NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, TX – 30 August 2011
is August 30, 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
from July 26 and August 23, 2011. He begins today’s session
by talking about his involvement with the JSC Exchange Council.
Greg [W.] Hayes was the Director of Human Resources for JSC. He was
looking for a contractor to serve on the Exchange Council. The Exchange
Council was like the board of directors, if you will, for all the
things that happened on site relative to the Gilruth Center, the athletic
facilities, the cafeterias, the vending machines. The Exchange Council
was very heavily civil servant. That’s an understatement; they
had one contractor on there. The guy who had been on there before
me was really overcommitted with a bunch of other things and he had
difficulty making all the meetings, so Greg was looking for some other
contractor to participate. I had been involved some with the Clear
Lake Area Economic Development Foundation. Jim Reinhartsen was running
that organization at the time.
I think Greg went to Jim and Jim recommended me or gave him my name.
Then Greg got in touch with me. Long story short, I ended up joining
the Council. It was fascinating and it was enjoyable and it was very
heavily staffed by the Center Director’s direct reports. About
half the members, I think, reported directly to the Center Director,
so that ended up being good from a number of aspects, not the least
of which was I actually became personal friends with people that in
my prior life or in my business life were just business people, they
were NASA people, they held certain positions of stature. I got to
know them on a whole different level. That actually enriched my career
at JSC when I think back on it.
Relative to the Shuttle retirement, about a week ago I got an e-mail
from Karen Schmalz who’s the manager of Starport which was the
name that’s used for all those entities I mentioned earlier.
There’s still a legal Exchange Council, but everything is now
called Starport. Karen sent me an e-mail, and she said they were looking
for a number of people to participate in the Shuttle flag retirement
ceremony on Saturday night at the JSC [Salute Our Space] Shuttle event
[August 27, 2011]. Would I be interested? I needed to let her know
right away. I said, “Yes, I’d be interested for sure.”
We did a dry run a couple of days later [August 24, 2011]. I realized
that there were actually six people on each team. There were five
Shuttle flags. Karen had indicated that it was the sponsors of the
event who were going to carry the flags, so that ended up being Boeing,
United Space Alliance, Jacobs [Engineering Group], and Lockheed Martin
for four of them. Then the fifth one was Starport, and it had six
of the smaller companies that participated, including my former company,
Hamilton Sundstrand, and SAIC [Science Applications International
Corporation]. There was a rep from Wyle [Laboratories], JES [Tech],
and I know I’m leaving one or two out. When we got to the dry
run practice that we did over in the [JSC] Teague Auditorium, it was
funny, because for the other companies, they were pretty clear on
who was going to carry the flag. It was generally going to be their
Brewster [H.] Shaw carried it for Boeing and Lon Miller carried it
for Jacobs [Engineering Group]. Somebody said, “Well, who’s
going to carry the flag for this group?” So Joyce Abbey, who
I’ve worked with for years, was standing next to me up on the
stage. She looked at me and she instantly said, “Forty-three
years. You get to carry the flag.” So I had the honor of actually
carrying the flag. Initially the plan, I think, was to have six people
actually carrying the open flag. Then they recognized that the flag
was 14 feet wide and a comparable height, which would have meant that
all you would see would be six pair of feet under this flag as it
moved across the stage, so they made the decision that the flag would
The flags were actually heavy because they are so large, but it was
really an honor. It all came together so quickly. I didn’t really
have that much time to think about it. They had a color guard. It
was very formal. The Columbia flag was retired first. Challenger was
second. That was the flag that I was carrying and Starport was representing.
We all waited at the bottom of the stairs of the stage, and then the
color guard finally came off carrying all five flags. I don’t
know, it just really hit me, seeing them carrying those flags down,
that that’s the last time we’ll ever see those flags.
It was touching. It really was. I felt more honored after the fact,
the more I thought about it. I thought, what an honor to carry that
flag, particularly the Challenger flag. Anyway, it was a special event.
It’s funny, because I’ve been retired from full-time work
for eight months or so, and I’m still reaping all these benefits
from JSC. It’s amazing.
a good time to close out your career when the Shuttle is closing out
it is. Brewster Shaw just retired last week. I don’t know if
you knew that.
I didn’t know that, no.
had learned it from Joyce the day before. I think she put it on Facebook.
I thought gee, people are aware of this and I just didn’t know
it. Well, I know quite a few folks who work at Boeing. One of them
was telling me last night that they actually had an all hands meeting
last Wednesday, and that’s when Brewster announced that he was
retiring and his last day was Friday.
I know his successor very well, and he’s a fantastic guy. John
Elbon. So John was part of the Columbia flag team where Brewster carried
the flag. Afterwards I wanted to congratulate Brewster, and I told
him, “I retired eight months ago and I think you’re going
to like it.”
He had a smile on his face. Then he looked at John Elbon with a smile
said, “Good luck.” I really didn’t know till last
night that his last day was actually last Friday, so that was, I guess,
his last official event.
It still amazes me, the people that I’ve gotten to meet over
the years, and just be around. The quality of the people. I’ve
got a good high school friend who’s an intermediate school guidance
counselor. She was always telling me and e-mailing me that I didn’t
live in the real world, working at NASA, and that I didn’t appreciate
where I was. Not that I didn’t appreciate what I was doing or
my job, but I just didn’t have that understanding of the difference
between the real world out there and the JSC world. She got me thinking
about that more and more, and I think I did become a little bit more
attuned to it, particularly when I’d be outside the JSC environment
and see what the real world was like. We really are very spoiled.
The people that we get to work with every single day—motivated
and intelligent and friendly, and thousands of them, thousands and
thousands of people. It’s an amazing place to work, just an
amazing place to work.
I’m recognizing it more since I left. When I was still working
you have the daily grind that you have to deal with. It’s really
when you take a few steps back and you look at it from a little bit
higher level. You just realize what an amazing place it is. The place
is not the geography, it’s the people.
people. Let’s talk a little bit about the other opportunities
you had to meet other people. I know that you also worked for instance
in community partnerships with BAHEP [Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership].
Talk about how the companies got to know each other, although they
were competitors, but yet you had some missions that you all worked
on together. Not missions as in space missions, but community missions.
first venture outside of the internal work environment—I took
over for my boss, Fred [Fredrick] Keune [Jr.] in 1986. There was a
lot of turmoil around that time. We had just lost the Flight Equipment
Processing Contract, and the Challenger accident had happened. NASA
and we were in a lot of turmoil. Fred had been involved in some external
relations type stuff, but it was one of those things that as deputy
I was never involved with. I didn’t really have an appreciation
for what it was, how much time he spent doing it, and how important
it was to do. It was probably several years before I really got involved
initially. It was with the predecessor to BAHEP, same organization
with a different name. It was called Clear Lake Area Economic Development
Foundation [CLAEDF]. Later it got renamed to the Bay Area Houston
Hamilton Sundstrand was initially not a member of CLAEDF. I think
one of the reasons was our company had quite a bit of business in
Huntsville [Alabama]. I know there was some concern by our executive
management in Connecticut that we didn’t want to be viewed as
singling out Clear Lake [Texas] and possibly send a message that’s
where we want all the business to go. That’s really what CLAEDF
was about, it was an economic development foundation, and they were
trying to develop business in Houston. There was reluctance on us
joining while not being in a comparable group in Huntsville, Alabama,
which I don’t think existed at the time.
About the time I got involved, actually a little before the time I
got involved, Space Station Freedom started to come under significant
threat of cancellation. The one name that comes to mind is Representative
[Timothy J.] Tim Roemer of Indiana. Each year he would propose a bill
in the [U.S.] House [of Representatives] to cancel the Space Station.
Each year it would be defeated but by a closer margin.
For the first time, and it was under the auspices of CLAEDF, a call
was put out to many of the people who were members or companies who
were members like [The] Boeing [Company] and McDonnell Douglas [Corporation]
for example. CLAEDF also put a call out to nonmembers in the aerospace
community and basically said, “We don’t care if you’re
a member or not, please come join” what was called or later
became called the Aerospace Advisory Committee. I don’t even
know if it was called that back then but that’s what it’s
called today. We’re going to work together to try to make sure
we keep the Space Station program sold. It actually got a name called
“Keep It Sold.” That name stuck for a number of years.
Clearly the message was while we were all competitors with each other,
or most of us were competitors with each other, partners on some things
and competitors on others, Space Station was the big future program
for NASA and JSC, and if it were to be canceled and fail, there would
not be a single company that wouldn’t be affected very significantly.
We certainly had the onus to work together to keep this thing sold.
There was an incredibly minimal amount of company politics involved.
When I think back, people really did all row in the same direction.
I know Hamilton Sundstrand got really actively involved in New England.
They put together a truck that they drove from state to state. They
visited all the state capitals in New England. The side of the truck
said “Keep It Sold” and had a big space suit photo. They
handed out literature and tried to educate legislators and voters.
I guess the peak in stress that I can remember was a vote that was
occurring in the House [June 1993]. We were actually in one of our
Keep It Sold meetings at CLAEDF in the afternoon, and the vote for
Space Station was going to be that afternoon or evening. I went home
by myself and I turned on C-SPAN, and it was probably like 8:00 at
night or something like that. I watched C-SPAN and this vote like
it was a basketball game. They had the vote tally up on the screen,
and the clock in the middle showing how much time was left. I actually
have a VCR tape of this. I have never watched it, but I actually taped
it. I was watching this thing by myself. The votes were tallying.
It was very close to even, and they were bouncing around, and I think
it was a little bit behind. I didn’t know as much as I know
now about how the Congress works. I saw the countdown clock for the
vote go to zero. When it hit zero, I looked at the voting on both
sides, and there were more votes to cancel than to keep it.
For a few seconds I was like, “I can’t believe this, they
just canceled Space Station.” Another 30 seconds went by and
I realized it wasn’t exactly a NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic
Association] basketball clock. A few more votes popped up on both
sides. Of course the clock was just sitting at zero, but there were
still votes coming in. That went on for maybe a minute or maybe a
little bit more. Finally whoever was chairing the session hammered
his gavel down and Space Station was retained by one vote. Many, many,
many people, particularly the young people at JSC, have no clue it
ever came that close to being canceled.
I think we actually had a tiny bit of reserve. A couple of votes.
Because I think there were some territories that actually voted and
their votes wouldn’t have counted if it made a difference, that
kind of thing. Officially up on the board, it passed by one vote.
After that we seemed to strengthen. There seemed to be more bipartisan
support, but that was the era that started CLAEDF’s and BAHEP’s
trips to Washington. They were called Keep It Sold trips. This year,
2011, was the 20th year in a row. I don’t know if it lines up
exactly but pretty close to it. They still go up every year. I’ve
gone the last four years. We still go up and visit legislators. This
past year I think we visited approximately 335 representatives and
senators out of 535 total. It’s a pretty big number. Anyway
that was my initial foray into the community I would say, the external
I mentioned a few minutes ago that Greg Hayes was looking for somebody
to participate on the Exchange Council team and Jim Reinhartsen who
was at CLAEDF recommended me. Then it dominoed after that, which is
what happens. It’s a little bit of the old, “the reward
for hard work is more hard work.” It wasn’t so much that
it was hard work. It was that if you’re doing something as a
volunteer, any volunteer will tell you if you’re doing something
as a volunteer and you do a pretty good job, somebody else is going
to ask you to volunteer on something else.
For me the starting point was CLAEDF and then I went to the Exchange
Council. Then somewhere along the line I got a call from [Susan H.]
Sue Garman, who was George [W. S.] Abbey’s Associate Director,
and she said, “We’d like you to be the vice president
of the Johnson Space Center National Management Association [NMA].”
I told her, “I’m not even a member of the NMA.”
She told me that it’s not a problem, “We can get you a
membership.” That ended up being one of the most enjoyable organizations
I participated in. I’m still involved. It’s probably ten
years ago that I first got involved. I served as vice president one
year and then president the next. Ever since, I’ve been an adviser
as a former president to the board. They keep me on and I don’t
leave. I attend most of the board meetings and most of the luncheon
meetings. Like tomorrow, [JSC Center Director Michael L.] Mike Coats
is the speaker. That’s usually our biggest luncheon meeting
of the year.
The NMA organization has probably been the most fun organization that
I’ve been part of. I think it was because when I was the vice
president, I didn’t even know how the whole operation worked.
But [Brock] Randy Stone who was the Deputy Director of JSC was the
president the year I was the vice president, so I got to know Randy
really well. I would say one of the real joys—I touched on it
earlier about the Exchange Council—was getting to know these
civil servants who were our customers and our bosses on a personal
level that had nothing to do with work. Turned out Randy and I both
were [automobile] race fans and we had both raced. We ended up going
to a race together one time.
One of the things that was interesting is that we would have our board
meetings in the Center Director’s conference room, the small
conference room up on the ninth floor. When Randy’s term ended
and I became president we continued to meet there, because his secretary
continued to schedule it for us. We continued to meet on the ninth
floor. It was funny as a contractor to be chairing a meeting in the
Center Director’s private conference room. But JSC used the
JSC NMA, I think particularly when Greg was the Human Resources manager,
as a leadership development organization. The people who were involved
in committee chairmanships were very talented people. The ones that
worked with me are now all director level or division chiefs. You
could just see.
When I was the president it hit me pretty early on that my biggest
job was to stay out of their way. Just point them in a direction and
then get out of the way, because I had never been in an organization
with so much talent. In a private company organization you have people
who are stronger and weaker. You’re dealing with those kinds
of things, but these people were hand-picked and they just made things
happen. It’s actually one of the easier jobs I’ve ever
had in leadership.
Those were the organizations that I was most heavily involved in.
I’m trying to remember some of the others. I’ve been a
member of a lot of other organizations, but not nearly as active.
National Contract Management Association. American Institute of Aeronautics
and Astronautics [AIAA]. American Astronautical Society. Part of it
was they all take so much time that you select the ones that you’re
going to put most of your emphasis into. Actually I’m going
to more AIAA events now that I’ve retired than when I was working,
because I actually have the time. They bring in some really good speakers.
Speaking of AIAA, they once had a drive—I call it a drive—a
number of years ago, it had to be at least ten years ago. Dr. Fred
Dawn was a scientist in Crew and Thermal Systems Division in Building
7. He and I didn’t work closely together but for some reason
we just hit it off. The Houston chapter of AIAA was trying to increase
the number of Associate Fellows that they had. I never considered
myself anywhere close to being qualified to be an Associate Fellow
of AIAA. Dr. Dawn was an Associate Fellow, so he could nominate others.
They had this drive on and he wanted me to apply. I filled out all
the paperwork, and I’m sure it was just again being in the right
place at the right time in the right environment, but I ended up becoming
an Associate Fellow of the AIAA. It’s almost embarrassing when
I think of what most Associate Fellows of the AIAA are like. I feel
a little bit guilty because I’ve been this Associate Fellow,
but I could probably count on all my fingers how many meetings I’ve
been to over the years. In addition to the NMA membership, it’s
the one membership that I’m maintaining since I’ve retired
from full-time work. The other ones I’m just letting lapse because
I’m just not active.
think you worked on the JSC Joint Leadership Team. Is that right?
did, yes. The Joint Leadership Team [JLT], that wasn’t so much
a volunteer organization as it was a group General [Jefferson D. “Beak”]
Howell [Jr.] formed when he became the Center Director. I’m
going to zig for a second, because there was another organization
that many of us were members of, and it was called the Southwestern
Aerospace Professional Representatives Association, called SWAPRA.
In its earlier days there were a lot of senior folks, maybe the general
manager, the vice president, whatever, the head of local Houston organization,
who would attend in addition to marketing folks from those companies.
As the [Hamilton Standard] general manager in Houston I would attend
those things. I’d been attending them for quite a while.
General Howell was working for SAIC running the safety contract. SWAPRA
had a monthly luncheon meeting, and this particular one happened to
be in Space Center Houston, I think. We had a table with eight people
sitting at it. It was like two tables pushed together. There were
eight people. Beak was down at one end and I was down at the other
end. I can’t say we were in the middle of a conversation, but
we were at the same table, when someone came into the room and paged
him. My first thought was that’s pretty unusual in these days
of BlackBerrys. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard somebody
paged. He was paged. He left the room and he didn’t come back.
I was concerned that maybe something serious had happened, family,
accident or incident.
I went back to my office and got on my e-mail, and about 20 after
1:00 I had this e-mail from one of our senior folks in Houston. It
said Jefferson Davis Howell is the new Center Director of the Johnson
Space Center, so he got called out I guess to make it official or
whatever. I’ve kidded people about it. I said I was having lunch
with Beak when he got named the Center Director. He always encouraged
people to call him Beak. It’s funny because we all call Mr.
Abbey, Mr. Abbey. Beak was Beak to everybody.
Actually I’ll share a little story. I don’t think Randy
Gish would mind or Beak would mind, but it ties in a little bit to
the Joint Leadership Team. I heard this from Beak, and I also heard
it from Randy, so I know it’s true. Beak was running the safety
contract for SAIC and he had all kinds of metrics. Randy Gish was
running JSC Procurement and was, if not the fee-determining official,
then at least the person who told the contractor what his fee was
going to be for the award fee period.
Beak had kept all these metrics. By his account he was somewhere in
the mid 90s, so he felt he should have a score somewhere in the mid
90s on his award fee. The actual score that he received from NASA
was something in the 80s, probably mid 80s. I don’t remember
exactly what it was. He was disappointed needless to say, so he went
to meet with Randy. He told him, “Randy, I’ve got all
these metrics, and they show I’m performing at 95 precent, and
you guys are giving me a score of 85 percent, I don’t think
it’s right.” So Randy explained, “Well, we do this
and that.” Basically he wanted Beak to go away, I think. Beak,
being Beak, wasn’t going to go away, so he said, “That’s
unacceptable, I have all this data.” I think they went around
at least two rounds, maybe three. Randy said something along the lines
of, “Beak, I’m sorry, I’m representing the government,
this is what your score is, there’s nothing more you can do
about it.” One week later Randy was working for Beak. I’ve
heard Randy tell that story after the fact. It’s a true story
because Beak told me the same thing.
Although Beak had been a civil servant in the military, he had worked
for SAIC for a number of years, since he retired from the military.
He was the ninth Center Director, and he was the first non-civil-servant
director. The first eight directors were all career civil servants.
That was just their career path, and they became Center Directors.
So for Beak, although he had years as a military general, the immediate
time prior to him becoming Center Director was as a contractor, so
he had a real sense of the challenges that the contractors have.
When he got over on site, one of the first things that he decided
was that there was no way that he was going to be able to positively
affect the culture of JSC dealing only with 20 percent of the total
employees of JSC and not dealing with the 80 percent who were contractors.
So he came up with this idea called the Joint Leadership Team. The
Joint Leadership Team was comprised of approximately 50 people. They
were his direct reports and the heads of all the companies, both the
large companies and the small companies, whoever the senior executive
was in the Houston area. That’s how I became a charter member
of the Joint Leadership Team. The first thing that we did was have
a retreat up in The Woodlands for several days. It was pretty fascinating.
I think we had one or two preliminary meetings, but we ended up having
a two- or three-day retreat up at The Woodlands, and it was really
To his credit Beak created an environment where people weren’t
afraid to speak their minds, which was really an important first step
to be able to move forward. I remember this one thing distinctly.
First day we were there we were in subgroups, and people were telling
their stories. They’re sharing some of their frustrations. Particularly
the contractors were sharing some of their frustrations with the way
they, or more often some of their people, had been treated by some
The irony here. One of the things that I learned and actually shared
with folks is when they had done some surveys, and the contractors
indicated that they were pretty displeased with the civil servants,
was that it’s not that—if it were 70 percent of the contractors
being displeased. It was actually a pretty big number. I think it
was in the 90s. It wasn’t that 90 percent of the contractors
are displeased with 90 percent of the civil servants. It’s that
90 percent of the contractors knew one civil servant that drove them
crazy, and that’s how they voted. They could have dealt with
50 who were fine, but that survey was their opportunity to get that
I think Beak said, “Let’s find that person and fire him.”
We were having this roundtable discussion. Beak actually came into
the group that I was in and joined us. I said to the group—he
was off to the side—I said I’ve spent almost all of my
career working with the EVA Office, the XA mail code. We’ve
always worked as a team. I have not personally experienced a lot of
the things that I’m hearing from other folks. However, I will
say that we recently were a subcontractor to one of the major companies
at JSC and I was asked to support a meeting with them over in Building
1. I said the only way I could describe the meeting was that the chairperson
of the meeting essentially sent out a message that said, “I’m
NASA and you’re not.” Of course there were a lot of heads
nodding. Well, Beak took his finger and he pointed it right at me
and for about two seconds I thought, “I think I may have crossed
the line. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” At the end
of two seconds what he said was, “Bingo.” He had experienced
the same thing, so his message was that’s what we’ve got
to work on. That’s what we’ve got to address as a group,
as a team.
Well, that night I know we worked until late, it was hard work. I
know our employees think we go up to The Woodlands and have a good
old time, but we were working till like 10:00 at night. We had a very
heated discussion over something, and people were tired. It was like
10:00 at night. I really was expecting for somebody to lose it. They
didn’t. The next morning I was walking up to the conference
center from where we were staying. I happened to be walking up with
Beak, just the two of us. He asked me how it was going, and I said
it’s going pretty well. I told him how I was in this meeting
last night and I really thought that somebody was going to lose it,
and I was surprised that they didn’t. He paused and he said,
“Tom, that’s the thing about leaders, they don’t
have anything to prove to anybody else.” I never forgot that.
I don’t think he remembers it, but I thought, “He’s
right.” A lot of times the people who are making all the noise
and creating the turmoil aren’t classic leaders. The guys who
are classic leaders are looking to solve problems and you don’t
solve problems that way.
That’s how the JLT got formed. Then we created teams. It was
actually the first time I got to work with Joyce Abbey. I joined the
team for contractor/civil-servant relationship. I think there were
something like four teams, but that was the one that I chose to join.
Joyce was the facilitator. She did a tremendous job, so much so that
when we came up with new teams several years later, I picked my team
by asking Joyce which team she was going to be the facilitator for.
She told me, and I got on that team.
This restructuring of the teams occurred after the shooting and the
fatality on site [April 20, 2007]. Mike Coats and his folks wanted
to refocus our efforts, so the team that I ended up on was a team
that was looking at a code of conduct, but ended up being called expected
behaviors. I was cochairing that team with Natalie [V.] Saiz, the
Director of Human Resources from JSC. So that ended up being rewarding.
It was a lot of work but it was very rewarding—not the least
of which we got to deal with four different generations in the workforce,
including real young people from co-ops, up to boomers like myself
and even older folks who had worked Apollo, and then the in-betweeners,
the Xs and the Ys—trying to get everybody to work together and
try to understand how to get our messages out so that they were understood
by all of these different age groups.
It was fascinating. Then I know when Mike Coats came on board as Center
Director one of the things that he was most happy with was the fact
that this Joint Leadership Team was already in place. I think he said
if it wasn’t here he would have wanted to create it, but it
was already there. You know Mike. He’s very much along those
same lines. Of course, Mike spent more time as a contractor than Beak
did, because he was 11 or 12 years or so with Loral [Aerospace Corporation]
and Lockheed [Martin]. He came back to JSC very much with an understanding,
from a contractor perspective, of the challenges that have to be met.
As a matter of fact—and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing
this—when he first became the Center Director and we were having
a meeting, it might have still been called CLAEDF—or BAHEP,
whatever. We were having one of our Aerospace Advisory Committee meetings.
Mike was the guest of honor and he was going to talk to us. There
were probably 25 or so people there.
It was fairly common to have everybody introduce themselves at the
beginning of the meeting, particularly if we had a new Center Director
and he didn’t know everybody. So we all got to introduce ourselves
and say what company we were with. We got completely done and he was
the last person. I didn’t expect him to introduce himself, because
we all knew who he was and why he was there, but what he said was,
“Mike Coats, NASA, 40 years, never turned a profit.”
I’ve shared that story with people, because in those few words
he told all of us that: “I know how difficult your jobs are,
because I had a job like that as vice president of Lockheed Martin
with the pressure to turn a profit and increase profits.” While
the civil servants at NASA certainly have their own challenges in
meeting budgets, the one thing they don’t have to do that contractors
do have to do, certainly at the senior level, is to produce a profit.
In those few words he spoke volumes of, “I know where you are
and I appreciate where you are.” That’s another one of
those things. I’ll have to remind him of that the next time
I see him.
So the JLT was and still is a really good organization. I can’t
think at the moment of any other group that I was in, but those are
the ones that I was most active in.
talked about working internally with your company and with the community.
But you also had a lot of multinational dealings. Before we finished
talking the other day, we started to talk about the Russian interfaces
that you had. With your days of the Shuttle Program, you worked with
people that were of the international crowd, not just the American
first exposure to foreigners, if you will, in the space business,
and specifically to Russians, was in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
era in the early ’70s. I was still a very junior engineer, and
I remember getting called into one meeting that was going on. I think
there were some technical questions about our backup oxygen purge
system, our 6,000 psi oxygen system. I think it was a fairly basic
question, but they needed somebody that knew the hardware to be able
to answer the question, so I got called in. I remember how much it
struck me how difficult it was, this language barrier. Language and
culture. If we were all in the same culture and we were all speaking
English, this question and answer would have taken less than a minute,
but instead it probably took ten minutes easily. I was only there
for a very short period of time, but I remember how much of a challenge
So that was just a little taste that I had. Then years later when
we got into Space Station, we had an American EMU, Extravehicular
Mobility Unit, which was the American space suit and life support
system that Hamilton Sundstrand manufactured. The Russians had their
own space suit and life support system called an Orlan. We started
working closer and closer and closer together. As a matter of fact—and
I certainly wasn’t in the middle of this, so it’s vague
in my mind—one of my bosses along the way in Connecticut was
very visionary. He had done a lot of international business and had
started companies for Hamilton in foreign countries including Russia.
We had a company in Moscow called Nauka [Hamilton Sundstrand-Nauka],
which is still there. He actually made some kind of deal with the
Russians to lease a Russian space suit. At least I think that’s
the way it worked. I was nowhere near the middle of the negotiations.
But we, Hamilton, ended up with a Russian space suit. I remember bringing
it to, or at least talking about it at an astronaut all hands meeting
one Monday morning in [JSC] Building 4 and answering a bunch of questions.
Because I think this was done on Hamilton’s money, this wasn’t
a NASA contract or anything, we had [astronaut] John [W.] Young come
over and get in the Orlan suit and try to compare it to an Apollo
suit, and he made comments.
Then as the years went by we started—not just we Hamilton but
we NASA—and the Russians started working closer and closer together
on our two suits. JSC wanted to be sure that while the Russians had
the ultimate responsibility for their suit and design and performance
and safety, because we the United States were going to put American
astronauts in these Russian suits at times, NASA wanted to be sure
that they had people who understood the suits well also, almost as
well as the Russians did. That task ended up falling to Hamilton Sundstrand
because of our responsibility to the EVA Office.
A growing number of our folks started traveling to Russia, supporting
tests in Russia. We have guys that have made over 25 trips to Russia,
spent as much as six months of the year over there, supported runs
in their water tank, not the least of which was to establish a relationship
with the Russians. One of our guys speaks fluent Russian, actually
speaks five languages I think, including Russian. I was over there
in 2001 with my boss at the time, [Edward M.] Ed Francis. This guy
was there, and Ed recognized right off the relationship that he had
established with the Russians.
This was something that I actually learned by reading some and through
personal experience—the cultural difference between trust granted
by Americans and trust granted by Russians in their culture. Americans
tend to grant trust relatively easily, and you can lose their trust
by doing something that is untrustworthy, whereas the Russians do
not grant their trust immediately. You have to earn it over time,
generally through establishing a relationship that grows over time,
and then suddenly one day you find that they’re actually trusting
you. So different culturally.
I didn’t have a lot to do technically with the Russian stuff,
but we had guys who did and were going over there routinely. Matter
of fact, the trip I made in 2001 was primarily because I had folks
who worked in my organization that were over there all the time and
I really didn’t have a good understanding of where they were
and where they were going. You hear about Star City [Russia, Cosmonaut
Training Center] but it’s different to hear of it and go out
there and actually see the water tank in operation. We were there
ten years ago. [William S.] Bill McArthur was actually training for
his [International Space] Station stint. Bill and my boss Ed Francis
were classmates at West Point [Academy, New York], so I think that
was one of the motivations for Ed to pick the time he went over there.
But that made it interesting too.
The Russian space suit company name was [NPP] Zvezda, which translates
as “star” in English. The one man that I got to know the
best, and I didn’t know him all that well, was Dr. Isaak Abramov.
He was generally their most senior person at meetings over here.
Matter of fact, I’ll tell a little story; I guess I’m
already retired so I can tell this story. My boss was in Connecticut
and he was going over to Russia. I told him I’d like to go and
he asked why. I said, “Well, my guys are over there, I’ve
never been over there, I’d like to see what they do. Plus I’d
like to go visit some of our customers or our interfaces on their
home turf.” So he said okay.
I think it was two days before I was getting ready to leave on this
trip. I went walking down the hall, looked in our conference room,
and it was half full of Russians, including Dr. Abramov, who was not
going to be in Russia when I was there, he was going to be in my conference
room in Houston. So obviously I never said a word and went over to
Russia, and did get to go to Energia and sat in a meeting. It was
fascinating. It was a traditional Russian meeting with cookies in
the middle of the table, and the Russians on one side, and us on the
other, with interpreters. I think the deputy director of Energia was
in the meeting. I wasn’t saying a word. At the end of the meeting
he offered a tour of their museum at Energia, which I had heard about,
and some of the spacecraft.
My boss—for about five seconds I thought I was going to kill
him—said, “I’ve already seen it.” Then there
was a short pause. He said, “But Tom hasn’t seen it, and
I can never see it enough. I love seeing it, so we’d be very
happy to have you show us around.” That was fascinating, absolutely
fascinating, because Energia has done so much in the Russian space
So they took us on a tour. They have a private museum. It’s
not open to the public. They took us on a tour that was calendar sequential.
The first thing we actually saw was the backup Sputnik. That hit me.
Then we went down the line. They had a spacecraft with a stuffed dog
representing Laika when they flew their dog in the spacecraft. It
was a two-story museum area. We went down to the lower story, and
they had larger spacecraft, including one that Alexei Leonov had flown
in when he had done the very first spacewalk. Then for me the cream
of the crop was, Yuri Gagarin’s spacecraft was there. I’ll
never forget looking at that.
First when I saw the Sputnik I thought, this is what essentially started
the industry that I’ve spent my whole life in—what would
I be doing if it weren’t for the Sputnik? Then getting to see
Gagarin’s spacecraft, the first human spacecraft, the very first
spacecraft that a human flew in. It was really amazing.
I was in Moscow just a couple of weeks ago, maybe three weeks ago.
Actually unbeknownst to me I wasn’t supposed to do it, but I
did it, I took a photograph of Gagarin’s memorial plaque. My
understanding is that Gagarin is buried in the Kremlin wall with several,
maybe a dozen or two dozen, other Russian dignitaries. It has his
name engraved on the wall, so I took a photograph of that and some
guard came running over to me, “No photographs, no photographs.”
That was an experience.
Then I did sit in some meetings with the Russians. I mentioned last
week I had met Aleksandr Aleksandrov. With what’s going on right
now with the Soyuz being grounded, the AIAA [American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics] news summary this morning actually has
a story where he’s quoted. I met him in our conference room
in Houston one time, and made a mistake. I had been told early on
that Russians appreciate it if you try to speak in Russian, so I spoke
about all ten words of Russian that I knew.
He assumed I could speak Russian, so he started speaking Russian to
me, and I couldn’t understand him at all. I said, “Ya
ne ponimayu po-russki, I don’t understand Russian.” Luckily
we had a translator there. Then I ran into Dr. Abramov several times
after that. I think I may have shared off-mike the story with you
about when we went out to dinner one night at a meeting up in Connecticut.
We were going through a technical review. Dr. Abramov was there along
with several other Russians. The whole bunch of us went out to dinner,
and it had to be 20 of us probably, people from JSC and Hamilton in
Connecticut and Houston, and then the Russians.
I was taking Russian at the time, and I was a lot better than I am
now. I sat next to Dr. Abramov, and I knew this cultural thing about
how they like you to try to speak Russian. I tried to speak Russian
to him as best I could all evening, but didn’t get too much
reaction. We had one of our guys who spoke fluent Russian, sit on
the other side of him, so I had a safety net. He would fill in the
blanks, of which there were many as we were talking. At the end of
the evening we were walking out of the restaurant. It suddenly dawned
on me that he wasn’t going to be at the meeting the next day,
he was going to fly back to Russia, but all the other Russians were
going to be there. So I said goodbye to him in Russian, wished him
well in Russian. He was someone who virtually never spoke English,
but he turned to me and said, “Next time you speak only Russian.”
I took that as a very big compliment. Unfortunately, my Russian declined
in ability after that, so I wasn’t speaking only Russian the
next time I saw him.
you talk some about how the suit evolved as the ISS [International
Space Station] grew? Also, during Shuttle-Mir, Russians for the first
time wore the American suit, and then, I was reading how the Orlan
suit had some EMU components to it.
we still use two separate suits on orbit. I’m personally not
familiar with American components in the Russian suit. One of the
things that you reminded me of is that in the early days of Space
Station, NASA’s intent was actually to design and develop a
brand-new suit for Station. I think Lockheed [Martin] was working
on that as prime contractor. NASA hadn’t let a contract, but
they had the contract for certain elements of Space Station, and they
were working on that.
As has happened in some other programs and areas of NASA over the
years, obviously the cost to develop something brand-new versus evolving
something that you have is a lot more. Eventually I think what happened
was Hamilton came forward as the prime contractor on the Shuttle space
suit. They proposed certain things that they could do for the Shuttle
EMU that would make it totally viable, more than acceptable for use
on Space Station.
Eventually NASA made the decision to evolve the Space Shuttle space
suit, so the Space Shuttle space suit is virtually the same suit that’s
used on Station. Maybe the most significant change that we made was
in the way we absorb carbon dioxide, which in both the Apollo era
and most of the Shuttle program was done with a chemical bed called
lithium hydroxide. Of course on Shuttle we’d fly a couple of
EMUs up, or three or four, and use them and then bring them back down
and service them or other ones, and take up another three or four
suits on the next mission. That was easy to do on Shuttle, but for
Space Station there was a concern about how we were going to get all
this lithium hydroxide up there, enough to support all the EVAs we’re
going to do, which ended up being many, many, many for assembly.
So Hamilton and NASA developed a carbon dioxide absorbing technology
called metal oxide. That’s what we’re using today on Space
Station. It’s basically some metal plates that absorb the carbon
dioxide. Then after the spacewalk the metal oxide system is baked
out in an oven and regenerated so it can be used over again. That’s
one of the most significant changes. The gloves continued to evolve
really throughout the whole program to be more user-friendly.
One of the things that we had to do was certify the EMU for long duration.
The original EMU was designed for a life of, I think it was 15 years
if I’m not mistaken. Soft goods were, I think the soft goods
were like seven years. Five or seven years. Then the hardware was
designed for 15 years. We kept pushing the envelope, because as we
would use it we would get more technical data that would show that
we could use it longer. So we had to go through a lot of development
activity to show that the suit could be used; I think we had to show
it could be used 25 times without having to be refurbished.
If you talk to somebody who really remembers it they’d be able
to tell you. But that was one of the big things, because for Shuttle
we could fly it up, do a couple of EVAs and bring it back, and look
at it and examine it and replace any worn parts. Suddenly we were
in a position where gee, this thing is going to have to be left up
there for a long time.
One of the significant things that went on leading up to the Shuttle
retirement was the ability to actually replace components in the suit
on orbit, to have astronauts be able to service the life support system,
because it was not designed to be serviced in orbit, only on the ground.
The astronauts never touched anything, we never wanted them to unbolt
the life support system or anything like that, so there were some
changes done to make that easier to do. For example, fasteners were
captured, so if you unscrewed a bolt it wouldn’t float away,
it would be captured, and you could take a component out. Then we’d
have some spares. Obviously not the ideal thing; you’d still
like to do it on the ground, but trading that off with having an inoperable
life support system, they have the ability to do that. I hope we won’t
be testing that very often, but they do have the ability to do it.
were talking about the improvements you made to the gloves, including
being able to improve them and enhance them where the temperatures
didn’t affect them going in and out of the sunlight.
were two significant changes in glove technology. One was an evolving
change, which just really never stopped, which was to make the gloves
so that the astronaut could use them as easily as possible. One of
the tradeoffs that you do with gloves—because ultimately you’re
getting down to the fingertips being the interface point that the
astronaut is dealing with, dealing with Hubble Space Telescope parts,
changeout or whatever, so the gloves actually have the least amount
of insulation of anything in the suit. The suit itself, the arms and
the legs, have a lot of insulation. The body produces heat, so we’ve
never in our suits and life support systems had to heat up an astronaut,
even when he’s in an environment of minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit,
because he’s inside the “thermos bottle.” His body
is producing this heat.
We had a development test in the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory,
the SESL, Building 32, in the thermal vacuum chambers, with Story
Musgrave who was on the first Hubble [Space Telescope] repair crew.
We had him in a very cold environment, which was planned, because
that’s what they were going to be experiencing. He ended up
getting frostbitten on his fingertips pretty badly.
It scared a lot of folks. Not just us, but oh my gosh, because this
was going to be the environment that we’re working in. So for
the first time we actually developed glove fingertip heaters. We put
these little heaters in the tips of the fingers and if the astronaut
was in that kind of a cold environment, we could ask him to, or he
could, on his own, activate these heaters. Throw a switch and actually
turn these things on. It would provide some heat to his fingertips.
I’m happy to say that we never again to the best of my knowledge
ever had a problem with it. People have had cold fingertips, but not
frostbitten fingertips. So it’s one of those things. It’s
one of the reasons that we test so much on the ground. It wasn’t
something we really expected to happen but certainly it was better
that it happened on the ground than up there. I think it scared me
and some others because we all knew Story pretty well, and he was
very well trained for Hubble, and here we were with him with frostbitten
fingertips, and was he going to recover? I think eventually he did,
but it was pretty scary when it first happened, particularly when
you saw his fingers.
a few minutes if you would about the importance of or the accessibility
that the suit allowed for Hubble, as well as building the ISS and
even repairing the Shuttle itself.
I think I’d have to start going way back in the early days,
even before my days at JSC. The very first American spacewalk was
done by Ed White [Edward H. White, II, June 3, 1965]. I was still
in college at the time, but a friend of mine, [H. Joseph] Joe McMann
[Jr.], who was both a customer and then later a coworker at Hamilton,
just before he retired [from NASA] was on a very secret team of only
three, four, five people in Building 7, Crew Systems Division, that
actually developed the life support system that Ed White used. I think
it was pretty obvious that they were hoping to beat the Russians to
the first spacewalk.
But this was the heart of the space race, and the Russians beat the
Americans by a relatively short period of time, month or so, something
like that [March 18, 1965]. There was another EVA done during the
Gemini program with [Eugene F.] Gene Cernan [June 5, 1966]. Again
I only know this from history and talking to these guys, but Gene
Cernan did an EVA and had an umbilical. He was outside the spacecraft.
His visor totally fogged up, he couldn’t see anything. The suit
grew in volume. They came very close to not being able to get him
I talked to somebody who was involved, maybe one of the astronauts
involved with the mission. He said they gave serious consideration
to just cutting him loose. It was that close. So EVAs started out
scaring people. You can imagine NASA management: “Oh, we don’t
want to go through that again.” But, obviously when we went
to the Moon, we had to get out and walk on the lunar surface.
When we got to the Space Shuttle—we had a problem on STS-5,
so we didn’t do the spacewalk then. Then we did the first one
on STS-6. I think there was this uneasy feeling about EVAs, spacewalks,
by NASA management, that they were risky, and of course it is more
risky than being inside, and therefore maybe less is better than more.
Again I didn’t deal with this firsthand, but I think I heard
some of it secondhand.
As Shuttle progressed, we started doing more EVAs, and confidence
started increasing some. We even did satellite capture. When it got
to the Station program, astronaut [William F.] Bill Fisher and an
engineer whose name was [Charles R.] Price did what was affectionately
called the Fisher-Price study. They identified or estimated how many
EVAs it was going to take to assemble Space Station. I wish there
were an easy way to go look up the answer, because I’d like
to see how close they came. People particularly in management were
spooked, because it was hundreds. They were just scared to death.
There’s no way you can do that many EVAs. Obviously the odds
start working against you.
So they looked at other ways to minimize, other ways of assembling
Station that would reduce the number of EVAs that were required. Of
course as I sit here today, the Space Station is now fully assembled
and we can look back and see how well the EMUs performed. Just incredibly
well, really, and they were integral to the assembly of Space Station.
I don’t know how they would have assembled Space Station without
doing all the EVAs that they have, but to the point that EVAs, I think
it’s fair to say, were just totally taken for granted. It’s
like, “Well, let’s just add an EVA here or let’s
do another EVA and go look at this.”
Sometimes we’d have to remind ourselves that this is still pretty
risky business, especially if you cut a glove or get hit by a micrometeorite
or something like that. Particularly toward the end of the program,
when the number of EVAs was just—we had a thing that we called
the wall of EVA, when they were looking forward at how many EVAs we
had done. It was a graph that showed how many EVAs we did this year,
this year, this year, this year. Then you got to this point where
it just looked like a wall you were climbing—I don’t want
to guess on the numbers, but an order of magnitude more EVAs than
you had done prior. Or more EVAs in a three-year period than you’d
done in the whole history of the space program.
That got people’s attention I would say. I think it scared some
people but it certainly got people’s attention in the EVA world,
so they looked at everything, trying to make everything as reliable
as it could possibly be. Ultimately, I think what the EVA folks did
for spacewalking is what NASA did for human spaceflight. They made
it look easy, and it’s not, but they made it look easy. I guess
that’s the ultimate compliment if you take something that’s
really hard. I know Mike Coats even made a comment about it the other
night at the Shuttle celebration, about how NASA makes this look so
easy when it’s not.
was reading Story Musgrave’s book [Story Musgrave: The Way of
Water]. In there he refers to the suit as a “potential body
bag.” A shocking statement, but for a minute you think about,
as he says, it’s risky business. Not only did NASA have more
EVAs, but they made them longer. Astronauts were out originally for
so many hours, and now it’s five, six, seven hours. So it says
a lot for your life support systems, of the vitality.
one of the things that was done early on, and I’ll refer to
Joe McMann again. One of his lines used to be: “Be sure to build
reserve into the design but don’t let anybody know it’s
there because they’ll want to use it.” So our designs
to some extent followed his guidance, and we usually had the ability
to do more than the specification said we could do. Like we had a
seven-hour system and it is what it was really planned to be, but
as you got towards the end of the seven hours, depending on the thermal
environment that you were in and the metabolic rate that you were
working, we could crank numbers that would show that we had enough
oxygen where we could extend another 30 minutes or another hour. I
think we got up close to eight and a half hours on one EVA. I don’t
think there’s much left beyond that. But you’re right.
The guys could spend an entire workday outside doing stuff, be out
there easily seven hours or longer. Considering they get in the suit
earlier than that, it’s a long day.
So one of the things that we and NASA generally did was if we had
a mission that had multiple EVAs, assembly flight or servicing or
something, we would generally alternate crew members, because your
hands get tired. We’d have two astronauts go out on Monday and
a different two on Tuesday, and then the Monday crew would go out
on Wednesday, those kinds of things. One of the things that we learned
and had the capability to do was to have some backup capability, like
in the early days we started flying a third EMU so that if one of
the first two failed we could utilize [the third one].
On STS-5 that wasn’t the case. There was no plan to fly [an
extra], and I don’t think we flew it on STS-6 either, but somewhere
down the line that decision was made. We wanted to have a backup suit
on board if we have a problem with one. I think I already mentioned
the suits are fail safe, not fail operational, meaning if you have
a failure you can’t continue. You won’t lose your life
because of the failure, but they’re fail safe. You have to get
back in right away, so this would give us the ability to have a failure,
not have to cancel the EVA, and have an astronaut get in another suit,
do some sizing adjustments, and still go out. Then of course later
we ended up flying four EMUs because many of the missions had four
astronauts who were doing EVAs on alternating days.
there one remarkable memory more than others that you remember about
something you didn’t think the suit could do and it did?
nothing that jumps to mind. Probably more than anything it would be
the general reliability, and it’s somewhat ironic that on our
very first EVA attempt we couldn’t do it. We then went for decades
with no significant problems.
Similar to the Shuttle, when you look at it, if you know anything
about it you realize that the miracle is that it ever flies at all,
that all this stuff works at the same time. The suit has a little
bit of that too. It’s not that it’s magical that it works.
It’s that time after time after time after time it could be
that reliable. It’s not a specific instance, it’s just
that it became so commonplace, if you will. I think it’s probably
I even know of a lot of astronauts personally that have done EVAs
that that’s—for those that haven’t done an EVA they
may not want to say this—but it’s the pinnacle, doing
an EVA. Jerry [L.] Ross, God bless him. He was on one mission where
there wasn’t a planned EVA, and he said to me, “You’ve
got to help me come up with a reason to do an EVA.” He loved
doing EVAs. They all did.
I don’t know if I shared with you Story’s comment. I can’t
remember if it’s in his book, but because of all the water tank
training—when he went out and did the very first Shuttle EVA,
first guy out the hatch on STS-6, he looked down somewhere. Not necessarily
immediately, but he looked down on the Earth, and he said, “The
pool is deep today.” Anne Lenehan was the author of that book,
and she interviewed me extensively for the book. I was actually at
the book launching in New York, which was a treat.
But yes, Story, he called it the space ballet. Doing an EVA, called
it a space ballet. He also said that he liked being in space but not
getting to space. He’d say, “If you could ‘beam
me up, Scotty’ and skip the launch, that’s the way I’d
get to space.”
course the Shuttle has retired, but the suit hasn’t, it lives
on, but to some capacity, as you mentioned being able to service it
from the ground to space. Did you leave a plan for that before you
me personally, but there were people that worked on it. The whole
idea was to leave the EMUs that were going to be left on orbit in
a position with spares and the ability to change out on-orbit replaceable
items, to be able to be serviced on orbit, so that was worked very
very hard for a number of years.
Now we’re in the mode of time that will tell how all that planning
worked, because this is the somewhat disconcerting part for an old
EVA guy. There’s not a planned American EMU EVA for another
year—most people, even I, didn’t realize it was that far
off. I would tell people we’re going to continue doing EVAs,
but just not from the Shuttle, they’re going to be from the
Space Station. They won’t be as often. I didn’t know how
much of an understatement that was when I said, “They won’t
be as often.” Then one of the guys in our office shared in an
e-mail the next planned EVA is August of 2012.
I’m sure there will be some EVAs in Russian Orlan suits. I think
they’ve already had one since STS-135, but I mentioned before
that you always have EMUs available for contingency use. I’m
hoping that there’s not a contingency where they have to use
them, but if there is, that’s when you really need them to work.
were kind enough to wear your shirt today with your EVA patch. I wanted
you to share information about the patch and about the evolution of
the patch itself.
wearing this shirt was unplanned, but maybe it was serendipity here.
The EVA patch was actually designed by my longtime boss, Fred Keune.
He was an amateur artist, and NASA was into patches. He was trying
to figure out, “What do I do with the patch?” He was visiting
with our company doctor in Connecticut one day in his office up there.
He looked up on the wall and there was a framed [picture of Leonardo]
da Vinci’s dimensions of man [Vitruvian Man], which you’ve
probably seen in other doctors’ offices. He immediately said,
“That’s it, that’s what I’m going to use.”
So the heart of the patch is an astronaut in an EMU space suit with
his arms extended double, if that’s the right term, like da
Vinci’s dimensions of man. The original patch that flew for
the first time on STS-6—or actually I guess it may have flown
on STS-5 but actually was first used in an EVA on STS-6—had
three stars on it. Those three stars were for the first American EVA
by Ed White in the Gemini program, for the first EVA walk on the Moon
by Neil [A.] Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11, and for the saving
of Skylab by the EVA done by [Charles P.] Pete Conrad [Jr.] and [Joseph
P.] Joe Kerwin when they had to install the thermal shield.
For years and years we flew the patch with three stars. [G.] Allen
Flynt was managing the EVA Project Office years later and decided
that it was time to add two stars. The fourth star was for the first
Shuttle EVA, so this would be the fourth program. We had Gemini, Apollo,
Skylab, and now Shuttle. The first Shuttle EVA was by Story Musgrave
and [Donald H.] Don Peterson. Then the fifth star was for the first
International Space Station-based EVA done out of the Space Station
airlock. Jim Reilly was one of the two guys, and the other one was
Michael Gernhardt [STS-104, July 2001]. So those were the five stars.
I mentioned that I was in New York City at the book launching for
Story Musgrave’s book, The Way of Water. The five-star EVA patch
had only relatively recently come out. I got to speak briefly at the
launch party and one of the fun things that I was able to do was to
present Story with a five-star EVA patch of which he represented the
fourth star. This was particularly meaningful to me, because after
he did the very first Shuttle spacewalk, he presented a patch to me,
and several other folks.
Actually at home I have—we haven’t talked about it, but
on the suits we have identifiers, red stripes to identify which astronaut
is which. We learned fairly early on that two guys out in these white
space suits both look exactly the same to us on the ground, so we
put some red Velcro stripes on the suits. Story was EV1 so he had
red stripes, and Don Peterson was EV2 so he didn’t have stripes.
One of the things that I have at home that was presented to us after
STS-6 was an actual small piece of the red stripe off of Story’s
suit; it’s in Plexiglas or however they do those things, so
that’s pretty cool. They call it a commander’s stripe.
That’s pretty much the story on the patch. I don’t know
when we’ll add the sixth star, but hopefully in my lifetime.
would be something to look forward to. Many of the years that you
were with Hamilton you were in management. We talked a little bit
the last time about how you learned so much on the job. I was hoping
that you could share with us, and you already have on some things
but maybe some of the lessons learned you feel are important for management
and for leadership.
I’ve got a leadership presentation that I put together a couple
years ago for an executive presentation at Hamilton in Connecticut.
I gave it about a year and a half ago at a JSC NMA [National Management
Association] luncheon meeting. Then I just did it again, virtually
unchanged, a month ago at a leadership seminar that the NMA put on
The first slide pretty much tells it all. The first slide says, “It’s
all about people.” I think that is the key. If you think it’s
all about technology, and obviously we do a lot of technology and
we need all the technology and we need all the technologists, but
it’s really all about teamwork. I think that one of the real
highs of working at JSC is no matter what area you work in, and it
doesn’t have to be a technical area, you’re part of the
team that is accomplishing this mission. So more than anything else
I would say it’s all about people.
Actually on the slide in my presentation it has two photographs side
by side. The one on the right is a flight crew, and the one on the
left is about 15 or 20 people in the Mission Control Center holding
the crew patch, the emblem, for that particular crew’s mission.
Obviously the one on the right, the group of seven on the right, can’t
do it without the group of 20 on the left, and the group of 20 on
the left has a group of 100 behind them in the back rooms. Everybody
in the back room has people in the Mission Evaluation Room, and then
they have ties to contractors all over the country that make the hardware.
It’s an amazing network that ends up making this stuff look
so easy. I’ve often said that to most people watching the mission
the most brilliant person in the world has to be the CapCom because
he’s the guy talking to the crew. But he’s the mouthpiece
for all this stuff that’s getting fed in.
There are other leadership things obviously in this presentation.
Probably the one that I’ve seen people struggle with the most
over the years, I learned about 20 years ago when I attended essentially
a training session but it was really a working training session with
some of our NASA customers. We were having some challenges on the
team and our program manager in Connecticut pulled us all together—all
of us in the leadership ranks. We went off for a couple of days at
the United Technologies Leadership Center training center. It was
called, “Leading A Customer-Focused Organization,” which
ties to the people thing by the way, because customers are people
and they all have their own personalities.
They gave us a big fat notebook and an instructor and we went through
stuff for a couple of days. We got to talk a lot openly, and it was
very valuable. But one of the things they gave us was a two-sided
sheet, and it listed desirable leadership traits or something. It
listed about 40 of them. I’m not sure I could tell you a single
one other than number 30. I even remember the number.
Number 30 said: Supporting a decision once made even though you did
not support it before it was made. I think that ends up being one
of the most difficult things for people because you have very passionate
people that work in this business. They are encouraged, virtually
required, to express their opinions, particularly if they differ from
your own. But eventually a decision gets made, because if we waited
for everybody to agree with everything we would never fly. So eventually
whether it’s space or any kind of business, eventually someone
in charge, a boss, makes the decision. It’s at that point that
you have to say,, “Okay, I got to speak my piece, a decision
has been made, now I’m going to do everything I can to support
this decision.” I have seen people struggle with that over the
years. I’ve seen people virtually destroy their careers because
they couldn’t do that, because if you’re the boss you
can’t have your organization pulling in a different direction.
That’s one of the slides that’s in there. One of them
is: delegate and hold accountable. The subtitle on that slide is:
“20-year-olds got us to the Moon.” Now we think that 20-year-olds
are incapable of having responsibility. The key is to delegate to
them, which is not easy to do. People have a real hard time delegating.
But then hold them accountable. Those 20-year-olds that got us to
the Moon, they were also very accountable for what they were doing.
Some of the things are obvious or no-brainers, but they’re also
things that people don’t routinely do, or they’ll hold
back on delegating. One of the things that I’ve found personally
is that a lot of people don’t delegate until they have no other
choice. When they delegate at that point, 95 percent of the time the
people come through fine. So it makes you say even more so: Why don’t
you delegate earlier or more often? It’s really fear of failure
I think. A manager who’s delegating fears that the person he
delegates it to will fail, and then the manager will be held accountable.
The buck stops at the top. That’s part of leadership, it’s
recognizing who can do it and who can’t and taking a chance
I just had this flashback to early in my career. United Technologies
Corporation was initially called United Aircraft and Transport. When
I joined it it was called United Aircraft Corporation. We had a CEO
[chief executive officer] around in the early ’70s, a guy by
the name of Harry [J.] Gray, who actually not only changed the name
to United Technologies, but he changed it from an all-aerospace company
to a technology company in that he bought Carrier Air Conditioning
and Otis Elevator [Company] as two big companies to diversify the
Under his reign there was a series of ads that were run in the Wall
Street Journal. Full-page ads. I still have his book at home; the
book is called Gray Matter. They weren’t really advertisements,
they were leadership messages. Full-page leadership messages. Then
at the bottom it would just say United Technologies. One of the ones
that I remember the most was: Do you remember who gave you your first
break? Then it said: Send him a letter today thanking him. There’s
not one of us that doesn’t remember who that person was. Maybe
it was a teacher or a boss or someone else.
That one particularly struck me. I remember that I wrote a letter
to Fred Keune, who I mentioned, who had been my boss for many years
and my mentor. When he passed away a number of years ago, one of the
things they found was that letter that he had kept. Those are the
highlights of leadership.
there were days where it was challenging, what do you think was the
most challenging time period of your career?
thought about that a little bit. Actually there’s relatively
little doubt when I think back on it, but I didn’t think that
much about it at the time. At the time I didn’t say, “Oh
my gosh, this is the most challenging period of my life.” You
know what I mean? But it was in 1986. We had just lost the Flight
Equipment Processing Contract [FEPC] of the suits. We had badge-swapped
several hundred people from our company to Boeing. We were down to
I think 26 employees. My boss of 17 years had decided to leave after
we lost FEPC. I had been his deputy so I got to take over. We had
just formed a brand-new local subsidiary, and the future was really
I have thought about it a little bit, and it was really I would say
the spirit of NASA, the “don’t quit spirit” of NASA,
because when I think back on it, 25 years ago, it’s like now
I’d probably say I’m not up for this fight ahead, or for
the challenges. I’m not military, so I shouldn’t say,
but I imagine it’s like a soldier on the battlefield. You just
keep fighting, you just keep fighting, you don’t really have
the option to say, “I’m done fighting.”
I think at the same time it was, in hindsight, rewarding in that it
wasn’t me—I was the general manager, so I felt a lot of
the heat—but the success that we achieved for this whole team,
just pulling together, doing whatever it took and not quitting, which
is really the NASA spirit I think. It really is.
Then, I don’t want to say it’s “number two”
but it was more recent so it’s clearer in my memory. It was
when one of our folks dropped a Primary Life Support System. He didn’t
really drop it. It was in a fixture and he was doing something with
it and it came out of its fixture and crashed to the floor, caused
more than $1 million worth of damage. It literally had our business
on the brink. Most of our employees weren’t aware of how close
we were to the brink, but our NASA customer, particularly in the Shuttle
Program Office, particularly at the Center Director level, was very
unhappy. That one is almost miraculous that we survived.
I just read something this morning about the Soyuz [rocket crash,
August 24, 2011] and how heads are going to roll. Then there was something
else in the government, maybe I read it in the newspaper—how
this guy is getting replaced, and he’s being moved. It’s
the default answer to a problem that occurs, “Okay, well, we’ll
just fire the guy who is in charge.”
The guy who was my boss at the time, our vice president, Ed Francis—and
I’ve thanked him more times than I can count for not firing
me, because it was—I had been around NASA long enough that I
knew what to expect. I knew the rules. I knew the unwritten rules
of the game. If you’re the GM [general manager] and something
like this happens and the customer is unhappy, you’ve got to
be able to go in and say, “Okay we replaced the GM,” and
that would appease everybody. To his credit and my survival, and I
think it may have been his West Point leadership training, but he
said, No, I’m not going to do that.” I’m sure he
got some grief for not doing it. Then ironically, we came out of the
whole thing stronger than we went in.
I heard somebody say that the other day. I think maybe post-Challenger.
We were stronger post-Challenger because of all the lessons we had
learned. But those were the two most challenging periods in my career
that I can recall. There were little ones along the way, but they
were pretty small compared to those two.
like it. We’d talked some the other day about Challenger and
how it impacted the community. How did the loss of Columbia impact
your group as well?
from a business standpoint Columbia—not just at Hamilton but
I think at JSC—Columbia was obviously devastating, as was Challenger.
The primary difference in the post-Challenger and the post-Columbia
eras was post-Challenger we weren’t flying at all for like three
years. That was really really difficult. It was the most—I don’t
know what the right word is. I have told people that what I found
was that people after the initial shock wore off, people griped about
everything, because they had all this energy that they normally put
into human spaceflight, and they weren’t putting humans into
space for almost three years. They griped about where their desk was
and about their window, all this relative petty stuff, that once we
got back flying again just totally disappeared.
Post-Columbia I was gearing myself up mentally for that same type
of thing. What I found was that because we had Space Station and because
we had people on the Space Station and we were still had humans in
space, even though we weren’t putting them up on the Shuttle,
that aspect of it wasn’t as difficult, the post-Columbia accident
era wasn’t as difficult as the post-Challenger era.
I think that I was virtually convinced that it was going to be the
end of Shuttle. I didn’t say this to my employees, but I was
somewhat surprised we survived, just like I said, what do you do?
You fire the boss. Historically something like that happens, well,
we just won’t do that anymore, we’ll just remove that
risk. So I was pleasantly surprised when we kept on going after Challenger.
I think most people at NASA, particularly senior people, would have
said there’s no way we’ll survive a second accident. When
that second accident happened I literally thought, “That’s
But it goes back to that spirit of NASA and not giving up. It’s
amazing. I take people on tours sometimes at JSC and over to the Saturn
V building. You see quotes from astronauts from 40 plus years ago
about “if something happens I want you to continue on.”
That is the spirit of what we do.
We all get it. I think it’s a lot harder for people who work
in other industries and other locations to really understand it. It’s
hard. I guess it’s literally cultural. It’s just ingrained
in our culture, this you don’t give up no matter what.
that part of the reason why you never went back to Connecticut to
work? You chose to stay in Houston for 43 years.
think it was --
When I came down it was for a one-year assignment, maybe a year and
a half. I remember the very first project manager said, “Well,
how do you like it here? I arrived in July. He was asking me in August
or September. It was hot. I said, “Well, I’m not thrilled
about Houston, but I really like the job.” Then I’ve been
lucky in everything I’ve ever done.
Somewhere before that year was out I was actually transferred from
the field service department that I was in, which was routinely moving
people around every year or two to different parts of the world. I
was transferred virtually without my knowledge into the space systems
department, but by that time I was hooked. We were months, ten, nine,
eight months from going to the Moon. I think I mentioned to you the
article where the Hartford Courant guy interviewed me and I said that
we would have worked for nothing. It was that kind of environment.
Yes, somewhere along the line I got invited, encouraged to go back
to Connecticut. When a vice president invites you to go back, it’s
usually more than an invitation. I really thought about it. I can’t
remember exactly when it was now, but I really analyzed it like an
engineer. I was single. I had some money in the bank. The biggest
thing was that I was really happy in what I was doing. From a career
standpoint if I wanted to be a vice president there was no way I was
going to be a vice president in Houston and that was made clear to
me. That if you want to progress in your career to really more senior
levels you’re going to need to come back to Connecticut.
I thought about it a lot. I really decided that my personal happiness
and satisfaction in what I was doing was way more important than my
title or anything like that. So I made the decision knowing that the
most likely outcome was that I would get terminated, because you don’t
normally turn those things down. That was another time I was very
fortunate that I kept trucking along.
Although the next time I went to Connecticut that guy, who I still
stay in contact with, Fred Morris, a great guy, he said to me, “I
didn’t think you liked us up here.” He and Story are great
friends as well. He was the very first EMU program manager, very first
one, and then he ran our department for a number of years. He and
Story were born in the same hospital within like a week of each other.
and obviously they didn’t meet each other until years later.
Story grew up in Massachusetts. He was born there. So everything worked
out, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. Yes, you’d
be hard-pressed to find somebody that was more happy. I always tell
people there were days I would trade in, but generally speaking it
was just an incredible place to be.
But when I look what’s going on right now and the uncertainty
about the future, I want the people that follow behind me to have
the same opportunities that I had. When I go visit the legislators
in Washington that’s exactly what I tell them. I say I was 22
years old when I got to work with the first guys to walk on the Moon.
The 22-year-olds today know ten times more than I knew, and I want
them to have the same kinds of opportunities. But those opportunities
are more fuzzy now. When you’re in the moment, it’s when
it’s always the fuzziest. Hopefully six months or a year down
the road things might clear up a little bit.
think that would be good news for people, present and past.
it would. That’s true.
there other areas that you wanted to talk about that we haven’t
done such a good job of leading things that I really haven’t
much more. I will tell one more story. I was talking about it’s
all about people, and then about the people that I got to meet over
the years and got to work with and interface with and just phenomenal
leaders we had. But one of the things that was very—influential
I think would probably be the right word—in my career was, and
it came about in a strange way, definitely a circuitous route. My
wife and I are both runners, and we’ve run a lot of marathons,
and my wife was the president of the Bay Area Running Club for a number
There used to be, there still is, a run but now it starts at Space
Center Houston, but it used to start out of Gilruth Center. It was
called the Lunar Rendezvous Run. It occurred every mid July, around
July 20th every year. It’s been going now for like 35 years
or something. We always would try to get some celebrity, usually an
astronaut, to start the race. This was back in the days when the Center
was open to the public, and people from all over Houston would come.
It wasn’t uncommon to have 800, 900, 1,000 runners, so we would
usually try to get an astronaut that would shoot the starting gun
My cousin [Dr. Robert] Bob Fitzmaurice was working in [JSC] Education/Public
Affairs. This particular year, I think it was probably 1991, he said
he would get an astronaut, “I’ll take the action to get
us an astronaut that’ll start the run.” So he reported
back at our next planning meeting that he had gotten this astronaut
named Nancy Sherlock who’s going to start the run. I’m
a little embarrassed to say this, but I looked it up, and realized,
she’s still an astronaut candidate. She’s not even a real
astronaut yet. That was my initial feeling. It was like, okay.
So I think it was probably the week of the race. We had had some successful
EVA test. I can’t even remember what it was, but I remember
Glenn Lutz bought a keg of beer that we all got to share out at the
park at the Gilruth Center. He invited a bunch of astronauts to join
us, so we were out there. I don’t know, there might have been
ten astronauts, mostly EVA-related. So I saw this woman, saw her badge
and saw Sherlock on it.
I introduced myself to her, and said, “Oh, I understand you’re
starting the race.” That started a very close and long friendship
that still lasts today. I can remember saying to her, “You need
to be there about 7:30 a.m., because we do the wheelchair start at
She said, “I’ll be there like quarter to 7:00.”
I told her that she didn’t need to be there that early. She
said, “No, I’ll help you set up the finish line.”
That definitely struck me.
There was actually another astronaut in her class, that class of ’90,
who I met that day, [William G.] Bill Gregory. He and I are still
friends. He’s out in Phoenix [Arizona]. Anyway, Nancy came and
started the race. Then sometime after that, my wife ran into her in
the grocery store or something. Then a friendship started developing.
She had a little girl. Nancy was a single mom.
When Nancy made her first flight on STS-57, we were the guardians
for her six-year-old daughter, Stephanie. My wife actually, because
Nancy was single at the time, ended up filling the spouse position,
flew to Cape Canaveral [Florida] for the launch and the landing. Because
my wife was teaching and wasn’t available, I got to participate
with the other spouses as a sub[statute], and actually got to fly
the mission simulator, only time I ever did that. We were at the [Florida]
beach house the day or two before launch for the crew family barbecue.
In a way it was fascinating because I had been at NASA for more than
20 years at that point, I had worked with a lot of astronauts, I had
traveled with some, but I never had one that I considered a close
personal friend. Through that relationship which still exists today,
we were invited to her astronaut class parties, so I ended up knowing
most of the members of the astronaut class of 1990, many of whom I
still consider good friends today.
[William S.] Bill McArthur is one. Leroy Chiao and on and on. I saw
a side of NASA that very few people ever see. Like I said, I’d
been here 21 or 22 years. I’d probably heard of the beach house,
but when you’re at the beach house just before the launch it’s
surreal. It really is surreal. Then you become very close with the
other family members. It’s a very, I don’t want to diminish
it by calling it a “club,” but it’s a very tight-knit
group that shares a common bond.
it’s very unique. I can’t remember if we already talked
about this, but one of the things that happened on STS-57 was the
SAREX, the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment. Long story short, through
ham operators one day in Hawaii and another day in Australia they
actually “hooked up” Nancy to our kitchen phone. She talked
to both my wife and me, and primarily her daughter. So I took a picture
of Stephanie, who was six years old, sitting on our kitchen chair
with what seemed like a big phone in her ear. Then after the mission
Brian Duffy, who was the pilot and was a member of our church, St.
Paul’s [Catholic Church, Nassau Bay, Texas], presented his slide
show and film for the parishioners. When he came to this one photo
of Nancy floating in the cabin with headphones on and a big smile
on her face, he said, “This is my favorite photograph from the
mission. This is Nancy talking to her daughter.”
I said to him afterwards, “Hey Brian, I have the other end of
that photo. I took a photo of Stephanie talking on the phone with
a smile on her face.” So he got me a copy of the photo of Nancy
and my wife took both photos and had them put in a single frame. Then
she put a brass tag or something on it and gave it to Nancy for Mother’s
Day. It said, “I love you, Mommy. Over.” Because Stephanie
was instructed to say the word “over” after every sentence
she finished and she did. I still see the photos at Nancy’s
We’ve been through a lot of good times and some more challenging
times, particularly most recently. Her husband, Dave, passed away.
He had become a very good friend of ours obviously. So it’s
the circle of life. So that’s one element that I wouldn’t
want to leave out, because it ended up being so significant. Then
she flew three more times. We were at all four of her launches and
got to know her parents and her family members. So we literally feel
about her just like family. Literally like family. So it’s probably
a kind of an intense element of family in the big JSC family.
One of the things that I’m recognizing more, I made a comment
yesterday to somebody about this, I’m recognizing this more
now than when I was working full-time. I recognized that I loved working
at JSC, I turned down potential promotions in Connecticut, always
enjoyed the people I worked with. But since I’ve retired and
I’ve gone to some different events and seen different people—and
maybe it’s because I don’t have other things that are
bogging my brain down at work—I really realize how much I loved
the people that I worked with, and still do.
part of your life.
So when you tell people at JSC it’s family, they know what you
mean. Choked up.
okay. Through those 43 plus years there’s a lot of paths that
you’ve crossed with people.
lot of good memories for you to think about.
not over yet. They’re just going to be different.
That’s really one of the blessings. I think I shouldn’t
end without thanking Hamilton for the career that they gave me. I
talk about individual bosses, which were all important. But it’s
amazing to go through a career that’s more than four decades
long with one company and be able to say that I couldn’t have
been treated better. From the beginning to the end.
amazing. Well, thanks for sharing your history and your thoughts with
us. We appreciate it.
it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for the job that you did.
For being one of those family members.
appreciate that, thanks.