NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Houston, Texas – 24 January 2000
Today is January 24, 2000. This oral history is being conducted with
Joe Roach, as part of the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project,
in the offices of the Signal Corporation. Carol Butler is the interviewer
and is assisted by Kevin Rusnak and Sandra Harvey.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
To begin with, if maybe you could give us a brief introduction of
your early career, what you did before you came to NASA.
I graduated in 1955 from Virginia Military Institute, and went to
work for Union Carbide, or a division of Union Carbide, Linde Air
Products. I worked there about eight months and then went to flight
school. I was called into active duty in the Air Force and went to
flight school, went to navigator training, finished navigator training
in 1956…and then was there for a year. Then went to Biloxi,
Mississippi, where I went to electronic warfare school.
I met my wife to be there, and we were marred in November, and in
January we went to Alaska, Elmendorf Air Force Base, where I replaced
a crew that was killed in an air crash. We stayed there for three
years, and then got out of the Air Force and went back to Virginia,
which was my home. My dad had passed away at a young age, so I felt
like I needed to go back.
I wasn't really happy being in Virginia, and a year later I got called
back into the Air Force due to the Berlin crisis… I heard about
that while we were out shopping one day. At that time we had a daughter
and a young son. And served almost a year.
The base, we were real close. Richmond, Virginia is real close to
Langley [Reseach Center], where the Space Task Group was, and I had
occasion to go down there frequently to deal with some of the problems
we were having with the airplanes. I just stopped in and they said,
"Hey, this is great. You're just who we need. Come to work for
us." Well, then I couldn't get out of the Air Force until the
situation in Europe settled. We were the only wing in the Air Force
that flew three hundred planes to France and Germany without a mishap.
We had never trained to fly over water; we trained over the U.S. It
was pretty exciting. It kind of interrupted my life and family, but
we did a good thing, and I think because of that, we stopped encroachment
by the Russians. But that was kind of a good deal.
As soon as I got out, we came to Houston, which was in 1962. That's
when I came. I guess it was the middle of September, 1962, and we've
lived here ever since. So that's how I came. I went down, got the
job, and then couldn't take it for several months. It was kind of
frustrating. Came to work in the Mercury Program, worked for Gene
[Eugene F.] Kranz and John [D.] Hodge right from the very beginning.
[Christopher C.] Kraft [Jr.] hadn't been here but a short period of
time and went to Mercury 8. We had a training site at Corpus Christi
[Texas], went down there as a capcom [capsule communicator]. In those
days, most of the capcoms were folks like me [rather than astronauts
as they were later].
On Mercury , I was a primary capcom at Hawaii. That was [L.] Gordon
Cooper's flight, where we flew for twenty-four hours. We had one crew
and we carried along astronaut [M.] Scott Carpenter and a doctor who
was stationed there in Hawaii and a couple of systems guys. I was
on the [air to ground] when he called and said he got the 0.05G light.
So we asked him if he could see any clouds. He couldn't see any clouds,
so we knew that it was a bad light, but he had to fly the thing back.
It was exciting time.
But I was gone, and in those days when you left you never knew when
you'd come back. We'd just built a home and moved in it, no carpet
on the floor, and the wife had to deal with two little kids and the
overflowed toilets, you know. [Laughter] You stayed. I was gone for
six weeks, and it was kind of hard for her to understand why we could
go and have a great time in Hawaii. But we worked hard. Things paid
off, because when we came back, things worked out really well. We
started the transition at that time reviewing the specs for the new
Mission Control Center.
But people don't realize we worked—if you've driven up Gulf
Freeway [I-45], right there at Wayside is where we were. We were in
the Houston Petroleum Center, but we worked in the old Oshman's warehouse.
The E&D [engineering and development] guys, were in…a building
on Telephone Road. The Farnsworth Chambers Building, the place was
where all the heavyweights were, except for Kraft and [Sigurd A.]
Sjoberg and those guys.
We had a good time. The thing that was really exciting about Mercury
is that we had a lot of, I would call them mavericks. There were no
rules. We wrote our own rules, we wrote our own systems book. I should
have brought you a copy of the Mercury Systems Handbook, which was
like a little address book. You may have seen it. I still have one
of those. We worked really hard to get things done. We had a lot of
creative people, and since we didn't have any rules, we could be creative
and we didn't have a lot of problems.
We had a lot of folks that moved from England, because England had
a real problem, they moved to Canada and worked for A.V. Roe, [a]
big-name airplane company, but their airplane that they had built
that was so great, wasn't sold, so they lost that company. And a large
number of Canadians came [to the U.S.].
A funny story, we had Morris [V.] Jenkins. I don't know whether you've
ever met Morris. Morris always had a headache and we could never figure
out why. The problem was, he wore his shoes too tight, because he
got the Canadian and the English size, so he always had tight shoes
and a headache. Finally he realized that, got rid of the headaches
overnight. There were a lot of funny things like that that happened.
People were really comrades in arms. It was a really good time, a
good time to work. You don't have that experience anymore, I don't
Mercury was exciting, but we went right on into the Gemini Program.
We went to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] for the control center. That
time I went down after Gemini I and Gemini II, and took the family,
was going to take them another time, but…our son Joe, ended
up with chicken pox, so he couldn't go, so the family stayed here.
On Gemini II, which was unmanned, we lost the plug and the thing didn't
go. In the Mercury days, the flights just didn't work. The Mercury
Atlas finally was a big deal between, and they used to call the Atlas,
"At Last." [Laughter]
The Cape was a different place then, not as built up as it is now,
but a lot of good people at the Cape, we came and started here. Gemini
III—was it Gemini II or Gemini IV—we backed up the Control
Center at the Cape, and then for Gemini V we worked here. My biggest
job during the Gemini Program was to lay out the design for the Mission
Control Center. We did all the requirements for the Mission Control
Center and worked with Philco, who won the contract. It was Philco
Ford, I guess, at that time.
We had problems with people leaning over the consoles and touching
buttons and switches, and so we wanted a cover on the command switches.
We had a good idea, but people didn't know how to do it, so guys would
take the plastic home and cook them in the oven, and that's how we
made the first ones. There was a lot of creativity by people like
Gemini IV, we had fuel cells on that—Gemini IV was when we had
the first spacewalk. That was an exciting time, because there were
ten of us that worked every day our regular shift and then we worked
at night preparing for a spacewalk. You can't imagine, we had no computers,
we had only the old way—I can't even remember what it was called—
paper had about sixteen copies in it. You'd type a deal, and then
if you made a mistake, you had to pull them all apart, change them.
We had one secretary and about ten of us worked on the ops side, worked
with the flight crew every night, Jim [James A.] McDivitt and Ed [Edward
H.] White [II], who lived a couple of doors from me and my family.
We worked on IV doing that… We had another set of young people
building the pack, they took a bail-out bottle and [made the life
support] flight-rated that where he could go in and be outside. We
worked on that probably four to six weeks, got everything ready, and
were prepared to go, and a week before the Russians did a similar
thing. But we pressed on and did that and it was exciting in the Control
Gemini III, I guess, we backed up what went to the Cape. I was here
with John Hodge and Glynn [S.] Lunney to make sure everything was
right. We had fuel cells on III, and fuel cells had a problem. We
were kind of excited, because our guy caught the problem with the
fuel cells. Rod Loe caught that problem. We kind of one-upped them
and were really excited about that.
But we got through that. IV, we did it here, we had the big spectacular
of the space walk. The President [Lyndon B. Johnson] came after that
and promoted them, you know, and it was an exciting time. Huge crowd
where the duck ponds are. I don't know whether they even have the
duck ponds anymore.
They sure do.
But it was an exciting time. He came and was very gracious to the
crew. That's when we started getting the patches for the people who
worked in the control center. We knew we couldn't pay them for the
long hours that they worked. Spent a lot of nights in the control
center, sleeping in the horrible dormitory that we had there and eating
the bad food.
I remember taking my daughter's Girl Scout troop through the control
center. One of the kids' dads worked in the control center, too, and
she was so excited and said, "They've got the greatest machines."
Of course, he thought it'd be the computers. He said, "What kind?"
She said, "Well, there's a Coke machine and a candy machine."
[Laughter] So you can see where the kids were from.
We worked hard on the Gemini. We worked a lot working on the operations
for Gemini 76 [Gemini VI and VII rendezvous mission]. There was a
big change in the philosophy. Mercury, you would go and you'd wait
and you'd work and you'd wait and you'd work and you'd wait, and it'd
finally go. Bill [William C.] Schneider became one of the leaders
up in Washington, and he made a decree one time that we're going to
launch ever six weeks, and we did. From that first EVA deal we had,
we went on and we flew Gemini 76, where we had the first rendezvous.
We'd had a problem with one. One flight was up, so we sent the other
up pretty quickly, but in a sense, we had two missions and we worked
around how to figure that out so we could keep track of both. Had
people sleep over and that ran for a couple of weeks. One was quick,
the rendezvous was quick. I believe Wally [Walter M.] Schirra [Jr.]
did the rendezvous, and Frank Borman was the commander on the other.
He and Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford, I think, flew.
But we started working real close with the flight crews in the early
days, probably from Gemini IV on. I credit Chris [Kraft] and Deke
[Donald K.] Slayton for it. We were responsible to make sure that
the checklists were all right, but we never saw them. I went and complained
to Kraft one day, and said, "You know, we can do it, but we never
see them until after the flight starts, and you can't do that."
The next day Deke called and said, "Hey, what do you need?"
Told him what we needed, and we never had a problem from that time.
That's what I'm saying; you didn't have to write a letter or have
a briefing. It was more one-on-one and people responded.
The other thing that flight ops people did and we were instrumental
and we developed some trainers that were cheap. We had a couple of
training guys and we got old hardware and stuff put together, made
some single-systems trainers that went on and worked for Gemini and
for the [Skylab] space station. It really helped the people on the
ground, and it was pretty exciting.
You talked about—I think you asked the question, when did the
back-room support start. That started in the Mercury Program. It started
with just a small group of people because we only had one spacecraft.
That was McDonnell Douglas. McDonnell [Aircraft Corporation] made
the Mercury and the Gemini. And a lot of sad faces when Apollo came
along, because McDonnell wasn't involved, because everybody thought
they were the only ones that could make it, but [North American] Rockwell
[Corporation] made the command and service module.
Then we had Marshall [Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama], who
build the booster. The early boosters were just kind of leftovers,
the Mercury—the Redstone, and the one from the Atlas, they were
things that were used in the early days for the military. Then, of
course, the Saturn I and the Saturn V were developed and tested and
done by Marshall. That created another interface. There was a lot
of duplication at that time.
But we got through Gemini and we did everything in preparation in
going to the Moon. We had a lot of clever people that were in the
front rooms, a lot of good folks who were in the back rooms. We had
some real problems during Gemini, and thinking of one, when Neil Armstrong
was flying [with the Agena] and the rocket didn't do very well and
so they came down early. We had some other problems, but they were
mostly personal, personality problems.
Went into Apollo, and we flew Apollo 1—Apollo 501 and 502, and
they were fairly close together. 501 went well, 502 went into orbit
backwards. We had a problem because the engine people put wires incorrectly
and one cut off one engine and the other one cut off, so we went in
backwards. So the next flight, of course, was 503, where we wanted
to go up around the Moon, a tremendous, bold step. You think of gutsball.
I would think Chris Kraft probably had the most influence in getting
that to happen, but you need to remember that we had done the rendezvous,
we had really looked at the orbital mechanics, and that was a new
science for us.
[Howard W.] Bill Tindall [Jr.] was a real heavyweight in that, and
he started these mission techniques meetings, where he was the king
and he listened to everybody, then he wrote the minutes and really
controlled the procedural process. And then we put them in the change
control, and that's the way it was, and then we froze the programs
and it worked well. We got that done.
I remember going to—it was a weekend, I remember going to the
503 final review for the engines at Marshall. I was the Johnson [Space
Center] rep, and I got there, I had to fly to Atlanta and then catch
a gooney bird to Huntsville, you know. It was horrible weather. Got
there Saturday night, there's like one place in town, so I stayed
But it was so interesting, [most of] the people were all German. I
was the only one practically without the dueling scar, but I thought
this must have been the way it was in Germany during World War II,
all the blonde ladies and their dueling scar husbands, and there I
was eating dinner alone, which was fine. And then went to the review
and then came home that day, and we made a "go" to fly 503.
Another exciting time where we worked really hard together to make
sure that things would turn out right, and everything did.
That was after we had had the 502 thing and got that done. The next
one, of course, we were ready for the—and that was, of course,
after the fire. The fire was a devastating time, but several good
things came out of it. Number one, we got rid of the environment.
Number two, the hatch was redesigned. The biggest thing that happened
was the discipline that had to happen that wasn't there when we had
the fire, and we never changed from that time. We used to do a lot
of things where people really didn't watch the systems as close as
they did. People at the Cape had watched them, but from a different
point of view than the ones in flight.
But we had lots of good people that rededicated themselves to do it
by the numbers, and that came from the crew side, from the people
at the Cape, and from the people here, both in the engineering and
the operations sides. The safety folks really got on the horse, too,
and worked really hard. If you've ever been to the beaches in France
and you've seen how the Normandy invasion was done, it was the same
kind of effort by all the people that worked on Apollo.
Apollo was an exciting time. We flew 503, and then a month later we
flew Apollo , and  was when we had the lunar module. We were
really concerned because the lunar module didn't have a heat shield,
and so what we did then was we built some procedures called lifeboat
procedures. We were so proud of them, we took them to Kraft and he
said, "You guys are crazy. You're nuts. I don't ever want to
see them again."
Well, we completed them, kept them, didn't have to use them to rendezvous
on, 7 was good, and then we flew—I guess, 503 was really Apollo
8. I can't keep the numbers straight. Apollo 7 was the guys flew around
the [world] three days, I guess. Then we had the lunar module flight
and then we flew the lunar module with the command and service module.
I think that was Apollo . Jim McDivitt flew, was the commander
on that one. He and Rusty [Russell L.] Schweickart separated and we
had the lifeboat procedure.
We flew Apollo 8, which was 503 launch vehicle, which went around
the Moon, and then we had 9. I can't remember the numbers. Nine, I
guess, was the flight with the two vehicles together, and then 10
we flew around the Moon with Tom Stafford and Gene [Eugene A.] Cernan
and came real low [over the lunar surface].
There again it paid off, because when we flew the guys on board, put
the wrong switch and then swore they didn't and we knew they did,
but we told them what to do, you know. But it's got to be nerve-wracking
when you're 250,000 miles away and you think everything's going, and
the wrong planet's coming at you, and then you know that everything's
going to be okay, and they came back.
[Apollo] 11 was another big deal. We had some young folks in the control
center. We had four situations during the lunar landing when we could
have called an abort. We had a young guy who had done a slosh model,
and, of course, as you move the lunar module, the fuel uncovered a
lot of the sensors, and when you did that, you'd get a bad warning.
But we had had a guy who had watched the slosh work, had developed
his own little model, and he was the expert and he kept saying, "Keep
going. Keep going. Keep going," when we had the alarm problem,
and everything worked out.
So then we got them back and everybody was a hero. Big parties, all
that good stuff, and we were really confident and cocky, Apollo 12's
going to be a piece of cake. During the launch phase, we were struck
by lightning. At that time a couple of us were in the back with the
Spacecraft Analysis Group, and one of the things that we wanted to
do was to marshal all of the engineering talent, but do it in a way
that it was controlled. So we were the focal point to all the contractors
to the mission evaluation room and to Marshall.
MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], we had a guy named Steve
Copps who was with us. I don't know whether Steve was there that day
or that shift, but the platform was ruined on the spacecraft, so we
did the same thing. We had a backup at MIT and we dumped the platform.
The whole plan was to bring it back, get it straight and fire at the
end of the first revolution. Well, the Marshall people were dragging
their feet, dragging. They needed not three nines, but ten nines to
make sure, because they didn't know how bad things were. But we had
the guys at MIT who did that, and we worked that through and got the
data to Kraft, and we pressed on.
So then we were really cocky because had had two successes. Of course,
Apollo 13, probably the only time in my life that I've ever seen people
put away their own motives and work together. In fact, my wife and
I were so confident, our daughter was in the hospital to have her
tonsils removed. [Laughter] I called and told her that we'd had a
really bad problem and I didn't know when I'd be home.
It happened right at a critical time, we had two choices, we could
either press on and go around the Moon, or we could fire the command
and service module. We probably had enough to bring them in the Indian
Ocean, a long wait. We didn't know what the damage was to the command
and service module.
Kraft had just gone home and was taking a shower, and he got the call
and, of course, he came right in. First question that he asked, "I
guess you've got your lifeboat procedures." [Laughter] "Roger."
It's great that he remembered that you had them.
Well, we were just thankful. He was a guy that challenged a lot of
people, but he did it in a kind way, and he allowed people to grow
and really be exceptional.
The thing at that time, it was really critical because we had run—you
know, the lunar module is supposed to live for three days, and we
had to make it live for six. There were lots of problems that if you've
seen the movie Apollo 13, which was probably as realistic as it could
be, but there were a lot of things that went on, like Ken [Thomas
K.] Mattingly [II], it showed in the movie, where he went and did
a reswitch to make sure that everything was good, made sure nothing
happened. But we had got the first thing to press on, that was the
first big deal.
The next thing was, how do we conserve the power and the water in
the lunar module so the guys could live and how we keep them warm.
Then we had the CO2 problem, and the guys from the environmental systems
came through. There again, I guess we had a couple of hundred problems
that we dealt with from the analysis to the different controllers
and the different evaluation teams.
I remember we had gotten to the—we ran a simulation. I got a
call from one of the directors. I was in the SPAN room at that time,
and that stands for Spacecraft Analysis, you know. It was from Bob
[Robert A.] Gardiner, and he said, "You're going to kill the
I said, "What are you talking about?"
He says, "We've just run a simulation and the docking ring is
going to break, and they'll die, and we won't hear from them after
we made the maneuver to come home."
See, we were ready to fire and as soon as we fired, we were thirty
minutes in no communications and then they would either come back
or we'd never hear from them again. So I said, "What weights
did you use?"
He said, "I don't know."
I said, "Well, we've just run a simulation with the weights that
are on board," and in the background you can hear ten, nine,
eight, you know. I'm about to die, but one thing we learned in this
space thing was if you don't know what happened, don't do anything.
We had done the best we could. They were ready. They were all ready
to go, and they did.
Well, I sweated bullets for thirty minutes and then the first thing
it was, "Apollo 13, this is Houston," and they said, "We're
coming home." Well, I was a happy dude, to be very honest with
Then as we came closer, we went through another series of problems.
An exciting time, got them home, and really was a neat experience.
Then we started, we flew Big Al [Alan B. Shepard, Jr.] the next time.
That was an interesting flight, no problems.
Then we had our first experience with the Marshall folks, not only
with the rockets, but with the lunar rover. We had had one our guys
go to every training session that the flight crew did with the lunar
rover. He was a contractor, Harry Smith, Jr.—no middle initial—from
Poplarville, Mississippi. Harry was one of the smartest people I've
ever known without a formal education. Poplarville's claim to fame
was where they had Inspector Number Eight that did the underwear.
[Laughter] That's all I can remember of Poplarville. But Harry would
say, "You're wrong," like that.
They could not get the lunar rover right and they had these big tethers,
or tabs, that you had to pull—if you didn't pull—and we
were running out of time, running out of time, and the Marshall people
kind of gone duck dead in the water. We were working with them. They
were now in the Spacecraft Analysis Room, but they couldn't get a
response from the Boeing people at Marshall. Harry finally said, "Pull
this tab," and the people at Marshall wouldn't come through,
and finally he said, "Do it," and they did and the rover
popped out and we were back on the time line.
Well, the people at Marshall went bananas. [For each mission,] we
had given patches and little deals to the guys [as] a little memento.
They didn't even want Harry to have one of those. That's kind of the
problem. But in the meantime, to give you the different ways—the
Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center was there, and he was
just kind of watching over things. People were so busy, and we have,
of course, the pneumatic tube system and you sent stuff, and somebody
said, "Here, take this and send it to station number nine."
The old director, good old German guy, took it, stuffed it in the
thing, dialed it up, and sent it. And that shows you that nobody was
wearing their stripes, except a few people, but that started the differences,
I think, between the Marshall people and the Johnson people. But that
was not a big deal, it was just kind of a healthy competition.
But we got that flight done, and then on [Apollo] 16 we had a real
problem again. Ken Mattingly flew the command module and John [W.]
Young and Charlie [Charles M.] Duke [Jr.] [were] the lunar module
pilot[s]. There again we worked with a problem. We made a maneuver
when we separated and the command and service module engine didn't
work right. So we were really concerned. Of course, the guys had separated,
and we needed to argue it a bunch of times and we needed to bring
it back together so they could all come home.
In that same period of time we went through all the records at Rockwell.
We had all the Rockwell engineers, we had all of our systems people
from E&D, and we found out that the engine was good, so they separated
again and then landed, and that was a really successful flight. Of
course, Apollo 17 was.
In the meantime, we started working on—in that same period of
time, flight operations and flight crew operations were joined together,
and Kenny [Kenneth S.] Kleinknecht, who was one of the best, Kenny
had been the Mercury project manager and the Gemini project manager,
and a really wonderful guy. He became the head of flight operations
and that had both the flight crew and the mission operations folks.
Gene Kranz was his deputy and I was underneath Gene. I worked for
Gene as his assistant for about sixteen or seventeen years, I guess.
As he went up, I don't know whether that was good or bad, I went up.
Then Kenny moved over to the Shuttle Program Office, and then George
[W. S.] Abbey was brought in to…head [our] that group.
One of the really neat guys in the Apollo Program was George [M.]
Low, and not George Low, Jr., who's the astronaut, or used to be an
astronaut, whatever it is, but George Low was one of the most brilliant
managers I've ever known. He had—I can't think of Judy's last
name, Judy was his secretary, and he would dictate his letters and
never read them. That's how confident he was with his dictation and
she was with recording it, and then he would sign them the next morning.
George put the discipline in the Apollo Program, and we had some real
problems early days getting the discipline in the Apollo Program,
because it was a gigantic program. The Cape had to be redone, the
Mission Control Center had to be redone. A lot of different things
happened. George and Chris must have had a blood oath, but they worked
so closely together and they brought things together. We had a really
good working relationship with those two guys and they really supported
us in what we did. In the Apollo situation, very little second-guessing
went on with what happened in the Mission Control Center during the
At that same time, Gene and I started a thing that we called Marvin
Manpower. We started figuring out how we could track how much energy
it took from our people to get ready for a flight. Flight mission
rules were really important. They grew from just a few pages to a
document that big, and that's what we used to train our people with.
The operations handbooks that we had, of drawings of all where people
took the logic drawings and recreated them, they'd cover the wall,
and they were all hand-drawn at that time. Had to be checked, because
that was what you saw.
I remember taking, when we got ready for the Shuttle, I remember taking
John Young and Charlie Duke, and we showed them what we watched. We
had problems with the pilots to get and use electronic stuff rather
than the meters and the dials. We showed them we had two screens with
all the lunar module data, not the trajectory, but all the systems.
Even though we played the tape, the descent tape to the Moon, listened
to the voice, watched the systems burn, they didn't believe it. Here
are the guys who landed on the Moon, they wouldn't believe it. But
we were trying to convert them for the Shuttle system to get rid of
dials, because they only show one thing. The cathode ray tube can
show you any system. And they finally submitted to that years later.
I think they still have the eight-ball in the Shuttle, in the Orbiter.
George Low allowed flight operations people to have a voice in how
the systems were developed and how they ended up on the spacecraft,
and that was a huge step. Of course, then we were working so close
with the flight crews that it really made the flights a lot easier.
But on 13, I'm convinced that those people depended so much on our
guys on the ground that if somebody said, "Open the hatch and
jump out," they would have done it without question. They did
their job and we did ours, and there were a ton of folks working together.
Like I said, never in my lifetime before or since have I ever seen
that kind of cooperation.
I think how much better our country and our world would be if we could
get people just to say, "This is really what needs to be."
I've thought that the people we had at that time, if we wanted to
feed the world that are hungry, we could do that, provided we don't
have all the hurdles we have now, we would have done it the way we
did it in those days. People went across their interface and asked
enough questions and played what-ifs.
Our training people were another brilliant set of folks who didn't
get the glory that the folks were inside, in the Mission Control Center,
because their pictures were taken all the time, but they were just
as important. We had simulations. One thing we did, we debriefed each
other. We'd say, "I'm the procedures guy. This didn't happen
right, this didn't happen, I made this mistake." And we found
through that kind of debriefing that people remembered their mistakes
and they didn't make them again, because they were doing it in front
of their peers. That was encouraged. Our simulation people figured
out ways. They'd start a little leak and then it would manifest and
then something that was guaranteed never to break would break. Let
me tell you, that happened on the flights. You know, people said it's
not realistic, but it happened, and it saved a lot of lives.
We went on into—go back to Marvin Manpower. We figured out if
we flew this kind of flight, then we ought to be able to do it with
less people, so we took some of those people after the flight and
started working on Skylab. So we were ready for Skylab when it did
[happen]. We took a few other people and put them on the Shuttle.
It's probably automated now, but at that time we tracked it, we wrote
it all down and we knew more where the people were than when we briefed.
At budget time, we never lost a budget battle. We always got what
we asked for, because we had the data and nobody could question it,
and it was pretty realistic.
Skylab, we ended up with Marshall building a big chunk of the hardware,
so they wanted a place in the Spacecraft Analysis Room. It's the old
SPAN room, or the Spacecraft Analysis just expanded. That was a problem,
and we also had to fly for nine months.
There was an interesting thing happened. Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth,
who was another really pioneer here, you had to know that guy. He
was very quiet, but a brilliant guy. His wife was a balloonist in
the thirties and flew with [Jacque] Piccard. But he wrote my wife
a note, thanking her for what she did [during Apollo]. Really neat.
That's really special. It's great that he recognized her contribution.
Because there were a lot of families that just exploded and disappeared.
Our family had a special problem. Our son was born a dwarf, which
caused a lot of trips to Johns Hopkins, a lot of different kind of
things. But Joe's done great. He's an accomplished, high-paid lawyer.
He just retired from—he's in the [Houston] City Council. But
he's had some of the similar problems that we had. He and his wife
lost two kids. Well, they lost [two] kids, full term…and one
[early on]. Now they have three kids, and it's really unique, they're
the same [ages] had they [not lost] their natural family. But it's
amazing how well they're doing.
So a lot of the things that happened during that time my wife had
to take care of. Our daughter is older and she helped a lot, too.
But a lot of…[families] just disintegrated, just too much stress.
And that happened also with the flight crew.
But we got into Skylab and we had some interesting experiences there.
We had really grown tight after Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. We had
two dilemmas in Skylab. The [ground] software packages weren't working.
IBM was the contractor and they worked really hard. I can't remember
whether it was CDC or who it was— [Brief interruption]
We told Kraft—we had a huge meeting up in [his] conference room,
and this is one of the times where he pulled his [Nikita] Khrushchev
trick, which he was prone to do. There were two things you had to
remember about him. He had a coin purse, and if you had one of your
troops briefing him—and we always believed we would have the
smartest and the best person brief him if we had a problem, and we
would watch what he was doing and kind of try to orchestrate, or control,
what was said. If he took his coin purse out and started counting
his coins, you knew time was up, no matter what you were doing or
who you had there. You know, cut it off, Charlie.
The other time was when he would hear something that he thought you
were wrong on, but he would really kind of take his shoe off and let
you know you were wrong.
But this time we had gone—Flight Support Division, which was
part of flight ops—terrible time getting the [ground] software
system together, because what we had was in Skylab you had a long
recording period and we were out of touch, so you used all that recorded
data to play back and then evaluate. And it wasn't working. The front-end
computer that brought it all in was on its knees, and they had beat
the poor guy to death, so we thought [it] had [to be] evaluated.
So we went around the room and IBM said, "No go." Somebody
else in flight ops said, "No go." The guy who had the huge
problem said, "We are ready to go." Everybody about had
a heart attack. Kraft said, "That's the kind of spirit I want."
He says, "I'm going to give you guys forty-eight hours,"
bang with the shoe, "or I'll replace everybody." So a miracle
happened, you know, and the [ground system] worked.
We flew…the first launch, remember the…[solar panel was
stuck]. The guys who were from Marshall were literally crying in the
control center, and rightly so. You know, they'd spent ten years trying
to get that rascal up. We had the optimists in the Mission Evaluation
Room and over in tech services figuring out a way to make it work.
Guy had a fish pole, stuck it through [a hatch] and put the heat shield
out to protect it.
The crew came back and, of course, at that time they had been in isolation.
So here's a hundred people, maybe fifty people, were all sitting in
the room with the mask on, reading this. You can't hear anything that
anybody says. Then pretty soon Joe [Joseph P.] Kerwin, who smoked
a pipe, had cut a hole in, you know, and he had the pipe sticking
out. Well, after about four days, you know, and that seems kind of
silly, but that kind of togetherness kind of broke all the stuff down.
Well, long story short, we figured out a way to launch the other one.
We put the crew in there. We figured out a way they could cut the
band that was holding it, the thing snapped, but we still had the
toxicity problem of what happened inside because of the heat. The
Marshall folks, in their good old German way, had figured out a way
to build a [fix], but it was so heavy, we could hardly carry it. We
were afraid the guys couldn't manhandle it and do it. They ended up
drilling holes in it and making it lighter, and it worked. Got the
thing stabilized and went in, got it all set and we flew a thirty-day
flight, a sixty-day flight, and a ninety-day flight, but there was
a period of time between that, so it ran out in nine months.
This was in the days before PCs [personal computers]. You think about
the power of the computing system in the control center, the system
we used to go to the Moon now fits in a PC, that's how much power.
And that was the top of the line.
But when our guys worked—and we lost a lot of other people,
but we had a team of North American, or Rockwell, McDonnell Douglas,
who built a big chunk of it, one of the universities that built the
ATM [Apollo Telescope Mount] computer. We learned how to load computers
really good from the ground. That worked like a top.
But I remember[ed] something that Dr. Gilruth did [during Apollo],
and that was write a letter to my wife. So I personally wrote a letter
to every wife in the flight ops. It was four hundred letters, I guess,
maybe five hundred, that I wrote, to thank them for what they did.
And that was not on a PC; that was all handwritten. [Laughter] People
didn't know what a PC was in those days. They would have been nice
But we had some difficulties with Marshall, but they all worked out
and it strengthened our team. We learned how to do EVA in the early
days. We trained guys over here. We had the recovery group in flight
operation. We had a barge and enough rope to wrap this building three
million times. Everything. You can't imagine. I remember one time
we said, "Well, how do you get a guy to the command module once
they land and they're hurt?" So the tech services folks built
a huge, I call it a shoehorn, but it was a fiberglass deal that they
could put behind the crewmen's back with handles, because if you've
had trouble, if you've known someone that's been real ill, it's hard
to pick them up when they're dead weight.
So we were in a place, a little cylinder full of water, and we'd dump
them in the phase two position, which is top in the water, which means
if you don't turn it up, you're going to drown. But we said, "Put
on a helmet." And fortunately they did. They put on their helmet,
and they ripped the guy out, is the way I looked at it, and sent him
sailing over to the metal pool top, and his helmet, you've seen a
kid who's run into a wall riding a little motorbike. But we learned
that way. We learned how to do it, you know, and it worked out.
Skylab was a really a huge success, and it's a shame that the U.S.
didn't have enough money to keep that up, because we would have beat
Mir and we would have learned, but we learned so much from the medical
standpoint that people really, really in our country have had the
The thing that I used to always stress when I talked around the country
are the real benefits, the computers, medical. You know the square
fat ambulances that we have are all direct from there. The telemetry
can tell you what the problem is. The miniaturization. I have my own
pancreas right here that keeps me alive. It's an insulin pump that
takes care of diabetes.
But it was a group effort, and probably one of the huge strengths
was a lot of people together from different backgrounds and different
mores and values, that came together because there was a goal. There
were some really special people, guys like Bob Gilruth, Chris Kraft,
Gene Kranz, who I worked with really closely for a long time, George
Low, Kenny Kleinknecht.
George Low got cancer and died, I think with melanoma, but the kind
of guy he was, he went to M.D. Anderson [Hospital], and while he was
sitting in the waiting room he wrote down the problems the patients
have, segregate the patient so if you're going and don't know what
you have, you don't have to see the patient that's eaten alive, or
has no ear or no arm or whatever. Chuck [Charles A.] Berry, who was
one of the early doctors, was at that time, I believe, in charge of
the health center down there. He wrote probably fifteen, twenty pages
of problems and solutions. It was unbelievable.
I felt like when we walked from our building over to his, we needed
to be working and thinking about what we were going to talk to the
But they were gracious people. I can remember going to see Chris.
Before every flight we had to take the mission rules and tell him
what the problems, what the changes were. So you really got everything
squared away, every I, every T, everything was understood. You understood
everything. Sometimes he would ask you a question, sometimes he would
just sign it. [Laughter] You'd say, "Boy, I wasted five good
days," but you knew that if you didn't, he would ask the one
question. But he had a knack for sensing. But he was also a good guy.
I remember the Senior Promotion Board, we'd put a guy in, and then
we heard he wasn't even talked about, and we were really upset, because
the guy had done a magnificent job. I saw [Kraft] that night going
on, and he said, "What in the world [is wrong with you]?"
I said, "I am really disappointed," and told him.
He said, "I make mistakes. Come see me Monday." We went
to see him Monday, and he signed it. [Laughter]
Then the other directorates were mad because we had one-upped them,
but, you know, they could have done the same thing. But he was a neat
guy. He still is a neat guy, a special person.
It's interesting, I talked to him one day, I was disappointed in an
assignment, and he told me when he worked at Langley, he'd been a
GS-13, I think, for fifteen years, and he said, "My boss was
so bad, I got ulcers and I almost died." So I'm sure it was true,
what he said, but I got to thinking, it's not too bad what I've just
been through, because it really wasn't. But he is a special guy. Gene
Kranz was, too. Gene has been a special friend for a long time, he
and his family. But there were so many.
I remember one of the things that we learned from the lunar module
after [Apollo] 13 was to take—in the old days, computer programs,
if you had an error, it would manifest itself. So we ran the programs
twice as long as they needed to be. If it was a three-day flight,
you'd run it for six days and then check your errors.
Fortunately, we did that on the lunar module and rationed the water
and that kind of stuff and it worked. When we went to review the Viking,
Bill Tindall who was the head of the data directorate, and Jim [James
C.] Stokes [Jr.], who was Flight Support Division, we had an Air Force
guy with us and Steve Copps from MIT, who did the on-board software,
and myself. The director of Langley, who built the thing that went
to the Mars surface, asked us to come, and one of the things we asked
them was, "How long have you run your descent program? Just the
descent period of time." Well, we said, "Run it twice as
long." Well, they really got angry, but in the end, the director
from Langley, a guy by the name of Ed [Edgar M.] Cortright, said,
"You know, these are our guests and they're not getting a hero
medal or anything else. They want you to learn from their mistakes."
And I think we them did a good job.
The neatest return from that for me, I have a picture…that was
taken by Viking that landed on Mars. Not the lunar surface, but the
Martian surface. It really is red, unless they put a color film in
there. But we went to one of their operations and watched them work,
watched them simulate, and they went through a lot of the same problems
that we did, and we just helped them [solve] the problems. That was
a neat experience.
I also did a lot of the stuff for pulling flight ops and flight crew
ops together. That took about a year of discussions with the different
managers, because everybody thought they were getting cheated, but
they accepted that. That was an interesting experience, because we
had to bring some other folks into our Marvin Manpower system, and
if you are sensitive to the way people are, the more they have, the
stronger they are, but what we were trying to do was to make it a
lean organization, because we knew cuts would come. It's going to
happen, so [you had to] get your organization [in shape].
Then we also had an idea of training your deputy to take over so you
can move. And that's kind of why I left. I had done of it all I could
do in the space program, and I was also a little nervous about what
Ronald [W.] Reagan going to do with the retirement.
A guy met me in the parking lot one day and he says, "Would you
like a job?"
I said, "I hadn't even thought about it."
He said, "Well, you know, they're having an opening and you can
retire and keep everything." So I thought about it over the weekend,
and decided to do that, and I went to work for McDonnell Douglas for
about five years, and then I went to work for Computer Sciences Corporation
for about five years, and then retired and did some consulting.
But the people that I came in contact with were really something.
I grew up with Glynn Lunney and Cliff [Clifford E.] Charlesworth,
and I worked for Glynn on the Shuttle program on the first four flights.
I did the same thing for them. Of course, the Shuttle had had more
things than Skylab, and the first four flights were pretty spectacular.
We had a few nervous moments during the approach and landing tests.
But there again, Kenny Kleinknecht was a guy who worked with us really
close, and he was the chair of the change boards where all things
were controlled and invariably the crew would come in, we need to
change the light from green to purple, or polka dot to chartreuse.
That costs a lot of money. I'm being facetious when I say it was those
colors, but they were trying to make it easier for them[selves].
When we flew the Shuttle training airplane, that came under us and
we were spending tons of money. I mean, it was like a three-million-dollar
deal up to twelve or fifteen million and Kenny Kleinknecht came in.
They had no schedule, so the first thing we did was we had a schedule
and we briefed every morning, where are you, where are you going?
We were flying the plane up there in Long Island, and we had several
of the training pilots from Joe [Joseph S.] Algranti's shop. The flight
is, I don't know what you know about flying, but the Grumman 2, it's
not the Gulf Stream, it's the jet version, it's like a strafing dive
to land, and then it pulls out and lands. That's just how the Shuttle
does. If you've watched enough Shuttle landings, you don't realize,
but if those landing gear don't come out, you're dead. I mean, you're
So we had a problem. The crewmen that flew, of course, the stick was
the same way as the Orbiter. The guy said, "I need a thing to
rest my arm on." So we asked Grumman, "How much is it going
to cost?" It was exorbitant. So we said, "Tell you what,
go down to the hardware store and buy a piece of PVC that's got an
angle and you could put it on the arm [rest] and gray-tape it and
then you just have your arm lean on that." Worked, and it cost
ten dollars and ninety-five cents.
Then the guys in the flight crew said, "We need the real hand
controller." So Kenny devised a Cinderella deal. We had ten crewmen
come in, we had the real [hand controller] and a mock-up one, and
he blindfolded them, and eight out of ten picked the mock-up. So that's
what we used. The price there was like three million dollars versus
twenty thousand dollars.
So Kenny, he was another neat guy who went to the Cape. We had the
tile problem. I don't know whether you know, but those tiles on the
spacecraft—and it reminds me of a fish. It would be like catching
a fish and taking all the scales off of it, and then trying to put
them back on. Every tile has a part number. I remember being down
there, they were going to open the [landing] gear to see if everything
cleared, and everybody was clear, and they popped the gear down and
it shredded those things off like scales on a fish. So Kenny [defined]
some real procedures. He went to the Cape. He would take on any job
that needed to be done. He was a real workhorse in the space program.
Neat guy. He got the Cape squared away, which was another dilemma,
and got the Rockwell people squared away and got the Orbiters started
through the pipeline and we started flying.
But we had to learn a lot different, and the problem still goes on.
If you know now, the cockpit has all of the things on the cockpit—I
can't think of the word—that you can look. You don't have to
look at your things, it's got the airspeed, the wind velocity, all
of that stuff. I can't think of the—
The head's-up display?
Head's-up display. We had just been through—and the change boards
are there all the time. You meet in the morning, you find out what's
going on at the Cape. In the Shuttle Program I spent a lot of time
in 602 watching all that foolishness, and then go to the noon change
board, and then, of course, there was the PRCB [Program Requirements
Control Board] and the CCB [Change Control Board] in the level three,
and all that junk. So you spent most of your time in the meeting,
listening and then passing the data back and forth to people. Now
you could go and type it and send it on the Net to whoever needed
to be there with all the data. I would imagine that's what they do
now. I don't know.
But I can remember being there one day and a guy said, "We will
never"—this was one of the flight crew saying, "We
will never be back for any more changes." We wrote that in his
log, "Never be back." A week later, the guy comes in with
the head's up. "If we don't have the head's up, this plane will
die, you know." I thought Glynn Lunney—if you know Glynn,
Glynn's face gets red every now and then when he gets—and he
looks a lot older than he really is, and he'd say, "In the log
I have written, 'Will never ask for another change.'" But they'd
made that and that's a good thing to do, but it was just so untimely,
so untimely to make it. They've done a good job. There again, they've
got a lot of good young people that I worked with that are still there,
that are not young people anymore, but they really do a good job.
I would think that things that are really neat about the space program
that I've witnessed is the people who stood out. George Abbey was
another guy who worked for George Low, and he was a big help in providing
access to Low when he was Apollo Program manager and George worked
for Chris to provide access, because we never went unless we had a
problem that we needed to get a blessing. Then sometimes he'd say,
"You're right, but you don't understand all the facts."
And we could understand that. He said, "I've got to do this."
We understood that he at least had listened to us. He wasn't somebody
who just punched your card and didn't listen.
Another guy who probably a lot of people don't even know was Sig Sjoberg.
Sig was Chris Kraft's, I call him—I would never say it to either
of them's face, but his alter ego. He was very reserved, but very,
very smart. Sig, I don't think has been well for the last few years.
But he always asked the most probing questions and got people to think
that maybe there was another way or maybe it wasn't the right time
to do something. He was a special guy and still is. We'll remember
him, because he was as solid as Kraft and Gilruth, but just was more
Dr. Gilruth was very reserved and very quiet, but he was one brilliant
guy, and had chances to get a lot of things done. He was wise, I think,
because he picked people and let them do it, and then kind of held
the reins kind of loosely, but didn't worry so much that it wasn't
going to be done. And it takes a big person to do that. You don't
need a control freak doing that.
I look at the people that are in flight ops there or mission ops,
I guess they call it. Randy Stone. I knew Randy and his wife before
they were married. They've been married thirty years. He's matured
and grown to be just the right kind of person to keep the tradition
One of the guys that we met was a famous painter, and I can't think
of the guy's name, but you've seen his murals.
Bob [Robert T.] McCall. We talked to him, got interested in him, and
he initiated the first patch for flight operations. It was an exciting
time. Probably won't be as exciting, it probably isn't as exciting
now as it was, but I think that people that are there probably think
it is. They probably think we did things, and a lot of the things
we did were Dark Ages approaches, but we got it done with what we
had and the money that we had and the people that we had. But the
people were just, it was a special group of folks.
It's interesting now to see that the barriers have been broken and
to see the women having a lot of good jobs. It's timely. They were
just starting when we came, when we were there, and it's interesting
to see that that's improved and gotten larger and larger, because
there's probably no one smarter than my wife. [Laughter] Our problem
in our family, we needed some Indians; we had all chiefs. Our daughter
was a chief, our son was a chief, my wife was a chief, and I was a
chief. It's interesting that our grandchildren are the same way, the
three adopted ones, you would have thought they were the natural ones.
Our daughter has two girls, and one is going to be seventeen in a
couple of months, and she's really a great athlete, great student,
and a great kid and will do well in life. It's so happy for my wife
and I to have two kids that are both really good citizens. Just, boy,
In fact, my wife and I were shopping last Friday and ran into Carmen
Kranz, Gene's oldest daughter, and we didn't know she'd had a little
baby, beautiful child. It was good to see her. In fact, she recognized
us…it was just a neat time.
I don't know whether that's enough for you, or whether you want to
We're right at about the time that our tape is running out, so we
do need to stop for that. Then it's up to you. There's probably a
few things that, if you have a chance, that I'd like to go back and
go on a little more details with. We can either do that now or at
another time, whatever works better for you.
Why don't we do it now. Then you'll be through with me.
Then you can do whatever you want to do.
All right. Well, we'll go ahead and take a quick break here then.
Okay. [Tape change.]
...and if you've seen some of the old pictures, we all had short hair,
we had skinny ties, and we wore short-sleeved shirts. And we all had
Huge briefing. I guess it lasted three, four days, out at Berkeley,
University of California at Berkeley. Well, we had never seen people
with rope belts and barefooted in a college [classroom]. The guy that
was running the machine that day, the viewgraph, he would just sleep
between. They just drove some of the conservative folks right over
the wall, because here they were in the hotbed of all the people from
California. But there were things like that, like that same way with
the thing with the face masks on to keep everybody from getting contaminated.
So what else can I do to help you?
Well, if we could, you've given us a great overview of your career
with NASA, and I thought maybe to go back and touch on a couple of
things in a little bit of detail.
Starting back with when you came on with Mercury. Now, you said you
were in Hawaii on Cooper's flight?
Was that the only one that you had worked on then?
No, I worked on Wally Schirra's flight earlier, which was 7. That
was at Corpus Christi. Then they shut that place down.
So you were working at Corpus Christi during that mission.
Yes. If I remember, that was just like a month after I got here, but
we would have our briefing, and a lot of the things that they were
doing I had done in the Air Force, so it was not a big change. It
was just changing the names. It wasn't an airplane; it was a spacecraft.
Of course, we had a training session where I had to learn all the
sessions. Now, the Mercury systems were a piece of cake compared to
the Apollo systems and the Gemini systems, but we really needed help
into getting everybody to work together. I was involved in a lot of
the work for Gene, Gene Kranz, and did a lot of that.
Looking at that and bringing everybody together and the transition
from Mercury to Gemini, were there big pieces that you remember, like
some of the biggest challenges of making the new program possible
and building the control center?
Well, the big thing in the control center was to get people to put
the right things in the pneumatic tube. You couldn't put hot dogs,
coffee cups, and Cokes. And that was a real problem. We had another
problem, since it's a mechanical system, they for some reason put
the spring on the wrong way. So that rascal flies through the tube
about twenty-five, thirty miles an hour, and the thing comes open
and it just would scarf that tube and, of course, that was really
expensive. But once they did a few tiny things and got people chewed
out enough to not put dumb things in there—let me tell you,
there were a lot of dumb things sent through there—it saved
us an enormous amount of money. I think at that time that thing cost
about a million dollars, and everybody said, "Oh, golly, that's
a lot of money." But we didn't have to have twenty-five or thirty
people, if you take twenty-five or thirty people do salaries, benefits,
etc., it pays for itself pretty quick. Once they got the bugs out
of it, it was pretty neat.
We had a lot of the same problems. To talk to you about the flight
crew, some of our people on the Mercury deal, Mercury remote sites
and at the Mercury control center, we had meters just like a meter
would up and down if they'd see a pressure. When we did our first
cathode ray tube, first computer-generated, guess what we had? We
had the meters on the cathode ray tube.
Then we got people saying, "Let's draw the entire propulsion
system and make a schematic." Put your sensors, put your pressures,
what's it supposed to be, and then, of course, we had to get the people
to go from the left-hand side to the right-hand side. But we learned
how to do that. We did that in the propulsion system, in the environmental
systems, and we didn't have anyplace to learn from except our experience
in Mercury. We had a lot of people from the Air Force. We had a lot
people that had been technicians. [And most did well.]
In fact, it was funny, when I was in Alaska, we were flying an airplane
up and down the Pacific Coast, we'd fly from Elmendorf Air Force Base
to Moffett Field in San Francisco. One day this plane showed up and
they said, "We need you guys to fly these missions. Here's all
the stuff." So we had to fit it [by] hand, and what we were doing
is taking the pieces of equipment and making it look like a satellite.
If you remember, years ago, you probably don't, but one satellite
was lost and the Russians recovered it and everything. We did that,
and it's funny, some of the people that I had talked to on the air-to-ground
came to work from up in Alaska. So we knew what needed to be done.
Nothing had ever been written down. Very few people knew about orbital
We had one time over here, we had one of the spacecraft land very
long, and we went back, we tried to blame it on the pilot, and it
wasn't the pilot's fault; it was the ground people's fault, because
they had not changed the [computer] constant correctly. So we learned
from that mistake. So we created a group of two or three folks and
they were the only ones who could change the constants, and part of
our checklist before launch was we'd call Shirley [Hunt] Hinson and
say, "Shirley, have the constants been changed?" Never had
another problem with landing long.
So we kept asking, we played what-if until we were blue in the face,
and by doing, that we eliminated, we started with this many problems
and we came down and then we trained, and then the sim folks would
read the procedures that we had and reviewed the checklist, reviewed
the systems, and they would open that crack back up and ask those
questions. They did everything. They would fail the intercom in between
the people. You know, we used "Are you go or no go?" It
was a negative report. But if you had a problem sometimes you'd have
to come from the back room and say, "Hey, here's the problem.
Show the people."
We had a way to make a copy, a hard copy of the cathode ray tube.
People thought we were crazy, but that saved our lives, because you
had a history of what was going on. So we just kept doing it and doing
it and asking ourselves the question, and sometimes we would be like
the sim people and ask the same kind of questions so people would
think. People learned to think on their feet. They learned how to
listen to a lot of intercom [channels]. They learned how to tune out
stuff that wasn't necessary. Then they also learned that if they only
needed to listen to the guys talking to the crew, they'd punch everything
off and take the wrath of the flight director or whoever was screaming
and hollering at them.
You also had to learn to deal with the top row and tell them what
they needed to know and not tell them too much, because then the press
guys—I don't know whether you ever remember Paul, we used to
call him Cadet Paul, was the PAO guy for years. He was always daydreaming
or asleep. We'd brief him. Gosh, what was his name? But he was here
for a long time. Not [John A.] Shorty Powers, but he was—I'm
not going to say anything about him. [Laughter]
A lot of that creativeness that you had talked about earlier came
But we had a group of people, and those folks kind of grew and were
really the people who managed the different things. The personalities
of those people sparkled enough that they commanded the respect of
the others. Primarily they worked harder and just did a better job
than some of the other folks. We had some other folks that who were
just solid in the systems and that's all they wanted to do. But we
had some fun times, some good times.
It sounds like there was a pretty good rapport between everyone.
Yes. We played hard and we worked hard.
The move to Houston. You had mentioned earlier that you had gone back
to Virginia after the Air Force, because that was your home. What
did you and your family think about the move to Houston?
We were delighted. We were just delighted. Even though I'd gone back
to help my mom, it just wasn't right for what I wanted to do with
my life and my family, and this was a wonderful opportunity. It was
new. I had listened to Al Shepard. In fact, I was driving to Langley
on Air Force business when he flew. I thought, hey, this is pretty
cool. "Cool" wasn't a good word then. Cool was when you
were almost cold. [Laughter] But I really thought it was neat and
I looked forward to it. Then when I met some of the people that were
really working on it, I thought I would fit in okay.
Had you, as a kid, had you had an interest?
No, there wasn't anything. You know, airplanes. I grew up in Virginia,
went to school there, and Langley Field, you know, Sam [Samuel P.]
Langley was a big person, and if he had gotten a little help, he would
have been the guy who—in fact, Smithsonian held his airplane
in higher regard for years, and the Wright flyer was in England in
a museum. Then finally they got the history right. Kill Devil Hills
[North Carolina] is close to where I grew up. It's hard to believe.
Everybody thinks those guys were bicycle people. They were brilliant
engineers, because they saw the lateral control by reviewing what
[Octave] Chanute had tried to get across, but Chanute never put an
engine on it until after the other guys did, I think. But I figured
if they could do it, you know, I could do it. I was fortunate enough
to be part of it. It's pretty neat.
It's pretty neat. You've had some very interesting times.
Looking at, again, with Gemini, you had talked about a little bit
about what was going on with a few of the missions in there, for all
of the missions were you in the control room?
Oh, yes. Yes, I was in the control center for every Gemini flight.
Gemini I was an unmanned flight, I was there. Gemini II, this was
at the Cape. Gemini III, I was here and we had a group at Kennedy
[Space Center, Florida]. At that time it was Cape Canaveral, I think.
I still have a hard time calling it Kennedy.
You're not the only one.
Kennedy was a funny place to visit, because it was an Air Force base,
so you had to have an Air Force clearance, and many times they would
goof it up and you'd go—and you know, if you've gone from Cocoa
Beach, in those days there was only one road. You drove up the beach.
It seemed like a hundred miles to the middle of nowhere. If you didn't
get in, the rest of the troops, they were okay, they'd leave you at
the gate house. Lots of times, people, you know, I thought a wonderful
place for Candid Camera. But they finally realized, and since they
were Air Force people, they didn't care if they hadn't gotten word
from you, you didn't get in, so there you were. But we finally got
that squared away, but it's still funny, now there's gates all over
the place. It's a nice, nice facility.
If you've ever had a chance to go in the vertical assembly building
and seen how they stack the Shuttle, it's truly amazing. We used to
laugh about when Kurt [H.] Debus was the boss down there, and he was
another one of the German guys. I can see him in Congress then. We'd
got this thing and it weighed seven and a half million pounds, and
a tiny little tractor that drags it out, you know, at two miles an
hour. The stones that they use on the roadway as lubricant are amazing.
It's all television from every [point]—it's an enormous thing
to see. But if you're afraid of heights, don't go to the top of it.
We asked our crew to get on the top and hook up to the wire, then
come sailing down. That's probably the spookiest part of the whole
flight for them, although sitting on top of all that fuel takes a
lot of courage. But I think they're probably safer than driving their
Corvette up and down the highway. [Laughter]
Very definitely, I'd think.
Ed White was a neighbor of ours, and so sad, and Neil [A.] Armstrong
was. Neil Armstrong's wife taught our daughter the synchronized swimming.
He was a good guy. Reminded me from what I've read about Charles [A.]
Lindbergh, he was about the same kind of person. Nice guy.
Yes, he does seem to be.
Looking at, again, some of the intricacies of the mission control
room, and you had talked about the Gemini VI and VII mission, how
they did the dual and the rendezvous, and that wasn't something that
had originally been planned for Gemini.
No, that was another thing that was done very quickly. We had an opportunity,
see, I believe the—I can't remember which, VI was scheduled
to go and a plug fell out of the bottom and it had a false start.
[Gemini] VII was coming down the pipeline, so we got it and tried
to compress the schedule and then fixed VI, so VII went first, and
then VI went and rendezvoused. I believe that's the way it was.
But that was a big, a huge leap, and it took a lot of courage for
the decision to be made, because there again it pressed everybody
to have the procedures ready, have the flight rules ready, what are
you going to do, and so you worked and worked and worked and got it
Then we had to have two sets of teams to work. [Gemini] VII, I think,
went for two weeks. I believe it flew for two weeks. That was a big
mission for the medics. They wanted—can you live for two weeks?
I think they did survive for two weeks. The other one was kind of
up, rendezvous, and come down. But it was a huge step for Apollo,
because it proved that we could rendezvous, it kind of set the stage
for the flight where we flew McDivitt and Schweickart, and rendezvoused
around the Earth. That proved that the lunar module computer worked
and the CSM [command and service module] worked.
That was a big milestone and it caused a lot of work, a lot of extra
work or unscheduled work for people. They were going to do it, they
just were going to do it in a little bit more leisurely fashion.
But that was another thing, the work ethic of a lot of people was
really unique. It was substantial. It really was, what they did. We
were blessed. I think that was the leadership of Kraft and some of
the program office people and some of the people that we had in our
own organization. The folks over in the engineering directorate were
yeomen also. Guys like Don [Donald D.] Arabian, who you'll visit with,
uncanny guy to figure out ways to skin a cat. He never gave up. He
really had a lot of neat ideas and could work with people and get
them to produce. He did a lot of problem-solving and problem-understanding.
That was the other thing. If you had a problem, we tried to understand
what the problem was, and then, of course, you not only wanted to
fix this flight or control it, you wanted to get it into the next
cycle, so if it was a major problem, it wasn't going to impact your
launch date. You think about when the design was finally fixed on
the Orbiter, even years later you'd go to a change board and the guy
would open, when you'd talk about the maneuvering system, he'd first
say, "Now, if we had the maneuvering system that I wanted, we
could have just opened these hatches and we could fix these little
God bless Aaron Cohen. He'd say to the guy, "Guy, we don't have
that system. This is the system we have now. What is your change?
Quit talking about history. We don't have that. We couldn't afford
Those kind of folks really kept things going, and the country and
the agency were really blessed. They had those same folks at Marshall,
same folks at Kennedy, and that's what kept things going.
Good combination of people.
Yes. I don't know whether you've ever interviewed Rocco [A.] Petrone
at the Cape. I don't know whether he's alive anymore. But he was the
guy, I think, I can't remember whether he was the boss down there
when we had the fire, or one of the problems, and he said, "I
don't want you to tell me that so-and-so told you. If that's your
system, you go look at the connections and you write it down. There
are no mistakes. We can't afford them."
On the Apollo fire, there were a lot of people who really were heros,
burned themselves trying to open that hatch. Just such a sad thing,
Of course, the [Challenger] thing, I was gone when that happened,
thank goodness. I was at the Princess Hotel with my wife in Acapulco
[Mexico], and couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe it. Wonderful
set of folks on that flight. I knew Judy [Judith A. Resnik] well and
I knew the commander and the pilot [Francis R. Scobee and Michael
J. Smith], and Elli [Ellison S. Onizuka] were just cream of the crop.
Unfortunate that that had to happen, but at least people were able
to pull back together and bring the program back.
Yes. That was another time when people really dug down, and it's fortunate
that it became better because of it. It really is.
You question. I'm talking and I shouldn't talk.
No, yes, you should, this is your oral history. You're doing great.
Looking at the transition from Gemini to Apollo, you talked about
how with having two-manned spacecraft and how Gemini did a lot of
the EVA and learned on that. Were there again major changes to the
control room between Gemini and Apollo?
No. See, that's when we designed it, what we wanted to do was to change
the basic software and keep the hardware. Now, we might have added
a couple more positions. See, we had more systems, we had larger systems,
but the control center did not change. We had on the front row, we
had the guidance ops, we worried about the guidance, and they worried
about the guidance on both the command and service module as well
as the lunar module. We had to enlarge that section of guys. The flight
dynamics people was the guy who took the maneuver and moved whatever
needed to go. They also worried about the rendezvous maneuvers. Then
the retrofire guy worried about bringing them home. So that just was
an addition of one person.
The booster systems were more complex, because we not only had the
Saturn I and the Saturn IV, we had the Saturn II and the Saturn IV,
and the other one we just had one guy that worried about the booster.
So we expanded that a little bit. We had the doctor.
At that time, we had so many crewmen, they were the capcoms. They
were the spacecraft communicators, like I did in the old days. In
the Mercury days, we had some folks that thought they were better
than the crew, and in lots of cases they were. But if you remember
in Gemini, we only had seven astronauts and one was flying and one
couldn't fly, that was Deke Slayton, and he had to be here to make
sure nobody goofed up, and one who was flying the next flight. So
you only had four, and most of the time they were training or doing
different things, so they didn't really want to do it. So they were
Then when we got the second group and we flew Gemini, and then during
the Gemini Program then we got the third set and we had enough that
we could send them around and we used them in the control center.
It turned out to be better. My humble opinion. We would have probably
used them earlier, but we didn't have anybody. We just didn't have
many folks. But that was one of the things.
Then on the next row we had two command and service module engineers,
one who worried about the electrical and environmental and one who
worried about the propulsion systems. We called them GNC [Guidance,
Navigation, and Control]. Then we had two for the lunar module, the
electrical communications and, of course, the propulsion system. Because
the propulsion has to work going down, and if it doesn't work coming
up, you're in deep serious trouble.
Then we had the procedures guys, assistant flight director and then
the people who worried about the system within the control center
and the system around the world. Then he worried about the folks,
we had the folks in the basement, in the IBM group, that worried about
the software. We tied all those people together on the intercom, and
we worked very hard with that, trying to make sure that people said
the right things and did the right things and there were big books
of procedures to make sure that people were trained and that kind
Another big thing that happened in Skylab was how do we train this
many people? We started off with just lectures, and we found out that
too many people slept. So we made the instructors do videotapes. You
could come to work, they ran about an hour, you could come to work
at seven and watch the tape, and they were so much better. You could
do it on your lunchtime, you could do it in the evening. That really
paid off, that and the systems trainers that we built where we put
the people and did taped exercises, you're going through lunch phase,
this is liftoff, and then you got to chance to visually see and do
a lot of the functions that the crew was doing. Same way with entry,
same way with being on orbit.
They were very inexpensive ways to train our folks and make them more
comfortable in dealing with the flight crew. I think those two things
really paid off, because we had so many more, they were a lot of new
people that we'd brought into the system. That paid off, it really
paid off. In fact, some of the training was so good that some of the
newer astronauts would come over and train on that, because they were
so far down in the pecking order, they didn't get any simulation time,
which is a huge expense, a huge expense.
Talking about the training and the simulations and you're mentioning
for Skylab, for Apollo how did you, especially for the individual
missions since they were so close together and—
We had two floors. When we were flying Apollo 11, we were training
Apollo 12 crew on the second floor or the third floor, whichever was—and
that paid off, because we didn't miss a beat. It's hard not to be
on Apollo 11, be on Apollo 12, but somebody had to do it. Our crew
liked that and our training people liked it. But that's the way we
The mission rules, we've talked about those a couple times and procedures,
of course, continued to evolve the whole time as each—would
you sit down after each mission and evaluate them?
Yes. There was a formal debriefing with the flight crew, and that's
more for show-and-tell and hero worship, but it's necessary. We did
our debriefing at the section level and the branch level and then
brought it up to the division and the directorate and started the
changes. In fact, in some cases during the missions they were redlined
if something went wrong. We did that during our training exercises.
They tested like when you were ready to go, no-go, to launch toward
the lunar surface, translunar injection. They would test, they would
break something just to see if you'd violate the rules. If you had
a backup or something, things would work out and you pressed on. But
we set them up where we were level and we needed these things to press
I can't think—the only time we had a problem was on Apollo 16,
when we were nervous about the landing because of the engine maneuver,
and we wanted to make sure the command and service module could, number
one, make its maneuver to rendezvous and then make the burn to come
home. We had a little set-to with the flight director. He was nervous,
he didn't want to do it, and then we finally got him convinced by
having the head guy from Rockwell come out and said, "It's okay."
It was nerve-wracking, because the crew hadn't slept for a long time,
they needed some rest, so they landed on the Moon. Of course, we had
to change the time line, we had to change the time line for Ken Mattingly,
who was going around. We did those things in simulations. Most instances
the simulations were more realistic than the flight, because—not
more realistic, because it couldn't have been, but what I'm trying
to say is that the training really stressed the system, the people,
the procedures, the communications, everything that we needed to make
it all in sync. So it worked out pretty well.
You mentioned you were going through the control room and the different
positions and talking about training and all. You served for several
missions as assistant flight director. During the break, you were
telling us a little bit about that, but if you could expand on that
and tell us what that all—
Well, you were kind of the keeper of the flight rules, and Kraft trained,
then he went off, and we had Kraft and John Hodge. Then John got ill
and then he left and went to Washington. Kraft stayed. Then we created
a new position called the director of mission operations, director
of flight operations, gave him a console at the back and let him deal
with all the heros. Then we had Kranz and Lunney and Charlesworth
and we had the team colors. We had red team, white team, blue team,
and then as we down—I guess they're to chartreuse by now. Then
we retired the colors. If you've been in the control center you'll
see—I don't know whether they retired all of them or not, I
have no idea, but the first few guys, Kraft and Hodge and Kranz and
Lunney and Charlesworth were the primary guys to get us started in
Apollo. Kraft, of course, was in Mercury, the only Mercury flight
director. Hodge was in Bermuda.
See, in those days we had to use teletype. There were no such things
as data lines. Everybody had to type "I love you," cut a
paper tape, and then you ran over and put the paper tape in and you
looked at a teletype machine. It made a horrible amount of noise.
When we first built the control center, we were still on teletype.
We heard through the grapevine that the nuclear subs had a silent
teletype machine. We couldn't get one, so we got a regular one and
built a soundproof box around it with stuff. It worked like a top.
Later on we got rid of that silly tape, because a paper tape doesn't
look like there's anything on it but a bunch of holes in it. But we
lived that way. That's all they had.
Then as communications got better, we made the move here, because
this is where everyone was. By working hard to design it and put all
the square pegs in the round hole, we got four here and it worked.
But you were the keeper of the rules and you were trying, and you
had been involved in practically every discussion between the flight
director and the flight crew and the systems people, and you knew
what the logic was, why we did it, because even in the flights sometimes
we'd say, "Well, what about that?" So we started writing
a little logic book and a history book of who created a rule, so there
was some history. This, of course, was before procedures, all hand-typed
by some poor little contractor. But it was all proofed. There was
no thing, you were the spellcheck. It grew. Your value was noted by
were you on the distribution list.
Finally, it got so expensive we just had to cut it to who really needed
them, because you don't need a big expensive hand-done thing just
as a bookend. You really don't. But you were trying to help. You tried
to help the flight director. I worked with Kraft a lot, and we had
a good working relationship. You could talk to him if you thought
something needed to be done or, "Hey, I'm going to go and talk
to those people in the analysis room and see where they are, when
we can have a meeting."
Then we got the headquarters people involved, where we met every morning
and told the world what was going on, because there was a lot of interest
here during those programs, a huge amount of press interest. Then
we put the press guys in the viewing room. We worked on those kind
I remember on Apollo ASTP [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project], we were working
on the gift exchange between our astronauts and theirs. It was the
ugliest-looking thing I've ever seen in my life, and the guy says,
"It's going to work like a top." One would take one half
and one would take the—couldn't get it apart without using a
hammer. So they said, "Guys, I think the briefing is over. You've
got to come back next time with a better device."
When we flew that, too, we were really concerned were the Russians
going to do their job, so we did a lot of work with the engineering
directorate folks to make sure, and then, of course, we built the
docking ramp, so that we knew that our crew would be safe. Not that
they're not, they just have a different view of how to do things,
and we're seeing that now. They want to go back to Mir, which is probably
a good idea, but that's going to sacrifice the International [Space]
We just tried to make sure all the holes in the dike had a finger
in them. That's probably the easiest way to say it. We worked with
a lot of people to integrate and get rid of the mysteries and make
people be up front.
Certainly provided for some interesting times.
Yes, it did. Thinking about them is kind of fun, too. This is more
interesting to me than it is to you guys.
Oh, I don't know, it's very interesting to us.
I was amazed. I said, well, what am I going to do? I wrote my oldest
granddaughter all the funny things that I could remember, and the
good times, and my second granddaughter. Now, we've got three more,
and I don't know whether I'm going to do that again. I've been looking
for the diskette, because I have some time, and I'm going to keep
looking for it and see if I can't find it.
Or you'll be able to share this with them, too.
I may do that.
I'm sure they would get a kick out of listening to it.
You mentioned the Apollo 8 mission earlier and Apollo 11, both of
which were very big steps. Actually, out of all of the Apollo missions,
did one of them make a bigger impression on you than any of the others?
I think thinking back, probably 8 was the biggest jump, because we
had just had the problem on the 502 flight with just the deal. It
would have gotten us into orbit, but I don't think we would have gotten
to the Moon. Going on Apollo 8, we were able to check out the computing
system, we checked out the guidance system, we checked out the propulsion
system of everything, as well as the communications around the world.
Our navigation system worked, the orbital dynamics worked. Even though
we had trained to reenter, this was a real entry and, of course, you
know that when you came back in, if it wasn't right, you'd go up into
the hinterland. So that was probably the biggest step in Apollo.
Then, of course, 11 was a big one because you really had to bite the
bullet and go down. I'm glad that Neil Armstrong was flying the thing,
because he'd had a really close call out at Ellington [Field] on the
lunar landing and survived that. So we knew that he had had that experience,
and he was a really cool pilot. He had a lot of training and he was
probably the best selection for that.
It's interesting, a couple of flights after that, we had another group
of astros come in, and I remember in the control center, he said,
"Boy, I'm glad I'm about out of here, because these people are
so smart." He said, "They will destroy guys like me."
[Laughter] He was a neat guy, low key, and was the right selection.
I credit Dr. Gilruth with that. He just had a sense about him, was
a tremendous manager and understood what needed to be done. He didn't
have that same feeling about all of them, I'll have to say that, but
when it was crunch time, he knew who to select so there would not
be a big crunch against the agency. That's a real skill. It just worked
It did. It all came together.
With the end of the Apollo Program, were there disappointments or
were you ready to move on to the next?
Oh, we were already working on Skylab. Do you remember me telling
you, we knew this was coming, so we started plotting our Marvin Manpower
curves, and we knew what our organization was going to be. We were
already working. We had systems guys on that. There again, they'd
done super jobs and we moved them off to other things and they were
just as enthusiastic, just as energetic and worked on those things.
We had to figure out how we were going to do the flight rules there.
We had different procedures, because we had more people, we had more
hardware to monitor. We had a different set of folks at Marshall to
work with, we had different folks here at Johnson to work with.
We were trying to have a better ground system. So we worked as hard
we could to—I don't think—we lost a few folks, but some
got promoted and went on to different things, but there was no hard
feelings. I don't think people—the disappointment in Skylab
was the first day, but by the end of the day everybody was pumped
back up and then the Marshall folks got included, they came back from
their disaster, and things worked out.
We learned how to train. We had a full-sized mock-up. It used to be
here in the facility. Skylab was about the size of a three-room home.
Lots of ingenious things, you know. They wore like sneakers with triangle
deals where you could stick your foot and you wouldn't float around.
Lots of hand-holds. But it's a lot like swimming underwater on zero
gravity, and that's the big thing we learned to train with. There
just were a lot of good folks that worked really hard.
I think probably the Shuttle caused more problems, because the engine
development was done so differently than the engine. There's probably
not any wildlife left down at Michoud [Assembly Facility, New Orleans,
Louisiana], where they tested those engines. They blew up every alligator
and fish or every bird around the area. But I'll say this, that those
folks tested the Saturn I and the Saturn II until that really worked.
It worked out okay. The engine development, the main engine development
and the booster, there were some real difficulties, and it took a
lot of agonizing over whether or not they were really ready to go.
But if you look back, we were really gun-shy on the length of the
first orbital flights.
I remember when the first orbiter was delivered, they said, "How
are we going to get it here?" Thought we were going to have to
power it up, and the payload bay doors wouldn't close. They had put
stuff in backwards, so that didn't close. So I suggested that they—I
said, "Let me just draw you a little sketch. You've got the bulkhead
in the back that's got the power, and we can run the power from the
Shuttle carrier craft up and the stuff in the Shuttle carrier, the
747, can run the power in the Orbiter. We can turn the fans and stuff
on and you can check the deal."
So I drew this little thing. Well, it came back as a changeover. Rockwell
took credit for it. I went ballistic over that. Finally, I said, "Well,
it won't get here if they don't do that."
It worked. It told us what the temperature in the cabin was, it gave
us a good checkout, and we wrote flight rules for the guys who flew
Shuttle aircraft, the carrier aircraft, of what they should do, what
altitude they should be, because I was more worried about the thing
falling off and then there we were with a lot of mud on our face.
But it worked great. In fact, when it flew by here, it was an exciting
thing to see. They made a little [low] pass [over BC]. Pretty neat.
Of course, the systems guys and the crew were nervous wrecks, you
Then, of course, we went through the big tile problem, getting that
first one. But anytime you have something that big—and you know
the Shuttle is as big as a DC-9. That's a big spacecraft. They also
got the payload bay doors to close. But, see, a payload bay, you're
dealing with another country, Canada was building it [the Remote Manipulator
System (RMS), robotic arm], so we had to integrate Canada. Then they
wanted a seat, you know. We trained one of our folks to do the stuff.
Mechanical systems became a big deal. EVA became a big deal.
We trained the guys over there on the RMS, remote manipulator system.
They used an air-bearing table. We had a training facility that was
two-dimensional, and we had the balloon over there, the balloon for
the payload. Guy was almost ready to be captured and somebody would
open the hangar door and the balloon would go sailing up. [Laughter]
So they put a little thing, "Do not open this door."
It's those kinds of things, you think you've got it all made and everything
is straight, but it worked. That sucker worked, because the people,
they took all the what-ifs and they kept knocking them down one at
a time. Then we can handle three or four more that we didn't think
about. But people got to thinking like that, and it really paid off.
It really and truly did. It really did.
It certainly did. Talking about Shuttle, it was such a different vehicle
from what you had worked with before and so many different procedures
and rules and engineering to bring it all together, but yet its first
missions were manned, whereas the others had been unmanned. Was there
any discussion on that?
Oh, yes. We went, we had a big to-do, manned, unmanned. A whole group
of us went to Boeing. Boeing has the ugliest paint job on their test
airplanes. It's kind of like purple and yellow. Of course, the Shuttle—the
727 is about the same configuration, same kind of wings, and they
had done more dead-stick landings than anybody in the world. No problems.
So we went out there and checked that out.
We also went out to make sure we understood what the 747 could do,
and went through their flight test program of how they ran the test
program for the 747. We took a number of pilots and crewmen and let
them train and watch what the crews did on the 727, watched their
procedures. They took that information and modified a plane up at
Langley and gave them additional training.
That's how the Shuttle training airplane came about. Grumman [Aerospace
Corporation] made a bid on building that. I want to call it the Gulf
Stream, but it's the G-2, I guess, is what it is. Then that started
where you've got a safety pilot with the real controls of the airplane
and the Shuttle training pilot, Shuttle training aircraft pilot, with
the Orbiter controls. It responds just like the Orbiter does when
you are making your final approach. And it's a pretty scary approach.
You know the Shuttle training airplane's got engines. The other guy
doesn't have any engines. We would go through all that stuff. The
computer, we felt, the two sets of computers that we had on the Orbiter,
we felt like were better to land. We had a huge controversy of the
flight crew, because "I'm the only one that can do it,"
you know. They did some silly things, like one time they were getting
ready to land and they're switching pilots, so they can have just
as much time in each seat. But all that was done.
All the orbital mechanics came out, and you're doing the heading alignment
circle and you line up, and once you start in, you come on down. I
mean, you've committed yourself. So the wind's got to be good, you've
got a chase plane, and you've got photographers. The first times we
did it, we did it out at Edwards, and we had some real problems at
Edwards. Fred [W.] Haise was landing, and one of our things was to
land within so many feet from the threshold of the runway, and he
got head-up and locked on landing there rather than landing the airplane,
and we thought he was going to die.
It was a different system from what we had in the simulator, the way
the rate command system that the Orbiter had, the more input you put
in, the more reaction it does. The other one doesn't make changes
if you use a computer, it don't make changes unless you make changes.
That's why we felt like hands off, hands up, but the airplane landed
itself. Study after study showed it would do it, came back and ran
through it and showed where it could happen.
We trained people in flying the 707, because we now have a crew, you
got two pilots. It's not like the fighter jockeys that all these guys
were. You got two pilots, so you got to be careful how you land and
how you work together.
[Charles] Gordon Fullerton was one of the crewmen that had a lot of
multi-engine time. He was a good guy and he helped a lot of people
understand that thing is a lot bigger, it's not like coming home in
a blunt-nosed job that you land in the ocean. And we had trouble with
tires. They're like 25-ply. God knows how much those things cost.
Then the next question was, how do we know that there's air in the
tires after they've flown a period of time. The landing gear, how
much—you know, all of those things were asked by people, and
they'd go and short it out to make sure that it's understood. Then
you wring your hands for three days or six days or ever how many days
until you see those babies pop out and you see the smoke on the runway
and then you know that it's okay.
We had lots of problems with when we land, what do we do? We spent
weeks and months doing that, building all the stuff to take out the
APU [Auxiliary Power Unit] fuel. How did we get all the other stuff
out? How do we get the crew out if they're incapacitated? So once
those guys land, we had a real deal. We worked on all the requirements
to make sure that the things—then the problems that we had in
the flight are put in the next flight or the one after that, and everything
was managed by schedule and by people with responsibility.
Another thing I did was we were having real problems with the simulator
requirements. The requirements were written like, "Build something
that flies like the Orbiter." They were spending a ton of money,
so we said, "No, what we're going to do is we're going to develop
a set of a requirements with all the phase, all the stuff that we
need, and then we'll get a price for that." So we did that and
put it under change control. Nobody could change it unless you go
to the board. Because if you don't, then you'll end up it'll look
like an Orbiter, but it won't fly like the Orbiter. That's the real
discipline that flight operations tried to maintain in the program
office, that you must keep track of the stuff.
Just like the tiles. There's God knows how many tiles. Every one has
a part number, every one has a drawing. Then there's a tool to put
them all and the stuff to put on and there's a tool to take them off,
because they're expensive. At that time, that I can remember, they
were all hand-made. See, in the selection, there was Rockwell or North
American Rockwell, there was Lockheed [Aircraft Corporation] at that
time, and there was Grumman. I think Grumman built the wings that
had to fit into the Orbiter and the tiles, I think, at one time or
one of those, something like that, were all done by Lockheed. So how
do you make sure those dudes are talking and getting them delivered
on time, and then you've got a million subcontractors.
You need to go and see what an Orbiter inside looks like. I don't
know whether the SAIL [Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory] still
has all that stuff, but the SAIL was a replica of all the wiring,
and they ran those computers until they thought they would kill themselves,
and they worked. We always worried about the software, but the hardware
and the software of the computers had really been magnificent in the
Shuttle. That was just because there were a lot of folks dedicated
with hard work, "I ain't going to go to sleep tonight until that
sucker works right." And that was the real key. There were enough
of the folks who looked for the snakes under the rocks, and then told
people what they saw under the rocks or that there was no problem.
"We don't need to worry about that snake anymore, because it's
not there." Or, "Hey, we've got a huge problem."
The thing about the upper management, they listened and they responded
or they told you, "We don't want to worry," but at least
they listened. Most of the time the folks underneath discovered it.
We used to have our buddies at the Cape or at Marshall that we called
practically every day, so we knew when something went—we'd tell
Kraft before he knew about it. It drove him crazy. But he was good
about that. He was a neat guy. Neat man.
Very much so. You mentioned briefly the Viking Project and that you
had consulted on that.
You just worked that in with your other duties?
With everything else, yes. We went for a couple of days and that worked
out fine. They would send the stuff, we'd review it at night, and
then we'd listen to their briefings and ask questions, and then they
kept records and told us what they had done. Like I said, the neatest
thing is to have a picture of Mars. Not many people have those.
No, not many at all. As the mission was landing, were you able to
follow it all in real time?
Yes, we knew what they were going to do. It was exciting. But, you
see, it takes twenty minutes, I think, or longer than that for a signal
to come, so when you see it, it's too late to fix it, unless it's
something that you can work around. We had similar problems with the
Skylab, because if you didn't get the data in, something could have
happened twenty minutes ago because of the way the orbits went around
the Earth. So it worked out well, finally after their boss told them
they ought to listen.
Tom [Thomas E.] Young left that project and went and was the director
of Goddard for a while. I think he lives on the ocean and sails a
lot now. But it's good to have good memories.
That's very good. It's very good to be able to look back and say you
were able to enjoy the times and the people you worked with. Very
fortunate. Looking back like that, over all your time with NASA what
would you consider to have been your biggest challenge?
I think the first one was getting ready for Gordon Cooper's flight,
because I was supposedly in charge of the systems guys and trying
to keep track of Scott Carpenter. That was a chore. And making sure
that we did the right things, because we were at a [remote] site,
probably the—well, we were the site before the States picked
Then after that, it was getting the requirements for the control center
and making sure that we had a good set of requirements that could
fit within the budget. Then working with the folks in the directorate
to make sure that we listened to them and we responded to what they
I guess the next one would be in Skylab to make sure we had everything
ready to fly Skylab, because that was a huge investment, and making
sure that the interface with Marshall would work. Then make sure that
we selected the right people to take over as their organization. When
I came to work, we had, I don't know whether it was a section or a
branch, and we had horrible quarters. When we moved down here, we
went into our own branch and then we went to a division and then we
went to a directorate. Then we took two directorates and put them
together, had to manage the airplane operations and turn down crewmen
who wanted to go on the one-shot buffalo hunt and take a T-38, when
that didn't make a lot of sense, in my humble opinion. I said, "You're
going to fly into some crazy airport? Why don't we fly you first-class."
You could call Kraft and say, "Chris, I've got a problem with
Teddy. What I did, you'll probably get a phone call." He said,
"You did the right thing."
When we took over the earth resources things, we had a C-130 and a
B-57 and all that stuff. Of course, they spent a lot of time in Colorado.
That was when Coors beer was the biggest thing in the world. Lo and
behold, our guys brought back tons of it in the belly of the airplane.
It just so happened that as they were unloading it, the guy driving
the tractor dumped it over, and there they were, and everybody's [nervous].
So you had to deal with that. We had a guy stuff the deer that they
had killed into the baggage thing in a T-38, and it comes back with
the blood running all out of it. But those were the funny things that
happens everywhere. We had a lot of fun times just thinking about
those things, but at that time in our life it was pretty crucial because
they knew better.
We had one time an airplane, C-130, coming in for a landing and it
just passed its big maintenance check. I don't know whether you know
the doors for the gear probably is as long as that wall. I think it
has thirty-two Zeus fasteners that you push in and turn it and it
keeps it on. Well, when they did it, it was all signed off, they had
put three, and when the doors popped open, the thing went right back
and hit the horizontal stabilizer, hit the pilot in the stomach, the
yoke snapped back. We thought we were going to get cow debris and
kill some exotic animal. Fortunately, well, they fired the guy. That's
what we had to do, because he was the supervisor, and the guy who
did it, so we got through that. We got through a lot of those silly
That's just an aside, but we were able to work through those things
and keep things going and gluing things together. We had enough good
folks that it kept the glue strong enough to keep everybody going.
That was the neat part. It was tough to go to the directorate, because
we spent a lot of time with the divisions, because that's where the
work was. We were fortunate to have enough good people to keep going.
As far as I know, it's still going on. So that's our legacy, I think.
It's been a good time.
Some very good times. Would you say there's a time that was the most
significant point for you in your career at NASA, or that you feel
you made the greatest contribution, or would you say that's it, the
legacy of teamwork and good people?
That's probably right. It was good times in every program. The earlier
days were better, I thought. You didn't have as much responsibility.
There were some crewmen—Jim McDivitt's another guy who stood
out, he was Apollo program manager after George Low. We never thought
anybody could replace him, but Jim did and he did a superb job. He
was a really good crewman. Ed White was, too. There have been so many
good ones. Jack [Harrison H.] Schmitt, we called him "Dr. Rock."
Jack was an excellent guy to work with. The people that did the lunar
surface thing, [Dr. Eugene M.] Gene Shoemaker, who was a world-renowned
geologist, and a guy from the University of Texas [Dr. William R.
Muehlberger], we got really close to those guys and worked with them
so that they would be successful.
We had a good bunch of doctors that were good. It was interesting,
when we were doing the training for Mercury 8 there was a guy named
Bob Moser who was a colonel at the Tripler Army Hospital. The tracking
station was on Kauai. You had to drive, at that time, probably an
hour from the hotel and you can't think of Kauai being that large,
but you had to go up a mountain like that. Right at the top you go
by a big deal that's…like the Grand Canyon. You can see the
mountain goats and everything. It's a beautiful place. We were up
there and he treated all the staff there, all the natives and everybody.
There were a lot of Hawaiians. Of course, it was funny for us to see
Hawaiians, real Hawaiians.
So Bob had his wife over and they were real good friends of so many
people. He treated, looked after them, and they would bring us rice
cakes wrapped in seaweed and stuff like that. We met the guy who owned—one
of the neat places is the Waimea Canyon, and you go up there on a
boat and they sing the Hawaiian wedding song, in this gorgeous grotto.
Then we had a real luau with this Hawaiian family. Of course, they
had the raw fish and the poi, and the kids, the little kids, like
my grandkids, were trading us. We didn't want the raw—I think
one piece of raw fish was enough for my lifetime. We'd trade that
for anything else that we could.
But they were such loving and wonderful people. Their name was—the
husband's name was Walter Smith. He looked like King Kamehameha, and
his wife was just as handsome. Beautiful. I tell you what they really
looked like were Apache Indians from this country. You kind of think
maybe they got in the canoes and went one way or the other. But they
were lovely. In fact, one of the family members ran a monkey pod tourist
deal. Have you ever seen monkey pod tree?
It's a gorgeous…tree, and they make salad bowls. So a couple
of us went down to the place and bought a monkey pod salad bowl. It's
still good. This has been, gosh, forty years ago. Just wonderful people.
I've often wanted to go back there and just see if people are still
But probably I've covered what was really important to me was the
association with a lot of people. It also gave me a chance to do things
that I would have never been able to do in my lifetime had I not taken
a chance. I thought when I got called back in the Air Force, that
was the end of my life. Then I didn't know what to do, and then this
happened. I was there on business and I went and visited these people.
They were enamored with me and I was enamored with them. It was just
a question of time when I could get it. It was really good.
There were so many good people. There were great secretaries that
we worked on a deal where they would not be secretaries, but be administrative
assistants, and they had upward mobility, and they were genuinely
worthy of that. They didn't have a lot of formal education, and that
was one of the big problems that you had, you had to have a piece
I remember another time we were looking for people and I had a tableful
of things, and I found a kid from Texas that had all As, and the only
reason he didn't have a job was because he was the wrong color. We
called him and we hired him. He went on and did extremely well. There
were a number of them that we hired because they were good. Joe Fuller's
his name. Joe Fuller owns his own company now. He probably doesn't
even remember it, but he went to headquarters and worked, had a good
job at headquarters. Was an excellent systems guy here. He now owns
his own company. I can't think of the name of the program, but he's
done extremely well being the president of his own company.
It wasn't that I did it. He should have had a job, but he was just
at the wrong time. I remember it was right after Martin Luther King
[Jr.] died, and he came and told us, he said, "I would be here,
but I'm worried about my family, so I won't be here for a couple of
days." No problem with that. We understood. A real sharpshooter.
You need more of those than you do the other. You need the other people,
too. But it was just a wonderful time. Wonderful time to be there.
Sounds like a great time and a great group of people.
They weren't all that great. [Laughter] It's probably just the same
percentage that you have in the Girl Scout troop or the Boy Scout
troop or at your church. There's the good, the bad, and the ugly.
That's true in your own family. You know, sometimes our friends are
closer to us than our family, because you can pick your friends, you
got dealt your family. [Laughter] It's really true.
At least with this program, like you said, the good people really
did shine out.
Well, there were a lot of people that were excellent, like the guy
I told you that did the slosh model [on Apollo 11]. He took it upon
himself, he said, "I can figure that out," and he did it.
It was amazing, he was a big boat enthusiast and he started his own
business down here in El Lago. He was the biggest Mercury boat guy
in the world, then went on, resigned and quit, and had a half a dozen
of them. That's what he wanted to do. He'd kind of done his thing
and he moved on.
At that time, we had another dilemma with our people that were really
good. We had our first RIF [reduction in force]. Unfortunately, it
took all of our good young people, brand new, that had really made
a mark for themselves. We had been guaranteed on everything that was
holy that that would not happen. When they got the letter, boy, you
talk about some sad troopers on a Friday. That's when they always
do it, on Friday, and it's like the stock market, they close and then
they tell you what the deal is and then it's too late to do anything,
so you've got to commiserate all weekend.
But there again, we went to bat for them. Our boss, Kraft, got the
right people in the room and got it changed on Monday morning. So
that was as big a highlight as some of the other things, because we
would have lost a real strong cadre of young people. Those young people
now, they've gone on and done great things, really did.
But the guy who was the boat guy was a guy named Bob [Robert] Nance.
God knows where Bob Nance is. He's probably back in Atlanta someplace
having a wonderful time. A real neat guy, just a young guy, and he
took that on himself and developed it. Just like Harry Smith, "I'm
going to know better than the crew what happens with the lunar rover,"
and he did. He knew it in spades.
We had enough of those kind of people who got very little glory, other
than their own self-reward that they knew they had an assignment,
and they did it by the numbers and in spades, and interfaced with
the crew and brought the procedures that we needed, and when it was
crisis time they responded, and did it quickly, and then took the
heat because of the situation between centers. He was more glad to
have said the right thing rather than going through all protocol,
because we were really in a bind. It takes a different kind of person
to stand up and do that kind of remarkable thing. A lot of tiny things
make a big thing.
Hopefully with our project we'll be able to at least recognize some
of these people.
I hope you do. I really do. It's a special group. Some got rewarded
and some didn't. I think we tried to reward everybody in some way.
We spent a lot of time giving them extra money, giving them good assignments
and giving them a lot of responsibility. I think it paid off, because
we're still flying.
And safely. Every time we have a launch, I watch it, but, boy, it
makes me nervous, because that rascal's getting old. [Laughter] It's
Well, hopefully it and the people will be able to hang in there a
I want to thank you so much for joining us today.
It's been quite a pleasure. Is there anything that you think we didn't
I don't know. If you think you want to talk again, I'll be glad to
come. I'm sure there's some other things.
Do you guys have anything that we didn't—
I just have one question, actually.
Okay. Do you want to switch the tape out?
I have about three minutes.
Why don't you go ahead and switch then. [Tape change.]
The question I had concerns Mercury 8. I know that you were one of
the remote site communicators on the Mercury 8, but Wally Schirra
flew at a time when the United States was about to enter the Cuban
Missile Crisis. The tensions had already been really high between
Cuba and the United States. Did you all take any special precautions?
Were there any special concerns?
I don't remember that. We did later on. One of our mission rules was
don't fly through the South Atlantic anomaly where all the residual
radiation is. We had to go to the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]
and work that out. That was a funny experience. CIA building is really
strange. There's no sign. At that time there was no sign, and you
drive down the highway and we couldn't find it, so we stopped at a
gas station, the guy said, "You're looking for something?"
I said, "Yes. We've driven all around here for the CIA building."
He says, "It's one block this way, take a right, there you are."
So it was not a secret to anybody but us.
We went in there, a thousand rooms, just like going through a maze,
and the guy that we dealt with was a guy named Floyd Sweet. "Sweet
Floyd" was what we called him. His big deal was, he monitored
the world for nuclear events. If it happened and he had to go to the
President and the President had to go to the administrator and the
administrator had to call us to tell us that there had been an event.
The biggest problem we had with our allies, the French. But we never
had to scrub a flight, but we had the rule. Those are the kind of
things you never would have thought of. We had to go around the world
and make sure.
What problems did you have with the French?
French were the guys that [set off nuclear weapons]…and never
[told] anybody. Remember off of Tahiti, they had a missile range down
there, they woke up and they said, "Oh, let's fire the bomb off."
But we didn't have a problem with that. Maybe somebody did. I didn't
know anything about it.
I have another one since we changed the tape. Actually, during the
summer we had a tour by Sy [Seymour] Liebergot.
Sy Libergot told me a story and I wanted to ask you a question in
relation to it. He told the story of how you helped him get his promotion,
how Kraft didn't want him to have a promotion, but you fought for
him. So it made an interesting point, which is, how did you work as
a liaison between the flight controllers and the flight directors
or the flight operations crew?
I was the division—I can't remember where I was at the time.
I think I was the deputy division chief, and Sy worked, and I had
been responsible to finally put him in. We tried to pick a person
that we thought could manage the rules, and we were trying to get
them to the next level. Sy didn't have—he needed to go to charm
school. He drove Kraft crazy.
I got a call. They were having a promotion board and they said, "We
need you in the office right away," in Kraft's office. So I put
my coat on and ran across the playground there to get there. I knew
there were probably having promotion board, but I didn't know. They
said, "Hey, this guy came up and Kraft had some strong words
for that." I had worked with Chris for a long time and I knew
when to shut up, Sy didn't. And I just made the point that Sy had
really worked hard and everybody in the room knew that Chris was a
tough boss. They were all the division chiefs, or all the people that
were on the promotion board there for him.
It was a nice promotion for Sy, and I thought he deserved it. I said,
"He was our top guy." I said, "But the only thing I
can think of that wouldn't, is he has a different personality than
you. His is strong and yours is strong," and that won. But I
went to bat for the guy because I thought he deserved to be promoted,
not because the chief thought that he had driven him crazy. You know,
Chris drove us crazy sometimes.
I was telling you this story about the one guy who Kraft wanted everybody
to say we were a go, and the one guy who didn't know what "go"
meant, his system was down, was the only guy in the room that said,
"We're okay," and he was lying. I'm sure Kraft said, so
he gave us another forty-eight hours to get our minds right, because
he did not want the Johnson Space Center to say we couldn't fly, because
the hardware was ready to go. So we figured out how we could do it,
and we figured out how we could do it if it didn't work in those next
hours, because we'd been working on that. It's kind of like the lifeboat
procedures, the same guy told us to throw them away. [Laughter] And
if we'd thrown them away, I'd probably be dead now.
That was a set of folks that said, "We're going to do this,"
and by God, they did it. We monitored them and worked with them and
helped them and expanded it and put it on the shelf in case we ever
needed it. Boy, it paid off. Paid off. Everything we needed to do
had been done. That's why we played the what-if game all the time,
because when you're in a crisis, you can't think. You've got somebody
terminal at your hospital, your family member, you can't even think
about praying, that's why you have a prayer chain. You need somebody
else to do it for you. That's the league.
I'll tell you another story about Sy. Sy got divorced. The crew during
Skylab would always—I think it was Skylab—would always—Sy
was the first person I knew that got an answering machine. He was
single now. So the guys would call it and say, "Hi, my name is
Sy, please leave—" So they taped that for the full time
of the recorder, and then played it back and that's all it said. It
drove him crazy.
Another thing we would do is—and that would break the monotony,
because let me tell you, some of the nights you were just dying, and
all of us were—I ate so many eggs during that Skylab thing,
I thought I was a chicken. The crew would say, "Today is so and
so day." So that night we decided to create Sy Libergot Day.
Sy Libergot is controller of the day, which was not true. Well, they
had written it in his log, and the logs just stayed there with all
the things that happened. So you could come on shift thirty minutes
early and read through, summarize, and then the person would leave.
They had in there, "Crew called down today, Sy Libergot Day."
Well, he went and listened to days of the aerogram transmission to
get that. He was going to record that. Finally, he realized he had
been duped. [Laughter]
Have you ever heard of a guy named John [S.] Llewellyn?
Have you talked to John?
Not yet, but we're hoping to soon.
They used to do that to John, too.
We were talking about Skylab. Did you work Skylab 4?
When all the guys had the problems and [Gerald P.] Carr called down
and they said, "We've got to have this meeting." How was
flight operations during that time that the problems were occurring
between Skylab 4 and flight operations?
What problem are you talking about?
Well, Carr and [William R.] Pogue and [Edward G.] Gibson talked about
the fact that their mission was just too full.
Yes. Well, they had signed up for that. That's what the flight plan
was, and the first thing they would do is to call and get the next
day's flight plan. They never complained about it until they got behind,
and all they had to do was call and say, "Hey, could I have a
discussion?" Once it was changed, they just narrowed it down.
It wasn't a big deal. They probably thought it was more of a big deal
than the rest of them.
John [Llewellyn] did not care for Scott Carpenter, because John was
a retro officer, and he said when he landed in Mercury, his only flight,
"I didn't know where I was and neither did they." That's
not true. John went ballistic. So a number of years later, Scott Carpenter
became an aquanaut and he was in a submarine off the West Coast. You
have to know John, and don't tell John this story, please, because
he'll go ballistic, probably kill the three of you, and then come
and search me down.
Well, we don't want that.
They wrote in the log that night that John was not going to count
down to retrofire, that Scott Carpenter was going to do it from the
submarine. John went bananas, stomped around, then everybody was just
like this, hysterical. Then he finally realized that he had been thrown
a hook and had bit totally.
But John would do things. One time he came late and he was supposed
to be there for reentry. And he was really good. He was really good,
but he would get things loose sometimes and he didn't have a parking
spot. So he just pulled up and parked on the sidewalk. The next person
that came in was Dr. Gilruth. So John couldn't drive on the center
for a long time. Then he started riding a horse, you know. But John
was one of the characters that worked with us. He's a real case. You
might need to wear your ear defenders when you listen to John.
We'll be well prepared.
John was a smart guy and did a lot of good. John was a veteran of
the Korean War and was bayonetted in the trench. He was a Marine and
bayonetted and left for dead by the North Koreans and survived. We
had guys like that all the time. I could tell you a really funny story
about John, but I'm not going to tell you. No, I don't think I should
tell it. I will tell you, but turn the tape off.
I think Kevin had some questions first.
Okay. Excuse me.
Well, actually, you were answering my question. I was going to ask
about the flight controllers since you talked about the flight directors,
so I was curious to hear these kinds of stories about any of the other
flight controllers like Sy or John Llewellyn or maybe John [W.] Aaron
or Steve [Stephen G.] Bales, some of these guys. So if there are any
other stories you want to share.
John Aaron was a neat guy, still is a neat guy. John was a guy during
Apollo 12, when we had the launch, John had been on the console when
we had one of the pad tests where we interfaced with the Cape with
that and had watched the fuel cell go down. When it happened during
the launch, he knew exactly what to do. So there's a lot of providence,
but John was so smart, he would have probably figured it out anyway.
He was real laid back. You knew when John spoke, he was worthwhile
to listen to. John was an excellent systems guy and real bright, just
a neat person, went on and did a lot of work for the Orbiter software,
really put his arms around that. I don't know whether John still works
over there or not.
Actually, he's getting ready to retire.
Is he really?
He's a neat guy.
Gary [E.] Cohen was another systems guy. We called Gary "Gross"
all the time. Jim [James E.] Hannigan was a sharp guy, he ran the
lunar module group. Don [Donald R.] Puddy worked for him and went
on to become a flight director.
What did you think about the trench?
The trench was where John Llewellyn was.
I had from stories that they used to have matches made up that said,
Oh, yes. In fact, I just finished one, throwing it away. I had kept
it for years, and I'm trying to just throw junk away. Jerry [C.] Bostick
was a good guy. Carl [R.] Huss was the first guy in the trench. Carl
is dead now. He was from Mission Planning and Analysis Division. Floyd
[V.] Bennett was the guy who did so much of the guidance work and
picking the landing sites. [R.] Scott Hamner was the booster guy.
He committed suicide. Frank [L.] van Rensselaer was the booster guy.
I don't know where Frank is now. A lot of people like that. Dick [Richard
A.] Thorson just passed away. He was one of the LM systems specialists.
Dick was a really bright guy, just head and shoulders over many of
Sy was on the console on the flight, "I've got a problem,"
and he did have a problem and no one had ever seen one like that.
If you ever get a chance, you need to look at the photograph that
the crew took of what the explosion really was. You wonder how they
survived, and all it was was a loud bump. It was a bump in the night.
But we were, I think, blessed with good folks in the mission control
team or the flight control team, because we really spent a lot of
time interviewing and we felt, I think, that our guys and girls had
the right stuff, too.
Steve McClendon [phonetic] was a sharp young guy. I'm thinking a young
guy. I remember when I went to Lamar to interview people, and the
head of the electrical engineering department said, "How many
do you want?" I said, "Well, just let me talk to them."
He said, "The whole class is good." I said, "Tell me
about some." Steve McClendon was just a student, but graded most
of the papers for the professor. So I thought, this is a good guy,
and he worked out really well. There were a lot of people like that.
The group over there, Wayne Hale [phonetic] is a sharp guy. They just
got so many good, bright folks. They've had a number of ladies that
were flight directors that were very good. Ed [Edward L.] Pavelka
was another guy in the trench and Ed was a squared-away guy. He really
knew what he was doing. Gosh, I can't remember. I'm having a senior
moment. But there were just some really good folks, and, like I said,
we still have a yearly get-together and that's a good thing to go
to. I think that some of them are probably still trying to have chili
Rod Loe is another guy who was really steady. Rod was the guy in Apollo
4 that picked up the fuel cell problem. The spacecraft kept maneuvering,
and this was our first flight with fuel cells and the fuel cell vents,
and just enough of that vent threw it off. There was good competition
when Glynn [Lunney] and John [D.] Hodge were here and so he was, John
or Glynn, I can't remember, "We think that the reason for the
attitude changes are the venting of the fuel cell," and the light
went on. People realized that was true, but Rod was the guy who picked
that up, or one of the troops in the back room who watched that thing
and watched that thing and watched that thing.
When we had the [Challenger] disaster, I don't know whether that was
it where—no, it was another thing, where we had a telemetry
parameter. It was Apollo 13 where the heater cycled on and off and
the heater cycled on and off, and they think, I believe, that the
heater was what caused the problem, so they went back and looked and
there was the problem, and nobody picked it up because they had never
seen it ever before.
Paperwork was another important thing. Boy, it's amazing what you
can find in the records. It is truly amazing. With computers now,
you can find it in a microsecond. We just had to dig through it.
Really, the more you think about the exciting things, working on Gemini
IV in secret was remarkable, because we couldn't believe our young
people in the E&D, in the engineering directorate, could develop
a pack that a crewman could survive outside. In fact, Kraft had to
tell Ed White to get back in. That was such a dilemma. Ed was one
of the most gifted athletes, and when they did the surgery on him,
the autopsy, they found that he was just full of heart disease, and
he would have probably died anyway, if it hadn't been [for the fire].
But when we prepared for a flight, everything is ready. Something
happens, we were ready. Very few people know that. We were ready no
matter what. We almost lost the ASTP [Apollo Soyuz Test Project] crew
because they didn't follow their checklist.
I'll tell you another funny story about Ken Mattingly and Hank [Henry
W.] Hartsfield [Jr.]. I can't remember which flight they were on,
I think it was the third Shuttle flight, maybe the second. Third.
I can't remember. [STS-4.] Ken needs his glasses, didn't take his
glasses. Hank begged him to take his glasses. When he got there, he
could not see the control panel. But guess what? Good old Hank had
his glasses. He said, "If you ever do this to me again, I will
kill you." [Laughter]
Now, Deke needed his glasses, and there was not a better guy than
Deke Slayton. He was a genuine article. He was a tough guy to get
to know, but once you knew him, he was sensational. When he finally
got to fly, he was a hero of a lot of people because he beat the medical
system. On ASTP during their training, you'd be talking, no response
from Deke. So we had a word to get him to find his glasses and get
him to get squared away. But he was one special guy. I'll tell you,
you could trust him with your life. He was solid as they come. It's
unfortunate because a lot of people didn't know him and he didn't
walk around saying, "Hey, I'm Deke Slayton," he just did
this thing and was a neat, special person.
That's really the message, as far as I'm concerned. There were some
folks who were capable of doing far beyond what people thought they
could do, and I wonder sometimes if Nike didn't, not just do it, they
did it. You think of Kraft who'd been stymied for thirteen years.
Dr. Gilruth saw how great he was, tapped him. Walt [Walter C.] Williams
was another guy. Jeepers. Walt Williams is carrying his oxygen tank
around for years. You'd be in a meeting with him you'd think he was
going to die. Once they got hooked, you couldn't get rid of them.
You just couldn't get rid of them. That's why it was time for me to
do something different, because there were a lot of other people that
needed a chance. You can't wait for everybody to die.
Any other questions?
No, that was fine.
Okay. There's a lot more. If I got a—gosh, I can't think of
the young—he was a young kid when I left over there, that wears
the big suspenders with a little moustache and striped shirts. But
there's just still a lot of good folks over there, and ladies, too.
I hate to not say that, because they are just as good. You think of
what goes on in Israel can go on here in any avenue of life. I see
what my daughter does with her life and my son, and there's nothing
you can't do.
It's great. Well, thank you so much.
Oh, it's my pleasure.