NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, TX – 23 August 2011
Today is August 23, 2011. This oral history is being conducted with
Tom Sanzone in Houston, Texas, for the Johnson Space Center [JSC]
Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra
Johnson. This is a continuation of Mr. Sanzone’s oral history
that began on July 26, 2011. We thank you for coming back.
I’m happy to be back.
Last time when we talked we pretty much went through a lot of what
you did during the Apollo program. We know that you started in 1968
and continued through the Apollo program. We thought today we could
work through the years that were between the end of the Apollo program
and the actual Space Shuttle era. Tell us how you became involved
with the Space Shuttle and what were some of the first tasks that
you had working on this new spacecraft.
Do you want me to talk any about from the end of Apollo up to Shuttle?
Okay. The immediate program that followed Shuttle was Skylab. My expertise
and experience had been in portable life support systems on the Apollo
program. Hamilton Standard bid on but did not win the EVA [extravehicular
activity] system for the Skylab program. We had built all of the ground
support equipment for the space suits and the life support systems
for Apollo. We also had a lot of experience in helping training the
crews, and maintaining the training equipment that they used.
Our NASA manager Harley [L.] Stutesman decided that he didn’t
want to give up all the experience that we had. Many of our folks
were actually laid off after Apollo, but there was a relatively small
group of us that he wanted to retain, primarily because of our experience.
He had experience working with us, so there was a small contract generated
for us to maintain the ground support equipment that was being used
and to also assist with the training equipment for the Skylab astronauts.
So I participated in that. It was certainly at a much lower level
than I had done in Apollo, but we were trying to hang on until the
So when ASTP came around, we had very little to do with that. I do
remember working on miscellaneous things like the Emergency Oxygen
Mask Assembly, EOMA; it was used if they had smoke in the cabin or
something like that. It was a much lower level of support, but I think
they actually ended up using those masks at one point in the program.
Once Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was over and Skylab was over, now we
were really into a hanging-on pattern, and Hamilton bid on and won
a contract that was called MIST; the M stood for MIUS, modular integrated
utility system, and then it was an integrated systems test. And it
was a program where NASA was actually the subcontractor to Housing
and Urban Development [HUD]. It was at the height of the energy crisis
and [long] gasoline lines. HUD knew that NASA had expertise in integrating
Our expertise was in integrating life support systems, but they wanted
an integrated utility system. By integrated, it meant for example
when you burn the trash you put heat exchangers in the exhaust stack
of the incinerator, and then you took the heat that was transferred
and you heated up water, and stored it in a large tank. The whole
idea was to smooth out the utility demands, because utility systems
are built for the peaks. People get up in the morning and do laundry
and take showers, and the utility systems have to be built for that
peak, and then once they go off to work the demand is much lower.
The idea was to try to level the peaks, or smooth the peaks out as
much as possible.
We had two big storage tanks. This MIST program was a relatively small
scale, although from NASA terms it was very big scale compared to
working on the life support system. It was done in Building 32J, which
doesn’t even exist anymore, out in back of the Space Environment
Simulation Laboratory [SESL] building. I don’t want to call
it a shed, but it was a very big shed, and it had a control system,
a major control system. It had a diesel engine generator. It had hot
water storage and cold water storage and all kinds of control systems
and pumps, and an incinerator with heat exchangers in the stack. Several
of us worked on that program.
I remember the amount of the program, but it seems like a ridiculously
small number now. We did the whole thing for $700,000, including buying
all this equipment, diesel engine generators and control systems.
That was a while ago, 35, 36 years ago. I was young and single, and
I wasn’t particularly worried about the future, but I should
have been more worried than I was. So we hung on. Then during this
time period in the mid 1970s, Hamilton Standard was in the process
of bidding on the Space Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit [EMU].
In the Apollo program there were actually two contracts, two separate
contracts, for the EMU. The suit, which was done by ILC in Delaware,
and the life support system done by Hamilton Standard. It was truly
portable, and had straps and hoses that came around and plugged into
the suit—so that was Apollo.
When Shuttle came along, NASA said we want to buy one integrated system,
one EMU. So Hamilton Standard, ILC and Air-Lock, [Inc.] which was
the company that made the helmets and many of the metal connectors
on the suit and the life support system, they joined as a team. I
still remember the proposal theme. It was, “The best of Apollo
joined for Shuttle;” that was the theme.
There could only be one prime contractor, so Hamilton Standard was
the prime contractor, and ILC was a major teammate, and did virtually
all the suit stuff. Hamilton did all the life support stuff, and also
the integration, which NASA had done, integrating the system. NASA
had done the integration in Apollo and they didn’t want to mess
with it in Shuttle, and I didn’t blame them. In approximately
1977 Hamilton was actually awarded that contract, and that really
started us on the road to the future.
I don’t think I told you the other day, but I was living in
an apartment, because every year I thought was the last year. I ultimately
never bought a house until I think 1981. About 1981 I thought, “I
think I’m actually going to be here for a while.” I’d
already been in Houston for 12 or 13 years. It was as a contractor
in the pure contractor sense, like you’re going to be here for
Apollo, a couple years. Even my first assignment was for a year, they
said a year, maybe a year and a half, in Houston.
So around ’77, Hamilton won the prime contract and the development
work started. Almost all the development activity was at our headquarters
in Connecticut, so we still had a skeleton staff in Houston. We certainly
weren’t going to lay anybody off because we knew we needed to
start ramping up to be able to do all the things in Houston that we
would need to do, so it was a lot of travel of folks up to Connecticut.
The folks in Houston had most of the hands-on experience of dealing
with the system level equipment and the astronauts and training, so
we were involved in the proposal process from that aspect.
There were a lot of trips to Connecticut. Story Musgrave was the astronaut
who was assigned to assist in the development of the EMU, so we got
to know Story really well. We made many many trips together, all of
us, primarily up to Connecticut, and those folks came down here. Around
’79 or so initial hardware was starting to arrive in Houston,
and we started doing the hiring process.
In aerospace it’s always been cyclical. I’ve said to folks
you’re never properly staffed. You have too many people or not
enough people. This was a time period in the late ’70s when
it was difficult to hire engineers. I was still managing a small group
of, I think we called it, systems engineering. There was an engineering
manager. Somewhere along the line he decided that he didn’t
want to do that job anymore. He was really a good engineer, but he
was working his tail off. He went to our project manager and said,
“I want to be an engineer, I don’t want to be an engineering
manager.” So this project manager came to me, and maybe with
the NASA project manager that we were working with too, and they asked
me if I would become the engineering manager. I was really intimidated
to tell you the truth, because this guy who I was going to replace
was a tremendous engineer, and I wasn’t a tremendous engineer.
I expressed some concerns and some doubts. It wasn’t like the
typical promotion, yeah, great. I really didn’t feel qualified
to do it, particularly compared to the job that he had been doing.
He had been doing such a good job. So I said, “I’m nowhere
near the engineer that he is.” I still remember the comment
that I got back from my boss, project manager, and the NASA boss.
They said, “We’ve got plenty of engineers, we need a manager.”
So I thought okay, I can try to manage. I literally—and I’ve
shared this with other folks over the years, because I saw how much
engineering he was doing, and I knew how little pure engineering I
was going to do—I actually felt a little bit guilty that I wasn’t
going to have anything to do. That lasted for about two days, and
for the next 30 years I was busy.
We actually had a very large group of people in Houston. I think I
had somewhere between 50 and 75 people at one point that were working
under me in our engineering organization. Of course we had suit stuff
and life support stuff, and we were doing a lot of testing. All the
certification testing of the hardware occurred in Houston. We had
thermal vacuum chambers over in Building 32 in the Space Environment
Simulation Lab; we were doing testing over there. Then we were training
I’m jumping ahead a little bit, but up until the end of 1985
all the EMU processing, prep for flight, all the chamber run training,
all of that was done by Hamilton Standard and our team with ILC. We
didn’t have any Air-Lock folks based in Houston. It was primarily
Hamilton and ILC folks. We were doing all of this activity, all out
of Building 7.
Matter of fact, there was a concern at one point that the number of
people that it was going to take to do all this processing was just
going to burst at the seams and cost a lot of money. I remember my
boss Fred [Fredrick] Keune [Jr.] starting to understand learning curves.
We all talk about climbing the learning curve. Well, there’s
actually a science to learning curves. I’m not a scientist of
learning curves, but I remember he had a little slide rule type thing.
Basically it said—to oversimplify this—whatever it takes
you to do the first time, the second time it takes you X percent less,
and the third time Y percent less. The learning curve actually comes
down, and the number of people that you need is also—if you’re
processing your tenth suit, it’s not one tenth of everything
that’s happened before, it’s actually much less. If you
compare the first processing to the tenth processing it might be 20
percent of what it was the first time.
I remember us having to sell NASA management on this philosophy, because
they were about to choke on the perceived costs or what they thought
the costs were going to be, if it was a direct relationship between
the effort of processings and the number of times that we were going
to have to process. It was interesting from a business perspective,
because we were actually having to downsell. Normally you’re
pushing for growth in a business, but we were going to price ourselves
out of business if we couldn’t get the cost per unit down. So
we were able to do that.
Jumping back to the first Shuttle flight, I remember we did not have
a planned spacewalk for the first several Shuttle flights. I guess
even before the orbital flights we did the Approach and Landing Tests.
We didn’t have a whole lot to do with that. I think I remember
vaguely working on some backup life support system, or something that
they would potentially need. Once we got into the orbital flights
it seemed like STS-1 was a long time coming. Matter of fact, somebody
dug up a photo not too long ago. We all had beards. I think it was
because we said, “We’re not going to shave till STS-1”
flew. Somebody found this picture from 30 years ago. But STS-1 was
on the pad for a long time. It just seemed like they were always chasing
Did you have a timeframe of when the first unit would go on board?
As I remember we flew EMUs on the first four Shuttle flights, but
there was no consideration of doing a spacewalk. They were on as much
as a backup life support system as anything. One of the things that
I got personally involved with as a test subject had to do with the
fact that when Hamilton proposed the EMU, and this was not a requirement
imposed by NASA. Hamilton’s designers designed the front-to-back
dimension from the front of the display and control module box (we
called it) on the front of the suit to the back of the primary life
support system to be 19 and three quarters inches. They advertised
it as a special feature that they could get from the mid-deck where
the suits were stored up to the flight deck through the opening, which
is probably 20 inches. Because it wasn’t a requirement, it wasn’t
a really big deal, but as we got into the program, obviously people
wanted to know if we could really do this, if we had to, in an emergency
for example. Could the guys come downstairs, get in the suits, and
go up to the flight deck, pressurized, and fly the orbiter?
Somewhere along the line I was a test subject over in Building 9.
For years people would come back to me and ask me, because I was the
test subject, “Can you really do this?” My answer then
and now was, “If the question is, could you physically get a
person in a pressurized EMU, from the mid-deck to the flight deck,
with somebody pulling and somebody pushing and you having no control
whatsoever, because you had to go one arm forward and one arm back?”
It could physically be done. Would you ever want to consider doing
it? No. I wouldn’t recommend that it ever be done.
On the first several flights, we had suits on board. I remember actually
being at the Cape to do the STS-1 preflight interface checks between
the extravehicular mobility unit and the vehicle. I was not down there
initially, but my boss was down there, and our NASA project manager
was there. I think they wanted to kiss this thing good night and be
there when it was put away. It just kept getting delayed and delayed
and delayed day by day by day by day. Seemed like for at least a week,
ten days, maybe two weeks. Then finally they said we can’t stay
down here anymore. I was in Houston, and they said you come down and
manage this interface test, which we affectionately called the V1103
test, because that’s the procedure number at the Cape [Canaveral,
I was down there with a couple of other folks. Even the day by day
delays at the very end became hour by hour delays. They said okay,
you’re going to get to run your test, but we’re at the
base of the pad in a van. It just kept getting delayed. It was like
10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00. At about 3:00 a.m. somebody banged on the
van and they said, “Okay you’re on.” So we went
up. We had an astronaut. I don’t remember who it was. A Cape
Crusader. We went through the whole checkout and com checks. Everything
One of my remembrances was being up on the swing arm on the pad and
standing there looking at this vehicle that looked to me like the
Washington Monument. It had been on the pad forever. Then, I realized
that a week or ten days from now, it wasn’t going to be there.
It was actually going to launch. This was in the days of the white
tank, the external tank, before we went to the orange tank. So that
was getting ready for STS-1.
Since there were no planned spacewalks, we always had contingency
spacewalks as possibilities, but we didn’t expect to have to
do that and didn’t. I think we knew the first four flights were
developmental in nature. There weren’t going to be any spacewalks
in the first four.
Story Musgrave, who we had worked with really closely in the development
of the EMU, had been assigned to the crew of STS-6. Speaking for myself
but I think all of us had this feeling that that was going to be the
flight with the first spacewalk, because it was just natural. Story
was on the crew, and he had done all the development.
Lo and behold, NASA management came out and announced that we were
going to do the first EVA on STS-5, which really surprised us. So
we got ready for STS-5 and the two EVA crew members were [Joseph P.]
Joe Allen and [William B.] Bill Lenoir. We were really excited about
it. I remember our offices were in Building 7 right opposite the astronaut
offices in Building 4. We had great big letters in the windows, “Go
Then we had one of those things that happens at NASA if you’re
around long enough. We had technical problems in both suits. Both
life support systems. In one system, the fan would not spin like it
should. In the other system, the backup oxygen supply in what was
called the secondary oxygen pack, the pressure had shifted slightly,
a couple tenths of a psi. We didn’t know why. We wouldn’t
have done a single person EVA in any case.
But it was technically a real bummer for us, because you had all this
pride, and it was your system, and it was your time. It was a bummer.
We took the signs down right away, and got a lot of egg on our face.
Our pride was hurt. I did a leadership talk a couple weeks ago over
at JSC. One of the questions I got from the audience was actually
from a Hamilton guy, but one who had not been around then. He was
asking me about overcoming challenges, or downers. His question I
think may have been related to the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
He asked me something like if I had ever experienced anything personally
on our hardware like that, and I said, “Yeah.” I shared
this STS-5 story. It was a humbling experience. It probably reinforced
to all of us, just like Challenger and Columbia did, that it’s
a tough thing, what we’re trying to do. It’s really a
difficult thing, and you can’t take anything for granted.
So the recovery of the pride—not total recovery, I think that
took quite a while—was we had to understand what happened and
fix it so it could never happen again. We had two different problems.
It was a very intense failure investigation. We had the head of human
spaceflight for NASA from Headquarters involved. You get a lot of
help when things like that happen.
To the team’s credit and even now it strikes me how challenging
it was, we fixed both of those problems and successfully did the first
EVA on the very next flight, on STS-6. I don’t remember how
much time went by, so that was a real high. We went down to the valley,
and then it was maybe not quite to the top of the mountain, but when
Story Musgrave went out that hatch the first time, there were a lot
of happy people. Story was the first one out the hatch. Then [Donald
H.] Don Peterson went out behind him and they did the first Shuttle
EVA. The pictures of Story way back in the payload bay, they were
around for a long time and I still see them every once in a while.
Obviously now we’ve done so many EVAs that we’re back
in the mode of—and I encourage the younger people not to do
this—but you tend to take it for granted, until you think about
how little you have between you and the harsh vacuum of space.
Well, it was from June to November, those two missions in 1982.
June to November, wow, I wouldn’t have even guessed, five months.
Regarding STS-5, did you feel like you lost the confidence of the
My immediate answer is no. I know that Joe Allen and Bill Lenoir had
to be very disappointed—every astronaut wants to do an EVA,
but this was the first EVA—and to be that close, in the airlock
and suited up, and not be able to do it. But I don’t ever remember
feeling like we’ve lost their confidence. Now part of it was
we had worked with Story for years developing the suit. Well, now
he was going to be the first guy doing the spacewalk, and he wasn’t
going to do an EVA if he didn’t think things were right. So
I never really thought about it till you just asked me. But he [Story]
probably did as much to boost our confidence back as anybody could,
because we were in it together.
The press can separate you or try to separate you, but one of the
great things about NASA that I’ve always felt is it’s
a team, and it’s a family, and sometimes you have a family member
let you down, but you don’t throw him out of the family, you
try to bring him back in and help him. So we had a lot of people come
together. We were very confident that we had found the problems and
that the fixes were going to work.
I suppose we had enough confidence that we had gotten to the point
of going out the hatch, except for these two things. Everything else
seemed to work, so it was recovery. It was like flunking a test but
taking the next exam. Maybe you have to take the course over again
but you get an A or a B in the course. So I never felt that we lost
the astronauts’ confidence, but I never really thought about
it either. It’d be interesting to ask them. Maybe you have.
No, we haven’t. But if we can, let’s walk back a few years,
because when Story Musgrave came on as an astronaut representative,
he had already been an astronaut for a while. I believe he had done
some work through the Skylab program. Then I remember in our previous
conversation you had mentioned that when you first got here it was
very interesting that so many of you had no experience at all, and
you were pulling all this together. But now you were designing—as
you have mentioned, you call the EMU itself a spacecraft. You were
designing now with people who had had experience in space. Tell me
about the differences of working through those processes of working
with experienced people but yet on a whole new era. How much were
you able to bring from Apollo into what you needed for Shuttle? But
yet how much did you have to change to make it work?
Well, I think the interesting thing is that the people who were super
young in Apollo, in their 20s, were now the same people in their 30s,
35, 40. Trying to think how old I was when Shuttle started. It was
basically the same people, because my personal experience with people
that worked and work in the space program is, it’s not a job,
it’s a passion. It becomes your life. You never really think
about leaving it. It’s like breathing. It was many of the same
people, although they were ten or 15 years older now, and had a lot
of personal experience.
We brought younger people on. We hired younger people. I know we didn’t
give them as much freedom as we had. It just wasn’t allowed.
But the technology that was used in Shuttle from a life support system
standpoint was very similar technology. The cooling systems, the heat
exchanger was virtually the same, but was a little smaller, but the
same technology was used. The same chemical was used. In the early
years the same chemical was used to absorb carbon dioxide. We had
a little more knowledge about batteries, so things could be a little
bit smaller. But we had this integrated system now.
Probably the biggest change was in the suit. In Apollo the suit was
all fabric. Had a zipper in the back, and you crawled in and you pulled
the zipper up, and it blew up like an anthropomorphic balloon. The
shape of a human. We strapped on this life support system. But in
Shuttle the life support system, what we call the primary life support
system, and the display and control module, were actually bolted onto
the suit, and were semi-permanent. From an astronaut on orbit perspective,
they were permanent.
We could take it apart in our labs. They couldn’t take it apart
on orbit, like they could separate in Apollo. The upper portion of
the suit under the white fabric was called the hard upper torso [HUT],
and it was fiberglass. It was like armor. Fiberglass armor if you
will. In the Apollo program the suit had a big zipper down the back.
You unzipped it and you crawled in and pulled the zipper back up.
In Shuttle the EMU separated basically at the waist, and you had pants,
or what we call the lower torso assembly, that you put on first, and
then you had the hard upper torso with the life support system bolted
on and the arms bolted onto the shoulder bearings in the hard upper
torso. The astronaut would literally put the lower torso on and then
he would stand under this, what we affectionately called the short
extravehicular mobility unit. He would crawl up through there and
stick his arms through the arms of the suit, and then once he was
settled in there he’d pull the lower torso up and make a waist
I think the first big change that was made was back in the development
days—it turned out to be very difficult for astronauts, particularly
Story, to get into this hard upper torso. You were crawling through
a tunnel. He had big shoulders. You had to see it to appreciate it.
He would screw himself into this thing. It became obvious pretty quickly
that we needed to make a significant change to the hard upper torso,
so the biggest change was they actually shortened it. It was down
like to your waist. They pulled it up maybe to your mid-stomach. It
made this tunnel shorter that you went through. They made some changes
in the scye bearings of the suit to be able to get your arms out through
The challenge was once the astronaut was in the suit you wanted everything
to be as compact and as compressed as possible so that he could maneuver.
You didn’t want his arms to be sticking way out. You wanted
the arms to be by his side as much as you could, so it was all a very
big tradeoff. That was really the first big change that was made in
the early days. By the time Story flew we had this redesigned hard
As I said, most of the other technology was somewhat similar to Apollo.
We had obviously advanced from Apollo electronics and communications
systems and warning systems that made Apollo seem a little bit crude.
Generally speaking there were a lot of similarities—the things
we measured, the temperatures we measured, and the pressures. I think
the glove technology improved pretty substantially and continued to
improve throughout the whole Shuttle program so that when you think
about what astronauts were able to do with Hubble, it would have been
virtually impossible with Apollo era gloves, and even real early Shuttle
gloves. They were just too bulky to be able to do those kinds of things.
So there was a lot of technology development put into the gloves by
the folks at ILC.
One of the differences between the Apollo and the Shuttle era is the
fact that when the Shuttle began it was planned to have women as part
of the astronaut corps. Was that taken into consideration?
Well, I skipped something that you reminded me of with your question.
It’s very significant. From a suit perspective in Apollo every
astronaut had his own space suit. Virtually every astronaut. Every
astronaut who was going to fly had at least three. He had a prime
suit, backup suit, training suit. Those suits were custom-made, had
their names sewn on the front. When Shuttle came along, NASA recognized
that this is going to be a long program with a lot of astronauts,
it’s going to include women, and we can’t afford to have
a space suit or two or three for every astronaut in the program. When
the request for proposal went out, the Shuttle suit was to be very
modular. Sometimes people say, “Well, how many suits did you
make?” We didn’t really make suits. We made 20 left forearms
and 30 upper right arms. The best way to understand it is to think
of all these parts being in bins.
We would literally measure an astronaut like a tailor would, and then
go to a bin and get the lower left arm that we thought would come
closest to his size, and then the upper left arm, and we’d bolt
those things together. Then we had some ability to do some tweaking
to let it out a little or pull it in a little. Same thing with the
Even the hard upper torsos came initially, I think, in five sizes
if I’m not mistaken. Extra large to extra small. We had extra
small, small, medium, large, and extra large I think. Somewhere along
the line I think the extra small got dropped, maybe way downstream.
But part of the request for proposal said we had to fit between the
fifth percentile female to the 95th percentile male. That’s
a whole bunch of folks. So we didn’t have to fit Wilt Chamberlain.
But it was a lot of folks. Throughout the whole program the management
of the logistics of all these parts was a major challenge, when you
saw how many different parts you could pull in different sizes to
comprise ultimately a suit with a life support system.
When the astronaut would go on board Shuttle, the public couldn’t
tell the difference. It was a white suit. He got in and did his thing.
The women themselves weren’t a challenge other than that most
of them were smaller, so they were part of this fifth to 95th percentile
thing. That was different. That was very different. I don’t
remember any particular issues with women per se any more than a small
male maybe. Even then it wasn’t an issue. It was just how you
put the thing together.
Mix and match the parts. Interesting.
I’m glad you asked me about the women because I had totally
forgotten about that. We had people whose expertise was more in the
life support system side, and then we had people whose expertise was
more on the space suit side. My experience had always been more on
the life support side, so I didn’t mess very much with the guys
who were doing the suit stuff, because they were expert at what they
were doing. They had their own challenges like those kinds of things.
I’m sure the pure suit guys could recall other suit issues that
came up over the years that they had to deal with. I think they were
happier with the metal connectors that we had rather than zippers.
I didn’t worry about suits at all in Apollo, because we weren’t
the prime contractor on the suit, but I know there were a few suit
guys that maybe would wake up at night worrying about zippers and
hoping that they would hold and not fail and not stick.
On the integration of the life support system for Shuttle, I believe
I had heard that [Harold J.] Joe McMann said his boss didn’t
want to see hoses anymore.
That’s true. Yeah, that’s true.
Can you share how you all were able to create the integrated suit?
Well, I talked about the hard upper torso, this fiberglass. It actually
had passageways built into it conformally to the body that basically
tied the display and control module on the front of the suit to the
big engine in the back of the suit. We had controls for the pump and
the fan and the different communications modes that had to be integrated.
Now obviously it seemed to be easier to integrate it with external
umbilicals. It was an easier thing to do, but not as easy for the
astronaut to deal with. Most of the heavy-duty design stuff like that
actually occurred in Connecticut, so I wasn’t personally heavily
involved. We had some really smart designers. They just took the challenge
that they had, but it worked.
Joe McMann would, I’m sure, remember many, many more problems
in the development stage than I would. From the times that I dealt
with it it was a pretty reliable system. I don’t remember particular
challenges, but time has a way of helping you forget what some of
those challenges were at the time.
We digressed. I’d like to go back to your feelings when Story
did come through the airlock. Was that a sigh of relief or one of
Yeah, I think it was more jubilation. At least that’s the way
I remember it. I’m sure it was combined with a sigh of relief
after what we had gone through with the prior flight. It’s like,
and I’m guilty of it myself, when I go to the Cape, and I am
listening to the countdown, and there’s so much I don’t
know about all these systems that are clicking along. Every single
one of them has to work. Hamilton made several systems that were part
of the prelaunch and those systems, you just hold your breath. Like
auxiliary power unit startup—you just go, “Oh, I hope
it works.” You have all these thousands of engineers from different
companies and different systems all at the same time holding their
breaths from step to step, because they know how challenging it is
for all this stuff to work at the same time.
I’m sure that we were holding our breath as we went through
each step. When they said, “Turn the fan on,” I’m
sure we were thinking, “Oh please,” because that’s
where we had had the problem. When they did the secondary oxygen pack
regulator check, it was, “Oh please be in the right band.”
I’m sure there was relief, but I think it pretty quickly turned
This is a little bit corny. I’m not sure I recognized this at
all on STS-6, but maybe years later. When that hatch opened and that
astronaut comes out, it’s almost like the Shuttle is giving
birth to this astronaut. Particularly when they had the white thermal
garment over the hatch, and it would flap open, and out would pop
this little astronaut in a white suit.
I’m sure it was elation. It wasn’t so much the recovery
from STS-5 to STS-6. I know there was some of that, and I know there
was some trepidation, hoping this thing works. It was really more
the years, literally years of development. Here it is, this is it,
this is the NBA final, game seven. You’re out there. I think
the fact that we knew Story, we had worked so closely with Story.
His daughter even worked as an administrative assistant with us in
the summer. I think some of it was even happiness for Story, that
it was the culmination of all this work, and the irony of him actually
getting to be the first guy to do the Shuttle EVA after he wasn’t
assigned to the first planned EVA flight and then we had the problems.
I don’t know if I told you before, but actually I talked to
Story about that, after STS-6. As you know, Story is pretty deep.
He said, “Tom, the tide goes out, and the tide comes in.”
I never really forgot that. You just do your best and things will
happen. They’ll take care of themselves, and they’ll be
what they’ll be. So yeah, we were pretty happy after STS-6,
that’s for sure.
Through the design and development process, how important was it to
have an astronaut be side by side with what you did?
I think it was probably more important than we thought it was at the
time. It wasn’t something we started out by saying we’ve
got to have an astronaut to help us. You have all these engineers,
and they think they have all the answers.
You asked me a few minutes ago about astronaut confidence. I think
there was equal to the expertise and experience the fact that he not
only represented the Astronaut Office to us, but he represented us
to the Astronaut Office. If he had confidence in the hardware, he
could convey that confidence to his fellow crew members in the office.
I think that’s something that I probably didn’t recognize
at the time, but obviously recognize later. There’s nothing
like having a guy who’s been there and has that kind of experience.
He had a lot of votes. There wasn’t much that he suggested that
we didn’t end up implementing.
There have been other astronauts that have worked with us over the
years. There’s always been an astronaut at any particular time
assigned to follow the EMU. But when you’re going through the
real development stage and building the hardware and taking inputs
like—that HUT change was an expensive change, but it was pretty
obvious that we needed to do it. It wasn’t obvious until Story
got involved. We had put people in there. But it became obvious that
it wasn’t just going to be difficult for him. It was going to
be difficult for other people. We didn’t want it to be difficult
for other people. So yeah, he provided a lot of value to the whole
I keep saying that most of the design activity was occurring in Connecticut.
I honestly don’t ever remember anybody knocking any of Story’s
comments. I just don’t ever remember hearing, “Oh, he
doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He had a
lot of credibility. Then I think we also had this team approach where
it wasn’t an “us versus them;” it was us together
making this thing be the best it could be. It was very rewarding having
Talk some about the changes or advancements in the technology that
you used. Before we talked about you used graph paper and slide rules.
There were not fax machines. The elements of design changed as much
as the design itself.
I guess probably the biggest change was everything was so much more
computerized than it was in Apollo, not the least of which was monitoring
the performance of the hardware. I’m a big [car] race fan. If
you go back and look at races that were occurring 50 years ago, those
were race drivers, and they drove race cars. Now today you look at
today’s cars, and they’re so much more elaborate, and
have so much more technology, but they’re still race car drivers
that are driving them. From that aspect it was similar.
I guess what I’m trying to talk to is, as important as the technology
was and the development of the technology, most of the success came
about in both programs because of people and their drive and determination.
That never changed. That was a constant. The tools that they dealt
with going from a slide rule and graph paper to a computer and strip
chart recorders, that part of the technology certainly changed. But
the people aspect didn’t.
I still see the same—what used to be referred to after the Apollo
program as the Apollo spirit. I still see it with the young people
who work at NASA. I think that’s what makes NASA such a special
place. It’s hard to put into words, but you talk to people and
interface with people who work there, and they look each other in
the eye, and they know what you’re talking about, and it’s
just yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not giving you a real good answer
to the technology question.
In Apollo we used a lithium hydroxide chemical to absorb carbon dioxide.
For years in Shuttle we used that same technology, lithium hydroxide
canisters. Then we got thinking about how when we get up on Space
Station, to bring all this lithium hydroxide with us is a lot of weight
and a lot of cost. So the experts went off and designed a system that
we call metal oxide. There is an oven on Station and instead of carrying
up pounds and pounds and pounds of lithium hydroxide chemical, we
have this metal oxide system in the suit that can be baked out in
an oven and then reused without having to use the chemical and carry
the chemical up.
Those kinds of technology advances allow us to do things that we wouldn’t
even be able to do. You just wouldn’t be able to bring up enough
to make it cost-effective. Hamilton Sundstrand is now involved in
many systems on the [International Space] Station. I didn’t
mean to jump to Station, but oxygen generator assemblies, water processors,
and the ultimate integration, taking urine and turning it into water
that can be drunk. We always used to bring our oxygen up with us in
tanks, so now they have the ability to actually generate oxygen on
board. So those kinds of technology advancements, we couldn’t
be doing the kinds of things we’re doing now without them.
When you look back at STS-4, the first step with the suits was whether
or not they could get in and get out.
Your memory is better than mine.
Had to refresh mine before you walked in. Then you had the not-so-good
experience with 5, success with 6. Then afterwards they began to expand
more what they could do with the EVAs. How did that impact how you
guys did your jobs in Hamilton? What did you have to do to adjust
to future expectations of what could be done during EVAs?
One of the things that we dealt with was we had to be able to do an
EVA on every single mission, what’s commonly called contingency
EVAs versus planned EVAs. The most common concern that they trained
for was if the payload bay doors would not close. You couldn’t
re-enter with payload bay doors open, so they had tools and winches
on board where two astronauts could go out, do an EVA, manually close
the payload bay doors.
I remember my boss saying one time that the human nature tendency
was to worry about the planned EVAs, because we’re going to
go out. We have to do all these things, such as we’ve got to
service the satellite. But my boss said the most important EVAs we
have to be ready for are the contingency EVAs. Because with the EVAs
to service satellites, if they were to be a failure for some reason,
you’d lose a satellite. If you had a contingency EVA, payload
bay doors for example, you’d lose the crew and the vehicle.
So we had a mindset of preparing for every mission in the same way.
I know if you walk the halls over in Building 7, they have the great
big photographs, it’s one after the other of the first spacewalk,
the first female spacewalk, the first satellite servicing, the first
satellite retrieval, first, first, first, first, first. We probably
had 20 different firsts and then we ran out of firsts. I remember
we even had the first contingency EVA. I can’t remember what
the problem was, but the guys went out.
So I don’t want to say it was routine, but our facility in Building
7 on the third floor in Crew and Thermal Systems Division was a processing
facility that was constantly churning. Multiple shifts. For each mission
we had to train the astronauts in vacuum chambers and turn the hardware
around and get it down to the Cape. The logistics job became tedious,
or challenging. We had a guy responsible for logistics just keeping
track of everything and where it’s going to go and what’s
coming back when and what you do with it. The logistics really is
the thing that I remember the most.
When you began increasing the time of training with the pools, how
did that change from what you had done previously?
I’m trying to remember when the NBL [Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory]
was actually built . Over my career we were in several different
water tanks. The first one was like a great big tub out in the “back
40” at JSC, called the WIF, Water Immersion Facility. Then we
went to the Weightless Environment Test Facility, the WET-F, Building
29. Then when Station was coming around, they said we’ve got
to have a much bigger facility.
The suits that we used for water tank testing, wherever it was, were
identical design, but generally downgraded suits. We would never fly
a suit that was in the water tank. So virtually every suit would start
out pretty much as a flight suit or training suit, and then through
wear it would get downgraded some. Then we had what we called WET-F
suits. We did have some challenges with suits that were exposed to
the water all the time. There was concern about degradation in the
materials. So we had to refurb[ish], retest each WET-F suit after
40 hours of use, 40-hour maintenance they called it.
After it was in the water for 40 hours it had to be taken out and
gone through. I remember there were some significant challenges with
suit degradation in the water, but as I said earlier, the suit guys
were worrying about most of that, and I was worrying more the flight
hardware stuff. But they definitely had some challenges with those
suits and overcame the challenges. When you stop and think about it,
every challenge that came along was overcome, because we never got
to a point, not just in the EMUs but in anything at NASA, where we
are, “Okay, we just can’t solve this problem. We’re
going to stop now.” It’s the old [Eugene F.] Gene Kranz
thing, “Failure is not an option.” He was talking more
about the ultimate failure. But even the small failures, it’s
just like, “Okay. How do you overcome them?”
It’s just challenge after challenge after challenge and overcoming
those challenges. I think that’s where it goes back to the people.
There was never consideration of, “Well gee, maybe we won’t
be able to solve it.” That wasn’t in the vocabulary.
Well, a big challenge that the agency and the nation overcame was
recovering from the loss of Challenger and the crew in ’86.
There was a downtime for the whole agency as things were looked at.
There were opportunities -- to use that word -- to go back and improve,
enhance. How did you use that time?
I’m going to back you up a month or two, because I’ve
talked some about how we did all this processing of the suits over
in Building 7. In the mid ’80s NASA started doing contract consolidations
and contract changes. The first significant one that I remember, not
so much from a consolidation but from a change, was for orbiter processing
at KSC. The orbiter had been built by Rockwell [International]. Everybody
that worked on the orbiter at the Cape worked for Rockwell, and that’s
pretty much the way NASA had always done business. If you made the
hardware, you were the guys that did the processing of the hardware.
So NASA had a procurement around 1984, I think it was. Lo and behold,
Lockheed [Corporation] won the contract to process the Rockwell orbiter,
which was a real surprise to everybody. That was really just the start
I think, because the following year, the ’84, ’85 timeframe,
NASA consolidated about 15 small contracts, generally small contracts
and one relatively large contract into a single contract called the
Flight Equipment Processing Contract. Well, the one relatively large
contract out of the 15 was the space suit processing, the EMU processing.
The other 14 or so contracts were like for food and medicine and clothing,
something that we always affectionately referred to as the socks and
So NASA consolidated this contract and had a competition. Seventy
percent of the value of the contract, or the time or the effort, was
for the suit processing. Those other 14 or so contracts comprised
30 percent. To make a long story short, we lost that contract. We
lost it to Boeing [Corporation]. Hamilton was still the prime contractor
for the EMU as a manufacturer, but we were no longer doing the processing,
just like Rockwell was no longer doing the processing of the orbiter
at the Cape.
That was a downer for us to say the least, because we had several
hundred people and we badge-swapped those people over to Boeing. The
reason I backed you up from the Challenger question was that contract
was awarded or announced in December of 1985. So we were going to
go through this transition that was supposed to be a 90-day transition
to Boeing, which we all felt was going to be extremely challenging,
to be able to turn all this stuff over and still keep the wheels turning
of getting EMUs on board.
Of course this was a time that NASA had predicted that the Space Shuttle
flights would be—
Higher than we ended up with for sure. So we were in the midst of
trying to transition, and the Challenger accident happened. We were
in this emotional state of losing this contract—a different
level—and now we’d lost a vehicle and a crew. I was here
for all the flights of Apollo from Apollo 7. I wasn’t here for
the Apollo 1 fire, so I didn’t personally experience that, so
for me personally Challenger was something very different.
We talk about the NASA family, to lose a crew, and I had talked earlier
about the downer of STS-5 not being able to do an EVA. Well, this
was on a totally different level. This is losing an entire vehicle
and the crew. It was really an emotional, a very difficult time. We
were laying people off and transferring people, trying to recover
from the accident.
Having said that, it was the spirit of NASA. It’s the “never
give up” spirit. Everything got looked at. That’s one
of the things that happens when you have something like that. Some
of the old-timers say—guess I’m an old-timer—but
the real old-timers of Apollo, I’ve heard some of them say if
it weren’t for the Apollo 1 fire, we never would have gotten
to the Moon in the ’60s. It forced everybody to stop, to look
at what was going on, and to make improvements that they didn’t
think they had the time to make. Well, now they had to make the time
to do it. Ultimately it made the program safer and successful. I think
with Challenger, there was some of that.
I don’t know any more than anybody else who has read the accounts
of what led up to Challenger. I do remember as a very young project
manager, not really knowing what managing a program was really about,
working for a very experienced NASA program manager, Harley Stutesman,
and him telling me that you have cost, schedule, and technical. Those
are the three elements of the program. You can only control two of
them. The third one goes where it’s going to go. It’s
just my own personal analysis; the schedule pressure was intense.
I’m really saying this more from what I’ve read. I don’t
remember feeling any more pressure than anybody else as far as processing
EMUs. There was always pressure to support the manifest. But as far
as the overall program, the schedule was very tight. You couldn’t
mess with the schedule. Then the money was starting to be tight, so
if you had cost tied and schedule tied, then the technical is the
one that free-floats. Then ultimately that’s what bit them,
It’s a lesson that gets learned over and over and over again
by program managers. Remember the old term, “faster, better,
cheaper”? There was a corollary to that that was “faster,
better, cheaper, pick two.” That’s really that same thing
that that experienced program manager had told me. You can’t
do all three. Or it’s certainly a very big challenge. It’s
better to maybe pull in a little bit on the other two and provide
a little bit more to that other leg. But the schedule pressure was
pretty intense. It was a difficult period.
Did your job change around 1986?
Yeah it did. It very much did, because my immediate supervisor, guy
who had been my boss for 17 years, Fred Keune—he was a great
mentor and I was very close with him and his family and his kids,
and I’m still close with his kids—but after the loss of
that flight equipment processing contract he took it hard. He just
decided he was going to do something else. I’m not sure exactly
when he made his decision, because the contract announcement loss
was in December, and then was followed very quickly thereafter by
Challenger. I’m sure he saw this as it was going to be a long
time before there’s a recovery, and I’ve been doing this
for 20 years, I think, 19 years, he had been doing it. He just decided
he was going to do something totally different. He moved to Florida
and got in business with his brother-in-law. Eventually, he came back
to Hamilton years later, never in the space area but in some other
So I became the site general manager, project manager. I’m not
sure what title we used back then. Boy, when I think back at it now,
it’s like what a time. I had no desire to go anyplace other
than NASA, so the thought of leaving didn’t really even enter
my mind. I was in it for the long haul. I was in it for as long as
they were going to let me haul. Effectively I had been his deputy
for a number of years, so I was more confident than I should have
been. Because one of the things that I’ve learned—and
I coach some other folks that become deputies or are about to move
from being deputies to being the guy in charge—there’s
a very big difference between being the deputy and being the guy in
In my own mind, I rationalized that I had been his deputy for a long
time, a number of years. I knew the job, I knew what it entailed,
and therefore it wasn’t going to be that much of a change. I
was wrong. The part that I didn’t recognize was you’re
the guy responsible for everything. When you’re the deputy you’re
helping. He’s making decisions that you don’t have to
make. He might ask your opinion but ultimately he’s making the
decisions, so that was an enlightenment because you’re affecting
people’s jobs and lives. The stress to get new business—here
we were going from several hundred employees down to 25 employees
with a plan to really zero us out within two years. They were going
to go 25, 15, five and then zero, just to do a phase-in. I think I’m
glad I couldn’t see the future, because it was a tough number
I’d always been blessed with having good people that I worked
for and good people that worked for me, and that continued. I had
a really fantastic group of people that would just do whatever it
took. From that aspect it made it very rewarding. We worked unbelievable
hours. I was also very spoiled in that I had always been able to work
the technical side of the job and not really worry the business side.
I worried budgets, but I’d like to use the word underestimate
but that wouldn’t be a strong enough word. I really didn’t
have a clue what the business pressure was going to be like.
Here I am running this Houston office. Guys in Connecticut are worried
about profit plans. Everybody has a boss. I had been spoiled in that
my primary effort over the years was in keeping my customer satisfied.
I had bosses that allowed me to do that. They provided cover for me
to do that. Some of the business took care of itself. I had one boss
that I worked for in Connecticut, and he told me one time, because
I was getting some pressure from his boss. He said if you keep your
customers happy things will take care of themselves. Sounds simple.
That’s what I always focused on. By doing that in a growth mode
at NASA, you got more business, and the business grew. Once we got
into Challenger and we’re not flying, I greatly underestimated
the pressure from above, “Well, we really don’t care what
happened, we’ve got to increase our profits by 10 percent this
year. How are you going to go do that?” So I really had to grow
Were you able to take training? Were they able to help you move into
more of the business mind frame?
Hamilton was a great company to work for, but we were never really
big on training. I think in hindsight that was a mistake, even when
I was general manager. One of the first things to go is training.
I’ve seen companies do it. I don’t think this was limited
to Hamilton. But my experience both from above and below is you tended
to get thrown in the deep end of the pool. If you could swim, you
survived, and if you couldn’t, somebody else got thrown in the
I may have been a little too quick to knock training. I’d say
from a formal standpoint not so much, but a lot of OJT [on-the-job
training] learned from experienced people who I worked with and for,
who were pretty darn good about sharing time, experiences. From that
standpoint I actually got some very good training. I didn’t
get classroom training per se until later. There are things I learned
ten years later and thought, “Gee, I wish I knew this ten years
before. Oh, that’s why we did it this way.”
So when did things start to change for you and for the company?
Well, up until 1986 except for that short period for Skylab where
we did the ground support equipment maintenance and some of the training
equipment maintenance and some of the approach and landing test stuff
with masks, and then that modular integrated utility system thing
for a couple years, except for that, the only thing we did was extravehicular
mobility unit. Life support, space suits. That’s it.
We were a field service department. Our headquarters was in Connecticut.
We used their business rates, their cost rates. I’m going to
step back a half step. When we competed for this Flight Equipment
Processing Contract, after being—for me it was 17 years as a
field service depot at NASA, which is one of the reasons I didn’t
get a whole lot of business training, because we were focused on doing
this job, and somebody else in Connecticut was focused on the business
aspect—we found ourselves unable, well, we knew we would not
be able to compete on a pure service contract. See, we were servicing
equipment that we had designed and manufactured, just like Rockwell
was servicing the Shuttle. We knew we couldn’t compete with
the rate structure that we had from a hardware development manufacturer
This was in ’85. We created a subsidiary company called Hamilton
Standard Management Services [HSMS]. That was the buzzword of the
day. Everybody had management services in their title. Well, the ultimate
irony on that was we created it on paper. I think the thought was
if we don’t win the contract we’re not going to go to
this subsidiary company. If we do win it, obviously we will, and we
have to. At the same time we were working on the proposal for months
and months on this FEPC contract, our folks in Connecticut were bidding
on another service type job in Houston to design early stages of Space
Station environmental control and life support systems, and had a
bunch of ground support equipment that had to be built.
Our engineering manager in Connecticut talked to my boss at the time
and said we need to get our costs down to be able to win this thing,
and I’d like to bid it out of this new HSMS company, because
you guys are going to have lower rates. I don’t know how much
thought my boss gave. I didn’t give any thought to it. He just
said just go do whatever you want.
So we end up losing the flight equipment processing contract, we’re
not going to institute this HSMS, and we get a call. Hey, you guys
won this other contract that you bid out of this HSMS company. Which,
oh by the way, you have no infrastructure now, because you didn’t
win the FEPC job, and the guys that—this is my own whining here—the
guys that bid it, bid it with the presumption that we had won this
other contract, had a purchasing department, finance, payroll, all
the stuff to run a business. The only thing they bid was the bodies.
There was no infrastructure. I still remember talking to the business
development guy in Connecticut.
Because now I had it [responsibility], because my boss was gone. It’s
like, “Hey, now you’ve got to go do this job.” It
was like, “Oh my gosh, right out of the barrel. Our rates are
going to be crazy.” I remember him telling me, and I won’t
even use his name, he said, “Our job is to win it, your job
is to do it.” So the good news was we had lost a bunch of people
to FEPC, but we now had this, we called it tech demo. There’s
probably ten contracts called tech demo, but we had this Environmental
Control and Life Support System Technology Demonstrator Program in
Houston. It ended up being—just the ground support equipment
was like over $5 million. It was big, it was really big.
Those were our first steps on the road. Then at the same time, and
I can’t even remember which happened first, about the same time,
Rockwell came to us. At the time General Electric [GE] was the designer,
the manufacturer and the supplier to Rockwell for the commode, the
toilet system in the Shuttle. Hamilton had bid on that back in the
’70s, ’73, ’74, something like that. Hamilton had
bid on that and lost to GE. Well, you’ve been around long enough
to remember how many times the toilet ended up on the front page of
the paper with problems. Then the press and the late night TV would
just—it was unmerciful. Well, as I understand it secondhand,
GE executives made a decision that they didn’t want to be in
that business anymore. They were in the business of selling refrigerators.
Every time they picked up the paper their name was associated with
this toilet that had problems.
So Rockwell came to our vice president and said you guys bid on this
against GE 15 years ago and lost, and asked if we would be interested
in taking it over, because GE wants out of the business. Of course
my boss, our vice president, said, “Sure, we’ll do it.”
We took it over from GE, and we hired a few of their people, and we
went through a transition. It was challenging, because we made a commitment
to Rockwell—maybe I made the commitment. Anyway, we made a commitment
to Rockwell that once we took it on, it would be ours.
You know the term Original Equipment Manufacturer, OEM, you hear used
sometimes? We would effectively become the OEM even though we weren’t
literally the OEM. We weren’t the original, and we weren’t
the equipment manufacturer. But Rockwell needed somebody committed
enough to not every time there was a problem say, “Oh that’s
GE, GE designed that,” because GE was gone, they’d left
We made that commitment and for the first several flights we continued
to have some issues. So we took some heat. I kept a folder on it over
the years, because it was very humbling to go back and look at headlines
in the paper. Within a relatively short period of time—I couldn’t
even tell you how long it was—we did something. We took an approach
that I think paid off for us and ultimately for NASA very well, and
that was my experience and our experience in Houston working on life
support systems—we treated that toilet as if it were a life
support system. We treated it the same way we treated our primary
life support systems on the suit, that same kind of discipline. Within
a relatively short period of time, several flights, maybe five flights,
we got it to the point where we weren’t having any failures.
That particular thing, we did that to the end of the Shuttle program,
Hamilton did the toilets in Houston. The toilet system was called
the waste collector subsystem. That was the official name, WCS. The
WCS was not a part of the Shuttle. It was a subsystem.
When the Shuttle would land the WCS would come off the Shuttle, and
it would be sent back to Houston. We would do all the processing,
some of it pretty nasty, but we would do the processing, refurbishment,
prep for flight. We would ship it back to the Cape. There was one
for each orbiter. We would ship them to the Cape. They would go into
the [processing] flow at the Cape. That was a really successful program
for us. Everybody was happy. GE was happy they were out of the business.
Rockwell was happy that things weren’t failing anymore. We were
happy that it was a business and we had people working it.
That happened around the same time. Those were two programs that came
out of the blue. Then what we did with our suit guys—the Boeing
guys were doing the processing; our Hamilton guys were responsible
as the OEM, because Hamilton was the OEM. We had the engineering expertise.
Any time there was a failure of a component, say a pump, Boeing’s
job was to say, “We ran this test and this failed.” It
wasn’t their job to fix the pump or change the design, not that
we had a lot of failures. The engineering aspects of the job were
such that it became more obvious to NASA, I believe, that we really
can’t zero out this engineering workforce. So if you can hang
on, things can get better, and we did that.
Then we had another thing. We had always been in Building 7, the Crew
and Thermal Systems Division. As part of a contract renegotiation
that we were going through with NASA, we were obviously going through
give-and-take in the negotiations. My vice president at the time as
part of this business deal committed to provide two engineers at no
cost—he would eat the cost—to support the EVA Program
Office in Building 1. We had never had anybody in Building 1. I think
that agreement was for at least a year. It might have been two years,
but it was at least a year.
We made a conscious decision that I never regretted. Where the tendency
might have been to take two of our weaker engineers, because we’re
not getting a dime for them, and put them over there to fulfill this
commitment, we made a decision to take two of our best engineers and
put them over there. What happened was—and I’ll use the
year term—at the end of the year, those two engineers had done
such a great job that NASA, the EVA Office, said, “You can’t
take these people back, we want these people, and we’ll pay
for them. Oh, by the way, can you send us two more?” We still,
up until near my retirement, we still refer to that as the Building
1 model, because that group grew to over 15 people. Remember I talked
about, satisfy customers and things take care of themselves? They
did a very good job. They were very customer-focused. The NASA people
and the EVA Office, do what you and I do every day—you go back
to a restaurant that you like and you tell your friends.
Those were three growth opportunities that happened around the same
time, initially it was survive and then thrive. It was that way, so
the business started growing again. We actually had some pretty impressive
growth charts, when you look at them year after year. It’s one
of the things that I recognize particularly with success. [Walter
W.] Walt Guy, who I know you know, coined a phrase, a very smart guy.
He coined a phrase after STS-5. He was the division chief, so he was
not a happy camper, and he was getting heat. He said, “Success
is relative, failure is absolute.” It’s so true. I remember
that not so much from the failure side as the success side. As you
become more successful and growing the business, people don’t
see a change from yesterday to today. It’s when you put a chart
together over five years and somebody says, wow, I didn’t remember
that you were that small. You know what I mean? Some of our business
reviews were almost fun, because that was happening.
Now with this engineering group, we developed a significant Russian
interface group in Houston. The Russians were obviously responsible
for their own space suit, but the EVA Office at JSC wanted to be sure
that they had people on their staff who were not Russians who were
knowledgeable of the Russian hardware and could convey a sense of
confidence in the hardware. That grew pretty substantially. That Russian
group grew pretty substantially.
If you don’t mind, because I know we’re going to have
another session. Could we pick up on the Russian stuff then?