NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Murfreesboro, Tennessee – 21 May 2010
Today is May 21st, 2010. This interview with Rhea Seddon is being
conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project in Murfreesboro,
Tennessee. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Rebecca
Wright. Dr. Seddon begins by talking about Mike [Michael L.] Coats.
He was one of the first two folks that I met when our class went down
there. I don’t remember how it happened. I think we all decided
we were going to go to a bar. We had something to do the next morning,
and if everybody was there, we were just going to meet all over at
some place. There were two guys that I recognized or knew, and I walked
up and I said, “Hi, I’m Rhea Seddon.” One was Mike
Coats, and one was Hoot [Robert L.] Gibson. I thought these are good-looking
men, both with big blue eyes. I feel like I’ve known Mike for
a long time. Good, good man.
He seems like a nice guy. When we were talking to Kathy [Kathryn D.
Sullivan], she was talking about weighing who might go first, and
she mentioned you in a red Corvette. Did you have a red Corvette when
you first came to JSC?
Her memory is good but not that good. I had a Silver Anniversary Corvette.
It was time for me to get a new car, and I figured I might get something
really cool and had a friend who had an order in for one, but didn’t
want it. He helped me get the one that he had ordered. It was neat;
I was pretty flashy. I had forgotten that.
She didn’t think she would be first to fly. She was like well,
“We have Sally [K. Ride] and Anna [L. Fisher], and Rhea comes
in with this beautiful red Corvette.” I just thought it was
an interesting story. I thought I would ask you.
It was a silver one, it was new, and it was beautiful.
What a fun car, at a fun age.
The other thing I wanted to ask you about. I asked Kathy about this
as well. You had mentioned the Cape Crusader yesterday. I’d
asked her where the term came from, because I can’t remember
anybody in the Apollo Program ever telling us where that came from.
The cartoon character.
Is it from Batman?
No. I don’t think so. I think there was a cartoon character
called that. Have you tried Googling it?
No, I’ll have to go out and see.
Batman was the Caped Crusader, maybe that’s where it came from.
I recall that there was a little cartoon character that either that
was their nickname or that’s what they were called, crusader
somebody. It came out of comic books or TV, and it was a silly thing.
Not that we all took ourselves very seriously.
You had pretty serious positions. Yesterday you were talking about
your engagement on Valentine’s Day of ’81. Do you want
to pick up there? We’ll put all the rest of this in the transcript
Hoot and I knew we were pretty serious. We went out to dinner for
Valentine’s Day, and we went to Galveston to one of the seafood
restaurants there and walked out on the pier, and in the midst of
that he asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes, because we’d
been thinking about that for a while and then we discussed when. We
were both just so incredibly busy getting ready for STS-1 that we
knew that we would have to wait till after that got off the ground
to set a date and begin the planning. We did.
I remember reading the Hoot was contacted by Brides Magazine.
I didn’t know that.
We’ll have to ask him when we talk to him.
By the way, he said he would be happy to talk to you, it’s just
today is insane, and his schedule is insane. He does have your email,
and he will eventually be happy to sit down.
We’ll figure whenever he’s got that block we’ll
I told him that it’d be wonderful to have a transcript of things
that the kids kind of knew or didn’t know. He’s excited
about doing that.
We’ll look forward to talking with him.
I was also thinking, if you want, we could try a joint session between
the two of you, and then do his oral history separately, if you want
to do something like that. That might be interesting. Also People
Magazine covered your [marriage]. I think they had a three-page spread.
They talked about the possibility of you two flying in space at some
point. Was that ever a reality, do you think?
No, I didn’t feel like NASA was going to do that. I suppose
there was an unwritten rule that they didn’t put married couples
in the same flight. Not that anybody ever said, “No, that won’t
ever happen,” but I think I knew that. I only vaguely remember
that article. But yes I guess they did. It was unusual.
I thought it was interesting. Did Anna Fisher and Bill [William F.]
Fisher offer any advice? I know that they had a lot of interest in
the two of them because she was selected, he wasn’t, but they
were married, and then he got selected.
Then he selected. I don’t remember a whole lot of discussion
about that. Their situation was a little different. We had talked
over time about the two of them, but I don’t remember there
being any discussion about it. I think the only thing that Bill, Anna,
and I did together—after Kristin was born someone requested
the four of us with our two babies, and pictures were made for some
magazine or newspaper, because I’ve got the picture. Kristin
probably two months old, and Paul squirming trying to get away. They
were just about a year’s difference between them.
I’ll have to go and see if I can find it. There was a married
couple on your husband’s flight, on STS-47.
They married each other after they’d been training for a long
time. They didn’t have any children, and it was difficult to
decide who to take off the flight, if they were going to do that,
and so they let them fly together. They did tell us it was an unwritten
rule, that they really didn’t want to do that. There were several
married couples along the way in the Astronaut Office. I guess they
just wanted to formally tell us, “We’re making an exception
for [N.] Jan [Davis] and Mark [C. Lee], but we don’t want any
other married couples to fly together.”
The press was definitely interested in that flight. Did you offer
any advice to Sally and Steve [Steven A. Hawley], when they announced
that they were engaged?
No, I don’t think they needed any advice. We congratulated them,
thought that was swell, and knew them both very well. We were happy
Was there much interest in the wedding when you came here to be married?
There was. There were press pictures and things like that, I think,
but this is a fairly small town. The press wasn’t allowed in
the church or in the reception. They snapped some photos of us coming
out of the church, but that was about it. There was a big write-up
in the local paper, because it was of local interest. We had a very
small wedding at the church that my great-grandparents attended. Just
some very close family friends, because it was a small church. Then
we had a big reception out at the country club so it was a good time.
There were a fair number of my friends still in town, but a lot of
friends, people that my parents knew well, so it was probably 80,
90 percent my parents’ friends. My mother had died by then.
My mother died in ’76, rather suddenly. I married in ’81.
It was mostly my dad and couples and friends that they had.
You married very soon after STS-1 launched.
Yes. We married May 30th. The launch was the 12th of April, and the
landing was the 14th. Then I came home and planned a wedding real
quick. The biggest thing was getting the country club, because it’s
usually booked up for weddings that time of year. But because it wasn’t
quite June, it was available. We just scurried around and got it all
How would you describe your family experience, having grown up in
a household where your parents weren’t astronauts?
My father was an attorney. My mother was a typical ’50s homemaker.
Very artistic, very creative. An English major, very smart, beautiful,
and very much involved in this town. I think they envisioned for me
the same kind of life that my mother had, and the same kind of life
that all the girls in this area aspired to or planned for. I guess
because there were only two girls, maybe, my father was happy for
me to want to have a career and encouraged that and supported that.
I was lucky. I think my mother was a little amused by it all, but
never said, “Ladies don’t do that.” I think my father
would have preferred that I go to law school and take over one of
the businesses that he owned and run his law practice, but that just
wasn’t what I was interested in. He was pleased that I wanted
to go to medical school. He thought that was a great thing to do.
I guess that was a little odd for both of my parents that I was taking
a different route, but I think they realized that women were doing
that at that time. They were supportive.
When your father heard that you were going to be an astronaut, what
was his reaction?
I told him when I applied. He said, “Well, that’s kind
of strange, isn’t it,” something along those lines. I
said, “Yes, but I probably won’t get in.” I just
thought that would be a neat thing to do, to apply. I told him about
the timing, and how it could be a logical break in my medical career;
I could always come back to medicine. Then when I was selected he
just sort of like, “Are you really sure you want to do this?
It’s going away from all the things that you had planned.”
I was about to finish all that training, and he had supported me through
med school. I was pretty much on my own through residency, but he
had helped along the way. It was like, “You had this big future
as a wealthy doctor, and now you’re going to go be a government
employee.” Once he knew that I really wanted to do that, I’d
thought it out, he gave me the benefit of the doubt on whether it
was the right thing or not, and was excited about it for me, obviously.
I was lucky to have a parent that was supportive and didn’t
think any of these things were too off the wall to make it a difficult
I thought we’d talk about some of the material that Amy [Foster]
has discussed in her dissertation. Anna had talked to us a little
bit about this. When you came into the office originally the crew
systems folks were trying to figure out a way for women to use the
bathroom during launch, reentry and EVA [Extravehicular Activity].
They came up with a diaper system called the DA[C]T, the Disposable
Absorption Containment Trunk, which looks very comfortable.
Oh yes. That worked and was acceptable, and they gave us a chance
to try it out.
Would you tell us about testing that product?
I’m trying to think. I think we flew in the KC-135. I remember
the idea was to try to get two voids during the flight so you didn’t
just have one opportunity. We would try to go with a full bladder
and void. They had a little bathroom area or curtained area where
we could be. Then try to drink enough water that you could pee again
before the thing landed. I don’t remember an awful lot about
it. It was a fairly simple solution that was acceptable. At the time
I don’t think they had diapers for adults so this was a very
expensive thing. They measured you and form-fitted you. It was like
a panty girdle with an absorbent middle section. I think there was
comment about how much they each cost. We didn’t have anything
to do with it. We needed something. Obviously we couldn’t use
the male variety. We didn’t take them on cross-country trips
with us or anything like that. We had a few to try out and then once
we were happy with it they just put it on board for us.
Were there ever any complaints or concerns that anyone voiced?
I don’t think really. They’re fairly comfortable. I think
the only thing is because of the padding they made you look heavy.
You put your flight suit on, and you looked like a sausage. I never
did any of the suit training, so I can’t tell you whether people
were comfortable in the EVA suits. I thought of all of the ideas they
came up with, that one was the simplest and easiest and most reliable.
What about the Shuttle’s waste collection system? They had to
come up with a way for women to use the bathroom in space. Did you
play a role in testing that?
Yes, I got called over one day to test the seat belt on the toilet.
They had several different designs, you know a seat belt type seat
belt. But you couldn’t get stable that way. They finally came
up with the thigh bars. That was one of the things that I tried out.
I went over to the water tank on scuba and just sat on a simulated
toilet seat and tried seat belt this way, seat belt this way, thigh
bars this way. It was pretty obvious to everybody who tried it that
the thigh bars were the things you needed and that they were very
simple, easy to use, and kept you very stable, didn’t have to
hold on to anything. That was my big contribution to the space program.
Quite important actually. Did you do any testing in the KC-135? Was
that required as well?
Yes. I remember testing out the urine funnel on the KC. It wasn’t
entirely satisfactory. Number one, you had 30 seconds or less. The
KC, it’s sort of weightless, but because it’s a little
bit up and down, you can’t make it entirely smooth. I’m
not sure that we were really comfortable that it would work well for
women, the urine funnel, until Sally flew and said, “Works fine.”
So that was one that in theory it could work; it worked sort of okay
on the KC, but you really didn’t get a good chance to use it
until you got to space. Everybody knew that, and had extra toilet
paper, so that if urine got out, you got to go chase it around.
Did it perform well on Sally’s flight?
She said it did. Seems like we talked after her flight and asked a
few questions about the stuff that was female-related, not much stuff.
The toilet was. She said, “Yes, make sure you do this, make
sure you do that.” I don’t even remember what it was.
She said, “It works fine.”
What were some of the other female issues you guys discussed when
she came back?
I can’t even remember what they were, because I don’t
think Sally wore makeup, so we didn’t ask about that. She obviously
had female underwear, but I can’t remember that there was anything
in that that was in any way different. A lot of public interest that
she had to deal with, and she may have talked about that. I don’t
remember anything specific, but I know it was difficult for her. I
don’t remember any other issues.
A lot of people thought, “Oh it’s going to be really different.”
It just wasn’t. When Sally flew, when Judy [Judith A. Resnik]
flew, when Kathy flew, it was just like you’re one of the guys.
You get to decide I think how modest you want to be or how private
you want to be. There was accommodation for everything. If I was going
to change clothes I either went in the air lock or went in the bathroom,
pulled the curtain closed. If the guys wanted to change clothes they
said, “I need to change clothes. Turn around.” You just
worked out whatever was comfortable for you and your crew and the
guys. It wasn’t a big deal.
Were there any changes made or any consideration made after Judy’s
flight when the waste collection system didn’t work and she
actually ended up using bags?
No. Except that that was just really unacceptable. We had to figure
out how to make the toilet reliable, but we knew that it was survivable.
We knew that, for the women, it was going to be very unpleasant. You
had to pee into a towel and then stuff it in a bag. I’m not
sure that we decided to stow extra DACTs. That may have been one of
the fixes. Presumably you wore one for launch. Then you had a couple
for landing in case you did a waveoff. Then obviously if there were
women going to do a spacewalk they had more for wearing in the suits.
I don’t really remember there being any fix for that.
Did it work well on your first flight, the waste collection system?
Yes. I think on one or two occasions you’d see some urine coming
out and collect it. You had to get comfortable with where you wanted
the funnel to be and the airflow, but the toilet worked well. On one
of my flights there was some problem with one of the downstream filters
getting clogged. It smelled like urine. The guys had to take it apart
and clean out the filter while we were working in the lab. Other than
that it was pretty reliable.
You don’t hear too much problem about it today except for the
Station toilet. That seems to be the problem. Was there ever any discussion
about menstruation and flying in space when you were in the office?
There was concern about it. It was one of those unknowns. A lot of
people predicted retrograde flow of menstrual blood, and it would
get out in your abdomen, get peritonitis, and horrible things would
happen. All the women were going, “I don’t think so.”
But you couldn’t prove it or disprove it. We were asked, “What
do we do about this?” We said, “How about we just consider
it a nonproblem until it becomes a problem? If anybody gets sick in
space you can bring us home. Then we’ll deal with it as a problem,
but let’s consider it a nonproblem.” They did. I’m
not totally sure who had the first period in space, but they came
back and said, “Period in space, just like period on the ground.
Don’t worry about it.” I think the big controversy was
about—and a lot of the women disagreed—how many feminine
hygiene products do you put [onboard].
Of course the more you put, the less room you have in your drawer
for your clothes and stuff. Or in a drawer. I don’t even remember
where they put it. I helped make that decision with the docs. We had
to do worst case. Tampons or pads, how many would you use if you had
a heavy flow, five days or seven days of flow. Because we didn’t
know how it would be different up there. What’s the max that
you could use?
Most of the women said, “I would never, ever use that many.”
“Yes, but somebody else might. You sure don’t want to
be worried about do I have enough.” So it was like, “Uh.”
The men were all, “Oh man, that’s a lot of stuff!”
I don’t know; it was another one of those issues that was really
kind of a nonissue.
How much did you end up putting on board? Do you recall?
I don’t remember. It was probably—because we included
both pads and tampons—probably at least twice as many as someone
would use, and then probably 50 percent more than that just in case.
It was a big wad of stuff.
I was reading an article [about] Anna Fisher. She said that the one
problem that the women seemed to have was getting clothes to fit properly.
I was wondering if you could talk about that.
From the very beginning when we chose our flight suit sizes, they
were men’s flight suits. You either got something that was too
tight, or you got it to fit your hips and it was too big for your
shoulders. They were just ugly. After a while they allowed us to get
them tailored. They said, “We’ll pay you to have them
tailored.” That helped, but it was the same way with the in-flight
suits. They had small, medium and large pants, and you got to choose
whichever ones you wanted to wear. They were not very flattering.
Then after a while, when I was on crew equipment, we talked them into
letting us buy our own shirts from whatever vendor they told us. Because
it turned out that the shirts, there were certain sizes, and when
you flew you had your patch put on them. Then when they came back
they had to be laundered, dry-cleaned, the patches taken off, inventoried,
and stored. The cost of doing all of that was significantly more than
what it would cost to just buy you a set of shirts, and then they’re
yours. The crews could get creative. Probably after Challenger [STS
51-L], if you look at crews in flight, they’ve got rugby shirts
on, they’ve got colorful other shirts on, they’ve got
different things written on their shirts.
To me, one of the things that interested me about flying in space
was what do people want to take with them? What’s going to be
important? How do they want to live? The Shuttle is very basic, green.
What people take is things to stick on the wall, pictures of their
family, pictures of their cows or their dog. They limit the number
of things that you can take, but it’s like they do their own
decoration. The shirts were the same way. It’s how to be an
individual in the midst of something that’s all very standardized.
That was nice. You could also figure out what size you needed and
get the ladies’ version of the polo shirt. All that sizing stuff,
I don’t think NASA thought out too well. Obviously they just
thought they could make smaller spacewalk suits, EVA suits, and they’d
proportionately fit the women. They just never did.
Mae [C.] Jemison, we talked to her a few weeks ago. She had mentioned
that they were all men’s clothes, it was like if you took men
to Lane Bryant and tried to tailor them for men.
What about undergarments in space? Was that something that you supplied
or was it something NASA supplied?
I think that’s something that might have changed, that at first
we supplied them. That’s what it was, I think. We went out and
bought them. “These are what we’re happy with; this is
the size I need.” They had certain specifications about what
you could and couldn’t have. We bought them, they reimbursed
us, and then they stowed them on board. Then, I think, they discovered
sports bras that don’t have to be individually sized. The women
were wearing those to run in anyway. So I think that changed. It may
be different now, but it seems like to me we went to standard underwear.
It was yours, and it got stowed for you, but it wasn’t stuff
that you went out and bought. I think they bought it for us. I can’t
remember exactly, but I think that’s close to what it was.
Where were these items stowed?
You had a clothes locker. Everybody had, I think, two clothes lockers.
Everything was rolled up very tight and put in the clothing lockers.
You knew where yours was, and everybody else knew where theirs was.
It had your color on it. All your stuff was in there. Of course it
was packed for launch. It was all just wadded up as tight as they
could get it. If you ever took stuff out, if it ever came out, you’d
never get it back in.
In Amy’s dissertation she had a quote from Kathy about a dress
code. Do you remember any discussions about a dress code for female
No. I came out of a world where you had to dress professionally, and
I think some of the people came out of a very casual academic setting,
and didn’t really dress professionally, but I don’t remember
there being a dress code. I think the only code that eventually developed
was if you had long hair you had to pull your hair back, your hair
had to be contained. That was okay. I don’t want my hair in
my face anyway. That’s the only thing I remember. There may
have been one, but because I was already meeting that dress code it
was like, “Oh okay.” So I don’t remember one.
When you came to JSC were women primarily wearing dresses and skirts?
Or were they also wearing pantsuits by that point?
I think we were wearing pantsuits by then. I think I wore a mixture
of things. I can tell you that we had to be able to dress up. I was
sent to the Paris Air Show, 1979, and there were a number of formal
events so I had to have formal clothes. There were other times that
were very business-like, “Valery Giscard d’Estaing is
coming to our display today. Look nice.” You had to have appropriate
clothes when you were put in those kinds of situations. As I say,
I had a friend who had a dress shop here in Murfreesboro, and I could
say, “We’re going to the White House after we get back,
help me pick out what I want to wear to go to the White House,”
and she did. I was very lucky. As a surgery resident, we could wear
scrubs part of the time, but the rest of the time we were expected
to look professional. The men wore ties, and the women had to match
that in a female sort of way, so that was the way I dressed anyway;
it wasn’t a big deal.
Tell us about going to the Paris Air Show. How did you get picked
Probably because I had clothes that I could wear. I don’t know.
I was just told, “We need somebody to go to the Paris Air Show.
We want to send a woman this year, because we just picked women, and
you’re it.” “Oh, swell.” Went with Deke [Donald
K.] Slayton, which was interesting, because he was macho man himself.
I was dating Hoot at the time, but it wasn’t really appropriate
for him to go with me. My dad went with me, so we had a nice time.
My dad traveled a lot in Europe and was a wonderful companion to have
along. We got to do some fabulous things. A lot of the contractors
put on big dinners.
It was wonderful, but it was being on stage. It was being sort of
assessed, as, “What kind of people do they pick as women astronauts?”
I was probably more on the feminine side, I guess. I had to shake
hands, make small talk, look professional, and represent NASA well.
Gave several talks wherever we were. Deke talked about the flying
characteristics of the Space Shuttle, and then I could talk about
the people that were selected to be mission specialists, I think.
It was a nice experience. It was wonderful to be able to go represent
NASA that way, and I had a good time. Went back when Hoot was invited
to the air show later on, late ’80s, early ’90s.
Pretty city. Recently I came across a US News and World Report quote
from Sally Ride which I thought was interesting. She recalled coming
to JSC, and she said that NASA had a culture that didn’t know
how to work with women on a day-to-day basis professional level, that
there was a cultural adjustment that in some cases is still going
on. I’m just curious if you could comment on that.
Well, as I said earlier, there just were no women in that field, very
few women engineers. Men, I think, were used to working with women,
but the women were their secretaries. As Mike [Richard M.] Mullane
talks about in his book [Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of A
Space Shuttle Astronaut], it just took a while to figure out how to
treat women. “Do we treat them just like a man? Do they want
the door opened for them, or do I need to carry their parachute for
them? If I tell this joke that I think is funny will they take offense?”
I think there was concern that women weren’t really serious
about this, that they couldn’t really do the job.
Whether it was unspoken or whispered or you just got the feeling that
they doubted whether or not you could make a contribution to what
you were working on, it was there, but I think NASA was very determined
that this was going to work. I think that if there were problems they
were handled. Other than an undercurrent maybe initially of, “What
is this and how is this going to work,” I don’t think
I felt an awful lot of discrimination. We were given good job assignments,
we were given opportunities, we were treated as equals, I think. Different
people I think felt it to different degrees. Having been with male
surgeons for four years and male medical students before that, I didn’t
take offense if they made some silly joke about dumb blondes or something,
because I was part of the group. I didn’t feel like they were
trying to persuade the other people that I really was stupid. Those
sorts of things didn’t really bother me.
I know for some of the women it did. They didn’t want to tolerate
it; they didn’t want any questions about things. In interviews
with the press, they would take offense if the reporter wrote about
what they had on. I thought, “I’m just not going to worry
about that. So what? It’s a stupid article.” There’s
nothing you can do about it. There’s no way you can go in for
an interview, talk about serious stuff, be a competent female and
not have them write about your eye shadow or the shoes you had on.
There’s no way to get around that. If they’re going to
do it, they’re going to do it. You can’t ask for a retraction.
It isn’t incorrect; you haven’t been slandered. So what,
don’t worry about it, don’t let it ruin your day. It wasn’t
terribly obvious to me, although it may have been to some of the others.
Do you think NASA is still trying to learn how to work with women?
Or do you think that they learned that in the late ’70s?
I don’t go back enough to know, but certainly by the time I
left there were women in all aspects of NASA. We had women flight
directors, we had women Shuttle commanders, we had women in management
making decisions, we had women pilots out at Ellington [Field, Houston,
Texas]. There were just women doing everything, and they were doing
it very well, there wasn’t this question of, “Well, we
tried women as flight controllers in mission control but they haven’t
done a very good job and we’ll have to reassess those decisions.”
They did terrific jobs. Everybody recognized that, and it was accepted.
I think compared to health care, NASA was way ahead. Way ahead. Maybe
some people still see problems, and things have happened to them that
were unfair. In general I didn’t feel that that was going on.
What role do you think the six of you played in paving the path for
future women like Eileen [M.] Collins and some of the other female
pilots and commanders?
Obviously I think we felt the weight of that and we felt that we needed
to succeed. We didn’t need to ask for any favors. We didn’t
need to turn down jobs. I think most of us, if we asked for a job—like
my management experience—when you showed an interest in something,
if there was something that you wanted to do, I don’t recall
that there was ever anyone to say, “That’s a job that
the guys do.” I don’t remember that. I can remember when
we didn’t have any women pilots, and so when we interviewed
women that began to have piloting credentials we looked really hard
at whether or not this was a woman pilot that we needed to take that
had all the credentials that we wanted to see. I think we interviewed
a couple before Eileen came in. It didn’t have to do with, “We
have to take a woman at all costs,” it’s like, “What
does this woman bring in her credentials, in her personality, in her
approach to being a female in a male world, how do we weigh all of
these things, and is this the right person to take?”
I think we were cognizant of the fact that if we took a woman pilot
she was going to be looked at carefully, just the way the six of us
were. I think Eileen just was a wonderful representative. She came
through when I was on selection board. I was pleased that she had
the credentials to do what she eventually got to do and did well.
Jeff [Jeffrey A.] Hoffman recalled when you came into the office,
the six of you, that you changed things in a way by making things
more comfortable in the office. He remembered when you first came
everyone referred to themselves by their last name. Called Al Bean,
I guess, Bean.
They all had their military nicknames, Beano, and I don’t remember
He had mentioned that apparently it was an issue calling women by
their last name, so eventually everyone came to call each other by
their first name.
That went on behind my back, or without my knowing. I had heard that
there was pretty rough language in astronaut meetings before we came
and that that was toned down, but I don’t know that to be so,
or the extent that was there. There was no swearing and filth. The
meeting was held professionally, and it wasn’t that we were
offended by the occasional four-letter word. They just weren’t
slung around, didn’t need to be. If we cleaned things up, that’s
fine, but I don’t think anybody complained about that.
Do you think you changed the office in any other ways that were visible
Well, I think it gave men a chance to learn how to work with women
on a professional peer-to-peer level. Women were serious, women were
well trained, and women were intelligent. I think to that extent not
only the people in our office but the people at JSC, the contractor
people. We’re sending an astronaut out to look at that satellite.
“Oh, it’s a woman!” So what? She’s a smart
woman, and she can do just a fine job. I think the whole world of
spaceflight had to deal with the fact that there were people who were
going to fly in space that were perfectly capable of doing so but
they were female.
I think maybe there were things that had to be modified because they
had been assuming the average height male, or the equipment fit the
standards of astronauts before women. I think the smallest they could
be was I think five-six or five-eight. Suddenly I came in and was
five-two. Sometimes they had designed something that was a little
awkward. I made a real effort to not ask them to redesign the equipment
but to give me equipment that would help me to be able to work on
a piece of equipment like that.
One of the things, the remote manipulator arm, the panel for that,
I think you know where that is. It’s at the back of the cockpit,
and then there’s a window to look out into the cargo bay so
you could see what you’re doing out there. That window is high
so I had to stand on something to be able to see out that window.
I didn’t ask them to change the whole design of the back end
of the cockpit. It was, “Okay how can I accommodate to this?”
I stood on a box. Then obviously I didn’t need to stand on a
box when I got into weightlessness, but I knew that I didn’t
want to be floating around back there when you’re using hand
controllers. I developed a bungee system, where I bungeed myself onto
I was not one of those people that demanded that NASA redesign equipment
to accommodate the standards that they had now set. I think when we
found that the suits didn’t fit some small people there was
considerable concern about that on the part of some of the women.
I tried my best, I tried everything I can, I can’t get in that
suit, and even if they spend $25 million designing a specific suit
for me, that’s hard physical labor. If I needed to do it I would
have, just like the scuba training. I’d have trained myself
to be able to do it; I’d have bulked up and been overly fit.
It wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but I recognized the fact
that there were women who really wanted to do a spacewalk and didn’t
get the opportunity.
That to a certain extent was unfair, and I think NASA recognized that
was unfair. They just didn’t feel like they could redesign the
whole suit to accommodate the few women. It was about less than five-foot-four.
The standard was you had to be five feet tall, but I think Kathy [Kathryn
C.] Thornton was not terribly much taller than I was, and neither
was Anna, and they both did suit work. It was really just the tiniest
of women. Mary [L.] Cleave, Rhea Seddon, and maybe some of the others
just because they were smaller through the shoulders. I figured I
could accommodate to most things, and the other things they needed
to accommodate to, but not if it was going to spend a whole lot of
It’s interesting you say that, because Kathy had mentioned for
her first EVA that the suit had not fit properly but she didn’t
make a big to-do about it. She was worried that NASA would say, “Well
I told you we shouldn’t have women; they’re making all
these demands.” What do you attribute that attitude to?
I think it’s the can-do spirit. “I can do this, even if
it’s not perfect, because if I complain too much they won’t
let me do this. Or I’ll put barriers in the way of other women
as they come along.” I think a lot of people accommodate to
that. I think everybody does it in one way or another. Maybe some
of the women had to do a little bit more just because of size and
proportion. People increased the standard height so that big guys
and a majority of women could get in. I think they said if the height
standard had been held at five-foot-six that most of the female population
wouldn’t have been able to apply simply because of their height.
They did expand those, but I don’t think they did a full inventory
of, “What do we have that will be a problem for someone who
is five feet tall?” Then when they found out about it they figured,
“Well we’ll just redesign what we need to redesign.”
Sometimes they couldn’t do that. You had the choice of “Do
I make a big deal out of this, do I want to use a silver bullet on
this one, can I accommodate to it, or do I want to just not force
I think a lot of people did that. Probably some of the tall guys were
not terribly comfortable in some of the equipment they had to be in.
The launch and entry suits—“Here they are. We’ll
try to fit them to you. And oh, by the way, fully outfitted they weigh
like 80 pounds.” Yes, they sized it really well to me, but it
was really heavy. If you weigh 160 or 180, 80 pounds is a lot. If
you weigh 120, 80 pounds is really a lot. But again, what am I going
to say? “Oh, no, I want a little dainty suit” I got to
be able to lug 80 pounds’ worth of stuff around, or they’re
going to say ,“Hm, maybe you’re not qualified for flight,”
so we just did it. We just did it.
I was giving a paper last summer, and someone asked me an interesting
question, something that I hadn’t thought of before. They were
curious if anybody from your class ever made a proclamation or statement,
“I’m going to use the feminine approach to things, or
a manly approach to a solution.”
Not that I know of. Not that I know of. It was just like, “We
want to be part of this group and we don’t want to demand that
the feminine approach or the female approach is better.” No
one ever told us to act like a man. Just as far as I know we were
just part of the group. We never declared that we would approach things
in a different way.
Would you tell us a little bit about Judy Resnik? Everyone we’ve
talked to seems to have a close relationship with Judy. A lot of people
mentioned that they were her best friend. I guess she had a lot of
best friends, and I was curious if you could talk about her.
I can’t say that I was Judy’s best friend, but we certainly
did a lot of things together, chatted a lot, that sort of stuff. I
always found her very straightforward about things. I think it was
that Midwestern Ohio, just tell it like it is. There were times when
I was a little taken aback by something she said, and it wasn’t
that it was not true, it was just to the Southern person in me it
was a little forward. I thought she was really really bright, obviously
a very beautiful person, flirtatious, funny. She was just a live wire.
We would do the happy hours, or we’d go on these NASA trips,
and Judy was just a star attraction. She was just having a great time
and was obviously friends with everybody. I’m sorry she’s
not around. I think she would have had a great time with NASA and
done a lot of good work for NASA. She was obviously very very bright.
She had an engineering degree, which a lot of us didn’t have.
She understood a lot of things that were beyond me when I got there.
Other than Anna, I didn’t really hang out individually with
the other women. Liked them, had a great time with them, admired them,
depended on them when we had to make decisions about things or when
we all wanted to find out if we did need to make decisions about it.
I didn’t hang out that much one to one with the other women.
We were all just going in different directions working on different
things at different points in our lives. That’s the way it was.
Tell us about the day that you learned Sally would be the first American
woman to fly in space, when they made the announcements for STS-7,
8 and 9.
I think there was a little disappointment. I always felt like it would
be Sally or Judy. They had received the assignments and had a lot
of the up-front knowledge that you really needed to fly in space.
Judy had gotten to NASA I think three months before we got there.
She could finish up the job that she was in. She had a head start
on us. She was an engineer; she understood all the stuff. I think
she worked with the arm. Sally I think was a CapCom [Capsule Communicator]
early on. They had the sorts of technical assignments that really
prepared them for flight. I worked on food systems and I worked in
SAIL, but those were not the sorts of things that I was going to have
to do on a flight. I think most of us felt it would be Sally or Judy,
but all of us thought, “Well, maybe it will be me.”
Hoot knew that I was disappointed, and he said, “I think later
on in life you’ll be just as happy that you got to fly but that
you weren’t the first.” He was right. When you carry that
title the rest of your days, it puts a special kind of responsibility
on you that I’m sure that Sally sometimes wishes that she didn’t
have. But she was the right person. She did a terrific job. There
was no doubt that she would be fine. As I say, I think all of us probably
were just a little disappointed that our name wasn’t on the
list. At the time I had other things going on and other things to
do, like a baby.
Was there ever any discussion amongst the group about who might be
first? Or was that just unspoken?
I think it was unspoken, because certainly the six of us didn’t
get together and say. “Well I think I’ll be first.”
“No, I’ll be first.” Maybe there were groups of
two that got together that said, “How come she got that assignment?”
I don’t remember there really being any discussion about it.
We were all doing different things. We all had our own specialty areas.
I don’t remember there being discussion about it.
As I recall, we probably all congratulated Sally and told her how
happy we were for her and told her that we were her backup crew, all
of us. We were there to support her in that flight, because it was
important to all of us that she do well. I think she knew that, and
it was a responsibility for her. She didn’t want to mess anything
up and have somebody say, “Oh well, that’s what you get
when you fly women.” She trained hard; she did a great job.
She got along well with her crew; the flight was fine. It all just
worked out great.
Were there ever any issues that popped up in the midst of training
that you all had to deal with?
Well, as I say, Sally often asked us, “What do we want to do
about this, and this question has been asked, how do we deal with
it?” Other than the ones that I’ve talked about, I don’t
really remember any.
Were you at her launch?
I was. We all went down there for her launch. John Denver was there.
Had dinner with Bonnie [J. Dunbar] and John Denver, which was fun.
John Denver sang at the reception the night before for her. It was
a spectacular launch. Lots of important women were there. It was pretty
exciting, and all of us were very happy for her and had our fingers
crossed that all was going to go well. It did. It was a very important
milestone, I think, for NASA, and it was good to be a part of it.
Tell us about the day that you learned you had been selected for a
As I recall, rather than being at a happy hour, Mr. [George W.S.]
Abbey called me over to his office and asked me if I wanted to go
on STS 41-E. I said, “Yes of course. Who’s going to be
on the flight? What’s on the flight?”
He just gave me some very basic stuff; Bo [Karol J.] Bobko was going
to be the commander and Don [Donald E.] Williams was going to be the
pilot. Just gave me some basic information and congratulated me and
said, “Go over and start talking to your new crew.” He
called everybody over that day, or everybody got together once we
knew that everybody knew. It was pretty exciting. Obviously I went
and told Hoot, “Mr. Abbey called me over.”
Knew that it was going to be busy. Ended up being kind of insane.
If you look back on the history of our crew, we had multiple different
crews, we had multiple different flights, we had multiple different
training plans. It got really frustrating; it got very difficult when
they would cancel our flights. We just trucked along. I was the third
woman assigned, and I was so proud of that, that Sally flew and Judy
flew, and then I was number three of six. I was so excited about that
and then the way the schedule ended up I was fifth to fly.
I remember telling someone that, and they said, “Who ever remembers
any of that?” Unless they ask you, “Were you first?”
“No, I wasn’t first, Sally was first.” “What
were you?” “I was fifth of six.” In the grand scheme
of things, who the heck cares? My hometown still to this day thinks
I was the first American woman in space. They introduce me, “This
is Rhea Seddon, she was an astronaut, she was the first woman to fly
in space.” Not really, but if you want to think so that’s
fine. So the important thing was getting to fly.
And you go through that frustration of not being named to a flight,
being named to a flight, having them cancel the flight, having to
retrain for a different payload. We trained on three different payloads.
We had Patrick Baudry, the French astronaut, with us for a while.
We had Patrick and Jake [Edwin Jacob] Garn for a while. Who else did
we have? We had Greg [Gregory B.] Jarvis for a while, unfortunately,
he flew on Challenger 51-L. Then we had Charlie [Charles D.] Walker.
We ended up with Garn and Walker. But it was that turmoil of, “Who’s
really going to fly with us, what are we really going to fly on, and
are we really going to get to fly?”
It had its ups and downs. Bo Bobko was just always cool and calm.
He just never got upset about stuff like that. That’s the kind
of commander to have. When they cancel your flight Bo says, “They’ll
give us another one. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get to
fly, we’ll have fun, let’s go take a vacation for a week
and come back, and they’ll have decided.” That made it
really easy. I think if Bo had been absolutely furious at NASA and
the world and had led us in that direction we’d all have been
furious at the world but he just handled it with great aplomb, and
so did we. We went home and put a fist through the wall, felt sorry
for ourselves, and then we came back and started over. We eventually
got to fly.
Tell us about the rest of the crew and the crew relationship besides
It was a good crew. The ones from my class—Jeff and I were,
I think, good friends. I just thought the world of Jeff Hoffman. I
wasn’t particularly close to Dave [S. David] Griggs. He was
a man’s man. I knew Don Williams from multiple happy hours and
knew his wife well, and so I knew Don well and was very comfortable
with him. Jake Garn was at first this unknown who was thrust upon
us. Jake was a pilot. Jake was bound and determined to fit in well,
and he did. He knew flying, he knew the piloting environment, he wanted
to do a good job, he didn’t want to just be a visitor. Charlie
Walker had flown before. I had worked with him. He had a payload on
STS-6 when I was the support crew so I knew Charlie, and I knew his
experiment. I was very comfortable with him. It was a good crew. It
was a very good crew.
We divided up all the duties, backed each other up, helped each other,
and went through all of that together and then went through another
training thing for a different payload. Had to reconfigure who was
going to do what. Then eventually trained on a third payload—I
think we were like a month from launch when we got that third payload.
Luckily it was a combination mostly of payloads that we’d had
before, but there were some things that were different. We just had
to reconfigure ourselves and in a month’s time train to fly
a third payload. Some things came off, other things went back on.
It was kind of insane. It was a stressful time.
For most of us it was our first flight, and we didn’t care what
they did to us as long as they launched us.
What did the crew think when they heard that a US senator was going
to be on the crew?
I remember we—the four that were flying on the flight deck—were
in the simulator when Mr. Abbey called Bo over. We all looked at each
other, and we said, “Hm, we think we know what this means.”
He came back, and said Mr. Abbey said he could tell the crew but not
anyone else because it hadn’t been announced. As we were getting
ready for another simulator run, he wrote a little note so our training
team wouldn’t hear us on the intercom, “Jake Garn is on
our flight.” We all looked at each other.
Bo says I said, although I don’t quite remember saying it, (but
if he says I did, I probably did, because I was certainly thinking
it), “This may turn out to be a good thing.” There was
certainly more focus on our flight than there would have been if we
were just carrying the payloads, because it was kind of a dull five-day
flight. The fact that Jake was on there, there was a lot more interest
around it. He was excited and the press was excited. There was controversy,
but we learned to deal with that. It ended up being a good addition,
and Jake is still a good friend to this day. I think he did a good
job, and he certainly represented NASA well when he went back to the
Senate. Then we had the Challenger accident and we really needed supporters
Tell us about the press interest in the flight having a senator on
board. Did that have any impact on the flight or the training?
The training went on, and Jake volunteered for medical experiments.
I helped him with that, and so that was some additional stuff that
I backed him up on, although he really took most of the responsibility
himself. He volunteered to be a subject for one of the experiments
that I was doing, the echocardiograph so I appreciated that. He was
very accommodating. He wanted to help us when he wasn’t busy.
He learned how to operate the food system and certainly was willing
to hold things, lift things, be there to do whatever he could do to
There was a lot of press interest, a lot of evening news or talk show
people saying, “Why would we use up a seat to fly a senator?”
It was just an interesting other thing, and there was a woman on the
flight, and I was starting out to be the third, so there was still
some interest in females flying. I guess it all came together.
What were some of the things that the reporters would ask you at some
of the press conferences? Were they focused still on gender issues?
Or were they focused on the flight itself?
They were pretty much not focused on gender issues anymore. We’d
answered those questions. Certainly by the time I flew and was fifth,
there was no longer this question about, “Do you think women
can do this job” or “How’s it different for women?”
Now it was becoming more accepted, and that was great. Everybody was
pleased that there were no longer those sometimes silly questions
“How does it feel to be flying in space?” What are you
going to say? I think it was to a certain extent more focused on Jake,
“How do you feel about having a senator on board?” By
that time we were very happy to have him on board. He was a good crew
member and we could honestly say, “We’re happy to have
him. He’s great, he’s going to help us out, he’s
doing some useful work, help us answer some questions about human
physiology in space.” There was more focus on that.
The flight itself, we took two satellites of the type that had been
flown before. I was taking the echo. Jake was doing some experiments
and Charlie was growing crystals. There were a few other little things.
It was a pretty ho-hum flight. There wasn’t anything very new
on that flight and then it ended up being pretty interesting. I don’t
know if you’ve read, but we had a satellite that didn’t
work. We had to use the arm. They did an unplanned spacewalk. It ended
up being on the front page.
That was interesting. We got to do some fun stuff. We didn’t
turn the satellite on, but we did everything they told us to do. I
hadn’t really been trained on using the arm to do the things
they asked me to do. It ended up being a great flight. We got a chance
to really work together and to work with mission control. They were
all excited about it because they became stars too, designing new
pieces of equipment. It was certainly more fun than what it was when
we started out.
Since you brought it up, let’s talk about that, we can go back
to some of the other questions. Talk about when you knew that the
LEASAT that you deployed wasn’t working properly and then what
happened from there.
Well, we looked at it and knew that it was supposed to spin up, and
it didn’t. We talked to the ground, and they said, “Are
you sure? Did the antenna come up? Look at it again. Let’s give
it a little time.” Then they knew that the booster was set to
ignite halfway around the world, 45 minutes later, and we had to get
away from it just in case something failed, but it wasn’t the
We got away from it and were drifting off, and we said, “Was
it anything we did?” As I recall, Jeff Hoffman and I—I
think I was the prime on that. It may have been me and Dave. We went
back over everything that we did, every switch. We cross-checked one
another. I’m flipping this switch, I’ve checked it; this
talkback came on, I’ve checked it. There was nothing that went
wrong, so we didn’t have to scramble around and handle malfunctions
during the deploy. Everything worked exactly as it was supposed to
work. It was one of those fairly lazy. “Power up the satellite,
check this out, do this, turn this on, count down, push the button.”
Bam! It comes out. We just knew we hadn’t done anything wrong.
The ground had some insight into that and could have told us “Oops,
you didn’t turn that switch on.” We knew that there was
nothing that we did that was wrong. We figured it’s a lost satellite;
there’s nothing much we can do about it. Then the ground came
up and said, “We’d like for you to stop your separation
rate from the satellite.” Once they knew that the booster wasn’t
going to fire. It was like, “Quit moving away from the satellite.”
We’re all going, “What are they thinking?”
I think Bo may have even asked, “Okay, we’ve completed
that burn,” or whatever it was. “What exactly are you
Mission control gave a very general answer. “We’re looking
at what the possible failure was and whether there’s anything
that can be done about it.” So we thought, “Well, this
is interesting.” Then it wasn’t very long after that that
they told us, “We’re coming up with a plan. We think that
the only malfunction that could have happened was that the deploy
switch that should have popped open when it came out of the payload
bay didn’t get put in the on position, and it’s an external
switch that you may be able to do something about. We’re planning
now to figure out how we might do that. It may involve an EVA.”
Of course Jeff and Dave were just bouncing off the walls. I think
even at that point they began thinking, “Okay, what can we do
to be ready if they tell us that we’re going to do this?”
Lo and behold, they came up pretty quickly with, “Okay, here’s
the plan, and here’s what we’ve decided to do. Do you
think it’s doable? Do you think it’s safe? Do you think
you’re capable of doing it?” Because Bo and Don had had
a little bit of rendezvous training for our first payload, but we’d
only gotten within a month or six weeks of launch, we hadn’t
gone through all the training and the simulations. I had done some
arm training to deploy and berth the payload that we had on that flight,
but I hadn’t really done much in the way of arm stuff. The second
payload we had, we didn’t even have an arm. The third payload,
the only thing we were going to do was move the arm to certain coordinates
to watch the booster burns.
So I hadn’t had any training in doing a lot of arm operations.
Dave and Jeff obviously had only had the very basic training in EVAs
to do very basic stuff, close the doors, I guess free payloads if
they got hung up, just very basic stuff. When they told us what they
wanted to do, Bo asked questions. He said, “I’d like to
talk to my crew.” We talked about what the plan was, what each
of us would have to do. Bo really went around and asked everybody,
“Are you comfortable doing this? Does this sound like something
that we can manage?”
All along I really thought that Bo and Don had probably the toughest
part, the most dangerous part, the part that could really get us into
trouble if they messed it up. My part, using the arm, I had a good
bit of concern about, but I was willing to do it. They made it so
that I didn’t have a person on the end of the arm. I think that
might have made me even more anxious. I also knew that Jeff Hoffman
had trained as a backup, and that if I was having difficulty I could
hand it over to Jeff. That’s the good thing about Shuttle flights,
you know that if for some reason you’re having difficulty there’s
always another person who can take over for you.
We all were very excited about doing it. It was like, “We can
do this,” again the can-do spirit, “We can do this!”
To a certain extent we were all probably faking it a little bit, but
we were willing to try. We knew mission control had done a lot of
work, were going to do a lot more work, were there to support us.
If parts of it didn’t work, no one was probably going to die
from it. It would just be something that couldn’t be done or
we couldn’t do it, and we were willing to take that chance.
It all worked really well. We didn’t have any major problems.
Bo and Don did a fabulous job of getting us close. Dave and Jeff had
just the best time going out and doing spacewalks. They did what they
had to do but then they had a chance to improve their experience base.
“We need to do a little bit more practice while we’re
out here with some of the equipment,” so they got a little extra
time to be out there and get better at spacewalks. Dave never had
a chance to do another spacewalk but Jeff did, so Jeff was happy that
he had as much experience as he had.
The arm part for me, I guess I’d had enough training, and the
task itself was fairly routine, and Jeff was there watching carefully
and giving suggestions. I did exactly what they told me to do. We
pulled on that switch, we tugged on it, we could see the switch when
we came up on it, and it looked like it was in the on position, so
we were pretty sure that we were not going to make a big difference.
But, we didn’t know whether that switch was almost to the on
position, and a good tug on it would pull it or make the contact and
start the sequence. We did what we were told to do. We told them that
we had and they could watch our cameras. We backed off a little bit.
The thing never did spin up. Once again they thought well, maybe they
banged on it enough that the booster will ignite, better get away
from it. They gave us the coordinates I believe, with the arm, to
drape it over the payload bay and watch for the booster burn, and
it didn’t happen that we could see, or there wasn’t any
explosion, and they didn’t see anything.
We said, “Well, we gave it our try.” We celebrated, because
we had done it. We had done it. It’s too bad the satellite didn’t
come on, but we did our part. When we got home people said, “Oh,
weren’t you disappointed?”
We said, “Well, it’s too bad the satellite is lost, but
we had a great time.” We got everything done. We had two extra
days on orbit. We had a chance to do things that we didn’t think
we would have a chance to do. It was a very positive flight. Had a
good time. Had a good time debriefing it and telling people things
that we learned. If anybody ever had to do that again, maybe some
things that should be thought about. Really good debrief with mission
control. They filled us in on all the stuff that went on behind the
scenes before the final plan was out there. We came to appreciate
the people that had done the simulations with the suits. They had
tried different things. Everybody was running 24 hours a day, trying
to figure out what’s the best way to do this. Wonderful to team
with those people.
They were so excited that we were getting to do the stuff that they
had planned. It’s really a participatory flight. Everybody had
a good time.
How long from the time the satellite malfunctioned until you used
the arm? What was that time span?
Let me see. The satellite malfunctioned on day two. I know that day
six of the flight we took off. They offered us an extra day on orbit,
we said, “We’ll take it.” I think it was on day
five that we did the arm stuff. There was a lot of stuff that had
to be done to get ready so it was probably day five. After that was
all over the ground said, “We can hurry up and bring you home
tomorrow, or we can give you an extra day. Bo says, “Let me
poll my crew; we’ll take the extra day.” We were running
out of food. We were eating hot dogs for breakfast. We had to patch
together meals, but we didn’t let the ground know about that.
We probably could have eked out another day if we’d had to have
Twinkies for dinner.
It was a very very busy flight, because we had to do all of these
additional things but we wanted to make sure that we accomplished
all the things that we had in the timeline to do: my echo, Charlie
Walker’s experiments, Jake’s stuff. We wanted to make
sure all of that got done too. So we worked pretty hard.
Tell us about assembling that flyswatter. It’s almost like an
Apollo 13 story.
Exactly. At the time all we had was a teleprinter to uplink information
and voice. Couldn’t send up pictures, couldn’t send up
video; no computer uplinks. They had to describe what they wanted
by talking to us and by describing it in a teleprinter message. “First
take this, do this with it, do that with it.” Then we could
send pictures down to them. We would do something and we’d say,
They’d say, “Well, no, a little bit more like that.”
We pulled out book covers and a swizzle stick, and I don’t remember
what else. We took some of the metal out of the covers that went over
the interdeck access to block out light at night, or during the day
if we were sleeping.
We just pulled out all kinds of stuff, and it was arts and crafts
time. Jake really wanted to help with all of that. I was making the
flyswatters and Jake was helping me with the stuff that was hard to
do. He was very pleased to be able [to help]. There’s a nice
picture of him with his head up through the interdeck access and the
two of us working on the flyswatter.
It was great. We eventually put these two flyswatters together and
we downlinked the picture. We said, “Okay, finished product.
Is this what you want?”
They said, “Ah, it’s even better than what we described,”
because we had looked at it and put a little additional tape here
and there and reinforced certain places. We understood the concept.
They were really good about saying, “Here’s what we want,
here’s what we want it to accomplish, and here’s why we
want it to look that way.” Great communication with I guess
it’s MMACS [Maintenance, Mechanical, Arm and Crew Systems],
the mechanical guy that does the fix-it stuff in mission control.
The CapComs having to relay messages through those folks and answer,
“Yes, no, more, less, bigger, smaller.” There was a lot
of that going on, but it worked and we had a good time.
What happened to the flyswatters after they didn’t work?
We were not allowed to carry them off, but I did let the crew equipment
people know I’d really like one of those. A guy told me that
he would get it for me, and then he said he couldn’t get it
for me. I don’t know what happened. It’s probably stored
somewhere. They were very interested in how duct tape responded to
space, heat, cold, radiation, sunlight so they were doing some testing
on it, which I could understand, and that’s fine. But I sure
would have liked to frame it and put it on my wall. They really don’t
want you to have space stuff. They were very careful that any stuff
that came back from space didn’t go home with astronauts. Somebody
else may have it hanging on their wall, I don’t know.
How big was the flyswatter once you put it all together?
The swatter part was the size of a book cover. It was the book cover
off one of our flight books, so that was the size of it, eight-by-ten
size. Then the swizzle stick was probably two feet long. The whole
thing was about that size. Then of course Jeff and Dave had to strap
it, actually the two of them, on the end of the arm. It was fun seeing
them float out into space in their spacesuits with these two devices
tethered to themselves. “Please don’t let go of them when
you get out there. We spent some time putting them together; we don’t
have the stuff to do it again. Don’t drop it.” They did
a really nice job of that.
Tell us about eating in space and your crew. Did you all eat together?
Was that something you did as a crew?
Frequently we did. We took a food warmer because Charlie Walker’s
experiment took up the place of the galley. When we wanted a meal
we all put our order in, and frequently it was Jake that made the
meal. What a great guy. We were all scurrying around. He’s seeing
that it’s past lunchtime, he goes around, takes everybody’s
order, puts it in the food warmer, says, “Hey, food is ready.”
Sometimes we would eat together, and sometimes we would just take
our food and go to where we were doing other stuff and eat as we went.
Sometimes stand around in the cockpit area looking out the window
or floating around looking out the window while we ate lunch.
We took a fair number of our meals together. Bo thought that was important
that we get together as a crew and make sure [we knew] what everybody
else was doing. My other flights were that way too, to a certain extent.
It’s the time that the crew can all just take a break. You have
to remind people to take a break. You can just drive yourself into
the ground. Other commanders may feel differently, but the ones that
I flew with felt like everybody needs to take a break. “Let’s
touch base with each other and see what’s going on, because
we’re all doing different things, and we need to make sure everybody
knows what’s happening.”
Tell us about your work on the echocardiogram. What did you learn
from that, and how did that function in space?
That was an off-the-shelf item that the Life Sciences people proposed
as a test, and they put together. I think it was put together and
put on my flight because I was an MD and was capable of doing that.
I had to recruit a couple of other people as subjects. I was going
to do it on myself, and then Charlie, then Jeff and Jake, agreed to
The fluid redistributes itself [in space]. They felt pretty sure that
the heart had to swell a little bit, and there was a question about
exactly what was the position of the heart in weightlessness, because
your diaphragm comes up a little bit, your chest expands a little
bit. Does the heart move? What does the heart look like over time?
Does it swell up and get smaller as might be predicted, or how did
it work? It was pretty basic stuff, but I think I brought home good
data. Tape-recorded it, and we could downlink a little bit of it so
that the ground could see that we really were doing it.
My other two subjects, I think it probably was Jeff and Jake, because
they’re tall and thin, so they make good echo subjects. That
data was brand-new, so I was happy because of my medical background
that I had the opportunity to bring back some science and had the
opportunity to train, help develop equipment, work out the procedures,
do it in space, get data and see the results. That was all my science
thing. It was a very small part of the flight but it was important
to me. That’s what I wanted to do in space, and I was hoping
to make the Spacelab flight. It helped to have the opportunity to
practice in a small way doing what I would be doing on Spacelab.
Was the heart bigger in space?
It was. It got bigger and got smaller the way it was predicted to
be. Some decrease in volume of the left ventricle, the pumping part,
because you’re not pumping against gravity anymore. It was pretty
much as predicted. The echo machine had been assigned on my first
mission and then it had been taken off for my second mission, and
then it was sort of not on there I think for my third mission. It
was like, “Can’t we put that back on? Is there some way
we can? I’ll take off one of my lockers full of clothes. Is
there some way we can get that back on”
They did, as I recall. I’m remembering something from 25 years
ago. I was delighted that I had some science to do.
Were you working with Jake on some of the medical experiments he was
I did. Jake asked if I would back him up on some of the things. Bo
asked me, “Make sure Jake is comfortable. He doesn’t quite
understand about how things are going to work in zero-G.” Not
that I knew a whole lot more, but I’d been around people who
had talked about things so Bo asked me to make sure that Jake had
everything he needed.
I sat through some of the training with Jake. Once he had been trained,
I sat down with him and looked at what he hoped to accomplish, what
he was going to do, and how I could help. There were only small things.
They made it pretty self-contained so there were only a few things
that he needed help with. There was one where you were supposed to
see how green he was when he was sick, or how pale, so they had a
color chart that he had to hold up next to his face, and he needed
somebody to take a picture so they could determine was he more pale
when he was sick.
There were a couple of things that if he really wasn’t well
I could do to him or help him do, but he didn’t need an awful
lot of my help. I was awful busy the first couple days, and then got
really busy towards the end, so Jake did pretty much his own stuff.
We helped when he needed. Any of us could do most of the stuff. We
just kept an eye on him, “What do you need? Holler when you
need something.” If we floated by and he needed something he’d
say, “Do you have a minute? Can you do this?” He was a
really good crew member. Did his stuff, was helpful to us, and completed
the things that they asked him to do.
Were you one of the medical officers on this flight?
Yes, Jeff Hoffman and I. Jeff’s whole family are physicians.
I told them that we would make him an honorary physician when he got
back. “This is real Dr. Hoffman, not PhD doctor, but now he’s
an honorary physician.” He had a lot of fun doing that kind
of training. I think his dad and his brother and a lot of people in
the family are physicians, and he was the black sheep for being an
astronomer, astrophysicist, whatever he is. He had a lot of fun. I
think probably he was a medical officer on more than one of his flights.
Your group was called the SWAT team. Can you tell us about that nickname?
I don’t remember when we found out about it, but I think it
was a term that was coined, and the ground let us know during the
flight that, “Oh there’s a lot of press about you guys
and they’re calling you the SWAT team because of the flyswatters.”
We thought that’s cute, that’s funny, so we’ll be
the SWAT team. The flyswatter became the symbol of our flight, and
when we got off the flight we were handed flyswatters. There are a
number of postflight pictures made, and we all have flyswatters. It
was very interesting. When you’re in flight they tell you, “Well,
there’s news today about this or this has happened,” and
they uplink messages. It’s like, “Yeah yeah yeah, whatever.”
But then to get back, and Hoot had saved all the newspapers, and it
was just, “Oh, my gosh, there were a lot of people watching.”
Probably good that I didn’t focus too much on that. The whole
world is watching you use this arm. A lot of good stories and good
press about mission control working with us and doing what we needed
to do. That was interesting. We became known as the SWAT team.
Take us back to the day of launch. You get up, you get ready, you
go, you eat breakfast, you got the cake there. Walk us through that
We did the typical things. We got up as I recall early early. The
weather was crummy, and we were all going, “Oh well, we’ll
practice going through this today because the weather is too bad to
launch.” The ground people told us it probably was not going
to be good for launch today, but maybe there’ll be a hole in
the clouds. We’ll send you out. Get strapped in, pretend you’re
going to launch. We did that. You could look out the front windows,
and it was just a gray drizzly yucky rotten day.
We’re all going, “How long are they going to make us sit
here?” We get to the end of our window, it’s like we’ve
got 15 minutes. We had gotten down to nine-minute hold. I’d
been sitting there for a couple hours. If we don’t do something
soon we’re not going to go, but we’re not going to go
because there’s rain on the windshield, and the NASA TD [Test
Director] or whoever it was calling from launch control said, “Hey,
Bo, what’s the best way to get this thing in orbit today?”
Bo says, “I guess you’d have to pick up the count.”
He says, “Okay. In two minutes we’re going to pick up
the count at nine, T minus nine minutes.”
We’re all going, “Yea, we’re going to go!”
We picked up the count. Don started up the APUs [Auxiliary Power Units].
Bo set a clock, because there’s no countdown clock on board,
and nobody’s counting down in your ear, so Bo is saying, “Okay,
two minutes, this is going to happen; one minute, this is going to
He says, “In a minute you’ll hear a little rumble and
a wiggle, because that’s the main engines.” He just was
really good about our folks downstairs, keeping them up to date, especially
Jake and Charlie. We counted down, and there was this huge explosion.
I thought, “I think we blew up,” because the simulator
just can’t simulate that. Even though you hear it, it’s
just “Boom!” And a lot of acceleration, motion, vibration.
Luckily I was upstairs, and I was watching the clocks and the displays.
We were going the right direction. So it was just a fairly normal
Were you the flight engineer?
No, I was MS1 [Mission Specialist 1]. I was sitting over next to Dave
Griggs, who was the flight engineer.
Tell us what you did for free time on your first flight or that extra
day that you had in flight.
I think all first-time fliers spend a lot of time looking out the
window, because we were pretty close to windows. When you’re
on a lab flight, somebody says “Hey look at that,” by
the time you get up to the window it’s gone. If you’re
down puttering around on the middeck and somebody says, “Oh
we’re coming up on the coast of Africa. There’s a really
great desert,” you run upstairs and ooh and ah for a while and
go back to your work. I spent as much time as I could looking out
the window and trying to figure out where we were, because that wasn’t
real easy to figure out. On later missions, we had to set up a laptop
to tell us where we were.
Just playing around with weightlessness. Doing somersaults, getting
in a ball and having somebody spin you around, putting liquid blobs
out into the air and watching what happens to them. Just the typical
first-time tourist, “What’s different about this and how
does it feel different?” Doing funny things, like you can put
your feet in the foot loops down on the middeck, so you’re standing
there, and if you do deep knee bends, pretty soon you’re not
feeling like you’re doing knee bends anymore, it feels like
you’re pushing the Shuttle away from you. It’s just this
odd sensation. Looking at your living quarters or looking at the cockpit
from being upside down, like you did when you were a little kid and
stood on your head and thought where am I. So just those things, about
learning about being weightless, because all of us figured we were
going to go again, we needed to learn everything that we could about
That’s what we went about doing. We had a chance to do that
a little bit early, and then we had that extra day off that we could
goof off and spend the day looking out the window, so that was nice.
Everything in between, it was like we don’t have time to do
that. We’ve got to figure out all the other things that we got
to do. Early on and late we got a chance to just play.
Tell us about your memories of that first landing.
Bo told me I could stay up on the flight deck standing behind his
seat to watch until we got to a certain point during the landing phase.
I was going to sit downstairs for landing. Jeff was upstairs. So the
deal was, with the onset of Gs, in other words when we can feel G-forces,
probably need you to get downstairs, get down the ladder, because
he didn’t want me to fall down and hurt myself and worry about
that. I watched the big fireball part, and then pretty soon I noticed
that my hands were resting on the back of his seat. I said, “I
think we’ve got some Gs.”
He says, “Yes, the G-meter says we got a bit.”
I said, “I’m going downstairs.” I didn’t have
the big orange suit on for that flight but I had to get into my helmet
and get strapped in. I went downstairs. Bo again was very good about
saying where we were, what we were doing, and what was happening.
He called things out, and I could hear the calls from mission control.
Here I’m looking at the face of the locker, boring. You could
feel the onset of Gs. Certainly as you turn to line up with the runway
it was like, “Whoa, I’m being squashed down in my sea.”
It was only one and a half Ggs, but when you haven’t felt Gs
for a while, it was a lot. We came in. They told Bo that there was
a good bit of crosswind, so he was prepared for that. We landed. It
was a nice, soft, steady landing. Roll out down the runway. Could
feel that Bo was braking. Came almost to a stop, and hear this big
bang. It felt like it was right under my seat.
Of course somebody said what you’re never supposed to say in
the Shuttle, which is, “What was that?” We were stopped,
we were safe, nothing bad was happening. Mission control hadn’t
called to say, “There’s smoke coming out the back”
or anything like that.
I think somebody said, “Maybe that was the brakes releasing.”
I thought, “I don’t know about that.” When they
came to get us out they told us we’d blown a tire, and luckily
it was late enough that we didn’t swerve or anything like that.
We were not allowed to walk around. The crews get out and walk around.
We couldn’t do that, because they were afraid the tires had
overheated and another one might blow. We could look over and see
that yes indeed. I can’t remember whether it was near side or
far side from where I was. We got to see that we had shredded the
That was exciting too I guess. After that they went back to landing
at Edwards [Air Force Base, California] until they figured out how
to fix the tires, brakes, and put the chute on board.
Was your family there to greet you when you got off the Orbiter?
Yes. They were back at crew quarters. Hoot and Julie were there in
crew quarters. You wait for the door to open. There’s your family,
there’s everybody’s family, and they’re so happy
to see you home safe. Everybody’s just jabber jabber jabber.
I think we had lunch together, had a meal, and then got ready to come
There were people waiting to greet us at Ellington Field so that was
nice. Paul did not come to that landing, because Paul greeted me.
Somebody, don’t quite remember who, had kept him while Hoot
and Julie came down for the landing. He was at Ellington Field. There’s
a wonderful People Magazine picture of him running across the tarmac.
He was not yet three. I’ve got my little flyswatter in my hand,
and I’m kneeling down waiting for the baby. That was wonderful.
He was old enough to know that Mommy was getting back from somewhere.
He hadn’t seen Mommy in a while. So that was nice. It was a
nice family reunion.
Tell us about the PR [Public Relations] trips you took. You mentioned
that you went to the White House for instance.
We did. Jake had a lot to do with that probably. We had a great visit
to Washington. Sometimes crews get to go to the White House, sometimes
they don’t. Of course [Ronald] Reagan was President, and Jake
was a very loyal Republican senator, and so we got to go to the White
House, the Oval Office, meet President Reagan, have our pictures done,
and that was very nice. Nice man, nice visit, fairly brief. Jake was
good about taking us around to meet important senators, friends of
his, fellow Republicans for the most part. I think we met mostly Republicans.
Usually when crews go up there, we’re sent out individually
to talk to the congressmen from our state, present them with a montage.
We did that, but we also got a chance to meet other important senators.
I can’t even remember all of them, but friends of Jake’s.
[Break in tape]
You were talking about going around and meeting with the congressmen.
We had a chance to do that. I had a wonderful what they call a “hometowner.”
Murfreesboro made a big deal out of my coming back. They had a big
function at my old high school. Got to see some of my high school
teachers again. I was a cheerleader. They gave me back one of my cheerleader
sweaters. We passed those on, so I didn’t have any memento from
that, so they gave me one of my old cheerleading sweaters. I brought
back some stuff. I had flown some things for my school and for the
city so I got a chance to bring those back. Just great hoopla around
My congressman Bart Gordon was a fellow that I’d gone to high
school with. Usually the crews come up and they do a little congressional
hearing about the flight, or at least that’s what was going
on back then. He persuaded the chairman of that subcommittee to come
to Murfreesboro and do the debriefing here instead of in Washington,
DC. That happened to be Congressman Bill [Clarence William] Nelson
from Florida, who we got to know during that occasion, and of course
he ended up flying with Hoot on one of Hoot’s flights. Closed
the loop on that one. A great deal of hoopla about, “Local girl
makes good.” I had a good time with that.
I think one of the most memorable things was that we got to go out
and be with Jake when he did his hometowner. The Mormon Tabernacle
Choir put on a concert for us that was just the most spectacular thing
I have ever heard in my life. They sang all the patriotic songs, “The
Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and just an awesome venue, an
awesome choir. Just to be there with your crew and the spouses. It
was just spectacular. We had a chance to do that.
They had a luncheon for us at one of the ski resorts near Salt Lake
[City, Utah], so that was nice, got a chance to see a ski area, and
we took up snow-skiing after that, so that was fun. A whirlwind of
putting together your postflight report, your postflight press conference,
going to Washington, going to Utah and going home; it was just an
insane time. You think that the preflight getting ready to fly is
busy, but your postflight can be just as busy, or at least it was
on that flight, because this was still kind of new and different,
and so there was a lot of stuff going on around that. It was fun.
Tell us about where you were when the Challenger accident occurred.
Were you watching the launch?
Hoot’s second flight had landed ten days prior so we had been
busy. Seems like they had tried to launch before Christmas, mid December,
several times, didn’t go off, had a lot of problems. Came back
in January, had a lot of problems. Finally got off the ground, and
so we’d been very busy with that. It was like, “Well,
okay, he just got home.” Then he was involved in all the busyness.
I had been assigned to the Spacelab flight, and we were doing training
for that. My Spacelab crews and I were at a training session. We were
sitting in the conference room at a contractor facility and said,
“Oh, the Shuttle is going to launch; let’s turn on the
We watched it, and it was like, “What was that?” Then
I realized, maybe before the others, that this is something really
bad. When you began to see these big chunks of stuff falling into
the ocean it was clear to me that this was not just an early separation
of the boosters, this was a catastrophic failure. Here I was off site.
All I could think of is, “I got to get back to the office, find
out what’s going on. Someone tell me for sure.”
I went tearing back to Johnson Space Center, and it was just like
the whole world was calm and quiet, and nothing seemed to be going
on. The people walking around the Center just didn’t know yet.
Hoot had been trying to track me down, this was before cell phones,
and he found out on my schedule where I was. He called the contractor,
and he was afraid that I didn’t know this had happened, and
that I was sitting over there fat, dumb, and happy. They had told
him that I had left right after the launch and that I was on my way
back. He met me at the door of our office building.
I was just incredulous. I could tell from his face that it was bad.
I had a good cry on his shoulder and asked him what was going on in
the office. He said they’re trying to figure out what to do.
The leaders were being leaders, giving directions and making plans
and doing all the right things. We watched the TV for a while and
listened to the NASA loop to see if there was anything that was known,
and there wasn’t. It was just the thing blew up, and everything
had just disintegrated. They had to blow up the boosters, because
the boosters broke loose. We just assumed everything exploded, didn’t
Went home that night not knowing. The President [Ronald Reagan] made
a statement that evening, and we had a lot of friends and family calling.
Initially I think there were people who didn’t know whether
the two of us were on the flight or not. Then all of them realized
that something horrible had happened to close friends of ours so they
wanted to call and tell us how sorry they were, chat, and ask if we
knew what had happened. The phone just rang and rang and rang. We
were both just basket cases, because the Challenger crew, some of
them were very close friends.
Ellison [S.] Onizuka certainly and Hoot were just terrifically close.
Judy and I had been through a lot together. Mike [Michael J.] Smith
was just a wonderful person that we had gotten to know real well.
Dick [Francis R.] Scobee and [Ronald E.] Ron McNair were part of our
class. I think we were just stunned.
We realized that stuff was on TV, but I don’t think we realized
that it was as big a national tragedy as it came to be, because it
was all over the news all the time and replayed and replayed and replayed.
Initially there was this great coming together to get the Challenger
spouses back home. Where were they, where were their families, what
do we need to do? Send airplanes down to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida],
send extra people. How do we need to get organized? Who needs to do
what? It seemed like everybody had some kind of job.
Then we found out the President was coming for a Memorial Service
and I had the job of calling all the former astronauts to see if they
wanted to come to this ceremony where the President was going to be.
Some did, and some didn’t. The protocol of getting through all
Then just dealing with “Okay, what’s next? What do we
need to do?” They named the [Rogers] Commission, and there were
people that were sent to support the commission, and then there were
others of us who were supposed to be available to track down answers.
I wasn’t terribly involved, because it was mostly engineering.
Hoot was sent to the Cape, I think, to follow what was being done
for the boosters and main engines. He attended all the meetings where
failure modes of those systems—because everybody felt like it
had to have been something with the boosters or the tank or the main
engines. He was gone. We were just, “What do we need to do today,”
and doing whatever needed to be done. It became clear that the crew
compartment had come off the front end of the vehicle, and then there
was this, “Oh, my gosh.” Had a lot of further salvage.
The salvage initially was just pull up stuff so that we know where
the failure was, what caused the massive explosion, and everything
disintegrated. Then it became clear that the crew compartment was
out there somewhere, and a lot of salvage that went along with that.
Most of us just followed that peripherally. You felt like you needed
to know what was going on, and yet everybody was pretty closemouthed
about it. There were a lot of, “Okay, come in, sit down, close
the doors and we’re going to tell you what we know so far, and
it doesn’t go outside this room.” There was just all this
secrecy around it. “Yes, they found the crew compartment. Yes,
they found remains. Yes, this is what’s going to happen.”
Then somewhere along the line, somebody saw that it was the booster,
and we had to figure out what to do about the booster. In the midst
of all this, this tragedy of good friends dying, everybody starts
raising the issue of, “Should we do away with human spaceflight?”
There was a lot of talk about “Can they do that, would they
do that, who supports us, who doesn’t, is my job going to go
away? Even if my job doesn’t go away, are we ever going to fly
again, and if so, how many years is it going to be?”
It was just a horrible year, just a horrible year. Hoot was gone first
to the Cape, and then he was put in charge of following the booster
redesign for our Astronaut Office. He was gone out to Utah to figure
out what they were going to do to redesign the boosters.
Figuring out what am I going to do. I had jobs. We were still following
the flight. They started doing make-work stuff to keep us all busy.
I was put on a team that was supposed to look at, “What are
the answers that we need before we go to Mars and what’s the
best way to do it. Do we go direct, do we go to a station first, should
we do construction?” It was this whole gang of people that just
came together, and we all would look at each other like, “Who
the hell cares?” It was make-work, it kept us all busy, and
it kept our brains alive. We all had peripheral duties, and we did
that, did that, did that. It became pretty clear it was going to be
a while before we flew again. So I’m thinking I need to have
another baby. We were not having any luck. Again, it was just a downer.
I asked the office if I could go do some sabbatical work in one of
the hospitals around just to get my skills together, and it was like,
“Why?” I had to force the issue.
They said, “Well, it’s because you’re doing that
emergency room work.”
“Well, partially yes, but I’m a physician, you expect
me to know answers to physician-type questions, and I need to go back
and do a little remedial work.” I went for a week a month and
did some emergency room work.
It was just like we were dragging through this; ’86 was just
awful. Then ’87, it was like okay, they think we’re going
to fly again in ’88. Somewhere along the line, Hoot gets assigned
to the second mission after we return to flight, so he’s thinking
about that. I’m thinking, “Oh darn, it’s going to
be a military mission. I have no idea what’s going to be on
it; he can’t talk about it. He has to go off and train. Just
get through this year, get through this next year.”
In the middle of ’88, I got pregnant. That was good in a lot
of ways, because it was like the timing is all right on this. Return
to flight was in September. Hoot’s flight was I think in December,
because I was very pregnant by then, six months pregnant by the time
he flew. It was like. “Okay, I got one kid by the hand, I got
one in the oven. I’ll waddle down to the Cape.” That’s
when I got my job with Mr. [Donald R.] Puddy, the Director of Flight
Crew Operations, which was interesting and good work and a lot of
planning for getting back to flight. Pregnancy went well. Huge baby.
Huge belly. Pretending like, “Well, this is easy, I can do this.”
We got through it. It was a very very tough time in many ways.
Every time I would feel sorry for myself or my family, I would think
about the Challenger families. There was so much publicity. That explosion
was just shown over and over and over again. The Rogers Commission
and whose fault was it, and it could have been prevented. It was just
like, “This is horrible. This was just horrible, go away, leave
us alone. Just let us get back to flying again.” We eventually
did, and it was a good lesson.
Military folks had had friends die in airplane crashes. I had never
had a friend die. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I
didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t know
how long it was going to hurt. I had to go to all kinds of memorial
services. There were a lot of things that I wanted to go to that I
couldn’t, funerals in faraway places. I had a baby at home.
I had a little kid. I didn’t have any family that could stay
with him while I went to somebody’s funeral, so I missed all
the funerals. Hoot went to them all, and I felt bad and guilty about
that. It was the typical, “Why did they die and why am I alive?”
It was really tough.
I think there were a number of people who decided to leave the office
at that time, because they weren’t assigned to a flight, and
they knew it was going to be a long time before they got to fly again,
before the Shuttle flew, and then before they got assigned, and then
they got to fly. I think there were others whose wives said, “You’ve
made a flight or two. What else is there that you want to do? Let’s
go home. Let’s go someplace. I don’t want to see this
happen to you.”
So there were people that left. There were a lot of wives I think
that really had trouble with this. We didn’t hear details about
it, but we heard about it in general: stress reactions. The Flight
Medicine Clinic, to a certain extent they tried to help, but we were
in a world of the macho men, who never would admit that something
had affected them. Everybody was in denial, and nobody wanted to talk
about their wife was a basket case and that they were having trouble
with their marriage because she wanted to go, they wanted to stay.
The kids were upset. It was just like all of this was swirling around
in the background and you would hear “Flight Medicine said that
Dr. [Terry] McGuire, the psychologist, will talk to anyone at any
time, so will the flight surgeons, no questions asked.
People figured if you went and said you were having trouble coping
with life that it would somehow get on your record and it would affect
your career. It was a strange and bizarre time. Have the other folks
talked to you much about Challenger, because I’m sure we all
faced it in different ways.
I think when we talked to Jeff he talked about going back to school,
that there was such a large lag time. I think Kathy talked about the
fact that there was a big discussion about maybe the military payloads
would be going first and there was some concern so she got a naval
Different people had different coping mechanisms. Being a very intelligent,
busy, workaholic bunch of people, I think everybody did a reassessment
of, “What do I need to do here? What do I need to do elsewhere?”
There were all kinds of suppositions about what’s going to happen.
Will they reorder the schedule, and they did. There were priority
payloads. So even though my Spacelab flight was pretty close to launch
for a long time we had no idea when that flight was going to fly.
We could see the return to flight, we could see the military, we could
see the TDRS [Tracking and Data Relay] Satellite. You’re thinking
“Why does that one have priority over us?” There was a
rationale to it, but there wasn’t a lot of information, at least
that I recall, about the rationale for the schedule. You would just
I think all of us did a reassessment. “Do we stay, or do we
go? Do we do some other stuff and will NASA support it?” I think
people did those things. Again Kathy probably tried to figure out
what’s going to be best for her career. For me I had to think
about obviously another baby. I had to think about my medicine. I
had to think about the fact that Hoot was going to be gone, just gone
all the time. “I want a shoulder to cry on. Boo-hoo for me.”
Raising another kid, getting through a pregnancy, and smiling through
it. Each of us had to approach it in our own way. I don’t even
remember that we all got together and had a beer and discussed how
we were all going to do it. You would just hear so-and-so has done
this and so-and-so has done that and somebody has decided to retire
and somebody is going to go work on this project at another NASA Center.
Okay, everybody’s getting creative. Luckily, NASA was pretty
good about letting us do some of the things we wanted to do.
You mentioned when you were working with Don Puddy you were working
on that return to flight effort. What were some of the key issues
you were working then?
Oh, Lord, I don’t even remember. I was mostly an assistant so
I was not in the decision making loop on many things. I would sit
in meetings where they would discuss, “Okay, what are we going
to do? Here’s what the decision is, here’s what needs
to be done.” I’m taking notes so that afterwards he can
say, “Okay, I got these six actions. I need you to take these
three, and I need you to appoint this person, this person, and this
person to this. Who do you think out of the office could do this one?
Call up these people and get this information.” Gosh, I’m
trying to remember. “Who should we invite to the return to flight
flight, who’s going to come, and who should be on the VIP [Very
Important Persons] list,” and it was like okay, “Now I
get to be social secretary.”
Again, in the midst of return to flight, my husband was going to return
to flight. I had all the spouse things. Got to have a party at the
Cape; I’m the commander’s wife so I’m the organizer
person. Get together with the spouses. Decide what we’re going
to do. Let’s all get together and have a party. Whose house?
We can do it at my house. Just all those things that the spouses had
to do. Luckily, they were great spouses. Good time. Having fun, but
just like 47 things to do on the do list today. So getting ready for
his flight, which was going to follow not long after return to flight.
He was gone a lot for training for STS-27, a Department of Defense
mission. We didn’t know what they were going to fly on their
flight. We didn’t know exactly when they were going to launch.
The deal was, “We’ll just let you know when we maybe should
go down to the Cape. Maybe they’ll get to launch sometime.”
It was just all bizarre.
That and waddling around carrying this baby. It was a good pregnancy,
just a very large baby. So doing all that stuff. It was just going
from one busy time, to another busy time, to another busy time. Training
for my flight.
It worked out well to work in Mr. Puddy’s office. I got a chance
to see a lot of things, understand how management worked, how decisions
were made, how to be a good boss. We were using email by then. Learning
all about email and how the boss, if he didn’t want to he didn’t
ever need to talk to me, he could just email me. I’m sitting
right across the hall from him, but I would get all this stuff by
email. I’m thinking, “Why don’t you just come over
here and tell me?” That was a change that was going on in the
I had to summarize a lot of meeting minutes, run them by him, and
get them out to the world. That was a responsible task, to make sure
that you got it right, and that you summarized in the right way. You
put enough and not too much. Thinking about what’s the real
issue, what’s the real decision, what do we need the rest of
the world to know about, because that report went out from him every
For some people, the world revolved around what Mr. Puddy said in
his weekly report, which I had to type up. Sometimes I got it wrong,
and he’d say, “Why’d you put that in there?”
“Sounded important to me.”
He said, “That’s not important.”
Anyway, that’s how we got returned to flight. There was such
a hoopla about return to flight. It was an important milestone, but
Hoot would make fun of how important people thought that was.
Do you agree with Mike Mullane’s assessment in the book? I think
it was Hoot’s crew, where they stood up with the fire extinguisher.
Is that it?
I’ll let that be in Mike’s portion of the report. Some
people thought that was really funny, and some people didn’t
think it was funny at all. Just like some people think Mike Mullane’s
book is wonderful, and some people are offended by it. I’m one
of those that loves it, love Mike Mullane. It’s his view of
what happened. Some people feel like you ought not to talk about other
people, even if they can’t be identified or you’re saying
good things. “Don’t talk about me in your book.”
We’re never sure what to make of the book.
It’s the world according to Mike Mullane.
Well, I think this would be a good place for us to stop today. Next
time I come back we can talk about your other flights.