Shuttle astronauts]. We didn’t have oxygen
ventilators, so there was a redesign that had to be done.
They’ve changed it now, but for most of the Shuttle program,
you saw a silver Airstream [trailer] that took the crew guys out to
the launch pad and brought them back from the launch pad or picked
them up at the Shuttle landing facility and brought them back. I was
intimately involved in the design of the Airstream, laying out how
it was supposed to fit, how many people were going to be in it, because
we need to haul a doc [doctor], we needed suit techs, we needed support
people, we needed a security person. So I worked with the Kennedy
guys on designing the crew transport vehicle.
Then for the later flights we had to worry about how long they had
been up there. There were some medical experiments that the medical
guys wanted to try, [so we needed to] keep the crew guys supine so
that they could get good data off of them. I had to work recovery
of the crew guys in a supine condition. A lot of other things, other
than just trying to make sure that the Orbiter was ready to go fly.
A lot of days spent down at Kennedy, or were you coming back and forth
I spent an awful lot of time at Kennedy, not necessarily for STS-1,
but in the early part of the STS days. I’m talking about me
now; the vehicle integration guys were about the same, but the vehicle
integration test office was in Building 4 here in Houston. I was on
the directorate staff, so I had an office in Building 1. We had an
office in the O&C [Operations and Checkout] Building, where the
crew quarters is at KSC. Our technical team’s office was in
the Launch Control Center at the LCC. We had the crew quarters at
Dryden for the landings. Then, we had the crew quarters and a launch
pad facility at Vandenberg [Air Force Base, California] when we were
working there, and we had an office at Palmdale.
So there were eight or nine offices for the organization scattered
around the country; I was on the road a lot. Two thirds of the year
for a number of years, I was on the road. I ended up staying in the
crew quarters at KSC as opposed to staying in hotels because I was
down there so much. It’s a forty-minute drive in [to the KSC]
from the hotels, so I just stayed in the crew quarters down there.
That’s a good way to try to check out those quarters and make
sure that they were—
Yes, but I’ve been down there since I left, and they redid them,
and they are Hilton [Hotel] class now. [Before] they were Motel 6
class. Not that they were that bad. They just built them for the Apollo
days, and they extended them.
But it was always fun. I can remember one time that the person that
was responsible for the crew nutrition was a woman by the name of
Rita Rapp. She had been around forever, was a legend at NASA in the
nutrition and in the crew [meals areas]. One time, Paul [J.] Weitz
and I went out fishing, and we caught some bass. We came back with
our bass, and we cleaned our bass in the kitchen in the crew quarters,
our stainless steel kitchen. I thought Rita was going to have a heart
attack. She came in there, and we had fish fillet and scales and innards
all over the place, in the typical way guys clean fish. [Laughs] Rita
comes in there looking at all that stuff, and she’s supposed
to be keeping the crew guys healthy, and we had this stuff. I thought
she was going to shoot us. I really did. She was not a happy camper.
She had to get meals ready for the crew guys, and they had to have
a clean kitchen, and we’re in there cleaning our fish.
We brought the crew folks down to pre-launch. Talking about prior
to STS-1, the crew timeline from the time that they left Houston—or
actually the time they landed at Florida—until we actually launched
was the timeline that the VIT guys put together. As the lead, I did
a lot of that but it involved everything. [There is always a] ceremony
when they arrive at KSC, they give a speech and then get in the vehicle
and are transported down to the O&C building. They generally had
their own vehicles, and this is when health stabilization goes on.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with health stabilization
or not. I’ll go back and pick up on that.
The crew guys get to their quarters. Then all of the meals are planned
for when they’re going to eat, and that’s all synced to
what time of day they’re going to launch so we can get their
circadian rhythm synced up. That actually starts back in Houston when
they go into quarantine in Houston, so we need to stay on that particular
And then, for the three days that they’re down there, we have
a systems briefing so that the flight crew guys and the Kennedy guys
and the crew guys all have a set of briefings [to cover] what the
systems look like, are there any discrepancies on the system, is there
anything that we’re going to see when we’re on orbit that’s
going to be different than what we think we’re going to see
on the ground?
We have weather briefings for what the weather’s actually supposed
to look like at the launch site, at the landing site, at the abort
sites, those kinds of activities. We have family visits where the
family comes out for a meal with them and have the pre-flight physicals.
We schedule exercise time for them in the gym. So it’s a script,
a three-day script, of exactly what they’re essentially going
to be doing, and then we throw in some free time.
And the quarters is a fairly nice place, and it’s really nice
now. Back then, it had a couple of lounge areas with some TVs in it
and a conference facility with a TV where we conduct the briefings.
Right outside the back of the crew quarters was where the flight data
file guys were that managed the flight data file. We had flight data
file briefings where the flight data file guys would come in and “walk”
each of the crew guys through their particular checklists and any
changes that had been processed recently. The crew guys could write
any personal notes that they wanted in their particular checklists.
So it was a three-day exercise, and every time you scrubbed a launch,
you got to redo it and try and come up with the right stuff. In the
middle of that, the crew guys really didn’t ever go to it, but
they would do the flight readiness review, the L-minus-2 flight readiness
review. We would go down to participate in the flight readiness review,
and we would stand up to say, the crew’s upstairs and they’re
still healthy. And at the other side of that, you’d listen to
what all the other guys said about their systems and if there was
anything that we wanted to get briefed on during the systems briefings
The crew guys would go out and fly the STA [Shuttle Training Aircraft].
They’d get at least one, if not two, Shuttle Training Aircraft
flights in, and if they could, they’d go fly the T-38 one day.
You had to figure out, “what’s going to happen”
during that three days, put it down on a piece of paper, and try and
get it all worked out. Then you have to go work it with Security so
Security would know where the people were and when they were going
to be at different places.
If there was a public affairs event—there was always one of
those, and launch morning, the PAO for NASA would be in there taking
pictures during breakfast. On occasion they had artists that would
come in and actually take some pictures or do some sketching. I know
there was a person by the name of Linda Richards that came in and
did that for STS-7 with Sally [K. Ride]. She did some really good,
really good work.
PAO tried to do a good job of working with the media and the art world
to capture some of those activities. I got in the middle of that because
they wanted to be at breakfast, they wanted to be in the suit room,
they wanted to be in different places. Some places we could allow
them to be, other places we couldn’t, but [I worked] with PAO
and with the individual artists, [determined] where they would be
and what they could do, what they couldn’t do.
You got to meet a lot of different people, and you were the target
all the time, though. If something wasn’t working, it was—you
were the guy. You were the messenger responsible. You had to try and
make it work. But it was good. I really enjoyed doing all that. And
the crew guys, to me, I always had a really good relationship with
them. I tried to bend over backwards to help them, and they did the
same with me. I had a really good rapport.
How much of the scheduling and the preparations procedures were you
able to modify from your Apollo days to the Shuttle days, or was everything
It was pretty much from scratch. The concept that the crew was going
to be down there pre-launch and you had to script the last three days,
the concept was there. In the Apollo days, there was a complete training
facility at KSC, there were simulators at KSC, the flight data file
guys were at KSC, a tremendous amount of the stuff was done at KSC.
Shuttle was all done back at JSC. We had Shuttle Training Aircraft
that the crew guys would fly, they had chase aircraft. We didn’t
have those kinds of things for the Apollo environment.
The flight data procedure was pretty much the same. I remember doing
the decals and the flight procedures with the crew guys for Apollo,
and that piece of it was pretty much the same. A lot of the system
stuff, the worrying about weather, and Shuttle Training Aircraft and
things like that was new and unique. The crew guys were down there,
they had to be under health stabilization, there were going to be
family visits, they had to eat—that part of it was probably
pretty much the same.
Give us a really full explanation of the Vehicle Integration Test
team, how that team came together, and how then, of course, it evolved
and its primary function and the components of your whole office and
team and what your full responsibilities were.
When I first picked up the team, we were at Palmdale. At that point
in time, we were all focused on the Orbiter and the Orbiter testing
and the Orbiter systems and making sure that, as the vehicle got checked
out, we were linked up with the crew, linked up with the flight control
team guys, and worked with the subsystem managers out of the Engineering
Directorate at JSC.
It was, again, a rotational assignment, in that we’d have two
or three of the guys out there all the time looking at the different
systems during the systems tests. There were a lot of systems being
tested. You could be running the electrical system. If you were running
the electrical system, you were probably either powering avionics
or the hydraulics. We were looking at the different procedures, and
it took two or three people because there were multiple systems that
were being tested.
Everybody got a fairly good command of the vehicle and the systems,
but as we evolved to Kennedy and we started getting more mission-focused
as opposed to vehicle-focused, we started dividing up so we would
have representation at different places. Shortly after that, because
we had multiple Orbiters flying, we had to have multiple teams, but
the responsibilities pretty much stayed the same. The team was broken
up into three or four major components. We had a couple of the guys
that worked on the Orbiter all the time and followed the Orbiter and
the systems; what open work was shipped from Palmdale and how that
got closed; how the terminal countdown demonstration tests were done;
the flight readiness firing and when they were firing the engines;
how the countdown was going to be just like it would be for a launch.
We made sure that the information and the procedures that were at
KSC got back to the guys in Houston who were doing the monitoring
from a flight control perspective and that the data links were all
set up. So we had a couple of guys working the Orbiter pretty much
Then we had a guy that was responsible for the landing site preparations,
because the landing was going to be at Edwards for the early flight.
A person was assigned to go out to Edwards and work with the guys
at Edwards and get ready for the landing there. And that contingent
was very similar to what we had for ALT, in that we had the convoy
operations; we had the convoy commander, a guy named Roland Norris
at the beginning of the program.
Our guy was responsible for going there for the vehicle that was going
to transport the crew off the lakebed, making sure the little crew
trailer was ready, that the physicals and the flight docs [doctors]
were out there and the docs were supported, that they were with the
crew when they came off the vehicle, that the T-38s, Shuttle Training
Aircraft and weather aircraft [were at] the landing site. So we had
a guy that was responsible for the landing sites.
We had another person that was responsible for more the contingency
operations and worrying about return to landing site so somebody working
landings at KSC, TAL. He worried about, if we were going to abort
to a landing site, what all, from a flight crew operations perspective,
did we need to do in support of the crew guys and also in support
of the flight control team, because once you have a TAL , you essentially
lose sight of the vehicle. There’s no satellite to communicate
with or anything like that so they don’t know what’s going
We tried to work with the Kennedy guys that were going to be going
over there to make sure that they could provide the information that
they were finding back to the guys in Houston. If you get in that
situation, if you have an abort scenario, they lock down the data
so that they have it secured, and you want to make sure that the two
teams are sharing that information. So we had somebody that was responsible
for following the contingency activities.
Then we had somebody who was responsible for following the payloads
for whatever we were going to be putting in the payload bay. [For
example] in the early days they had flown a DoD [Department of Defense]
flight. The first Spacelab flight, we deployed some satellites. So
we did the reviews with the payloads.
If there was an EVA [Extravehicular Activity] planned for a particular
flight, we worked the procedures for EVAs and determined the translation
path. We did what we called a “sharp edge inspection,”
where we, as the flight crew guys’ representative, would actually
go out in the vehicle and inspect the translation path for sharp edges.
If there were any sharp screw heads or pieces of metal or anything
that could damage a suit, we would work with the Kennedy guy and the
contractor guys to clean it up so that we were confident that the
EVA would go well. [We wanted to be sure] that they wouldn’t
have any hinges where we’d pinch a crewman or scratch a suit.
We had one guy that was pretty much responsible for working the pre-launch
activities to make sure we had all of the things needed to track for
the pre-launch. Did we have the right checklists; did we have the
right suits in the suit environment? [This guy worked] with the suit
techs and the weather briefing guys, the Air Force weather side, the
systems briefings and when they would occur.
Over a period of time, the team lead pretty much picked up the role
as trying to orchestrate the items real close to launch and the launch
countdown. I know I was named as the Rapid Response Team representative
from Flight Crew Operations to go to wherever the Orbiter landed in
the world. Wherever it landed, you had to go there. I had to work
with the Kennedy guys that were also on the Rapid Response Team, and
they had a chartered aircraft that they were going to get. Actually,
I think in the first part, they ended up using military, contracted
with the military to have an airplane on standby.
I’d never traveled out of the United States, but as part of
the Rapid Response Team, a lot of the countries that you were going
to in Northern Africa required that you have a visa. Visas are good
for ninety days, so every ninety days you had to get a new visa. Well,
I had this passport that was probably three quarters of an inch thick,
because it had all of these accordion foldouts for all of these visas.
It looked like I was a world traveler by the best stretch, but I’d
never been out of the country. I had, visa after visa after visa,
to go off and to go to wherever the Orbiter actually landed.
They had a good contingency plan for sending a team with all the right
technicians to safe the vehicle, inspect the vehicle, get the crew
guys back, and put security on the orbiter. There were negotiations
with the local countries to provide military security around the vehicle,
and at the same time, we had to brief those folks on the hazards of
hydrazine and other hazardous materials that were on that vehicle.
Yes, you want to protect it, but you also don’t want to be real
close to it either. Because there’s no systems data coming off
of it, you don’t know what the situation is around it.
The team was basically broken down into the Orbiter guys, the payload
guys, the recovery guys, and then more of the logistical support activities.
Originally, we had four or five guys that would go down for each launch.
The team eventually grew to about seventeen people, and we also picked
up some contractor people at Kennedy that were there full time that
could help us with some of the routine kinds activities. They could
help us get the procedures, and they could follow discrepancies, and
that saved a fair amount on having to travel quite so much. It worked
out pretty good.
Then we just basically rotated teams across the different vehicles
when we were flying more than one vehicle.
Let’s talk about STS-1.
STS-1. I mentioned Dick Truly, and the saw-toothed chart, and how
we were working on that. We had counted down a few times and practiced
it and it was working pretty well. The plan was that right after launch
the recovery team, a number of folks from Kennedy that had been working
the launch and had also worked the ALT program, were going to fly
out to Edwards. This would bring their convoy and the recovery team
up to full strength, so we had made arrangements to charter an aircraft
to fly us out to Edwards Air Force Base.
The flight was relatively benign from a payload perspective. [We]
did a lot of systems monitoring for instrumentation, but didn’t
have much in the way of a payload. We didn’t have to worry about
deploying a payload or worrying about payloads when they got back,
just worried about the vehicle.
The trip to Edwards after the launch was interesting, because the
plane they had planned to fly out there was a United [Airlines] flight,
and it was going to leave from the skid strip, which is a short runway
over on the Air Force side. Because of the shortness of the runway,
they had said that there was going to be no food or booze on the airplane
when it left the skid strip. But they were going to land at Tampa
[Florida], and then they’d put the food and drinks and everything
on the airplane. Then we’d fly from Tampa to Edwards Air Force
Base. As you watched all of the guys walking onto the airplane after
the launch, the briefcases all seemed to be dripping, and it was a
BYOB [bring your own booze]-to-your-airplane environment.
So we had a great start-off and landed in Tampa. Then one of the interesting
things with me is I was sitting up in the front of the airplane, and
I don’t know how I got to talking to one of the stewardesses
[flight attendants], but I had told her that I looked like a shaggy
dog and I needed a dog tag because I hadn’t been able to get
to a barber for so long that I really needed a haircut. It turned
out that she says, “Well, I cut people’s hair.”
I go, “You’re kidding me.”
She says, “No. I’ve got all my stuff in my little travel
bag, too.” So I actually got a haircut at 30,000 feet by the
United stewardess. Now, if you don’t think that didn’t
get a lot of harassment from the rest of the people on the airplane.
And this is not on the technical side but interesting from a program
perspective—one of the traditions that the Kennedy guys (along
with Norm Carlson, who is a launch director down there) had established
was, after a successful launch, they served pork and beans to everybody
on the launch team. You’d be over there for the launch in the
Launch Control Center, and if you were walking down the halls, you’d
see all of these turkey roasters filled with pork and beans. There’d
be twenty of them lined up there.
If you had a successful launch and you got relieved from your console
position, the launch team would go back and get a bowl of pork and
beans, and it was a great social for everybody. You’d get yourself
a bowl of pork and beans and a spoon and some bread and just wander
up and down the halls eating beans and socializing. That was a Kennedy
I hadn’t been down to the Cape and watched a launch since the
late eighties, but I would be willing to bet you that they still do
that. You get in a Launch Control Center, and the smell of beans is
One of the other duties I had as the team lead was a lot of family
support. A lot of family support during pre-launch and making sure
that [the family was] hooked up with the PAO guys, knew when they
were being picked up, where they were going to be moved to, and where
they were watching the launches from. I did a lot of that activity.
Let me ask you about the eighties as they progressed. You got more
responsibilities, becoming the Assistant to the Director of Flight
Crew Operations. Can you tell us what more duties that you were having?
Yes. When you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. Things
generally don’t necessarily happen the same as if you’re
there. I was working flight crew support, VIT. I got a lot of support
from the guys, but I didn’t get any promotions. I was at the
same level for next to ever. And it turned out that Mike Smith became
one of the Cape Crusaders. He was down at KSC, and his kids were the
same age as some of my kids, and we got to know each other fairly
Mike got an appreciation for what the VIT guys were actually doing
at KSC and the level of work that they were doing with respect to
the Kennedy management, and the Dryden management, and the level of
managers they were interfacing with, and with the payloads that were
being developed. Mike became a real mentor, so to speak, for the VIT
guys and me in particular. He worked with George Abbey, and he actually
was on George’s staff for a period of time as a Special Assistant.
During that time, Mike really promoted what the VIT guys were doing,
and he was, I think, responsible for me actually getting promoted
and getting some recognition. I credit him a lot with getting that
The VIT stuff was pretty much the Orbiter, the KSC, the landing site,
etc. When I moved up to be the Assistant Director, I picked up the
responsibility for the Flight Crew Operations Directorate budget and
that included the budgets for the T-38s, the Shuttle Training Aircraft,
the Super Guppy, and the [Shuttle] Carrier Aircraft, so there was
budget responsibilities, and the certification of those assets for
We had to certify that the carrier aircraft was within all of its
service life for carrying the Orbiter back if we landed at a different
site or even if it was a scheduled Edwards landing activity. Shuttle
Training Aircraft—we did a lot of work with the Shuttle Training
Aircraft and how long it was going to last and how many of them we
actually needed for the flight rates that we were doing. I was involved
in the procurement of additional G-2 aircraft to convert into Shuttle
Training Aircraft and the negotiations with the contractor to actually
do the modification work to become Shuttle Training Aircraft.
Probably from a global perspective, I got much more involved in the
Aircraft Operations Division, their pilots, and their aircraft and
activities since I picked up the responsibility for the directorate’s
budget, which included all of the airplanes as well as the support
for the astronauts.
I have to assume additional meetings and reports as well?
Oh, yes, lots more meetings, lots more visibility, I can tell you,
because everybody’s interested in where your money’s going.
I became the representative to the Flight Readiness Reviews for Flight
Crew Operations. I went to all of the Flight Readiness Reviews, to
the L-minus-2-day briefings, and presented our material from Flight
Crew Operations. Made sure the crews are ready to go, the airplanes
are ready to go, all of the stuff that we were responsible for, for
status and for flight readiness. I was responsible for building that
material and presenting it when I was on the directorate level.
What was your involvement with the Vandenberg Air Force Base, the
launch site there?
Yes. We got a long way along in launching at Vandenberg and then at—I
wouldn’t say the last minute—they decided that they weren’t
going to launch out of Vandenberg. When they first started talking
about launching out of Vandenberg, we realized that we were going
to have the same operations at Vandenberg as we were going to have
at Kennedy, so we needed a facility for the crews to stay in pre-launch.
We needed something equivalent to the KSC crew quarters out there;
we needed to get a facility where the crew guys could be housed.
We were going to be doing Shuttle training aircraft approaches and
landings out there, so we needed to work with them on air space requirements
and how to get into their air space. They do a lot of stuff out of
there for their own launches, and the Navy does work in that particular
area, so we needed to work aircraft operations in and out of there.
We were going to be involved with a lot of their pre-launch testing
with terminal countdown demonstrations. They were going to end up
doing a flight readiness firing. We were going to be involved with
a lot of their ground procedures.
Vandenberg had Martin Marietta as their primary contractor. We needed
a way to transport the crew guys from the crew quarters to the launch
pad; we were going to need some kind of a vehicle for transporting
the crew guys, a carbon copy of what we had at KSC or something else
that they’d design.
It was similar to what we did at Kennedy when getting ready for the
activities. We were going to need to work with our test team on the
procedures. We were going to have to have a place for the flight data
file guys to operate from. We were going to need a place for the crew
guys to be housed when they were out there for pre-launch activities
and the Cape Crusaders that were going to be out there. We would need
office space. We were working the logistical buildup for when the
Orbiter got there and started doing the testing, so we’d have
all of the infrastructure in place to make things come together.
While we were working that, I had a guy that was assigned to the Vehicle
Integration Test Office that was an Air Force officer, Will [Wilbur
J.] Etbauer. That really paid off well, because I tagged him with
working the details for us. Being a colonel in the Air Force, he knew
how to get things done at Air Force bases and who to talk to. He was
a tremendous asset, and he worked with us on that for essentially
the whole time that we were working at Vandenberg.
When he left NASA, he went to the Blue Cube [Onizuka Air Force Station]
in San Jose [California] and stayed in the military for quite a while.
He now works for a small company called Dese Engineering in Huntsville
[Alabama]. I still see him whenever I go to Huntsville. He’s
a great guy. He and his wife are really neat people.
Tell us how the [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L] accident affected
so much of the operations, especially at Vandenberg, and then, of
course, how it changed the culture.
Well, 51-L was at that point in time, probably the worst day of my
life because, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things that I ended
up doing was being in charge of the immediate family activities on
launch day. I worked with the PAO folks to pick them up at the different
condos or hotels where they were staying, and they escorted them to
the Launch Control Center [LCC].
At the Launch Control Center, we had set aside one of the managers’
offices. There’s a suite there that had a secretary’s
office and then two administrators or management offices. They were
set up to have the family in there and had a television in there.
They had some sweet rolls or whatever if it was a morning launch,
something to keep the family relatively occupied and happy, because
here’s a bunch of people that are thrown together, so to speak,
in a tight area.
The Cape guys did a good job of that, but the plan was that at the
T-minus-9-minute hold, all of the family members were escorted up
to the roof of the LCC, and they actually watched the launch from
the LCC. They had a little speaker set up there so the PAO announcement
could be heard. Then they also had the launch director loop piped
in there so you could actually hear the launch director and the crew
guys talking about the countdown, so you’re right there watching
I was the senior NASA guy on the roof that morning, and so I was there
when Challenger blew up. And immediately, it was the family wanting
to know what happened. They didn’t have any real appreciation
for it, asking, “Is the crew going to be okay?” You basically
know what the answer to that is, but you don’t want to just
say there is no hope. You’re trying to console them at the same
time you’re trying to tell them we need to go find out what
the real story is, we need to get back into the office area so we
can listen to what’s happening and keep up to speed on it.
We tried to get them back to the little office suite that was there,
and then from there, we moved them back over to the crew quarters
where the crew guy has been staying s. We had mentally written all
of this out, so everybody knew what their plan was, and we had a contingency
plan to go move them, but the little things that you don’t think
about really start biting you right away when you don’t simulate
that kind of stuff.
We got them down in the office area, and they had the television on,
and the television had all of these pictures. And they’ve got
zoom lenses. You can really see a lot of detail, and you could tell
that as the families watched the television, it was upsetting them.
So I had to call down and get them to pull the television feed for
in there, get it off onto a different channel. Actually we pulled
the feed on it.
Then we were getting ready to move the family over to the crew quarters.
The crew quarters is loaded with com [communication] loops and televisions,
so I had to call over there and tell them to get all of that disconnected
so that they wouldn’t be looking at that kind of stuff, get
some food for these people, and those kinds of things. Well, we got
them back over there, and, rightfully so, they wanted their friends
and other relatives to be as close to them, the extended family.
Then the plan was for the extended family to be moved to the auditorium
in this kind of a contingency event. Some of them had decided not
to be with the rest of the extended family but had driven with other
friends. So then the nightmare occurred, how do you find these people?
They want somebody, and how do you find them?
Then the entire Kennedy telephone system was overwhelmed, so you couldn’t
make a call anyplace. You know, it’s like 9-11 [September 11,
2001, terrorist attack on New York and Washington, DC]. The telephones
didn’t work. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t
have pagers. It’s basically, you pick up the telephone and the
telephone was down.
We tried to gather up all of our resources, which were the Cape Crusaders
that were down there for the launch, the aircraft operations pilots
that were down there, and the rest of the VIT guys, and turned them
into essentially runners to either go over to the auditorium and ask
for specific people that the crew[’s families] wanted to be
We knew that we couldn’t keep these people in the dark. It wasn’t
fair to them to be kept in the dark, but at the same time, we didn’t
want them to be getting a bunch of speculation. We wanted to give
them the facts as we knew the facts. We started assigning people to
go to certain meetings where the contingency events were being talked
about. They’d rotate out and come back, and they’d say,
“This is what we’re hearing,” and we’d talk
about it on the NASA side. And then, at that point in time, Abbey
and Young and those guys were back over there, so they would be the
ones that would actually address the family members and tell them
what was going on.
Then we needed to figure out—these people had all their personal
belongings in apartments and condos and hotels. We didn’t want
to send them back into town to the hotels, knowing that the media
would be all over them, so we had to start working on the logistics
of getting keys and access to where they were staying, what was the
stuff that they wanted brought out, because we were going to keep
them out there.
And then we needed to think about how were we going to get them to
wherever it is that they wanted go. We wanted everybody to go to Houston,
and we felt we could set up a hub there, but a lot of the family members;
they wanted to be at home, in their homes, with their friends. So
we needed to start looking at the logistics of flying different people
different places and what ways we could use government airplanes,
and when we were going to have to use commercial flights and how we
could best work all of that. It turned out to be quite an endeavor
to work all of that.
The Vice President [George H. W. Bush] came down, and we had to then
start dealing with the Secret Service guys and all the things that
come along with Secret Service and Vice Presidents and getting him
in there. He did a great job of addressing the family and told them
how proud we were, the country.
That twenty-four hours was really, a really bad scene for me in particular.
That was a crew that I had gotten really close to because Scobee was
the commander, and he was one of the original Cape Crusaders. He and
I have a weakness, and our weakness is for chocolate chip cookie dough,
so we used to harass each other about the fact when we were at KSC,
Rita and folks would make us chocolate chip cookies and we’d
just eat the dough. One year I gave Dick a Christmas present, and
it was a pound of chocolate chip cookie dough. [Laughter] So Dick
and I were real close.
Mike, as I mentioned, was really close and had been a real mentor
to me, and Jane, his wife, I knew her real well. The kids, our two
daughters played basketball on the same team.
Ellison was one of the original Cape Crusaders, and he was always
such a joy to be around because he always had a smile and was always
into different things, so I knew him really well.
And Judy [Judith A. Resnik] was—I tried to figure out when I
was thinking back and reading over my notes [before I came today],
I can’t remember exactly when it came about, but it was when
she was in the early stages of training for the flight. We got to
talking about something, and going back to my flight out to Edwards,
I got to talking about haircuts, and she says, “Well, I used
to cut my husband’s hair when I was married.” She says,
“I’ll cut your hair.” So we got to giggling about
that and nothing happened.
Well, one time I was running around looking shaggy, and she decided
I should get my hair cut. We went over to her place, and she cut my
hair. I thought, this is interesting. I’ve got an astronaut
that’s cutting my hair, that sidelines as my barber. So anyway,
I go home that night, and my wife makes a comment about how great
a haircut I got. I said, “I’m sure glad you think it’s
a great one, because when you hear how I got it, it’s going
to be something,” because running off to some single woman’s
apartment to get your hair cut in the middle of the day—but
anyway, she took it in stride. [Laughter] She knew I was working real
hard and knew Judy a little bit, and so I didn’t have any problem.
But here I am, and Judy was cutting my hair. So I knew Judy real well
in that environment.
I knew [S.] Christa [McAuliffe] a little bit from when they first
came with the Teacher in Space program and she and Barbara [R. Morgan]
first came down to the Center. I was in charge of setting up and integrating
them into the activities, so when they came down, I met them and showed
them where their office was going to be at and told them where the
admin [administrative] help was and what went on in the Astronaut
Office. At that point in time, they weren’t immediately integrated
into the Astronaut Office. They were given office space that wasn’t
in the same building, so I tried to get them up to speed. I only did
that for a couple of months, and then it was given off to some other
folks to manage, and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
But I knew Christa from that and got to know Barbara also.
And then Ron [Ronald E. McNair] and Greg [Gregory B. Jarvis] were
probably the two that I knew the least from that perspective. Ron
had never been a Cape Crusader and hadn’t flown before, so I
hadn’t really worked with him. And Greg, being a commercial
guy, a payload specialist, I got to interface with him when he came
down for TCDT [Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test] and some training
on his payloads but very little personal contact with him or Ron compared
to the relationship I had with the rest of the crew.
That was a tough time for the few days right after that, working with
the families. And they came back and assigned an astronaut to each
one of the families to help them out. Once they got to that point
and they had gotten that established, I was more back into the routine
and wasn’t that involved with the family. But knowing those
folks as well as I did and being on the roof with the families and
going through their pain with them was very difficult.
Did you have a chance to grieve at all, or were you pulled right into
the Rapid Response Team or any of those other duties that you had?
I would say I probably got wrapped up into the working part of it
and didn’t do that much grieving right off, and like I said,
that was the worst. My parents were alive, and I hadn’t had
any real deaths in the family for anybody that I was close to. Yes,
my grandparents had died, but I’d been away for a long time
when that happened, so I really hadn’t experienced that.
So the grieving part—where I really came apart was when they
had the Memorial Service and the fly-by [missing man formation]. That
was when I lost it. But up until then, I was either too busy or wasn’t
smart enough to know that I should be concerned about it. But, when
you’re standing there and somebody like Lorna Onizuka is asking,
“Is he going to be okay? Is he going to be okay?” and
answering, “We’ll have to see, but it doesn’t look
good.” How do you work them up to that without just saying,
“No, they’re not going to be okay? This is not something
they’re going to walk away from. No.”
We got through that, got them on track, and then we started trying
to figure out what went wrong, how to not do it wrong again and get
on with flying STS-26.
How were you involved with the investigation?
I really wasn’t. By the time I finished doing the family support
activities, the investigation team membership had been established
and folks were off working. I had a couple of guys on my team, Jim
[James S.] Voss—he was assigned to the VIT back then as an Army
detailee. I had him and Bill [William S.] McArthur [Jr.], Jeff [Jeffrey
N.] Williams, a number of them that were assigned to the VIT at that
point in time. Jim got involved with the [Roger’s] Commission
[Presidential Commission charged with the investigation of the Challenger
accident] a fair amount, but me personally, I really didn’t
get involved with it much at all. I shifted away from that and started
looking at what we needed to do in preps [preparations] for STS-26
and basically started working that.
Tell us about the interim between Challenger and STS-26, what were
you looking for, and how you were able to get everything updated and
back in line again to be ready for that launch.
It was more like doing STS-1 over again than it was the next Shuttle
flight in a sequence. It was like going back to square one. And part
of the Rogers Commission’s recommendations was that all of the
Shuttle systems had to be recertified. Everything had to be recertified
before we were going to go fly again.
From a flight crew operations perspective, that included we had to
go back and do a new design certification review on the Shuttle Carrier
Aircraft. We had a design certification review on the Shuttle Training
Aircraft. I got involved in setting up the certification for both
of those. We had to go back and review all of our documentation and
go back, in the case of Boeing, and work with the Boeing guys on all
of the drawings and the design that they did, and all the analysis
that they did, and the tests, and look at all of the discrepancies
that had been written, and how they were dispositioned to make sure
that everything on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was done the way it
was supposed to be done. That all the service records and maintenance
had been done the way it was supposed to be done.
The Shuttle Training Aircraft was a similar thing, where you had to
go look at how it was converted from a G-2 and all of the special
design requirements. All of the avionics that they put in to simulate
the Shuttle had to be certified that the avionics was compatible with
the flight avionics. It was an intense exercise, a necessary exercise.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was challenging, other than
trying to make sure that we got it done in time to be ready to say
at the Flight Readiness Review, “Yeah, verily, we’ve done
our design certification, and these are the things we found.”
Then we were ready to go fly.
But it certainly kept me busy, and I got to go back and look at some
stuff that I hadn’t been involved in previously with the Design
Certification Review. In that time frame, we were working the second
Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. I had been involved in that, trying to identify
the aircraft we were going to buy and who was going to actually do
the modifications and where they were going to do the modifications.
We were pushing really hard to get Boeing to do them in Seattle [Washington]
like they had done the original one, but Boeing was so overwhelmed
with work there that they wanted to do it at their Wichita [Kansas]
facility, so I got involved in some of that activity.
But it wasn’t a dull time Then the pre-launch activities, trying
to figure out what we might need to do different for making sure the
crew guys got the right briefings or if their training flights needed
to be done differently. Weather was now paramount in everybody’s
mind, so the weather aircraft and making sure we always had weather
aircraft to launch aloft and [knowing] where they were became an issue.
So lots of things had to be done. It was again more like STS-1, where
you paid a lot of attention to the detail, where up at 51L, a lot
of it had been routine and you knew what was going on and became,
I guess I would say, maybe, more laissez-faire in the aspect of, “yeah,
I know how this is going to work out, and I can deal with it,”
where in STS-26, you started paying a lot of attention to it. I can
tell you, when I was back on the roof with that family and that SRB
[Solid Rocket Booster] was lit, I was holding my breath.
So you had that job again?
Yes, I did, for [STS]-26. Twenty-six was my last Shuttle flight. I
did twenty-six, and then I rotated out and then picked up with my
assignments in doing [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC]. I got my
Headquarters assignment at that point in time.
Were you a part of changing the contingency, the after-the-flight?
You mentioned that you had procedures that if there was something
that happened, that if it had been simulated, you would have had different
things happen. So were you very much involved in making sure all those
things were implemented?
We actually got a good procedure, we got it written down, and we gave
it to all the support team. Yes, I was intimately involved in that.
We had a number of folks that started working at—in fact, they
created a family escort guru to start pulling that stuff together,
and they’d have family meetings before the launches. They had
where everybody was going to stay. We started assigning astronauts
to families pre-launch so that if something came up, they already
knew who was going to be assigned to them in. We worked with the Kennedy
guys so that we had direct communication with where we were moving
people. We started getting radios so we didn’t have to rely
on the telephone lines. We had hot lines to different places, point-to-point,
where we knew we were going to have people that we needed to talk
There were a number of changes that were made at Kennedy in the facility
world. They learned themselves that the phone system was dead. They
also learned that they didn’t have the right plan, and they
went to radios and put in point-to-point phone lines. We built a family
support plan that said these are the kinds of things we’re going
to do and how they’re going to be done. We made a more concerted
effort to make sure that they all stayed at the same place so that
they were easily gathered up.
So yes, I was involved in the development of what I would call the
contingency plan and the family support plan, but also, as a result
of it, I became less integrally involved because we identified a family
support lead. We had astronauts assigned that were on the roofs with
the families during the launches.
So my role changed significantly, in that for 51L, I was the senior
NASA person, up on the roof, and the families were up there, and there
was a couple of security guys standing around with us, and that was
essentially it, to where we had a team of senior NASA people that
the family already knew and were comfortable with their families.
That took a large load off of what I would have had to do in the old
They walked through the plan with the families—here’s
what the plan is, here’s where you’re going to be staying,
here’s how you’re going to get to transportation—to
a much more detailed degree than what we had done in the past. It
was more of a case of, “well, you’re down there, meet
at this place, a bus will pick you up, bring you in, we’ll take
you back out there, get in your car, go do your own thing.”
We put more rigor into it than what we had before.
What about the Vehicle Integration Test Team procedures? Were there
any significant changes made from the time of Challenger to STS-26?
Not really. What we were doing was pretty consistent. We needed somebody
to be watching the Orbiter when the Orbiter was going through the
checkout. We had to do landing support, so we had guys doing the landing.
We were launching satellites, so we had somebody working the payload
aspects of it. I wouldn’t say that there was a lot as far as
the team itself in changing the activities. And the three days or
so before launch, the routine pretty much stayed the same.
I think if there was anything, I would say there was more attention
paid to the family aspect of it, of making sure they got out to have
a meal. There’s a place at the Cape called the Beach House,
which is an old house that’s on the beach that they’ve
renovated into a conference facility that the Kennedy guys use as
a retreat periodically, and during the launch time, they turn that
over to the astronauts to use. They have a place to go kick back and
relax, and the families are invited out they have a barbecue where
everybody gets to socialize a little bit. More attention is paid to
the interpersonal and family aspects than before, where it was systems,
weather, procedures, more cut and dried. We backed off a little bit
and paid a little bit more attention to the personal aspects.
When you were there for STS-26, did you know that was going to be
your last Shuttle mission?
No. , I really was caught a little bit off guard by my next assignment,
so to speak.
Would you like to talk some about that assignment? I know that we’re
watching the time to get you out of here on time this morning, or
do you want to pick up later?
No, we can talk for another twenty or thirty minutes, and then I have
Let’s see. I was in Flight Crew Operations, and Dick Truly was
the Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Flight, and he
had Don Puddy working as a right hand man for him, helping him out
up there. Puddy was due to come back to Houston, and Dick was looking
for somebody to replace him. So Dick called me up and asked me if
I’d come up to Headquarters and do a one-year rotation helping
him in the Office of Space Flight.
And it turned out that just a day or two before that, my daughter
Kristen had been playing basketball at Clear Lake [Texas], and she
had torn her ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. So she was going in
for surgery and was going to be in for a long recovery, and basketball
was her life. I told Dick, I said, “I just can’t do that
He said, “Okay. Well, let me think about it.”
We went on, and a few months later, he called back up and says, “Has
the situation changed any so maybe you could come up here?”
I said, “Well, yes, it looks more realistic. Let me talk to
the family and let you know.” So I went and talked to the family
and I called him back up.
And he says, “There’s a couple of things going on up here
right now.” He said, “Let’s not make any decisions
for a couple of days, and we’ll see how this works out.”
Well, like two days later, he’s named [NASA] Administrator,
so he’s no longer in the Office of Space Flight. Now he’s
the Administrator, and George Abbey was at Headquarters at that point
in time. So George moved in as the Acting Administrator for the Office
of Space Flight.
A few days later, I get this phone call from Aaron Cohen—actually,
I get a phone call from—who was it I got the phone call from?
It wasn’t Aaron. I can’t remember right now who I got
it from. Anyway, they said, “Aaron Cohen wants to see you. You
need to go see Aaron.” Well, Aaron’s the Center Director.
I’m going, “What the heck does Aaron want?” I haven’t
been talking to Aaron recently. So I go over to see Aaron, and Aaron
says he’d been on the phone with George, and George is saying
I was supposed to be up there two weeks ago, where am I, so what’s
I’m going, “I haven’t talked to George in months.
I don’t know what’s on George’s mind.”
So he says, “Well, you’d better find out what’s
George is pushing on this thing where I’m coming up for this
one-year rotation, because I’d been working for George for ten
years. So he wants me to come up there on this one-year rotation.
I said, “Okay. I’ll go up for a couple of weeks and see
what’s going on.” Well, I go up there, and George is acting
in this particular capacity, and Truly is the Administrator.
And so I show up, first trip to Washington. Nobody in Washington has
ever heard of Rick Nygren. I’m up there, and I go, “What
am I supposed to be doing, and where am I sitting?” and everything.
George, in his typical way of setting me up, he says, “Just
go sit in that office over there. Nobody’s in that office right
So I go over there. The secretary’s name is Pat Robinson, and
I’ve never met her, and she’s never heard of me either.
I go over there and say, “They said I’m supposed to sit
in here, and I’m up here for a while.”
She’s going, “Okay. Okay.” She ushers me in the
office. I’ve got this palatial office, huge thing.
I’m going, “Holy smokes.” Well, it turns out that
it’s the AA [Associate Administrator] for the Office of Space
Flight; it’s Truly’s old office. Well, now the rumors
are out that the new AA for the Office of Space Flight has arrived
on the scene, because I’m sitting in his office, and I’m
totally oblivious to what’s going on and the politics inside
the Beltway. The rumors are out there, everybody thinking that Nygren
is the new AA, and who is this Nygren guy?
Anyway, I ended up going up there, and then shortly after that, Bill
[William B.] Lenoir was actually named as the Administrator for the
Office of Space Flight, and at that point in time, Crippen was the
Shuttle Program Manager. When I first got there, Lenoir asked me to
go off and do a special study on the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle,
the OMV, which was a TRW [Inc.] contract. I spent six weeks or so
working with Dave Bates, doing an assessment for the OMV, and came
back and gave Lenoir an assessment and a recommendation on what to
do with the program.
Then I got named as the Director for Shuttle Operations and Utilization,
and I’m sitting there going, “Let’s see, I started
in NASA in ’66, and Crippen and Truly came in out of the
MOL [Manned Orbiting Laboratory] program, and Lenoir came in as a
science guy. I trained all three of these guys, and they’re
my chain to the President.” I thought that that was pretty neat,
that I had those guys in there and they were really supportive of
me and everything.
I came in and started working as the Director of Shuttle Operations,
and basically that was the Headquarters element that did the Shuttle
operations oversight. They weren’t in the nuts and bolts of
things like that, but they were particular about the money and the
budget and the congressional interfaces and making sure that they
interfaced with Headquarters. But it basically covered all of Kennedy.
Kennedy was all operations and it also fed back to Mission Operations
and Flight Crew Ops. That’s where they got their money in Houston.
So I got to work with a number of the folks at JSC that I had worked
with previously, and the guys at KSC.
It was a great assignment for me. I really enjoyed it. It was a real
opportunity to learn a lot of the NASA Headquarters guys, had opportunities
to talk to the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Budget,
congressional staffers. I went to a couple of committee hearings where
we had to present. So it worked really good from that perspective.
Having the rapport that I did with the senior management up there
at that time—the Deputy for OSF [Office of Space Flight] turned
out to be Tom [Thomas E.] Utsman. George was up there for a lot of
the time, then Crippen and Lenoir and Truly, so I got to do a lot
of things that probably a guy at that level wouldn’t have gotten
to do if he didn’t have that history with those folks. But I
really enjoyed what I had as a job up there and the people I got to
know and work with.
So it was a good year. Tough on the family, in that my son was a freshman
in high school, so it was tough to be away. I had the family come
up during the summer when I was up there, and we toured around. I
had two of the kids come up for the entire summer. My wife came up
a couple of times, but she didn’t stay, but the kids came up,
and my daughter Kristen actually got a job up there for the summer.
We had a great chance to tour a lot of the Civil War battlefields.
We drove up to New York. Off line some time I’ll tell you about
a two-day trip to New York with the family. But it was a great experience
for the kids, too, because in Texas, you don’t see any Civil
War battlefields. Growing up in Nevada, other than talking about all
the gold and silver we sent to the East, there are no battlefields
out in Nevada either. So getting to go to Gettysburg [Pennsylvania]
and Antietam [Maryland] and places like that was really neat, and
I did that a lot with George Abbey.
There was a guy by the name of Ed Pickett that went with us all the
time, and it turns out Pickett was related to General [George Edward]
Pickett from Pickett’s Charge [Battle of Gettysburg]. George
and Ed were both Civil War buffs, so they could tell me all about
all this stuff. It was like having your own personal guides. We did
that on a number of the weekends. And by the time the kids showed
up, I had been to a bunch of them, and I got to do it again with the
kids So a great opportunity. Had a great time. And it worked out pretty
well for me in that respect.
You want to share any more information about your review of the Orbital
It was right off the wall. I didn’t know what an Orbital Maneuvering
Vehicle was, other than it was supposed to be some kind of satellite.
So I didn’t have any idea what it was, what it was supposed
to do, or anything.
But Lenoir asked Dave Bates, who was a budget analyst, and I to do
an independent assessment of the status of the program and bring him
back a recommendation as to what they should do with the program.
And the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle was a vehicle that was intended
to be able to stay on orbit and change orbits and bring logistical
supplies to satellites.
TRW was the contractor, and when the concept originally came along—Star
Wars, all of the space technology, and we were going to have a Space
Defense Initiative, SDI, n—TRW and the Air Force envisioned
that there was going to be a lot of satellites up there that were
going to need servicing by this Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle. NASA
had envisioned that it was going to need this capability, so there
was a big effort to build this thing.
Well, shortly after the contract and everything was signed, SDI just
died. There was no more Air Force involvement whatsoever. So now TRW
had to build this thing. NASA was interested in one, maybe two, but
no more than two of these. And TRW had envisioned that they were going
to build multiples of these things, so they were way out of line in
what they had originally bid and what this thing was going to cost.
Where they had previously been willing to absorb within the company
some of the development costs, because they knew that as they sold
the other ones they could ask for a price and they’d get a payback
on it, now they realized they were only going to sell one of these
for sure and possibly two, so they had to start recouping their development
costs. The costs were just going out of sight.
Bates and I went out there, and I could look at this stuff and say,
“Well, that’s a neat technology,” but it was gee
whiz to me. But Bates, he was phenomenal on numbers. He could make
those things stand up and dance, and he could look at what they were
saying and how much it should cost and what they originally bid. He
just could do phenomenal things with budget data. I was totally impressed
with Dave. There’s no doubt about that.
We’d sit down and listen, and the TRW guys were really good
about giving us all the data. It was the first time I ever actually
met Dan [Daniel S.] Goldin. Fortunately, he probably doesn’t
remember that. We worked on it for several weeks and went back to
Lenoir and basically said, “The concept is sound, all requirements
for it are minimal, if nonexistent, and the costs are going to continue
to rise, because they’re going to have to recoup [recuperate]
all of their development costs. And NASA’s paying where the
Air Force isn’t anymore. So unless you’re willing to spend
several billion dollars more on it than what you planned, you probably
ought to cancel it.” They took the recommendation and did it.
Now, I’m sure that they had a lot more recommendations than
Rick’s and Dave’s, but our recommendation was that as
great of a concept as it was, that the need for it wasn’t there
from our perspective, and the way that the contract and the contractor
had originally set out to go do this, NASA was going to get stuck
with a lot of development costs that just wasn’t worth it.
So here’s an unmanned vehicle. I’d never looked at unmanned
vehicles before. I’d never dealt with TRW before. I’d
never been in that kind of a budget review before. If it hadn’t
been for Bates, I don’t know what I’d have done. He was
good. He ended up being the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer, at Marshall
for a number of years, and when he was there, I’m sure they
had a good one, because he was good with numbers.
Like you said, it was a good learning experience.
So you went back to Johnson Space Center after a year at Headquarters?
I went back to the Johnson Space Center. It was interesting, because
when I was at Headquarters, I was a Johnson employee. When I went
back to Johnson, I became a Headquarters employee, which is an interesting
scenario, but they were looking for where they needed some help and
where I could possibly do something meaningful.
At that point in time, the Space Station [Freedom] was coming along
and they had a systems engineering and integration effort within the
Level Two Program Office that was headed by Dick [Richard A.] Thorson.
He had his SE&I [Systems Engineering and Integration] group broken
down into, guess what, Engineering and Integration. He had an Engineering
Manager by the name of Larry [James L.] Crawford, and he didn’t
have an Integration Manager named, so that was the position that I
actually moved into. Dick and Larry Crawford were both up in Reston
[Virginia], and I was actually stationed down at JSC as the Integration
And how did that work?
It worked okay from our perspective, because the Freedom Program was
basically broken down into four work packages. Then there was an integration
contractor, which was Grumman [Aerospace Corporation], who was supposed
to be doing the SE&I integration work for the program. And as
it turns out, because of a lot of different reasons, that structure
didn’t work. It was probably a large part of why we ended up
having to go to a different space station contract and contracting
From an Integration Office, I managed the Power Integration Office
that was at [NASA] Glenn [Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland,
Ohio]; I managed an Element Integration Office that was at Marshall;
and I managed the Software Integration Office that was at JSC. So
most of the integration work that I was involved in wasn’t at
Reston anyway. The engineering support that Grumman had was pretty
much in line with what Larry Crawford on the engineering side of the
house did, and they also had the group up there that did the Ops concepts
and development and designed reference missions.
But the integration work that I was involved in, in trying to get
the integrated vehicle working, was distributed through the Software
Office, the Element Office, and the Power Office. Basically what we
were responsible for doing was taking a look at the different architectures
as you were building the Space Station for when we would say you’re
going to mate two elements.
The Element Office was responsible for the requirements for interfacing,
the equivalent of an interface control document. They called them
BCDs, Baseline Control Documents. But they were responsible for the
interface: what was the mechanical interface, what was the data interface,
what was the electrical interface. They worried about the orientation
angles, did you have the right attitude controlled jets and thrusters
to keep control of the spacecraft in the right attitude? And then,
as you put another module on it, did you have the same kinds of thing.
The power thing was the same. You had power batteries, and you had
solar arrays, and each time you added a new module, that put more
demand on the electrical system, so you had to make sure that your
electrical system would, in fact, provide power to those particular
elements at that point in time. And when you were doing things robotically
and had to turn the power off in different modules, did you have the
right redundancy that you could isolate particular areas. That office
was responsible from an electrical perspective at looking at all of
the module electrical wiring diagrams and how the power was fed in
there through the primary and secondary feeds, that as we were building
it, you could in fact continue to provide power.
Then the Software Integration was doing the same thing from a software
perspective, in that the avionics, we needed to make sure that each
module came up, it had avionics and caution and warning, and that
the software that was on board was capable of taking the new module
avionics, integrating it, and providing the services that were supposed
to be provided. What you were trying to do was develop software packages
that were not just one element launch at a time but would cover a
block of three or four and then you’d have a new software drop.
My job was to try and make sure that those three offices were working
with the different work packages and making sure that what they were
planning on building for hardware was something that we figured we
could actually operate when we got it on orbit and that the flight
control guys would have some chance of having something in space.
But it was really a great job. I really got to like Larry Crawford.
Larry was another guy that was phenomenal. He came out of Kennedy
Space Center, just a phenomenal guy, and I really got along well with
him. I think it really worked out real well just because he and I
got along so well from an engineering and an integration perspective.
We never had any issues about who was supposed to do what.
Then because we had international partners, Dick split it up so that
he was the European Space Agency Representative and I was the Japanese
Space Agency Representative, so I worked with the Japanese on their
module and he worked with the Europeans on their activities.
Gave you yet one more culture to learn about.
Yes, another one to learn about, yes. I got to meet with them a lot
in the States but seldom there.
How long were you in this position?
Oh, let’s see, ’90 to ’94, so I was there for about
four years. They canceled Freedom and said we’re going to go
off to Alpha, and they started the redesign team. And the redesign
team was headed up by Bryan [D.] O’Connor, and I was still involved
in that. I was asked to work on the redesign team, and I did that
for a short period of time.
They wanted people who could work on—it was a dedicated thing,
so everybody had to get on board. They had to work on it full time.
Well, I had my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary planned in the middle
of this, and we were going to Europe for three weeks. I didn’t
think that it was a good idea for me to tell my wife that we weren’t
going to Europe for three weeks because I was tied up in this team.
So they actually replaced me on the team, and I went off and did some
other trivial stuff on the side and went off to Europe and had my
twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I’m still married, so that
must have worked okay.
Probably a good decision. [Laughter] And the redesign team came and
Yes, they came, and they did the redesign. But in the middle of that,
because the original work package managers and everybody had kind
of all been put out to pasture, so to speak, because we knew we weren’t
going to do that design again, I was without a job. Carolyn [L.] Huntoon,
who was the Director of Space and Life Sciences, came to me and said,
“We’ve got this flight we’re trying to do with one
of our crewmen going to the Mir Space Station, and from a scientific
perspective, we’re trying to build some medical experiments
to fly on Mir. I’d like to have you come over and lead up our
Russian interface. So how about coming over as an Assistant Director
for Russian Programs?”
So with no other opportunities around, I said, “Sounds good
to me.” I went to work for Carolyn, and we started working on
Norm [Norman E.] Thagard’s flight to the Mir.
And shortly after that, they announced the NASA-Mir, where we were
going to have multiple Shuttle flights going up to the Mir, and we
were going to have crew rotations on Shuttles and on Soyuzes. And
the entire scope changed significantly, because where we were originally
just trying to do some stuff for Norm Thagard and make sure we had
some experiments for him to do so we could get some good data from
long duration that we hadn’t had since the Skylab days, we expanded
It turned out to be about a $400 million contract where we were going
to put a lot of our experiment hardware in their Spektr module, and
then we were going to almost essentially completely outfit their Priroda
module with U.S. scientific hardware. Where originally we were talking
about a few insignificant experiments from an integration perspective—significant
from a research perspective but not difficult to integrate, soft bags,
simple little things to go do—this was an extensive integration
effort, where we were putting refrigerators and freezers and centrifuges
and things like that in Russian modules.
The Russian power systems and the U.S. power systems are different
in how they operate, and not only on the spacecraft but they’re
different on how they operate on the ground. And I probably covered
that in my NASA-Mir oral history [7-23-1998], but we blew up a lot
of hardware, fortunately GSE most of the time, and computers by hooking
into the Russian ground power system and not being grounded properly
and not having it working right. It turned out to be a significant
effort on our part to build up all of that hardware on a very, very
tight schedule, get it to Russia, get it integrated into the Russian
vehicle, and get it through all their ground tests so that they were
I moved into that, and I worked with Tommy [W.] Holloway, who was
the original Program Manager, in setting up the program structure
and how he wanted to do it. [The structure] was through working groups
as opposed to a program structure that you would normally do, because
he realized it was a three or four year program. It wasn’t something
that was going to be a long haul, so why go to the trouble to build
this huge infrastructure that we could do through working groups and
I worked with him on that, and I supported, or I was a coach, on one
of the teams. And on two of the other ones, I interfaced with the
Space and Life Sciences Medical Ops and Science, so I oversaw those
two and chaired one of them. But that’s in my NASA-Mir interview.
We’ll just not talk about that a whole lot and let them read
that one, too.
Okay. Well, we’ll certainly reference that.
Is this a good place for us to stop today? We can come back when you
have another hour or so and finish up your work with the station and
the areas that you’re doing now.
Why don’t we do that?