K. Mattingly, Astronaut, STS-4 Commander
Interviewed April 22, 2002
matter what day we took off
We knew that they had hyped up the STS-4 mission so that they
wanted to make sure that we landed on the Fourth of July.
It was no uncertain terms that we were going to land on the
Fourth of July, no matter what day we took off. Even if it
was the fifth, we were going to land on the Fourth. [Laughter]
That meant, if you didn't do any of your test mission, that's
okay, as long as you just land on the Fourth, because President
Reagan is going to be there. We thought that was kind of interesting.
The Administrator [James Beggs] met us for lunch the day before
flight, and as he walked out, he said, “Oh, by the way,
you know, with the President going to be there and all, you
might give a couple of minutes thought on something that'd
be appropriate to say, like ‘A small step for man,’
or something like that,” and he left.
Hank [Hartsfield] and I looked at each other and he says,
“He wants us to come up with this?” And we had
a good time. We never came up with something we could say,
but we came up with a whole lot of humor that we didn't dare
say. But that was an interesting experience.
It was just really overwhelming
On STS-4, I promised Hank he could fly part of the heading
alignment circle so he could say, “I was the pilot but
I actually controlled the airplane.” So when we did
come in and got out at Edwards, when we came around, we got
on the heading alignment circle and I was tracking it, and
I turned to look at Hank, and I was about to say, “Well,
okay, here, you take it for a bit now,” and I turned
to look at him, and all of a sudden my gyros tumbled and I
just had one of the worst cases of vertigo I've ever had.
Broad daylight. It was just really overwhelming.
I went back and started focusing on the eight-ball and looking
at the displays, and Hank says, “Are you going to let
And I said, “No, no. I can't talk about it now.”
We came around and did our thing, and I was still having this
vestibular sensation that was unusual, but once we got on
the glide slope it seemed like it was kind of—picture's
normal. But I was beginning to get concerned at the pre-flare
point. Hank called it off and we did our thing, but it was
slower than normal or than the standard, and we ended up coming
up on the flare and got over the runway, and all of our external
aids are set so that you’ll be sure and land 1,500 feet
at least down the runway. Most unpowered vehicles, you tend
to land longer, but you don't want to err on the short side.
So if you're going to make a mistake, you kind of push it
down there and you tend to float.
I knew we were under the standard final approach glide slope,
but now I wanted to get down and try to make a good landing
with it. Your eye-height perception and judging motion is
really not all that great. You’re sitting high on the
Shuttle Orbiter, and touchdown is about like a 747 cockpit
height. It's not like you’re picking up good visual
Hank is calling off the altitudes to me, and he gets down
to one foot, half a foot, and because of the ALT bobble, I
had put grease marks all over the window so I could see the
nose change. Wherever I was, there was a line with the grease
pencil so I could reference the horizon and fly attitudes
instead of sink rates. I would listen to Hank tell me what
the altitude was and I'd sit there and I’d make little
adjustments for the nose.
We kept going through this, and one of the dictums is, you
don't want to land short, and you don't want to land too fast,
because the tires are already stressed pretty heavily. But
you really don't want to land too slow, because if you land
below about 165 [knots], you could hold the nose up. Because
of that big fat fuselage, the nose will stay up in the air.
In the simulator it will stay up there to maybe 70 knots.
There's no way to let it come down without overloading the
structure and breaking the fuselage. So you really need to
get there and get the nose down before you lose elevator control,
because otherwise this thing will just fall. If you put your
nose down too soon, then the negative angle of attack on the
wing adds to the loads on the tires, and you can blow the
tires. So you kind of don't put the nose down above 160, but
not much below that.
So he's calling off air speeds and altitude, and I'm just
staring at the horizon and I'm hawking it, and I have no idea
what it's going to feel like to land. When I would shoot touch-and-go's
in the KC-135, there was never any doubt when we landed. You
could always tell. So I was expecting bang, crash, squeak,
something. Then nothing and nothing. Finally Hank says, “You’d
better put the nose down.”
“Oh,” I said, “All right.” So I put
it down, and I was sure we were still in the air. I thought,
“Oh, god, he’s right. We can't be very far off
the ground.” Sure enough, we were on the ground and
neither one of us knew it. I've never been able to do that
again in any airplane. Never did it before. According to the
pictures, it looks like we must have landed at maybe 350 feet
down the runway, and we didn't mean to.
Thirty minutes ago, this
was in space
After we got through with all this, we got ready to get up
and get out of the airplane. We had built a little sign. We
thought the President would come in and want to look inside
the Orbiter, and so we built a little sign that says “Welcome
to Columbia. Thirty minutes ago, this was in space,”
or something like that, some handwritten damn thing.
I got ready to get up out the seat, and we took our helmets
off. We still had the pressure suits and pressure helmets.
Took the helmets off, set them down, and I had a kneeboard
on my right thigh, so I took that off, and I went to set it
on the center console, and I couldn't lift it. I almost ended
up sliding it off my leg onto the center console. I said,
“We haven't been in the air that long. How could I lose
So Hank was kind of watching me, and he’s still perplexed
because I didn't let him fly the airplane. I said, “I
am not going to have somebody come up here and pull me out
of this chair. I don't know what it is, but I'm going to give
every ounce of strength I've got and get up under my own.”
So I just got this mental set, and I pushed, and I hit my
head on the overhead so hard, the blood was coming out. It
was terrible. Oh, did I have a headache! And Hank said something
like, “That's very graceful.” [Laughter] So now
I really did have something to worry about.
So we got up, and I said, “Hank, the crew isn't going
to get to open this thing up for probably 15 minutes or so
after landing. We're not going to have people help us off.
So we're going down and we're going to do close-order drill.
We're going to walk around the mid-deck so when they open
the hatch, we're going to walk out.”
We got ourselves down there, and we're walking around, and
Hank said, “Well, let's see. If you do it like you did
getting out of your chair, you'll go down the stairs and you're
going to fall down, so you need to have something to say.
Why don't you just look up at the President and say, 'Mr.
President, those are beautiful shoes. Think you can get that
right?” He was merciless.
How does America's finest aviator walk into the wall?
The point of all this story is not just a sea story, it is
when we got through, we got out, they took us back into the
hangar at Dryden. We were walking, I thought, pretty well
by then, and we had this long time waiting because the President
was there and was going to speak, and all the Secret Service
had to do their stuff, and so there was a significant length
of time before this ceremony could take place. I said, “Well,
you know, it's been a while. I'll go down to the head here.”
They said, “You know where it is?”
I said, “Sure.”
“Okay.” So I walk out, and it was down a hallway
that comes to another hallway that hits it as a T, and the
idea is you go down this hallway, take a left, and the bathroom's
there. I was feeling like I got my sea legs back, so I'm walking
down there, and it's one of these tile, linoleum kind of floor
surfaces. I got to down there, and I was trying to walk fast,
and I turned and walked right into the wall. And now I was
really perplexed. Fortunately, nobody sees this, but how does
America's finest aviator walk into the wall? [Laughs]
Quickly those skills came back, but in working with some of
the doctors since then, discovering what happens when you
reset your inside accelerometers to things, we discovered
that you actually haven't—we talk about losing strength,
well, there is some muscular deterioration from lack of use,
but there's another phenomena that came out of all of this.
When I go to raise my hand, I don't know how that happened,
but there's some kind of electrical signal that goes down
here and it relaxes some muscles and tightens others. And
when you have spent a period in this environment, those electrical
signals are calibrated so that they respond appropriately
in the weightless environment.
When you want to do things, you do them unconsciously, but
in the brain's process it goes through and it sends a signal
that says, “I want to raise my arm,” and then
sends all these signals around. Well, it's now recalibrated
so it doesn't overdo things, and it says, “Raise your
arm,” and it puts this little miniscule thing in there,
and if you've got, like, my knee board sitting there, nothing
happens. That's normal. It's just kind of tensing your arm
a little bit. You haven't done anything. But you don't know
that that's the reason.
That's the reason when I went to get out, and I decided that
it's every bit of energy I can muster, well, the muscles were
still there. It just needed to be told to do something. And
the same thing happens when you go walking around, you've
got the channel back that says I know how much energy it takes
to stand up. I know what forces to put on here for locomotion,
but to turn is a relatively small side force that we do, and
all this is unconscious. But that signal is still down here
in the noise, and so just thinking you're going to turn left,
well, nothing happened except the wall came up. [Laughter]
It was little things like that, and as we discovered these
things, that's where this business of learning about space
flight and what goes into it and all this is, it'll never
be boring. It's just every day you take one more little step
to find something that's really, really cool, and it's always
T. K. Mattingly's oral history transcripts
the STS-4 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection
Ronald L. Newman, Manager, Flight
Interviewed October 21, 2009
space, you’re longer
STS-4 included the first time anybody put the suit on in the
Shuttle. It was not planned to go outside, they just wanted
to make sure that you could do the procedures. There was always
a question. Because of the way the suit is built, there’s
a waist ring that is a big circumferential ring in the middle
of your body where these two rings have to come together and
latch completely, front and back, all the way around, in order
to make the seal. After a person climbs into the upper torso,
which is holding the backpack, then you’ve got your
pants on already, but you’ve got to attach the pants
to the upper part of the suit. It’s a ring with around
latches all the way around. Each of those latches has to close.
They had to test them in zero-g missions to make sure the
astronauts were able to close it without gravity, and close
it by themselves ideally, even though the other astronaut
was there to help if they needed to. They always trained to
try to be able to do it by yourself. It was important that
we know that once you’re actually in space that a person
can put it on. Ken Mattingly was the commander of STS-4, so
it was his assignment to get in the suit and put it on.
When you’re in space, you grow taller than you are on
the Earth, just because when we’re here our weight compresses
our spine. There’s a certain amount of zero-g growth
that you get just immediately when you get to space. You grow
a fraction of an inch just because your tendons and ligaments
are relaxed, and they’re no longer compressed by gravity,
so they’ll stretch a little bit when you get to space.
Also, your spine is compressed by your weight here on the
ground, so some of the fluid goes out of your vertebrae. When
you get back into space, fluid seeps back into the vertebrae
and you start growing. In the morning while you’re still
lying down you’re a little bit taller than you are at
the end of the day. You get up, but very quickly the gravity
will then make you your normal size when you get out of bed.
In space, you’re longer.
There was a design feature early on in the Space Shuttle suit
where there’s a bracket where you could just push a
button and the suit would get one inch longer. That bracket
was heavy, expensive, hard to make. In spaceflight, every
pound you add is going to be lots more pounds of fuel. There’s
a big cost to adding any kind of weight. Because of the money,
the design complexity, and the weight, they decided to get
rid of that feature. I guess it was decided that people would
still be able to close the suit without a problem.
I know that it could have
been a problem
As a spacesuit engineer, I knew that astronauts like to have
a tight-fitting suit because it gives them more mobility.
So if you have a tight suit and you’re growing an inch,
are you going to be able to close it? I did a little bit of
research on my own using the NASA data from Skylab. One of
the astronauts who was in charge of that experiment, they
measured how much you grew in space over a period of time.
After a couple of days, you grow as much as you’re going
to grow, but you do grow. If you have a tight-fitting suit
on the ground and you get up in space and you’re bigger,
it kept worrying me that you weren’t going to be able
to close the suit.
I recommended to my NASA technical monitors that we really
needed to accommodate that somehow. I brought the data to
them and convinced them that actually we do need to allow
for that. We no longer have this capability. The way we fix
that is we fit the suit to them properly on the Earth, then
just before launch we add anywhere between an inch and two
inches, to the length of the suit, to be able to make sure
they can close it. We ended up deciding at the time to add
one inch to everybody’s suit length to allow for the
When Ken Mattingly put the suit on, it was a nervous time
for us, because no one had ever done this before. It was a
big deal for him to put the suit on. He put the suit on. He
was able to close the suit. Over the com loop he said, “They
were supposed to make the suit longer, but it feels just like
it did on Earth.” It was one of those things. It was
a problem averted, it was no big deal, but I know that it
could have been a problem.
So actually, my most concrete contribution to the space program
is to add one inch to the suit. I was glad nothing happened.
It was good.
Ronald Newman's oral history transcript
the STS-4 image gallery
the JSC Oral History Collection