NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Murfreesboro, Tennessee – 10 May 2011
Today is May 10, 2011. This interview with Rhea Seddon is being conducted
in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the Johnson Space Center Oral History
Project. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Rebecca
Dr. Seddon begins today by talking about the launch and entry suits.
into those suits was crazy. They had technicians that got you into
them prior to launch. You had a lot of help. They suited you up for
all the practice runs and all the simulations, so they were part of
the team that would wrestle you into these suits and check out everything
before a flight. But then you had to get yourself into them for landing.
And imagine the middeck, weightlessness, and seven suits floating
around down there and fourteen gloves and fourteen boots and cooling
You had to stow them after launch, in what we called the post-insertion
timeline, meaning right after you get to orbit. It was always really,
really busy, and somebody who might not be feeling well was tasked
with stowing all the suits, because different people had different
things they had to get done. I had to open the payload bay doors.
So you came out of your suit and you just let it float around. Somebody
had to stow them all. There were suits, boots, gloves, helmets, parachutes,
and seats, and they had to be stuck somewhere. Then you didn’t
think about them.
Then when you’re getting ready for landing, you can’t
just sort of pull them out and hang them up the night before, like
you would if you were on a business trip. You didn’t want to
pull them out until you had to, because they took up a lot of room
and you didn’t need to put them on. You didn’t want it
just floating around. So there was this flail when, “Okay, time
to get ready to come home. The commander and the pilot have stuff
to do. They have to do the de-orbit burn and all this kind of stuff,
with the flight engineer. So let’s pull them all out and find
where their stuff is, get them in their stuff, and then everybody
else can sort things out.” Well, it was insane.
SLS [Spacelab Life Sciences]-1 was where I first saw it, because that
was the first flight where I had worn a suit. We were saying, “We
can’t find so-and-so’s glove.” Well, it can’t
be anywhere but here. [Laughter]
We didn’t do a spacewalk.
not like I left it out in the car or somebody carried it off someplace.
It’s got to be here. When you can’t find it, it’s
just kind of like, well darn. Eventually it turns up because it floats
out of somewhere when somebody rummages around back behind the lockers
or something. But there’s a lot of nooks and crannies where
things can get stuffed, and there are a lot of nooks and crannies
where things can get lost. I hadn’t thought of that in a long
time. I think somebody took a picture, and it looked like an ocean
of orange down there with all these things floating around. That was
interesting to me. I think probably that was in somebody’s debrief
somewhere, but you hear it and you think, “Oh, yes, well.”
Then on my third flight, we planned it out. So-and-so’s suit,
boots, and helmet and everything are going to be put together and
put there. By that time we knew how to solve space motion sickness,
so there were fewer people that felt bad and were more useful.
How did you solve that problem?
know, for a long time we tried a variety of different things. Scopolamine
and Dexedrine worked real well here on the ground, but we found in
space it solved the problem during the timeframe that you were taking
it, but then there was an adaptation after you quit taking it and
you got sick then. Then you couldn’t really take anything by
mouth, so we tried suppositories.
Finally I think it was probably Jim [James P.] Bagian on his first
flight tried intramuscular Phenergan, which is an anti-nausea medication
that they use postoperatively and for chemo patients. Worked like
a charm. Usually you get a big slug of it if you don’t feel
well. I mean, you get into space and you’re thinking, “I
don’t feel so good.” You get a shot, it cures you, and
very rarely do you need anything else ever on that flight. A 50-milligram
dose is a big dose, and it usually knocks people out on the Earth.
It usually makes you so drowsy, but that’s okay if you’re
post-op or on chemo. People on the ground said, “That’s
too much Phenergan to give somebody that needs to work.” We
kept saying we don’t have any drowsiness up there. There’s
something different. Either it’s the adrenalin or your muscles,
where the injection is given, are not being perfused as much or whatever,
but we don’t seem to have that. It’s not an abnormal dose,
it’s just enough, and it cures it.
They wanted us to do all these tests of, “Well, what we want
to do is later in the flight, we’d like to give people 50 milligrams
of Phenergan and then check their cognitive abilities.” Nope,
not going to volunteer. Nobody’s going to volunteer and take
a chance that you’ll spend the day feeling drugged. So we don’t
know why it works. We just know it works. “Go away. We’ve
solved the problem.”
Right. We know it works.
know it works and we’re going to keep doing it.” Can we
take a quick break?
I thought we’d start this morning by talking about your CapCom
[Capsule Communicator] activities.
CapCom’ing I must have done between my second and third flights,
and it was one of the best jobs that you could have. It really kept
you in the loop of what was going on currently with the flying world.
I had sort of been out in the science part of the universe and had
not been able to keep up with what other people were doing and what
the Shuttle was doing and engineering changes and all of that, so
it was wonderful to be the CapCom. You had to do shift work again,
and it was very busy.
There was a lot going on, and you would do these sims [simulations]
that would last all day or have to come in at midnight, so that was
somewhat difficult. In the meantime we had gotten Joann Powell, our
live-in nanny, so it was a little easier to have odd hours, and it
did, for the most part, keep me at home. There wasn’t as much
travel as there had been. I wish I’d had that experience early
When we first got our job assignments in 1979, some of the people
in the ’78 class were immediately put as backup CapComs. It
really gave you so much experience in understanding what went on during
a flight, how the ground supported you. I made a flight or two and
I’d worked with people on the ground, but I didn’t really
fully understand what they did and how they did it. So this was a
wonderful experience to get to see that and be part of it, you know,
when things went wrong, how people worked on the ground. Of course,
I’d been the beneficiary of that because on our first flight
the ground had an awful lot of work to do to put together a flyswatter
and an unplanned spacewalk and rendezvous. So it was fun to see how
that was done in Mission Control and to be a part of it.
As a CapCom, you really got involved. You were representing the crew,
and you had to pull in resources. You couldn’t do it while you
were sitting there as CapCom in Mission Control, so you had to call
in people and think about who was the expert and who could help. Then
you were in charge of explaining everything to the crew or explaining
the evolution of what was going on. So I gained a lot of appreciation
for what went on on the ground, and I really enjoyed the job. As I
say, I wish I had had it earlier so I’d had more insight.
You know, it’s strange. It’s like with computers. It’s
great, but you don’t realize the limitations until you have
to do it. You would explain something to the crew, and then they would
ask you something that would tell you that they didn’t really
understand what you said. They didn’t understand why they were
to do something. You realize, oh, yes, we didn’t tell them what
we saw that led us to need to fix something, and now we’re calling
them and they don’t even know it’s broken.
It was always worrisome during a flight when you would call down to
the ground and say, “This is happening,” and they would
say, “Stand by.”
You’re going, “You know, I think there’s an easy
answer to this. Just say yes or no.”
And they’d just say, “Stand by.” So it kind of got
to be a joke. “We are standing by,” which was kind of
a hint, “Hurry up.”
When you’re in Mission Control and you realize the analysis
and other things that are going on in order to give you the yes or
no answer, it gave me some appreciation of how that all worked and
why sometimes when you’re in flight you don’t quite understand
what’s going on. It gave me a greater appreciation of what went
on on my first flight, where they had to do all the re-planning and
lots and lots of people had to work on lots and lots of pieces of
that. So it was one of the best jobs you could have, in my way of
Were there any emergencies or malfunctions that you helped work on
any of these three flights that you can recall?
probably were, but I don’t recall what they were. I always did
the orbit shift. I didn’t do ascent or entry. I got to learn
a lot about the science that was going on on some of the science flights
or smaller payloads. I had to learn about that and interact with the
people that were working in the payload world.
Quite frankly, I don’t remember any things that happened, but
I just remember that there were always things going on. It kept you
busy. It kept your mind working. Pull out the engineering drawings,
or who knows how this is all linked up that could have possibly caused
the problem. There were just a lot of smart people figuring a lot
of things. Someone would get the “aha” moment, “Oh,
I know what this is. It’s not there. It’s back here.”
It was just fun, just fun.
Yes, it sounds like a fun assignment. I did want to ask you, “Hoot”
[Robert L. Gibson] was chief of the Astronaut Office for a while.
In the nineties. I was curious, how do you think that impacted your
career? Did you ever get any sort of kidding from people in the office
that you were getting the good jobs because he was your husband?
Well, you know, I couldn’t work for him. That was one of the
things that, you know, “Oh, dear, Hoot’s now chief of
the office and Rhea can’t work for him. What shall we do?”
Well, no big deal. It was obviously an administrative problem, not
a real problem. What I did was I worked for Dave [David C.] Leestma,
who was then head of FCOD [Flight Crew Operations Directorate], I
think. I just bumped up one, and so that’s how we solved that
problem. It wasn’t any problem at all.
I can’t remember whether Hoot assigned me formally to my third
flight or not. Do you remember when he was chief of the office?
Yes. I have December of ’92 to September of ’94.
didn’t assign me to a flight, but there was always sort of this
question about things. But I don’t think anybody thought—I
mean, Hoot was so clear-cut about who was assigned to flights and
why. You went in order. People that needed to be on flights, he put
on those flights. He put a tremendous amount of thought into it, and
I think everybody thought that he was real fair about it. So I think
if he had put me on a flight, they would have said, “Oh, yes,
well, that makes sense. It’s time, and she’s the right
person,” and so on. So it really wasn’t a problem. We
did get a lot of kidding about it, and he would kid me—he was
the boss. I told him, “I don’t work for you.” So
life went on as normal.
Let’s talk about that third flight. I found it interesting that
this was a continuation flight.
But yet you were the only member who continued to fly.
actually, it was odd, and there was some controversy about my being
on the next flight, because I was subject number something on the
SLS-1 flight, and they wanted four other subjects. They had gotten
data on me, and a lot of the experiments continued. They wanted to
get eight subjects altogether, and if I flew, they were only going
to get seven subjects, because I was a repeat. They already had data
on me. They weighed the pros and cons of that, but I had been following
SLS-2 as long as I’d been following SLS-1 and continued to follow
it after the first flight.
I think the other kicker in there was that I had had a baby in 1989,
close to when it was supposed to be SLS-1 time, and they weren’t
sure I wasn’t going to have another one in the interim, so they
wrote it into the—“Here’s what we want, the qualifications
we want.” Preferably an M.D. or Ph.D. in life sciences, normal
physiology, willingness to do all the experiments, and not get pregnant.
It just sort of ran on and on and on, and there’s this little
thing in there, “Can’t be pregnant.”
So, anyway, I think I had such a good relationship with the investigators,
I had so much experience from flying that I was folding back in. The
scientists were saying, “We need to do this or that next time.
We need to plan this next time. We need to do the timeline better
this next time.” There were just so many things that came out
of SLS-1 that they wanted to capture, and I think they knew that if
I wasn’t on SLS-2, I would probably be busy with another flight
and not be able to help them as much as they liked.
Many of the experiments were different on SLS-2. They were a continuation,
but they were slightly different. Once we had a flight crew, John
[E.] Blaha said, “You know, we are there to get the science,”
which was kind of unusual. The commanders always thought, “We’re
there to get you to space and get you home.” And his take on
it was, “No, we’re all there to get good science out of
this mission. It’s an important mission.” So we got the
flight crew to say that they would participate in some of the experiments.
They had to do the “non-provocative” ones. In other words,
they wouldn’t do anything that would make them sick or weak,
because they might have to fly us home at any point in time.
We looked at it really hard, and we spent a long time on the timeline.
The investigators were a bit concerned because we looked at it and
we said, “If we try to timeline four people doing all the experiments,
we’re going to impact the other experiments, or we’re
going to get poor data. So we will guarantee that on these days we
will get you three people. If all the equipment works well and we
have the time and things run efficiently, we will get you the fourth.
We’ll timeline things in.” It was very complex to do it.
“We’ll timeline things in so that that fourth person will
have time to do the experiment if we have time with the hardware.
On days when we have things that look like they might run well, we’ll
get the Orbiter crew.” We had an Orbiter crew member that would
do each of the experiments. We said, “We’ll get you that
person too.” It was kind of like, “Hmm.” It was
a tradeoff. They were having to agree that all we would guarantee
was three people, and we would write the timeline that way, but we
would have penciled in our notes that we could call the pilot or the
flight engineer on a moment’s notice to come back and do this
Everything went well. I think they told us we got 115 percent of the
data that we were supposed to get, because the hardware worked well,
we had timelined it right, we had a great crew, and we worked really
well and we worked really hard and we were willing to stay a little
bit late at night. And we did a lot of what I call preplanning. In
other words, we took a little bit of time at the end of the day to
say, “How can we get ready for tomorrow?”
I think the experience I had on SLS-1 was really valuable in helping
things to work so smoothly on SLS-2. I was the payload commander,
and that really helped because I could make decisions. I certainly
listened to everybody else. We hashed things out, and it didn’t
very often come down to saying, “I’ve heard what you said,
but we’re going to do it this way.”
And again, having a good relationship with almost all of the investigators,
we could persuade them too, and they had seen the problems we’d
had on SLS-1. They could see the value in doing it the way that we
were going to do it. They cooperated with each other. And because
we had gotten a lot of really good data on SLS-1, they realized that
the crew was very, very invested in doing everything possible. There
wasn’t a push-pull controversial-type relationship. It was very
cooperative and collaborative, and they trusted us to do it. As I
say, when all of your equipment works well and you don’t have
to spend time banging on the gas analyzer or turning the freezers
off or on, or worrying about something that doesn’t look right,
you can fly, literally and figuratively, and that’s what we
I think the animal dissections were the most difficult, the most unknown,
and the most controversial of the things that we did. We practiced
that a lot. We thought a lot about that. We spent an inordinate amount
of time at Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California] training.
I had to make a decision about who was going to do what. One of the
payload crew, the science crew, felt like everybody ought to do everything.
We worked on that, and there came a point in time when it just wasn’t
efficient for everybody to do everything. We couldn’t specialize,
we couldn’t get really good at anything, and that was one of
the things with the animals. We had a number of different things we
had to do with the animals, and we all practiced all of them. It became
obvious that some people were better at some parts of it than others.
It was either going to be that we had to spend three times as much
time training, and we had already spent a huge amount of time, or
we were going to have to specialize. “You take this part, you
take this part, you take this part, and you take this part.”
Because most of the activities were done in pairs, it also came down
to we need to pair up. These two people do these things, and these
two people do these things. I think there was maybe some difficult
feelings about stuff, but I talked John Blaha at length about it.
I said, “John, you’re the commander, and if certain people
come to you and say this isn’t fair, this isn’t right,
I need you to understand why I’m making this decision.”
He said, “I’ll back you. You’re the payload commander.
You know more about this than I do. You’ve seen this happen.”
So we divvied up and I just said, “Here’s how we’re
going to do it,” and that’s the way we did it. It worked
out really, really well, because each pair of us could spend our time
now focusing on half of those experiments, so we could get really
good at them.
Marty [Martin J. Fettman] and I did the dissection part, and Dave
[David A. Wolf] and Shannon [W. Lucid] did all of the metabolic blood
draws on the rats. The metabolic stuff, you had to be able to essentially
start an IV in the tail vein of a rat, and it was very, very difficult.
I always had trouble with it. Quite frankly, I didn’t think
I was going to be very good at it. With the stress of being in orbit,
the time constraints and everything, I didn’t think I was going
to be very good at it. I guess maybe to a certain extent because of
my surgery training, I didn’t have any trouble with the dissection
parts. So that’s the way we divvied things up. Everything went
Marty and I spent a lot of time, extra time, both at Ames and JSC,
working with the trainers from Ames on the dissections. The dissections
were very interesting. There were a number of experiments that were
proposed for the animal dissections. We had practiced those, and we
had gotten pretty good at it. Before the flight somebody looked at
the end results, and we would be taking, I don’t know, a dozen
pieces and parts out of each rat that we dissected, and then the rest
got thrown away.
So they sent out a research announcement, with our permission, to
ask if anybody else wanted other organs, and it became known as the
Parts Program. There were lots and lots of people who wanted different
things, like eyeballs and lungs. It wasn’t that much more difficult
to remove them and save them, but you had to have fixatives for them.
Each little organ had its own little bag of fixative. Some had to
be frozen, and some of them had to be refrigerated, and some of them
just needed to be put in the fixatives. So, you know, it got more
and more and more complex.
I think that we understood that there were the primary things, there
were those ones that had been proposed at the outset that were our
primary responsibility, and there were time constraints on some of
those. The inner ears had to be in the fixatives within two minutes
of decapitating the animal, and the inner ear is buried way down in
the skull. Then the leg muscles had to be on their muscle clamps and
into the fixative by ten minutes. There were several little teeny
muscles that you had to stretch out and put on the clamps and everything
and then get them in their assigned bags; it was just this choreography
that was incredible. Of course, Marty was a vet, and Marty was just
terrific at this stuff, so we just worked out this complex choreography.
Then once you got really good on the ground you’d think, “Okay,
I can do that in the time allotted,” and you’d begin to
worry about what it was going to be like when everything was floating
and we were floating. So we went on the zero-G plane and scared ourselves
really bad, because the zero-G plane is not really zero-G. Even on
a smooth day, there are little ups and downs so that if you’ve
got stuff that’s not floating or that is floating it goes in
different directions. Marty and I were bouncing a little bit. They
had put a workbench on the zero-G plane, and we did all the stuff
we were going to do to the rats. Everybody on the plane is going by,
going, “Ew! Ew!” And people would come and look, the curious
would come and look, and the other people would avert their eyes.
It was bumpy. We got it done, but we looked at each other and said,
“Oh, shoot, you know, have we bitten off more than we can chew?”
We told the investigators, “We don’t know how this is
going to work. There’s a chance that we may not get it done
or done well or done on time, and we may mess things up.”
They said, “Well, you’re the best we’ve got. We’re
going to send you anyway.”
“Let us practice some more,” Mary and I said.
We did practice down at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] before launch.
When we were down there two days before launch, we had it written
into our schedule, “animal dissection practice.” Marty
and I wanted it to keep our hands good, because the animal dissection
didn’t take place until day thirteen of the flight. We’re
thinking, “Do we remember how to do this? Are our hands in good
shape?” So we had to worry about it the whole flight. Marty
and I would look at each other with “here’s hoping”
There was no way to practice it up there, only think about it, and
hope that we remembered all the things and had all the parts and we
could put them in the right place. We had all this stuff. We had choreographed
where to put all the fixative bags within the workbench and where
to put our stands and where to put our equipment and where to put
ourselves. I had special magnifying glasses so I could see the little
pieces and parts well. So it was pretty exciting.
Once we got going, Marty and I’d be standing at 90 degrees to
each other, we’d smile because, yes, we got it done, so that
was nice. They called us the Benihanas of the Space Program because
we were just going a mile a minute. Luckily, we could do one and then
we’d clean up. We’d make sure everything was away, debrief,
and then do another. We had a certain amount of time. I think we were
going to guarantee to do four, they wanted us to do six, and we did
one and it went okay. Then we looked at our watch and thought, “Okay,
we could do another.” So we just went through it and we got
better and better and it got smoother and smoother, smoother and smoother.
But even on the last one did, we had to think really hard, we had
to work really hard, and everything had to go right.
The fact that we practiced and the investigators and trainers spent
a long time with us and made it successful. We were reporting to the
ground, because they obviously couldn’t see us, and we couldn’t
videotape any of this. One of the caveats on this flight was no videotaping
of anything to do with the rats. Really, we even had to minimize the
amount of conversation about it, because somebody would hear, “The
decapitation went well,” and people would get excited. So all
we would say was, “Number one subject is done. Everything went
well. Everything’s in the bag.” You could hear the cheering
from the payload ops people, “Yay!” Then, of course, I
didn’t know until we got back whether we’d gotten things
in the right amount of time to have good tissue for analysis.
The fixative bags were really interesting. They were double-clamped.
They were small rectangular plastic bags with double clamps, two clamps
up the thing. The fixative was down below the lower clamp. What we
had to do was take off the upper clamp, put the piece of tissue in,
push it down and put that upper clamp back on, and then take the lower
clamp off, force the liquid and the tissue to mix. Then we had to
try to squeeze out as much air as we could, pushing the liquid and
tissue to the bottom of the bag, because we didn’t want the
tissue to be in an air bubble, and then put the lower clamp back on
above the liquid. It was a complex procedure, and we knew that if
we didn’t get the fixative mixed well with the tissue, that
it might not be very well preserved.
We didn’t know until we got back whether or not the specimens
were good, whether they could get their data, and as the data began
to come in—it was just fascinating stuff. One of the most fascinating,
I think, was about the inner ears, the gravity receptors in the rats.
They found that in weightlessness the gravity receptors rewire themselves.
We had always thought that the nervous system was just there and permanent.
What they found was different: more of this one kind of nerve grew,
and fewer of these kinds of nerves grew into the receptors. So they
would show here’s ground-based animal; here’s space-based.
Oh, it’s different. In fourteen days, different nerves had grown
into the inner ear of the rats. They were beginning back there then
to understand the concept of neuroplasticity, that the nervous system
can rewire itself. Scientists used to think as you got older, you
just lost brain tissue and that was too bad. Now they’re finding
that you can re-grow brain tissue as you get older. That’s neuroplasticity.
I think we saw it, too, with reflexes. A lot of our reflexes would
get out of shape. We had an experiment where we held on to an overhead
bar and got dropped to the floor. We had suspenders on, and our legs
would have to catch us. Well, there’s a reflex that sends a
message from your inner ear down to your legs that says “you’re
falling.” It doesn’t go through the thinking part of your
brain. It’s a reflex, and your legs stiffen to catch you. That
reflex got out of shape as we were in space. The muscle action of
your leg that they measured was slower.
Blood pressure reflexes were the same way. As you’re not lying
down and standing up, the reflex that helps your heart speed up a
little bit when you come upright, when your blood pressure drops,
just slowed down. It began to forget how to do that.
There were a lot of very interesting things that were found. All rats
continue to grow. They’re not like us, where you get to an adult
stage and humans quit quite growing. We brought back bone specimens
of the rats, and what they found was that there was less growth when
you didn’t have gravity, but there was some. The structure of
the bone that was laid down in space was different, which says, “Hmm.”
So if we take people into space and we give them something that helps
them to grow bone, rather than continuing to lose it, maybe it’s
not going to be as good a bone as what you would have had here on
the ground. It’s not going to be lined up the same way, and
it’s not going to be able to handle the stresses of gravity
when you get back. So it was things like that, that we wouldn’t
have known if we hadn’t been able to dissect the rats.
People don’t want you to do bone biopsies on them. Even getting
people to sign up for muscle biopsies where you stick a needle in
your leg and biopsy the muscle, that was difficult to get people to
sign up for that. But in the rats, we could bring all of these things
and look. You have to decide whether rats are good models of humans
or humans are different, but it does give you some interesting thoughts
about how living things react and the things that we need to worry
about when humans go into space. Then how do we get people back to
normal, or can we get them back to normal when they come back home.
I think it was some of the most sophisticated science that we had
ever done in space, and we figured out how to do it. We figured out
we could do it. It opened up all kinds of new ideas about what you
could test next. And then we quit doing it. Neurolab [STS-90] had
some pretty sophisticated life sciences on board with animals, but
after that, we quit. We had a workbench. We had animal cages. We had
the capability to do stuff. We had Spacelab that allowed us to take
live animals in space reliably, and we quit doing it. There was always
this thought that, “Oh, we’ll have all those capabilities
on Space Station and more.”
Of course, Space Station was, it seemed like then, a long ways away,
and everyone knew that NASA timelines always stretch longer. There
were always surprises or funding difficulties or one thing or another.
To me, it was just sad that we didn’t continue the science on
Spacelab until we got science capability on Station, but they wouldn’t
fund both. So we quit doing complex life science studies, and we’ve
never gotten to the point in Space Station where we could do it. We
don’t have animal cages. Until recently, we haven’t had
enough crewmembers. We don’t have a carrier to take live animals
We just quit doing that, and it’s kind of sad when you look
back on the capability that was designed, built, tested, which brought
back good information, and that was that. So, in a way it was sad,
but at least I did my part. I had fun doing it, and I think the flight
itself was a great success.
You had mentioned that the first flight was so hectic, so how did
you decide to balance things as payload commander to give your crew
the opportunity to relax and not be working eighteen-, twelve-hour
days every single day? Did you work with the flight activities officer?
It was the timelining thing. When you’re getting things planned,
as I said before, you learn how to work with the crew, the investigators,
the NASA people who are working the flight and administration-type
people, and engineers. What will the hardware do? You have to come
to compromises about things. I think sometimes the investigators,
who would have given everything they had to have gone into space and
they would have worked twenty-four hours a day for fourteen days,
didn’t quite understand when we said, “We can only fit
this much stuff in here, because then begins our pre-sleep activities,”
which included dinner and getting ready for bed and having a little
time off, and that’s three hours.
They sort of thought, “Three hours? This is such valuable time.
Three hours? And you get two hours when you get up? Why do you need
two hours to get up?”
And you’re going, “You’re going to kill us.”
The excuse on the life science flights, of course, was, “Well,
you know, if we’re starved and sleep deprived, what kind of
data are you going to get back?” And to a certain extent, that
made a good argument.
Then the NASA managers say, “This is the way it has to be done.”
And we would say, “We would like to get up fifteen minutes early
on this day to get set up for the metabolic experiments.”
And the NASA managers would say, “No, we don’t want to
set that kind of precedent.”
And the timeliners would say, “No, I’m required to give
you this much time.”
We sort of had to work things out so that we didn’t promise
the timeline was the way that we can guarantee we would do it, and
that’s the conclusion we came to. If we wanted to get up fifteen
minutes early, we could set our watches and we could pretend like
we weren’t in the lab. Of course, they can tell the minute that
you turn the light on back there. “They’re up.”
Often the payload officer would say—I’m sure when I worked
in Mission Control someone would say—“The crew’s
awake.” They knew. But when you were there, you would do it
Ahead of time, we said, “We’re going to go by the rules.
We’re going to guarantee that we’ll do this, and if things
are working, if we got good sleep the night before, then we may be
able to get up a little early. Or if somebody else will take care
of making breakfast, we’ll go set that up and then go have breakfast.”
So that’s the way we did it. I think the fact that we didn’t
have to work late to fix equipment, it just went well, at least to
my way of thinking. Maybe it was because of our realistic planning;
also, we just didn’t have the problems on SLS-2 and had the
benefit of having experienced crewmembers on the flight. Especially
if you’re going to do two missions that are very similar, you
understand what the problems are, what they could be, you think about
that and you plan around it and you don’t over-promise. I think
that’s the worst thing that you could do during a flight, I’ve
seen it on a couple of flights where they were so tightly timelined.
The other thing that we always dealt with was that the investigators
would say, “Well, when we do this in training, you can do it
in thirty minutes.”
And we said, “Yes, but we need to add some zero-G time on that.”
They would frequently get really upset that something that took thirty
minutes on the ground, we timelined for forty, but that was a wise
thing to do. Because if you tell them, “Well, if it takes each
of thirty minutes, then we can do four people in 120 minutes,”
well, it just won’t work that way. There’s time in between.
There’s time of getting out of equipment. You just can’t
do it as rapidly, especially the first time. We made rules about that.
The first time we do it, it’s an unknown, it’s in zero-G;
there’s no way we can practice it here on the ground. You have
to allow us one and as much time.
They would go, “Oh, man, we’re not going to get anything
We said, “But, remember, we’ve timelined it. We’ve
planned it that if we get everybody done, if everything goes a lot
smoother, we’ll get you that fourth subject, but we’re
not going to promise.” And so we didn’t. We promised what
we thought we could get done, and then we got more, so they were very
pleased. That became pretty obvious early on in the flight, that we
were getting sometimes five subjects because we got payload crewmembers.
We did the three primary people, then I would do it, then we’d
call John or Rick [Richard A. Searfoss] or Bill [William S. McArthur,
Jr.] to come back and help us with another run.
They were just great. It was great to have people who were not afraid
to do some of the life sciences things and who took the time to learn
how to do it. You had to learn how to do the experiment, how to be
the operator and subject for the experiment, and we helped them out.
They didn’t have to learn it to the depth that we learned it,
but they had to learn what they needed to do. We had great crewmembers
that would come back and help us out. So it worked and worked well.
Would you tell us the reasoning and benefits of having a payload commander?
Because you didn’t have one on that first flight.
like having a named leader at anything. Why do you have a commander
on the Space Shuttle flight? It’s just the person that takes
the responsibility for making some of the decisions about how you’re
going to do things. I had learned on SLS-1 that if you try to do everything
by vote or by getting everybody to agree with how you’re going
to do things and everybody wanted to be nice about it because you
didn’t want to have a bad relationship with the other people,
it just didn’t seem to work very well.
On SLS-1 Jim Bagian and I, of course, were the two mission specialists,
and we were sort of the de facto co-payload commanders from the beginning.
After Challenger [STS 51-L], NASA said on the Spacelab missions, on
big science missions, we’d have a payload commander. Jim and
I had been working this flight for a long time together, and it was
going to be a little difficult to figure out who got the job. I guess
I could have pulled rank and said, “I’m more senior. I
got here before you did. It’s mine.” But I didn’t
really want to do that. We were working fine together. We didn’t
have any major problems. We each worked on different things, and things
were a little uncoordinated at times, I would say, not to the point
that it impacted anything, but it was like, “Well, I know Jim
wants to do it this way. I’ll just defer to him on this one,
and then I’ll try to get him to defer to me on that one.”
It was just like having two presidents or two flight commanders. It
just sometimes got a little awkward. So I was happy when they decided
they would make me the payload commander on SLS-2.
Dave Wolf was a very junior member. He was the other mission specialist,
so I don’t think there were any really bad feelings with Dave
that he didn’t get named. It didn’t make sense to make
him payload commander. Shannon and I were certainly of the same class
that came in, so we had been with NASA the same amount of time, but
the fact that I had flown SLS-1 and she was a mission specialist/payload
specialist, it just sort of made more sense. The investigators got
to decide and NASA got to decide, “Who are we going to make
payload commander?” We didn’t vote on it. We didn’t
elect a payload commander. Somebody made the decision, and they decided
it made more sense for me to be the payload commander. That helped.
I felt like if we couldn’t all go to a meeting that needed a
decision, that I could go and represent the payload. The crewmembers
knew about the payload commander decision early on, and I made reasonable
decisions on our behalf.
What did you get to do during your free time, if you had much at all
on this flight?
spent an awful lot of time looking out the window. On my first two
flights, things had been so wildly busy, that looking out the windows
was like, “Oh, that’s pretty. Go back to work. Oh, look
at that. What is that? Go back to work.”
On this one, I decided that I was going to focus more when I had the
time, having certain things that I wanted to see, seeing as much as
I could. I slept by the overhead window in the flight deck on several
occasions. The thing about it with our inclination, we were always
over the same part of the world during sleep time. I saw the Himalayas
night after night after night, and pretty soon it’s kind of
like, “Oh, I wish I had time to see other things.”
And sometimes I would mark my timeline to remember there was a good
pass over Tennessee at that time. I would say, “Can I take a
break? I want to go up.”
Rick Searfoss, who was our pilot, was really focused on Earth observation.
He would call back and say, “Rhea, we’re coming over southeast
U.S. in about five minutes, so scurry up here if you have time.”
I’m not terribly good at taking pictures, but at least seeing
things with my own eyeballs and understanding a little bit more about
where everything was and what it looked like from space, and what
you could see and what you could pick out was wonderful. You learn
what landmarks you can see that will lead you to seeing what you want
to see. You have to spend a little time doing that. You can see runways
at airports, but you have to know that those runways are in the configuration
that that’s Nashville [Tennessee] or that’s Houston [Texas].
So you have to learn a little bit about what you’re going to
be looking at. Then you have to be able to really see it, because
a lot of the things are quite small. Runways, you can just barely
see them. You can, but if you don’t know to look for them, you
Then you learn how big is something that I can see. Yes, I can see
the Astrodome. If I know that’s Houston and there’s Intercontinental
[Airport], oh, there’s the Astrodome. But you didn’t have
much time to do that. It’s there for twenty seconds and then
it’s gone. So you really had to plan out a little bit what you
wanted to look at, what you wanted to look for.
I spent a lot of time trying to look for internal waves and seamounts,
and I had trouble with that. I’m not sure I ever really saw
that in the ocean. But there were beautiful atolls out in the Pacific
that just looked like little jewels dropped along the way. I enjoyed
seeing that. With our 39 degree inclination we could see all the way
up to Long Island as we were coming across the eastern coast. We could
see it in the distance. On a clear day we’d be coming over the
Atlantic somewhere in Virginia or someplace, and if I really looked
hard and knew what to look for, it was a clear day, I could see Long
Island and Cape Cod, because that’s a pretty distinctive place.
So that was a focus for me.
I felt like that might be my last flight, so I wanted to put that
in my memory banks and say, “Oh, yes, I did look out the window,
and I did see some of those things.” Very hard to get a picture
of Murfreesboro, I learned. You can pick out the Cumberland River
in Nashville because it’s curvaceous. It’s curvy, curvy.
There’s two parallel highways, I-24 and the Murfreesboro Road
(or Nashville Highway), that run down that way, but everything else
is just green trees, so it was a little hard to actually find the
town. I took pictures, and I’ve got one that is supposed to
be where we are. You can see the airport in Smyrna. You can see the
runways and you can see the parallel highways, but can’t see
a whole lot of little town. But I looked anyway.
Did you prepare before you flew in space, so you knew what you were
I did in the time that I had. Again, Rick really wanted to focus on
that. He didn’t have an awful lot of other things that he needed
to do, other than managing the Orbiter and doing some things in the
front, and when we asked, he would come back and do some experiments
for us. He was really our specialist, and he knew what we wanted to
get pictures of, so he got some really great pictures on that flight.
There’s some really nice shots of different places, so the montage
of our flight, we put some Earth observation pictures on there. But
he really wanted to focus on that.
Life sciences flights are not popular for the Orbiter crew. If you’ve
read Mike [Richard M.] Mullane’s book [Riding Rockets: The Outrageous
Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut], his fear in life was that he
was going to get assigned to a life sciences Spacelab mission. He
said, “Those are to be avoided at all costs,” because
really there’s a lot of stuff going on in the back, but not
an awful lot of stuff going on in the front. So you have to sort of
find your own entertainment, I guess.
John Blaha said, “I’ll take care of the videotaping. I’ll
be the photographer.” A lot of the video when we got back has
his toes in the bottom corners. Bless his heart. But he got some nice
video and he got some nice still pictures. We appreciated it, because
when you’re busy working, it’s hard to remember to take
pictures. When you get back, people say, “Okay, show us a video
of what you did,” and you don’t have any, or you don’t
have any stills to put in your photo album, or the pictures are all
of the people that you took pictures of, but they didn’t take
any pictures of you it’s disappointing. People said, “Were
you on that mission?” So you have to plan that out too.
Were you present when John Blaha was having the conversation with
the cosmonauts on Mir? Was that something that he called you all up
Yes, he called us all up to look for it, and it was kind of like,
“Where? It’s supposed to be right—oh, maybe that’s
it.” Yes, I remember that, now that you mention it. I hadn’t
thought about that in a long time. It took all of us to find it, and
we could see this little dot getting close. Yes, I vaguely remember
him talking to the cosmonauts.
I thought that was an interesting event to occur on flight.
I understand you were taken off the flight on stretchers this time,
instead of actually walking onto the crew transport vehicle.
Well, actually, on both of the life sciences missions.
I had asked you about the stretchers but it sounds like you came off
on stretchers on both.
had agreed after the flight to move into what they call a people mover;
in other words, not to move around very much after we landed, because
the investigators really wanted to see how quickly we readapted and
what we were like immediately after spaceflight. So we didn’t
move around too much after we landed, and then they came to get us
out and they moved us pretty rapidly, helped us off the Shuttle and
over to recliners in the people mover, this big van that hooked up
right to the white room of the Orbiter. We didn’t even come
down the steps. So they took us over there, let us out, and took us
back to the labs, where we started all of the post-flight testing.
On SLS-1, I felt fine. I got off, was taken back to the test area,
and stood up and did all the post-flight tests, and everything worked
pretty well. Then on SLS-2, we did what they call a tilt test. In
other words, they did some heart testing and lung testing of you lying
down and then they tilted you to upright and tested you again. You
could hear your heart rate beeping, “beep, beep, beep, beep.”
When they tilted me, I could hear my heart rate, “beep, beep,
beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.” Even before I could feel it,
I could hear that I was having a hard time keeping my blood pressure
up, and indeed I began to feel woozy and they had to put me back down
I had more of what they call post-flight orthostasis after the second
flight. The flight was five days longer. I don’t know whether
there’s a lot of variability in people, but that first day was
a little rockier for me on the second flight than it was on the first.
So maybe staying in space longer changed my reflexes a little bit
Then, again, we stayed at the Silver Saddles Resort for a week after
landing. They completed all their testing, and they got more good
data. I think several people that first day, after fourteen days in
space, had trouble getting some of the tests done, just because they
couldn’t stand up. They would feel faint when they tried to
That first day data-take for some of the investigators wasn’t
good data, because they couldn’t do it the way they wanted to
do it. I can remember in particular the lung functions, because they
needed you upright, because, again, gravity was working on the blood
in your lungs, but if you couldn’t stay upright, you couldn’t
complete the test. So it was interesting.
And this was the longest Shuttle flight to date at that point.
was. It was the longest to date, and so that’s why the tests
were interesting. And the fact that they could compare, you know,
at least one of us they could compare here’s what this person
was like after nine days, and they were different at fourteen days.
One data point doesn’t give you anything you can publish, but
it was interesting.
That reminds me. One of the things that we had to get a special dispensation
for—the Shuttle has a rule that you will take salt and water
before reentry to build up your blood volume so that you’re
in better shape when you land, so you’re not relatively dehydrated
when you get back to Earth. That’s because if the Shuttle should
crash, you’ve got to be able to get up and run away. There’s
a requirement for a certain number of salt tablets and a certain number
of ounces of water, I guess right after the de-orbit burn or sometime
in that timeframe, and so it was a rule, a flight rule. So the investigators
said, “You know, that’s going to mess up our data.”
And NASA said, “Tough. They’ve got to get up and run away.”
Again, you look at the reality of things. What’s the chance
they’re going to crash on the runway and have to run away from
a burning up Orbiter? At the time, we weren’t entirely sure
that the fluid loading was really working, because there were a lot
of people that still got dizzy when they stood up, even after fluid
loading. So it was kind of like how do we make this argument?
I’m not sure how we completely resolved it, but it wasn’t
an issue. Probably one of those things I ought to remember and don’t.
Seems like we got them to buy off on our not fluid loading, because
it was important data to have, and the question had always been how
much good does fluid loading do. Well, if they really wanted to run
a scientific test, they’d have some people that fluid loaded
and some people that didn’t, but for safety reasons they didn’t
feel like they could tell people, “Well, you’re part of
the group that doesn’t fluid load.”
“Oh, well, are you committing me to certain death if we crash?”
I think this was just one of those things that they let us make sure
that we were well hydrated, but we didn’t have to use the salt
tablets, because you dump all this salt in people, the people that
are looking at salt balance, now what? What does this mean? So as
I recall, they let us promise to eat well at breakfast that day and
drink plenty of liquids, but we didn’t have to do the salt loading.
But I could be wrong on that.
So much was made of your flight and how much science you brought back,
and so much good science. What benefits have you seen come out of
that flight in terms of research?
really kind of hard for me to know because I haven’t followed
the research afterwards. I think it probably informed some of the
work that was done on Space Station, certainly some of the calcium-balance
studies. It showed us that you really lose a fair amount of calcium,
and that we need to do something about it. I’m trying to think.
It put certain things to rest: lung functions pretty normal; vestibular
functions, there were a few changes but you couldn’t convince
me that there was anything that limited our abilities to fly in space
longer. The vestibular stuff—everybody knows you’re ataxic
when you get back. You stumble around and your balance is a little
bit off. So there were certain things that I think helped guide future
investments in what do we need to know, what do we need to study further,
and what can we just say, “That’s not a high priority.
It may be interesting, but as far as future space travel, that’s
not at the top of our list. We’ll put our money on the things
that seem to be a problem.”
What can I say? I think it told us a lot about flying in space. I
think it gave us some interesting information about gravity’s
role. How that’s been practically applied, I don’t know.
I think some of the equipment that was designed for the flight, I
think that engineering-wise there were probably some things that went
on to be useful.
There’s one small experiment that we took that was putting drops
of blood on filter paper and then just storing them at room temperature—there
was a special kind of paper that it was put on—to see what kind
of information you could get just from that. So they didn’t
have to draw big blood samples and you didn’t have to centrifuge
them and you didn’t have to store them in the freezer. What
could you do? With this very simple piece of equipment, what could
that give you? It was designed that it separated the white blood cells
from red blood cells and then you bring them home. What could you
tell from that? And the serum was separated from those.
Indeed, I think they found that you could get information. I know
that the investigator who put that together, Vaughan Clift, took that
to Africa and they could use that out where you didn’t have
blood-draw equipment and centrifuges and refrigerators. There were
things that you could get, and I can’t tell you exactly what
things, but they could look for malaria or AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency
Syndrome] or something with this very simple kind of equipment. And
it had its usefulness. It was funded by NASA because it had usefulness
for testing astronauts, that you didn’t have all that equipment
on a flight. You could use something simple like this.
A lot of the hardware, you’d like to think that the technology
drives the technology here on the ground, and certainly in many respects
things NASA has designed have found usefulness in the public arena,
but the hardware that was designed for the life sciences mission,
a lot of it was designed back in the eighties. By the time we flew,
it was pretty outdated stuff. Technology had gone on beyond what we
had in flight.
I’m trying to think if there were any pieces of equipment that
people said, “Oh, this is brand-new technology that we can put
to use on Earth.” I’m not sure you could say that about
our stuff, because it took so long to fly the missions. That was one
of the problems with having flights that slipped so far into the future.
The hardware was outdated. Frequently, you couldn’t get replacement
parts. I know the echocardiograph was one of those. “Oh, man,
that’s a 1983 version of the echo machine. We don’t make
those anymore.” This is eight or ten years later. We have a
whole lot more advanced equipment now. So that was one of the problems
with the science hardware, is it was not driving technology anymore,
because things had moved so rapidly. Even the computers, there had
been a tremendous growth in capability from the early eighties to
the early nineties.
I think the other problem with the slipping so badly was that the
way it was supposed to work was you proposed your experiment, you
spent two years getting it ready, and it flew. Then you got your data.
Then you could hire a grad student who will focus on that. You’ve
proposed it, you get a grad student excited about working on it, two
years he’ll get his data, he can publish his paper and his thesis,
and everybody’s happy. But the grad students grew old with us,
because it took so long to get things off the ground, and that was
one of the problems with the science. It was getting hard to excite
people about proposing something if you were going to have to work
on it for ten years.
I can imagine. You said that that was going to be your last flight,
and it turned out to be.
Had you been approached about flying a fourth mission, or did you
turn that opportunity down?
had not been approached. When I got back, I helped work on Neurolab,
because it was going to fly fairly soon. Before they had their crew,
they wanted somebody that could help with the astronaut perspective.
So I worked on that for a while.
I worked on the NASA-Mir payloads for a while. They were going to
put some stuff together for Norm [Norman E.] Thagard to do on Mir,
and so I helped work on that. It was interesting to work with the
Russians, they have a very different perspective on things. So I was
working life sciences issues and things.
We wanted to have a third baby, so I was kind of working on that too.
I don’t know whether I ever told them not to assign me to any
They made it clear to the mission specialists that if you wanted to
hang around, you were going to have to be willing to get an assignment
to Russia for flight. That meant you needed to learn fluent Russian
and you had to be willing to uproot your family and go live there
for two years. It became clear to me that I really didn’t want
to do that, especially if I had a third child, and with Hoot’s
fifth mission. They just sort of left me alone, I guess, because I
didn’t express any desire to do any of the things that were
coming up. I was doing what I considered to be useful work for the
Then got pregnant with Emilee and so I was off flight status for that,
and then let it be known that I was interested in leaving in ’96.
So that’s what I did.
Tell us about working with the Russians and then Hoot was flying on
that Shuttle Mir mission [STS-71]. How did that all come together?
as we were preparing for Norm’s flight [Mir 18], I’d tried
to be a liaison with Norm and Bonnie [J. Dunbar] and got to hear about
the difficulties of going to live in Russia, especially living out
in Star City. The food was different; the daily life was different.
They had no washer and dryer when they got there. They scrubbed things
in the sink. The electrical connections were not good, so that they’d
blow up your computers. They had trouble with the phone lines.
It was like sending people into a very different environment, and
I think I was kind of angry about that. How can you just tell people
to go tough it out? “Go do it. Now that you know how to fly
in space, go do it in a foreign language.” I don’t know
how we got there. I felt so bad for Bonnie because she got sent over
there at the last minute, and it was tough on her.
I did what I thought would be useful. Norm had to have some things
to take with him to do. The higher ups said, “Oh, well, let’s
see. Since he’s a physician, let’s do life sciences.”
Everything was backward. In other words, people didn’t propose
experiments, get selected, and be put on a mission. It was like, “Go
out and see what we can pull together, who’s interested, and
who’s got stuff we can send.” It was backward. It was
just really backward.
Once we got those things pulled together, then we needed to train
the Russians to do some of the experiments. When they came over, they
had to have baseline data done: what was their normal physiology.
We put together a big training program for them; we designed it to
be like the training that we give astronauts. You come in and you
explain the science and you explain the hardware and you let them
play with the hardware, and then you let them ask questions.
The Russians came over, and, of course, it was difficult because it
all had to be translated, so you go through that. They nodded and
paid attention, seemed to be understanding. We showed them the hardware
and the checklist and explained everything. “Okay now, questions,
discussion?” “Nyet.” It was kind of like, “What?”
Astronauts take full responsibility, and what we hadn’t really
learned yet was what the Russians do. They get trained, and then you
hand them a checklist and it’s their responsibility to carry
out every step on the checklist. They don’t have to understand
it. They don’t have to go beyond following the steps. They don’t
have to help you develop. They don’t have to make their inputs.
They just need to do what the checklist says.
So we had to learn to work with that. Again, you had to make sure
that the checklist was very good and very understandable, because
if they came to something and they said, “Don’t know where
that is. Don’t know how to do that,” they would just quit.
So that’s what we had to work with.
We also had to work with the fact that the Russians frequently would
come over here, and they would be given money for per diem to go eat,
and they would save the money to go to the electronics store when
they went home, so they didn’t eat right. So if you’ve
got human physiology experiments where your blood sugar has to be
normal, we found out we had to feed them too. So there would be breakfast
when they arrived in the morning and lunch would be served. We had
to give them the per diem also. So it was odd, and you had this funny
feeling. I had this funny feeling about do I want to go fly on this?
I think we found out that there were a lot of differences. Mike [C.
Michael] Foale and Jerry [M.] Linenger, who eventually flew with the
Russians, had some surprises about the command structure. The Russians
got a bonus for doing what they were supposed to do when they flew,
and if they did something they weren’t supposed to do, their
bonus got cut. So they were told, “If this happens, you must
get permission from the ground before your proceed.”
There was an electrical problem on Mike Foale’s Mir 23 flight,
when they were out of touch with Moscow. The crew knew what steps
they should take but the Russians wouldn’t take them without
permission. Mike said, “We could lose this mission before we
could talk to the ground again.” But the cosmonauts were not
going to do stuff that they knew was the right without asking the
So that was the difference in command structure. The Space Shuttle
commander is the final authority on everything. If he wants to do
something in flight because he thinks that needs to be done and it
needs to be done now. Before talking to the ground, he’s had
enough training, he has enough sense, he has people on board that
can advise him, and he’ll do it. And up there, it was just very
different with the Russians.
I worked when I was at NASA on what we call the Bioethics Task Force,
and we found that there were differences in the cultures of the people
that we were flying with, the people from other countries. Things
were very different culturally in willingness to do life sciences
experiments, and so we had to factor that in as we wrote the NASA
rules about informed consent. Flying with the Russians and eventually
flying on the International Space Station opened up a lot of other
issues and questions and how are we going to ethically perform human
experiments. It wouldn’t necessarily be the way we would do
it in our country, but the way other countries insist upon doing it.
The Russians had to be paid to be subjects, and that’s against
the law in the U.S. You had to work those things out. The Japanese,
bless their hearts, it would not occur to them to refuse to do anything.
You could have proposed all kinds of horrible things, because in their
culture you bow to authority. They didn’t care about informed
consent. It was their duty. Of course they would just sign up. It
was part of what they did for the good of the mission and the group,
Again, that was my real exposure to working with different cultures,
and certainly if we were going to continue to have an international
space program, people had to deal with those sorts of things as they
came up, and I’m sure they have since I left NASA. But working
with the Russians for the Mir Program was my first introduction to
international relations. Since I was working bioethics and issues
of informed consent, it surprised me about the different ways different
cultures addressed doing experiments on humans.
What about Hoot’s flight? He flew a Shuttle-Mir flight. How
involved were you? You were pregnant at the time.
Yes, that was interesting.
I think you gave birth a few weeks before he flew.
few weeks before. We weren’t sure what was going to happen first.
There was a time when the launch was going to happen and then the
baby was going to be born, and then the landing was going to happen.
Then we were getting really close to launching the flight and having
the baby on the same day. That part of it was interesting. As it worked
out, I had a scheduled C-section, and so we could pick a date within
reason. We waited until we found out when Hoot’s flight was
probably going to be, and then we decided we could have the baby a
couple weeks ahead of that.
But pregnancy—especially when you’re—I was forty-seven
at the time—itself is a little emotional and a little stressful.
When you’re working, it’s more so, but we decided to do
it. We were delighted when we found out it was a little girl. So it
all worked out. Emilee was born about two weeks before we left for
I went to Cape, kind of as the camp follower with babe in arms. She
was a good baby, and everybody adored having her down there. She could
be in quarantine because babies don’t carry all those infectious
diseases that other kids do. So they allowed her to be in quarantine
It was interesting to see Hoot approach a flight. I was just utterly
amazed that he learned to speak as much Russian as he did, because
he’s an engineer and he didn’t ever take much language.
He didn’t take any more than he had to in school, because he
didn’t really enjoy language study. But he would come home at
night before STS-71 and he would spend hours down in his little airplane
room, practicing Russian.
He always seems to have fun with languages. When Franklin [R.] Chang-Diaz
was on his flight [STS-61C], his only Spanish needed to be something
like, “Hello, Mr. President, here’s Franklin Chang-Diaz.”
I mean, he had to learn a sentence. But he managed to mess it all
up when they practiced so that Franklin was afraid he was going to
not say it right when they got there.
Then when he flew on the Japanese Spacelab mission [STS-47], they
learned a little Japanese so that they could harass Chiaki Mukai,
who was the backup payload specialist, and Takao Doi and Mamoru Mohri.
So he learned enough so that he could say foolish and somewhat nasty
things in Japanese.
But he had never really had to learn a language, and he learned quite
a bit of Russian. Then he enjoyed being able to talk to the Russians
that were flying with him, and he took them flying. I know he took
Anatoly [Y. Solovyev] flying in the T-38 and enjoyed showing him our
little airplane. Of course, it was nothing compared to what Anatoly
had flown or what Hoot had flown in the military, but they had fun
going up and mixing it up in the sky.
We had never met the Russian wives before. We got to meet them in
quarantine, and there was very little interaction. They came to the
beach house to party, and everything had to be translated, so it was
difficult. I thought they were very reserved. I mean, we had something
to talk about; there was a baby. They were polite and nice, but, again,
very reserved and not wanting to chitchat, or maybe it was just too
difficult to chitchat, so that it was just a little awkward.
We met their children, and it was interesting, Julie, our daughter,
and Anatoly’s very handsome son were just about the same age,
and the son had taken English in school. Julie, of course, didn’t
know any Russian at all, but they managed to communicate. I guess
she was nineteen at the time. So as teenagers do, they were able to
talk about space and teenage things.
The launch got delayed and then eventually launched a couple days
late. I know Hoot had worried a lot about the docking because it was
quite a piloting feat to get to where you needed to be at the right
speed, so he had stressed about that. We went to Mission Control and
watched it and heard the numbers, and it was like, “Oh, thank
you, Lord.” I don’t know whether he stressed about the
animal dissections when I was in flight or not, but I stressed about
his Mir docking. But it all went very well and everything worked out.
The flight went smoothly and, as usual, he made a really, really great
landing. We were there for landing, me and my babe in arms. So it
was nice to get him back home.
Of course, post-flight, especially for that one with this Russian
mission, he was gone all the time. The baby slept in the bed with
me. The other children never did, but Emilee got to sleep in bed because
Hoot wasn’t there a lot of the time. They were doing their post-flight
stuff. Then he became Deputy Chief of Flight Crew Operations, and
that meant that he had to go to all the launches and big meetings
and things like that, so he was gone a lot. But I had a relatively
stable in town job at the time, and we had Joann, so it worked out
really well. Crazy time, as usual. The whole NASA experience was a
At some point I guess you decided you wanted to move back to Tennessee,
and you somehow had a relationship with Vanderbilt [University, Nashville,
Can you talk about that decision to move back and the relationship?
you know, I was ready to move after Hoot’s last flight. I said,
“Why don’t we go back this summer.”
He says, “No, I’ve got too much stuff to catch up on and
get done,” and he was going to be too busy. So I talked him
into the next year, going back.
So we wanted to go back in ’96, and it was pointed out to me
that I needed one more year with NASA to qualify for a pension. They
were offering early outs, so I needed to be fifty and have twenty
years with the government. Luckily, I had some time in the V.A. [Veterans
Affairs] Hospital system when I was a resident, so I had a little
extra time, but I needed to be fifty, and that was in 1997. So I thought,
“How am I going to work this?”
Luckily, the folks at NASA said, “Well, you know, if you could
work for NASA at a different place, like somewhere in Tennessee, then
you could fulfill that last-year requirement.” Luckily, Vanderbilt
had been working with the Neurolab people, and there was a Neurolab
experiment coming out of Vanderbilt, so I negotiated a part-time job
there, and came to Vanderbilt.
Luckily, Drew [F. Andrew] Gaffney, who had flown with me on SLS-1,
was a professor at Vanderbilt at the time. I said to him, “I’d
really like to come back to Tennessee, and one of the places that
I think I’d like to work would be Vanderbilt, the Medical Center.
Can you make some introductions?” And luckily, he did, with
the vice chancellor at the time and his deputy, and they sent me around
to talk to a bunch of people. I also talked to people at other hospitals
in Nashville and looked around here. I was going to be working part-time
in one of the Vanderbilt research labs two days a week for NASA. I
let the Vanderbilt Hospital people know I could work for them three
days a week until my NASA commitment was up in a year.
Luckily, Dr. John [S.] Sergent, who had recently become the Chief
Medical Officer, saw some value in what background I had. He said,
“You probably would be the only person here that understands
systems thinking and how processes work, and we really need to smooth
things out now that the Vanderbilt Medical Group had been formed,”
meaning all the departments now belonged to the same group. They needed
to have someone help work on smoothing the processes that the physicians
had to deal with. So he offered me a part-time job. That gave me a
chance to look at Vanderbilt and have Vanderbilt look at me. It was
a good partnership, and so I was given a job at Vanderbilt.
Hoot had decided, when it became clear that I was fairly serious about
moving back here and I had some job opportunities and things, he didn’t
really want to work at a desk someplace, and so he decided that he
would get his air transport pilot’s license and fly with Southwest.
He had a number of friends who encouraged him to do that; they were
having a good life with Southwest. So he made moves to get the right
credentials and get on with Southwest. So that’s how we managed
to get back to Tennessee and how we sort of reinvented ourselves for
the next stage of our lives.
Did you go on then after that year of part-time work to work then
full-time for Vanderbilt?
I did, as soon as my commitment was up and my birthday was over, Vanderbilt
offered me a full-time position, because I’d really been working
almost full-time anyway and got involved in a number of different
projects and things.
Dr. Sergent was just a terrific boss. That’s what I really wanted
for my next job was to have a really great boss, because I’d
had a variety of bosses at NASA and had learned that that’s
probably one of the things that can make you happy or make you not
happy in a job. So I came back to Tennessee looking for a good boss,
and Dr. Sergeant was a good boss.
Were you practicing medicine at all or were you working in a different
was a question when I came back here. My goal during my surgery training
was to do enough general surgery that I could go on to a plastic surgery
residency program. I wanted to do plastic surgery, and got interested
in nutrition and might have been going in the direction of getting
a Ph.D. in nutrition instead and doing some pretty fancy nutritional
stuff with surgery patients that had come down the road. So I had
not done my senior year of residency in general surgery when I went
to NASA. I’d completed all that I needed to do in general surgery
so that if the job at NASA hadn’t worked out, I could have gone
on to either of the two fields that I wanted to go into after that.
When I came back to Vanderbilt, I wasn’t board-certified in
anything, and that was one of the requirements of the faculty. I had
forgotten all the surgery I had ever learned, and I had been practicing
emergency medicine on the weekends when I was in Houston, but I’d
never really been trained in emergency medicine. So I didn’t
really feel like I could come and work in the emergency room or teach
or do anything like that at Vanderbilt. I just didn’t have what
I felt was sufficient training and expertise.
When I talked to Dr. Sergent and we looked at that, he said, “Well,
you know, it probably would be best if you could practice, because
you’ll get a better feel for what’s happening.”
I said, “Well, here’s the problem.”
And he said, “Well, okay.”
I said, “But that allows me to devote all of my time to helping
figure out what the doctors need and want, should have, whatever.”
So that was the agreement, that I would work on process improvement
and eventually worked on quality and safety. It worked out well. Again,
when you have a good boss who has confidence in you, who can see areas
that need to be improved and will support you with all the other physicians,
it works out well. So he set me to work on a variety of different
problem areas. There were things that weren’t working smoothly,
and areas in which regulations changed and we had to change the way
we did things.
It was essentially the same way that I had worked at NASA. You’re
given a payload or you’re given a group of people that you have
to get together and figure out how you’re going to do stuff.
So my payload commander experience—where I had to get the engineers
and the crew and the investigators and the managers and the administrators
all to compromise on how we’re going to do this, what’s
the best way to do this for everybody concerned—that’s
what the job really was with Vanderbilt. So I enjoyed it.
I began to put together some interesting things like checklists, what
we called at Vanderbilt “malfunction procedures,” that
were really decision trees. If this is, then do this; if not, do that,
and map it out. People are going, “Wow, that’s interesting.”
You get this kind of patient in and if they have this, you do this,
this, and this, and if the answer is yes, you go here; if the answer
is no do something else.
We were getting people to agree to do things in a standardized way.
Yes, you’re the emergency-room physician and, yes, you’re
the surgeon that might admit this patient. What do you want the emergency
room doctors to do before they call you? And what do the emergency-room
doctors want you to do once they call you? It’s just working
out those agreements about how we’re going to work together.
So it was using the experience that I had from NASA in a different
way, and, luckily, John Sergent saw that that was going to be a good
I think we’ve now realized, much more in healthcare and the
work I’m doing now, how standardization of processes can really
help prevent error and provide better care in medicine. It’s
taken a long time to convince people. They say, “I’m not
practicing cookbook medicine.”
We’re saying, “You don’t have to, but it would really
be nice if you’d do all the things you’re supposed to
do for this patient and not forget them, because now it’s not
the standard of care to do it your way; it’s the standard of
care that these certain things have to be done or your payers are
not going to pay you if you have a bad outcome.” Also, you are
not doing right by your patients. So it’s been an evolution
of trying to figure out what aviation can give to healthcare, and,
luckily, I got in on the beginning of that.
How fascinating. So what are you working on now? You’re no longer
working at Vanderbilt.
One of the things that happened when I was at Vanderbilt was a couple
of pilots from Memphis [Tennessee] came to talk to Dr. Sergent and
said, “We are a company, Crew Training International. We are
a company that provides Crew Resource Management training to military
and commercial pilots, and it is a program that aviation developed
to help flight crews work better together to prevent error and prevent
Everybody says, “Oh, here’s a horrible plane crash, nothing
wrong with the airplane. The pilot just made a mistake, and the co-pilot
didn’t speak up because he was afraid to offend the pilot.”
There was a lot of that going on, and that’s why aviation developed
this program. It had gone through several iterations of development
from just being nice to each other, to having specific skills, to
doing things a certain way. It had become fairly sophisticated.
This was in 2003. Dr. Sergent said, “Hmm. I have a couple of
astronauts here who need to look at this.”
And the pilots out of Memphis go, “Cool. They’ll understand
what we’re talking about.”
John Sergent called Drew Gaffney and me in and said, “What do
you think of this?” And we recognized it. We learned it at NASA.
They had done some of the original research on what this ought to
look like at NASA. So, it was interesting. The program itself, they
had tried to adapt to healthcare, but they were pilots and it was
a lot of aviation examples that Drew and I could draw the analogy.
Oh, yes, this plane crashed because nobody said anything about this
dangerous pilot. Or this airplane crashed because when someone spoke
up, they said it in a nice way but it was not listened to. The co-pilot
says, “That looks funny.” What he meant was, “There’s
a mountain up there.” And you have the cockpit voice recorder,
so you can hear those errors.
So Drew and I thought, “Well, this might work in healthcare.
Let’s get together a group of people, our opinion leaders, some
department chairs and some people that we had a lot of faith in, and
the rest of the world did too. Let’s put a group of people together
and have the pilots come and teach the class.” We did a survey
afterwards, “What do you think about it?”
Well, it got higher grades than anything that Drew and I had ever
seen, like 98 percent of the people thought this was terrific, and
everybody else needed to hear the message.
Dr. Sergent said, “Well, why don’t you go talk to the
people in Risk Management.” The Risk Management Department is
the group that looks at errors and how much money we have to pay for
errors. Vanderbilt is self-insured, so we have an insurance trust.
Risk Management has an interest in avoiding error. And they thought,
“That’s great. Let’s train some people in this.”
They provided the cash for it, so we were off and running.
The pilots in Memphis agreed to give us a good deal if we would help
them adapt this whole program for healthcare, make it what healthcare
needed. As we went along, it was much more than just a training class.
Pilots can get the concept with a training class, because they lay
it on top of a very standardized way of doing things. Well, in healthcare,
there aren’t any standardized ways, so we had to begin to work
on that. For instance, “There’s a new regulation that
we have to do a time-out before we operate on people, so we don’t
operate on the wrong patient, the wrong side, or the wrong procedure.
Let’s look at that. How would you make that a checklist so our
doctors can just run the checklist before they operate?”
“Oh, okay, we can do that.”
That’s very much like the takeoff pre-brief before you fly an
airplane. Here are the steps we have to do to make sure we’re
ready to go fly. A lot of the regulatory agencies in healthcare began
to look at, “Here are much safer organizations, like nuclear
power and aviation and European trains. What are some of the things
they do that we could bring into healthcare?” Well, the timeout
was one of those first things. “We’re not going to tell
you you have to be like pilots, but we’re going to put something
into healthcare that’s what pilots do to make sure that they’re
reliably ready to go.”
So we began to work with Crew Training International and developed
not only a training class but what we call tools to help you take
those skills and apply them to patients and healthcare. Then when
we wanted to train more people, the Vanderbilt bosses said, “What
are the results?” So we had to figure out what could we measure
to show whether this is doing any good. So we had to put together
a measurement plan.
Then we wanted more money, and we realized that we should have told
the leaders of the hospital what we were doing rather than just the
people we were training, because the administrators and departmental
leaders had the money that would let us continue. So we put together
a leadership program to educate them.
Vanderbilt was a great customer. We trained, I think, over five thousand
people at Vanderbilt. Crew Training International said, “Whoa.
This is great.” It became obvious that they needed to do this
at other hospitals, so they began to market this concept and began
to get interest in it. They spun off a healthcare subsidiary called
LifeWings Partners and invited Drew and me to be partners with them.
As it turns out, Vanderbilt faculty (I’d become a faculty member
somewhere along the line) are allowed to do so several days a year
of consulting work. You can take time off from your work as long as
it’s pertinent to healthcare, and this certainly was. So Drew
and I could take our consulting days and go help talk about the plan.
We had to go through the conflict of interest and all that kind of
stuff, but it met all the requirements.
So we began to help other hospitals, and it took off. A lot of people
had had errors. There was an Institute of Medicine study around 1999
that said—and this was kind of the eye-opener and maybe the
reason for doing all of this—that there are somewhere around
100,000 patients in U.S. hospitals that die from preventable error
every year. A lot of people have what they called sentinel events,
which means a bad error that harmed a patient, and hospitals feel
bad about that. I mean, they hate doing that. Doctors feel terrible
about it. It costs lots of money malpractice-wise for hospitals and
physicians, and it can ruin healthcare workers’ careers. They
feel so bad about it, they don’t want to practice medicine anymore.
The nurse that gave the wrong medicine because the doctor ordered
the wrong medicine, I mean, that nurse may never want to practice
medicine again if a patient was hurt.
So, there was a lot of interest in preventing error in healthcare.
Again, there was a lot of realization that some of the errors are
what you call slips or lapses. You do the wrong thing or you forget
to do the right thing for this particular patient, because you’re
doing it all from memory, and maybe you ought to have a checklist.
There’s a new book out called The Checklist Manifesto: [How
to Get Things Right], written by a Harvard surgeon [Atul Gawande],
and it’s kind of like it’s his “aha” moment.
He talks about the fact that if you want to get something critical
done right, then you ought to have a standardized way of doing it.
For a long time, we haven’t required physicians to do that.
Now there are a lot of peer-reviewed journals that are publishing
things that show that if you train people to work as a team, if you
do things in a standardized way, and if you give people feedback that
what they’re doing is getting results, which is exactly what
our program has been teaching since 2003, that you get better results,
50 percent fewer infections, 70 percent fewer deaths in some cases.
It’s now coming out in the literature.
So about four years ago I decided that I didn’t really like
the commute to Nashville and that I would prefer just working with
LifeWings. It’s not full-time, it’s part-time, but I enjoy
it, getting to help other hospitals do what we’ve been doing
With the new healthcare debate, I’m curious, have you been involved
at all in using this as a process to decrease the cost of healthcare?
I think that people haven’t quite figured out what the new healthcare
reform law is going to do and what they need to do. But, for instance,
Medicare and Medicaid have what they call “never” events.
These things should never happen, and if they do happen, they’re
not going to pay for them. They are saying, “It’s a complication
that we know how to prevent. Why should we pay you for operating on
the wrong limb? Why should we pay you if someone gets a blood clot?
We know how to prevent that. There’s a best-practice of ways
to do certain things. We’re not going to pay you if you don’t
do things correctly.”
So I think the government is beginning to look at how can to cut costs
and make hospitals more responsible to do the right things for patients
and not do the wrong things. If you have, “Here’s what
we do for patients with this kind of disease process,” and if
you’ve done 50 percent more, then we can’t be responsible
for paying for that.
I think that a lot of the things that we teach are applicable to practicing
medicine better, and it’s better for everybody. It’s better
for doctors. It’s better for the teamwork of doctors and nurses
working together. Doctors don’t have to take the full responsibility.
They’ve got somebody that’s watching over their shoulder
to make sure, “Oh, Doctor, you booked this case as a right inguinal
hernia, and the patient signed the permit for a left inguinal hernia.”
The nurse can say it in a certain straightforward way, and the doctor
can listen to it in a way, that, “Oh, we need to figure out
what’s the right thing here.” Or the nurse says, “The
chart says this patient is allergic to the medicine you just prescribed.”
Well, that all goes back to aviation and the co-pilot being willing
to speak up to the captain to avoid the error. So I think in the new
healthcare regime, what we’re teaching is going to be applicable.
Whether people figure out other ways to do it or just can do it on
their own, I don’t know, but business is good.
I can imagine. We have two general questions that we like to ask everybody.
What do you think was your greatest accomplishment while working for
me, personally or for NASA?
For you personally.
I had a normal life, and that’s true, my greatest accomplishment.
When I went into NASA, I thought, if I choose this important and fascinating
career am I ruining all of my chances for ever getting married? If
I’m an astronaut and I decided to have a baby without being
married, what would be the consequences of that? Is there something
that’s going to happen to me that will make it difficult for
me to have kids? Will I ever meet somebody whose life will mesh with
this insane life I’m about to undertake?
So it was one of those unknowns, and one of the things that I hoped
to accomplish at NASA was to come out on the other end with what I
considered to be a normal life, the kind of life that I wanted to
have. I was able to do that. I don’t know if it was fate or
the good Lord looking out for me or the right person coming along
or a combination of all those, but I’m happy that I didn’t
have to give up those other parts of life in order to do my work at
Was I the world’s best astronaut? Probably not. Was I the world’s
best wife and mother? Probably not. But I got to do all of those things,
and that was very important to me. I wanted to look back when I got
to the age where I am now and say, “I was able to do all of
When they were handing out flight assignments and Hoot and I had just
gotten married, there was the decision of whether to wait to have
children or to go ahead and try. I considered when I’m sixty
and I look back, would I rather have an early flight and no children
or children and maybe no flights or maybe later flights? The children
were a higher priority. So I was glad to be able to look back when
I turned sixty and say, “It all worked out. It worked out just
fine.” I think some other people had to choose one or the other,
and I was lucky that I didn’t.
What do you think was your biggest challenge while working at NASA?
some of the physical aspects of training and doing the work. The scuba
training was hard for me. It was physically hard for me. I doubted
whether I was going to be able to do it. The suit work that we had
to do, there were times when I thought, “I’m not sure
that I’m going to be able to do this, and if I’m even
able to do it, would I be able to do it in an emergency and do it
well and quickly?” So I think the most difficult part for me
was the challenge of being small, because NASA, even though they broadened
the height requirements so that they could take more women, and bless
them for that, I don’t think they had really planned or thought
about what it would be like for a really small person to do the things
that larger men found pretty easy.
There were things along the way that I had to accommodate to. Getting
into the T-38 was always a struggle. Certainly there were the physical
aspects of being pregnant and wanting to continue to work when I’d
rather be home with my feet up. I was just determined to work through
my pregnancies and come back healthy and ready to go again, and to
have good care for my children. So that was part of it, just the strength-type
things. I wish I could say something more wonderful about challenges
that I overcame.
You know, people say, “Wasn’t it difficult to fit into
an all-men’s world?” I just ignored that part of it. If
they didn’t want me there, that was their tough luck. And so
what if I didn’t fit the mold, I wasn’t a test pilot,
I didn’t get much credit for what I did on my flights. Everybody
else got a lot of glorification for doing spacewalks and rendezvous
and being commanders of things, and life sciences got kind of short
shrift. I didn’t care. That didn’t bother me. I was there
to do what I wanted to do and what needed doing. Nobody else wanted
life sciences flights, but that’s what I wanted. I felt like
I had accomplished good things in being on those flights.
How did the office change over time? When you started in ’78,
my understanding is that it was very much a test pilot’s office.
Did it change significantly by the time you left?
In fact, NASA changed a lot. When I went there, it was like being
a surgery resident; you go there, and it’s all men. I had gotten
used to that. I was in a man’s world, I felt fortunate to have
been given a chance, and I wanted to do a good job.
Yes, at first the Shuttle Program was a test pilot world and you had
to, to a certain extent, be humble about the fact that you weren’t
a test pilot and didn’t want to be a test pilot. You had to
be willing to learn a lot of the stuff that pilots needed to know.
I never quite understood why we needed to know everything about the
Space Shuttle. I wasn’t ever going to mess with the switches
that turned on the propulsion stuff, the computer stuff. And yet it
was a good thing to learn. It helped put together how those pieces
and parts were connected.
But I think, over time, the question about whether women could do
a good job was answered as women began to do all the jobs that had
been reserved for men. I mean, when women began to do spacewalks,
EVAs [Extravehicular Activities], when women began to come in as pilots,
as women began to be represented in the hierarchy of NASA, as women
began to be flight directors in Mission Control, to be instructor
pilots out at Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas], women just began
to have the credentials to be respected. We all felt a responsibility
to do a good job, and it was just kind of like, okay, being female
was not an issue anymore. Women don’t have to fight for those
positions; you just have to have the credentials, do a good job, and
compete with the other people. So a lot of those things got put to
rest, and we began to see women in all roles that we wouldn’t
have thought of before. But why not?
By the time I left NASA, I thought the whole world had changed, because
NASA certainly had. We had all kinds of minority people. We had handicapped
people doing jobs at NASA that they were perfectly capable of doing.
NASA was very good about taking a lead in all of that. So I sort of
had this picture that the world had changed.
Then I went back to healthcare at a very conservative university where
things had not changed. Once again, I was the only woman in the room.
But it’s changing slowly. It’s still not at the level
that NASA was, but we’re getting there.
Are there more women now who are physicians than men? Is that the
are more women in medical school classes than there are men. I don’t
think they are as well represented in medical leadership. I guess
people have always said, “Well, women don’t want to do
that.” I don’t think that’s quite right. So I think
it’s just taking some time for women to make inroads into leadership
positions in healthcare.
It’s always interesting to me to go now to many hospitals all
over the country, some of them academic centers and some of them community
hospitals, and to be surprised that there are many more women physicians
as leaders. We invite the leaders in for a “boot camp”
for two days, and we go in the room and there are more women there.
It’s kind of like, “Neat. This is good.” They are
department chairs or chief medical officers or the CEOs [Chief Executive
Officers]. They’re women, and that’s neat. So the world
is changing in healthcare too.
I’m sure I could keep asking you questions. I’m going
to ask Rebecca if she has any for you.
I was just going through. It was very interesting.
feel like I’m prattling on and on.
No, no, no, that’s the whole idea. It’s not for us to
good listeners. You’re both very good listeners.
I had one more question, but I think you’ve really talked about
it. You had talked in the first interview about how you were pulled
aside during the interview with NASA. You were told that the newspaper
would be interested in covering one of the women, because this was
the first time we were having women. You mentioned the myth that women’s
hormonal cycles make them much more emotional than men, and that you
wanted to study in space, you know, would you be more emotional than
men, would it be dangerous in space for women, and I thought maybe
you’d want to address that. But I think you did a nice job here
of exploring how things have changed.
There were no physiologic problems with women. When we brought back
all the data from SLS-1 and –2, you couldn’t really tell
the difference between men and women, except the size. That’s
why it’s really hard to blind data when I’m involved,
because I’m little. Everybody else is tall. There’s four
subjects, and one of them is this tall and the other three are this
tall. Well, guess who is subject number two?
I don’t think women got emotional about anything. It was another
one of those things that was put to rest. Physiologically we’re
the same. Emotionally we’re the same. Work-wise, women worked
just as hard as men.
I think the women in the program to a certain extent have perhaps
lived their lives a little bit differently because they had children.
One of my bosses was a little perturbed with me because I wanted to
take three months’ maternity leave with my second and third
baby, but I had enough sick leave saved up and it was legal for me
to do so. I had to buck the system, but that was definitely a difference.
Some people took a little bit more time off with their children, but
that was their decision. So, hopefully, people don’t consider
that a problem anymore.
Certainly we answered that question when we came to NASA. At least
I did. If I had gotten emotional during my menstrual cycle or I took
to my bed several days a month or things going wrong upset me a whole
lot, I wouldn’t be a surgery resident, and Sally [K. Ride] wouldn’t
have been an astrophysicist and Judy [Judith A. Resnik] wouldn’t
have been an engineer. We’re not weaklings; we’re strong
people. And I think we proved that to NASA in the long run.
I think that’s a good note to end on.
Thank you very much.